Muddled Memories Mended
Kendra shouldered through the backstage door clutching a double handful of cash, applause and whistles spilling in from outside.
"Hello, Kendra!" the girls mockingly serenaded.
She tiptoed to her section of table and sat down naked. The dollars cascaded over her makeup jars and she scuttled them into a pile for counting. Bonnie and Rachel watched her as they primped for their turn.
"Hey beyotch," Bonnie called, "why don't you cover that up?"
Kendra kept counting and responded cheerily, "One-eighty, one-ninety, two-ten, two-sixty …"
The stage door opened and an oily dude in a sleek suit came in. The girls regarded him expectantly but he went directly to Kendra, eyeing her up and down. He pulled a card from his breast pocket and laid it on the table next to her money.
"Miss Kendra, let me introduce myself. I'm Vince Basiglio, and I very much liked your show."
She dropped her counted money into a pile away from the crumplies. "Three-forty- five," she muttered, marking her place. Basiglio held out his hand and she pressed it absently, peering at the card. He was from Club Tangerine, it said. Kendra knew that was a hoity-toity strip club for high rollers. Very exclusive, a very expensive place, a dream club for gals like her.
She noted the direction of his gaze.
"Still enjoying the show, hmm?"
She snatched her robe off its peg and draped it across her middle. Vince smiled and gave a chin shrug. "I can't help but look, that's why this two-bit place is getting the higher-ends lately. That's what I came to see you about."
Kendra tucked herself into her robe. "About time," she told Vince. "I'm up to here with this place. And these bitchy girls."
Vince gave them a glance. "Well, they're most likely jealous. You're … what can I say? Very special, and they're ordinary."
The backstage door slammed open. The head bouncer, a three hundred pound former nose tackle who went by the nickname Cubby, hurried forward. His expression was psyched for action.
"That's Cubby," Kendra said, "and you're not allowed back here."
"But I bribed that blonde bouncer."
"You paid the wrong guy."
Cubby rushed forward. Vince went up on his toes. He feinted a right hand but kicked Cubby in the kneecap. Cubby took a step back and Vince stabbed his nose with a left jab, then swept a forward kick to his groin. He followed that with a straight right that broke Cubby's nose, then kicked the kneecap again.
An agonized squeal whistled from somewhere in Cubby's face and he dropped sideways to the floor.
"Hey asshole," Bonnie shrieked. "He was just doing his job."
Vince pulled a money clip from his pants pocket and peeled off a few hundreds. "And you're doing a bang-up job at that," he told Cubby and dropped the bills on his head. "Anyway, Kendra. If you want a job at the Tangerine, you'll easily pull in five times what you're making here. You have my card."
Kendra caught his elbow. "Forget that, I'm in! Wait for me."
Cubby was breathing in ragged gasps and clutching his groin. Vince dropped another hundred in front of him. "Tubby, tell your boss that Kendra's giving her notice, got it?"
Kendra was dressing quickly. "Yeah," she threw over her shoulder. "Ten seconds notice."
Anya gave her customer a bright smile and handed over his bag of candles and powdered elk horn. Several more patrons of the Magic Box waited in line to exchange money for magical crap, and Anya was giddy at the influx of green. Then the bell jangled and Alex Fimple came in the front door, followed by Hermione Down and Garnerbot. They trooped together to the round table. Anya's mood plummeted. They would be bad for business, as usual.
The next customer was an obese, balding man wearing sunglasses. Anya eyed him suspiciously. He put aphrodisiacal powders and body oils on the counter.
"Are you going to use these with someone?" Anya demanded. "Because otherwise, that's just perverted."
Hermione watched in disbelief. "It's a wonder she keeps any clientele at all."
"Actually," Alex said, "it's a going fad around town to come here. People like to share their abuse experiences. It even got a write-up in the paper."
Angel came through the back. "How did you get in?" Alex asked.
"Back door. There's an alarm, but I disabled it. So where's Buffy?"
"I guess she's running late. She said she'd be here."
