After this, to bed.
All parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 1.
Well, it wasn’t so much a low murmur as it was a discussion where some of the words were pretty clear. Suffice to say that he didn’t have to stand with his ear to the door to hear it.
He hesitated because he didn’t want to be late for the Very Important Meeting, but hearing Xander’s name and the buzz of angry Slayers convinced him that addressing the problem was more important than being on time for the Very Important Meeting.
He knocked on the door and the conversation stopped, as if someone had shut off the XM radio. Not that anyone had an XM radio in the house, but Andrew felt very good about his petition’s chances with the Council, so he viewed it as fait accompli suffering from a case of delay-itis. He had made a very convincing argument that satellite radio would be quite the morale-booster for the Chicago house. There was no way that the Council would turn it down.
Susan’s cautious, “Who is it?” told him he was welcome to enter.
Andrew opened the door and stuck his head in. His little lambs — with the sole exception of Cheryl, who was positively beaming with joy — were looking deeply perturbed.
Going by the snippet he just heard, Andrew didn’t need three guesses to figure out that for some reason his girls were unhappy with Xander. He couldn’t even begin to guess why. Everyone loved Xander so much that they wanted to be Xander.
He had to approach this cautiously. He could tell by his little kitten-lettes’ moods that they probably wouldn’t be receptive to a straightforward question like, “Why aren’t you happy with Xander?”
It was time to go with his usual game plan, which was to ask himself: ‘What would Buffy do?’ Whatever the answer was, he’d do it.
Oh. Wait. That might not be a good idea. He didn’t have time to make an inspiring speech.
He’d have to go with the back-up plan and ask himself: ‘What would Willow do?’
He could do that.
“I-i-i-i-i-s there something wrong?” Andrew stuttered. He especially liked the breathy and bewildered delivery. He hoped his eyes were big enough to show he was being sincere.
“Yeah. Your boyfriend Xander? He’s a dick of massive proportions,” Terri firmly stated.
“I’m betting his actual dick is probably proportionally tiny, too,” Kristin huffed.
Andrew blinked. He couldn’t have heard that right. “You’re talking about Xander like that? Are you sure you mean Xander Harris?”
“I liked him. He’s funny,” Cheryl insisted.
“You like everyone,” Susan said. “You even liked that vampire you staked the other night.”
“Did not,” Cheryl shot back.
“You were flirting with him,” Kristin accused.
Cheryl pouted. “I didn’t know he was a vampire when I was flirting with him. Besides, thinking a vampire is cute is not the same as liking them.”
“I’ve heard the same thing from Buffy,” Andrew nodded sagely.
“Before we pile on Cheryl, let’s get back to the main point,” LaTisha interrupted. “Terri’s got a hate-on and Cheryl’s got a love-on.”
Andrew smiled. He could always count on LaTisha being fair and on Cheryl seeing the best in everyone.
“That said,” La Tisha turned her eyes to Andrew. “Andy? Hate to say it, but even from what Cheryl told us, your boy is coming up asshole.”
“He just flew in from Thailand!” Andrew protested.
“And boy, are his arms tired,” Susan sweetly said as she hi-fived a giggling Helen.
Terri shot the pair of them a dirty look as Cheryl seemed to shrink into herself.
“Guys, cool it,” LaTisha said without her eyes leaving Andrew. “I’m waitin’ on the rest of that explanation Andy, ’cause from where I stood when he came rolling in last night, he smelled like he closed a bar.”
“Said some Japanese guy spilled booze on him,” Terri snorted.
“He wasn’t hung over,” Cheryl exploded.
Terri quickly backed down from hinting that Xander was actually hung over when he got up this morning. “Just repeating what he said to me.”
“Well, he wasn’t,” Cheryl primly said. “And I didn’t like your tone.”
Terri exchanged looks with LaTisha.
“Sorry,” Terri mumbled. “He was nasty to me when he woke up.”
Andrew was relieved that he wouldn’t have to defend Xander from the accusation that he was drunk. He definitely knew that there was no way Xander would ever drink on a plane, especially after that little incident on a flight from Honolulu to Beijing where he stopped a Matheson demon from ripping into the cabin with its claws. Andrew always thought Xander should’ve gotten credit for discovering that one, except that Captain Kirk got there first. Not Xander’s fault if the demon showed up on the episode of The Twilight Zone. The fact is, everyone thought it was a make-believe demon, including the estate of a certain Mr. Serling.
