All parts can be found here.
Continued from Part 4B.
Part 4C: Falling In Place
Xander trudged downstairs for the mid-morning meeting and exchange of information. His plan at the moment was mostly the same as it was before he had read the files: find a way to keep Faith away from the demons. The list now also included Cheryl, based on Bernie’s recommendation, and Susan, based on the fact she’d spent six months being treated for a mental illness she didn’t have. Beyond that, he hadn’t a clue. He hoped that whatever Faith found out would give him a clearer picture of what to do.
He stopped by the kitchen to arm himself with coffee and then went to Bernie’s office. When he got there, a small crowd had already assembled. Bernie and Faith he expected. LaTisha, Cheryl, and Terri were something of a surprise, although he did tell LaTisha to broker that apology. Looked like she wanted to get it out of the way before things got hectic.
The more witnesses, the better, he thought as he immediately went over to the trio of Chicago slayers and extended a simple apology for his earlier assholish behavior.
Their responses about matched what he’d expected based on their personnel profiles. Cheryl seemed pleasantly confused, and didn’t seem to think he had anything to apologize for. Terri accepted it with good grace, but she seemed to think that his apology was less about sincerity and more about diplomacy. LaTisha still seemed bemused by the idea Xander refused to apologize on the QT, but was perfectly okay with apologizing in front of Bernie.
In either case, drama-free apology was offered and accepted and Xander was able to breathe a mental sigh of relief. If he was going to get his ass kicked, it wouldn’t be over what had happened yesterday.
When Terri and Cheryl departed, Faith remarked, “You’ve gotten smoother in your old age.”
Xander shot her look.
Faith actually seemed embarrassed, like she didn’t mean for her statement to escape from her mouth. “The public apology was a nice. I just don’t get why the mea culpa needed witnesses. I could see it if you reamed them in public, but this was strictly one-on-one. You couldda done something private.”
Oooooooor I could’ve passed on apologizing at all, right Faith? Xander uncharitably thought. You’re right. I should follow your lead. Apologize only to people who matter and skip over the people who I think aren’t worth the effort.
“Personally, I’ll go with the guy takes it like a Slayer,” LaTisha disagreed as she plopped herself onto the couch in Bernie’s office. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen the little stuff fester until it becomes a big problem. Better to squash it by eating some public crow.”
“Where’s Andrew?” Xander asked by way of changing the subject.
“This is a session for us to determine what we know, what we think we know, and what we don’t know,” Bernie said. “He’ll be present and taking notes when we have the full meeting. This is a strategy session.”
Faith and Xander looked at LaTisha.
“Lead Slayer,” LaTisha lazily reminded them. “I’m staying whether you like it or not.”
“Fair enough,” Xander agreed.
“You being here ain’t the problem,” Faith said. “The fact you ain’t had any sleep is what’s bothering me.”
“Look who’s talking,” LaTisha mildly pointed out.
“Unh, excuse me,” Xander interrupted. “But was I the only one who got any sleep last night?”
“With all due respect, Xander, you were dead on your feet when you came in last night,” Bernie pointed out.
“Was pretty clear to me you needed more snooze time while we were on stakeout,” Faith said.
Xander whirled on her. “Did you have a problem with anything I did or said?”
Faith held up her hands as she flatly regarded him. “Given what I found out after I dumped you? No, I have no problem with anything you did or any of the calls you made. You were right. I wouldda been shot full of holes if I tried doing more than watch.”
“Not to mention we’d still be fumbling in the dark if you hadn’t held back. Now we have a better notion of what we’re up against,” Bernie said.
“Let me throw out the first pitch,” Xander said as he took a seat. “Definitely Rwandan demons.”
“You’re sure?” Faith asked.
“Based on the victim’s symptoms, make that 100% sure,” Xander said. “The only real question is whether they’ve got three or four stashed in that storage bay.”
“Much as I bow to your expertise in this matter, we don’t know for certain that they have three or four of these demons,” Bernie said.
Xander opened his mouth to protest, but Bernie held up a hand to forestall him.
“Thanks to the Slayers’ initial discovery and your assessment of the victim’s symptoms, I am willing to say that there is at least one Emokillsus demon in the city. So, yes, I would say that is a fact we know,” Bernie explained. “However, as you said yourself, Chicago is not their normal range, which means that it has somehow been transported here. You also said you couldn’t imagine how any of these creatures were captured alive. My own inquiries with the Council reveal that several attempts have been made, for study you understand, but none of our people have managed the trick of it.”
“Also, we didn’t see nothing with our own eyes. We were outside freezing our asses off while these Rwandan demons were chowing down inside their cage,” Faith added.
