The sound of the phone ringing shrilly in his ear woke Doyle up more efficiently than any alarm clock could hope to manage. He snuffled awake, groaning and burying his face in his pillow, reaching out blindly with one hand. His fingers wrapped around the blasted receiver, jamming his thumb down on the button to answer it - anything to stop that wretched noise. He realized, belatedly, he should have checked the caller ID, but it was far too late for that. Holding the phone to his ear, working his mouth a few times to get the taste of bitter film off his teeth, he cleared his throat.
"'ello?" he managed to say, voice rough with sleep.
"Why did the chicken cross the road?"
The voice on the other end of the line was soft, thready, and completely indistinguishable. Doyle pushed himself up off his stomach with his free arm, pulling the phone away and staring at it in total sleep-muddled incomprehension. Frowning, he put it back to his ear, irritated.
"You know, it's too early for pranks," he said grumpily. He had no idea what time it was, but he knew it was way too early for this kind of crap. Stupid teenagers. Shouldn't they be in school or something?
The voice just gave a wheezy, somewhat sinister laugh, the bone-chilling effect of which was completely lost on Doyle at that point. Ending the call with a harsh jab of his thumb, he threw the phone across the room where it landed on a pile of dirty clothes and racing forms. Then, with little grace, he collapsed back down on the bed.
The pounding behind his eyes gave him a small clue as to why he felt so terrible that morning. It occurred to him he might be hungover. Of course, he didn't remember drinking anything last night. Then again, that also might be part of the problem.
Regardless, Doyle fully intended to sleep it off. It wasn't like there was much to do. With Angel out of town, the Powers That Be Annoying not assaulting his brain, and the general demon population either taking a vacation themselves or simply getting better at hiding their indiscretions, Angel Investigations wasn't exactly hopping. If they needed him for something before noon, Cordelia or, God help him, Wesley could call.
The pounding in his head grew progressively worse. It took Doyle several minutes to realize it wasn't all coming from inside his skull, unless that pounding in his head was causing the very room to vibrate. Cursing under his breath, he rolled over, sliding out of bed, hissing as his bare feet touched the cold floor. Stumbling toward the door, he tripped over a few magazines on the floor, kicking them aside.
"Damn kids," he heard himself say, wondering when he’d turned into a cranky old man, but too tired to care. Why those new late-teen-something neighbors of his thought blaring techno music early in the morning was a good idea was beyond him. He undid all five locks by feel alone, knowing his bloodshot eyes wouldn't be any help, then threw open the door.
Stepping into the hallway, his grumpy grousing stopped dead as he felt something squish unpleasantly between his toes.
Doyle rolled his eyes heavenward, shaking his head. Lovely. Just lovely. Clearly, Mrs. Williams two doors down allowed her darling Puddles to roam free again last night. Was it that hard to walk the dog outside? Sighing, he looked down to take in the damage.
It wasn't from Puddles.
Pulling his foot back, Doyle stared at the gruesome sight before him in growing horror. A freshly slaughtered chicken, feathers and all, stared up at him with unseeing eyes, the neck twisted at an unnatural, obviously significant way. A bit of white caught Doyle's eyes and he reached down warily, pushing aside the still-warm body of the fowl to find a small, folded note underneath. Picking it up with two fingers, he unfolded it gingerly. Most of it was soaked in red, dripping blood - who knew chickens could bleed that much? - but he was still able to read the dark, boldly written black text on the note. There was only one sentence.
"To get to the other side."
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Angel: Changes in Seasons
Written by: Rachel
♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
The motorcycle puttered to a stop. Wesley pulled off his helmet, shaking his head a little to loosen his sweat soaked hair. The morning sun bore down upon him through the slats of the parking garage, the air unusually warm even for LA given the time of year. Sliding off of the bike, he tucked his helmet under his arm, giving a friendly wave to the man who'd pulled into the parking space next to him.
"Good morning, Dr. Folger," he said to the dentist, who nodded in return.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce," he replied, and then paused, stepping closer. "Grin for me."
Wesley blinked, but did as asked. The dentist stared critically at Wesley's teeth, then nodded slowly. "You get dental?"
"I'm afraid not," Wesley said in return, taking a step back.
"Shame." The dentist muttered to himself and shook his head as he hurried up into the building, humming a song that Wesley believed was from 'Cats'.
Wesley blinked several times, then made his own way inside, picking up the mail for the office as he went. The lift to the second floor shuddered and groaned as it climbed and Wesley closed his eyes, bracing his hand on the wall. From now on, he would take the stairs. Passing the dentist's office, he waved to the receptionist, who smiled and waved back. Their office was full, as always.
Their own office was not so fortunate. Wesley looked down at the bills in his hand and cringed. They desperately needed to acquire more clients if they intended to stay in business. Resolving to spend the morning doing some creative accounting, he juggled the mail and his helmet as he opened the door, pleased with himself that nothing fell to the floor.
"Good morning..." he began, then stopped when he saw only Doyle in the front office, reading a car magazine. "Oh, it's just you."
"Good morning to you, too," Doyle replied peevishly, turning a page in his magazine harder than was strictly necessary.
"Any word from Angel?" Wesley asked, going over to Cordelia's desk and booting up her computer. The friendly Windows logo blinked up at him, then the entire system froze. Letting out a frustrated sigh, he tried booting it again.
"Not a peep," Doyle said. "Not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing."
"Blast," Wesley said under his breath. What on earth was a DLL error anyway? He gave up and turned off the computer, grabbing a legal pad and pen instead. "It's probably safe to assume it's a good thing," Wesley said a little louder, setting the mail on top of the legal pad. "If Angel encountered some difficulty, you most likely would have had a vision."
Doyle shrugged. "Maybe."
Wesley sighed at the other man, standing up and taking his cup off the nearby shelf, heading for the coffeepot. He poured some of the overly thick, brown liquid into his mug, sniffing it once before taking a sip. He almost spit it back out.
"Lord," he hissed, swallowing several times. "Is it just me or does this coffee get worse every day? It's positively gritty."
"Easy enough problem to deal with," Doyle said, reaching into his coat pocket. "Just don't drink it." He pulled out a small flask, tilting it from side to side for a moment before popping off the top and taking a swig of the liquid inside. Wesley imagined that he could almost smell the alcohol from where he stood across the office.
"Lovely," he said, shaking his head. Wesley crossed back to Cordelia's desk, taking a very deliberate sip of his coffee in sheer defiance to Doyle's drinking, making a great effort not to let his displeasure show on his face. Doyle simply rolled his eyes.
Deciding it would be better for his sanity if he ignored the half-demon, Wesley pulled up a second chair to the desk, knowing Cordelia would be unhappy if he took hers, and not particularly trusting its construction in the first place. Settling in, he opened the first bill, preparing himself for the worst. His eyes went wide. Did they really use that much electricity? Considering Angel spent most of his time brooding in the dark and their computer never worked properly, Wesley found that hard to believe. He wrote the number down neatly on top of the legal pad, vowing to argue with the utilities company later.
The office remained silent save for the scratching of Wesley's pen against the paper and the occasional sound of Doyle turning a page in his magazine. The silence wasn't exactly comfortable, but Wesley preferred it to the alternative. Rather than dwell on it, he opened another bill, biting back a sigh at the total the phone company demanded of them. He expected this one to be high. Angel had been calling Tibet fairly frequently during the week before he left.
"What are you doing?"
Wesley looked up at Doyle over his glasses, frowning at him. "I'm attempting to do our accounts for the week," he said, looking back at the numbers that he knew wouldn't add up, no matter how hard he crunched them. "Unless, of course, you would rather I not try to discover a way that all of us can get paid next Friday."
"It was a lot easier when there were only two employees," Doyle said, turning another page in his magazine.
Wesley's head snapped up and Doyle met his angry look, glare for glare. He opened his mouth for a fierce retort, but at that moment, Cordelia bustled into the office like a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, neither man was breathing very deeply.
"Good morning!" she said cheerfully, then stopped short, looking as the two men glowered at each other. "Wow, tension much?"
"Good morning, Cordelia," Wesley said, purposely turning back to his notes. He absentmindedly took another sip of his coffee and nearly gagged. Not wanting to hurt Cordelia's feelings, he swallowed it as best he could.
Cordelia shrugged, going to sit behind her desk next to Wesley. She didn't even bother trying to turn on the computer, setting her purse on her lap and pulling out a nail file. "So," she said as she started to groom her nails in quick, skilled gestures, "what's up, Wes? Writing out an invoice?"
"No, I'm afraid not," he told her, showing her the paper. "We're in desperate straits. I don't know how we're going to afford everything if we don't acquire new capital."
She glanced at his figures and dismissed them with a complete lack of interest, turning back to her nails. "It's easy enough," she said, holding out her hand and giving a pleased nod. "We need more clients."
"That's what I keep telling the man, Princess," Doyle said, giving Cordelia a warm smile and a wink, "but he doesn't listen to me."
"Well if anybody has any ideas, I'm more than happy to hear them," Wesley snapped, clicking his pen in irritation.
"Oh!" Cordelia suddenly sat up straight, snapping her fingers. "I know what we could do. Doyle, why don't you get all spiky faced and go stalk somebody up on the East Side? Then we can, you know, 'subdue' you, and collect!"
Doyle chuckled. "I don't think fraud is the way to go," he said, folding his magazine in half and setting it on the floor.
"I don't know," Wesley said, tapping the pen against his chin thoughtfully. "I think the whole 'subduing' part has some merit." He made a show of gesturing toward the weapons cabinet. "You go be your cheerful self and I'll run you through with a sword. We'll get paid and everybody's happier for it."
"Here’s a better idea," Doyle said, leaning forward, his eyes narrowing. "Why don't we go down to the beach, bury you in the sand up to your neck, and charge people five dollars a pop to hurl heavy stones at your head? We'll make a killing."
"Okay, homicide?" Cordelia said, still working on her nails. "Not such great office small talk. Don't make me separate you two."
Wesley sniffed, going back to his figures, consoling himself by adding up a long string of numbers. He frowned at the sum he got, underlining the negative sign twice for good measure. No, this wasn't going to work. He looked at Doyle, who had picked up his magazine again, most likely out of spite. "I don't suppose you could have a vision or something," he said, a sour expression on his face.
Doyle rolled his eyes again. "Doesn't quite work like that."
"Besides, vision? Hello, not something we can really handle without Angel," Cordelia said, shaking up a bottle of nail polish. "What would we do? Girly slap the demon to death?"
"I'll have you know I'm an excellent fighter," Wesley said, trying to keep the hurt tone out of his voice.
Cordelia laughed. "Yeah, right," she said, putting a coat of clear polish on her already perfect nails. "Remember the Mayor? Big snake? Vampires? A one-two punch and you were down."
"Snake?" Doyle asked, looking between the two of them in confusion.
"Sunnydale graduation," Cordelia said, waving him off or perhaps only drying her nails. Wesley wasn't sure. "I'll tell you later."
"Many people were knocked unconscious that night," Wesley continued, frowning. "It was a great battle."
"Whatever you have to tell yourself, Wes." Cordelia looked critically at her nails, then held her hand out for Wesley's inspection. "Well?"
"Very nice," he said unhappily, though Cordelia didn't appear to notice. "That aside, we have to find someway to make ends meet. Perhaps if we trimmed costs... reduced our overhead..."
"Bought fewer books," Doyle chimed in, looking pointedly at the bookshelf. "Do we really need all those dust magnets?"
"I'm not even going to dignify that with a response," Wesley said, making a show of deliberately tuning Doyle out.
"I'm just saying, why do we need those?" Doyle went on anyway. "It's not like we even read them. Everything we need, we can find on the Internet."
"Of course, the computer doesn't work," Cordelia reminded them.
"Regardless," Wesley said, "there are some things that can only be found in those texts. The nuances of language extend well beyond what one can 'scan in'. Sometimes, even the kinds of ink and parchment used to create the works have significance that could mean life or death. They are not 'dust magnets'."
"Please," Doyle said, shaking his head. "Nine times out of ten, we don't need to research anything. I get a vision, we head over there, Angel gets in a good swing with his sword at just the most opportune time, and you make an ass of yourself. Those books are a waste."
Wesley was starting to suspect Doyle was arguing with him just for the hell of it. He should be the mature one in the group and not rise to his barbs.
"They are not a waste," Wesley said moodily.
"They are, too."
"Oh my God," Cordelia said, rolling her eyes. "Angel so is not paying me to baby-sit you two." She stood up, draping her Prada knock-off handbag over her shoulder. "I'm going out to get some coffee. Try to grow up before I get back, or I'm putting you both in time out."
Wesley hardly looked up from his figures, which he'd buried himself back in to hide his embarrassment. "Why?" he asked, taking a sip of his coffee, hiding a wince. "We have coffee."
"Ugh, that?" asked Cordelia, her nose wrinkling in distaste as she glanced at the coffeepot. "I made that, like, three days ago. No way am I going to drink that."
Wesley set his coffee mug down on the table with an audible 'thud'.
"Do we have any mouthwash?" he asked, pushing the mug away as far away from his as was possible with two fingers.
"Doyle, watch the phones," Cordelia carried on, draping her purse over her shoulder. "Try to be nice. Remember, 'Thank you for calling Angel Investigations. We help the hopeless. How can we help you?' It's not hard."
"Can do, Princess," Doyle said, giving her a mock-salute.
