Goodbye, City Lights
In an uncharted underworld of lava and smoke, muted screams and rampant torture, Ethan Rayne huddled in a fetal position, trembling and praying to every god he'd ever heard of to make Surgat leave him alone for please, just one more hour.
Surgat's ragged snoring sibilated from the next chamber, and Ethan rejoiced by assiduously sucking his thumb. His mindset reverted to that of infancy, a primal yearning for the warmth and protection of his mum. He clenched his eyes shut and tried to see Mum, tried to picture her with her loving arms folded around him, and pretend he was with her and had never even heard of demons.
Instead, the replay of his ill-fated summons to Surgat scrolled through his memory unbidden, and he bit the base of his thumb in a paroxysm of self-rebuke.
The first moment Surgat had responded to Rayne's incantation seemed to verify Fala's message. The demon had knelt and congratulated Rayne on his victory. "I am your servant, my master," he grumbled grudgingly. "I offer obedience. I can use the Watcher's love for the robot to seal the curse, if you wish it. I am powerless to disobey."
If only he had listened carefully, he might have perceived the trick. But in his prematurely triumphant mood, his extraordinary arrogance blinded him. Surgat wasn't just offering to complete a curse, to transfer the Sunnydale gang's power to Rayne. He was offering to accommodate a variable – the robot that sonofabitch Andrew had used. Whether or not the robot caused a wrinkle in the spell was irrelevant. Surgat offered a second distinctive service, and Rayne had blithely accepted. It was the oldest trick in Surgat's book, and a fatal mistake.
A fatal mistake? Rayne should be so lucky.
"Marvelous," Rayne had cackled, rubbing his hands together. "First though, I want you to hurt yourself. Go with the genitals, since they're the most vulnerable. Hurt yourself good and horribly, slave, or I'll make it very bad for you indeed."
With eyes glaring white-hot at Rayne, Surgat whacked and smote his unmentionables. Stifled grunts betrayed his stoically fierce expression, and he mauled himself until finally Rayne had enough.
"Stop, stop it. Why are you doing that to yourself, Surgat?"
Surgat's claws dropped to his sides, dripping ichor. His eyes rolled in confusion. "Because you ordered it, Master."
"If I told you to jump off a bridge, would you do that?"
Surgat replied flatly, "Yes, Master."Rayne had smirked, disappointed. The words played out funnier in his head. "You see," he explained to Surgat, "in America when a youth does something stupid from peer pressure, his parent asks him that and …oh, never mind. Go ahead and complete it."
"Complete what, my master?"
"The thing with Giles and the robot, you dunce! Make the love spell work. I want my power to be complete. Why the devil are you smiling like that?"
Surgat's visage had changed rapidly, and despite the gouts of blood dripping from between his legs, his mouth widened into a hideous grin. Surgat laughed, and his lugubrious, red-tinged eyes changed at once to clouds of charcoal black, and fetid breath blew into Rayne's face.
Rayne didn't like this at all. He took an involuntary step back, almost leaving the pentagram's protective circle. He uttered the dismissal incantation but Surgat remained. Then, watching Rayne's face intently, Surgat took a step.
As the demon's cloven hoof shifted from the misty dust of the netherworld to drop with a thud on the solid concrete of the floor, Rayne's hairs stood erect in places he didn't even know he had hairs. Then another step plopped Surgat's other foot - massive and humanoid - on the edge of Rayne's circle.
Rayne's mind raced. What could have gone wrong? He started chanting the dismissal incantation again, "Non vidi, legola e ni recturnum …"
Surgat laughed again, and his spittle sloshed against Rayne's face. The demon stepped slowly and deliberately into the circle. Rayne scuttled backwards and pealed out a high pitched shriek that cracked a wine glass on a table yards away. He rushed to the door and got a hand on the knob before Surgat snatched him, his claws digging into Rayne's flesh and searing him like molten fire.
"Surgat," Rayne had squealed, "you're bound by the Principles."
