Sitting before a circle of clustered candles, Andrew dripped sweat as he summoned the minor spirit Fala, a demon liaison.
"Horcoups' pusculeria," he intoned, and Rayne, sitting next to him, prodded him with an elbow. "Allowee surekin obsopfulus," he said more hastily. Reading from handwritten notes, he was not entirely sure about pronunciation. Rayne prodded him again.
As Andrew finished the incantation a steamy smoke accreted above the candles. A spectral face glimmered in the center, and Andrew figured that meant this Fala chick was present.
"I, uh, have a message for –"
Rayne elbowed him hard.
"Uh, I mean a question. For a demon. For Surgat. That's the … demon's name."
The smoke disseminated as if a breeze whirled through it. The face lost all definition, but slowly collected again.
"Whyyyy," it asked in a faraway voice.
"What the bloody hell does that matter?" Rayne demanded.
"She wants to know why."
"I can hear, imbecile. Why does she ask?"
The faraway voice spoke again. "I can come back later, if you two want to fight."
Rayne blinked. "What kind of demon have you summoned?"
"No demon, it's a spirit for liaison and communication."
Andrew continued. "My question for Surgat is, is the curse on the Slayer and her friends complete?"
The face dappled again to amorphousness, then returned.
"Surgat wants to know why you ask."
Rayne muttered, "Shite."
"Well, because," Andrew replied. "We're curious."
The voice hardened, and seemed closer now. "He won't accept that. Tell me the reason."
"You're supposed to do what you're told," Rayne barked.
"Is that so? Where is my tribute?"
"Where's her tribute, Andrew? You better have it." Rayne cracked his knuckles.
Andrew ran his hands over the circle of flame. "Uh, candles!"
"Candles," Fala repeated. "Always candles."
"What does she want, tickets to The Who? Boy, can't you summon anything that does what it's supposed to?"
"Fala has to know. For some reason."
"Surgat wants to know," Fala corrected. Her voice came loud and clear now, as if she were sitting next to them. The smoky face was clearly defined, and Fala was not too bad looking.
"All right," Rayne rasped. "It's because I don't feel as if I have all the power I'm supposed to have. I'm supposed to have the Slayer's speed and strength." He ticked the list off on his fingers. "The Witch's knowledge and power; the Watcher's wisdom – what there is of it – the immortality and instincts of the vampire and lastly, the same loyalty from my minions that sycophantic boy has for Buffy.
"I think I would feel it if I had all that power. So far I'm levitating and can move objects." He slammed his fist on the floor. "What is this inquisition for, are you afraid of Surgat or something? Ask him!"
Fala's laughter echoed. "His fear is known, and it is strong. I will repeat his explanation to Surgat, word for word."
Andrew clenched his fists to keep his hands from shaking. But his fists shook too.
"Do hurry on, then," Rayne told Fala.
"You're not supposed to talk to her," Andrew whispered. "Just me."
Rayne waved a hand in disgust.
The smoke whirled, swirled and curled, and after a minute it grew thick again.
"Surgat has spoken," Fala finally reported. "Your spell will be complete when he is summoned for a final time."
Rayne's hands began to tremble.
"Can you be the one to summon him?" he asked Andrew.
"Fala, can I be –"
"I heard him," Fala interrupted. I'm smoke, not deaf."
Surgat requests and requires his lord and master Rayne to summon him. He must complete his connection to the power of the Slayer and the others. He assures no harm will come to him."
Andrew's lip curled at this. Classic example of a demon double-cross, he thought.
Rayne's hands became steady, and triumph returned to his face. "Excellent.
I have no further questions." He stood up and began pacing, kicking away some of the colored sand and powder of the spiritual circle. Andrew began to protest, but instead hastily recited the words of dismissal for Fala. The spirit's ghostly visage seemed relieved, before it dissipated to nothingness.
"You're a mischievous fellow, Andrew." Rayne pointed a finger at his face, then resumed pacing. "I should smite you, but since this turned out well, I will not."