Wesley put a hand on his stomach, suddenly feeling quite ill. "I'm going to find some mouthwash," he said, waving half-heartedly to Cordelia as she walked out of the office. Wesley disappeared into the employee bathroom, trying very hard to ignore Doyle's soft, irritating laughter.
Doyle watched Wesley practically run for the employee bathroom, snickering to himself. The water started running, the sound of frenzied gargling, or possibly gagging, echoing into the room. Ah, that just made his whole morning.
Tossing aside his magazine, which he'd read about four times already, Doyle stood up and went over to Cordelia's desk, sitting down in her chair. It creaked dangerously, the weak metal joints unhappy with his less-than-substantial weight. He tried to arrange himself in such a way the entire thing wouldn't collapse under him as though he was in some kind of cheap sitcom. Maybe picking up office furniture from the local dumpsters wasn't the wisest suggestion he'd ever made. Still, it wasn't like they had much other choice.
He picked up the legal pad Wesley had been writing on, frowning down at the negative number, underlined twice. It reminded him a lot of his own bank account. From looking at their expenses, Doyle didn't think either would be in the black anytime soon. He looked at the phone, the way it totally mocked him with its lack of ringing, and poked it. It still refused to ring.
Picking up a pencil, he tapped it irritably on the desk, so hard the point broke. Then, he amused himself for a few more minutes by jabbing it into the electric sharpener, the grinding noise drowning out the sounds coming from the bathroom and the lack of ringing phone. Unfortunately, the novelty of that wore off when the pencil itself wore out and he looked at the tiny nub of pencil and bright pink eraser he had left, glancing left and right before tossing it into the wastebasket. The last thing he wanted was Wesley to come storming in here to yell at him about wasting office supplies.
Sighing in boredom, he opened the desk drawer, pushing around the things inside. A few old candy bar wrappers, some unpaid invoices, and a plethora of beauty magazines were all he could find. Shrugging, he took out Cordelia's copy of Cosmo, flipping through it. He was about halfway through discovering if his man was hot or not when the phone rang.
The sound, so unexpected and unfamiliar, made Doyle jump, which finally put an end to the chair. The back tumbled to the ground and he flipped backwards, one leg of the chair snapping right off, the other three wheels pitching Doyle’s legs forward. Stars dotted his vision as his head smacked the wall behind him and he sat on the floor with his legs still propped up on the seat of the chair, blinking in pained confusion. The phone rang again and he scrambled to his feet, only dropping the receiver twice as he struggled with the hand-eye coordination necessary to answer it.
"Angel Investigations!" he practically shouted breathlessly into the phone. "We hope the help...We help you hope... We... Ah, hell, what do you want?"
Excited at the prospect of actually having a paying client, Doyle held the phone with shoulder, using both hands to dig through the clutter of the desk to find something to write on and with. He ripped the page of Wesley's calculations off the legal pad, then thrust his hand into the trash to get the pencil nub, holding it awkwardly between the tips of his fingers. The voice on the other line was talking rapidly to him and he geared up in anticipation of writing down all pertinent information.
About five seconds later, the elation melted out of him like a snowball on an LA sidewalk and he sank down to the floor, dropping what was left of the pencil back in the garbage. He rubbed the goose egg on the back of his head unhappily, sitting cross-legged in the wreckage of Cordelia's chair. Closing his eyes, he shook his head bitterly.
"No, we're quite happy with our long distance service, thank you," Doyle said, resting his forehead on the edge of the desk. "No... I'm sure your rate plan is great, but... Yes, but..."
The telemarketer droned on and Doyle started to bang his forehead on the desk. Deciding that hurt too much, he leaned back on his hand, tapping his fingers on the floor. As soon as the telemarketer took a breath, Doyle sat up, having an idea.
"No, we don't need a family share plan, but can I ask you a question?" he asked, then nodded when the telemarketer gave the affirmative. "I don't suppose you're having any unusual problems, you know, personally? Maybe relatives eating strange things or not getting as much sun as they used to? Because our company is in the business of helping those who are in hopeless situations and maybe your neighbor has red skin and horns and your pets keep disappearing and... hello? Hello?"
The phone beeped back at him, and he stared down at the receiver, surprised. "Huh," he said to himself, putting the phone back in the cradle. "First time one of them’s ever hung up on me."
Wesley came into the room from the back at that moment, his eyes going comically wide as he stared around. Doyle sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward. Perfect.
"Don't say a word," he warned the other man.
Wesley ignored him. "I leave you alone for ten minutes and it looks as though a tornado came through here!" he cried flapping his hands around in ridiculous manner. "What is wrong with you?"
Doyle shrugged, looking at the mess, was about to say something witty and clever in response, but he never got the chance.
"Never mind, I don't care," Wesley said, holding up his hand to forestall Doyle's explanation. He picked up his motorcycle helmet, propping it under his arm. "I'm going out to get something to eat. Try not to burn the entire office down before I get back."
"We're supposed to stay here," Doyle reminded him, getting to his feet.
Wesley gave him an infuriating smile. "No, you're supposed to stay here. Cordelia asked you to watch the phones, not me."
"At least bring me something back!" Doyle called after him as Wesley left the room, then thought he heard Wesley laugh and say something very impolite in response.
Scowling, looking over at the phone, the dismantled chair, and the papers and things scattered across the desk and the floor, Doyle crossed his arms over his chest, huffing in annoyance. The pretty girl on the cover of Cosmo smiled happily at him and he weighed his options. Between the choices of cleaning up the office, reading about how to give his man perfect pleasure, waiting for the phone to ring, or going to get some food of his own, it wasn't hard to decide.
"Hell with this," he muttered, grabbing his coat and, taking a few moments to double check the machine was turned on, he stalked out of the office, locking the door behind him. Any major tragedies, world ending events, or sales pitches that came up could wait until he finished eating.
Going up to the elevator, he pressed the button for down several times in quick succession, tapping his foot impatiently. A soft groaning came up from behind him and he looked over his shoulder for the source. A man, holding the side of his jaw, eyes dilated as if he'd been drugged recently, moaned as he walked past him. Shuddering, Doyle looked away from both the man and the dental office he came from, pushing the button a few more times. He hated dentists.
At last, the doors to the elevator squealed open and Doyle walked in, pressing for the garage. The doors stuck halfway, but Doyle didn't mind much. It was a lot like the elevator in his own building. Neither one had killed him yet. Stepping out into the garage, he was surprised to see Wesley still there, standing with a puzzled expression on his face.
"Lost?" Doyle asked, raising his eyebrow at him. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Your bike's over there."
"Cordelia's car is still here."
A little tiny flutter of panic started dancing around in Doyle's chest, but he willed it away. Wesley and his drama. "Well, maybe she's back already and we just missed her."
"One of us would have passed her in the hall on the way down." Wesley frowned and started walking around the car, a serious expression on his face. "Something's wrong."
"Look, man," Doyle said with an exasperated sigh, bouncing on his heels, "I'm as paranoid as the next guy, but there's no reason to assume the worst. She could have walked to that place down the street."
Wesley ducked down the far side of the car, disappearing from view for a few seconds. Then, he reappeared, holding something that brought up a kind of panic that even Doyle's common sense couldn't reason away. "Without her purse?"
"Ah, crap." Doyle hurried over to Wesley's side, taking the purse from him. It was Cordelia's, no doubt about it. The faux leather was scratched up, the shoulder strap snapped.
Wesley had already moved on, going over every inch of the garage with a critical eye, as if searching for further clues. Doyle thought he should be helping, but he felt useless, at an utter loss. He tried to brush some of the scratches and gravel off the purse. She would hate to see it in that condition, fake Prada or not.
"We need to call the police," Wesley said, and Doyle looked up at him. "This may be out of our league. There's no reason to believe this is supernatural in nature."
"They won't do anything." Doyle tied the ends of the broken purse strap together. "Not for several days. They don't take people disappearing in LA very seriously."
"Then we'll do something in the interim," Wesley said reasonably, sounding strangely calm. "We are a detective agency, after all."
Doyle almost wished Wesley was freaking out as much as he. At least then he wouldn't feel so alone. Looking down, he saw Wesley's hands were shaking. So, maybe the other man wasn't as calm as he appeared. Shaking his head, Doyle tried to brush off a little more of the dust, then his eyes went wide when he looked at his hand.
"Is this blood?" he asked, holding it up for Wesley's inspection.
Wesley didn't need to say anything. The way the color drained from his face was answer enough. Doyle stared down at his reddened fingers, pressing them together. His fingertips stuck, the blood still tacky and a little wet. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw Wesley moving around, could hear him talking, but it didn't fully register in his mind. His eyes remained drawn to the blood, mesmerized by it, horrified.
"There's none by the car," Wesley was saying, then he crossed the garage over the dumpster. "But it looks like there's some over here. I don't see anything, but... wait, maybe there's...."
It sounded like his voice was coming from so far away. Doyle looked up at Wesley, saw him rooting around in the dumpster, a pounding behind his eyes making his vision waver. Cordelia's purse fell from his hands and the world started to bend and twist, the pain in his head increasing ten-fold. Sparks of light flashed in front of him and he'd fallen to the ground, screaming in agony, scenes bashing around in his skull, before he even realized he was having a vision.
He came back to himself curled in a fetal position, his arms wrapped around his skull as though he had to hold the plates together. Every bone in his body ached, like they'd shattered, particularly in his chest. Wesley's hand on his shoulder, shaking him, trying to rouse him, maybe, felt like fire burning through his flesh. He scooted away, gasping for breath.
"Cordelia?" Wesley asked, looking hopeful and maybe a little concerned.
Doyle shook his head, saw that hope in Wesley's eyes dim. "No, Alyssa." His voice sounded like he’d swallowed sandpaper.
Wesley frowned at him. "Who's Alyssa?"
"A girl I know." Doyle pulled himself to his feet, trembling slightly. "She's in trouble. She's going to be hit by a car... or a truck. Something. It's going to be bad. We have to get there. She's only twelve."
"Right." Wesley's lips tightened into a fine line and he reached down, grabbing Cordelia's purse off the ground, hurrying over to his motorcycle and putting it in the side bag. Tossing a bubble gum pink helmet to Doyle, he gestured for him to get on the bike.
Doyle put the helmet on without protest, putting his arms around the other man’s waist as Wesley gunned the bike to life. Together, they tore out of the parking lot, out into the bright sunshine. Doyle looked over his shoulder as the parking garage disappeared away behind them.
"We'll help you, too, Princess," he said quietly as they turned a corner.
For all Doyle didn't like about Wesley, the man did know how to operate his motorcycle. They maneuvered between traffic like the cars around them stood still, taking corners at speeds that Doyle wouldn't try on a bet. He wondered where someone as prissy as Wesley learned to ride like that, what possible circumstances a well-bred, private schooled, uptight little twit could have encountered to get these kinds of skills. The few months he’d spent on his Rogue Demon Hunter quest garbage couldn't have accounted for the terrifying ride Doyle was going on.
They arrived at the intersection Doyle had seen in his vision much quicker than he expected them to, which was just as well, since they were right on time. Doyle tapped Wesley's shoulder, pointing frantically. Wesley gestured with his head, words impossible between the helmets and the wind in their ears, but Doyle understood his meaning well enough.
The motorcycle slowed down just enough as they approached for Doyle to mutter a single prayer to whatever deity was listening before launching himself off the bike. He rolled on the pavement, staggered to his feet somehow, and managed to scoop up the body of the young girl in his arms, both of them tumbling onto the sidewalk by his momentum alone. He heard the squealing of the motorcycle's tires, echoed by that of a delivery truck, accompanied by frenzied honking and loud shouting.
Feeling scraped and bruised, but no worse for wear, the shaking form of Alyssa cradled in his arms, Doyle looked up through the visor of his helmet to see that Wesley had pulled his bike around, stopping it dead in front of the truck, which could have hit him broadside if the brakes had failed. Wesley was yelling at the driver, pointing to both the girl and Doyle, the driver yelling back at him. They were starting to draw something of a crowd.
Doyle ignored all the chaos, releasing Alyssa and pulling off his helmet. She looked terrified, which was expected, but her eyes lit up when she saw him. She gave him a shaky smile.
"Mr. Doyle!" she said, cheerfully, but he could see the ghost of fear in her eyes at what almost happened. "You saved my life."
"I shouldn't have had to." Doyle stood up, looking down at the girl sternly. "What were you thinking, walking into the middle of the street like that without looking?"
"I had the walk light," she said, pouting a little and pointing to the walk signal, which was still flashing red.
"People in this city don't pay attention to things like red lights and pedestrian crosswalks," Doyle said, pointing a finger at her. "You shouldn't be out here alone. Where did you think you were going? Where's your mother?"
"Sleeping," she replied with a shrug. "I was hungry. I was going to McDonalds."
Before Doyle could ask anything else, Wesley approached them, rolling his bike into a space on the side of the road. "I can't believe that man," he said, grumbling and shaking his head as he jammed a handful of quarters into the meter. "He nearly ran that light and ran you down, yet for some reason it's my fault. Americans." He looked over at Doyle and Alyssa. "Are you both uninjured?"
"We're fine," Doyle said shortly, grabbing Alyssa's hand. "This is Wesley. Wesley, Alyssa. We're taking her home." He started to pull the little girl to an apartment building nearby, a dark expression on his face. "I need to speak with her mother."
