Faith, the See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
Vampire Slayer Exotic Dancer
by Mike Dewar
See chapter 1 for disclaimers.
My heart was hammering in my ears as I made it to the mouth of the alley behind Halo.
“ Faith,” I called softly, leaning against a wall and trying to recover my scrambled wits. My eyes strained as I peered into the ill-lit alley, my blood congealing. No answer.
I flicked the flashlight on and the white circle of light fell on a crumpled form lying near a dumpster.
I swallowed. “Oh, god, Faith…”
I don’t recall covering the distance between us, but suddenly I was on my knees, feeling for a pulse in the hollow of her neck. She stirred beneath my hand and I began to breathe regularly again. Shining the flashlight more fully on her, I could see a deep cut on her brow. Her brown curls were already matted with blood and dirt. I gently prodded the wound, checking for a fracture, and she hissed in pain, her eyes opening slightly.
“ Sorry,” I said quickly, reassured by the firm feel of her skull.
“ Doyle…” she muttered, trying to sit up. I quickly pushed her down again.
“ Don’t move. Just lie still.” I’m not sure if my words convinced her, or if the pain was just too much to stand, but she obediently remained still and closed her eyes. “Stay here,” I ordered. “I’m going to go take a look around.”
I rose to my feet and took a cautious step forward. There was a metallic sound, just ahead of me. I took a quick step back again. Whatever was there was probably seriously mean, to have brought down Faith with a single strike, and I didn’t fancy the thought of sauntering ahead, my flashlight giving away whatever advantage of surprise I might have.
The flashlight was a really old and worn one and I didn’t trust it to come on if I switched it off again, so I pressed it against my chest, hiding the light, and slipped forward into the blackness. It was pretty damn petrifying as I crept onwards in the darkness, but I preferred the advantage of stealth to getting my head caved in.
I heard a scraping sound directly ahead of me and desperately squinted, trying to pick out any shapes. I couldn’t see anything, but damn it, I knew the thing was there!
I twisted the flashlight away from my body, hoping to blind it with the light. But there wasn’t any light. I swore silently as I realised the ancient batteries had finally given up the ghost.
The thing rumbled what sounded like a malignant chuckle and then something struck my chest with the force of a hammer. As I fell, I caught a glimpse of a greyish-green lumpy head and broad muscled shoulders. I hit the ground with a soft groan and heard the beast take a step forward. Again, that rumbling laugh. Now I could make out more features…long, surprisingly slender arms…a large, hulking body, hunched over like an ape…and a blank, featureless face. No nose, just a tiny slit of a mouth and slanted, inhuman eyes. It reached for me with its long arms, chuckling again, and I grabbed the flashlight in both hands and smashed it up into that low-hanging face, just above the slit-mouth.
Laugh that one off, you son of a bitch…
The creature roared and its arms scooped me up and smashed me down onto the pavement again. The demon rose to the fore, absorbing most of the impact, and I was up again faster than the monster had expected. I swept the flashlight up, clubbing its misshapen head a second time. It hissed and long arms dove past my guard with frightening speed, its hands closing on the lapels of my uniform.
With no visible effort, it picked me up, spun me around twice and let me go. I experienced a brief and exhilarating flight, which ended in a considerably less enjoyable collision with a wall. Groaning, I slumped down against the wall. My head was throbbing again, and the ground seemed to be more… fluid than usual.
Faith. Got to get up. Get up, Doyle. Faith’s helpless. Get up!
In retrospect, it’s amazing what fear can make you overcome.
I rose to my feet with a growl of pain and rage, bringing the flashlight around to strike against…nothing? The beast was gone, vanished as if it had never been. I concentrated, but even my sharper demon-senses couldn’t pick up its presence.
With a sigh of relief, I let go of the demon and staggered over to Faith again, rubbing my aching head.
“ How’s it goin’ down there?” I asked quietly, looking down at her prone form.
Faith’s eyes opened and blinked once. “Doyle. You look like crap,” she said weakly.
I glanced down at my torn uniform and smiled painfully. “Got news for you, darlin’. You look worse.”
