"Yes, I get the point, but I really don’t think now is the time to discuss my tab! Okay, so I’m banned. Great. There are other bars in LA. Cleaner ones, too. Now, can we get back to the vamp probl -" The click of a disconnecting line cut me off. I slammed the phone down and glared at it.
Wesley frowned at me with heavy disapproval. "Your search seems to be digging up more problems than it's solving," he pointed out. "Just how many people do you owe money to?"
"I don't owe him nothin'," I snarled. "He's... uh, mistaken."
"And the other half dozen, are they 'mistaken' too?"
"That's right, Wes, you're gettin' it." I looked at the next name in my book, cursed, and decided to give that one a miss. It wasn’t as though there was any shortage of other names to try. And I’d already been at this for two hours. I winced at the thought of my impending phone bill. "Anyway, we gotta find Spike before she does. These guys are my best shot."
"I do feel I must point out, Doyle - if Faith cannot handle him I fail to see precisely what the two of us will be able to achieve."
I muttered something uncomplimentary and hopefully unintelligible. I'd been mulling that one over myself, with some concern. Considering Spike had taken out two Slayers, much as it hurt my pride to admit it, I probably wouldn‘t pose that much of a threat. And as for Wesley... But we couldn't very well sit around and do nothing. The three of us working together had maybe stood a decent chance against him... Faith's temper had splintered that.
Wesley sighed. He'd been sitting hunched over the table, moping over that one same page in his books, ever since Faith had stalked out. I’d been trying to avoid looking at the stylised depiction of Spike snapping the neck of a young girl which adorned the opened pages.
"Don't worry, man," I said, attempting to reassure. "We'll find her. Hey, maybe those council guys will get to Spike first and save us the trouble?"
Wesley ignored me, staring at his book.
“Maybe they’ll kill each other,” I added hopefully.
He nodded distractedly. “Yes. I’m sure. Very nice. What did you say?”
“Nothing.” I watched him subside back into book-moping mode. “Look, I’m sure Faith’s all right,” I said firmly. It’s understandable you’re worried, but...”
"If I lose my Slayer because of an argument... the Council will be furious! It'll be back to the dusty research shelves..."
My pity evaporated. I stared at him incredulously. "Really in charge of your priorities, there, Wes," I snapped in disgust. "My Faith's out there facing a guy who's already killed two slayers, and you're worried about your job?"
He stuttered. "That wasn't... I didn't... I..." His voice dried up and he frowned at me, looking thoughtful, for a long moment. "'Your Faith'?" he repeated. "My, we really are getting possessive, aren‘t we?"
"'S just an expression," I growled, sensing a lecture headed my way and cursing that slip of the tongue.
"Doyle, I realise you don't have a very high opinion of me, and after last week I can't say I really blame you. But, considering you saved my life, I feel I owe you some warning nonetheless. About Faith... I really wouldn't get too attached. I've seen her idea of relationships before. I've seen them end. You know what she's like."
"Wes." I shut my eyes and took a deep, calming breath.
"Shut up." I picked up the phone again.
The next guy in my book, Phil, ran a late night corner shop with an extensive stock catering for the needs of the demon community. Stuff like different vintages of bottled blood - y'know; French, German, Italian... He also kept a decent stock of whisky, which was how I came to know him.
Phil was one of the contacts I was on more amenable terms with, not that he was actually on bad terms with anyone so far as I knew. Also, I was pretty sure I didn't owe him any money.
The phone was picked up after only a couple of rings. "Hey, Phil," I said.
"Hey, Doyle man. Been a while... when was it, that poker game at Ben's in March, yeah? Heard you finally quit the pigs. Heard you got your own agency now. How's that going?"
"Tickin' over, thanks. Fact, I thought you might be able to help me with somethin'."
"Scotch? Or something else?"
I laughed, but my laughter dried up abruptly. Something was wrong... I heard a noise on the line that sounded a lot like somebody choking. "Phil? Phil!"