“You told me the same thing, Xander,” LaTisha pointed out.
“How many times do I have to repeat that they never hunt alone?” Xander asked with frustration.
Faith snapped her fingers as if something had just occurred to her. “The number of guys with flashlights.”
“What about them?” Xander asked.
“You told me that you basically needed an unbroken line between the demons and the vic if you wanted to drive ’em away far enough so you could get the vic to safety, right?” Faith asked.
“Right,” Xander said slowly.
“About how many? One flashlight per demon? Two?” Faith asked. “How many would it take to get them to back off far enough?”
Xander scrubbed a hand through his hair as he thought. “Bare minimum? Two per demon, but that’s more equivalent to making a vampire back off by waving a cross at him. Three per is better, but still a chance they’d find a way around you. Four flashlights per demon guarantees a save.”
“Four flashlights per demon?” LaTisha asked. “Sounds like overkill.”
“It isn’t,” Xander insisted.
“Right. We saw seven guys last night,” Faith said. “Three were waving flashlights, two were carrying our guy, one carried a gun, and one was left outside. Even if these mooks dropped the bag, backed off, and whipped out flashlights, and if the guy with the gun took out a flashlight, too, you’d have a total of six people armed with halogens facing the demons. Also, they were in a confined space, not out in the open, so I figure in that situation it would be harder to control their pets. And even if they were out in the open, by your math, six guys ain’t enough to guarantee control over three or four of these things. ”
Somewhere in the middle of Faith marshalling her argument, Xander’s mouth dropped open. He had to admit that her argument was a good one. The problem was that it could lead them underestimating the danger. All things considered, he’d rather assume the normal number and prepare for that.
“Or, maybe these guys are cutting their margin of error thin,” Xander argued back. “And that thing being in a confined space can work both ways. Back in Rwanda, our problem was that the demons could retreat to wherever they wanted while we had to stick close to the victim. We were constantly defending one spot while these demons could retreat-attack-retreat-attack as much as they wanted until we could get out of there. Keep in mind, this was at night, and these things basically look like shadows, so it was hard keeping track of where they’d got to once they got away from the light.”
“Kristin said they were casting a spell in Italian,” LaTisha pointed out. “Maybe they’re doing more to control these things than just shining flashlights at them.”
“According to what Kristin heard, the spell was a binding spell which forced the beast to follow its masters’ orders,” Bernie added. “So it is entirely possible the creature can’t attack the hands that are feeding it, so to speak.”
“We’re definitely crossing over into ‘don’t know’ territory,” Xander complained.
Faith jerked her head at him. “He’s right.”
“Fair enough,” Bernie agreed. “What we know is that there is at least one Emokillsus being kept at the storage facility. There could be up to four of these creatures being held captive.”
“I still say it’s more like one or two, based on what Xander said,” Faith grumbled.
“I’d feel more comfortable assuming that there are three or four,” Xander argued.
Faith shot him an irritated look. “Fact is, these guys are mafia and they ain’t in jail, even though you know the Feebs are watching them so close they might as well be under a microscope. Hell, when one of 'em sneezes, the thing in the corner that looks like a potted plant probably says guzhunteit. Mooks like these do not get to the top of the heap and stay there by taking stupid chances. If there was four demons in there, you can bet your ass they’d send in a freakin’ army of guys with flashlights just to make sure the damn things behaved.”
Xander looked sharply at her. “We know for sure that the local mafia is involved?”
“The DiBenneditos,” LaTisha said. “Their dirty fingerprints are all over this.”
Xander shook his head. “Wait. They’ve used demons before? What the hell is going on? What the hell is it with gangsters and demons these days? I’m two-for-two at this point. I mean, I could almost see it if this was all in the U.S., but Thailand and the U.S.? That’s just a bit much.”
Bernie and Faith exchanged glances. LaTisha straightened up and stared at him with a frown.
“Unh, as far as we know, the DiBennedito syndicate’s never used demons before,” Bernie said.
“Oh. I misunderstood,” Xander sheepishly said. “The way you were talking I thought they had Demons ’R Us on retainer or something.”
“Bernie was talkin’ about the mundane crap,” Faith said.
“Hunh?” Xander asked.
“Thanks to Faith’s observations, we were able to get started on our investigations,” Bernie said as she indicated her cluttered desk. “Susan has been hacking into various computer records all night and has found some promising leads.”
“From what I saw last night, girl had a high-paid geek future before she held a stake,” Faith said with admiration.
And before people thought she had gone nuts, Xander mentally added.
“She still does,” Bernie stiffly said. “The computer forensics team in London was very impressed with her test scores.”