The three of them walked up the stairs, rickety things with graffiti on the walls, but not in terrible disrepair. While this wasn't the best part of LA, it certainly wasn't the worst. Doyle knew the way by heart, having been to this apartment more than once in the past. He'd taken it upon himself to actually give a damn back in the day, not that that was the case so much lately. Still, he didn't come down to this neighborhood all those times back then just to have the girl holding his hand get killed by a runaway delivery truck while her mother slept. It struck him as odd - of all the parents he dealt with, he really thought more highly of Alyssa's mother.
Raising his fist, he banged harshly on the door to their apartment. It took several moments, but the door opened, a sleepy young woman blinking back at them with highly dilated eyes. She looked at confusion at Wesley and Doyle, confusion that turned to panicked shock at the sight of her daughter.
"Alyssa!" she cried, grabbing the girl from Doyle. "What are you doing out of the apartment?"
"She was out on the street, Mrs. Lopez," Doyle told her, eyes narrowing. "She nearly got hit by a car. Maybe this wouldn't have happened if you were..."
"I'm Wesley Wyndham-Pryce," Wesley said suddenly, pushing in front of Doyle and holding out his hand, which the woman shook after a few moments. "Your daughter was in danger, wandering alone, and we brought her back home. This is..."
"She knows who I am," Doyle said irritably, pushing Wesley out of the way.
"Mr. Doyle, I'm so sorry," Mrs. Lopez said, ushering them into the apartment. "I fell asleep." She looked down at Alyssa with something close to anger, but closer still to fear. "You know you're not supposed to leave the apartment without me. Not ever! Go to your room!"
The girl looked about to protest, but the angry looks coming from both Doyle and her mother made her decide against it and she disappeared through a door in the back. Mrs. Lopez sat down at the kitchen table, resting her head in her hands, shaking her head and mumbling to herself in Spanish. Doyle stood across from her, frowning, Wesley hovering around behind him somewhere.
"Wanna tell me why you were sleeping and allowed your daughter to put herself in that situation?" Doyle asked her coldly. "There aren't drugs in this house again, are there?"
"No, of course not," Mrs. Lopez said quickly. "Willy doesn't live here anymore. You know that. It's just..." She sighed, rubbing the side of her jaw. "I just had some dental work done. I had taken some pain killers the dentist prescribed for me and they knocked me out. I didn't know she was out of the apartment. She knows she's not supposed to do that."
"Could I see those?" Wesley said, cutting off the next admonishment Doyle had ready to go. Mrs. Lopez waved over towards the counter and Wesley disappeared into the kitchen, holding up the prescription bottle and looking at it critically.
"You're lucky we were there," Doyle told the woman while Wesley went about his business. "She could have been killed."
"I know." Mrs. Lopez had tears in her eyes, but she smiled at Doyle regardless, reaching out her hand and taking his. "Thank you. I've told you that before and now I have to tell you again. I really appreciate you, Mr. Doyle."
"Well, stay awake and you won't need to be thanking me anymore," Doyle said, shaking his head at her.
Mrs. Lopez smiled sadly. "In this world, you never know how many people you have to thank." She looked down at his hand, her eyes widening slightly. "Is that blood? Are you hurt?"
"What? No, I'm not..." Doyle looked down at the blood, suddenly remembering. He snapped his head over to Wesley. "Wes, Cordelia..."
"Yes," Wesley said, putting the bottle back down. He went over, drawing out a small white card, putting it into Mrs. Lopez's hand. "We're glad we were able to assist you. Please, take our card in case you have any other problems. We have some other pressing business we need to attend to now, I'm afraid."
"Thank you," she told them, looking down at the card. "What is that, a starfish?"
"Something like that," Doyle replied, feeling a sharp pain at the words, thinking of Cordelia. "Goodbye."
"Goodbye, and thanks again."
Doyle and Wesley walked out of the apartment, hurrying down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
"How do you know her?" Wesley asked as they rushed out the door.
"Alyssa was in my class when I taught third grade a couple years back," Doyle said dismissively, untangling the strap of his helmet. "I used to do home visits, you know, keep an eye on things. Her mom’s boyfriend at the time was a real piece of work, knocking both of them around. I helped them get him arrested, worked hard with the girl to catch up with the rest of her class, only to nearly have her smashed into a smear on the street. It pisses me off."
Wesley nearly tripped into the street. "You taught third grade?" he asked, alarmed.
"Well, I didn't always get these visions, you know." Doyle saw Wesley shake his head in wonder, but he could see something else in the other man's eyes, like he was thinking too hard about something. "What is it?"
Wesley paused in the middle of putting on his helmet. "That prescription... it was prescribed by Dr. Folger."
Doyle knew the name, vaguely, but he couldn't make any connections with it. "So?"
"So, that's the dentist in our building." Wesley shoved his helmet on and his next words came out muffled. "It seems like an odd coincidence."
"Maybe." Doyle didn't care much about it anymore, thinking only of Cordelia. "We can lecture him later. Right now, let's get back to the parking garage and see what we can find."
Wesley nodded, but even through the tinted visor, Doyle could see he still looked troubled. He climbed back on the bike behind Wesley, the engine gunning to life. In a move that could only be described as death defying, Wesley negotiated out of the parking space and across three lanes of afternoon LA traffic to get them back in the direction of their office. Doyle gritted his teeth and hung onto the man a little tighter.
Wesley didn't like coincidences. He didn't trust them, didn't believe in them. He knew fate existed, knew it could be a cruel and ironic mistress, and in a world of prophecies, visions, and destinies, coincidence played little role.
Leaning hard on the gas, he guided his motorcycle between cars, busses, and trucks, seeing spaces in the traffic as they opened up and flowing through them like a trickle of water flowed over pebbly ground. Occasionally, he felt Doyle tense when he made one of his closer moves, but he couldn't be bothered with the other man's discomfort. Wesley knew what he was doing, in this arena at least, even if everything else in his life remained in question. He did his best thinking on his motorcycle.
No, Wesley didn't like coincidence at all. In the words of Emma Bull, "Coincidence is the word we use when we can't see the levers and pulleys". Doyle's vision, while timely and fortunate, wasn't their usual fare, involving nothing more than an irritated delivery man not working on enough sleep. Wesley felt like he was being tossed around and yanked up and down by the Powers That Be, but he couldn't see the mechanisms involved, blind to the whims and desires of whatever higher beings they were taking orders from.
He wasn't sure he cared for that either.
As he roared into the parking garage, he hoped those mechanisms would become clear to him. Pulling into a space, he felt Doyle scramble off the motorcycle even before he killed the engine, ripping off his helmet, somewhat pale. Wesley got off the motorcycle himself with a little more grace, ignoring Doyle's glare, calmly taking off his own protective gear and setting it on the seat.
"What?" Wesley asked him shortly, raising an eyebrow.
"How is it that you're not dead yet?" Doyle demanded. "You drive like a damn maniac!"
"Well, maybe if you had a car instead of throwing all your money away on the horses and booze, you could drive next time."
Doyle gave him an impolite and immature gesture before shoving his hands in his pockets and going over to Cordelia's car, looking around on the ground for more clues. Deciding to ignore Doyle if he was going to throw a temper tantrum, Wesley went back over to the dumpster, where he felt he’d been close to finding something before Doyle's vision interrupted him. Lunchtime came and went in the time it had taken them to rescue Alyssa, the daytime cleaning crew in the office already dumping the mid-day trash. Rolling up his sleeves, forcing a flat expression on his face to hide the grimace, Wesley dug in, pushing aside half-eaten sandwiches, sticky coke cans, piles of shredded papers, and other much more unpleasant things.
The smell was powerful, but Wesley tried to console himself by remembering that he'd been covered in worse - demon slime and entrails, bat dung used in spells, blood, sewer water, and the like. A little normal, human trash should be nothing, no matter how his somewhat queasy stomach felt about the whole thing. Shoving his hand deep into a pile on the left side, he touched something warm, wet, and slimy. He grabbed it in his fist, yanking it to the surface.
"Oh, God!" Wesley's voice echoed loudly around the parking garage and he threw the object back on the pile, backing away from it in disgust.
Doyle rushed over to him at his embarrassingly high-pitched exclamation. "What? What did you find?"
Wesley held up his hand, covered in blood. A few strands of shredded office documents stuck to the red, oozing mess. Pulling himself together, he swallowed and picked up the object, holding it gingerly with two fingers, trying not to let it drip on his slacks.
"I found the source of the blood," Wesley said, lip curling slightly at the sight. "I believe this used to be a living chicken, not long ago. Freshly slaughtered, probably this morning. I'd say that's a clue, wouldn't..." Wesley trailed of when he saw the expression on Doyle's face, like the other man had swallowed the very dead chicken Wesley held in his hand. "What?"
"This is all my fault," Doyle said, sitting down on his haunches and putting his head in his hands.
Wesley blinked. "You slaughtered a chicken?"
Doyle shook his head, but didn't look up. "No, but I had one outside my door this morning."
"And you brought it to work?" Wesley thought he might be missing something. The irritated look Doyle gave him sort of reinforced that fact.
"No, you idiot." Doyle stood up, pacing around in a circle in irritation. "I got one this morning. It was a warning from my bookie. I owe him some money." Biting his lip, Doyle punched his fist into his hand. "He must have grabbed Cordy to get back at me."
"How much money?" Wesley asked him levelly, trying not to get mad, knowing getting mad would solve nothing.
Doyle shrugged. "A couple thousand. It's not that much, relatively speaking, but I've been dodging him for a few months now."
Wesley started to tense, but stopped when the chicken in his hand started to squish a little more. "Doyle, I can't believe you would..."
"Look, I know, all right?" Doyle waved Wesley off, stopping him from saying more. "I know. Nothing you could tell me now would make me feel any worse than I already do. Since we've got some idea of what happened, we should just focus on finding Cordy. You can kill me later, if she doesn't. And will you put that thing down? It stinks!"
"No." Wesley went back to the dumpster, grabbing a plastic bag from near the top, dumping out what remained of somebody's low-carb lunch and putting the chicken inside. "We need to go pay that bookie of yours a visit. Where can we find him?"
"There's a club downtown called the Acropolis. We can probably find him there. He owns it." Doyle ran his hand through his hair, shaking his head. "It's not the sort of place you can just walk into, man. I mean, the place is going to be heavily guarded, and not your normal bruisers, either. He don't take kindly to unexpected company, if you know what I mean."
"He'll get over it." Walking over to his motorcycle, the plastic bag full of dead chicken swinging lazily at his side, Wesley grabbed his helmet with his free hand. "Come on, let's go."
"You're not taking that with you, are you?" Doyle asked, pointing to the plastic bag with a grimace.
"No." In one quick movement, he threw the bag at Doyle, who grabbed it on reflex, then let out a sound of disgust and nearly dropped it just as fast. "You are."
Wesley gunned the engine, waiting until Doyle climbed up behind him, then tore out of the parking garage.
"Ah, Mr. Doyle. What a pleasant surprise."
Doyle didn't think there was anything pleasant at all happening, with the possible exception of the attractive girl in pasties wandering around behind the bar, but he nodded anyway. "Tony."
The Acropolis, a high end, private club catering only to the very rich who made themselves rich through questionable means, was located in one of the more attractive parts of Los Angeles. The club itself was currently closed and mostly empty, save for Tony, his henchmen, and a few employees. Fewer witnesses, or so Doyle whispered to Wesley when they first arrived.
Tony himself sat easily at a large table, holding a glass filled with some orange liquid, sipping it through a straw. He’d once been known as Fat Tony, but, after suffering a minor heart attack a few years back, had undergone an amazing transformation, losing the weight through careful diet and exercise. Doyle wasn't the only person who owed him money that bemoaned his newfound commitment to healthcare and clean living.
"Please, please, have a seat," Tony said, waving lazily at a chair across from him. "Care for some carrot juice? Full of vitamins and antioxidants, quite ideal for living a long and healthy life."
"We'll stand, thanks," Doyle said uneasily, shoving his free hand in his pocket, the bag with the dead chicken still clutched in his other. It really did smell. He couldn't figure out for the life of him why Wesley had insisted they carry it around.
Wesley, for his part, had thankfully kept his mouth shut up to this point, hanging back while Doyle wheedled with the very large man guarding the door to let them in. He was looking around the club with interest, appearing very much at ease with himself, another thing Doyle didn't understand. He'd already counted at least four high-caliber weapons within easy reach of both Tony and the two muscle-bound Neanderthals standing behind him, and that didn't include the ones hidden under clothing and stashed in the tops of boots.
"Suit yourself," Tony said with a shrug, setting down his glass of carrot juice and rubbing his beard thoughtfully. He looked down at the bag in Doyle's hand. "I'd ask if that was what you owed me, but since it's dripping blood onto my nice clean floor, I'm going to guess no."
"No." Opening the bag, Doyle reached in, trying to play it cool, and held up the chicken. "I thought I'd return your message."
Tony smiled. "Obviously, I was being obtuse." Standing up, Tony folded his arms behind his back, walking up to Doyle with slow, even steps. "I've been a very patient man, Mr. Doyle, but my cardiologist says that stress is bad for my heart. You'll have to forgive my patience running too thin, but I don't want to take any chances, you see? So, if you could kindly pay what you owe me, we can all sleep easier tonight."
"Oh, I'll pay you back, no worries about that, especially if you don't tell us where you put Cordelia," Doyle replied, waving the chicken around angrily. Some of the effect of his threat was lost, considering he was waving a dead chicken upon which was stuck some strands of shredded documents, little droplets of blood and feathers going everywhere. "You'll think this chicken got off easy."
Frowning, Tony reached into his pocket and pulled out a wipe, dabbing some of the splattered chicken blood off his suit. "Cordelia?"
