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Part two of three

Episode Three: Breaking Ground

by adjrun & cousinjean

***
Bob Pomerance took his dog for walks twice a day. Come rain, come shine, he took Harry on a tour of the neighborhood. He likened it to walking his beat.
It was a beautiful day for it. The morning air still held a crispness that made a brisk walk energizing. Harry, a busy little Jack Russell terrier, trotted down the sidewalk, investigating ficus trees, garbage cans, and pretty much everything else he came across. Bob imagined that the dog tracked invisible smells, checking in on them like old friends. And Harry thoroughly investigated new smells – the stinkier, the better.
They took an extra-long route that morning, enjoying the bright summer day. When they finally returned to Bob’s apartment building, he could feel the ache starting in his leg. He’d pushed it a little; but it was worth it. He fancied that Harry looked particularly proud of himself today, with all those smells identified, catalogued, and categorized. A busy, fruitful morning.
Bob didn’t see a creature in the shadow of the alley next to his building. Or the way light flashed in the symbols carved on its forehead. He didn’t see it move towards him as he entered the open front door of his building.
The flight of stairs took some time, with the trick knee and all. He was tired enough that he had to take them step by step. Harry waited by his side, sometimes smiling up at him. Somehow the dog knew when Bob was tired, and when patience was necessary. Well, terriers were smart little dogs. He trotted by Bob’s feet, halfway down the hall, to the door of a neat, small apartment. A little fumbling with the lock, and Bob walked into his apartment and sat in his old blue recliner, Harry one step behind.
“Okay, boy, let’s get that leash off of you.” The dog hopped up in his lap so he could unclip the leash. Bob scratched Harry under the ears, just the way he liked it, and got a couple of licks on the nose in return. “That’s right, who’s a good buddy…”
Harry looked towards the door. Then he hopped off Bob’s lap and growled, his lips curled up from his teeth. He went halfway to the door and let out a yip.
“Harry? Hey, what’s the matter, boy?”
The dog looked back at him, and again to the door. It began to back away from the door, slowly, barking.
The door smashed to bits. Behind it stood this huge pinkish… thing. A monster. It came right at him. Through the door, past the dog. Right at him.
Harry’s barks turned frantic, hysterical. Bob screamed. He pushed himself up from the chair, but his knee gave out and he fell backwards. On his second attempt he got to his feet. The monster was already there. It reached its hand towards Bob’s face; he jerked away to avoid it, but it made contact with the side of his head and clung. Bob fought to pull himself free. His arm flailed, knocking his reading lamp to the floor with a great crash. The monster brought his other hand up to Bob’s face, completely encasing his head in living clay. Bob twitched and jerked like a man on a gibbet. Harry kept up his shrill litany of barks. He darted forward to nip the thing’s ankle, and got a mouthful of clay for his trouble. Puzzled, the dog shook his head, coughing and sneezing, working to get the foreign taste out of his mouth. The creature held onto Bob’s head until his heart stopped. Then it released him and stepped back; and Bob’s body crumpled back into the recliner.
The dog jumped up on its dead master’s lap and whirled on the golem, a low growl in his throat.
***
Anderson parked his truck about a half a block from the Espresso Pump. He got out and walked in that direction, tossing his keys in the air and catching them before putting them in his pocket. He was in a surprisingly good mood. Sure, he and Faith had just narrowly avoided a fight last night, and she'd been gone before he'd woken up that morning ... but she'd left him breakfast. Well, Pop Tarts and a cup of coffee he'd had to reheat, but still. It was the thought. Besides, he didn't love her for her cooking. His baby cared enough to feed him before she went to save the world. That was the important thing.