“Impressed?” LaTisha hooted. “They’re drooling all over my girl. They’ve been waving all kinds of incentives at her to get her to go to London for special training after she gets the high school diploma.”
“Anyway, back to my misadventures,” Faith interrupted. “The boys went back to their base of operations the long way. You know. A turn here, a turn there, wandering around in circles. Guess they wanted to be sure they weren’t being tailed. They landed at a Chinese restaurant over on the west side. It looked closed. I parked around the corner, cat-footed my way back, and sniffed around. Looking in the front window got me nothing. Place looked dark, except there was a light on in the kitchen. I snuck around the back and there were two goons smoking cigs and standing guard. Don’t know if they were part of the crew we saw at the storage place. Those guys were wearing ski masks and so were these guys. I nosed around a little bit more, saw nothing, then retreated across the street to keep an eye on the place.”
“So basically, you froze your butt off for nothing,” Xander remarked.
“Yes and no,” Faith waggled a hand. “Called in to Bernie to give her the license plate that was on the car we were tailing and the name of the restaurant. Then I froze my butt off until about 2:30 or so. I was about to call it a morning when I saw the goombahs leave the restaurant. They were all acting like bodyguards for this older short guy who looked like your average Hollywood godfather. From what I could hear, they were talking about food. Anyways, less than a minute later, this limo pulls up, the godfather and two guys get in, and off the limo goes. The rest of the gorillas hang around for a bit and talk sports. Then they scatter and take off.”
It took everything Xander had not to act surprised. Wonder of wonders. Faith not only refrained from kicking ass and taking names, she actually stuck around and did an honest-to-God stakeout. He was just about ready to declare that aliens had kidnapped Faith and did some high-tech thing to her brain to give her a completely new personality.
“’Course as soon as the coast was clear, I went and checked out the restaurant,” Faith added with a dimpled grin. “Was tempted to break in and look around, but I figured a break-in happening right after a big meeting like that might spook our mooks. Last thing we want is for these guys to think the Feebs are getting uppity or that someone other than the Feebs are watching them, I figure.”
Yup. Aliens. Definitely aliens with mind probes and mental reprogramming technology, Xander decided. “So, did you find anything at all?”
Faith winced. “Nah. The outside of the place was clean. Even checked the dumpster. Nothin’ except rats. I fucking hate rats.” She added with a nod at Bernie, “’Scuse my French.”
“We had better luck,” Bernie nodded. “Thanks to Faith’s information, we were able to begin an investigation. Thanks to Susan’s work, along with help from several of our more computer savvy people, we were able to determine that all of the properties and vehicles involved in last night’s caper were owned by known associates of the DiBennedito syndicate. In fact, going by Faith’s physical description of her ‘godfather,’ we believe that she saw Frank DiBennedito himself.”
Faith whistled. “Now that I didn’t know. If the big cheese is directly overseeing this, it’s big. No. Scratch that. It’s fucking huge.”
“Stupid me. I thought it’d be pretty huge even without the mob involved,” Xander remarked.
“That’s fair,” Faith allowed. “But at least we know there might be a reason. Good shot these Rwandan demons are being used to wipe out the competition or is enforcing discipline in the ranks. Maybe even both.”
“And again, this is something we could figure out once we clued in that we’d been cast as extras in a Scorsese movie,” Xander said. “Really didn’t need to see De Niro to drive the point home.”
“From what I saw, our boy Frank only wishes he was De Niro,” Faith snorted.
Xander winced on the word “wish” out of reflex.
“Ooops. Sorry. Slipped my mind,” Faith said.
Xander wondered if Rona said more to Faith then he’d been led to believe. Much as he was tempted to ask, he couldn’t think of a worse time and place to do it. Besides, Faith could be just referring to Anya and not to his present situation.
“The evidence points to enforcement as opposed to whacking the competition,” LaTisha said. “Helen saved a nurse over at the U from getting eaten a couple of months ago, so she’s willing to give us a head’s up if she sees something weird pass through the emergency department. As soon as she got back from patrol, I had her call her buddy first thing to ask if someone came in with a police escort. I figured we should find out where the victim went so we could follow up, and that we might as well start where we had an in. Anyway, turns out there were a couple of people, but only one of ’em still had the cops sticking to him like glue. Even has a guard standing outside his room even as we speak. Guess what kind of doctor is looking into his case now?”
“I can’t even imagine,” Xander shook his head.
“A neurologist,” LaTisha said triumphantly. “The U’s had a two other cases like this in past month. Guy who’s dehydrated comes in talking crazy, they hook him up to an IV and run all kinds of tests to figure out what happened. Three days later the crazy guy snaps out of it, but not because of anything the doctors did. A few days later, they’re healthy enough for discharge.”