"Yeah, Cordelia." Doyle shoved the chicken back in the bag and threw it on the ground. "Tall, brunette, easy on the eyes, probably tried to claw off the face of whoever you sent to grab her - you know who I'm talking about."
"Not really." Walking away, Tony went back over to the bar, the girl in the pasties handing him a glass filled with something green. He sipped it and sighed pleasantly. "Celery," he said, holding it up as if in a toast. "The flavor takes some getting used to, but the benefits are worth the cost. Now then, this Cordelia lady, is she a friend of yours?"
"Yes." Doyle found he was losing his own patience. He took a step forward, feeling the skin of his face prickling, knowing he was inches away from losing his human façade. Tony's bodyguards stepped forward to block his path, doing their job quite well. Doyle, remembering himself, swallowed heavily and took a step back. "Yes," he said with less confidence. "She's a friend and I don't appreciate you sending someone after her to get at me. I'm the one that owes you money. You've got a problem with me, you take it out on me."
"That an offer?" Tony asked, leaning back against the bar with a smile. He waved back his bodyguards with a short gesture, the two men following his signal without hesitation. "You're right about one thing, Mr. Doyle," Tony went on, looking amused. "I would take it out on you. I don't like to involve families and acquaintances. Maybe back in the old days I used those sorts of tactics, but the butchering of innocents... it wreaked havoc on my blood pressure. These days, I find it's easier just to go straight to the source. No, Mr. Doyle, if I wanted to hurt someone, I would have broken your legs."
"Oh." Doyle stepped back away from the two large men, who looked ready to do just that at a single word from their boss. He floundered for a minute, confused, losing his steam. "But, the chicken..." he said pointing down at the bag.
Tony raised an eyebrow. "You're not my only client in default, Mr. Doyle."
"Then... what?" Doyle gave up. This tough guy thing wasn't for him. He suddenly wished Angel was around. He'd get the information they needed, no fuss, no muss. Plus, if Tony’s men did decide to start shooting them in a few minutes, it wasn't like Angel couldn't dig the bullets out of his hide and skip on his merry way. Doyle didn't think he'd be quite so fortunate.
"Would it be possible for you to give us the name of that particular client?"
Doyle spun around, shocked when Wesley spoke. The other man had been so quiet, it’d slipped Doyle's mind that he'd tagged along. Wesley stood back a little ways, smiling like they were discussing the weather with an old mate of his, not standing in the middle of a club surrounded by armed guards talking about debts with a notorious mob boss.
"Who are you?" Tony asked, as if noticing Wesley for the first time.
"Oh, I'm.. oops." Wesley, in his haste to hurry forward, tripped over his own feet. He recovered himself, brushing down the front of his suit. Shrugging a little in good humor, he stuck his hand out to Tony. "Wesley Wyndham-Pryce, at your service. I've heard a lot about you, sir. Your health seems much improved."
Tony looked at a loss, shaking Wesley's hand distractedly. "Yes, much better, thank you."
"Wonderful to hear it," Wesley replied, letting go of Tony's hand. "Now, about the matter of your other clients..."
"I'm not one to divulge such personal information." Tony cleared his throat and straightened his tie, still seeming off center. Doyle didn't like that look on his face. The last thing he wanted was for Tony to start feeling all confused and order his bodyguards to remove them both permanently to make his own world right again.
"Hmm..." Wesley was rubbing his chin thoughtfully, then suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Here's an idea. Why don't I pay off Mr. Doyle's debt? In exchange for resolving your problem, perhaps you could then tell us the information we need to find our friend?"
"Give you something extra for what I'm owed in the first place?" Tony asked, skeptical. "That doesn't exactly put me in the winning column, does it, Mr. Wyndham-Pryce."
"True, true," Wesley agreed, looking around the bar. He blinked over at the far wall, and then smiled at Tony. "Are you a betting man, sir?"
"I've been known to be, from time to time," Tony said. He was starting to look interested. Doyle was starting to look for an exit.
"How about a wager, then?" Wesley suggested, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. "I see a dart board over there. I've played a little. Three rounds, and if I win, then you'll tell us the information we need and forgive Mr. Doyle's debt in its entirety. If you win, I'll pay you double what Mr. Doyle owes you and we'll leave you be. Does that sound reasonable?"
Tony exchanged a grin with his bodyguards, who laughed. Doyle felt his stomach sink down somewhere in the vicinity of his shoes, knowing how badly this was going to go. He waved his arms wildly, trying to get Wesley's attention, but the man was oblivious.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce, you have a deal," Tony said, reaching out and shaking Wesley's hand. He looked over at one of his bodyguards. "Bruce, go get the darts."
"Um, sorry to interrupt," Doyle said, dashing up between them, grabbing Wesley's arm. "Can we just have a minute to talk? Be right back."
He dragged Wesley off to the far corner of the bar, a little rougher than necessary. Wesley threw off Doyle's hand, rubbing down the bunched up sleeve of his coat, casting him a reproachful look. Doyle wanted to strangle him.
"I do not appreciate being manhandled," Wesley snapped at him peevishly. "What is the problem?"
"What's the problem?" Doyle repeated, his voice carrying loudly. He looked over at Tony and his bodyguards, who were laughing as they watched the two of them, then forced himself to lower his voice to an annoyed whisper. "The problem is this is Tony Vidatelli we're talking about here, mate. The only thing that made him more notorious than his former weight problem and the fact that he practically runs the entire Italian mob here in Los Angeles is that he plays darts like nobody else. You just made a bet with a man who can throw a dart from twenty feet back and hit the bullseye blindfolded!"
"I'm aware of that," Wesley said, rolling his eyes. "I told you, I've played a little. Now move aside." Doyle watched open-mouthed as Wesley pushed him to one side, walking back to Tony.
"Mr. Doyle seems a little tense," Tony told Wesley good-naturedly, rolling a set of three, gold-tipped darts in his palm. "It can't be good for his heart. He should take up yoga. It's very relaxing."
"I'll be sure to pass along that suggestion," Wesley said politely. He gestured at the dartboard. "Shall we?"
Doyle buried his face in his hands, groaning. "We're going to die."
The late afternoon sun bore down on the two of them as Wesley and Doyle left the club. Wesley blinked at the change in light, rubbing his shoulder, thinking. He opened his mouth to say something to Doyle, surprised when the other man was not at his side. Turning around, he saw Doyle still standing near the entrance, mumbling to himself and occasionally tugging on his hair.
"Are you having a stroke or something?" Wesley asked him, putting his hands on his hips.
"You... you..." Words seemed beyond Doyle as he staggered up to Wesley, pointing at him accusingly. "How did... How?"
"I told you I've played a little." Sighing in exasperation, Wesley waved his hand over to his motorcycle. "Are you coming?"
"You just hustled Tony Vidatelli! The Tony Vidatelli! You! Hustled him!" Doyle's eyes were nearly bugging out of his head.
"Yes, I did," Wesley said patiently. "He was a surprisingly good sport about it, all things considered. Shame that he couldn't tell us exactly what we needed to know, but at least we know he didn't take Cordelia and that your debt is now forgiven. It'll save us some trouble."
"That's..." Doyle shook his head. "Wait, how do we know he didn't take Cordelia? You're not just going to take his word for it. I mean, he wouldn't tell us who his other clients are, even after all that."
"True, but I didn't expect him to." Wesley walked over to his motorcycle, leaning against it and crossing his arms over his chest, looking down at the sidewalk. "What bothered me was that the chicken we found at the office was stuffed down into the dumpster. If Tony sent that one to you, wouldn't it have been outside our door or something similar? My guess is that somebody else in our building owes Tony a gambling debt, no doubt discovered the chicken and took it down to the garage to dispose of it. Since the chicken blood was on Cordelia's purse, all the way across the parking garage, it's possible she saw whoever it was disposing the body of the fowl and ran into some trouble because of it. If we find that client, then I think we'll find Cordelia."
"But Tony wouldn't tell us anything. Besides, isn't it possible that Cordelia found the chicken outside our door and threw it out?" Doyle suggested. Wesley raised an eyebrow and Doyle nodded in resignation. "No, you're right. Our Princess would never touch dead chicken."
Wesley scratched his chin, thinking. "Dorking," he said softly, furrowing his brow.
"Oh, now there's no need to devolve into personal insults here," Doyle returned with a glare.
"No, not you," Wesley said, shaking his head. "The chicken. Let me see it."
Doyle tossed the bag over to Wesley. They'd had to pick the chicken up again when Tony politely informed them that he was a vegetarian and that they'd better take the bird and themselves and get the hell out of his club before he shot them both. Wesley extracted the bloody and now stiffening bird from the bag, looking closely at its plumage. He took one of the clawed feet in his hand.
"This is a Dorking." Wesley showed Doyle the chicken's feet. "You see how it has five toes? It's a relatively rare breed in the United States, one of the oldest chicken breeds in recorded history. Originally, it came from Italy. There's some mention of it during Caesar's time. It's bred primarily in Europe and the British Isles. This one appears to be show quality. I find it odd that such a rare and expensive breed of animal would be used to deliver messages to delinquent debtors."
"You didn't have many friends as a child, did you?" Doyle asked him.
"Not especially," Wesley replied distractedly, placing the chicken back in the bag. "I think this is significant."
"So, what we need to do is find somebody in the Los Angeles area that breeds Dorkings and find out if any of 'em are missing, right?" Doyle said.
"Yes," Wesley said, nodding. "Maybe one of them is Tony's message boy or knows who it is. It's possible whoever spent the morning dumping chickens is the one who took Cordelia, or they might have seen who did it. At the very least, they'll know who Tony's other client is in our building. I have a feeling a man who kills poultry for a living should be easier and safer to intimidate than Tony himself."
"And since we don't have a big, broody, scary vampire to help us with that intimidation, it's probably the only thing we can do," Doyle agreed. "So, what, we go to the library? Department of Agriculture? Animal Control?"
"Possibly all of the above."
"Right then." Doyle cracked his knuckles, grabbing his helmet off the bike. He took the bag with the chicken from Wesley. "Let's go find us a geek."
"Man, I don't think I can take much more of this," Doyle groused as he crawled off Wesley's motorcycle for the umpteenth time. He rubbed his calves irritably.
"We've only been to five breeders," Wesley told him, getting off as well. "True, the smell has been less than appealing, but..."
"Not the chickens," Doyle said, staggering onto the sidewalk. "Your driving. I'm never gonna be able to walk in a straight line again. Although I don't think I could stomach even looking at a KFC anymore."
"I swear, all you do is whine." Wesley looked down at the list in his hand, glancing up at the building to double-check the address.
"Yeah? Well, bite me."
Wesley snorted and Doyle flipped him off, stretching his back. Motorcycles were horrible creations, he decided. No man should ever ride one. It simply wasn't designed for the male anatomy. He was sore in places he didn't know could be sore and didn't appreciate the amused looks Wesley kept shooting at him. Then again, he reasoned, it might explain why Wesley always walked the way he did.
"Is this the last one?" Doyle asked.
"Yes." Wesley frowned up at the building. "It's not quite what I was expecting."
The last address on their list was a derelict old warehouse, somewhere near to condemned as near as Doyle could tell. After searching through various archives and hassling some nice people down at the LAPCA and getting nowhere, Doyle’d had the brilliant idea that they should just go back to the library and Google the phrase 'Los Angeles Dorking breeders'. A nice little page jumped up just by hitting the 'I'm feeling lucky' button. Both Doyle and Wesley had the grace to feel stupid for all their wasted efforts and decided by mutual agreement not to ever mention it again.
"Guess we should knock and see if anybody's home," Doyle said, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"Yes," Wesley said, standing quite still.
Doyle looked at him sideways. "Well, go knock and see if anybody's home."
"Oh, fine. Grab the chicken."
Doyle grimaced, but took the smelly bag from the motorcycle. "I'm thinking we should have bought some ice when we stopped at that last gas station."
"Next time," Wesley said. Taking a deep breath, a breath that he cut off short when he got a sniff of their dead bird, Wesley walked confidently up the door.
Doyle followed a little less confidently. "Weapons, too," he muttered. "We should have brought weapons."
"I'm sure it's fine," Wesley replied, casting a glare in Doyle's direction. "This is the thing now, isn’t it? Turning these old warehouses into some kind of high-end industrial loft housing?"
Doyle shrugged, adjusting his stance just in case when Wesley knocked on the steel door. The sound of his knock echoed almost painfully loudly in the deserted area. At first they heard nothing, then the sound of heavy footsteps starting to head in their direction came through the door. Doyle was happy to see he was not the only one who took a step back.
"Coming, man, coming!" came a booming, but friendly voice. "Keep your pants on!"
Doyle exchanged a relieved smile with Wesley. At least whoever lived here seemed nice enough, so far. Maybe it wouldn't be too bad.
The door opened and Doyle's smile froze on his face; he and Wesley both took another step back.
"Weapons," Doyle ground out through clenched teeth. "We should have brought weapons."
It was a demon, probably the second largest demon Doyle had ever seen. Towering well over ten feet in height, his red skin the color of mottled blood, the demon bared its several rows of sharp, yellow teeth, no less than three sets of jagged black horns jutting from its head. Arms like tree trunks, he looked down at them through golden, slitted eyes, his clawed hand making tiny indentations on the heavy steel.
"Oh," said the demon, sounding disappointed. "You're not the Chinese delivery guy?"
"I wonder how he feels about Irish," Doyle said sideways to Wesley.