Hermione started to get up. "Well then, Jim and I could go and -"
"Sit down," Angel commanded.
"Don't bark at Hermione like that, pal," Garnerbot gritted.
"Hey man," Angel shot back, "what are you even here for?"
Garnerbot's eyebrows rose toward his scalp. "Because I'm thirty pounds heavier and a whole lot meaner than you, man. And what the hell is your name anyway?"
"Angel," Alex told him. "And you can never be meaner than him."
"Angel?" Garnerbot raised his voice. "Angel? I can't stand that name. Angel Martin was a slimy little fink. I did time at Quentin with him, and he brought me nothing but trouble."
"Shut up," Alex broke in. "Be quiet and sit down, we have serious business here."
Garnerbot pursed his lips in anger. Hermione caught his eye and gave a small head shake, and he sat down next to her.
Angel said, "We have to get Buffy here. Someone can take my car."
"I'll do it," Garnerbot said.
"Look, you don't need me here. I like driving, and I can even handle your car's lousy damn suspension. It takes corners like a battlehip."
"That car is a '67 Plymouth Belvedere GTX," Angel protested. "Only about two thousand were made."
Garner smiled wryly. "At least they recognized their mistake early. Hand 'em over."
Alex gave Angel a pleading look. Angel morosely tossed over the keys.
Outside Garnerbot scanned the street for trouble. A pint-sized demon chased a nerdy teenager down the street. The nerd's bookbag bobbed up and down on his back as he fled, whining for help. Garnerbot chuckled.
A Pontiac Firebird spun around the corner. It sped jerkily toward the Magic Box, weaving as the driver wagged the wheel. It lurched to a stop three feet from the curb. Buddy got out, holding a long screwdriver. She slammed the door.
Garnerbot cringed. "Don't slam the door like that, mister. You'll rattle the window off its anchors. And who taught you to drive, Stevie Wonder? And what's the deal with the front end, it looks like you drove into a mountain."
"It's not your car, so whatcha care?" Buddy headed for the Magic Box.
"Wait a minute," Garnerbot followed after him. "Are you Buffy from Revello Drive? 'Cause I was just coming to get you."
"No, I'm Buddy from Revello Drive. Go pick me up."
"Cute. What's with the screwdriver?"
"It's the key to that heap."
Garnerbot peered longingly at the Pontiac. "Buddy, sell me the Firebird, huh? It should belong to someone who appreciates it. I drove it for a long time, and that car is great. Can do almost anything. I'll give you a good price."
Angel was putting a CLOSED sign on the door as they walked in. Anya served a nervous couple buying a spell kit.
"So," the man whispered, "this is all we need for a protection spell?"
Anya whispered back, "Yes. Just make sure you pronounce the incantation correctly. The instructions break it down phonetically."
The woman asked, "Why, what if we get it wrong?"
"Mmm, maybe his testicles will shrink, or you'll lactate green milk. Maybe it just won't work. That'll be one-oh-three ninety. Will that be cash or charge?"
Buddy sat down and dropped the screwdriver on the table.
"Think about it, will you?" Garnerbot pleaded.
"Yeah yeah," Buddy waved him off.
"I hear you've been in Vegas with Spike," Angel said right away.
"Who the hell are you?"
"You don't know me?"
"It's the spell," Alex said. "She's losing memory of past associations."
"Psychobabble," Garnerbot scoffed.
"I'm not a 'she'," Buddy snorted.
Angel's eyes were drawn to the last customer, a large man in a muumuu. His fake head mask was open in the back, and red-tinted demon flesh showed. He paid and left without causing any trouble, and Angel made Anya lock the door.
"I should get compensation for this," she groused.
Alex asked Buddy if he knew where Kendra was. "I understand she went to Vegas the same time you did. I heard she works at a strip club."
Buddy shook his head. "I don't know any Kendra. Besides, my wife would never let me go to a strip club. She figures her body should be enough for me to ogle."
Garnerbot touched Hermione's hand. "I certainly feel that way."