“ I’m not arguing,” she moaned, rubbing her head. “What did that jerk hit me with?”
I looked to the side and my eyes widened a little. “Looks like a trashcan.” I decided not to mention the sizable dent in its side. Faith sat up and swayed slightly. “Are you sure you should be tryin’ to get -" Faith slumped down again. “- up,” I finished.
“ I’m fine,” Faith said unconvincingly.
I eyed the dented trashcan. “Sure you are.”
” Where’s the demon?”
“ It ran off, I guess,” I told her. At least, I hoped it had. I really didn’t feel like a fight to the death with a demon half-again as large as I was. At least, not until I’d caught my breath.
“ We gotta get after it…gotta chase it,” Faith said thickly.
“ Sure we do,” I said comfortingly
“ Stop it.”
“ Stop what?”
“ Stop…patronising me, just ‘cause I got hit in the head.”
“ I’m not patronisin’ you,” I protested.
“ You are so.”
I shrugged, reached down and scooped her up in my arms, not without some difficultly, I might add. “Okay, maybe a little.” I waited for the little flashing lights to disappear from my vision and then trudged towards the car.
“ Hey! Put me down,” she said fuzzily, pushing at my chest. “I can walk.”
“ No. You can’t,” I told her matter-of-factly. “Now quit squirmin’.”
She prodded me ineffectually a few times, and then gave up and lay back. “You know, this is kinda romantic…” she mused in the erratic way of the concussed.
“ Really?” I asked her. “One beat-up person carrying another beat-up person along the streets of LA at night, an’ you call it romantic.”
“ I said kinda.”
I carefully laid Faith down on the back seat of the car. “Okay. Now don’t fall asleep,” I warned her. “Not with that bang on the head you just had.”
“ Okay,” she murmured, already drifting off. Sterner measures were needed.
I switched on the radio and tuned it to the loudest rock band I could find and then cranked the volume way up.
Faith groaned, covering her ears. “Ow….”
“ Sorry, hon,” I offered, grabbing a penlight from the glove compartment. “Sit tight.”
This flashlight seemed in fine working order as I made my way back to the alley. I wasn’t really expecting to find anything, but at least if I could pick up the demon’s scent, I could judge if it had just been passing through, if it had been hanging around by Halo to pick off customers.
After checking to make sure no interested pedestrians were entering the alley, I brought my demon side forth again. The second the change was complete, I felt better. Maybe there was something to Wes’s theories about my healing.
I took a deep sniff of the air, and tried not to retch. As classy as Halo was, this alley smelt like any other in LA, a revolting mix of rotting garbage, urine and dirt. Eau de Los Angeles.
I sniffed the air again, trying to inhale as little of it as possible. My chances of tracking anything through this crap were less than zero. But there was one scent that was unfamiliar.
Well, it was familiar to me, but it wasn’t a regular feature on LA streets. The smell of rotting flesh. Human. A week or so past due, I guessed. Grimly, I followed the sickly scent to its source, the dumpster Faith had been lying near. Steeling myself, I flung the lid back on the dumpster.
The smell hit me with more force than the demon’s punches had, as rats squeaked and crawled away from the light. An old woman lay face-up on a bed of garbage. She wore a long grey coat and her skin was wrinkled and as grey as the coat.
Her face…well, the rats had been busy. I looked away, breathing hard. Short, sharp gulps of air.
I propped a cigarette between my lips, but didn’t light it, my mind working furiously. The feel of the white tube in my mouth calmed me, even unlit.
Stay focused. Don’t look at her face. This isn’t a person; it’s a puzzle. Use logic, analyse the scene…keep perspective. Stay rational, don’t let emotions get in the way.
It took every inch of the self-control I had learnt at the LAPD to get me to lean into that dumpster and inspect the body. I kept my eyes low, away from her face. Neat hands, gaudy rings on the fingers. A thick coat, even though it had been pretty warm these past few nights. I gritted my teeth as I unbuttoned the coat, each button at a time. Eight buttons.