Surgat licked him, a captive ice cream cone. The contact burned like a corrosive. "Yes I am," Surgat allowed. "And so are you. You asked for a second service, and so have released me, and imprisoned yourself, smart boy."
"But the spirit of the deal!"
Surgat shrugged as much as his neckless torso would allow. "Sue me. We have enough lawyers where you're going."
"You told Fala I wouldn't be harmed."
"She knows what I liar I am." With that Surgat bounded into the midst of the misty dust and brought Rayne below. Rayne's first words in this hellish sphere were an apology for forcing Surgat to savage his own genitalia.
"Don't worry," Surgat had rumbled in reply. "You are personally going to make me feel better."
The spool of recent history ran out with Rayne asleep, his thumb dropping limply from his mouth. For a moment he knew the peace of dreamless slumber.
Surgat clambered to his feet and yawned. He stalked into Rayne's chamber and snatched him up. "Hello lover," he growled.
Rayne hoarsely protested, but his rasping cries were soon muffled gags that no human who could care less could hear.
The city lay glistening with lights as numerous as the stars, and Kendra saw them from the luxurious round bed in the executive suite of the Diamond Grand hotel. She rolled lazily from one side of the bed to the other, enjoying the soft caresses of the satin sheets.
Presently she got up and did some isometric exercises. Had to keep the equipment in good order, or no one would want to slip a c-note into her thong. She worked her legs, her buns and triceps, and finished her workout on her back, holding her legs aloft with toes pointed to get an abdominal burn. She heard a knock, then a tune jangled softly as the visitor rang the doorbell. Kendra rolled to her feet and wrapped a yellow robe around her nude glory.
It was Tara.
"Hi Kendra, do you remember me?" Tara asked shyly.
"Remember? It's only been a couple of weeks." Kendra hugged her and waved her in.
"Wow, nice place."
"I just adore a penthouse view," Kendra smiled.
"And security's tight. I've felt less violated by gynecologists."
"Those asswipes." Kendra went behind the wet bar. "How 'bout you forget your troubles with a nice mixed drink? We have Appletini, Margarita, Daiquiri, Bloody Mary. I can't actually make those, but we have the fixings."
Tara shook her head. "No thanks. I just really need you to come back to Sunnydale with me."
Kendra kept her eyes on the booze. She poured some vodka and 7up into a highball glass and added ice. "Sunnydale, eh? I don't know about that, honey. I mean, our little lipstick encounter was primo stuff, but –"
"It's not that."
"But I have a guy now, a real nice guy. I know - why don't you move out here? He's pretty much a pig, so he won't mind you staying with us. Surf and turf action, could be pretty exciting. "
"No, Xander, we need you." Tara watched Kendra's face for recognition.
There was none. "What was that? Why'd you call me … Sander?"
"Sorry, I misspoke, Kendra. We need you in Sunnydale. Us, your friends, remember us?"
Kendra took her drink to the sunken living room, motioning Tara to follow. She curled up on the sofa and pulled a throw pillow over her stomach.
"I can't leave, Tara. I have a job here. I'm doing two shows a night."
"Yeah, I saw one. You're really great at it. You sure got a lot of money stuffed into your panties."
Kendra sipped cocktail through her gleaming white teeth. "High rollers. They're very generous."
"I bet you could get some time off without getting fired or anything."
Kendra's smile faded. Cornering me with compliments, huh? She rattled the ice in her glass and hopped up. "You know, I just started this gig. How will it look to take time off right away? Besides, my boyfriend's a high mucky-muck here, and I don't want to make him look bad."
Tara sighed. "Do you remember Sunnydale at all?"
"Who wants to? Small town, small prospects." She put her glass on the bar. "Sure you don't want anything before you go?"
"What about the Hellmouth, Kendra. Does that ring a bell? Sunnydale is in trouble, Buffy's in big trouble. Giles and Willow are too, and they need your help big time."
