E-mail: notmanos at yahoo dot com
Disclaimer: The characters of Angel are owned by 20th Century Fox and Mutant Enemy; the character of Wolverine is also owned by 20th Century Fox and Marvel Comics. No copyright infringement is intended. I'm not making any money off of this, but if you'd like to be-------------------------------------------
a patron of the arts, I won't object. ;-) Oh, and Bob and his bunch are all mine - keep your hands off!
He laid on Faith’s bed, in the path of the air conditioner (which seemed to have two settings: barely working, and Arctic blast), and wondered why he had such a bad feeling about all this. Did this make him a hypocrite?
Would he have really written himself off as a lost cause, with the benefit of hindsight? He was afraid he might have, but how much of that was his own self-destructive streak he couldn’t say. He watched the newly rising sun cast streaks of light against the far wall, climbing slowly, dust swirling in the rays, and he wondered if he should have turned on the t.v., tried to distract himself from his pointless thoughts. Would it have helped? Probably not.
Rags had been a vital part of Marc’s plan. They tracked him down at the Way Station, and got him to ‘port them to the facility where the bodies were held. Marc got to try and keep Rags quiet while he sniffed the corpses, and Logan felt it wasn’t nearly punishment enough. There was a scent familiar to all the bodies, beyond the decay and rot; in fact, he thought he caught something like cancer on all of them. Cancer was just damaged genes causing aberrant cell growth; perhaps they were all hit by it as well.
Finally he heard a jingle of keys in the hall, and Faith came in, looking exhausted beyond words. “Holy shit, I miss staying up all night fighting vampires,” she groused, not so much closing the door as collapsing against it, letting her weight shut it.
“I think I’m quitting. I’m starting to feel very cynical about humanity again. I remember why I went crazy and psycho and shit.”
What an ironic subject to bring up now. “That bad, huh?”
“You wouldn’t believe it,” she told him, shucking off her coat and tossing it on the armchair. “This asshole wannabe gangster comes to the club to start some shit with his girlfriend, and tries to pull a gun. How the guy covering the door missed it I have no idea.” She stripped off her shirt, throwing it on the chair as well.
“He pulled a gun?” It was a stupid question, but he had to ask it anyways. “Are you all right?”
She kicked off her shoes, and stepped out of his jeans. “Of course I am. This moron had his gun shoved right down the front of his pants, which is supposed to look gangster but is only a good way to blow your own dick off. While he was struggling to get it out of his baggy pants, I took him down and took his gun away before he hurt himself. No one should be able to get a gun if they don’t even know how to handle it properly. That’s why I’m so late; I was talking to the fucking cops these last couple of hours.” She kicked her jeans aside and walked to the bathroom, dressed only in her underwear. She was beautiful to look at, but he could still see the ghost of bruises from her “fight” with Finch. “You know how much I love that.”
“Don’t we all.” They spent too much of their lives with cops around. Surely they were living wrong.
Her heard her turn on the faucet, and imagined she was washing her face, as she usually did before going to bed. It was a timely reminder that she had once been evil and a bit nutty - kind of like him, but not. She couldn’t claim years and years of telepathic manipulation like he could, but maybe that was just an excuse on his part. “So how did that thing with the Oghur go?” she shouted from the bathroom.
“Found it, killed it. No big deal.”
“Really? So why you moping?”
“I’m not moping, I’m thinking.”
Should he tell her? Well, why not? So he told her, about how he was basically just waiting for Marc to call him and tell him when the Org was on the move. But he also confided how he wasn’t sure about any of this.
She came of the bathroom wearing a thin green camisole and blue panties, her hair loose and her expression worn, dark semi-circles visible beneath her eyes. She’d been up most of the day though; that wore on a person. Him too, even though he knew from hard experience he could go a couple of days if he had to, even three (although by then he got pretty punchy). “Need some help?” she asked, and rather than go around to the other side of the bed, she simply crawled over him. “I’d love to get a chance to see what those Organization fuckers look like, put my foot up their ass.”
He looked at her speculatively, but she was smiling very faintly. On her, it looked really sexy. “But I don’t know when we’re gonna move. You’ve got work.”
“Hey, didn’t ya hear me? I’m quittin’ before I decide being evil was easier.”
“So you’re serious. You figure you can get another bouncing job?”