She'd also left a note. Meet her at the Magic Box, it said, which was exactly where he was headed. He'd stop off first to get her one of those mochaccino things she liked -- fresh and hot. No reheated instant coffee for his girl. Then he'd coax her out for an early lunch, take her to that Chinese place she loved over on Hammond. They could get it to go, take it back to his place, maybe turn their early lunch into a long lunch. Anderson grinned at the prospect. And who knew? Maybe today was the day she'd open up about whatever it was that twisted that pretty little mouth of hers into a frown every time they got too happy. Maybe today she'd let herself be happy. God knew -- even if she didn't -- that she deserved it.
A few yards from the Espresso Pump Anderson thought he heard a muffled scream from the second floor window of the building he'd just passed. He backtracked until he stood under the window, and listened. Nothing but a yapping dog. He shook his head and started to go on, but then he heard breaking glass, and a whimper. He ran back to his truck and opened the glove compartment. His handgun wasn't there. "Damn it," he muttered. He'd taken it in to clean the other night and hadn't put it back yet. He grabbed the stake instead -- he'd be surprised if it was a vamp, but better safe than sorry -- and ran inside the building.
Halfway up the stairs he paused. The building was too quiet. "Hello?" he called, forging ahead with caution, keeping his back against the wall. His only answer was a growl from the dog. "Everything all right up there?"
At the top of the stairs, he saw an apartment with its door standing open -- scratch that. The door had been busted right off its hinges. Anderson had a bad feeling about this. He should go get Faith. Or call the cops. He shook his head. "Are you or are you not a soldier?" he asked himself, and pressed on. He could see a recliner from the hall, facing the door. In it sat an elderly man, something pink and slimy all over his face. A Jack Russell sat on his lap, teeth bared at something unseen. "Sir?" Anderson called to him. "Is everything okay?"
Anderson started to step inside, but the entrance was suddenly blocked by Michael Myers. Except, he was a lot bigger than in the movies, and his mask was pink. Also, Anderson realized as he backed away, it wasn't a mask -- it was the fucker's real face. Symbols were tattooed -- no, carved into its forehead, and as it zeroed in on Anderson they flashed a bright white.
His brain screamed run, but before that thought could reach his feet the creature's hand shot out and wrapped around the lower half of his face. Anderson couldn't breathe. Something oozed into his mouth and he felt himself gag, bile rising in the back of his throat. His brain flashed to the time his older sister'd forced him to eat one of her mudpies when he was six. The dog barked again, snapping his mind back to the present. Anderson raised his stake and plunged it into the thing's chest. No reaction. When he pulled it back out it made a wet, slurping sound, and the hole it left filled itself in. Anderson threw the stake down and clawed at the hand over his mouth. He tried to use his feet against the creature for leverage, but the thing lifted him off the ground. He was so fucked.
The barking grew louder. Then the dog leapt up and latched onto the creature's arm, chewing right through it. Anderson and the dog both fell to the ground. As Anderson scrambled to his feet he tore the thing's severed arm off his face and spat out the shit that had gotten in his mouth. He looked up to see the monster advancing on him, paying no heed to the dog biting its heels. A new arm grew almost instantly in place of the old one.
Anderson backed away and took in his predicament. The creature positioned itself between him and the stairs, and blocked his path down the hallway or into the apartment. It had him cornered. Yep, he was fucked all right. The thing moved with deliberate slowness. That was Anderson's one advantage. He turned and faced the window. Taking a deep breath, he covered his face, dove through it, and prayed for a soft landing.
***
Faith stared at the page, trying to focus. She didn't have a clue what half of this stuff meant, but she wouldn't admit it. Lydia didn't get that she just wasn't cut out for this part of the job. Hell, she hadn't even graduated high school. She'd been working on her GED in prison, but they'd sprung her before she could finish. She glanced up at Lydia, who was halfway through her fourth book. Damn. Lady must be some kinda freakin' speedreader. Faith sniffed, and turned the page. It didn't really bug her. Booksmarts had their uses, but they weren't everything. The things Faith did know kept her alive. Kept a lot of people alive.
Got a lot of people dead, too ...
Faith sighed, and closed the book. Lydia looked up at her. "Anything?"
