Faith, the See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Vampire Slayer Exotic Dancer
See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
"Have I mentioned how much I don't want to do this?" Wesley said nervously as we pulled up outside Halo - having dropped off Faith several streets back so as to avoid arousing suspicions of any connection between us.
"You don't wanna do this," I muttered sourly. "At least you get to go in there and mingle with the rich and unethical. Sippin' expensive drinks, gazin' at semi-clad girls..." Gazing at semi-clad Faith. In my distraction, the car lurched forward a few extra feet and the front wheel bumped onto the edge of the kerb and then skidded off again with a crunch of stressed metal.
"Doyle -" Wesley began snappishly.
"Look, just because I'm wearing this bloody stupid uniform, don't think you can start using that tone with me -" I snapped back.
But there were more important things to focus our attention upon. Through the window, I could see five or six of them heading our way. I jerked my head to indicate them to Wesley. "They're here. Remember, only Colridge knows who we really are."
"I know that." His tone was waspish. He was nervous.
"Okay, okay," I sighed. "Look, just relax, Wes, you'll do fine. Just picture everybody naked - helps with stage fright."
Wesley shuddered. "Doyle, most of them are nearly naked already!"
"Fine. So you won't need much imagination, then." I patted him on the shoulder in what I hoped was a reassuring way, then noticed one of Colridge's buddies staring somewhat oddly at us through the window and hastily raised my voice. "There ya go, sir, the mark is totally gone." I swatted at Wesley's shoulder in a dusting motion. "Good luck," I added, under my breath.
I expected him to get out of the car to meet them, but he stayed seated.
"Aren't you going to hold the door for me?" he asked plaintively.
With Colridge's buddies so close by, I didn't dare express my reaction to that as I'd have liked. Besides, he was right, it would look more authentic. I got out of the car, stomped around to the passenger door, and held it open while Wesley manoeuvred himself and his cane out.
Colridge's crowd, dressed up to the nines, collected in a little clump around the open door, watching while Wesley's form unfolded and stood up straight. He looked tall and dignified, and that fancy, black, silver-edged cane he'd been sporting the past few days didn't do any harm to the image. He seemed to make the right impression on Colridge's friends, anyway. Me, they ignored as though I was a piece of furniture... except for Colridge himself, who gave me a brief, amused sideways appraisal as he introduced Wesley.
"Mr. Wyndham-Pryce," he said, grandly. "Of Pryce Holdings International."
"Mr. Pryce," a guy in a fancy silver suit which matched his grey hair acknowledged snobbishly. "Trouble with the car there?"
Wesley straightened impossibly further, becoming his most arrogant. "No trouble. Except that my chauffeur can't drive."
"You just can't get the help these days," the older guy tutted, squinting at me. "Your man there looks as though he's been in a bit of a fight, too. Nothing but ruffians."
I ignored them and got back into the car. Wesley tapped on the window after I'd slammed the door, and I rolled down the glass.
"Be sure to return sharp now, as instructed," he said, waving his finger at me. "I don't pay you to be falling asleep on duty and making me late."
"Right," I said, through clenched teeth, although I suspected there might actually have been a veiled warning about my head injury hidden in there. He waited, flashing a displeased look around his new pals, then pointedly concentrating it on me. "...Sir," I muttered.
Wesley smirked, and nodded, then turned his back to me. I rolled the window up again and just watched, for a few seconds, as Wesley conversed with Colridge and the others as though he'd been born to socialise in their sort of circles.
I should've known Wesley would be good at this.
Dragging my eyes away from the performance, I concentrated on coaxing the car down the street and into what would have to pass for a parking space. From there, I could just see the glitter of Halo's front entrance, a bright Oasis of sin about a hundred yards along the street and about a million miles out of reach so far as the likes of me were concerned. I couldn't see Wesley and his companions among the crowds outside, even through the compact spyglasses I'd brought. Evidently they'd already gone in. I hadn't thought they were the sort the bouncers kept waiting for long.
I dug out the companion device to the bugs Faith and Wesley were wearing and switched it on.
I had to be within a few hundred feet to receive, and I was only just close enough. I wouldn't get any closer, on that busy street. But there was reception and, slowly, I was able to pick out the individual voices from the background music and the static.
"...The name's Faith. You?"
"Been working here long? I guess you see a few assholes like that, in this job. How about giving a newbie the lowdown, huh?"
A crackle, and the next voice I was able to pick out, after a few seconds of static, was one I didn't recognise, but with the arrogant tones which marked him out as one of Colridge's pals.
"You should come here more often, Pryce, old man. Are you having a drink?"
"Certainly. I'm sure this establishment has some fine vintages."
"I thought you were on medication for your leg," Colridge's voice prompted sourly - sounding none too happy, there, at the idea of his hired help getting drunk on the job at his expense.
I shut my ears to Wesley's conversations, since nothing really seemed to be happening there, and tried to pick out Faith once again. Wesley was only really there as a failsafe. I didn't expect that he'd find anything himself, and in fact had strongly suggested he concentrate on maintaining his cover and not getting kicked out.