Xander stared at her. “And why wasn’t this mentioned before?”
“We didn’t know,” Bernie said.
Xander swiveled his gaze to the Watcher as he beat down the urge to start yelling at the top of his lungs. “You said you read up on the Rwandan demons. You know what the symptoms are when someone has been attacked. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that the first thing I’d do is check the hospitals to see if anyone with those symptoms had been admitted in, oh, say the past month or so.”
Bernie bristled. “With all due respect, the symptoms in the Council’s records are nonspecific.”
“Nonspecific?” Xander’s voice rose. “They’re very specific. They’re so specific that there’s no way for them to be—”
“Specific to these demons? Yes. However, the symptoms described could be caused by any number of things,” Bernie hotly interrupted. “Starting with the mundane causes: mental illness, drug use, delirium tremens, a high fever. The list goes on.”
“But—” Xander began.
“Good Lord, man. Do you think we’re stupid?” Bernie’s voice rose as she interrupted. “We checked. Of course we checked as much as we were able. Even with patient confidentiality issues, we were able to discover that every hospital had their share of cases in the past few months. However, unless one is intimately familiar with the Emokillsus and personally knowledgeable about the victims, we couldn’t even begin to suss out whether there had been nearly a hundred victims, none, or some number in between.”
“Bernie’s gotta point,” Faith mildly interrupted. “Hell, they watched that storage place off and on since they spotted that demon and came up goose egg, so they had nothing to go on as it was. And she’s right. I finally read the stuff the Council had on these things and unless you know for sure the vic was attacked, or eyeballed the vic yourself right after the attack, just reading a list of those symptoms in a medical record tells you shit.”
“Still should’ve been mentioned,” Xander firmly said.
“Don’t disagree with ya,” Faith shrugged. “Although knowing that wouldn’t have changed anything as far as I can see. We still would’ve had to do that stakeout, because until we did our thing and got lucky the only connection we had to the DiBenneditos was that they owned the storage place. We both know that just owning the property don’t prove they’re involved. Hell, we didn’t know for sure which bay these things were being kept, let alone why. At least now we know the demons’ exact location.”
“And all three cases that our snitch knew about were absolutely the pillars of society.” LaTisha’s grin indicated that she was being as sarcastic as possible. “The latest one is Tony Genni, which is why the police escort didn’t ping her radar. According to cop she talked to, Tony’s been busted a few times for various things. He’s got a reputation for having Teflon skin because he always walks three seconds after they lock him up.”
“Smells like a cop’s pet rat to me,” Faith said. “What do you want to bet Frankie’s decided to scare our latest vic crooked?”
Xander groaned. “Oh, God. And I’m the one who called the police. What do you want to bet someone in blue is going to want to talk to me again?”
LaTisha batted her eyes at him. “Well, sweetie, we’re just going to have to have that big fight where you storm out of the house and leave town, aren’t we?” She clutched her hands to her chest and added in a wavery voice, “I swear officer. I keep calling his flat in London, but he’s not returning my messages. I tracked down his friend Rupert and he tells me that he’s been sent to Darfur and will be incommunicado for six months.”
“Do I want to know?” Faith asked with amusement.
“LaTisha had to play irate girlfriend as part of Xander’s cover story,” Bernie said.
“Oh, man. Count on you to think of that one,” Faith remarked with a wicked grin.
“Hey, I can see it,” LaTisha shrugged. “Couple with a shaky long-distance relationship gets into a big fight. Local girl kicks globetrotting boyfriend out of the car when it gets nasty. Globetrotting boyfriend wanders around and wonders if this relationship can be saved. Stumbles over crazy guy sprawled in the gutter. Instant transformation into Good Samaritan. Pretty good for government work.”
“Only without going through the bidding process,” Xander lamely joked.
“Hey, would you want the lowest bidder doing our job?” LaTisha grinned.
“Now I’m confused,” Faith complained. “What are we supposed to know for sure vs. what we’re guessing is true?”
“We know there’s Rwandan demons in Chicago,” Xander said.
“We’re as sure as we can be that the DiBenneditos are keeping the demons as pets,” LaTisha said.
“We know where the cage is,” Faith finished. “But we know shit-all otherwise. That’s not too helpful if you ask me.”
“Seems plenty helpful,” LaTisha said. “We know where the demons are. That’s pretty much all we need to know.”
“Actually, we need to know how they got their hands on the demons,” Xander corrected her. “And we need to know if they can get their hands on more.”
“And whether or not they’ve got more demons stashed around town,” Faith added.
Xander groaned. “And here I was hoping that I was paranoid in thinking that might be a possibility.”
Bernie and LaTisha looked back and forth between Xander and Faith.
