Needless to say, I will be busy watching Arrested Development and Kitchen Confidential tonight, so I probably won't be around.
Just the same, here's the latest.
All previous parts are here.
Kennedy sneezed from the vampire dust. She didn’t care what Willow said. She just knew she was allergic. While she hadn’t managed to make any big kills so far, she did dust four vampires, including her planned one-night stand. She felt so stupid. She didn’t know her hot piece of ass—a British ex-patriot instead of a Roman native like she’d originally hoped—was a vampire until after she walked through the door of the apartment.
A rookie mistake. You should’ve known better, Kennedy chided herself as she brushed her clothes off with a series of irritated moves.
She’d never just picked up a stranger before. All her past girlfriends were people she knew before she got involved with them. It never occurred to her that the hot woman hitting on her was after her for her blood supply as opposed to her tongue piercing.
Live and learn, at least this time.
Next time, check for reflections before saying yes, Kennedy thought. Then check for a pulse.
The hell with it. She’ll just make a vow to never pick up strange women again. Nice girls like her should get to know a woman first before tumbling into bed.
You’d think I would’ve learned that lesson with Willow, but no. Just how well did I know her when I went after her?
Not as well as she thought, as it turned out.
Although the date was a bust, the apartment was to die for. Since she was here, she might as well do a little exploring to see if she could find out more information about the local demons and vamps before heading back to the streets. However, the apartment was so large and richly decorated, that she had to constantly stop and remind herself that she wasn’t here to check out the expensive do-dads.
After a quick search of the parlor and entrance hallway, which yielded exactly zero, Kennedy eeney-meanie-miney-moed the doors. Her first try landed her in a bedroom, where she quickly discovered a dozen red roses laid on the bed. The note in the flowers was written in English and said:
Please make yourself at home. One of my models needs hands-on attention and I will be tied up for a day or two. I’m sure you will find someone amusing to keep you company. To that end, I’ve put fresh silk sheets on the bed. I will call you when I am free and we will make a night of it!
Looked like she had a little time to conduct her search, although she couldn’t resist giving the bed a longing look. She was tempted to pull a Goldilocks routine and crash, but she didn’t dare do it, especially in a city she knew nothing about and in an apartment owned by anyone who’d knowingly let a vampire stay with them. That’s assuming Ms. Fatal Hickey of the Year hadn’t eaten the owners and decided to squat until the landlord came looking for the rent.
Kennedy figured it was best to assume the Dusted One was here by invite. She was more likely to live to Slay another day that way.
A quick search of the bedroom yielded nothing promising, which was Kennedy’s cue to try another room. This time she scored an office.
“Jackpot!” she whooped. She plopped in the leather chair and allowed herself a luxurious stretch. When she was done, she looked around the desktop. There was a neatly stashed laptop in front of her, several expensive knickknacks, some photos of gorgeous women, and no paperwork.
“Guess we start raiding the drawers,” Kennedy said. She reached out to grab a handle when Slayer hearing picked up the sound of a door opening somewhere in the apartment.
Oh, crap! she panicked. She hopped out of the chair and began desperately looking around for a place to hide.
Two male voices were arguing, although it wasn’t the yelling kind of arguing. It was the low-voiced tense sound of two people in the middle of working out their issues.
And they were getting closer.
Kennedy spied a door that had been artfully created so it blended in with the wall and yanked it open. She dove inside what turned out to be a closet just as the office door began to open. She crouched low and left the closet door open a tiny crack, just wide enough so she could clearly hear the two men. She hoped she’d be able to pick up enough from the conversation that she could clue in on the best time to sneak out.
To her surprise, the men were speaking English. Hell, one of them sounded English.
“…said you were just going to let it drop,” the English guy said. “You’re always saying there are other jewels.”
“Ahhhh, but she was one of the greatest jewels I’ve ever set in my crown.” The other man had an accent, but one Kennedy couldn’t place. He sounded like he could’ve come from anywhere, which left her with the impression that he came from nowhere in particular. “Still, great jewel or not, that is not why I wish to discuss her with you.”
Kennedy’s narrow field of vision afforded her a clear view of the desk. Untraceable Accent sat in the chair. English was standing out of sight. Kennedy had to admit: she may be gay to the bone, but Untraceable Accent was smoking hot.
“So what is this about?” English asked.
Untraceable Accent folded his hands and leaned his chin on them. “It appears my early suspicions of Ms. Summers may have been correct after all.”
Kennedy started. He can’t be talking about Buffy. Can he?
“Impossible,” English said. “We thoroughly vetted her. She doesn’t have anything to do with the Council. We can’t find any connections and believe me we looked.”
Hunh? Kennedy wondered. If Buffy isn’t part of the Council, why the hell did the Council send me to stay with her?
