Faith, the Disclaimer: BtVS and Angel characters and concepts are owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy, the WB and so on and so forth. Not us. We're only borrowing the characters. We doubt Joss would ever do something like this to them.
Vampire Slayer Exotic Dancer
by Mike Dewar
Disclaimer: BtVS and Angel characters and concepts are owned by Joss, Mutant Enemy, the WB and so on and so forth. Not us. We're only borrowing the characters. We doubt Joss would ever do something like this to them.
I stared grimly at my target, limbs tense, feeling the cool hardness of my weapon between my fingers. Then my arm swept up, and the projectile shot forward from my grasp. I heard it strike the target with a thud as I readied my second missile and threw.
I could see from the moment it left my hand that it was a bad throw, and my third and final projectile was already in the air before the second struck home.
“ Ten!” I snarled with disbelief, glaring at the dartboard. The bloody thing was cursed. “Ten lousy points!”
There was no doubting it. My dart-throwing skills were seriously off. I’d always held them in pretty high regard, but after last night it was clear my once-boasted aim was no more.
And of course, Faith had suggested we play for money.
I glared again at my traitorous dartboard, yanking the darts out one by one. It was propped up on top of my desk, tiny little holes riddling its ancient surface. Some of the holes were quite possibly older than I was, but I could recognise the recent ones like they were labelled.
Mine were scattered all around the dartboard with no apparent pattern, and as the whisky had continued to flow, a few of them were in my desk or on the walls.
Wesley’s were all clustered neatly on or around the bulls eye. As I had discovered to my misfortune, behind Wesley’s wire-rimmed spectacles and aristocratic face lurked the mind of a beer-bellied darts addict.
As for Faith, not a single one of her darts had come near the bull. No, they were all in a tiny little line inside the triple 20 instead. From the ragged look of some of the holes, several darts had landed in exactly the same holes repeatedly. Damn Slayer coordination.
In desperation I had passed around my booze as often as possible, hoping to get them sozzled enough as to give me a fighting chance. But no luck there. Wesley drunk lemonade instead and Faith could take more booze than my Aunt Judy, a woman whose party trick was letting people bruise their hands hitting her in the region of her liver.
So, basically, not only was I letting two people live with me rent-free but they were getting paid for doing so.
I’m getting screwed, big time…
I heard Wes clattering around in the kitchen as I dumped my darts point-up on Faith’s favorite spot on my sofa, allowing myself a nasty little grin. Hell, the girl’d probably see them before she sat down, and if she didn’t, well she had Slayer-healing didn’t she?
I rode the elevator up to the office, still sniggering. As I entered the main office, my snigger choked itself into an irritable splutter.
The crosses I had nailed across every single entrance to my home were almost proving to be more trouble then they were worth. The one on top of the door to my private office had lost its top nails and was now hanging upside down.
Great. The landlord was already giving me strange looks, if he saw that he’d close us down for being a Satanist cult or something.
Sighing, I went to try and find my stepladder.
Handyman is really not my desired profession. In fact anything that doesn’t involve lounging around drinking beer and gambling isn’t my desired profession. Teaching used to be, but now the peaceful innocence of those years seemed a century away.
“ Ow!” Melancholy thoughts don’t help when you’re hammering nails, I decided, eyeing my swelling thumb. The stepladder swayed alarmingly as I retrieved my dropped nail and put it back into position.
A hand slid up my leg and pinched my thigh, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. And, of course, the thrice-damned nail leapt from my fingers and clattered on the floor.
“ Faith!” I yelped, with a mixture of irritation, embarrassment and affection.
She smiled impishly up at me, her hands back in her jeans pockets. “How’d you guess it was me?”
“ Well, despite my ample charms, total strangers don’t usually walk in off the street and grope me, and I’m fairly sure Wesley harbours none of those kinda feelin’s for me,” I told her as I carefully made my way down the ladder, keeping a watchful eye on her hands.
“ The great detective,” Faith teased as I touched solid ground once more. “So, you wanna ‘deduce’ what I want to do, right now?” she asked softly, pulling me closer.
Hell, the nails could wait.
“ Uh, pardon me?”
I pulled away from Faith, flushing. “Wesley, don’t sneak up on - you’re not Wesley,” I told the middle-aged guy standing at the office door.
“ No, I’m not,” he said, brow furrowing. “Is that a problem?”
“ Speaking of total strangers walking in off the street…” Faith muttered behind me, sounding put out.
I shushed her. “Can we help you?”