Faith uncomfortably fidgeted, like she was embarrassed that she’d been caught using her brain. “These Rwandan things have got five black-star power, which means the troops scramble if someone spots ’em,” she said. “We’re so focused on just this one demon, that we’d miss it if the mob had themselves a little demon zoo.”
Xander sighed. “We should probably assume that they do. Seems to me if that if they’re going to Rwanda to get exotic demons, they’ve got to at least know about the demons that live in their backyard. For all we know, they could have Fyarls or vampires on the payroll.”
The silence following this statement stretched out for a comfortably long time as LaTisha and Bernie continued to stare at Xander and Faith in a horrified manner.
“Have I mentioned that there are days that I think my life has gone into summer repeats?” Xander jokingly asked in an effort to break the tension.
LaTisha’s gaze once more laser-focused on him. “You’ve seen this before.”
“Seen what before?” Xander asked.
LaTisha nervously licked her lips. “What I mean is, does this have anything to do with you being two-for-two on gangsters with demons?”
“It’s déjà vu all over again,” Xander answered. “Only in Bangkok, it was fake. The local equivalent of the godfather got the idea for his soul-eating ghost scam after some security company offered to supply him with enough demons to populate a private army. He turned them down, but decided to run with a plan that more than hinted he had a soul-eating ghost doing his bidding.”
LaTisha continued to focus on him, as if she were trying to see through his skull.
“Excuse me,” Bernie said as she dug through the paper piles on her desk. “Did you say ‘security company’ offered to supply your Thai thugs with demons?”
LaTisha switched focus from him to Bernie.
Ooooh, he had a very bad feeling about this. “Yeah. Why?”
Bernie found what she was looking for and she pulled a sheet of paper out to give it a closer look. “You wouldn’t happen to remember the name?”
“Unh, Ani. As in Ani Security Consultants. Why?”
“Are you sure?” Bernie intensely asked.
LaTisha’s laser-sharp gaze swiveled back to him.
Xander slowly nodded. “Well, yeah. Because I immediately thought of Ani DiFranco when I heard the name.”
Bernie slumped back into her seat. “Damn.”
“Why are you askin’?” Faith asked.
“I decided that as long as we were tracing the DiBennedito holdings, we might as well get a list of any commercial enterprises that had business dealings with the syndicate,” Bernie said. “I want to stress that the list is by no means exhaustive. In fact, it’s rather sparse. But we did find that several legitimate businesses owned by the DiBennedito syndicate have, in the past few months, contracted with a security company.”
Xander could feel every muscle in his back tense. “For what?”
Bernie shook her head. “Unknown. But given the properties involved, I thought that perhaps the security company was installing alarm systems.”
Faith shook her head. “I’m gonna be sorry I asked, but what made something like that stand out?”
“The company name is Carna Security,” Bernie sighed as she dropped the paper back onto the desk. “I remember thinking it was quite clever, since the Roman goddess of door hinges and handles is named Carna.”
LaTisha made a ‘hunh’ face. “Count on a Watcher to make that connection.”
“Yup. Way too much coincidence,” Xander muttered.
“You’ve seen this before and it fits a pattern,” LaTisha said thoughtfully.
“I…guess,” Xander cautiously said.
LaTisha held up her hands. “Just wanted to be sure I had that right.”
Faith shot him a glance. “Tell me the deal in Bangkok.”
“Why?” Xander asked.
“You think there might be a connection?” Bernie asked.
“I’ll bet my favorite stake there’s a connection,” LaTisha said.
“I’m thinkin’ that Xander here has had two cases back-to-back where mobsters are using demons, or at least lying and saying they are,” Faith said. “Both mobsters also happen to have chatted with private security people. Maybe it’s nothin’; maybe it’s somethin’. So, let’s hear it Harris. What went down in Thailand?”
Xander shook his head. “First off, we’re talking opposite side of the world. Second, two different security companies are involved, and we don’t know for sure that the local one knows anything about demons. Third, it’s not like it’s the first time I’ve seen humans use the supernatural to help with the dirty work.”
Faith reacted like she’d been shot.
LaTisha leaned forward and now focused on Faith.
“Just ask Andrew about his brother Tucker and his evil plan to disrupt the high school prom sometime,” Xander quickly said. “Actually, don’t. There’s some unresolved sibling rivalry issues there and it might be better if you just never bring it up.”
LaTisha was back to frowning at him.
Faith was now staring at him like he’d gone nuts.
Xander dove ahead with what had happened in Thailand, because he didn’t want to analyze why he felt the need to throw the spotlight on Andrew when Exhibit A of his point was sitting right next to him.