Andrew peered up at him. "Thank you, sir."
"But I must ask. Why a robot?"
Andrew pulled one of the excuses from the list he brainstormed in case Rayne asked. "I couldn't find anyone handsome enough to do it. All my friends are really, really ugly."
Rayne nodded. "If they looked like that one boy you were with, I concur. But you're a fool. With a spell it doesn't matter if someone is hideously ugly. Even you could have done it."
He laughed. Andrew rolled his eyes but chuckled along with him.
Buddy was in deep sleep when Spike slipped out. She wore her new coat, a long black number like the one before, but with unfortunate girly frills. Faux pearl studs lined the front seams, and the corners of the lapels were fringed with lace. She hated these foofy adornments. She would buy a better coat, when she had the money.
Thus this late night foray sans Buddy.
She felt the night as she roamed, letting vampire instinct lead her. She walked north, past the Golden Nugget, past the Gold & Silver pawn shop, to where the strip's neon fruit salad gave way to bleak buildings ringed with high, barbed wire fences.
She turned west. She passed a cardboard structure that housed a schizophrenic wino, berating invisible enemies in the dark. She passed a prostitute plying her trade quickly and expertly in a parked car. She passed a cluster of glowering youths who eyed her hungrily. She vamped her face then turned away, exuding danger, discouraging their inclinations. They left her alone.
She was drawn to a gloomy building surrounded by razor wire. The unlit sign in front read "Tanner Brothers."
"What are you tanning tonight?" she wondered. There was no evidence of what purpose the business served. Spike flexed her knees a couple of times and eyed the fence, about twelve feet high with razor wire rings at the top.
"Shouldn't be too hard," she muttered, and sprang from a crouch. She leapt high and over, but felt the tail of her coat shred as she dropped to the other side.
"Bollocks," she hissed ruefully, looking at the damage. Oh well, it was only a temporary, after all. Working out more often was a must. That fence should have been an easy leap.
She ran quickly and silently around the building. A dog smell filled her nose and she halted.
A gray and yellow pit bull with a barrel chest padded out of its shelter. He sniffed the air and whined, just before Spike landed on him. She muffled the startled yipe, fanged the pit bull's throat quickly and fed, stopping just short of killing him.
"You rest up, boy," she whispered. He would be weak and sick for a couple of days, but he'd live. She patted his ribs and left him. A dozen cars were parked back there, mostly late models and all expensive. Spike ran her hand along the side of a restored '77 Pontiac Firebird and formed a silent whistle with her lips.
I want, she thought.
She heard a subdued clattering from inside. Light framed an otherwise black window. Something important was going on in there. She dug for her lock picks. She jimmied a heavy door and slipped in quickly.
Inside were tall rows of crates and boxes. In the center of these, ten men worked around a very long table, unloading containers. They upended boxes and innocent looking items spilled out. One man emptied fake flowers from a pot and withdrew its clay base. He broke open the base and withdrew a bag of white powder. He handed the bag to a short, pudgy man who tore open the bag and spread the powder. Several bags of flour sat next to him on the table.
Cutting heroin, eh, Spike thought. Or cocaine.
She smiled. This was her bank. Now, to make a withdrawal.
She looked for an office. A door down at the far end was a good bet. She moved to it swiftly and gently tried the knob. It was unlocked. She stood up and strode inside as though it were the most natural thing in the world.
Two men lounged at a desk covered by beer bottles and papers, with a revolver acting as a paperweight. Their feet were up and they didn't look at her. The one behind the desk had an aging face ringed by a thick, black beard. The closer one was young, with slicked-back hair and a receding hairline.
"Hello, fellows," Spike waved, approaching them swiftly.
"Who the hell are you?" the young man asked. Spike threw a hook kick to his temple. He slid off the chair and crumpled to the floor.