A familiar, harsh, could-be-British voice answered in his stead. "So it is you again, Doyley. Funniest thing, there I was buying some booze, and what should I hear Sunny Jim say into the phone? 'Doyle'. Just piqued my interest, you know, after earlier. Kind of a distinctive name, isn't it?"
I could still hear the choking in the background, but it was getting weaker. "You let him go, you piece of shit..." I growled.
Spike carried on as though he hadn't heard. "I'm guessing you were looking for me anyway. Didn't get enough the first time, huh? You don't give up, do you, mate?"
Wesley, obviously detecting the danger signs from my half of the conversation, was looking on in alarm. He mouthed 'Spike?' soundlessly and I spared him a brief nod.
"Tell your Slayer girlfriend three's the charm, for me, eh? I'll be seeing you."
Before I could reply, the line went dead.
"Shit!" I slammed the phone down and shot to my feet. A fierce twinge from my bruised stomach slammed through me and almost knocked me back down again, a reminder I didn't need of just how well our previous encounter had gone. "We got him... or he's got us. Not sure on that one. C'mon, Wes."
I grabbed a handful of stakes from the table and picked up Wesley’s crossbow. The guy was a handy shot with projectile weapons, if nothing else, as last week had proven.
"We’re off to face Spike?" He looked less than enchanted by the concept.
"Yeah. The good news is, he and Faith have yet to cross paths."
"And the bad news?"
"Think I just got someone killed."
Fifteen minutes later I drew the car up outside Phil’s shop. I was out before the engine had even finished winding down, stake in hand, leaving Wesley still struggling with his crutches in the back seat.
I think I knew, really, there was no cause for hurry; we were already too late.
The door was hanging off its hinges. When I pushed it open, the whole thing collapsed to the floor. Well... I guess there went any chance of a quiet entrance. I stepped cautiously over it.
The store was dingy inside. One of the fluorescent lighting strips in the ceiling wasn’t working - not necessarily Spike’s doing. I could see enough of the place, though. It was a real mess.
From what I’d heard on the phone, Phil hadn’t had chance to put up much of a fight, so Spike must’ve just kicked over the shelf units for the hell of it. The floor was awash.
Edging forward, picking my way through the broken glass and splintered wood, I found Phil himself behind the counter. He was slumped on the floor by the phone, two familiar holes in his neck. I turned away.
I drew on my demon senses for a moment. Among the other smells, the scent of vampire wasn’t strong enough to be current, and it only confirmed what I’d suspected anyway. Spike had gone.
As I was turning to leave, Wesley staggered through the door, crossbow in hand and a fierce expression on his face which might‘ve been funny in other circumstances. He stopped abruptly, gagging at the sight and scent as it hit him. “My God... how many people died in here?”
“One,” I reassured. “All this blood came from bottles.”
“Bottles...?” He blanched. “Have I mentioned you know the oddest people, Doyle?”
“Our pal Spike isn’t gonna be too popular with the demon community, that’s for sure. Phil - or, more accurately, this place and the service it provided - was well liked.”
Wesley still looked ill, and I hustled him out of the door before he could throw up all over the crime scene.
We were about to get back into the car when the police arrived.
A couple of youthful uniforms leaped out of a squad car and started brandishing weapons and handcuffs in our direction. I’d started trying to explain when, rather to my surprise, an unmarked car pulled up behind the squad car. A familiar figure topped with blonde hair got out, slammed the door loudly, and strutted over.
“This is Doyle. He’s a PI. Used to be one of us. Why don‘t you two go find some criminals to arrest?” Kate turned to me as they backed off, her gaze both sour and amused in that unique way of hers. “I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised to find you here,” she remarked.
“Thanks, Kate,” I greeted. I noticed that Wesley, who’d been just about dying from embarrassment at the prospect of arrest a moment before, was now staring, transfixed, at my erstwhile partner. “I’m afraid poor old Phil’s not gonna be treading all over the importation laws any more.”
She sighed. “Let me guess. Bite marks in neck? Drained of blood?”
“She - she knows?” Wesley spluttered.
I glanced at him. “C’mon, now. Most of the LAPD have some inkling. Hard to maintain the disbelief, with so many corpses showin’ up all over the city with the same MO.”