“But if you think it’ll help, the short story? A bunch of local gangsters were running a protection racket on the illegal brothels on the outskirts of Bangkok,” Xander said. “When they raised their rates, the brothels staged a mutiny and refused to pay. In retaliation, the local godfather claimed he had a ‘soul-eating ghost’ and that he’d sic it on the deadbeat brothels until they paid up.”
“And then what?” LaTisha eagerly asked.
“It was a scam,” Xander shrugged. “The gangster crew would show up and demand payment or else one of their girls would get a visit from the soul-eating ghost. Scum brothel owner would tell them to go right ahead, because there were plenty more underage mountain girls they could trick into working for them. Gangsters leave. Next day, one dead girl with a horrible expression frozen on her face is found in her tiny cell with a picture of that ‘soul-eating ghost’ placed on top of the body.”
“Oh, good heavens,” Bernie said.
LaTisha frowned at him like she wasn’t sure she believed him. “The Council house bought the scam?” she asked.
“Of course not,” Xander said emphatically. “I mean, c’mon. They figured it out about 2.5 seconds after they started looking into it. It didn’t take too much digging to figure out the girls died of massive strychnine poisoning, which explained the grimaces on all the faces of all the corpses. The picture of the ‘ghost’ that was found on all the bodies was a half-naked woman in bad zombie make-up. It was actually a movie still from some low budget, direct-to-DVD horror flick, if you can believe it. The problem was that everyone the Slayers questioned insisted that the whole thing was real and demanded they get in there and start kicking gangster ass to get the blackmail scheme to stop.”
“Now ain’t that sweet. They wanted the Slayers to solve their problem free of charge,” Faith sarcastically said.
“Why send you?” LaTisha asked Xander.
“The Watchers and Slayers who looked into it couldn’t get anyone to talk, so they figured an unfamiliar face might be able to sneak in under the radar and get the straight dope from the brothel workers. Part of the reason they wanted to dig deeper was just in case the human-caused murders were covering some real supernatural shenanigans, but they couldn’t figure that out until they got the truth about the scam. As long as no one talked, no one there felt they could handwave the whole thing.” Xander shrugged. “Giles okayed the request because if the local thugs hit on the idea of threatening people with death-by-ghost or demon, there was a small chance that they were eventually going to try it for real. It was a better-safe-than-sorry thing all the way around.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time crap like that has happened,” Faith said quietly.
Xander glanced at her and wondered if anyone other than him heard the aside.
“Yeah, but why you?” LaTisha insisted.
Well that’s pretty much the last question I want to answer. And why the hell does she care, anyway? “Field scout,” Xander said aloud as he pointed to himself. “Things like this are in the job description. Plus, they needed a white Western male who could pose as your average sex tourist with a taste for the underage.”
“I believe you were going to explain how the security company comes in,” Bernie said.
“Once I confirmed that the soul-eating ghost thing was a scam, I went in with Clem and did some quality intimidation,” Xander said. “Actually, Clem did the intimidation and I asked the questions to find out where they got the idea. Apparently, Ani Security Consultants was trying to drum up clients and approached this group with an offer to provide ‘special services.’”
“Like hiring out soul-eating ghosts?” LaTisha asked.
“Banshees, actually,” Xander nodded. “Also, Fyarls, Polgaras, Bezoars, hellhounds, zombies, you name it. Luckily, the Bangkok godfather was superstitious. I guess in his world, pretending to own one of these as part of his plan to terrify everyone into paying him money was perfectly okay. Murdering underage prostitutes was perfectly okay, too. But actually owning a real demon and using it for his personal gain? Clearly that was just wrong.”
“There are days I really wonder about people,” LaTisha muttered.
“So, that’s where they got the idea,” Xander said. “And that’s how I accidentally found out about the new bad boys on the block. I suspect the only reason why I got that much information was because Clem was putting on a show.”
“Man, I’d pay to see that,” Faith said.
“It was something,” Xander nodded. “There was Clem demanding at the top of his voice that they turn over every Doritos bag they had or he’d start eating their kittens. There was me trying to figure out how any of these armed and dangerous goons thought Clem was at all scary.”
LaTisha giggled. “Know what? That’s perfect.”
Xander glared at her. “Spoken like someone who didn’t see any of the dead girls or talk to any of their terrified friends.”
LaTisha’s giggles cut off and she looked down into her lap. “Sorry. When you’re right, you’re right,” she muttered. “Guess I’m just relieved that this is all about you seeing something similar somewhere else.”
Xander was about to ask what she meant by that when Faith distracted him with a snort.
“Man, how the hell does this happen to you?" she asked. "If you ain’t tripping over some new demon or another, you’re tripping over something else that gets the Council’s panties in a wad.”