The coat fell open. The old woman was wearing a slinky little leather number and her sagging frame filled it like jelly fills a mould. So, another one of Kate’s homeless deaths, but dressed very strangely for a homeless person. Stolen clothes?
I slowly forced my gaze to rise, covering every inch of her body, bit by bit. No wounds, just like Kate had said. The only damage had obviously taken place after death. An all-you-can-eat buffet for the rats.
Her neck was unmarked too, so it obviously wasn’t vampires. No, not unmarked. My skin chilled. There was an old, faded tattoo of a moon on it.
I had done what Dennis Colridge had hired me to do. I had found Peg.
I turned away from the dumpster and doubled over.
The taste of vomit was acidic on my tongue as I walked back to the car, hands jammed in my pockets.
Faith seemed more alert as I got into the car and slammed the driver’s door shut. I silenced the noisy radio with a brutal click. I could see her concerned reflection in the rear-view mirror as I stared ahead, unseeing, at the silent road in front of me.
“ Doyle? You okay?” She touched my shoulder gently.
“ Fine,” I rasped. “I’m fine.”
Faith sighed. “Okay, I was saying that a few minutes ago, and you’re even less convincing than I was. What gives, boss?”
I opened my mouth to reply and felt the words freeze in my throat as I stared at her reflection. Faith had clumsily tried to clean away some of the crusted blood from her hair, and among all the matted dark hair, there was a single strand of grey.
I shifted the mirror so it was angled towards my face.
“ Youth-stealing demons,” Faith said, as I paged slowly through the thick book before me. “I don’t know, Doyle. I don’t feel any older or anything, you know?”
I rubbed my burning eyes and took a sip from my half-empty mug of coffee. I’d refilled that mug three times already. We hadn’t dared go to sleep with our respective head wounds, so the entire night and most of the day had been spent in research. Research which, without Wesley, was fairly futile. Annoyingly, Faith appeared almost totally recovered from her injuries. I, on the other hand, felt like someone had hit me repeatedly with a sledgehammer and then driven over me with a forklift truck. Or maybe a bus.
“ It only touched you for a second or two. Could be it needs longer to do some serious agin’,” I suggested.
Faith yawned. “A bit of a stretch, doncha think?”
I slammed the book down and glared at her with annoyance. “All right then, Faith, you explain to me how a woman could age eighty or so years in a few weeks.”
She raised her hands defensively. “Just saying, just saying. Why are we doing this book stuff anyway?”
“ You know why.” I glanced meaningfully in the direction of my bedroom. A low groan of pain came from the open door.
“ Sounds like he’s awake,” Faith said, smiling nastily. Okay, I was fairly amused by Wesley’s plight too, but she seemed to be taking a positively vindictive glee in it. Of course, my own intense pain was probably dampening my sense of humor a bit.
Wesley staggered groggily from my bedroom, his cane beating out an unsteady rhythm across the floor as he vanished into the kitchen.
“ Why good afternoon, Wesley!” Faith said winsomely. “And how are you this glorious day?”
The footsteps stopped. “Go to hell, Faith,” Wesley said weakly. “You’ll probably fit right in.”
Faith’s smile widened. “Why how rude, Wesley! What would the Council say?”
“ They’d probably agree with me that this comes under the category of ‘cruel and unusual torture’,” I broke in. “Leave the poor guy be, Faith. Go read a book about murderous demons or somethin’.”
I pushed a tome towards her. She pushed it back. “No way, bud. Now Wesley the Wonder Watcher is finally awake, he can do the book-reading.”
Wesley dragged himself out of the kitchen, clutching a mug of coffee. He really did look like hell, pale and slightly greenish, and with red rims around his eyes. “Faith, at the moment, I am barely capable of speaking English. You expect me to read Latin now?”
“ Well, you’re the only one who can,” I said calmly. “An’ most of your damn books are in it.”
Wesley closed his eyes and slumped into a chair. “Dear god.” He took a swig of coffee. His cheeks bulged and he sprayed it across my desk in a brown deluge.
“ Sugar might be a good idea,” I advised, pushing the bowl across to him.