Wesley ignored his comment. "No, um, my name is Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and this is my associate, Allen Francis Doyle. We're here to inquire about your, ah... chickens?" He hastily held up his hands and stepped back a bit, bumping into Doyle, who pushed him forward. "It's possible we have the wrong address."
"Are you guys from the police?" the demon asked, stepping forward excitedly.
Doyle exchanged another look with Wesley. "No," he said, shaking his head. "We're representatives for a private detective agency."
"Guess that'll do," the demon said. It looked a little put out. "Well, come on in and take a look around. Maybe you can help me."
The demon turned and walked back into the warehouse, leaving the door open for Wesley and Doyle to follow. Doyle swallowed heavily, looking at the double tail of the demon, tipped with sharp, pointed ends, whipping away into the darkness, split like a serpent's tongue. Following that tail, he blinked.
"Is he wearing Bermuda shorts?" Doyle asked Wesley, unable to believe his eyes.
"I actually think he is," Wesley replied.
Shrugging, the two of them walked into the lair of the beast, taking care to leave the door open just in case they needed to make a hasty exit. Looking around the warehouse, Doyle almost ran back out again, but not for the reasons he was expecting. "God, it's horrible," he said to Wesley, who nodded, a strange expression on his face.
The entire place was decked out in some horrible combination of Tiki, Mediterranean, with a little bit of African tribal art thrown in for good measure. It looked like the CEO of World Market came in and was sick all over the place. Doyle's shoulder bumped into a tiki torch and he hastily grabbed it to keep it from falling.
The large demon, indeed wearing not only bright teal Bermuda shorts with white flowers on them, also had a string of seashells around his neck and oversized Birkenstocks on his clawed feet. The demon pushed aside a neon purple inflatable chair, grabbing a tissue from a decorative box and dabbing at his eyes. He went over to a drink bar made from bamboo, reaching for a glass.
"It's just so terrible," he sniffed, blowing his nose loudly in the tissue. Shoving it in his pocket, he poured himself some red drink that looked to Doyle suspiciously like blood. "Guava juice?" He held it out to them, but both Wesley and Doyle muttered their thanks, but declined.
"So," Wesley said, after clearing his voice several times. "Why were you expecting the police?"
"You don't know?" the demon asked, still tearing up.
"We'd like to hear your version of events," Doyle said quickly.
"Somebody stole my cocks!" the demon cried, then dissolved into wails, flopping down in his inflatable chair and covering its face with its hands.
Doyle blanched. "Your what?"
"I think he means his roosters," Wesley said quietly, jabbing Doyle in the side with his elbow.
"Charlie, Alvin, and Devon, all gone!" the demon sobbed, grabbing another tissue. It stood up, shoulders shaking in distress. "My girls are so upset. Marianna is beside herself and Tiffany didn't lay a single egg today. Why would someone do this to my babies?"
"Then you are a breeder of Dorkings?" Wesley asked.
The demon waved a clawed hand, still clutching tissues, over to a large display case. Inside were at least a hundred trophies and ribbons, most of them very large or blue. "I'm the best damn Dorking breeder this side of the pond. My babies are number one in their class. They're like family!"
Doyle didn't know what Wesley could possibly be seeing. All Doyle saw was his sanity slipping away. The bag with the dead chicken, which Doyle strongly suspected to be either Charlie, Alvin, or Devon, banged against his leg and he shifted it, hiding it behind his back.
"Therefore, you must be Mr. Calvin Smith, correct?" Wesley asked, looking down at the list of names and addresses he'd carried in with him.
The demon sniffed. "That's just my stage name. My real name isn't even pronounceable in the human tongue." He stopped sniffing and growled. "Damn humans. I bet it was my competition what stole my boys. Probably that nasty Mrs. O'Grady. I should rip her lungs out."
Doyle, remembering nice old Mrs. O'Grady who gave them both some tasty oatmeal cookies when they asked about her birds, hurried forward. "Oh, no, we already talked to her. It wasn't her. I don't think there needs to be any lung ripping, do you, Wes?"
"Definitely not," Wesley said just as quickly.
"It's just a figure of speech," Calvin muttered.
"Why don't you tell us what happened, then?" Doyle said. "Walk us through everything from when you knew your chickens went missing."
"Okay. Come on."
Calvin led them up a spiral staircase, warm sunlight filtering down upon them as they went higher. They ended up on the roof, converted into an oversized chicken pen. They stood in a separate caged area, a mesh door leading to the main pen. Sod had been transplanted up onto the concrete roof, fresh, bright green grass covering the surface. Everywhere, there were chickens, happy, healthy chickens as near as Doyle could tell, pecking around their artificial habitat in utter contentment. A few even wandered over towards them as they saw Calvin approach, clucking with what could only be adoration at the sight of the big, red demon.
"That's Marianna," Calvin said, pointing to a large spotted head. "She's already won three regional shows. Her grandmother was one of my prize layers. You see how upset she is?"
"Yeah, she looks downright torn up," Doyle said, not knowing quite what else to say.
Calvin sniffed and nodded, dabbing at his eyes again. "I was taking Julie and Martin over there to one of the shows a few towns over," he said, gesturing to a healthy looking rooster and one of the other hens. "They both won first prize in the judging. I'm just so proud of them."
"Sorry to interrupt," Wesley said, holding up his hand, "but how is it that you can go to competitions, what with your, ah, unique, appearance, Mr. Smith?"
"Friend of mine's a warlock, gave me this nice glimmer spell thing to use," Calvin said, shrugging. "Anyway, I get back in town and let the two of them go in the pens and that's when I realized my boys had gone missing." He gave a choked sob and looked about to fall apart again. "I'd only been gone one day! I called the police and they said they'd send someone right over, but nobody ever came. I don't think they're taking this very seriously."
"Who was watching your flock while you were gone?" Doyle asked.
"My brother." Calvin rubbed his eyes, letting out a shuddering sigh. "He's sort of the runt in the family, you know? Not good for anything really. Can't hold down a job, can't find a mate and spawn a brood of his own, but my mother loves him, 'cuz he's the baby of the family, so I toss him a few bucks to watch my babies while I'm out of town. He was gone when I got here."
Doyle cast a look at Wesley, who nodded. Calvin noticed their exchange and his golden eyes went wide.
"You don't think my brother stole my boys, do you?" Calvin said, fists clenching. "Why would he do that? If he wanted to start raising chickens of his own, I would have sold him a few. He wouldn't have to steal them from me."
"I don't think he was raising them," Doyle said, clearing his throat and clutching the bag a little tighter, hoping whatever kind of demon Calvin happened to be, he didn't have a keen sense of smell.
"What do you mean?" Calvin asked. There was a touch of panic in his voice.
Wesley reached for the bag, taking it from Doyle, who tried desperately to communicate with his eyes that giving that bag to Calvin would not be a good idea. Wesley must not have understood such unspoken communications because the brought the bag forward, taking a deep breath. Doyle stepped back into the stairwell.
"Brace yourself," Wesley told Calvin firmly, then handed him the bag. "Was this one of the three that went missing?"
Calvin looked down at the bag, hesitating, then slowly, he opened it and peeked inside.
"Devon!" Calvin cried, breaking down into a fresh set of tears and heartrending sobs. He pulled the dead rooster out of the bag, cradling its tiny, lifeless body in his massive claws as he sank down to his knees. "Oh, Devon, my baby!"
"I'm very sorry for your loss," Wesley said, putting his hand on Calvin's shoulder and giving it a tight squeeze. He reached into his pocket and gave Calvin an oversized handkerchief, which the demon took with a grateful look, wrapping up the bird inside of it.
"Why would my brother do this?" Calvin asked, grayish tears streaming down his face.
"We believe he was working for a bookie by the name of Tony Vidatelli," Wesley told him. "He may have been witness to the kidnapping of a friend of ours. We'd really like to talk to him. Do you know where we can find him?"
"Where he always is, no doubt," Calvin said, his crying starting to slow. His eyes flashed with a dangerous inner light. "Down at that damn karaoke bar... Caritas. He knows it's the only place he can go where nobody will kill him."
Wesley looked at Doyle, who nodded. "I've heard of the place," Doyle told him. "Never been there myself, but I know where it is."
"Thank you for your time, Mr. Smith," Wesley said, patting the demon on the back. "Again, I'm sorry for your loss."
"I'm going to rip his lungs out," Calvin said darkly, his eyes turning black, tail whipping about dangerously. "And this time, it's not a figure of speech. Nobody hurts my babies!"
"You do that," Doyle said, grabbing Wesley by the arm. "Thanks again!"
The two of them hurried down the stairs and out of the warehouse. A Chinese man was standing outside, checking his address and looking at the warehouse in confusion. In his hands were several plastic bags of food. Wesley hurried over to him, reaching into his pocket.
"Here, here. Take this and go!" he said quickly shoving the money into the man's hand, probably much more than enough to cover the cost of the food. He grabbed the bags and Doyle grabbed the man, pushing him towards the car. Wesley dropped the bags of food just inside the door and slammed it tight.
The Chinese deliveryman saved, Doyle wiped the sweat on his brow, grabbing up his helmet. "Something tells me we better find Calvin's brother quick. It's gonna be hard for him to tell us anything if he don't have any lungs."
"For once, we’re in agreement," Wesley said, putting on his own helmet. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Amen." Doyle climbed on the back. "We need to get some weapons first. Big ones, with lots of sharp edges."
"I like that plan." Wesley revved the engine and Doyle hung on as they rode away from the warehouse as fast as possible.
From the outside, Caritas didn't look like much. The florescent sign flickered in the dying rays of the setting sun, bugs hovering around the letters, the electricity humming through it. A single staircase led down into the dark, basement club. From inside, something that might have been music drifted up to them. Given the overly innocent appearance of the place, Doyle already decided he didn't like it.
"I'm glad we got weapons," Doyle said, hitching up the strap that held the broadsword on his back. The dagger in his boot, the wooden stake in his belt, and the small throwing axe hanging down by his knee all made him feel more confident and happier than any number of self-help classes his ex-wife once insisted he go to. "I feel better with the weapons. I honestly do."
"I as well," Wesley said, rolling his shoulders. "Shall we?"
"After you," Doyle said, waving down the stairs. He followed Wesley down to the door. When the other man pulled it open, Doyle reeled back. "What is that noise?"
"I believe it's a Kailiff demon singing 'Layla'," Wesley said, grimacing. "That must be a crime against humanity."
"It's a crime against my ear drums." Doyle rubbed furiously at his ears.
A well-dressed man, human, thankfully, stood guard by the front door. He smiled pleasantly at both of them. "Welcome to Caritas," he said. "Please check any weapons with me. You can pick them up when you leave."
"Check our weapons?" Doyle repeated, clutching at his axe. "But we just picked them up!"
"Caritas has a strict non-violence policy, humans included," the man said, still smiling, and that smile was starting to unnerve Doyle. "I assure you, you will be perfectly safe inside. Outside, well, that's your problem."
"Give him your weapons, Doyle," Wesley said, handing over his short sword and pulling a handgun from a holster at his side. Doyle blinked at the gun, not recalling Wesley picking up that little bauble back at Angel Investigations.
"Fine," he said, handing over his substantial number of fighting implements to the man, who didn't bat an eye, as if used to people wandering in there armed to the teeth. Then again, maybe he was. Once unarmed, they walked through an archway, which crackled briefly with light, but didn't hurt them.
"Fascinating," Wesley said, looking at it. "That's a clever charm. I wonder what other magics are cast about this place."
"Don't know, don't care," Doyle said, looking around the bar. "Do you see Little Brother around?"
"Hard to say," Wesley replied. "There are so many demons in here..."
"Well, I know the best place to get information in a dive like this." Doyle stepped over a puddle of slime coming from a foul-smelling blue demon, heading for the bar. "I'll work the barkeep, you ask around the patrons."
Wesley nodded, his eyes still wandering everywhere, as if trying to take it all in. Doyle could almost guess what was going through his mind. A nice place like this, full of magic and non-violence, lots of demons all gathered together for him to talk to and study - seventh heaven for a former watcher no doubt. Leaving him to it, Doyle grabbed a free stool, leaning on the bar, rubbing his head to fight off a headache that wasn't helped by the horrid singing coming from the stage.
"What can I get for you?" asked the barkeep, wiping out a glass.
"Shot of Irish, no ice," Doyle said and the barkeep nodded, going to get his whiskey. The shot glass appeared a few moments later and Doyle picked it up, swirling the amber liquid around. He'd just raised to his lips when someone bumped his arm. "Hey, watch it there, man."
The words came out of his mouth before he actually looked at the offender. He nearly dropped his glass. A green demon sat next to him, smiling with bright white teeth, red eyes shining with amusement, horns to match. He wore a purple suit with an orange tie and all in all, Doyle decided the outfit was more off-putting than the demon himself.
"Sorry about that, pop tart," the demon said happily. "Didn't mean to startle you." He stuck out his hand and Doyle shook it cautiously. "I'm the host of this here establishment. I'd ask you what brings you down here, but since I already know..." He snapped at the barkeep. "Hey, Ramone, you know what I like, sweetie!"
"Coming right up, boss!"
"What do you mean you already know?" Doyle asked, looking around for Wesley. He spotted the other man engrossed in some deep conversation with a group of demons, looking like he was having a jolly old time. Doyle was going to kill him.