Xander hoped his pained smile didn’t look like a grimace. “You know me. If I didn’t have bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.”
“Yeah, well maybe your bad luck is our good luck,” Faith said thoughtfully.
Xander fought to keep his expression neutral.
Faith looked to the ceiling, “I’m thinkin’ you got a point. Lots of coincidence here. Hell, I see…wait, let me count here…gangsters…dicey people getting nailed by the gangsters…a supernatural something is being used as a weapon…”
“There was nothing supernatural in Bangkok,” Bernie said.
“I think she means that gangsters were using the threat of the supernatural to scare people,” LaTisha said.
“Shut up. I’m still counting,” Faith said. “A security company shows up somewhere…”
Xander interrupted. “We don’t know that Bernie’s Carnal Security—”
“Carna,” Bernie and LaTisha chorused.
“Yeah, them. We don’t know this Carna Security is even involved,” Xander lamely finished.
“Maybe, maybe not. But four points of coincidence,” Faith shook her head. “Ask me? My nose is twitching from the smell. I say we call in the Council and have ’em start sniffing around Carna. I don’t know about you, but I’m hella curious.”
“And until then, we do what? Sit around until the Council finds something?” Xander asked. “If Carna’s as dirty as Ani, then chances are they’re also good at covering their tracks and we’re in for a long wait.”
“The truth is out there.” LaTisha sounded very relieved.
“We could ask the DiBenneditos,” Bernie said thoughtfully.
“To do that, we’d have to go after the DiBenneditos and the storage facility at the same time,” Xander said.
LaTisha straightened up. “You are out of your mind.”
“He’s also right,” Bernie said as she slumped in her chair. “If we attack the storage facility and delay going after the DiBenneditos, the syndicate will be warned and will take measures to hide any demons that might be in their possession. If we attack the DiBenneditos first, their associates might have time to spirit away any Emokillsus demons located at the storage facility.”
“And trust me, we do not want to lose track of those demons,” Xander stressed.
“Then we have to call in reinforcements, or at least people who aren’t locals,” LaTisha argued. “We crash the mobster’s hideout, they’re going to start snooping around and eventually they’ll stumble onto the house. The only way we can keep the cover is if the Council yanks us out of Chicago as soon as this is done. Now I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about moving on to a new—”
“Maybe we don’t have to,” Bernie interrupted as she sat up. “The solution is right in our kitchen.”
“If you’ve got a way to pull this off, I’m all ears,” Xander sincerely said. “When I intimidated the last gangster I ran across, I had Clem standing behind me. I’m not sure how a kitchen appliance is going to top—”
“That’s it!” LaTisha said.
“We call in Clem?” Faith asked doubtfully. “Lady T, these guys have been playing with the big bad boys. Somehow I don’t think Clem’s gonna scare them that much.”
“I think she means we’re going to use kitchen appliances,” Xander said.
Faith looked at him like he was insane.
“Don’t knock it. I’ve seen some plans that are A-Team-worthy work,” Xander explained. “Kitchen appliances? Pfffft. Practically sane compared to the plan that involved three sticks of chewing gum, a leather couch, and hair spray. The New Zealand Slayers may have the weirdest sense of humor on the planet, but you can’t argue with success.”
LaTisha waved her hands and started laughing. “No, no. Nothing that elaborate. Andrew’s the answer. Him. All we need to do is to make his fantasies come true.”
Faith and Xander exchanged terrified looks.
“Not a chance in hell,” Faith said. “I’ve heard some of Andy’s fantasies, and I’m not that willing to take one for the team.”
“I knew Andrew’s outrageous asides would put us in good stead.” Bernie’s grin broadened. “We could buy ski masks easily enough to make the illusion complete.”
Xander finally got it and started giggling. “I have to trade in my geek card, don’t I? Took me a few minutes to catch up.”
“Someone care to share what you’re all talking about?” Faith huffed.
“Think X-Men, or Batman or, hell, any Marvel or DC comic book you can think of,” Xander said.
Faith slowly nodded as a grin spread across her face. “As long as I don’t gotta dress like a cartoon super-powered chick, I’m in. I see those bright colors, I think ‘walking target.’”
Xander sobered. “Okay, it’s pretty clear that we’re going to have to split up. Team Cold Storage at least has a clear goal: kill demons. Team Mob Hit worries me because we still need a target.”
“I say go for the top,” Faith said.
“And the top is where?” Xander asked. “Frank DiBennedito’s home address? The Chinese restaurant? Once you get there, are you sure he’s not going to have armed guards around him? Bullets will kill a Slayer just as easily as it would kill me. And once you got him, what questions are you going to ask? Think he’ll spill his guts if you say ‘please?’”