“ Yes. Thank you,” he said faintly, tipping half the contents into his coffee and stirring it hastily with his finger. He flung his head back and drained the mug in one go.
I raised an eyebrow. “Impressive.”
He gave me a sickly smile. “I assure you, Doyle, after the things that have passed my lips these past few hours, a cup of hot coffee presents no challenge at all.”
“ Why’d you drink so much anyway?” I asked, smiling slightly. Hell, I said I wasn’t as amused as Faith. I was still pretty damn amused, though.
“ It was either that or…or…well, let us just say that Alexei and his friends have some rather…disturbing habits. By remaining inebriated I was able to avoid participating in anything.” I was impressed. Oh, not by Wes’s plan. I was impressed he could still use a word like ‘inebriated’ while hung over.
Faith laughed loudly. Both Wesley and I clutched at our heads. “Typical. Wes gets invited to an orgy, practically the only chance he has had in his entire life to get some, and what does he do? Get whacked instead.”
Wesley sniffed. “That’s because I view sexual relations as something that should only occur between people who love each other, rather than, as you seem to, some kind of hobby.”
I cleared my throat, and Wesley winced, looking guiltily in my direction as he realised what he’d said. “I think we’re kind of losin’ focus here. Our focus is: demons. Big, lumpy ones who age people. Not Wesley’s night-time exploits or lack of them. Or Faith’s hobbies.”
“ Demons. Right,” Wesley squinted at me. “What are you reading there?”
I glanced at the spine. “Uh…Baucher’s Guide to the Occult.”
Wesley shook his head. “A waste of time. Baucher was quite fond of opium and it’s rather doubted that he ever actually saw any of the demons he wrote about. When he started talking about blood-sucking pink elephants with talons the size of knives, he rapidly lost credibility.”
“ How quickly drug abuse can ruin careers,” I said dryly.
Wesley closed his eyes, as if reading a catalogue off the inside of his eyelids. “Try…um, the Toraskian Scripts. Chapter 8.”
I floundered through the pile of old books, found the appropriate one, and flipped it open. Thankfully, it was in English. “Okay…chapter 8. Life-draining beasties an’ demons. Check.”
Wesley put down his cup, then picked up mine and took a sip. “Read the heading of each of the entries.”
“ Okay. Let’s see…Dethgarian Puff Snake.”
“ No. Too small.”
“ Uh…Letorian Pit Spawn.”
“ Too big.”
“ Quorian Lasher.”
Wesley blinked. “What? That doesn’t drain life, it feeds on the lower intestines of its victims!” He gulped down more of my coffee. “That’s the problem with these medieval scholars. Never proof-read their work.”
I turned another page. “Yeah. An’ if they’d heard of indexes, that would be helpful too. Sithgar Beast.”
“ Only lairs in extinct volcanoes.”
“ Which LA is famous for its lack of. Okay…bingo!”
Wesley frowned. “Bingo? What’s a Bingo Demon?”
I studied the entry carefully. “No, I think I’ve found our guy. Faith, come check this fella out. He seem familiar to you?”
She peered over my shoulder. “That’s our boy. Cutie, isn’t he?”
I ran my eyes over the illustration. Sure enough, it was a perfect match on our late-night, life-draining pal. Right down to its ugly slanted eyes. “Here we go. An Umbrosh spirit-stealer. It…”
“…walks around in mortal form during the day, but changes form to hunt at night. It steals the youth of its victims, and requires a handful per year to sustain itself. Properly sustained, it can remain ageless indefinitely,” Wesley quoted.
I nodded. “Yeah. Know-it-all.”
Wesley smiled slightly. “Everyone has their field of expertise. Pass me the book, please.” He carefully ran his eyes over the entry. “I can’t read this,” he announced, squinting. “The words are all blurring together.”
“ Field of expertise, huh?” I asked pointedly.
“ Perhaps I’m not up to full operating potential yet,” Wesley admitted sheepishly, passing the book back.
“ Uh-huh. Let’s see…solitary hunter, ages with its touch, mates once every fifty years…”
“ More often than Wesley,” Faith said.