“When she got off her big victory at Sunnydale, she expected to be queen of the Slayers,” English continued. “Some of the old guard put their foot down about it. Even Mr. Giles wasn’t about to give her carte blanche and told her no. She pitched her little fit and walked, although some people we questioned said they were led to believe that she was merely taking a sabbatical and didn’t actually quit. Either way, everyone agreed she is on the inactive list and isn’t on speaking terms with Mr. Giles. My people confirmed everything with some of the Watchers that got purged by Mr. Giles when he took over. They don’t have any reason to protect her or lie about what happened.”
Untraceable Accent gave off the sense that he was passively waiting for English to finish with the excuses. “I didn’t say she still had active connections to the Council,” he finally said with amusement.
“But that was your suspicion when you had us look into her,” English guy said.
“I do apologize. I was in error by not being clear enough with my accusation. Please do let me explain,” Untraceable Accent said with exaggerated conciliation. “She may no longer be fighting for the Council, but I do believe she may not be fully retired.”
“She hasn’t been hunting,” English said as Untraceable Accent opened a drawer. “She hasn’t even staked any vamps, and you know what cockroaches they are. She’d be doing us all a favor if she took some bloodsuckers out.”
“Ahh-ahh-ahh,” Untraceable Accent held up an admonishing finger. “I will not tolerate such intolerance in my presence. I’ve met some very charming vampires in my considerable time on this earth, and you do forget my current guest is the Lady Rose. I grant you that my charming vampire friends are invariably female, but the female of the species have always been far more refined, regardless of their human or nonhuman persuasion.”
English didn’t say anything, and since Kennedy couldn’t see him, she didn’t know what his expression was.
“However, we are getting away from the subject at hand.” Untraceable Accent threw a manila folder on the table. “Open it,” he ordered as an afterthought.
English bent into Kennedy’s view to grab the folder and disappeared again. She heard the sound of the folder being opened.
“You think she’s mixed up with this guy?” English asked with disbelief.
“Think? No. I know.”
“No way, no how. He’s not her type.”
Untraceable Accent let out a long-suffering sigh. “I did not say they were romantically involved. You are allowing Ms. Summers’s reputation blind you to other possibilities.”
“His operation is mostly in West Africa with outposts in the north and east. He’s got nothing in Europe.”
“That we know about. Your people’s legwork after the Congo debacle was full of holes.” Untraceable Accent sat back in his chair.
“His network isn’t so easy to crack. We only got a break after we found a man who survived an earthquake that took out his village, and he only talked because he was certain that whatever bad juju destroyed his home was coming to claim him. According to him, a spirit tricked him into making a wish that resulted in the destruction of his entire village. He actually believed that the target was somehow connected to this spirit and wanted us to get protection for him just in case.”
“Yes. You did find out that his name was Alexander, and that he is traveling Africa under the guise of a U.N. human rights observer from that encounter,” Untraceable Accent dismissed. “However, you were not able to find out his last name or anything else about his background. The best you could manage were these blurry photos of our quarry and his second-in-command.”
Kennedy frowned as she mentally puzzled together what she heard. If they were talking about Buffy, their Alexander could be Xander. What little they had said seemed to fit. He was operating mostly in West Africa and he did have a cover as a U.N. human rights observer. The big question in her mind was how they connected Buffy to Xander at all. As far as she knew, the Big Lug—as she semi-affectionately thought of him since the time he saved her from Caleb—was in Africa fighting the good fight.
“You have not answered even the most basic questions about his purpose. Who does he answer to? Given what happened in Zaire, excuse me, the Congo, we can be very certain that he doesn’t answer to anyone in the U.N. He could be an independent operative. He could be paving the way to set up business in West Africa. He could be attempting to carve out his own little kingdom,” Untraceable Accent accused. “You have not discovered his base of operations, nor have you yielded me anything resembling an extensive list of people in his network.”
“We got his number two,” English said defensively.
“Whom you shot,” Untraceable Accent snapped. “Your people were to capture and question him, not outright kill him.”
“I’m getting to the bottom of what happened,” English said quickly. “My people swear that he fought them instead of going quietly and one of their guns went off during the melee.”
“I cannot begin to calculate the impossibility of an accidentally discharged weapon hitting a man square in the temple,” Untraceable Accent said.
“As I said, I’m still looking into it,” English said. “Furthermore, even if you had Alexander’s second in your hands right now, I’m telling you, he wouldn’t talk. No one in this bunch talks. They’re fanatically loyal—to Alexander or whatever cause he’s got, I don’t know—but they’d rather die than talk. And these are stone cold killers he’s got on his side. Far as they’re concerned, they died years ago and they think this Alexander is their ticket to a happy afterlife.”
Untraceable Accent unexpectedly chuckled. “Yes, I did find that section of your report most amusing. How he managed to pay off formerly incorruptible holy men and witch doctors so they’d treat him like the second coming is a mystery. No wonder these poor souls have been duped into believing they’re part of some mysterious holy mission.”