She shrugged, rolling over on her side next to him, her back to him. She then reached behind her, grabbed his arm, and pulled it over her like he was a blanket. He rolled over on his side so he could actually put his arm around her waist without dislocating something. It also allowed him to smell her hair, which still had the scent of the club about it, but also a hint of her conditioner. “I dunno. Maybe it’s time to look for a new line of work.”
She sighed, and settled back against him. He began to wonder if she was using him as a Human shield against the air conditioner. “I don’t know. I never had any idea what I was gonna do when I grew up, y’know. Other girls wanna be ballerinas or vets or something like that, and I just never had any goals except getting by. But then when it turned out I was a Slayer, that’s what’s I wanted to do. I wanted to kick vampire ass for the rest of my life, just beat up loads and loads of creepy crawlies.”
“How does that pay?”
“Yeah, that’s the problem. It doesn’t. Is that fair? What with evolution and survival of the fittest and all that?”
“You could still become a wrestler.”
She elbowed him lightly in the ribs. “Yeah, sure. You just want to see me in spandex.”
He nuzzled the back of her neck. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“Horndog. But seriously, you’re gonna have to let me come along if you ever wanna get laid again.”
He chuckled. “You don’t sugarcoat anything, do you?”
“Do I have M&M/Mars stamped on my forehead? No. So what do you say?”
“I don’t have a choice, do I? But … the Org is used to extraordinary people; they’re used to taking them down.”
“So what? Super-powered chick over here. They have to catch me first.” She reached back and patted his thigh. “I know you’ve had bad experiences before, but you don’t ever have to worry about me, Logan. I’ve averted more apocalypses than I’ve bothered to count. And there’s no way in hell any of ‘em can take me. Seriously, I wanna see them try, and then somehow not live to regret it.”
He kissed her hair, and smiled, even though he knew she was underestimating the Organization. But it was hard not to admire her fearlessness, or catch a bit of it. She was good, he couldn’t deny that, but so were lots of other people captured, killed, and maimed by the Organization. You almost couldn’t be good enough to beat them sometimes, no matter who you were or how powerful you were. (And no matter how stupid the Org could be.)
She fell asleep pretty quickly, attesting to how exhausted she was, and listening to her slow, steady breathing was making him drowsy. He had no idea when Marc would call him, or where they’d be headed to, but he must have had time to catch some zees. And Marc would live with him bringing along someone else - ah hell, she was a good looking woman. He’d love it.
Which might actually be another problem entirely.
Should he wake up Angel? He didn’t know. This was hardly an emergency … but he might not even be asleep yet; the sun had just come up something like twenty minutes ago. And he was a vampire anyways, so he didn’t as much sleep, right?
Bren was hoping Giles was still around, but he had to unlock the office door to get in, which was a bad sign. “Hello?” he called out, hoping that Angel was still up, just back in his office. He’d told Kier he knew of a way through the sewer that they could get to Angel’s office building - Angel was a vampire too, after all, and needed a sun free way to get anywhere - but Kier wasn’t ready to face him yet. Or possibly ever; he didn’t seem to like the very idea of Angel. His reputation obviously proceeded him. Would he be willing to meet Logan? Er … yeah, maybe not. Who would have guessed a demon would be squeamish about demon hunters?
Angel appeared in the doorway of his office, shrugging a shirt on. “I was just about to head down to the sewers. Why are you here?”
Damn, just when he was starting to feel good about his body again. He shook his head, and held up the piece of paper. “Don’t yell at me, but I went back to Syn and ran into that vampire from earlier.” Angel’s eyes blazed with irritation, but before he could give him the “don’t you know how dangerous that is” spiel, he went on to tell him all about Kier’s story. When he mentioned the demon snuff film, his eyebrows raised, not in surprise but curiosity.
“What’s the name of these people?” he asked, reaching for the piece of paper.
“Silver Sun Productions.”
Angel took the piece of paper, frowning down at it like it was holding out on him. “The sun is mentioned again. I wonder if that’s significant.”
He made a dismissive gesture with his free hand, and Bren wondered if he had been talking to himself. “Nothing. A long time ago, I shut down a demon snuff film outfit that involved an old … friend of mine. But there has to be more than one, certainly in Hollywood.”
“Oh yeah, especially if they put out enough tapes to have their own section in a video stores.”