Wesley rolled his eyes. “Yes. Ha, ha. I’ll have you know, I have a lovely girlfriend.”
“ You do?” she asked.
I looked up from the book. “You do?”
“ I do,” Wesley said, flushing slightly. “Unfortunately, she’s back in England and has stopped returning my long-distance phone calls.”
“ Wait a minute,” I said sharply. “Long distance phone calls. On my phone?”
Wesley flushed even more. “Well, they were quick ones.”
“ Wesley...” I growled.
“ This last couple, she hung up as soon as she heard my voice,” he said quickly.
“ Guys!” Faith interrupted. “Argue over phone bills later. How do I kill this Umbrosh guy?”
Wesley shrugged. “The usual methods. Bludgeoning, neck-breaking, stabbing, decapitation…all or any of the above.”
Anywhere else, decapitation would not be considered a regular part of conversation.
I rubbed my chin. “Okay, so if the disappearances an’ ‘homeless deaths’ are all around Halo, then our guy’s gotta be on the inside. It makes no sense that he’d just keep on huntin’ there if he wasn’t.”
“ That’s logical,” Wesley agreed. “Considering the amount of, ah, physical energy a place like Halo would give off, the demon would be drawn there.”
“ All right. So what else do we know? How does this thing think? What are its habits?”
Wesley frowned. “Hmm. Umbroshes absorb some of the intellect of their victims, along with their life energy, causing an effect not unlike magical senility before death. If an Umbrosh has killed enough, it could be frighteningly intelligent.”
“ And if this thing is pulling off an undercover job at Halo, it’s gotta be pretty bright or someone would’ve noticed,” Faith said grimly.
“ Yeah, ‘cause security’s sooo tight there. Real hard to fool them.” I remarked sarcastically, tapping my little hat for emphasis.
“ Aw, you know what I mean,” Faith said, squirming. “Any more info, Wonder Watcher?”
Wesley closed his eyes for a second or two. “Um…they follow very distinct life cycles, changing locations every decade and mating every five. Habitual.”
“ The bodies only started piling up ten years ago,” Faith remarked.
I pushed Wesley’s books off the table, ignoring his squeak of protest, and scooped up the manila folder beneath them. I flipped through the white, typewritten pages. “I saw something about ten years in this file Kate brought us, just can’t place it…”
“ Kate? Who is this ‘Kate’ person, anyway?” Faith asked.
“ Oh, Detective Lockley was here?” Wesley inquired, perking up a little.
“ ‘Detective Lockley’? How come even Wesley knows who this woman is and I don’t?” Faith protested.
"She's just an old friend," I said absently, picking through the file.
“ An…old…friend,” she said slowly.
“ Uh-huh. All right, here we are. Halo changed ownership almost exactly ten years ago, it was bought by Jacob Harper and his son, Perry Harper.” I smiled. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a demon.”
“ Correction,” Wesley said. “We have two suspects. Only one of them is a demon.”
Faith shrugged. “Why don’t we just stab both of them and see which one gets up again?”
“ Faith!” Wesley said aghast. I flashed her a disturbed glance, too.
Faith rolled her eyes. “Jeez, it was a joke! What do you think I am, a goddamn psycho?”
“ It wasn’t very funny,” Wesley said, his words clipped. “Slayers are supposed to save life, not take it and -"
“ Blah, blah, blah, you’re a naughty girl, Faith,” I interrupted quickly. “Was that what you were about to say, Wes?”
“ Um…the gist, yes.”
“ Good. Now if we can get back to the demon. Since killin’ both of them is not an option, we’re goin’ to need to go back into Halo, see if we can figure out which Harper is the demon.”
I really hoped it was the younger. I’d like any excuse to beat the crap out of the smug bastard.
“ Which means we’re back undercover,” Faith said, grinning eagerly.
“ No,” Wesley said firmly. “Absolutely not. I categorically refuse to - “
“ If you don’t, I’ll tell Kate all about your girlfriend in England,” I said.
“ - when do we leave?” he asked.
“ Soon. We just have one problem to deal with.” I gathered up my torn uniform in one hand. “Wesley, can you sew?”