The man looked around at the messy office, at the crucifixes nailed on the walls and at the two of us and smiled uncertainly. “ Um, maybe. Is this Doyle Investigations?” he asked, looking like he really hoped the answer was ‘no’.
“ Yeah, yeah it is. Did the landlord send you? ‘Cause I know we’re a little behind on rent, but if he’ll just give us a couple more days…”
The man blinked, seeming taken aback. “No…what?”
I stared at him. “What?”
I struck out valiantly for higher ground. “So how can we help you?”
The man’s face cleared somewhat. “You were, uh, recommended to me by the LAPD…a Detective Lockley? She said you could help me.”
“ Help you?” Faith asked, confused.
But it was all very clear now. I could hardly believe it, but it was clear. Doyle Investigations had its first, non-vision-related, honest-to-god client in months.
I put on a big shiny grin that would have put a used car salesman to shame. “Come in to my office. Can I get you anything? Coffee? Bagel?”
I studied our new client. He was short and squat, but his face was handsome enough in a round, happy kind of way. He had on a nice suit, but it was rumpled and probably hadn’t been washed for a couple of days.
He folded his hands together, and I noticed a tell-tale trembling of his fingers. One thing I learned as a cop, always watch a man’s hands. People can go on about reading faces and seeing into the soul through the eyes, but that’s crap.
A guy trying to keep himself under control always keeps his face still and makes it show what he wants it to. But generally he forgets about his hands, and from the way this man’s hands were shaking, I guessed he wasn’t hiring us to find a lost cat.
Yeah, like Faith said. The Great Detective.
I leaned forward on my desk. “So, talk to me. What’s on your mind?”
I sounded more like a therapist than a PI, and I could tell from the amused glint in Faith’s eyes that she was thinking the same. Wesley cast a disapproving glance at both of us and tapped the client, who didn’t seem to have heard me, on the shoulder.
“ Are you all right?” he asked.
The man’s eyes refocused on us. “Yes, yes, sorry. M-my name is Dennis Colridge, I own Colridge Investment. I don’t suppose you recognise the name?”
I glanced at Wesley and Faith. No dice. “Sorry, not ringing a bell.”
Colridge smiled weakly. “I’d be surprised if it did. We’re very small, very exclusive, not really seen on the open market. We deal in stocks and bonds for certain wealthy clients, often with business relationships that go back whole generations. My grandfather started the firm quite some time ago -" Faith cleared her throat loudly and impatiently and put her feet on my desk. Colridge glanced nervously at her and continued. “But you probably don’t want to hear about that. I’ll just get to the point. In a pressurised job like mine, you don’t often have time to make friends.” He coughed. “Woman friends.”
I could see where this one was leading.
“ So…a few times, I uh, hired some.”
“ Hookers,” Faith said, flashing a lascivious grin.
“ An escort service,” Wesley quickly substituted, tapping his cane like an elderly schoolmaster calling for attention. The cane was silver-topped and had cost a pretty penny. Wesley claimed it was an heirloom, but I had my doubts.
“ Um…yes.” He stared at my desk, embarrassed.
“ Okay,” I said. “So you had a few callgirls. What’s the bad in that?” Wesley stared at me aghast and Faith snickered. I coughed uncomfortably and shifted in my chair. “I mean, yeah, it is technically illegal and all but I don’t really see the need for a PI, is what I meant.”
“ Well, the problem is with one girl, specifically. Peggie.”
Faith laughed. “A hooker named Peggie?”
“ Faith,” I said warningly. “Please, continue.” More therapist-phrases.
“ Well, Peg works down at a club called Halo. It’s an exclusive nightclub for the elite of LA and it also features some…under-the-counter services. I was one of her regulars, I guess you’d say.”
“ Is this bird blackmailin’ you?” I asked. So far all I’d heard was stuff that would be heard at confession in church.
“ No, no,” Colridge said firmly, seeming quite horrified at the prospect. “You see, Peg and I grew quite attached to each other, outside of just a…business relationship.”
“ You mean like romantically attached?”
“ Yes,” the man said, a quiet joy seeming to flow from him as he said the word.
A joy that Faith quickly snuffed out. “So it wasn’t just about the screwing anymore?”
“ No, I mean, yes, there was sex but it was…” He lapsed into embarrassed silence.
I shot Wesley a meaningful glance and nodded towards Faith. “Would you like some coffee, Dennis?”
“ What? Uh, no thanks…”
“ Well, I know I certainly would,” I said in a loud voice. “Could you go an’ get some, guys?’
“ What are we now, secretaries?” Faith said irritably. Wesley stood up, supporting himself on his cane and took her by the shoulder.