"Oh, honey, that's what I do!" The Host said, leaning back on the bar. The barkeep handed him a blue, fruity looking drink and he took a sip of it, smacking his lips in satisfaction. "Ramone, sweetie, you're a treasure, you know that?" He turned back to Doyle. "The man makes an incredible Sea Breeze. Don't know what I'd do without him. But, anyway, back to your question, I'm an empath demon. I could figure you out a lot better if you'd hop up on stage and do a little number for me, though. What do you say? You seem like the Gladys Knight type to me."
"I don't sing," Doyle said, reaching for his drink.
The Host put his hand over it and tsk'd. "You don't want that, sweetie," he said, shaking his head at him. "Not tonight. You've got a lovely girl to find and can't do that very well from the bottom of a bottle."
"You know about Cordelia?"
"Know about her?" The Host asked, looking thoughtful. "Not quite, but I do know of her. I also know there's someone in this bar that knows quite a bit more. I'll tell you this much... you're on the right track."
"Where is he?" Doyle asked, thinking a ten-foot tall bright red demon shouldn't be quite this hard to find.
"He'll be by shortly." The Host sighed, looking somewhat depressed. "I'm afraid I had to give him some bad news tonight. Family troubles on the horizon, you see. If anybody can relate to that, empath or no, that's me, sweetie."
"Good, he's still got his lungs," Doyle said, breathing a sigh of relief.
"For a little while, anyway," the Host replied. "I don't like to get involved in these things." He applauded loudly as... something finished singing. "Well, duty calls. The one you want should be coming out of that bathroom in a few moments. Be nice. He's going to have a rough night."
"Thanks," Doyle told the demon, not sure what else to say.
"No problem, honey," the Host said, patting him on the back. "And cheer up! It could be much worse for you."
Doyle frowned at him. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, I thought sure you were supposed to be dead." The Host shrugged pleasantly, then hurried off into the crowd.
"What?" Doyle called after him, but the demon was well out of earshot in the noisy bar.
Wesley approached, sitting down next to him. He frowned at the whiskey and pushed it away. "Did you find anything out?"
"Yeah, I think so," Doyle said, still looking after the Host, highly disturbed. "Our boy should be coming out of the john, soon."
"Oh, good." Wesley grabbed Doyle's whiskey and casually tipped it over onto the bar. "Sorry," he said, not sounding sorry at all, but Doyle didn't have it in him to care. Wesley must have noticed his lack of outrage. "What's wrong?"
"That demon fellow over there," Doyle said, gesturing over to the Host. "He said I'm supposed to be dead."
"Really?" Wesley glanced at the demon, then turned back and nodded at the barkeep, who'd brought them both a glass of water and started mopping up the spilled shot. "Wonder why he'd say something like that? Pity, though, that you're not. It would certainly make my life a great deal more pleasant."
"Yeah, yeah," Doyle said, waving the other man off. He picked up his water glass, looking through it at the bent world on the other side. "It's just disturbing, you know, to hear somebody say something like that. I mean, how can somebody be supposed to be dead? Seems like you either are or you aren't."
"Well, you aren't, so I guess that answers the question enough for tonight," Wesley replied. He was looking over towards the bathroom. "We can wax poetic about the nature of life and death and destinies later. Right now, I think that's our little brother."
Doyle turned, eyebrows jumping up. "Wow," he said in awe, putting down his water glass. "When Calvin said his brother was a runt, the guy wasn't joking, was he?"
It looked like the same species of demon, red skin, black horns, split tail, golden eyes, and tacky fashion sense included, but the demon had to be just over four feet tall. Skinnier than his brother, wearing an eye-melting checkered coat, their demon looked nervous, twitchy almost, eyes darting around the club in a panic. He staggered over to the bar, sitting down heavily a few seats away from Doyle and Wesley, muttering to himself and the barkeep, who cast him a sympathetic look and gave him a bottle of scotch, but no glass. The demon pulled off the top and took a large swig, then started banging his head on the table in slow, rhythmic bursts.
Looking over at Wesley, Doyle nodded, the two of them standing at the same time. Doyle took the seat to the demon's left, Wesley going to his right. The demon didn't notice either of them right away, so wrapped up was he in banging his skull against the bar. Wesley cleared his throat and the even-tempoed banging paused, the demon raising his head and looking first right, then left, then right and left again, several times.
"Hi," Doyle said, leaning his elbow on the bar. "Killed any chickens lately?"
The demon's eyes went wide and he started to stand, but Doyle and Wesley caught his arms on either side, pushing him back into his seat.
"Now, now, now," Wesley said calmly, "no need to be running off. We can't hurt you in here."
"Did Cal send you?" the demon asked, little beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead between his horns.
"In a manner of speaking," Doyle told him. "We did chat with him earlier. He really loves those birds of his."
"I know!" The demon let out a little moan and put his head back on the bar. "I know he does, I really do. I was just... Tony called me and told me to do the job just this morning. Damn man is such an early riser, now that he's obsessed with taking his morning jog at four-thirty. I didn't know what else to do!" He raised his head, looking up at Doyle. "Hey, aren't you that guy in that ratty old building that smells like dog piss?"
"One and the same," Doyle replied, ignoring the strange look Wesley was giving him.
"Look, I'm not the one you should be coming after," the demon told them miserably. "Tony's the one in charge. You gotta know that. Why are you hassling a working stiff like me? My brother's gonna kill me anyway, so I'm sorry if that chicken blood made you lose your deposit, but..."
"He's not the problem," Wesley said, shaking his head. "We want to know who the client is that you dropped off another chicken to in our building."
“And don’t try claiming that you don’t know where we’re talking about,” Doyle added. “I’m sure Tony gave you the address in case I wasn’t at home.”
The demon darted his eyes between the two of them again. "Why?" he asked, eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"A friend of ours went missing around the same time," Doyle said. "We want to find her. You didn't have anything to do with that, did you?"
"Me? Hell, no," the demon said, sitting up straight. "Are you talking about that tall brunette lady?"
"You saw Cordelia?" Wesley asked sharply.
The demon nodded rapidly. "Yeah, yeah, I saw her. I was waiting around, see, after I made that drop, trying to figure out where to go next. The guy came out with the chicken and started giving me a hard time when that girl came downstairs. He looked pretty pissed and she started in on him so I booked it out of there."
"What guy?" Doyle grabbed the demon's arm, holding it tightly. "Who did you see giving Cordelia a hard time?"
"Hey, man, that hurts!" the demon whined, trying to pull his arm away. "Look, I don't know. It was just the guy I had to give the message to, you know? I don't get involved with the clients."
"A name," Wesley said darkly. "We need a bloody name!"
"I don't... it was... let me think!" The demon rubbed his head, then slammed his fist down on the table, reaching into his coat. He pulled out a long list of names, muttering as he read down it, then made a pleased sound. "Here, here," he said, pointing to a name. "That's the guy. Dr. Christoph Folger."
Wesley snatched the paper, reading it over again. "The dentist?" he said, voice filled with disbelief. "The dentist next door owes money to Tony Vidatelli?"
"Yeah," the demon said quickly. "He owes a lot, more than dog piss boy over here. The man likes his ponies... and his cards, his football games, high school basketball tournaments..."
"I knew I didn't like dentists," Doyle muttered, letting go of the demon's arm at last.
"Come on," Wesley said, standing up. "We need to get back to the office."
"Right," Doyle said, rising as well. He clapped the demon on the shoulder. "Thanks, mate. Good luck with the whole getting your lungs ripped out thing."
"Oh, God," the demon muttered, putting his head back on the table.
"It doesn't make sense," Wesley was saying as they retrieved their weapons from the bouncer. "Even if Cordelia did see Dr. Folger dumping the chicken, why would he kidnap her?"
"I don't know," Doyle said, taking back his axe, hefting it. "I think we should ask him some questions and find out, don't you?"
Wesley tugged at the door to the dentist's office, even though he knew it was a futile gesture. The office was dark, not a soul wandering around inside. From the hours written on the glass in front of him, they'd missed the dentist by over an hour.
"Now what?" Doyle asked him.
"We need to get inside," Wesley said, stepping back from the door. "There may be some clue, some indication of where he's taken Cordelia."
He yanked his glasses off his face angrily, pulling out a cleaning cloth and wiping them down in a nervous habit. His gut instinct was telling him they weren't too late, but if they dallied around any longer, they would be. For some reason, his father's voice was in his head, berating him, and Wesley tried his best to banish it, not needing that kind of self-inflicted abuse at the moment.
Putting his glasses back on, he turned to Doyle. "Hand me your axe."
"We're not going in that way, not unless you want this place swarming with security in about ten minutes," Doyle said, leaning down to examine the lock. "Trust me on this, man. I forgot our code one day when I came in to get my coat and it was like all hell broke loose in here. 'Course, Angel slept through the whole thing."
"Then what do you suggest?" Wesley asked irritably.
"We'll go in the old fashioned way."
Wesley watched while Doyle reached into one of his many pockets, pulling out a long, thin wire. He maneuvered it into the lock, humming to himself as he wiggled it around. Wesley tapped his foot impatiently, not expecting Doyle to have much luck with it that way. Then, without warning, there came a familiar click. Doyle stood up, putting the wire back in his pocket and grinning.
"Like falling off the wagon," he said, looking proud of himself.
"You actually taught third grade?"
"Hey, man's gotta have his hobbies," Doyle replied, shrugging.
"That's fine," Wesley said, "but there's still the matter of the alarm. Door unlocked or no, it's not going to make a difference if we open it and set off enough bells and whistles to get ourselves thrown into jail."
Doyle's pride deflated. "I suppose that's true." He rested one hand on the glass door, rubbing his head in thought.
Wesley paused, staring at Doyle's hand. He reached out and grabbed his wrist, surprising Doyle enough to make him jump, but he paid it no mind, looking intently at the glass. "Of course," Wesley said, nodding. "I'll be right back."
He dashed back to their own office, leaving a baffled Doyle behind, unlocking the door and entering the security code without looking. Pulling open the drawer to Cordelia's desk, he pushed aside some beauty magazines and other refuse, finally spotting what he was looking for. Grabbing it, he hurried back out of the office, closing the door behind him.
"What is it?" Doyle asked, still standing by the dentist’s door.
Wesley held up one of Cordelia's beauty compacts. "Oil from your hand; it left a mark on the glass, see?" Wesley said, pointing to the faint handprint. "They have the same security system as our own, which means it's a four digit code. If those buttons are pushed over and over again every day, there must be some oily residue left on them. We blow some of this powder on them and it should stick, telling us which four numbers are in the code."
"That's good and all," Doyle replied, "but that still means you've got something like 256 number combinations. There's no way you could enter that many numbers in thirty seconds."
"If you take into account that they wouldn't use repeated numbers or anything too recognizable..." Wesley stopped, doing a few quick calculations in his head. "Well, the number of combinations is significantly reduced."
"But still unrealistic!"
“Do you have any other ideas? “ Wesley asked.
Doyle opened his mouth then closed it again. "No, not really."
"We're settled then." Wesley put his hand on the doorknob, taking a deep breath. "Here's the plan. You head behind the counter, try to find anything as fast as you can, and I'll attempt to disable the alarm. If I can't do it, you grab everything you can carry and we'll run back for our office before security arrives and hope we can find something useful."
"Sounds nice and hopeless," Doyle said, grinning. "Those are my kind of odds. Let's do it."
Wesley threw open the door, a familiar beeping filling the air as the security system began to count down the seconds. Dashing over to the keypad, seeing Doyle leap over the receptionist's desk from the corner of his eye, Wesley opened Cordelia's compact, blowing some of the fine powder off the top onto the numbers. Tilting his head, he glanced at it sideways from the dim light coming from the small lamp left on behind the counter.
"Hmm." Blinking at the keypad, Wesley pressed the buttons. The beeping instantly stopped.
Doyle's head poked up over the top of the receptionist’s desk, gazing at Wesley with disbelief and awe. "You actually did it?"
"Yes," Wesley said, shaking his head at the keypad. "I wish I could pretend it was more difficult and that I'd just accomplished something amazing, but unfortunately, that's not the case."
"What do you mean?" Doyle asked him, dropping some of the files he'd hastily grabbed.
"The code." Wesley walked over toward Doyle, picking up some of his files. "It was set at the default. Four ones in a row."
Wesley shrugged and opened the door at the back of the waiting room. As he walked through, he flipped on a light, revealing what appeared to be Dr. Folger’s private office. Sitting down at the computer, he wiggled the mouse and pulled up the doctor's schedule. "Dr. Folger's been quite busy lately. He's booked for months." He frowned at one name in particular. "It looks like our Mrs. Lopez who we dealt with earlier is scheduled for another appointment next week. Can you pull her file?"
Doyle went over to a cabinet and began digging through the files inside. He pulled out a large folder and handed it over to Wesley. Opening it up, Wesley took out the medical charts, looking them over, then held up one of Mrs. Lopez’s x-rays to the small lamp nearby.
"That's odd," he said, frowning at it, his eyes darting back down to her chart.
"What's odd?" Doyle repeated, leaning his hand on the desk next to Wesley, peering at the x-ray.
Wesley showed him a set of the dentist's scribbles on the chart. "These two teeth he extracted from her yesterday... If you look on the x-ray, they're perfectly healthy. The other two he has scheduled for next week are in just as good condition. There was no reason for them to be pulled."
"Why would he be pulling healthy teeth? Insurance fraud?"
"No," Wesley said, shaking his head. "Mrs. Lopez is on Medicaid. Even if he's collecting from her insurance, it doesn't go much over cost. He's not making a great deal of profit this way." He clicked through several screens, eyes narrowing. "Nearly all of these patients are scheduled for extractions, no doubt just as unnecessary."