At least Xander got to name it and was listed as co-discoverer.
“Well, it’s more complicated than that. A lot more complicated than that.” Andrew puffed out his chest to indicate that he Knew Something. “I know for a fact that Xander was very, very busy investigating some very, very bad business in Bangkok. He was just finishing up there when he got the call to be here. Knowing Xander, he’s probably a little cranky because he didn’t get any sleep on the plane and is exhausted.”
“Just cranky, hunh?” Terri asked as she rolled her eyes.
“What was he doing Thailand?” Helen asked.
“From the looks of him this morning, I’d say he was either scoring drugs or cruising the red light…” Susan’s voice trailed off when she caught sight of Cheryl’s face.
Andrew winced. The accusation against Xander was hurtful. He had to do something about it, and that meant telling the girls why Xander was in Bangkok. He didn’t want to say anything until all his information was confirmed via some kind of official report. Also, he didn’t know the whole story. He was kind of hoping to pull Xander aside after this Emu business and get the straight dope from the horse’s mouth.
“We’re waiting Andrew,” LaTisha prompted.
“I-I-I-I…” Andrew stuttered as he mentally organized the little snippets of gossip he had heard about Xander’s trip to Thailand.
“Why are you asking him?” Terri asked LaTisha.
“Because I know the answer,” Andrew said.
Terri snorted her doubt.
That was all Andrew needed. He had to go for it.
“I know for a fact that Xander was investigating the mysterious case of the Haunted Photograph,” Andrew said.
Cheryl perked right up. “Haunted photograph?”
“Haunted photograph,” Kristin deadpanned.
“This ought to be good,” Susan said.
“Let’s hear it, Andrew,” Helen insisted.
It was Cheryl’s beaming face that convinced Andrew to tell what he knew. He’d have to fill in some of the blanks using educated guesses here and there, but he was pretty sure he had most of it anyway.
“Well, word came in from the Bangkok Council House about a most disturbing case,” Andrew said. “Someone was going around targeting prominent people in Bangkok. In the dead of night, they would nail a gruesome, terrifying photograph to the front door. The families would open their doors in the morning to go to school or to work and find the picture. Within 48 hours, all the inhabitants would die.”
“What was the picture?” Cheryl asked with wide eyes.
“You read my mind, my little pork chop. I was about to tell you,” Andrew beamed. “The photograph was of a man sleeping in a hospital bed. He was all curled up with guilt, you see, because he had hit and killed a pregnant woman with his car while she was crossing the street.”
“That doesn’t exactly sound scary,” Kristin said.
“You’re right. Except, that isn’t all the picture showed,” Andrew said.
“It also showed a ghost, right?” Susan asked.
Andrew was taken by surprise. “How do you know?”
“Unh, Xander was supposedly in Thailand investigating a haunted photograph, so it makes sense,” Susan shrugged.
“Gold star for you,” Andrew grinned. “I can see you’ve got a big future in investigations for the Council.”
“Only if the investigators take the little yellow short bus to work,” Kristin teased. This comment earned her a pillow to the face, courtesy of Susan.
“Now, now, you’re distracting me from the story,” Andrew soothed.
“Girls,” LaTisha said, “let the man talk, already.”
“Susan’s right. There was a ghost in a photograph. However, it wasn’t a smiling, happy ghost. No. It was the mangled, broken, half-rotted corpse of the woman who was killed,” Andrew continued.
“Rotted corpse? But I thought she was freshly dead, at least going by what you said,” Terri said with her deadly raised eyebrow of doubt.
“Well, the corpse in the picture looked rotted, that’s all I know,” Andrew said. “Anyway, the dead woman was lying underneath her murderer’s bed, arms stretched out was if she were going to reach around the mattress to strangle him, with her face looking directly at the camera.”
The girls began to shift so they were sitting closer together.
“Her flesh was a rotted, wormy-looking grey. Her hair was a wild nest of overgrown hair. Her fingernails were long and yellow, like evil claws. But worst of all, the absolute worst of all, was that there were only black holes where her eyes, nose, and mouth were supposed to be.”
Cheryl gasped and hugged her knees tightly to her chest.