"No." She shoved the book away. "Y'know, this research thing ... I'm just not any good at it. I mean, I'm not even sure what we're looking for. The only thing I found that even comes close was in the Batman Compendium that Xander left. But somehow I doubt we're looking for Clayface."
"Why were you looking in the Batman Compendium?"
Faith shrugged. "It's more my speed than any of those." She waved her hand at the pile of antique books on the table. "I told you, when it comes to the research thing, I'm really not your girl."
Lydia took off her glasses and looked at Faith in that patient way they must teach in Watcher school. She hoped Xander wasn't learning that look. She didn't think she could take it from him. She'd rather just have him argue with her, or tell her she was full of crap.
She missed Xander.
"You're doing fine at 'the research thing,'" Lydia said. "I realize that normally your friends would lighten the load considerably, but they're not here. And two sets of eyes are better than one." She chewed on the earpiece of her glasses and considered. "Still, I suppose your particular talents would be put to better use searching for clues. Perhaps you should visit the crime scenes?"
Faith stood up. "Yeah, I can do that. I never really get to play detective." She glanced at the clock by the register, and frowned. It was later than she thought. Anderson should've been there by now. Guess she'd worn him out even more than she thought. "It'll have to wait, though. I was supposed to open shop half an hour ago. When Giles gets here he's gonna be pissed."
Lydia put her glasses back on and looked at the clock, surprised. "Oh, dear. I completely forgot ... is there anything I can do to help?"
"Yeah," Faith said, "you unlock the door and turn the sign around while I get the register ready." As she turned toward the counter, the phone rang. "Or you could get that."
Lydia answered the phone, and Faith went to pull the cash from the safe. As she put it in the register, the bell rang over the door. She looked up to see Giles, looking more worried than pissed. So far.
"Faith, it's ten-thirty. Why isn't the shop open?"
"Yeah, sorry G. We're on it."
Giles turned the sign around and went to the window to raise the gate. "You didn't answer my question. Is there something wrong?"
"Uh, yeah, actually." Faith pointed at the pile of books and papers on the table. "We kinda got a situation."
Giles limped over to the counter. "What sort of situation?"
Before Faith could explain, Lydia hung up the phone. "That was Detective Grant. There's been another death. A body was found in the bar district, behind the Fish Tank. The same substance not only filled his mouth, but also covered his motorcycle. Good morning, Rupert."
"Lydia. Care to fill me in? What substance?"
"The demon gak that was found on all the bodies," Faith said.
"What bodies?" Giles asked.
"Three of them," Lydia said, retrieving the Polaroids and handing them to Giles. "Well, four now. And according to Grant, the substance is nothing more than hardened clay. Completely organic."
"Huh," Faith said. "So maybe the Batman Compendium wasn't too far off."
"Doubtful," Lydia said. "Perhaps it's simply a human killer with a strange M.O. Although, there is something terribly familiar about all of this ..."
Giles shuffled through the pictures. "You mean to tell me that four people are dead under apparently supernatural circumstances, and you didn't see fit to call me?"
"We only learned about it this morning," Lydia told him. "Faith and I are handling it. We didn't see any reason to disturb you."
Giles looked down, his mouth drawn into a tight little smile. "You didn't think my expertise might come in handy? That perhaps I'd have some knowledge that would speed the process?" He looked at her, his gaze challenging.
Lydia's gaze became curious. "Do you?"
Giles sighed. "No. But that's beside the point. You should have called me immediately."
"I'm sorry, Rupert, but I fail to see why."
"Because I'm the senior Watcher, that's why! I should be included!"
"Hey, Giles," Faith said, "we weren't keeping you from it or anything. We just thought you could use the extra sleep."
"The senior Watcher?!" Lydia exploded.
Faith rolled her eyes. So much for playing peace keeper. She went back to counting the money, and wished those two would just do each other already and get it over with. The tension between them wasn't doing anybody any good.
"That's right," Giles said, laying his cane on the counter and crossing his arms.