“And that’s where we take a page from your book,” Bernie said to Xander. “When we ask, we’ll have masked Slayers performing feats of strength to intimidate people into talking.”
Xander glanced first at Faith then at LaTisha. “They’re a little too human-shaped for it to work.”
“That’s only ’cause you know the score,” Faith said with a grin. “Pretty sure they’re gonna be thinking demon if we masked wonders start bending crowbars with our bare hands.”
Xander beat a devil’s tattoo on his armrest as he thought it over. “Only if you guys wear bulletproof vests.”
“That’ll disguise the boobs and give us some protection against bullets,” LaTisha nodded her agreement. “It might even make us look less human-shaped.”
“And we need to have a better plan for Team Mob Hit, starting with how they’re going to go after the head cheese and where they should corner him,” Xander added.
“Agreed,” Bernie nodded. “I say that we table any action for 24 hours. We’ll post two Watchers to the storage facility as a precaution. While I highly doubt that the DiBennedito syndicate will feed another poor wretch to those creatures so soon, I think keeping an eye on the place will be a wise course of action. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to act should they see something untoward, but they might see something that Xander and Faith missed. Faith, I would like you to continue to shadow Mr. Frank DiBennedito. Take one of the girls to help with that. Perhaps one of you will spot an opening that we can exploit.”
Just like that, Bernie had solved Xander’s Faith problem without him lifting a finger. It would be pretty easy from here on out to make sure that Faith stayed far away from the Rwandan demons, or rather, the Rwandan demons in Chicago that he already knew about.
Let’s just focus on one problem at a time. If there’s more stashed around the city, I’ll just have to think of something else. Just be glad this one got solved for you, Xander chided himself.
“This should be fun. What do you wanna bet we’ll be dodging so many undercovers doing the same thing that we’ll be doing the Slayer equivalent of the cha-cha-cha,” Faith grumbled.
“Then I suggest that you avoid being seen,” Bernie said lightly.
“I say she takes Cheryl or Susan as backup,” Xander said.
LaTisha’s eyebrows crunched low, but it looked like she was fighting a smile. “I was thinking that she should take Susan. ”
“Unfortunately, we need Susan to continue with her online investigations,” Bernie said.
LaTisha slowly nodded. “That works. I say we send Terri or me to go with Faith.”
Xander’s brain feverishly worked to find a good excuse for putting Cheryl in that slot. “We’re going to need Terri and you for Team Cold Storage since you guys have the most experience fighting demons. That means we need you here for more combat practice.”
LaTisha glanced at Bernie with a frown. “Cheryl’s the least experienced person we’ve got.”
“No offense to Cheryl, but I’d rather have more experienced backup,” Faith said.
“Unfortunately, Xander has a rather good point,” Bernie disagreed. “LaTisha, I know that you usually decide these sorts of things, but I did watch the training Faith improvised and Terri is far and away the most adept, so we can’t afford to ease up on her training since she will have to be on the team that’ll attack the storage facility. Cheryl is the best choice for something like this.”
LaTisha settled back and watched Bernie with a confused expression on her face. Xander had a feeling that the Lead Slayer was going to be asking the Head Watcher some pointed questions about why she’d been overruled.
Faith, on the other hand, was too busy studying him to notice the silent exchange. “Cheryl, hunh?” she asked suspiciously.
“Her ability scores,” Xander lied. “I did a quick review on the plane ride over so I’d know what everyone could do. Cheryl’s observation skills were right up there.”
LaTisha shot him the kind of look that made it clear she was questioning his sanity. Despite that, LaTisha didn’t say anything. Xander wasn’t sure if it was because she’d been shocked speechless, or if it was because she’d gotten the hint that there was a reason why he and Bernie were pushing a Faith-Cheryl team-up.
Faith, meanwhile, was looking more suspicious than ever. “Those tests scores don’t always translate into real life and you know it,” she said.
“Cheryl’s not a bad choice,” LaTisha said slowly.
Xander stifled a sigh of relief. Looked like LaTisha decided to play along until she could get the real story. Hopefully, she’d ask Bernie instead of him.
LaTisha shrugged. “If she had a little bit more experience, she’d be higher on my list, but Cheryl’s not a bad choice. She’s not an obvious choice, but she’s not a bad choice.”
“Okay. Cheryl it is, then,” Faith said.
“Unh, what about me?” Xander asked.
“As the only person in Chicago who’s ever seen an Emokillsus, you will oversee the training exercises,” Bernie said with a smile. “I expect you to tweak them to make them more difficult as the Slayers become better passing Faith’s tests.”
“Fair enough,” Xander agreed.