“So why didn’t the Bangkok house investigate it themselves?” Kristin asked. “Seems to me that calling in someone who doesn’t know the ’hood maybe isn’t the best thing to do right off.”
“Well, they did investigate it,” Andrew protested. “They only called London for help when it became clear they were up against powerful magic. That, and someone nailed the photograph to their front door. They had 48 hours to solve the mystery before they’d all be dead. That’s when Mr. Giles called on Xander Harris, field scout extraordinaire.”
“An entire Council House is under attack and the Council only sends one person?” LaTisha asked. “That’s not protocol, and you know it. The Council’d send in at least one quick reaction team to start hunting around for whoever was responsible with Coven back-up to try and reverse whatever magic was attached to the picture.”
“Assuming the picture was even responsible and not just a red herring,” Terri added with a frown. “And assuming this story is even tr—”
“The reason why Xander was the only one to go was because he insisted,” Andrew interrupted. “He didn’t want to put any more Slayers or Watchers at risk. They were already about to lose a house full of Slayers. What would happen if the mysterious person went after the visiting Slayers? There’d be a massacre, like that one in the Jedi Temple in Revenge of the Sith. Xander couldn’t allow that.”
Terri’s face scrunched up like she was looking for a hole in Andrew’s reasoning, but she didn’t say anything. Andrew was relieved, especially since he didn’t have proof that what he said was true. It was a very Xander thing to do, so it was probably true anyway.
Andrew kept going with his story before Terri could finish formulating her question. “When Xander got there, the first thing he did was read everything the Bangkok house had learned about the other victims. What he learned was that everyone, I mean everyone — except for the Council house, of course — who had been targeted had borrowed money from the same bank branch.
“The Bangkok house couldn’t figure that out for themselves?” Helen asked.
“Well, they did, of course they did,” Andrew quickly said. “But they looked into the bank, which was a branch of First National Bank and Federated Credit Union of Thailand, and they concluded that it was clean of everything. There was no demon evil or human evil running the bank. Besides, the Council House didn’t borrow anything from the bank, and they got a picture. But the clock was ticking very fast. Xander had only one day to save everyone in the house. The only lead he had was that bank branch, and he had to follow it to the end.”
“So, was it the bank?” Susan asked.
Andrew wobbled a hand. “Sort of.”
“It either is or isn’t,” Kristin insisted.
“Ahhh, my little one. There you’d be wrong.” Andrew grinned triumphantly. “The bank had nothing to do with it. It was a bank employee.”
“Why would a bank employee go around killing people with a picture?” Terri asked.
LaTisha rolled her eyes. “You do remember that ambulance dispatcher last year that had a vampire partner, right? ‘I point you to the car accidents, you bring me their wallets.’ What do you want to bet money was at the bottom of it?”
“You can always count on the Benjamins to bring out the jerk in people,” Helen agreed.
“As it so happens, it’s the same thing in Thailand,” Andrew sagely said. “Although I don’t think it’s Benjamins in Thailand. I think they have bats on their bills. In fact, they love bats so much in Thailand, that they call their money ‘bat.’ At least, that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Coooooool,” Cheryl said. “It’s like those countries that have Bugs Bunny on their stamps.”
“We have a Bugs Bunny stamp, so I’m not sure that having a Bugs Bunny stamp equals calling your money ‘bats,’” Susan remarked.
“Guys, can we let Andy finish?” Kristin asked.
Andrew dropped his voice for dramatic effect. “Well, there was this loan officer who was in very, very deep with the mob. He owed them money. Lots and lots of money. He owed so many bats, that he needed enough to fill a whole underground cavern, like that one Captain Kirk, his long-lost love, and his son were trapped in on the Genesis planet in during Wrath of Kahn. Day in and day out, he was signing loans for all these rich people who didn’t really need the money. Every day, he got angrier and angrier, especially since the mob was threatening him to pay up or else. One day, he just snapped.”
“So he killed people using a photograph? There has got to be easier ways to get money,” Terri grumbled.
Andrew ignored her question. He was already running late for the Very Important Meeting and couldn’t afford to get distracted from the story. “At first, all he wanted to do was go into a bar and drink away his troubles.”
“That never works,” Cheryl shook her head sadly.