"You --" Lydia stopped, took a breath. She continued, her voice tight, controlled. "You are Buffy's Watcher. She is out of town. Faith is here, and I am her Watcher."
"For now."
"Yes, well. That may be true." Lydia crossed her arms. "But for now, I'm the one you're dealing with." Her lower lip jutted out a little. Not quite a pout, but she was obviously hurt. "I suppose you wouldn't be having this reaction if it were Mr. Harris in charge."
"No, I wouldn't," Giles said matter-of-factly. "That's because Xander would have called me."
Lydia looked at him in disbelief. Then she shook her head. "Sorry, Rupert. But unlike Xander, or any of the rest of these children you've gathered 'round you, I'm not in desperate need of your approval. I suggest you accept that and let me do my job. Now either help or stay out of my way." She turned her back on him and sat down at the table.
Giles just stared at her, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. Then he shook his head, grabbed up his cane, and went around the table to face her. "Listen here! I'll remind you that this is my shop, and I'll --"
Lydia stood up. "You'll what?"
The bell over the door rang. "Customer!" Faith shouted. Then, "Oh my God."
Anderson hobbled through the door. His shirtsleeves were shredded, and so were his arms. Blood trickled from a small gash on his forehead. The way he clutched his ribs and favored his right foot, Faith figured he was probably sporting some broken bones too.
"A little help here?" he asked.
Faith leapt over the counter and ran over to support him. "What the hell happened to you?"
"Uh ... caught the newest Claymation special up close and personal."
Lydia joined Faith to help him over to a chair while Giles disappeared into the back room. "You saw the creature?" she asked him.
"Yeah ... you know about it already?" He sucked air in through his teeth as they eased him into the chair.
"We only knew that something was in town," Lydia said, her voice rising with excitement, "but we didn't know what. This is just the break we needed."
"Hey!" Faith snapped. "My boyfriend just got put through a Cuisinart! You call that a lucky break?"
"Of course not," Lydia said. "I didn't mean --"
"I look that bad, huh?" Anderson held his arms out to examine them.
"You look like hell," Faith said, picking glass out of his hair.
"You have looked better," Giles said as he arrived with the first aid kit. Faith snatched it from him and knelt in front of Anderson. Giles stood back and scrutinized him. "We should take you to the hospital."
"What, for this? Trust me, I've had worse." He flinched as Faith ran an alcohol swab over his cuts. "Damn, baby! That stings!"
"Sorry!" Faith blew on it. "Better?"
He relaxed. "Yeah. Thanks."
"So, this creature," Lydia asked, "it has claws?"
"Naw," Anderson said. "Not that I saw. It was like a huge man made outta mud or something. Damn near choked me with the stuff. I had to jump out a window to get away from it." He looked down at Faith and smiled sheepishly. "Prob'ly shoulda opened the window first, huh?"
"Duh, Bonehead." She rose up and looked at the gash on his forehead. "That's probably gonna swell. Maybe you should go see a doctor."
Anderson waved a dismissive hand at the suggestion. "Feels like I cracked a rib ... and my ankle's twisted. Nothing some Ace bandages and a mess of butterfly Band-Aids won't fix."
"Where did you encounter the creature?" Lydia asked.
"Couple blocks down the street, just past the coffee shop. It'd just finished up killing a guy. Body's in an upstairs apartment. Look for the one with the broken window and the busted out door."
"Faith," Lydia began, but Faith was already on her feet.
"I'm on it."
Anderson grabbed her hand. He looked up at her, his nonchalance gone, his face imploring. "Be careful. That thing is strong. It'll take something a hell of a lot bigger'n a stake to hurt it."
"Got it," Faith said, starting for the weapons cabinet. He didn't let go of her hand. She grinned. "Don't worry. I won't do anything stupid." She pulled her hand out of his and touched his face, then bent down and gave him a quick kiss. "See you later." She grabbed a sword out of the cabinet, then headed for the exit.