“Who’s your friend?” Kate asked archly, her eyes travelling coolly over Wesley‘s form and coming up Unimpressed.
“Wesley - Kate,” I introduced.
“Wesley Wyndham-Pryce,” Wesley corrected stuffily, juggling his crutches in order to extend a hand which Kate ignored.
“He’s helpin’ around the office. In a research capacity,” I said.
“Research. Right. Is he a demon, too?”
Wesley looked aghast at that one, staring between Kate and myself with incredulity and a hint of annoyance.
“Nah. Just English.”
Wesley started spluttering incoherently and I pointedly took his arm and ‘helped’ him back towards the car. “Anyway, be seein’ you.”
“Wait. You haven’t told me what you’re doing here with a corpse,” Kate said. “Are you working on a case?”
I shook my head, opening the back door of the car and shoving Wesley inside. “I was on the phone to Phil when the vamp came in. Got here soon as I could. Wasn’t soon enough.”
She made an unconvinced noise. “Let me know when you catch the bloodsucker, Doyle, okay?”
“Will I see you next week?”
“Uh... I’ll be in touch.” If I’m still alive.
I slammed the door after Wesley, hopped into the driver’s seat, and pulled out carefully. It wouldn’t be beyond Kate to arrest me for driving offences.
“What a delightful young woman,” Wesley remarked, glancing back over his shoulder at the diminishing figures and squad cars - where a tall, thin blonde was yelling and gesticulating aggressively at her uniformed subordinates.
“Uh, yeah.” I wondered whether I should mention a few of the nicknames Kate had earned from the guys in the police department.
“Nah. She likes ‘em human. Partner. For three years. We still help each other out.”
“Oh...” Wesley looked oddly happy. “I’ll likely be seeing her around, then. May I ask why you didn’t tell her about Spike? It isn’t as though we couldn’t use some extra help.”
“Matter of keepin’ down his list of possible targets, Wes. She’s a good cop, but she’s only human. I’m not bringin’ her into this, too.”
Save me, I thought in exasperation. Well... let him think happy thoughts about Kate. We’d probably both be dead from a fatal case of Spike before she had chance to disillusion him.
“Maybe Faith will have got hungry and come back,” I suggested hopefully as we fell back through the door of the office building.
Wesley nodded, looking unconvinced. “She usually has to kill something to throw off a mood like that.”
Ouch. And this was the gal I was dating... I must have a death wish.
The lights were on in my apartment. “See, Wes? What’d I tell you? Faith? Faith!”
Then I saw who was sprawled on the couch with a bottle of blood in one hand. Needless to say, it wasn’t Faith, despite the taste for black leather gear and the big muddy boots rested carelessly on my furniture.
I swore, as a chill of fear crept through me. My stakes, Wesley’s crossbow... we had left them in the car. And he was between me and the rest of the weapons still in the apartment. I remembered how quickly he could move. “How the hell did you get in here?”
He’d doubled around behind us. We‘d gone to the shop, he‘d come here. Caught us off-guard. Clever bastard...
“Nobody lives in this building but you, mate,” Spike said smoothly, unfolding himself from the couch. “And you’re not human.” I gaped at him. He strutted a few feet across the floor, still blocking me from the weapons. “Let that slip your mind, did you, Doyley? You’re passing nicely for human, here, aren’t you? Human business, human friends. You can try to forget it all you want, but it doesn't matter. You can walk like a man, but you're not one.”
He laughed, and knocked back a gulp from the bottle.
“Wesley, go,” I said, quietly, not taking my eyes off Spike.
“I’m not -” he began stubbornly, despite the fear in his voice.
“You’re on crutches, and you’re unarmed. What the hell use do you think you’d be?” I said harshly. “Now, get the hell out of here and fetch Faith, or we‘re both dead!”
After a brief silence I heard him start to make his awkward, halting progress back towards the elevator.
Spike set the bottle down on my table, freeing his hands to give me a brief, mocking applause. “Just you and me, then, mate,” he said.
Drawing on my demon form, I prepared to face Spike.