Angel looked up at him, eyes narrowing in thought. “Did he say what video store this was?”
“No, but I think I know which one he’s talking about. There’s a huge one on the strip, and if they’re gonna be anywhere, it’ll be there.”
Angel pointed to the computer on the desk. “Think you’re up for a little research?”
“Oh boy, I’m glad you asked,” he admitted, sliding behind his desk and calling up his browser on screen before sitting down. “Where do I go first? Real estate transactions? Talent agencies?”
“I want you to find the Wolfram and Hart connection.”
He looked up at him, only mildly surprised. “You think they’re involved?”
“Production companies and agents both need lawyers. And where do demons go for all their lawyering in this town?”
Now that he put it that way, he felt like an idiot. So he got to work, hitting the back door into Wolfram and Hart’s system (that would teach ‘em for using Windows), and also searching the city hall records in San Pedro for real estate transactions. He was a little tired from being up all night, and just a tad drunk, but that vodka espresso must have done something to him, because he felt surprisingly jazzed as well.
Using kung fu computer skills wasn’t very thrilling (and no amount of Hollywood embellishment was ever going to make it so), but pretty soon he found a suspect connection: Benny Lyle was indeed hiring out Wolfram and Hart’s services, but he had yet to make a viable connection to San Pedro. A group called the Varolac Consortium bought a huge parcel of property in San Pedro three and a half years ago, but he had yet to tie them to the lawyers. In fact, a Google search turned up nothing on the Varolac Consortium at all.
Angel had been kind enough to brew up some coffee, but since his coffee tasted like mud, Bren only sipped at it to be polite. “It must be a front, a shell company for someone else,” Angel commented, peering over his shoulder. “The name Varolac sounds familiar to me, but I can’t place it right now. Do you have an address for Lyle?”
He called it up on the screen. “His office is in North Hollywood. This is a strip mall location if I remember my streets correctly.”
“You remember everything correctly.” Angel noted, not unkindly. He straightened up with something like a sigh, and said, “I’d better get going.”
Bren turned and fixed him with a hard glare. “You? You know how sunny it is out there?”
“I’m going through the sewers.”
“There might not be direct access to the building, and even if there is, there’s a little problem of windows everywhere. Just tell me what information you want out of this guy, and I’ll get it.” Before Angel could shoot the idea down completely, he added, “I won’t go alone. I’ll bring muscle.”
He eyed him skeptically, crossing his arms over his chest. “Who?”
What, did he think he was going to say Kier? No, he needed someone much more powerful than that, who wasn’t in danger of bursting into flames.
It took a whole bottle of mint mocha frappuchino before she followed the plot, and even then Naomi wasn’t completely sure she got it. Okay, this guy was evil, but they had to discern whether he was just regular, everyday evil, or demonic evil. With agents, how did you tell? Perhaps that was what they were supposed to find out.
They ended up at a strip mall on the North side of town, but one of the “industrial” strip malls, full of offices rather than stores. Somewhere between the dentist and chiropractor was the Lyle Agency, an upstairs office with a wide window that overlooked the parking lot and a ribbon of freeway beyond. The lobby out front was done in earth tones, tans and dark greens that was probably supposed to be soothing, but looked rather gloomy instead. Behind a high desk sat a bottle blonde receptionist, young, perky, and yet with a bad nose job that gave her a Michael Jackson nose circa the “Bad” era. (It could have been worse; it could have been Mike’s “nose” now.)
Brendan had told her before they went in that they were going to be pretending to be from Wolfram and Hart; not as lawyers, just as total dickheads. Which was good, because she didn’t know much about law, but she knew how to be a total fuck.
They barged into the office, and while the blonde started her chirpy welcome spiel, they walked past her, and she stood up quickly. “Pardon me,” she began, “but you can’t -”
“Yes we can,” Bren snapped, pivoting sharply around to get into her face. She took a step back, slightly unnerved. “We can do anything we want, and since you’re not our client, I advise you don’t get in our way.”
“I, uh, does Mr. Lyle -”
“I suggest you take the rest of the day off,” Naomi interrupted. “Lock up the office and don’t return.” She held up the Wolfram and Hart business card that Angel had somehow got a hold of; in fact, he had a small box of them. He admitted he wasn’t sure why he kept them except perhaps as penance, which she didn’t quite get. But hey, vampire - there was a lot there she didn’t get.