Hermione blushed and covered her embarrassed smile.
Angel sighed. "Get to what we're doing here, Willow."
Alex related his suspicion that Ethan Rayne was behind the curse. Then he explained what the curse was. Then he argued with Buddy and Hermione that they were, indeed, cursed.
"I know this woman," Garnerbot said, rising to massage Hermione's shoulders. "To put it discretely, I assure you that every last inch of her is all woman."
Alex rolled his eyes. "What would you say to put it indiscretely?"
"You're making this up," Buddy pshawed. "You must be crazy. You say we've been friends for a long time?"
Alex pulled out his wallet and showed Buddy a photo of Buffy.
"See, this is you. The spell keeps progressing, so y-you're forgetting. B-but this is the real you."
Buddy looked. Garnerbot looked too, and whistled. Hermione punched his arm.
"What about your mother," Alex said. "Is she okay with everything, or has she been telling you things you think she made up? Surely she's still calling you Buffy."
The skin around Buddy's eyes tightened. "She calls me Buddy. And I think I would've remembered if … I mean, she does hate Spike. She thinks she's a slut, not worthy to be my wife."
Angel's ears pricked up. "She's right."
"Well that can't be the only thing, Buddy. Think, why would a woman be named Spike anyway? Didn't Joyce mention anything about this that you remember?"
Buddy's brows furrowed in anger. "She said I was no better than a lesbian, can you believe it?"
Alex spread his hands. "See?"
Buddy got quiet.
Hermione raised a hand questioningly. "Why are you trying to, er, convince us of this fantastical idea, um, Alex?"
"I want you to go through a ceremony with me to push back the spell, regain your memories. It's painless."
"It won't work." Anya was closing out the register, but she paused to criticize. "They'll get their memories back for a little while, but then the spell will come back stronger than before."
"What's your solution, then?" Alex retorted.
"Just get used to your current incarnations. I had to do it, and I'm a successful business woman. Life goes on." She pulled the tray from the register and commenced counting the day's take.
"Alrighty," Alex said brightly, turning back to the group. "How about it? The process will take maybe an hour, maybe a little longer."
Hermione looked concerned. "What would you require of us?"
"We wouldn't have to drink our own pee, would we?" Buddy asked.
"No. You would – what? Where'd you even get that?" He waved it off. "It's a concentration process. With my help, you'll just focus your minds for a little while. Simple."
"I don't have time," Buddy said. "I have a wife who's hurt and she needs me there."
"And my fiancé and I have some things we need to do." Hermione glanced at Garnerbot, and he gave her a wink.
"I'm not taking no for an answer. You do this one thing, and I'll agree to leave you both alone from now on, okay?"
Buddy made a strangled noise. "Fine."
Hermione hesitated. "Well, it might be nice to sharpen my memory," she said and took Garnerbot's hand. "As we'll be making wonderful memories so very soon."
"Good." Alex got up. "Let's go sit in the back room."
Seventy-one minutes later the ceremony was over.
Hermione raged through the door. "You! Jim – whoever you are, get the hell out of here."
Garnerbot looked startled. "But darling –"
Hermione gagged. "D-don't call me that, ever. I'm a man, you giant ass, and you've been …" she looked helplessly around. "You've been … courting me as if I were a woman."
Buddy barreled through the door and stomped over to Angel.
"You've been letting me sleep with Spike?"
Buddy slapped him.
"Well, isn't this a load of bull?" Garnerbot snarled. "Hermione goes back there with that con artist, and now she thinks she's a man? After all those hours of making love –"
Hermione walked stiffly away from him, her face set in stone.
"How could you possibly believe this?" Garnerbot persisted.
Buddy slapped Angel again.
Angel shrugged again.
Buddy threw up her hands and yelled incoherently. She dropped onto a chair and propped her chin morosely in her hands. "I guess I should thank you, Willow."
"Yes," Hermione added dubiously. "Thanks ever so much."
"I did what I had to do."