"Oh, hey!" Anderson called. Faith turned back around and waited. "If you see a dog, one of them little Jack Russells? Think you can bring him back here? I think the dead guy was his owner."
Faith just looked at him. "You're kidding, right? Some guy dies, and you're all worried about his dog?" She shook her head. "Jesus, you're a sap."
He flashed her that crooked little grin of his, the slightly bashful one that always melted her heart. "You love me that way and you know it."
"Yeah," Faith said, returning his grin.
"Anyway," he said, "pup saved my life."
"Then puppy gets the full-on hero treatment," Faith said. She looked around at Giles and Lydia and suddenly realized she was on the verge of acting all schmoopy in front of people. She'd better bail. "Take care of him," she told Giles, and went out the door.
***
Lydia returned from the reference section, grimoires stacked high in her arms. The morning’s research had been spectacularly fruitless. Hundreds of potentially useful texts awaited her perusal and she had no clue where to start. She had an entire stack of volumes for demons that killed via some kind of secretion, though she had yet to find one that secreted materials for a pottery class. That business with the hand regeneration – that implied cellular homogeneity, didn’t it? And some sort of… control over one’s physical structure, if it could regrow hands at will. Pity that Anderson hadn’t noticed whether it had reintegrated the severed hand. That would make her search—
Slightly less impossible.
Well, perhaps she could follow one avenue of exploration, and put Rupert on the other. That way, they wouldn’t waste time covering the same ground. She assumed that he was currently following his own line of research, though she’d given him wide berth after his recent fit of pique. Still, time to combine efforts. She grabbed the top volume off the “secretor” pile, and plastered on a bright smile.
Giles sat at the table, legs crossed, ankle on knee, sipping from a paper cup and engrossed in the Sunnydale Press. Lydia’s smile wilted.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“The crossword.” Giles looked up from the newspaper. “I’m sorry. Did you want my help? Sharpen your pencils? Pick up the dry cleaning? Get you a coffee?”
“Excuse me?”
“What did you say earlier? ‘Either help, or get out of my way’? You made it exceptionally clear that you neither wish nor require my assistance.” Giles stood up and tucked his folded newspaper under his arm. “As my Slayer is taking no part in this incipient debacle, and you were so kind as to bring said absence to my attention, I’m off to get myself a tuna melt.”
Lydia fought to retain a hold on her temper. “Well, of course your help would be welcome, Rupert.”
“Really? I would think my doddering senility and pathetic grasping for approval would be rather a hindrance.”
“Don’t be obtuse,” Lydia snapped.
“Oh, lovely. Further insults,” Giles replied. “Obviously not a believer in that catch-more-flies-with-honey folderol.”
Lydia gritted her teeth and set her glasses on the counter. “Look. We’ve had a series of grisly murders. There could be – most likely will be – more. Do you really plan to boycott this investigation because you got your feelings hurt?”
“Feelings?” Giles spluttered. “And of course, your actions are completely rational. Fine. Here are my feelings: I resent being kept in ignorance merely because you feel the need, on your return to London, to show you’ve accomplished more than a nice, even tan.”
“No, you resent feeling threatened by the fact that I’m not kneeling in subservience to let you take over my job!” Lydia picked up a book off the counter, then changed her mind and slammed it back down. “I knew you were prone to unorthodoxy in your methods, and that the previous Watcher was hampered significantly by your meddling and undercutting. But I didn’t think you’d be such a – ”
“Well?” Giles crossed his arms, glaring.
“Such an utter shit!”
Giles stared at her in disbelief. Then he grabbed his cane, pivoted on one heel and headed towards the door. For a fraction of a second Lydia was glad to see him go. Then sanity set in.
“Wait!” she called.
He didn’t even slow down.
“Mr. Giles. Rupert.” Lydia chased after him, following halfway to the door. “I could very much use your assistance.”
He stopped with one hand on the doorknob and slowly turned to face her: one eyebrow lifted, lips slightly pursed as though he were sucking on a hard candy.