“ Come along now, Faith,” he said firmly. He managed to budge Faith one step with sheer luck and then she just stood still while his arm muscles strained and bulged.
I gave her a stern look. Faith rolled her eyes and let Wes pull her out of my office.
As the door shut, I nodded to Colridge. “You were sayin’?”
“ Well, Peg and I grew closer and she told me she was planning to quit at the end of the month. We were going to run away together, you know, to some place with sunlight and daisies, that kind of idea.” He smiled sadly. “But then, I came to Halo one evening and she had just…disappeared. The owner didn’t want to make a fuss, but I insisted on calling the police, which is how I met Detective Lockley. They checked her apartment out and everything but she’d just vanished. Lockley thought she might have taken off without me, but most of her stuff was still there, so I don’t think so. I pestered her about the case all week and eventually she told me that they just couldn’t spare the manpower to investigate further. She was very…emphatic about it.”
Good ol’ Kate. She lacks subtlety, that’s for sure. I had a brief moment of pity for Colridge’s enduring the verbal lashing that a stressed-out Kate would have unleashed on him.
“ Eventually, she directed me to you. So what can you do?”
The sudden question caught me off-guard. “Well, um, we’ll have to, like, investigate. And do stuff. Detective stuff.”
“ Uh-huh,” Colridge said, seeming profoundly unimpressed. “Perhaps I should go…”
“ No!” I yelped, shooting out of my chair. “Please. We’ll handle it, you can rely on us. We’re very discreet and professional.”
“ Really.” He glanced around meaningfully at my shabby office.
I smiled weakly. “Yeah. We may not look big and shiny like most outfits you deal with, but we’re good at what we do.”
Which is killing demons and vampires, hardly the most relevant skill here. Still, I didn’t think he needed to know that.
He eyed me for a second and then nodded. “I just want to know what happened to her, Mr Doyle. It’s been so long, I’ve lost all hope of getting her back, I just want to find out what happened, I can’t believe she just disappeared.”
I didn’t want to disillusion him. In a city like LA, it’s all too easy for someone to disappear. They just vanish. Some nut cuts their throats and dumps them in the sewers, or they get gunned down for the change in their pockets and end up in a morgue as John or Jane Doe. I’d seen it so many times on the force. Nobody watches over them, nobody cares.
Maybe it was time somebody started.
“ So what do you think of him?”
The car’s steering wheel spun in my grasp as Wesley glanced at me expectantly.
“ I’m reservin’ my judgement ‘till we see this ‘Halo’ joint, Wes,” I responded coolly, waving my middle finger as a car in front cut me off. The driver obviously thought he was very cool, with his flashy jacket and mirrored sunglasses. The fact that he was wearing those sunglasses at 8:00pm on a Thursday evening didn’t seem to bother him at all. I’ll never understand fashion.
Damn American drivers.
I heard a crackling sound behind me, as Faith finished her packet of chips and tossed it casually out of the moving car, ignoring the angry gestures of the drivers around us.
“ Personally, I think he’s married,” she remarked.
“ Say what?”
Faith rolled her eyes, tickling the back of my neck with her foot. Considering she was wearing muddy boots, the effect wasn’t exactly erotic. “Sure. He was screwing this hooker chick and she threatened to tell his wife unless he paid her off. She’s gone to ground, so he needs us to track her down so his hit man can take her out.”
I turned around in the seat. “He’s got a hit man, now?”
“ ‘Course he does,” she said, as if I was questioning the obvious.
“ Right, no more Magnum PI for you,” I said pointedly. “Besides which, we spent the entire day checkin’ this guy out. Even Kate confirms he’s as clean as -"
“ Doyle!” Wesley squealed from beside me.
I turned around just in time to see the truck ploughing towards us. “Shit!”
I spun the steering wheel and yanked on the handbrake, executing a perfect and very illegal U-turn in the road. As drivers around us hammered their hooters, I shot the convertible down a side road, listening for sirens. “See what happens if you distract me?” I told them sharply.
“ Yes,” Wesley said faintly. “Perhaps we should suspend debate until we reach the nightclub.”
“ Quit being such a spoilsport,” Faith groaned. She patted me on the neck. “Do it again, Doyle!”
Ignoring her, I focused on driving very carefully and very legally until I was certain there were no police cars pursuing us.
Wesley, looking distinctly green around the gills, raised a finger. I tensed. I knew that pose. Last time Wes had used the finger was when he discovered that Faith was using some of his herbal potions to give herself a scented bath. It wasn’t pretty. His reaction, that is, not Faith in the bath. That was quite a pleasant sight actually, particularly when she invited me to join her.