"What the f—" the bearded guy cried, going for the pistol. Spike leaped forward and grabbed his wrist. She hauled him bodily over the desk, spilling beer and papers. A quick whack behind his ear made him slump, and she dragged him back around the desk and sat him on the chair.
"Wakey wakey," she said, slapping his cheeks. A beer bottle dripped liquid and she picked it up, pouring the rest onto blackbeard's forehead. He sputtered and wiped his eyes and nose.
Spike clutched his hair. "If you scream or make any other noise, I'll break your bloody neck."
"What choo wan'," he slurred.
"Money." Spike let his hair go. "Where's the safe, Mister Tambourine Man?"
"What money?" He rubbed his eyes. "I dunno what you're talking about."
"Oh." Spike rammed a fist into his gut. Blackbeard hugged himself and writhed on the chair.
"Give me the money, that's a good bloke. Drug people always have money. Gimme gimme."
The guy on the floor was still motionless. There was a large wall calendar with a nude woman posing above the month of August. Spike pulled it off the wall.
"No wall safe under the nudie. Hmm."
She caught his jaw in a vice-like grip. "Where is it? I'll take your yarbles off and show 'em to ya if you lie to me."
Blackbeard shook his head frantically. "I'll … sh-show you," he blurted. Spike patted his head.
"Good boy. No tricks, or I'll teach you to roll over and play dead."
He nodded. "Yeah. Okay, lady," he heaved off the chair and turned his back to her.
"I dunno who you are, but I'll get the money."
He bent double, sliding a hand down his calf.
Spike kicked him in the groin.
Blackbeard hit the floor convulsing. Spike grabbed his foot and grappled with the Velcro on his ankle holster. She ripped his pistol away.
"What's this, about a thirty-two caliber Smith & Wesson, eh?" Blackbeard didn't answer. "I like this. I think I'll christen her for her maiden voyage."
She put the .32 to his head and cocked the hammer.
He clenched his eyes shut and held up his hands. "No don't - please, don't. There's a floor safe. I'll get it. I'll getcha the money."
Spike stepped back. "Hurry or I'll blow away your manlies." She looked again at the guy on the floor, then glanced at the door. No sign of alarm, but this was taking too long.
Blackbeard tugged at the carpet under his desk. A large square of it came up to reveal the safe. He leaned over the dial and spun it back and forth, then reached for the lever.
"Stop." Spike shoved him away. "Let Mama handle the rest."
Blackbeard scuttled back. Spike reached for the lever and hesitated, shifting her eyes to Blackbeard.
He turned his face away and held his breath.
Spike stood up. "Booby trap, eh?"
"Huh, what … a trap? You gotta be kiddin'."
"Come 'ere and open it, then."
"Lady, please. You're makin' a mistake."
She pointed the .32 at him. Blackbeard scowled, which, with his beetling brows, made him look like Blackbeard the pirate. He reached under the edge of the carpet next to the safe and turned something. There was an audible click.
"What was that?"
"Gas bomb. Just to disable any thieves, not lethal."
"I applaud your creativity. Now open."
He opened the safe and Spike pushed him back with her boot. Inside were bundles of greenbacks, with a pistol and some kind of grenade on top. There was a loop of wire around the grenade's pin that disappeared into the side of the safe.
"Mmm, that's new." Spike carefully took the loop off the pin. She put the grenade in her jacket pocket, then pocketed the pistol. From her other pocket she withdrew a plastic garbage bag she'd nicked from the hotel.
Blackbeard did, glaring poison at Spike.
"A minor setback for a sweetheart like you," she told him.
He dropped the bag. "That's all there is."
Spike cold-cocked him with the .32.
"You need your rest, bubie."
She stood and jammed the bag into her pocket. There was a metallic sound and she swung around.
The guy on the floor shot Spike in the eye.
Blue electricity danced on a field of black in her brain. Lightning crackled; waves of crimson thundered past and streamers of glaring fluorescence glowed in her vision. Her mind shuddered, her consciousness blinkered out. She didn't feel her body hit the floor, or her head smack the leg of the chair, sending it rolling. All was shock.