Hunh? That’s definitely not Xander-like behavior, Kennedy thought.
“Children’s crusade more like,” English commented. “Rumor has it his network focuses on pulling some of the younger soldiers out of circulation.”
Untraceable Accent tapped his head. “Our Alexander does seem to be a master of winning hearts and minds, doesn’t he? As for pulling those young soldiers out of the hands of some nasty characters, dare I remind you about Kikwit? I hardly think he’s teaching those unfortunates to turn swords into ploughshares.”
Kennedy didn’t dare breathe. They couldn’t possibly talking about Xander Harris, could they? She liked the guy and she thought he was a good person to have watching her back, because god knows no one else bothered to watch any of the Potentials’ backs in Sunnydale. But the Alexander these two guys were talking about sounded like he was a cross between a con man and Richard the Lionhearted.
“I do believe that we have a case of bread and circuses, which tracks with his hearts and minds expertise,” Untraceable Accent dismissed. “He must be providing them an unending supply of drugs and whores to keep them loyal.”
“He does have some young girls working for him,” English doubtfully allowed. “But from what we’ve been able to observe, they act more like they’re part of the gang instead of comfort women.”
Oh crap, they are talking about Xander. Kennedy had no doubt that those African chicks were Slayers, but the rest of it didn’t make sense. She knew Xander had an information network, but she’d always assumed his informants were adults, not children. And who were these stone cold killers Xander was working with? That just didn’t sound like him at all. And she couldn’t imagine Xander paying off anyone to proclaim he was the new Jesus. None of this was making any sense.
They had to be seriously misreading the situation. After all, they were admitting that they didn’t even know Xander’s last name, let alone have a clear idea of what he was actually doing in Africa.
Untraceable Accent went very still. “That is not in any of your reports.”
“It was going to be in our latest intelligence update.”
“Why don’t I have it in my hands?”
“I was wrapping up my investigation into the shooting. It was going to be part of that report,” English said.
Untraceable Accent said something in a language that Kennedy didn’t understand. From the sound of the words and the tone of his voice, she guessed he was swearing.
“Boss?” English sounded afraid.
“You are aware of the Slayer situation, are you not?” Untraceable Accent asked with exaggerated care.
“Of course. Who isn’t?” English asked.
“Did it never occur to you that these young women in his little army are Slayers?” Untraceable Accent asked.
“They don’t act it,” English said. “They act more like information couriers and we’ve never seen them operating alone. We haven’t caught any of these girls killing anyone or anything. Only reason we know they can fight is because I recently heard rumors that there were some girls mixed up in that Kikwit group.”
Untraceable Accent slammed his hand down on the desk. “Which was also not in any of your reports on the Congo mess! Why am I employing you?”
English now sounded terrified. “My men on the ground didn’t believe it and didn’t put it in any of their reports. I only discovered this rumor myself a few days ago after seeing a raw report of our intelligence gathering operations in Liberia. I the discovered that there may have been girls involved in the Kikwit attack when I looked deeper into what I read. It was going to be in my updated intelligence report.”
“This is inexcusable!” Untraceable Accent shouted. “I expect that these fools who dismissed the reports of girls in Alexander’s ranks during the Kikwit attack will be roundly disciplined. Make an example of them. As for you, you can be certain I will be reviewing your standing in my organization. Am I clear?”
“Yes, sir.” English sounded like he was wetting his pants.
Untraceable Accent calmed down and sat back. “Yes, I see a picture forming.”
“If we go on the assumption that Ms. Summers truly has severed official ties with the Council as a result of a power struggle, she could be trying to compete with the Council instead by recruiting her own army of Slayers,” Untraceable Accent seemed lost in thought.
“You still haven’t explained the connection between Alexander and Ms. Summers,” English hesitantly said.
“Ah, yes. I’ve become so distracted by your numerous revelations that I failed to mention this exciting piece of news,” Untraceable Accent genially replied. “I met Alexander this evening while he was in the company of Ms. Summers.”
Kennedy’s mouth dropped open. Xander is here? Why didn’t Andrew tell me he was coming?
She bet that Xander was probably the courier delivering Buffy’s package. It would explain why Buffy practically forgot she was coming and took her sweet time getting home. She wondered how Xander reacted once he got an eyeful of Buffy’s apartment.
“Impossible,” English said. “We’ve been tracking his movements since he arrived in Ethiopia. We’ve got people at Bole International and at the border crossings keeping an eye out for him. He hasn’t even left the country.”
“And yet, he is here. Are you doubting my eyes?” Untraceable Accent asked with light menace.