The girl’s blue enhanced eyes studied the card for moment, widening slightly, and she nervously licked her lips, meaning she definitely knew who Wolfram and Hart were. “He’s uh … he’s in trouble?”
“He might be,” she conceded. “What about you?”
The girl looked between her and the surprisingly dour faced Brendan, and seemed to get the message. She flounced back to her desk (how did she walk in a skirt that short, and in heels that high? Maybe she was a mutant …) and grabbed her purse off the back of her chair. “I’ll just … um …” she said nervously, shouldering the bag, and headed for the door. They watched her every move, glaring at her like angry Mother Superiors until she tottered out, locking the door behind her.
“That was really easy,” she couldn’t help but note.
“It probably helped a lot that you have electricity crawling around your hair,” he replied.
Did she? She looked up, and thought she saw a small spark in her bangs. Huh. Well, it was a dry day, one of those Southern California days that always seemed to proceed raging brush fires, and she could almost feel the waiting spark in the air. Maybe she’d managed to pick some up on the way in.
They put on their stern game faces, and Brendan led the way, storming into Lyle’s office first. It was just part of the game - he was the male, so in spite of his age, it was assumed he was the potential troublemaker here. Yeah, sexist as hell, but at least Brendan knew she could kick his ass if she felt like it.
Lyle had a sunny office done in the colors of sand, with a tan carpet and slightly flocked ocher wallpaper, and a window behind him looking out on more parking lots and streets. He had a big oak desk that looked imposing, and a plush leather chair (tan of course) that was bigger than any of the other three chairs in the room. It was the difference between a throne and a stool, and was surely a deliberate psychological tactic. There were also three movie posters in glass and silver frames, but she didn’t recognize their names.
When they entered the office, he was turned away from them, looking out the window as he talked on one of those cellular phone headsets, the kind that only attached to one ear. He spun around as they entered, getting to his feet as his eyebrows dipped down and met over his nose, a professionally scornful look making his features look sharp. “Hold on,” he barked into his phone. “Who the hell are you -”
She didn’t want to go through this routine again. She just thought about it, felt the buzz of electricity in the cell phone, and had it spark. It did, shooting through the air a millimeter or two in front of his face, and he yelped in shock, battling the cell phone away from his ear like an angry wasp. It didn’t matter; it wasn’t going to work now anyways.
Brendan launched into his spiel, lowering his voice and spitting the words out like bullets. She couldn‘t be a hundred percent certain, but she thought he might have been imitating “Joe Friday“ from the old show Dragnet. “We’re from Wolfram and Hart, Mr. Lyle, and I’m afraid we’ve discovered some discrepancies in your accounts. Would you care to explain, or would you like to come with us and explain it to Mr. Meldrick yourself?”
Meldrick was the guy who was the head of the financial office over at Wolfram and Hart. They had the names of all the CO’s over there - they weren’t that hard to find - but finding actual job descriptions was nearly impossible.
Lyle stared at them in a kind of bewilderment that just screamed “guilty”. Yes, it was a gamble, but a safe one - what sleazy agent didn’t try and skim a little of the top? Hell, it was almost customary, very nearly a rite of passage, along with obnoxiously inflated retirement packages.
Lyle was a very average man with the type of face that looked like it was put together by a sketch artist at his wit’s end. He had a standard oval face, a standard nose (neither too small or too aquiline, but a very happy middle), an unremarkable mouth, and a build that appeared soft but wasn’t overweight or scrawny. His hair was short but stylish, a sort of dun brown, and his eyes were a clear blue. They were the most remarkable thing about him, besides the Armani pants he wore, and the Bruno Magli shoes. It was a shame he teamed it all with a cheap white shirt, the sleeves rolled up and the neck open, revealing just a touch of a fake bake tan.
Swiftly the look of guilt disappeared, and he switched over to the smooth huckster personality he must have cultivated with great care. “My accounts have always been in order. There must be a mistake.”
Brendan stared at him, and she remained standing near the door, as if she was just his date and bored as hell. But in reality she was calling up all the electricity that dwelled within the wires snaking through the walls. She wasn’t calling it to her just yet, just getting it ready. How were people not aware of it? She could always feel electricity around her, a light prickling against her skin, the living pulse of the city. She kind of felt sorry for people who weren’t aware of it.