Then pain erupted.
Her hands pressed against her face. She rolled over, tasting blood. A voice was yelling.
She fed her hand into her pocket and fumbled forever to get the pistol out. The shock of another bullet took her again. Another, in the back. Doom was before her, its jaws yawning to engulf her.
She twisted around and saw a shape through the blinding redness. She shot at him, shot again and again. The shape fell away. Spike's gun clicked on empty chambers. .
She found the grenade and wrenched it free. Climbing exhaustedly to her feet, she wiped at her remaining eye and waddled to the door. It flew open just before she reached it, and a startled face came into view. Spike flung an elbow at it and felt bone meet bone. The owner of the face fell away.
She got out of the office and got shot again. The whole bloody lot of them were standing there shooting. Bullets spanged against the wall next to her. She felt hot lead rip into her breast, her belly, her thigh. She plucked the pin off the grenade and tossed it at them, then waited an eternity for it to do something. Had she removed the pin? She thought she had. She felt another bullet.
A loud pop, then screams of agony cried out as gas enveloped them all. Spike slitted her eye and peered at them, watching them drop and roll around retching. The pudgy little man was there, vomiting explosively. She lurched to him and locked an arm around his neck, pulled him along with her.
She plowed down the row to the rear door and pushed through it to the crisp night air. The pudgy man gargled protest and struggled, so she stopped long enough to break his neck. She dragged him to the parked cars, moved among them and ducked. She immediately buried her teeth in pudgy's throat, sucking his blood with desperation.
The darkness that threatened to enfold her retreated, and her vision cleared. She felt the galvanizing effect of the fresh blood, but warned herself to quit now, no time for a long feed. She pulled away reluctantly. She heard voices. They had recovered from the gas.
The fence was too high. She barely made it before, now the razor wire would entangle her. She looked closely at the car which hid her.
It was the Firebird.
An old car, that was lucky. She could hotwire it.
She crab walked to the door. Unlocked, great. She jerked out the wires under the dash and got the engine running. They heard, and came swiftly for her.
She got shot again as she clambered behind the wheel. The bullet tore through her clavicle, breaking it. She stomped on the clutch and popped the gear. The car bolted forward, slamming into the shooter, throwing him twenty feet. She screeched around to the front of the building and spied the front gate.
A bullet broke through the rear window and burrowed into Spike's back.
Time went slo-mo like a scene in the movies. The doors of the gate flew open and the car hit the street, yo-yoing from the dip. Spike churned the wheel and got the car pointed south, tromped on the gas and geared up until she was speeding a hundred mph down the street.
She was away. She was safe.
A red glob from her eye drooled down her cheek. She almost passed out, and screamed just to wake herself up. She set her mind on Buddy. Buddy would expect her. She had to be there for him. Buddy would call for her, cupping his hands to his mouth and calling her name, like Auntie Em in Wizard of Oz.
Got to get back to Kansas. Off to see the Wizard.
Mr. Wizard, may I have a heart and brain and courage, please?
Oh silly woman, don't you know you already possess these things.
I know, you stupid sod. But they're shot all to doll rags, aren't they? Wanker.
Horns blared. Spike woke up and hit the brake. Pedestrians swirled around the car. They reacted when she passed out and the car wheeled forward. Some stared in at her, horrified by the sight.
She clawed the glove compartment open. There was a pair of sunglasses and she put them on. Just like the Terminator.
The light turned green and she peeled out.
Somehow, she made it. Wended her way up the hotel's parking garage. Pulled herself out of the car and staggered to the elevator kiosk. An eternal wait for floor … seven. Lucky number. She lurched down the hall and hit the door with her shoulder. Her key card was somewhere, in a pocket …
Buddy was there, carrying her to the bed. Crying. Tears, dripping down. Spike tried to tell him that men don't cry, and she did. Only it was a dream. And he was a man, and Buddy was a woman.
A woman named Buffy.