“ I must say I do have one small point I would like to raise,” he said hesitantly.
“ Raise away,” I growled, dodging a Corvette whose driver was either drunk, dead or both.
“ This doesn’t exactly seem like our type of job, really.”
“ How so?”
“ Well, it doesn’t appear to involve any demons, vampires or agonizingly painful visions. In fact, nothing supernatural at all.”
I sighed. “Wes, I’m a PI, not a witch-hunter. I am supposed to have regular clients as well. You know, for appearances’ sake. An’ to pay the rent.”
Wesley nodded. “Yes, of course, of course. But still, is it really the best way to apply a Slayer’s talents?”
I resisted the urge to shake him until his teeth rattled. “Wesley, it’s not like she’s got anythin’ else demandin’ her attention. Tell you what, if we hear about a demon, we’ll go do that instead. But until then, I want to earn the money. So I can afford the food.”
Besides which, if someone hadn’t cleaned me out at darts, maybe I would have more cash to spare for bills…
“ Good point. Good point.” Finally, thank God, he shut up. And Faith started talking. I swear, I think those two have some kind of schedule for who gets to annoy me with irrelevant questions me when.
“ So, what are we going to do when we get there?”
“ Um…” All right, maybe not all the questions are so irrelevant. “Look around, I guess,” I said without much certainty.
“ And why exactly did we have to stop off at that liquor store on the way?” Wesley asked, glancing with distaste at the six-packs of booze clunking together by his feet.
“ Patience, children, all will become clear…” I said sardonically.
“ Whatever,” Faith muttered. I heard a glassy sound.
“ Faith, keep your hands away from the bottles,” I said sternly. I heard her sigh and slump back on her seat.
I allowed myself a single peaceful breath, which I then expelled in a barrage of expletives as another car swerved across me.
Damn American drivers.
From the outside, I had to admit Halo looked pretty damn impressive. The sign over the door was rimmed in shining multicoloured lights, mostly purples and reds. The building itself was long and flat, easily about three times the size of the office.
Faith blew an admiring whistle as Wesley stared at the place with disbelief. “Good grief, what a crush of people!” he remarked.
It certainly was. They had one of those classy velvet ropes at the door, complete with a guy next to it who looked like he had been carved out of rock. A huge press of people crowded around the rope in no apparent order.
“ Number 12!” the guy called, and a young couple threaded their way through and past the rope.
Great, you needed a ticket to get inside, and even then you had to wait until the gorilla at the door called you.
Luckily, I had foreseen this.
“Grab the six-packs,” I instructed my companions, sticking two packs of bottles under my arms.
“ What now?” Wesley asked sarcastically. “Get the guard drunk so he lets us by?”
“ Imaginative, but no,” I responded with equal sarcasm.
I led the two of them down a side alley and around to the back. There was only one back door into the club, and a clone of the gorilla at the front stood by it, glowering at us.
“ Whaddya want?” he snarled.
“ Manager ordered more drinks for the bar,” I said cheerfully. “I think they’re nearly out.”
The gorilla frowned. “I checked the inventory list myself earlier tonight. We’ve still got tons left over, pal,” he said mockingly. “Nice try, now clear off!”
Damn. Not only did these guys have lots of muscle, but it was smart muscle.
I backed away, shrugging. “Can’t blame a man for tryin’…”
“ Well, what now?” Wesley inquired dryly as we moved away from the door.
“ Time for plan B,” I told him.
Wesley snorted. “I wouldn’t even have dignified that last attempt by calling it a plan.”
I ignored him, walking towards the guard again and cradling one of the six-packs in my hands like a baby. “Excuse me again, man. Sorry to bother.”
“ What?” Gorilla snarled.
“ I was just wonderin’ if you could help me with somethin’. You see -" I pulled a bottle out of the packet and bopped him over the head. The gorilla’s eyes crossed and he took a slow step towards me, rumbling. Growling, I tightened my grip on the bottle and brought it down again.
The gorilla buckled at the knees and then his chin bounced on the pavement.
“ See, now why didn’t we do that first?” Faith asked grumpily.
“ Shut up an’ give me a hand with Meatloaf,” I ordered, locking my hands under his chest. “Damn, what does this guy eat for breakfast? Cement?” I gasped.
Once we had safely tucked Gorilla away in a dumpster, we headed inside. Making it through the kitchens was a cinch. No one questions you in a place like Halo if you look like you know what you’re doing and you’re carrying booze.
Then we hit the dance floor. And that was something else, all right.