Angel spun a chair around and sat with his arms resting on the back. "We should reprogram Spike. Is he at your house, Buffy?"
"Yeah," Buddy said musingly. "We'll have to take Willow to him. He was shot up, you know. Some drug dealers in Vegas shot his eye out. It's horrible."
Angel smiled lopsidedly. Buddy glared and he dropped it. "Why, that's just terrible. Don't worry, he'll grow the eye back - in time."
"Yeah. Well, at least he got the money."
"Money, you say?" Hermione put on her eyeglasses. "That's what he was doing with the drug dealers then, robbing them?"
Buddy nodded. "Sixty-odd thousand. It wasn't worth it, though."
Anya was suddenly there, leaning in close. "That's a lot of money. You need to launder it, or the feds'll be on you like ugly on a rabbit. I know just how to do it. For fifty percent I'd be happy to –"
Angel said, "Not now, Anya."
She smiled ingratiatingly and backed away. "The offer stands. Negotiable, too."
Hermione said, "We're straying from the real point here. Willow, I truly thank you for bringing our memories back. But they'll fade again, so we had better solve this matter quickly."
Alex nodded. "We have to find Rayne. Only he can reverse the spell."
Buddy said, "Shouldn't we just follow the signs of trouble in town?"
Angel shook his head. "Rayne made a big splash, but then disappeared. We have various demons and vamps running around town, but Rayne's in hiding, or else he left."
"I haven't seen him for a while," Anya offered.
They looked at her.
"What, can't I talk?"
"We'd prefer your silence, actually," Hermione said.
Angel tipped his chair back. "We have to find this Rayne, then. Any ideas where?"
Buddy and Hermione looked at Alex.
"I'm on it." Alex went to the shelves for the necessary ingredients.
"Another thing, Buffy," Angel said. "Are you sure the ... drug guys didn't follow you back to Sunnydale?"
"Hmm?" Buddy thought about it. "No. No, they couldn't have. We drove at night, so I would've seen their lights."
"Did they see your car at any time?"
"Oh, it's their car. Spike took it during the heist."
"Spike stole it from them. He had to get away, and he was shot up. C'mon, he robbed and killed them. Grand theft auto is not a biggie on his rap sheet."
"We have to get rid of it." Angel put out his hand. "Give me the keys. If they have Lojack or some other tracer, they'll come in force."
Buddy looked around the table. "Hey, who took the screwdriver? I use it to start the car."
The robot did," Anya said.
"That robot you call Jim. He picked up the screwdriver and slipped out the back. I kept my eye on him, because shoplifters cost the retail world a hundred million dollars a year, and you can't be too careful."
Hermione's face was twisted with confusion. "Why do you say he's a robot?"
"Silly question," Anya giggled. "I say it because it's true."
"I knew there was something about him," Angel said.
"He's a good-looking robot," Anya continued. "I can see why Giles, or Hermione - whatever - is gay for him, but he's fake as a two-dollar bill."
Hermione shook her head. "I can't believe it."
"Anya," Alex said, "two-dollar bills aren't fake."
Anya snatched up the trash can.
Angel sped to the window. "What kind of car?"
"A gold one," Buddy replied. "Two-door, I parked it right in front."
Angel dropped the blinds. "Why the hell didn't you say something, Anya?"
"Girl-Giles there said she wanted my silence."
Hermione glared at her. "Really Anya, how could you tell he's a robot if he fooled us?"
Anya looked smug. "One of the things a former demon keeps is the ability to distinguish between humanity and … everything else."
"At least he'll draw any pursuers away," Angel pointed out.
Buddy sighed. "He wanted that car. Offered to buy it from me."
Angel laughed, and all eyes turned on him. "He insulted my car," he said defensively. "My GTX. Now his dream car just might be his robo-coffin. I just think that's funny."
"That's so insensitive," Anya said, waggling a finger. "Can't you see that Giles loves his gaybot?"
Hermione's face blanched.
"It's classic," Angel remarked.
Buddy scowled at him.
"My GTX, I mean. It is a classic."