"I hate dentists," Doyle said, standing up straight and shuddering.
Wesley rose from the chair. "Let's look through some more of those files. Maybe we can find something else."
They found quite a bit. Past due notices, financial records, statistics on various sporting events, and a couple of artfully written death threats. Wesley sat cross-legged across from Doyle on the floor, the entire contents of both Dr. Folger's filing cabinets and safe spread out in front of them. Doyle, holding up a stack of papers, tsk'd.
"Man, this guy's in worse shape than us," he said, waving the papers at Wesley. "If we're in the red, then this guy's a bloody mess."
"Yes," Wesley said, flipping through his financial records. "He's overdrawn on every account, the majority of his loans and debts in collections. It's a miracle he's stayed afloat as long as he has."
"Especially with Tony on his tail." Doyle threw the papers back on the pile. "He's lucky he's floating at all and not making friends with fish in a pair of cement boots down at the bottom of the Pacific."
"And yet..." Wesley struggled to his feet, going over to the dentist's computer. He clicked through a few windows, pulling the Quicken program back to the front of the screen. "It looks like he's been making some inroads as far as the debt is concerned, particularly the past few months. The money isn't coming from his practice, however."
"Well, it's gotta be coming from somewhere."
"Yes," Wesley murmured, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. He sat down in the dentist's chair, methodically going through files on his computer.
Doyle let out a huge sigh, standing up and walking behind him. "As interesting as this all is, we still don't know where he took Cordelia. We've got his home address. Maybe we should go over there."
"No. We don't have enough time for that. Besides, for him to be doing these extractions on healthy people..." Wesley frowned, opening another file. "He wouldn't have to be careful, wouldn't have to hide anything too deeply around here. All of his dental assistants and other staff must know what's going on."
"Wait." Wesley leaned forward, highlighting a few rows of an Excel document for Doyle to see. "He's paying rent on office space a few blocks from here. There, you see it?"
Doyle nodded. "Yeah, and that price ain't half bad. Maybe we should look into moving Angel Investigations over there. It would cut down on the overhead."
"I've seen that address before..." Wesley got up from the chair, going back over to the scattered documents on the floor around them. Getting down on his knees, he shoved masses of paper out of his way, muttering to himself the entire time. Finally spotting what he was looking for, he held it up for Doyle. "This address was used as a shipping address for some purchase orders he made for equipment."
"Think our dentist is moonlighting a bit on the side?"
"I think so." Wesley quickly memorized the address, then let the paper flutter down to the floor. "Let's go find out why, shall we?"
"I've changed my mind," Doyle said as the motorcycle puttered to a stop. "We shouldn't move here. It makes my dog piss smelling apartment look like the Taj Mahal."
The building, old, derelict, and missing half its roof, sagged on its foundation as if it had given up all hope. Broken bottles littered the sidewalk; glass crunched under their feet as Doyle and Wesley walked up to what remained of the front door. Doyle pulled out his nifty hand axe, giving it a few prefatory waves. Wesley looked at him disapprovingly.
"Evil or not, we can't kill a human, even if he is a dentist," Wesley reminded him.
"I know." Doyle swung the axe again. "But the last time we walked into an old building, we came face to face with a ten foot tall demon. Forgive me for not taking any chances."
"Calvin was actually very nice, all things considered."
"Beside the point. Let's see if anybody's home."
The front door to the old office building, wooden and smelling strongly of rot and mold, hung crookedly on the frame. Doyle touched the rusty knob, trying to turn it, but it was locked tight. Sighing, he bent down to look at the lock, intending to see if he could pick it, leaning his hand on the door for balance.
A tiny moan, almost like a sigh, filled the air as the wood under Doyle's hand crumbled, the old hinges finally giving up their attempts to hold the door in place, the entire structure collapsing into the building. The sound of rotting wood and metal door hardware hitting the ground was horrendous. Wincing, Doyle cast an apologetic look at Wesley.
"Well, if anybody is home, they certainly know we're here now," Wesley said mildly.
Doyle spread his hands in surrender. "At least we're in, yeah? You can't argue with results."
Wesley gave a tiny, exasperated sigh, but no malice colored it. In fact, his lips quirked in a tiny smile, a smile Doyle reflected. He waved the axe again and Wesley laughed, pulling out his handgun.
"Guess we should go say hello," Wesley said, stepping into the building.
"Mind if I ask you about that?" Doyle gestured to the gun with his unoccupied hand, following closely. "It doesn't look like Angel Investigations standard issue, seeing as how it wasn't made a couple centuries ago and doesn't require constant sharpening and dusting."
Wesley looked down at his gun, and if Doyle didn't know better, he’d have thought he saw a tiny bit of nostalgia sweep across the other man's features.
"A gun is not an ideal weapon when one is fighting demons, as bullets rarely stop them and have a nasty tendency to ricochet off thick hides. Still, I've always been fond of the design, the sleekness and the power that comes from something so small. It's a good distance weapon, provided you're not shooting at something too heavily armored, much more effective than a crossbow, and easier to conceal. While it may not stop all demons, it can slow them down, which I find useful when I need to regroup." That funny smile touched Wesley's lips again. "Besides, it was a gift from my mother when I left for America. She was under the impression everyone here had one, and thought I might as well try to fit in."
Doyle stopped mid-step. "Are you being serious about that last part?" he asked incredulously.
Wesley nodded. "My mother's a classy woman. The only mistake she ever made was marrying my father."
The logic of that went over Doyle's head, knowing the ultimate consequences of Wesley's mother not marrying his father would mean a total shift in his reality, but before he could call the other man on it, he realized they were no longer alone. Demons, several of them in fact, stood in front of them. They looked almost as surprised to see them as Doyle and Wesley were, surprise that quickly faded.
"Um..." Doyle said quietly to Wesley, taking a step back. "Are those the kind of demons you can shoot so we can do that whole regrouping thing?"
"One or two of them, maybe," Wesley replied, also stepping back, "but not eight."
"I miss Angel, don't you?"
"More than ever at the moment."
Wesley was looking around quickly. It was hard to see in the dark, derelict building. Doyle felt Wesley nudge his shoulder, tilting his head to a rickety looking staircase off to their left.
"Go that way," Wesley said, nodding at the stairs again. "Really fast. If something gets in your way, turn."
Doyle blinked. "You've seen 'Better Off Dead'? I love that movie!"
"As do I," Wesley said, tugging on Doyle's arm, "but perhaps we could discuss it later?"
Dr. Folger didn't consider himself a bad man, just a terribly unlucky one. He mused on that as he scrubbed his hands clean, humming the show tune he'd had stuck in his head all afternoon. The fates conspired against him on a regular basis. It wasn't like he was doing anything too terrible. He figured pulling teeth was a form of preventative medicine, saving his patients a great deal of pain in the future since none of them knew how to floss. The world would be a better place if people would just floss.
Pulling on his latex gloves, he rolled his shoulders a few times, tired after his long day. The overextended schedules were making his back hurt, but nobody cared about his pain. He'd missed several good horse races, not that he didn't bet on them - and lose again - regardless.
He smiled good-naturedly at his dental assistant, Wilma. She was a nice girl, his favorite. She never nagged at him when the paychecks bounced or he denied her overtime. Of course, it had taken a little careful spell casting to get her and the rest of his staff to play along, but that's what brothers were for.
Oh, his mother and father, always so proud of his little brother the warlock for following in their footsteps. Most parents would be ecstatic with their son going into a respectable career like dentistry, but not his. Heaven forbid he should want to make the world a better place through teeth cleanings and the promotion of supreme oral health, rather than sit in some dingy basement somewhere fiddling with bat guano and mixing foul smelling potions.
His parents had lousy teeth. It bugged him. Why couldn't they just damn well floss?
Walking into the makeshift examination room, the only room in the old building he'd manage to restore, he whistled that show tune, something from 'Cats', he thought. Wilma had already set out all of his tools and equipment and was sitting on a low stool next to the dental chair, holding a rubber nosepiece in one hand, her other hand resting on the knob of the gas canister. She smiled brightly at him, her teeth perfectly aligned and white as fresh fallen snow up in the mountains. Dr. Folger smiled back. Now, she flossed.
"Sorry for making you wait," he told his patient, who was currently strapped down to the dental chair. Her eyes were wide, not in fear, but in pure anger. Some people just couldn't handle going to the dentist. If they just came in for their regular cleanings every six months, so much pain could be avoided. It almost bothered him as much as the lack of flossing.
"We've just been swamped down at the office," he told her, reaching down and undoing the knot on the gag around her mouth.
"You crazy son of a bitch!" the girl yelled, trying to raise her hands to hit him, but unable to break the bonds around her wrists. "You've got some nerve! I'm just trying to get coffee and you... you and your dead chickens, you had to kidnap me, drag me down to this ugly building, tie me up for over eight hours, then stroll in here like it's nothing! You've messed with the wrong girl, buddy! My boss is a vampire!"
"Vampires take good care of their teeth," Dr. Folger said lightly. "I approve of that."
"Are you even listening to me?"
"And you really shouldn't drink coffee," he continued, looking over at the tray and inspecting his tools. "It has a high acid content and can dissolve the enamel of your teeth, not to mention how badly it stains. Also, your boss is out of town. I saw him leaving about a week ago and we had a nice chat about it."
"You are totally out of your mind!" the girl yelled. She tilted her head back. "Help! I'm trapped in here with a crazy dentist! Somebody help me!"
Dr. Folger, used to people screaming in fear, pain, or a combination of both while in his presence, ignored her continued rants, looking over his shoulder. "Wilma," he asked his dental assistant, frowning slightly, "do we have enough marjoram on that summoning altar over there?"
"Yes, sir," Wilma said, still smiling, her eyes somewhat glassy.
"Good, good," he replied, nodding and looking back at his patient. "Why don't we give Ms. Chase some gas to calm her down?"
"Yes, sir." Wilma turned the knob on the canister, a soft hiss filling the air. She lowered the rubber nosepiece down to the patient's nose, but the girl tossed her head left and right in an attempt to dodge it.
"My friends will save me!" the girl shouted, still tossing her head around. "They're tough, brave guys! One is half-demon and the other used to be a Watcher! You've heard of Watchers? They train Slayers! Those two will totally kick your creepy dentist ass!"
"Please try to relax," Dr. Folger said, taking off his gloves mournfully, hating to waste a perfectly good set, but seeing that Wilma was having some trouble. He put his hands on either side of his patient's head, holding it still. Some people were so resistant to oral hygiene, it utterly baffled him. "This shouldn't take too long."
"Doyle! Wesley!" the patient yelled, trying to breathe through mouth. "Help... mrph!"
Dr. Folger sighed, holding his hand firmly over the girl's mouth, waiting patiently as she inhaled the gas, her body gradually relaxing in the chair. "So," he asked Wilma as they waited, "what do you think of Lakers? Think they'll pull it out next season?"
"If you say so, sir," Wilma replied cheerfully.
"I certainly hope so. I've got five hundred dollars on the next..." The sound of pounding feet filled the air and Dr. Folger paused, looking over at the door in confusion. "Did we have any other patients tied up in the waiting room?" he asked his assistant.
Wilma never got a chance to answer. Seconds later, the door to the examination room burst open, two rough, dirty, terrified men dashing inside. The shorter one slammed the door shut, shaking his head, spines bursting out all over his face as his skin turned faintly greenish, leaning heavily against the door as it shook with force as something banged into it from the other side. The other man, spotting Dr. Folger's patient on the table, flew at them both with a wild yell, crashing into Wilma and knocking both her and the tray of dental tools to the floor. Dr. Folger stood up away from the mess, giving both the men a stern look.
"Gentlemen, if you please," he said, irritated. "I'm currently with a patient. If you'd like to see me, you can call the office tomorrow during regular business hours and make an appointment."
"Make an appointment?" the demon man yelled. His feet slipped as the door banged again from the outside and he threw all of his strength against it. "Are you out of your bloody mind?"
"Granted, I know we're booked for some time," Dr. Folger said, frowning at him, "but as you're our neighbors, I'm sure we could find a way to squeeze you in."
The other man lunged at him, but Wilma grabbed him from behind, still smiling that beautiful smile of hers, throwing him hard against the wall and grabbing the drill off the floor, leaping for him again. His patient, now awake, had also begun shouting, no doubt at the great indignity of having her appointment interrupted. Dr. Folger sighed, looking down at his scattered equipment.
"Well, this is going to take much longer than I thought," he said, glancing at his watch. "Still, I can't miss the window. She will be displeased. Best get on with it, I suppose. I'll have to do this patient with the next batch."
Walking over to the altar, he reached into his pocket, pulling out a small cloth bag. Opening it, he poured its contents out onto a small tray made of pure dentist's silver. No less that forty adult teeth, all perfect, white, and healthy clattered onto the tray and Dr. Folger smiled down at them, arranging them neatly. Picking up a soft, tiny, square pillow, he placed it on top of the teeth, then lit the candles surrounding it.
Putting on a fresh pair of gloves, he closed his eyes and started to chant. The chaos continued around him, but it disappeared into a soft hum in the background as the magic coursed through his body, the words coming from his mouth nearly as old as time itself. His parents may love his brother more than he, but he wasn't completely hopeless.
Besides, he flossed. That had to count for something.