Now I’m not exactly unfamiliar with clubbing and strip joints. I’ve been in places all over Ireland and America, even some where the ‘ladies’ have scales instead of skin. But this place was to them what the Titanic was to a fishing dingy.
First off, it was just bloody huge. It looked like just about everyone who was anyone, at least everyone who thought they were anyone - pretty much the same thing in LA - was crowded in or around the club. Secondly, despite the overcrowding, this place had class.
Now, you think about a nightclub/strip joint, you think what? Shady, dark lights and women with flabby, um, parts. Halo wasn’t like that.
It even had different shades of light and wall colouring for different clientele. In one corner, there was the ‘strictly vanilla’ section with pale white walls and women wearing creamy outfits that were revealing without being slutty. In another, there was lots of furry bikinis and dark red lights. Another corner was practically lightless and the dancers definitely had leather fetishes in an extreme sense. Hell, some of those outfits made Faith’s wardrobe look reserved.
And in the centre, there was the bar. But oh, what a bar! There were enough exotic, classy or just plain strong drinks to reduce a guy to blissful insensibility a hundred times over.
Of course, I probably couldn’t afford a glass of water at this place, but it was nice to dream for a second or two.
“ Well, this is certainly…different,” Wesley muttered. “Hard to imagine Mr Colridge here.”
“ So, what’s the plan, boss?” Faith asked, looking like a kid in a candy store. “Do we mingle?”
“ We mingle,” I confirmed. Faith shot off and Wesley trailed after her, trying hard not to brush up against anyone in particularly skimpy clothing.
I managed to hammer my way through part of the crowd, using my six-pack like a battering ram. Eventually I found a relatively deserted table. ‘Relatively’ being a variable term. In this case, it had one very attractive redhead sitting there. I wasn’t about to complain.
“ Hey there,” I said as suavely as I could manage. “How ya doin’?”
“ Fine,” she said, raising a perfect eyebrow.
“ Mind if I sit?”
“ It’s a free country.”
I felt a twinge of guilt as I slid in next to her. But, hell, I was just mingling. This wasn’t a Bond film; I wasn’t going to have to sleep with every woman in sight just to get information.
Not that it wouldn’t be fun if life was like a Bond film…
“ So, what’s your name?” I asked, proffering a hand.
“ Betsy,” she answered, shaking.
“ Doyle?” she asked, raising that lovely eyebrow again.
“ Just Doyle,” I confirmed. “I was wonderin’ if we could talk?”
She shrugged. “Talk away.”
“ You a regular?” I asked her.
She shrugged again. “When I choose to be.”
“ If I wanted to talk to someone about a missing dancer, who could I contact?”
Wariness entered her eyes. “You a cop?”
“ Former,” I said, smiling. “PI now.”
She began to get up and I caught her hand, noticing the pale mark circling her finger. “Your husband know you’re here, Betsy?” I asked, still smiling.
Betsy stared at me for a second and then sat again. “Probably the manager, Barb. She’s not in tonight; she usually just deals with the dancers, trains them and stuff.”
“ Thanks,” I said politely, glancing around for Wesley and Faith.
I saw them both over by the bar. Faith was chatting with a brawny guy while Wesley appeared to be in the middle of getting rejected by a leggy blonde. Then the guy tucked a roll of green into Faith’s belt.
I tensed. Considering I see her every day, I often forget how provocative Faith’s dress sense really is. Besides which, having seen what’s under it I can safely say the clothes are her least sexy feature.
But to a total stranger…let’s say it wasn’t necessarily an unreasonable assumption. And if I got over there very fast maybe he wouldn’t have his nose broken for making it.
“ It’s been fun,” I told Betsy. “But I have to get to my friends before somebody gets crippled.”
I began to elbow through the crowd, my eyes on Faith. To my surprise, she seemed more amused than annoyed as she pulled the cash out of her belt and leafed through it.
But unfortunately, Wesley had also seen the money and he stepped in front of his Slayer, his chin out and speaking swiftly and angrily. And yes, the finger was raised.
The man swelled with rage, glaring at Wesley. I began to speed up.
“ Excuse me, pardon, people about to die…comin’ through.”
Faith’s expression turned from amusement to fury as she counted the money. “Thirty lousy bucks!” I heard her snarl indignantly. She grabbed the guy by the shirt as I burst through the last of the crowd.
The man’s friends were crowding up behind him, and I saw our friend Gorilla at the back door with another pal, heading in our direction. Things were turning really nasty really fast.
So I did the only thing I could.
The bottles clunked on the counter as I slammed them down.
“ Free beer for everyone!” I yelled, and then I grabbed Faith and Wes and ran like hell for the exit.