She wouldn’t grovel. “Please.” Or perhaps she would grovel.
Giles took another long look at her: measuring something, gauging something in her expression. She was an instant away from telling him to sod off, rampaging monster be damned, when he came to some decision. He gave her a sharp nod, headed back into the shop, tossed his paper on the table and pulled a legal pad out from under the counter.
“I take it you’re having no luck identifying this specific demon,” he said, already taking notes.
“You take correctly.” She rolled her eyes. “Let me guess: you already know it.”
“Haven’t a clue.” Giles grinned, suddenly looking like a twelve year-old schoolboy. “So let’s assess the thing’s methodology: we don’t necessarily need to know its name to kill it.”
“Right.” She caught his enthusiasm. “If we can ascertain its objective, we can—”
“Head it off at the pass.” A flicker of chagrin crossed Giles’s face. “I have become rather Americanized, haven’t I?”
Lydia sat down at the computer to pull up police reports, and Giles stood over her shoulder. They took some time reading the files, familiarizing themselves with case details.
“Well,” Lydia started, “In chronological order, we have two homicide suspects, the murder victim’s mother, her best friend, and a retired policeman. There have also been, at last count, eight sightings of this thing on the street. And in each case the creature appeared to ignore the witness in question.”
“This thing is picking its targets.” Giles stared at the screen over her shoulder. “Any links between the policeman and the other four deaths?”
Lydia tapped a few keys. “None that I can ascertain. He retired last year.”
“Hold on a moment,” Giles said. “The police reports state that the first two victims – Ms. DeChelle Blumenfeld, and Mr…?”
“Michael Turner.”
“Thank you. Were under investigation for the murder of her husband, but that the case against the two was circumstantial. What if we presume that Ms. Blumenfeld had, in fact, murdered this woman’s son? Could this man’s mother have called a demon to wreak vengeance on her son’s killers?”
“That would explain the first two killings, yes.” Lydia said, looking up at Giles. She snapped her fingers, making a connection. “It’s also not unprecedented for a demon to kill its summoners.”
“Yes, frequently,” Giles answered. “But I’m not sure that’s the case here. The time of death indicates that those murders occurred after the deaths of Ms. Blumenfeld and her paramour.”
“Which indicates that something altered between the time the creature left, and when it returned.” Lydia’s eyes widened. “They had become complicit in a murder.”
“This demon is functioning according to the parameters of its original instructions, seeking out killers—”
“And those who hire killers,” she added. “DeChelle Blumenfeld had an alibi for the time of the murder, but the police think she paid that other fellow to do the job for her.”
He continued. “And killing them.”
“Right.” Lydia smiled up at Giles. “Also, there’s a record of a receipt from the Magic Box, and a check for the same total written from Jan Blumenfeld to her friend Trudi.”
Giles held up a finger, enjoying the connections made, the way the pieces finally came together. “And when money had exchanged hands between the two women – one would presume after the demon had completed its intended mission – the two summoners became targets.”
“Wait. No.” Lydia brought up the policeman’s record. “An officer of the law isn’t a murderer. He wouldn’t fit the—oh.”
“What?” Giles asked.
“He killed someone. In the line of duty. Shot two men holding hostages during a bank robbery, though he’d already been injured. He received multiple commendations for it.” She rubbed her temples, exhausted and disheartened. “This monster killed a hero.”
After a moment, Giles cleared his throat. “So this thing is killing anyone who’s ever killed someone, whether it’s legally considered murder or no. Lovely. We have to stop it before it chooses its next target.”
“It has its next target,” Lydia said. “It attacked Anderson.”
“He doesn’t fit the parameters,” he protested. “Oh, God. As far as we know.”
They looked at each other.
“We need to call Faith,” Giles said.
He grabbed the phone near the cash register and started dialing. Lydia, full of nervous energy, paced in front of the counter. Something caught her attention; she picked up the paper on the table, to figure out what it was.
“Faith, it’s Giles,” she heard him say.