"Kendra eyed the vodka bottle. "I don't see what I can do. Want me to strip their way out of trouble?"
"This isn't you, Kendra, it's the spell you're under. You're forgetting all your friends."
Kendra waved her arms around her. "My friends are here."
"What, those liquor bottles?"
Kendra's face registered shame for an instant, and Tara knew.
"You've been hitting the alcohol pretty hard, haven't you?"
Kendra's lips closed tightly over her retort. She tapped her fingernails on the burnished mahogany of the bar. "So, this has been a great visit. You have a plane to catch, or what?"
"I'm taking the bus." Tara went to the door. As she let herself out she said, "I left you something on the coffee table."
Kendra locked the door after her and walked to the table. A photo of Willow was there, and she picked it up. She lay on her bed for a while staring at it, then dropped it and took a shower. Afterward she lingered over her stripping ensembles, a medley of satins and silks, lace and leather, stiletto heels and ankle-strap wedgies.
She donned a pair of black jeans, a white blouse and running shoes. She stuck Willow's photo in her purse and sat on the bed to write a note to Vince. She wrote Dear Vince and then heard voices as the front door opened.
For some reason her reflex was to drop to her stomach beside the bed. She heard Vince say, "Let me check," then heard footfalls in the room. The bathroom door opened then the footsteps receded.
"Nah, she's not here," Vince said. "She has a show, and the bitch is never late."
A rougher voice said, "A slut with a work ethic."
Kendra's fists curled.
Vince said, "Yeah, except in the sack. You'd think with her body she'd be great, but she's like a tricycle in the Indy 500."
They laughed, then their voices faded. Scowling with resentment, Kendra crawled to the end of the bed and got up, tiptoed to the door and listened. She chanced a peek and saw two men besides Vince in the sunken living room, one fat and one thin. They both wore expensive suits, just like Vince.
"So Vince," the fatso said, "we have a fix on that car. It's been in a California town called Sunnydale for over twenty-four hours."
"It might've been dumped."
"Yeah, but someone's drivin' it around."
"Got an address, or we gotta canvas the whole city?"
"It sat at a Revello Drive address for a day, then started moving around this morning."
Vince's voice grew clearer as he walked to the bar for a drink. "Well, Junior wants me on point, because he's really pissed. He wants the chick who pulled the heist, plus anyone helping her. Y'know, I can't see how one skirt could ice those four guys and get away clean like that.
"Get Franco and his boys, we'll caravan it. And have Harry call the governor, get us some cover."
"Sure Vince," the tall one replied. "An F.B.I. cover will work. The Sunnydale cops are bought cheap."
"Fine, bloodbath time. Make those calls now, Tony. Confirm with me later. Gianni and I are going to relax a bit before we go."
"Thought your girl was busy."
"I got another skank stashed at the Mirage."
"Can't get enough of them strippers, huh?"
Vince laughed. "Give 'em a taste of the sweet life for a while and they'll do anything for ya."
Kendra's long-nailed fingers clutched an invisible throat as she listened to them leave. She hopped up and finished her note: Dear Vince, Eat Shit! Her eyes green fire, she stomped to the bar and grabbed two bottles of tomato juice and opened them. She poured them all over Vince's precious wardrobe, dousing the suits and shirts in the closet, sprinkling the ties, and dumping the rest on his underwear and socks in the bureau. She packed her suitcase quickly, leaving all but two of her stripper outfits. She returned to the bar and found orange juice, and splashed it all over Vince's expensive shoes.
She lugged her case down the elevator and through the lobby without interference, got a taxi outside and told the driver to take her to the bus depot. Tara couldn't have left yet, so she would intercept her and treat her to a first class seat on a flight to Sunnydale, and they'd return in style to that Podunk town.
She looked back at the Diamond Grand and gave a little wave. Goodbye, city lights. Green acres we are there, duh-duh, duh-dunt-dunt…dunt-dunt!