Nothing much more interesting seemed to be happening with Faith either, though. She was caught up in a conversation with this Sandy, one of the other dancers employed by the club, a girl with a tiny, shy squeak of a voice I could barely pick out. From what I could gather, Faith had 'helped' her deal with an overenthusiastic customer and was now comforting her. Moments ago, I wouldn't have believed Faith could comfort anything, but I'd never heard her use such understanding, sugary tones before. I guess she was a better actress than I'd expected.
"I mean, not all of us are involved in... that side of the business," Sandy continued. "But a lot of them don't see that as the case, often enough."
Faith cautiously attempted a few questions, trying to dig for information, but her new little friend was too wrapped up in her own problems to be much help and the questions largely went unanswered.
My attention drifted, and for a few minutes I listened to Wesley getting complimented on his neat accent instead.
Things continued like that for about half an hour, as I tried to listen to two sets of inconsequential conversations at once without falling asleep
I always did hate surveillance.
A tap on the driver's window diverted my attention. I snorted wide awake and saw through the windscreen that a squad car had pulled up in front of me. Then I turned and saw the face peering in at me through the window, and my spirits sank that little bit lower.
Her expression went through a variety of surprised contortions as she recognised me. Suppressing a groan of dismay, I rolled the window down.
"Now I really have seen everything," Kate remarked. "Love the hat, Doyle. Very fetching. Is PI work just not paying enough anymore?"
Her gaze slid past me and fell upon the surveillance equipment. "Ah. Mr. Colridge," she remarked.
"Yeah. Well, you should know, since you sent him to me."
"Poor guy. Not that I approve of the whole hiring prostitutes thing but..." She shrugged. "I wanted to follow it up, but the department shut me down. The club's owner wields a fair amount of influence - watch out for that old bastard, by the way. And the Assistant Manager's almost as bad. That's his son, and not someone you'd want to cross."
"Thanks for the warning," I said wryly.
"Uh-huh. I didn't think those bruises were a fashion statement. Anyway, I'm glad you took on the case. Colridge is a persistent guy, and I figured you could use the business." She hesitated. "Things just haven't been the same since you left, you know, in the department."
"They had to find a new whipping boy?" I saw her hard look which said that wasn't what she meant, and shrugged. "What are you doing here, anyway, if they took you off the case?"
She sighed, and for a minute she looked worn out and worn down. I supposed it must be getting difficult for her, working alone. At least back then there were two of us who really understood what was out there. I hadn't seen her looking so grim in... a long time.
"Homeless deaths," she said. "Bodies just left dumped around. No apparent cause. Too many for it to be a coincidence."
"I take it 'no apparent cause' does include bite marks?" I cut in, fairly rhetorically.
She nodded. "Nothing remotely suspicious, except that they're dead. I guess this is something new."
"I'll keep my eyes open."
"Thanks. This city's turning into a real demon zoo," she remarked, sounding un-thrilled. "Of course, the theory of the moment is that someone's poisoning these people with a substance hard to trace in an autopsy. It's been a few months since the last one, but it's funny how the case handily resurfaces when the guys upstairs want me transferred away from missing dancing girls."
"Ah... how many missing dancing girls?" I asked. "Faith turned up a couple from the old news reports but I figured there might well be more."
She nodded slowly. "It goes back about a decade, a handful every year. None of them have turned up again yet, dead or alive. Something's happening to them. It's too easy an explanation to say they're running off."
"'Faith'?" she queried. "I thought your new co-worker was that goofy Pryce guy?"
"Uh... they sort of came as a package." I tried to remember if Kate knew about Watchers and Slayers and decided it was an explanation for another time.
"Okay. I'll send all I have on the missing dancing girls over to you, first thing tomorrow. See you around." She sketched half a wave and straightened up. "Oh, and by the way..." She leaned back down to the window. "You're blocking off that exit. Move your car back two feet or I'll have it impounded."
I moved the car and turned the volume back up on the receiver. While I'd been talking to Kate, Faith's turn to dance had come around and interesting noises now emanated from the listening device.
It wasn't much of a surprise to discover where she'd hidden the bug. I listened to her dancing from the perspective of her cleavage, the noises of flesh and spandex in motion interspersed with occasional cheers and wolf-whistles. I alternatively seethed quietly and wished I was there to watch.
Never mind. I could always request a private performance later.
The moaning noises which started to accompany her dancing once she'd got into the swing of it were somewhat distracting, to say the least, and I had to re-evaluate my initial assumption that listening to Faith was nowhere near as interesting as watching her when my imagination kicked into gear unbidden and started to fill in the blanks.
Events on Wesley's side snapped my attention back to more serious business again. He'd been very quiet while Faith was on. I didn't know if it was disapproval. Maybe he'd been elsewhere, hiding in a corner, and hadn't even seen her performance. It had better not have been an appreciative silence, I thought, and then had to wonder why it would annoy me so much if it were.
"No, no, I couldn't possibly..." Wesley was saying.
"Why not? Come on, you can't turn down one of Alexei's parties. Nobody turns down one of Alexei's parties."