The crossword puzzle that Giles had hunched over so intently was blank. He hadn’t filled in a letter.
***
The thing had been gone by the time she got to the latest victim's apartment. A search of the place hadn't turned up any useful clues. Just the dead guy, and more of that pink mud. Faith had felt bad for the old man as she looked around his apartment. Seeing pictures of him in his uniform, she'd remembered him from the training camp, right before the battle. A shadowbox on the wall held his badge and some other memorabilia, and a plaque that said he'd just retired after 35 years of service in the Sunnydale P.D. With honors. Wasn't that a kick in the head? The guy'd survived that long as a cop on the Hellmouth, made it through the war, was a decorated hero. Then some B-movie monster comes along and shoves a mudpack down his throat, and that's all she wrote.
Faith sighed as she turned into the entrance of the Ocean View housing addition -- which, she noted, was a totally bullshit name for the place -- and watched the signs for Beach Lane. She fought the urge to call Anderson and check on him. He was probably conked out on painkillers by now anyway, curled up in bed with his new best friend.
The dog had been hiding under the cop's chair, shivering and covering his eyes with his paws. The sight of him had broken Faith's heart. Okay, so maybe she was also a sap. She'd coaxed him out and calmed him down, then found his leash and took him back to the shop. Lydia had called Grant to tell him about the attack, and he'd given her the addresses of the other crime scenes. Faith had taken Anderson home, then borrowed his truck to check them out.
The alley behind the Fish Tank didn't tell her anything new. She was beginning to wonder if maybe she'd missed some clue, something that Buffy would've picked up by now. She was beginning to wonder if this whole thing would've even gone down if Buffy had been there. But Buffy wasn't there. Supergirl had left Wonder Woman in charge -- No. More like the Huntress was parading around in Batgirl's suit again, holding down the fort until the real heroes arrived to save the day. But they had their own problems, and weren't coming this time. This time, she had to make the costume fit.
Faith found the street, then the house. She pulled up to the curb and parked. A squad car sat in the driveway. She thought better of taking the sword in with her. Most of the cops knew her, but if she ran into one of the new guys... well, she didn't feel like explaining why it was cool for her to be running around a closed crime scene carrying a katana blade.
As she got out of the truck, a uniform emerged from the squad car. Faith stopped and raised an eyebrow at him, looking him up and down. She tried to place where she knew him from: the war, training camp ... Sunnydale High. The face was an old acquaintance, but the uniform was new. "Aren't you a little short for a Stormtrooper?"
Jonathan blushed, but bobbed his head and smiled. "Good one."
She pointed at the house. "Okay if I look around?"
"Yeah, of course!" Jonathan ran ahead of her and took down the crime scene tape. "Detective Grant sent me over. Thought maybe you could use a hand."
"Thoughtful of him," Faith said as she brushed past him into the house.
"Yeah," Jonathan said, following her. "Well, I'm also supposed to make sure you don't touch anything."
Faith spun to look at him.
He gave her an apologetic shrug. "Crime scene folks haven't been here yet. They're kinda backed up."
Faith gave him a curt smile. "Sure. Whatever." She turned back around. Stupid police procedures. How was she supposed to find anything this way? It's not like Mudboy was gonna stand trial for this.
"Um ... they were killed back here." Jonathan walked past her and paused, like he expected her to follow. "In the kitchen. It's, um ... it's kinda messy."
She let him lead her into the kitchen. It was messy all right. Blood and mud, dried and caked all over the place. She stepped in something squishy, and looked at the bottom of her shoe.
Jonathan bent over to look at it, too. "What do you think that is?"
"Kinda looks like brains," she said, as idly as if it were chewing gum. She glanced up at Jonathan, who put his hand over his mouth and ran to the sink. Faith put her foot down and shook her head, torn between pity and amusement. She decided to go with the former. "Relax, Officer Levinson." She strode over to the sink and patted him on the back as he dry-heaved over the basin. Faith wrinkled her nose. "You know, you're gonna hafta get a stronger stomach if you're gonna make it as a cop in this town."