And not that she’d ever admit it to anyone, but when she called it up, when she had a sheer tidal wave of current at her back, she felt invincible. It was a thrilling rush … and she was vaguely aware her desire to use it made her borderline evil. But at least she had the self-awareness to know that if she did take over the entire city, Angel probably wouldn’t talk to her anymore.
“On your behalf, perhaps,” Brendan replied flatly. Yeah, he was definitely doing Joe Friday. “We require access to all your records, Mr. Lyle.”
As Brendan approached the desk, where his laptop was, Lyle held up his hands and backed up a step. “Whoa, hey, I’ve been a reliable employee for fifty years. You owe me a little trust.”
Fifty years? He looked like he was in his late thirties. Even Brendan paused, almost breaking character. So Lyle wasn’t Human, or if he was, he’d made some kind of deal with the devil (or Wolfram and Hart; apparently it was more or less the same thing). “You have your life. For now. Be glad for it. Now call up your records.”
Lyle stared at Brendan, fear slowly giving way to scrutiny, and even though flop sweat started beading on his forehead, he said, “You’re lying. You think I don’t know liars, boy? It’s what I do -”
He moved his hands, she didn’t know whether it was to punch Bren or shove him, but she didn’t wait to find out. She called up some of the electricity, letting it flow down her arm like water, and directed a bolt towards Lyle. Since he was a demon or better than Human, she let him have a few hundred more volts than she would otherwise.
It hit him in the shoulder and sent him flying backwards, as if struck by a car. He hit the back wall and the edge of his window, which seemed to waver in its frame like a pool of water. “Fuck!” he shouted, grabbing the smoking hole in his shoulder and doubling over. “What the fuck was that?” he panted for breath, and after several seconds looked up, his eyes narrowed in pain. “What the hell are you, a Tian-mu demon?”
She‘d never heard of that kind of demon before. Did they shoot electricity? “No, just a freak.”
Bren let his demon side come out, so he turned all blue-green and spiky, which always brought to mind the same question: did he feel those spikes under his skin when he wasn’t in demon form? He always said they weren’t sharp and were utterly useless, but wouldn’t getting punched with dull spikes hurt quite a bit anyways? She wanted to ask, but didn’t, because she wasn’t sure if it was polite or not. “I couldn’t smell it before, not over that cheap cologne -” Brendan began, curling his hands into fists.
“Hey,” Lyle interrupted indignantly. “It’s not cheap! It’s a hundred bucks a bottle!”
“-but you’re not Human. What are you?”
He snorted derisively, and used the wall and window behind him to get to his feet. He was still favoring his right shoulder, the one that took the initial electrical impact. “How dumb are you people? Jesus Christ, my name’s a dead giveaway.”
They both puzzled over that one, but looking at the nameplate on his desk - Ben Lyle - she got it. “Oh shit. B. Lyle? You’re a Belial?”
Bren groaned, as if it was a horrible pun. (Yes, it was.) “A liar demon? Hell, that makes the most sense in the world.”
“But you didn’t get it, did ya? Idiots. You can’t shit a bullshitter. Now get the fuck outta here before the real Wolfram and Hart show up.”
Naomi let electricity collect in her hand, letting it arc across her palm and fingers, and held it up so he could see it. “You’re really not that good a liar, Ben. See, we’re friends of Maximum Bob, and you’re nowhere near his league.”
The name made his eyes widen, and she saw how genuinely deep blue his eyes were. He was hiding them behind contacts that made them more pale, more Human. “Maximum Bob? You, uh … you know him?”
His fear was almost palpable. She’d heard Giles derisively refer to Bob as “king of the liar demons”, and she’d wondered if he was being facetious. Since Giles didn’t seem like the petty type, she figured it might be worth a shot, just to see how Benny reacted. If his reaction was any indication, Bob was at least feared among fellow Belials if not exactly revered. (And no one knew he wasn’t exactly around…) “Know him? I’ve slept with him. Now, are you gonna tell us everything we need to know, or do I show you what it feels like to be cooked from the inside out?”
He visibly paled, eyes nervously scudding between her, her hand, and Brendan. He was going to give them everything they wanted. But the funny thing was, she wasn’t sure if it was because he was afraid of electrocution, or more afraid of Bob.
Oh well; at least Bob had turned out to be good for something.