“He was on his forth beer when this young woman sat down next to him and started talking. She said to him, ‘Whatever it is, it can’t be that bad.’ And he said, ‘Oh, but it is.’ Then he tells her all about the mob, and the money he owes, and all the rich people he deals with during the day who are mean to him.
“So, after he finishes telling her his tale of woe, the young woman says, ‘If you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?’ The loan officer thinks about it and says, ‘I wish I could get money from all those rich people because I need it more than they do.’ Then this woman transforms into a vengeance demon.”
That’s when all of his little chicks gasped with surprise as light dawned on their faces. He knew they had never actually met a real live vengeance demon, but since he had told them all about vengeance demons they all knew what one was. Personally, he thought the Council was being completely unfair to vengeance demons since they really were all about justice. He knew Anya would agree with him if she were alive. He should probably petition the Council for a name change from ‘vengeance demons’ to ‘justice demons,’ just so it would be more fair to the vengeance demons. He could call his petition for a name change the ‘Anya Christina Emmanuella Jenkins Memorial Petition’ to honor the World’s Most Perfect Woman and the Only Woman Xander Would Ever Love.
“A vengeance demon gave him the picture to help him?” Terri asked with disbelief. “I thought vengeance demons were pretty much all about granting wishes in a way that caused maximum pain.”
“That’s not true!” Andrew protested. “It’s about helping the person making the wish so the scales of justice are put back into balance.”
LaTisha shook her head. “Even assuming that Andy is dead on, how is wiping out a few families and possibly the Bangkok Council House not causing maximum pain?”
Terri thought about it. “Okay. That’s a good point.”
All of the other Slayers murmured their agreement.
“Anyway, the vengeance demon took off her necklace and put it around his neck. She told him that as long as he wore the pendant, his wish would be in full force. However, if he lost the pendant or if the pendant was destroyed, his wish would be completely reversed. She then gave him the picture, and said that anyone who saw it would die within 48 hours. As soon as that person was dead, a new picture of the man with the evil ghost under his bed would appear in his hand so he could use it again. The catch was that as soon as the first person was dead, he had to show the new picture to someone else within 48 hours, or he would die too,” Andrew said.
“Ahhhh, so the wisher was threatened with dying, too. Now that sounds like everything we ever read about vengeance demons,” Susan nodded. “This story is starting to sound more likely to me.”
“Me, too,” Kristin agreed.
Andrew tried not to show he was hurt by their doubting ways. “O contrary, my petite,” he said with a hand over his heart. “Anya herself explained it to me. No wish can come without a catch. It’s, like, this really hardcore rule that’s more binding than a D&D manual. It just is. And the catch has to be very specific to the person making the wish, otherwise there’s no point to granting it. It has to be hard for the person to enjoy it.” Andrew sadly shook his head as he spared a thought for Warren and Jonathan. “No wish is worth having if you can’t lose it all because you forgot that happiness is so easily lost when you don’t follow the plan because you think you know better.”
The girls exchanged looks.
“Unh, okay,” Helen said slowly.
“So how did Xander figure it out?” Cheryl asked.
“Well, Xander knew that what the Bangkok Council House discovered had to be true, but he was convinced that the branch was still the thing connecting all the dots — I mean the deaths. As it so happened, there was a little open house for one of the dead families during the Council House’s final day of life. He had no choice. He had to take a chance and attend the open house in hopes that the person responsible would show up to gloat over their victory.”
“Sounds like a long shot if you ask me,” Susan remarked.
“Unfortunately, it’s one of the failings of people who want to be an evil overlord.” Andrew knowingly nodded. “The urge to gloat will always be an evil overlord’s undoing.”
“Just like in this case,” Cheryl brightly said.
“Just like in this case,” Andrew repeated. “So, Xander went into the branch under the guise of sending a money order to Giles. While he was there, he sneakily used his cell phone to take pictures of everyone working in the bank. Once he managed to get all his pictures and the money order sent to Giles, he left. All he could do now was bide his time until the open house and hope he hadn’t made a tragic mistake.
“When the sun set, Xander went to the open house for the dead family. As the minutes ticked down for the Council House, Xander desperately searched the crowd for familiar faces. Anyone who looked even vaguely like someone who worked in the bank was compared to his secret stash of photos stored on his cell. Yet, no matter what, he couldn’t find a single match. Then, when the Council House had only one hour of life left, Xander discovered him!”
“What did he do?” Cheryl asked.