Even over the sound of the dentist's drill, Cordelia's screaming, Wesley's fighting with the ever-smiling dental assistant, and the hoard of demons currently trying to break down the door Doyle was using all his half-Brachen strength to keep closed, he could hear the spidery language of magic on the air. He looked over at the dentist in terror, seeing him standing near some kind of altar, waving his hands around, his eyes closed in concentration. Doyle didn't know much about magic other than that he didn't care for it, because the few times he'd been around it never amounted to anything close to fun.
"Wes!" Doyle shouted over the din. "He's doing something!"
"I know that!" Wesley yelled back, still wrestling with the girl. She had the drill dangerously close to his eye and he was desperately trying to keep that eye while attempting to push her off with his legs.
"This is no time to be a gentleman!" Doyle told him through clenched teeth. "Sock her!"
Wesley grunted something impolite. "She's stronger than she looks!"
"What are you two idiots doing?" Cordelia cried, still strapped down. "Somebody get me up!"
"We're a little tied up right now, Princess," Doyle said, groaning as another powerful lurch of the door hit his shoulder.
Cordelia flashed him an angry look. "Don't you talk to me about tied up, Allen Francis Doyle!"
"Christ, she sounds like my ex-wife." Shaking his head, Doyle tried to think.
Absolutely nothing came to mind, other than the fact that they were boned. He didn't think he could hold the door much longer and even if he did somehow manage to get the demons to go away, they still had to contend with the possibly possessed dental assistant, the dentist, and whatever the dentist was currently cooking up over at his little altar. Yep. Boned seemed about right.
"I hate my life," Doyle told the door, bracing himself for another blow; one he was sure would shatter what remained of his shoulder.
The blow never came. Instead, other sounds came filtering in from outside. Doyle pressed his ear against the door, trying to make it out. It sounded like their demons were fighting something else and losing. Gurgles of pain and death echoed back at him and Doyle stepped away from the door in relief. Whatever it was, it might very well come after them after it finished off the demons, but at least it bought him some time.
Doyle glanced at Wesley, who was now straddling the dental assistant's back and holding her arms behind her in a classic wrestling pose. Cordelia was still tied down, Angel was in Tibet, and Doyle swallowed heavily, looking at the dentist. It was up to him to save the day. Doyle always thought of him saving the day as an absolute last resort scenario.
"There's a first time for everything," he said, pulling back his demon façade and preparing to rush the dentist to stop whatever he was doing.
He’d only taken two steps when the dentist suddenly lowered his arms and smiled.
"Well, crap," Doyle said, throwing his hands over his eyes as the room filled with light.
Wesley didn't expect the light, and his eyes snapped shut against it seconds too late, his grip on the girl squirming underneath him slackening slightly. She took that opportunity to buck him off and he went flying back into the dentist's chair, head banging into a solid metal post sunk into the concrete floor. His vision, already slightly impaired from the shock of light, suddenly went even worse, stars flashing in front of his eyes. He threw his hands up over his head, trying to protect it from whatever dental implement the girl might try to shove through his skull, but nothing happened. Opening his eyes slowly, his head throbbing, he looked up through watering eyes to see her standing up, hands clasped in front of her chest, looking across the room in awe.
Struggling to his feet, he turned to see what had diverted her attention away from him, and his mouth fell open in shock.
She was beautiful. There was no other word to describe her. The creature floating above the altar had an ethereal magnificence about her, a kind of heart-stopping beauty that made him want to kneel down in praise for no reason he could identify. Dr. Folger was already doing just that, bowing his head in grand respect to the creature.
"My master," he said with deep reverence, "Lady of Wonder and Patron Goddess of the ADA, you honor me with your presence and bless me with your countenance. I welcome you to my work station this fine evening and hope the humble tribute I give you is welcome and appreciated."
The creature smiled down at him, her smile a burst of perfect radiance that made Wesley want to rush home and floss his teeth right away. She reached down, picking up the small pillow on the altar and putting it aside, then lifted up the silver plate. Pouring the teeth into her hand, she looked down at them fondly, then set the plate back down and waved her hand over it. A pile of bills filled the tray and she returned the pillow on top of it.
"Thank you, my Goddess of Dental Hygiene," Dr. Folger said, bowing so low, his forehead nearly touched the floor.
A cool, minty-fresh breeze wafted through the room, the candles flickering out, and the creature disappeared with a burst of rainbow colored sparkles. Wesley watched all this in shock, wondering if perhaps he'd hit his head harder than he thought. But, no. He doubted even his own subconscious could be this insane.
"Now, then," Dr. Folger said, rising off the floor and turning back to all of them, smiling pleasantly. "Wilma, if you'd be so kind as to restrain our guests in the waiting room, we can complete our work for this evening and all get home. There's a bowling tournament on television tonight that's of particular interest to me."
"Yes, sir," said the dental hygienist, smiling maniacally and leaping forward at Wesley. Wesley grabbed her wrists, trying to fend her off, but she was just too strong for him.
At that moment, the door to the examination room burst open and all eyes turned to look over at it in surprise. A tall, hulking form filled the entryway, ducking under the doorframe and stepping into the light. Its thick red claws covered in demon slime, the figure rose to its full height, looking incredibly terrifying, even in its Bermuda shorts, seashell necklace, and Birkenstocks.
"Calvin!" Wesley gasped, choking out the demon's name somehow, even with the preternaturally strong arm of Wilma around his neck.
The huge red demon blinked over at Wesley and Doyle. "Oh, hey guys," he said, smiling at them. "Didn't expect to see you here." He looked around the room, spotting the dentist. "Hey, you Dr. Folger?"
"Yes, I am," the dentist replied mildly, not looking half as scared as Wesley thought he should be. "I'm afraid I'm quite busy at the moment. If you could call the office tomorrow during regular business hours and make an appointment?"
"Nah, this'll only take a second," Calvin said, crossing the room in one easy step, putting his hand on top of the dentist's head and twisting it sharply, his neck snapping, the body falling to the floor. "See?"
The arm around his neck went slack and Wesley sucked in wonderful, wonderful life giving air, prepared to lash out at the dental hygienist, but restraining himself when he saw her blinking around in confusion, no longer smiling, but rubbing the area around her mouth as if it were sore. She took one look at the dead Dr. Folger and Calvin, then ran out of the room as fast as she could, knocking Doyle to the side.
"Calvin!" Doyle cried, once he'd gotten his footing. He waved his hands down at the dentist. "Why did you do that?"
"It's a funny story," the demon said, frowning down at his demon slimed hands, picking up a blue dental bib and wiping them clean. "See, after I ripped out my brother's lungs, I found this list of names in his pocket. I didn't get it, so I found this Tony guy and asked him about it. He offered me a few thousand to kill a couple people on the list. I figured, if I had to buy some new chickens to replace the ones my brother killed, the extra money wouldn't hurt, you know? Besides, I was pretty mad and this Tony guy told me it wasn't good for my three hearts to pen up all that rage, and I didn't see how I could argue with him."
"Um, he didn't tell you to kill me, did he?" Doyle asked nervously, backing away from the demon.
"Nah." Calvin reached out his hand and tried to ruffle Doyle's hair good-naturedly, but Doyle squeaked and ran to hide behind Wesley. "He says things are squared between you guys. Apparently, he's got some kind of life insurance policy against this guy here." Calvin kicked the dentist's body. "So, his debt is all good now, too."
"Lucky him," Wesley said, looking down at the body and shuddering.
"Yeah. The funny part about this whole thing was I was planning to kill this guy anyway." Calvin laughed, but Wesley didn't quite get the joke. "You see, I owed his brother a favor."
"Some favor," Doyle muttered.
"Anyway, it's great chatting with you all and such, but I better get back to the coop." Calvin waved at Cordelia and started for the exit. "You guys take care, now, you hear? And you're welcome to visit anytime."
"Sure, man, sure," Doyle said weakly.
When Calvin left the room, it grew unnaturally silent. Doyle was still cowering behind Wesley, his hands on his shoulders, and Wesley reached up and patted one of them consolingly. There didn't seem to be much else to do.
"So," Wesley said, clearing his throat.
"So," Doyle echoed, letting go of Wesley at last.
"So, could one of you please let me up!" Cordelia snapped at them. "I've had a shit day, I've got to pee, and there's a dead guy on the floor over there! You guys better have a good explanation for why it took you so long to get here!"
"Right, sorry," Wesley said, hurrying over to undo her restraints.
"Let me get this straight," Doyle was saying, leaning back against the wall, cradling a cup of hot coffee in his hand. They'd nicked the bag from Dr. Folger's office after they'd dumped his body there, hoping the cops would just think it was a break-in gone bad or that his debts and the people he owed them to finally caught up with him, which was true enough. "The ADA has a contract with the Tooth Fairy?"
"It should have occurred to me right away," Wesley said from where he was sitting on the edge of Cordelia's desk, sipping from his own cup. "Although, the term 'fairy' is really a misnomer. She's more of a minor Goddess. You see, teeth have great intrinsic value. It's why so many cultures use them as decorations, why you find them as components in the higher order of magical spells. Their black market value is quite significant."
"But they're just teeth," Cordelia said, still quite angry about the whole thing. She was filing her nails with a vengeance, sitting on the other edge of the desk, since her chair still lay in pieces on the floor. "Everybody's got 'em. How can they be worth anything?"
"Most teeth are not," Wesley said, setting his mug down, leafing through one of his books on his lap. "Teeth decay, fall apart from wear and tear. Healthy adult human teeth are not easy to come by, as they often only come out when damaged. They're also harder to give to Apollonia, or the Tooth Fairy, if you will, since she restrains her corporeal appearances for the most part only in the harvesting of children's baby teeth, which don't bring much since the market is flooded with them. The teeth only gain value once they've been blessed by Apollonia herself. Only one who has gone through the proper rituals can summon her and the rituals are only known to one cult society."
"Dentists," Doyle said, shuddering again. "I told you I didn't like dentists."
"I know I never had a Goddess show up in my room as a child," Cordelia said, looking highly skeptical. "My parents put that money under my pillow, not her."
"Actually, she usually does it right away, but when a parent comes in to place the money under the pillow, they usually believe the other spouse beat them to it or that they'd done it earlier and simply forgotten," Wesley explained. "One of Apollonia's gifts is to skew reality slightly to allow her to work her magic. It's been that way since as far back as the texts go."
"So, Dr. Folger exchanged the teeth he pulled with the Tooth Fairy for a nice mark up to pay off his gambling debts?" Doyle asked. "I'm guessing the ADA wouldn't like that."
"As near as I can tell, it's somewhat a standard practice among everyone in the profession," Wesley replied. "He just carried it a little further than most. I daresay he seemed a little mad."
Doyle snorted. "That's just great. So, what's next, the Easter Bunny?"
Wesley turned a page in his book, his eyes going wide as he read the next passage. "Good, Lord, I hope not." He slammed the book closed quickly.
"You know what?" Cordelia said, tossing her nail file back in the drawer and shoving it closed. "Dentists, Tooth Fairies, giant chicken breeding demons in tacky Bermuda shorts? I could care less about it anymore." She opened her purse and pulled out a large stack of bills, counting them. "The stores open in less than six hours so I'm going home, eating until I feel like throwing up, getting some sleep, and going out to spend some of this hard earned cash."
"That money doesn't really belong to us," Wesley said uneasily.
Cordelia rolled her eyes, putting the cash back in her purse. "Well, it's not like that creepy dentist needs it anymore. Besides, I consider it pretty much what I would have gotten once I hit him with a major malpractice lawsuit. What are you complaining about anyway? The business is saved for another couple months, we all get a nice bonus, and I get to buy a real Prada purse and shoes to match."
"When you put it that way..." Doyle said, smiling.
The door to the office opened and Angel came in, dropping his bag on the floor. "Hey everyone," he said, looking tired. He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "Did something happen at the dentist's office down the hall? There are cops everywhere."
"We're not talking about dentists anymore," Cordelia said, shortly, getting to her feet and patting down her hair. "I'm going home and I'm taking the day off tomorrow. Don't call me." She stormed out of the office right past Angel, who watched her go in confusion.
"Did I say something wrong?" he asked Wesley and Doyle.
Doyle shook his head, standing up straight and putting his coffee mug on top of a nearby filing cabinet. "Don't worry about it, mate. We'll explain it all tomorrow." He looked down at his watch. "The bars don't close for a few hours, Wes. You up for a pub crawl?"
"Sounds delightful," Wesley replied, standing as well and putting his book aside.
"Wait." Angel held up his hands, looking between the two of them with alarm. "You two are getting along now? What happened?"
"Man, you can't go through a day like this without forming some kind of connection," Doyle said, stretching. "What do you think, Wes? Karaoke?"
"Don't even joke about that."
Doyle laughed, clapping Wesley on the shoulder. "Come on, mate. Two dollars!"
"Two dollars!" Wesley crowed back and the two left the office, laughing the whole way down the hall.
Angel stood alone in the front lobby, scratching his head. He looked around the room, spotting the broken desk chair, his weapons cabinet hanging open and nothing put away properly, Cordelia's things scattered all around the room, and... He sniffed the air. Did he detect the faint scent of chicken blood?
Utterly confused, but too tired after what he'd been through in Tibet to care, picked up his bag, preparing to go downstairs and get some well-deserved rest. Outside, the paramedics were wheeling away a body bag in the direction of the elevator. He watched them go for a moment, then shrugged to himself, starting for the back. Something caught his eye halfway there, however, and he stopped.
"Hey, fresh coffee," he said in amazement and poured himself a mug, sipping it cheerfully as he headed for his room.