Jonathan splashed water on his face. As he turned off the faucet, Faith gasped. "Dude! You touched the sink!"
Jonathan straightened up and looked at her, misery all over his face. "Sometimes this job really sucks."
Faith smiled, nodding her head in sympathy. "Tell me something I don't know." She stuck her hands in her back pockets and looked around some more. A little hallway off of the kitchen led to a door that stood slightly ajar. "What's in there?"
Jonathan shrugged, then crept toward the door. He unholstered his gun, and suddenly Faith feared for her life. "Hey, put it away, Dirty Harry. Just follow my lead, okay?"
Jonathan looked back and forth between her and the door, then smiled sheepishly and did what she said. "Sorry. I'm a little jumpy."
She gave him a "no shit" look as she moved past him to the door. She stood in front of it for a second, then raised a boot and kicked it open. The door slammed into the wall, but nothing else happened.
"What do you--"
"Sh!" She peered down the stairs, and listened. Slowed her breathing. Concentrated.
Nothing. Not that her Spidey-sense could detect, at any rate.
"It's cool." She started down the stairs. "Stay behind me."
Jonathan obeyed. "What do you think's down here?"
Faith shrugged. "Washing machine, water heater ... or, an empty sarcophagus with freaky symbols carved all over it," she added as she reached the bottom of the stairs.
Jonathan passed her and walked around the enormous coffin. "It's Hebrew," he said, pointing at the symbols.
"You can read it?"
He studied the markings for a minute, but shook his head. "Sorry. I kinda forgot most of what I learned in Hebrew school."
Faith looked around the room. Burnt candles, some red powder spilled on the floor, and a wicked looking dagger resting on the edge of the coffin. "Some kinda mojo went down here." She picked up the knife. Pinkish clay coated the tip. "I'm guessing this is where the thing came from."
"Hey, what's that?" Jonathan knelt down and picked up a slip of paper next to her foot. Another one of those symbols was drawn on it. "I know this," he said. "It's a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Aleph."
"What's it mean?"
"Nothing by itself. It's just the first --"
Faith's phone rang and cut him off. She pulled it out and flipped it open. "Yeah?"
"Faith, it's Giles."
She grinned. "Hey G, I got lucky. I think the two old ladies made this thing."
A pause. Then, "Yes. We had surmised as much. It fits the pattern."
"Pattern?"
"Yes. That's why I called. It seems that our creature is targeting specific people. Hired killers, and those who hired them."
Faith shook her head, then remembered Giles couldn't see her. "No, that doesn't work. You can't tell me that cop was a hired gun."
"Well, in a sense he was. Hired by the city. He was forced to kill twice during his career. It seems this monster makes no distinction between that and a paid assassin. And Faith ..." Giles's voice tightened. "You must be extremely careful in dealing with this creature. This pattern ... it sets you up as a potential target."
"Yeah." Faith's grin faded. "I get that. But it went after Anderson. What'd he ever ... Oh. Oh shit."
"Pardon?"
"Giles, I gotta go." She hung up on him, then speed-dialed Anderson's number. "Come on," she urged as it rang. The machine picked up. "Anderson, are you there? Wake up." Nothing. "Damn it, Anderson! Wake up!" Still nothing. Faith sighed. "That thing's coming for you. If you get this, get out of there. I'm on my way."
She ran up the stairs. Jonathan followed her. "Is there anything I can do?"
"Yeah." She handed him the knife. "Get this to the Magic Box, tell Giles what we found. And ... wait. Jonathan, have you ever killed anybody? Since you became a cop?"
"I've only ever killed vampires."
"Good. You'll be safe."
"What do you mean --"
"Just get this stuff to Giles. And tell him I went to Anderson's."
Without waiting for a reply, she leapt off the front porch and ran to the truck. As she peeled away from the curb, she prayed she wasn't already too late.

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