“Well, this is the funny part,” Andrew said as he bounced on the balls of his feet. “As it turns out, Xander had taken a wrong turn and ended up in an unfamiliar and nearly abandoned part of the house. He was just trying to figure out how to get back to the mourning crowd when he heard a noise, like someone was opening and closing drawers in one of the bedrooms. Curious, he went to investigate. And that’s how he found the loan officer stealing money and jewels and anything else he could stuff in his pockets from the bedrooms of the dead family.”
“Yeeeesh,” Kristin shivered.
“He couldn’t wait until no one was home and just break into their houses?” Helen sounded outraged.
“That’s what Xander asked,” Andrew nodded happily. “See, he recognized the loan officer right away, on account of the fact that he had checked the pictures so much through the whole night, and he confronted him. ‘You!’ he said. ‘You’re the fiend responsible for killing so many people and putting all those Slayers in danger! Tell me how you did it!’
“‘It’s not me!’ the loan officer yelled. ‘I don’t know anything about a haunted picture that’s so awful that the sight of it kills people in 48 hours!’
“‘Ah-hah!’ I didn’t tell you that you killed them using a haunted picture that was so awful that they die within 48 hours of seeing it!’ Xander shouted.
“‘Drat!’ the loan officer yelled. ‘You’ll never catch me!’ And then he tried to escape. But before he could get too far, Xander yelled, ‘Stop! Thief! There’s a thief stealing all the stuff!’ And the mourners came running to see what was going on. When they saw Xander pointing at the running loan officer, they tackled him and forced him to the ground.
“The loan officer kept yelling, ‘I didn’t do it! He’s lying!’ Except no one believed him because when he was tackled some jewelry flew out of his pocket. The crowd was getting ugly and they started talking about dragging him to the police, but Xander stopped them, saying he had to ask the loan officer a few questions.
“‘Keep him away from me!’ the loan officer shouted. ‘He’s going to kill me!’ But Xander swore that he wasn’t going to hurt him, he just wanted to know how to stop the picture from killing any more people. But the loan officer started struggling to get away, and that’s when Xander saw it! The vengeance demon’s necklace!’”
“So that’s how Xander saved the Bangkok Council House,” Cheryl said excitedly.
Andrew nodded. “By destroying the pendant. As soon as he saw it, he reached out, grabbed the pendant, and yanked it off the loan officer’s neck so hard that the chain snapped. Before anyone could react, Xander threw it to the ground and jumped on it. When the pendant shattered, there was a very loud scream and a wind blew so hard that it knocked everyone down. By the time the wind died down, the only thing standing was the dead family — now formerly dead and very much alive — looking around in confusion. ‘What happened?’ they asked”
“The curse was reversed because Xander crushed the pendant,” Helen explained to Susan. “That’s how it works with vengeance demons, unless they agree to reverse the curse itself.”
“Very good.” Andrew beamed at her. “You’ve been doing the homework!”
“That’s all well and good, but how did Xander explain what happened? People must’ve panicked when they saw these dead people suddenly alive again,” Kristin said.
“Well, Xander had to first calm down the screaming crowd. Then he had to explain that all the families who had seen the picture had been cursed,” Andrew said. “However, he knew he couldn’t tell the whole truth, so he told everyone that a very powerful wizard had made all the families invisible and took away their memories. Then he created the illusion that the families were dead, when really they were wandering around trying to remember who they were and make people see them.”
“If this story is true, that’s a good way to explain it,” Kristin reluctantly agreed.
“Assuming the people he told it to believe in wizards, which I’m kind of doubting in this case,” Terri remarked.
“Or, they bought it in the heat of the moment, and then came up with better explanation on their own,” LaTisha said.
Terri snorted. “Is it sad that I think you’re probably right?”
“Nah. Just means you’re experienced,” LaTisha grinned.
“So what happened to the loan officer?” Cheryl asked.
“Not to mention the vengeance demon, since her amulet was destroyed,” Susan added.
“Well, the loan officer managed to escape during the chaos that erupted when the dead family reappeared in their living room and was never seen again,” Andrew explained. “As for the vengeance demon, no one knows what happened. Her identity, and her present whereabouts, remains unknown to this day.”
“And the Bangkok Council House was saved,” Cheryl cheered.
“Thanks to Xander Harris,” Andrew added.