“N-n-n-noooo,” English stuttered. “We’ve been watching the border crossings non-stop, so I know he didn’t get out by land. He could’ve left Ethiopia for a flight bound for Rome when the computer system crashed at Bole, but it was only down for an hour. It would be nearly impossible for him to get to the airport, book a flight, get through customs, and get on a plane during that time, especially since Bole is infamous for its delayed passenger flights. Besides, there’s only one passenger terminal. One of our agents should’ve spotted him.”
“Yes, that would be quite the coincidence, wouldn’t it?” Untraceable Accent said thoughtfully. “Are you telling me that every computer in Bole went dark for that hour? Even the European carriers?”
“Every one. According to our intelligence, a travel agent was hacking into the system so a drug smuggler could be waved through customs and hit the wrong key,” English said.
“Your scenario seems to be unlikely,” Untraceable Accent frowned. “It is entirely possible that our Alexander could be traveling under an assumed alias. That is the only way I can account for it. Unless vital data about travelers was lost in our unfortunate computer blackout.”
“Could be. I’ll get my people on it.”
“The same people who failed to provide you with critical information about the Congo?” Untraceable Accent archly asked. “The same people who failed to spot a white man sporting an eye patch over his left eye in an airport with a single passenger terminal? The same people who managed to completely miss this individual as he went through Ethiopia’s famously difficult airport customs?”
English didn’t say anything to that. Kennedy could swear she heard the guy’s heart pick up a faster beat.
“Coincidence seems to swirl around our Alexander, doesn’t it?” Untraceable Accent asked. “He manages to sneak out of Ethiopia without being seen. He manages to come out of nowhere and destroy my Congo operations. He happens to personally know Ms. Summers, one of the few people of my acquaintance who actually knew about my plans for the Congo.”
Kennedy’s eyes closed with a wince as dots started to connect. There was a very real chance she seriously misjudged Golden Girl.
“Furthermore, it is very possible he is working with Slayers to achieve whatever his ends are in Africa,” Untraceable Accent continued. “Yes, a veritable vessel for Lady Luck herself. One would suspect he has a tattoo of a four-leaf clover on his person.”
“I still say he found out about Kikwit by some other means. That wasn’t a small operation,” English said. “And need I remind you, you dangled a lot of fake and real leads in front Ms. Summers’s nose right after that and nothing ever came of it.”
“Or perhaps Ms. Summers is a far more intelligent operative than the people on my payroll. I must look into hiring her immediately,” Untraceable Accent said sarcastically. “It appears your intelligence operations need reform. They are clearly still operating in a one-Slayer world. That must change and rest assured, I will oversee those changes myself once my immediate dilemma is resolved.”
“Sir, yes sir,” English agreed.
“And I also will be evaluating your recent performance,” Untraceable Accent said. “My eventual judgment may be mitigated by the fact that this gross incompetence has shed light on the holes in my organization.”
Kennedy heard a audible gulp.
“Now, as I cannot trust you to ask the right questions, I will hand you a list of items I want you to look into,” Untraceable Accent continued. “You will start with Ms. Summers’s hometown of Sunnydale. If the name Alexander or Xander connected to a man roughly the same age as Ms. Summers appear in any records in Sunnydale, there is a very good chance that we’ll have our man.”
“There aren’t a lot of records left from Sunnydale. An awful lot was lost when the town disappeared,” English said.
“I don’t want excuses. I want you to do it.” Untraceable Accent sat back. “I spoke to the man myself this evening and he claimed that he and Ms. Summers were romantically involved, as he so quaintly put it, ‘back in the day.’ I can only imagine that he must be speaking of the time when Ms. Summers lived in Sunnydale or Los Angeles. Given this new information about possible Slayers being in his ranks, I believe a closer look at her Sunnydale associates would bear the most fruit. Once we discover the nature of the past relationship between Alexander and Ms. Summers, we’ll also discover the nature of their current relationship. Am I clear?”
“Now go,” Untraceable Accent waved English off. “And be sure to tell Mr. Dailey to contact me immediately.”
“Yes,” Untraceable Accent looked up. “I feel it’s time to bring in some fresh blood effective immediately to work with you on this most time-sensitive project.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get right on it, sir.”
Kennedy felt her shoulders relax as she heard English leave. She could try to overpower Untraceable Accent, but given what she just heard, she decided that maybe it was best if she didn’t fight her way out.
From the sound of things, Xander was in a boatload of trouble and she had a lot of crow to eat for Buffy.
The only way she could help either one of them was if she stayed put and kept her ears open. She needed to get as much information as possible so she could warn them about what was coming. Much as instinct told her to kill Untraceable Accent and escape, she knew she had to be patient and wait for a time she could get out without being seen. She couldn’t afford to be captured or killed.
As Untraceable Accent barked into a phone using a language that sounded like French, Kennedy arranged herself so she’d be more comfortable. She suspected she was going to be in the closet for a while.