Wesley continued to stammer, but the astonishment in that tone trampled all possibilities of disagreement. People came to Halo for a good time. If a better time could famously be had elsewhere, refusal would arouse suspicion.
"I'd be delighted," I heard him answer weakly. "I'll, ah, meet you out at the front shortly. I just have to... visit the bathroom..."
"It's only two minutes' drive, you can visit the bathroom when we get there."
"I, uh, have to let my chauffeur know..."
"Irish? Why? Let him wait, the insolent little upstart. Alexei's people will put you up or take you home."
"Crap," I muttered. Wesley, I imagined, would be thinking much the same thing.
I listened as his new pals dragged him off to this private soiree.
They were right about it being close. It was close enough that I still kept receiving the occasional snippet from the bug. And what I did receive sounded interesting, to say the least.
"Oh, my." Wesley's voice, shocked and scandalised. "Excuse me, I thought the term you used was 'party' not 'orgy'. My word... I wouldn't have thought it was physically possible for a woman to do that... My word... You wouldn't have anything stronger to drink?"
The voices sadly faded into static while I was creased over with laughter, and although I spent several minutes desperately trying to coax the reception back, it was to no avail.
My brain kicked in again then, and it guiltily occurred to me I was now Faith's only back-up.
The dancing was over and from the sounds, she was in the dressing rooms again, talking with Sandy. The girl seemed a bit more coherent now and was actually answering her questions.
"Peg? Yes, I know her. I'm surprised you do, she never talked like she had much of a life beyond this place. A nice girl, though."
"I only know her a little. She suggested I try for a job here, a few weeks ago. I haven't seen her in a while, though. I was hoping she might be here tonight."
"Oh, she won't be coming back. She resigned, you know. The manager was furious. She was one of the best dancers working here. He wouldn't accept it, told her she better be back. She told him she'd send it in writing. After that, nobody's seen her at all. We even had the police here about it."
"Imagine that. I guess she'll turn up sometime, yeah? She'll just be lying low for a while."
"I hope so." Sandy's mouse-like voice sounded doubtful. I couldn't blame her. Faith was laying on the cheery innocent act a bit too thick, I felt.
"Get a move on in there!" hollered a loud, abrasive voice which even filtered through the listening device made me jump. I guessed that would have to be Barb. Sounded like a charming woman. "I don't pay you to stand around chatting."
It put a stop to Faith's information-gathering exercise, at any rate. "I better finish getting ready," Sandy said, even quieter than usual. "I'm on again soon. See you tomorrow, I guess."
"Yeah," Faith said. "Tomorrow."
I listened as Faith headed out through the corridors of the club, presumably heading towards the back door I'd used for access that morning. I heard heavy footsteps approach her along the corridor, and falter as they drew close.
"Say, you're new here... no, wait, have I seen you somewhere before?" said a voice which I recognised with a mounting feeling of dread. My hands clenched involuntarily into fists.
"Don't think so," Faith said chirpily. Only someone who knew her would sense the undercurrent of danger in that innocent reply. I groaned and prayed she wouldn't be recognised.
And that she wouldn't tear Cecil into soggy little pieces with her bare hands.
"No, I think... I know I'd not forget seeing you before..." he hesitated. There was a note of impressed appraisal in his voice now. My opinions abruptly did a U-turn as I started hoping Faith would take him apart. Slowly. And nastily. "You wouldn't want to go out for a drink somewhere? Somewhere else, I mean - not here." There was a slight laugh in his voice at that.
"I have a date," she said, meaningfully. The dark edge to the words convinced me she was gonna thump him any minute.
"Oh," he said, sounding disappointed. "Well, if it doesn't work out - I'm here most nights."
"I'll keep it in mind." I bet she would. And if she took him up on that offer, she'd bring lots of fun sharp implements to liven up the party.
She extricated herself from the conversation without Cecil ending up maimed - a minor miracle, in my opinion - and continued, her footsteps sounding hollow on the polished floor, echoing slightly off the smooth surfaces of the empty corridor. I heard the exterior door open and then slam behind her.
I stayed where I was, wary of bringing the car any closer to pick her up. Even if I was unlikely to be recognised in my current garb, I didn't think many people would buy the concept of a dancing girl having her own chauffeur.
Assorted scufflings and footsteps and static came to my ears, all normal background noise I'd grown accustomed to in the last few hours. The occasional word or grunt floated through from Wesley's bug, and what wouldn't I give to know what was going on there...
I allowed myself to speculate amusedly on a few possibilities, enjoying my revenge on the uptight Watcher for his too-enthusiastic embracing of our role-playing earlier. The evening's work was almost over, and I could feel my tiredness after the day's events starting to announce its presence. I was leaning back in the seat and stretching my aching muscles when Faith's yell rang out.
For a moment I sat there, frozen, as an ominous crunch followed the sound. Then I heard nothing but blank static.
"Faith!" I yelled into the receiver, hearing the panic in my voice, before I realised she wouldn't hear me even if the bug had been working.
I kicked myself into action and within seconds, finding an energy I wouldn't have imagined I could muster only moments before, I'd grabbed the flashlight from the seat beside me and was sprinting across the street towards Halo.