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Date Posted: 17:42:24 05/25/04 Tue
Author: Lark
Subject: Part II Re: The tale is re-told -- and the gauntlet is thrown again...
In reply to: Lark 's message, "The tale is re-told -- and the gauntlet is thrown again..." on 17:38:46 05/25/04 Tue

The sky was considerably lighter when a yawning Sara stepped out of the station and headed down to the Krispy Kreme donut shop two blocks away to purchase a round of coffees. It had been frustrating, to say the least, and disturbing, not finding that head. A forensics preliminary pointed to the body having been flayed: Sara had been lectured in pedantic fashion by a young officer on the site who apparently had a forensics minor in college. To Sara's annoyance, he gathered quite a crowd to listen, and had grabbed her to stand beside him to demonstrate various cutting motions to his audience, wrapping one arm around her waist companionably all the while discussing the pain she would be feeling if she had been the victim. To Jake's amusement, after the young man finished his grisly descriptions, and before the entire group, he complimented Sara on her firm waistline, and then asked her out! Sara politely declined.

Vicki Po had the body downstairs, now, and she was humming away as she chopped it up further. Sara had Jake writing up the report—she honey-talked him into it, but he truly was a better typist—except she couldn't leave, not yet, too many things were unknown, there were too many holes to fill, and she felt a need to root them out. She offered him coffee by way of apology, but the truth was, she needed air.

No, she realized, the missing head made this case weird, and when things were weird—well, the truth was, she was hoping to meet Nottingham.

All the way down the street, she was sure he would pop up, and Sara became positively jumpy, looking for him in the shadows of the quiet dawn. Nearing the shop, she saw two cruisers with motors running while their drivers were inside picking up breakfast, and inside, five uniforms and two other detectives—George Koslowski, salt-n-pepper hair its usual rats-ness mess, and his partner, Danielle Granger—were in line. Sara hesitated at the door, still peering down the street, and nearly leaped out of her skin as Nottingham's hand covered hers on the door handle. His face was bruised, and his eyes—well, if she didn't know any better, she would swear he was terrified. He, too, peered down the street for a moment, but then he opened the door for her, and waved her in ahead of him. Gesturing to a table in a corner for her to sit down, he approached the counter himself, purchasing two coffees before he joined her.

Sipping the hot black liquid, Sara looked at him expectantly, but he was silent, eyes characteristically downcast; the other coffee before him remained untouched. Koslowski and Granger waved as they left, and one of the cruisers outside was replaced by another. Nottingham hunkered down, his eyes furtively darting around, noting the comings and goings around him, but still, he said nothing.

Impulsively, Sara reached out her hand to touch his gloved one on the table, and was shocked as he raised tear-filled eyes to look at her.

**************

Gabriel Bowman’s left eye cracked open into the early dawn’s light spilling from a high window onto the worn, somewhat dusty Persian carpet that covered the hardwood floor directly to the side of his bed. In the sun’s ray, the air in the room took on a visible consistency; tiny motes of dust and who-knew-what-else whorling and spinning like lazy dervishes in thick honey. Watching their slowed, floating progress, he was forced to admit—Yep, his head definitely hurt.

Looking away from the sunlight into a darker corner to orient himself and keep whatever was in his stomach mercifully still, he saw his turtleneck from the night before, spiked on one of the tines of his devo-garde coat rack, fashioned reminiscent of several halberds roped into a giant metal sheaf. The violence that had staked the knitted sweater there had also caused the bottom three rows of knitting to unravel, the yarn’s end falling almost to the floor.

He noticed the squeal of his shower at about the same time the memory of the sweater’s punishment the night before spilled from wherever it had been hiding back into his conscious mind. He could say he was going to kill Sly all he wanted. He knew he wouldn’t. Besides, after last night’s paid lecture on vampyre lore and counter-talismans (which he was pretty sure went very badly), it had been he (not Sly) who returned home with a ‘tortured creature of the night’ groupie on his arm.

Not that Kaeris had been such a bad date—or nocturnal partner, for that matter—but she had been a groupie. And he had sworn off groupie sleepovers. Or at least he had meant to.

Now, the morning after, he was faced with the familiar dread such encounters engendered. He wasn’t a ‘dark’ guy, after all. He didn’t shun daylight or children or flowers or life for that matter. Talismaniac was his business, and in a way his hobby—but not his credo. And ‘the morning after’ always seemed to bring that into the light in a way death and darkness obsessed girls like Kaeris never seemed to care for.

The squeal of the shower ceased and he heard the stall’s door fall closed.

Leaning up on his elbow, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand and yawning, he looked around. Seemed like she’d taken her multi-layered dark clothes in with her, even her shoes and nettled hose. Always puzzling, he thought, the sudden modesty of dawn.

The door opened into the room. But the woman that stepped through was not the woman he had brought home the night before. Gone was Stevie Nicks couture, gone the abundant silver jewelry, gone the piercings (he had thought they were real), and gone the heavy whiteface and midnight black hair.

He sputtered at the strawberry blonde woman before him, sputtered further to notice her freckles. “Kaeris?” he asked the air between them. “You—you’re—“

“Oh, please don’t,” she asked him, stuffing the protruding toe of last night’s granny boot shoe deeper into the shoulder bag she was carrying. The bag that perfectly matched her bright, Pucci A-line skirt and vintage go-go boots. “I just came to say I’ll see you around. Gotta go, though,” she shrugged. “I’ve got an early call.”

“But,” he continued to sputter,” you’re—you’re Kaerista.” He struggled to recover from the revelation. He’d spent last night not with the Goth groupie he had gone home with, he’d spent it with one of the world’s top international supermodels. And she was standing here, in his doorway. He smiled like an absolute idiot.

“You have freckles,” he proclaimed, in his shock unable to rise from the bed.

“And you have a hangover,” she smiled back. “Take something,” she gestured to some packets of herbal remedies she had left beside the bed. He recognized the wrappings from a store in Chinatown he liked to frequent himself.

“Thanks,” he said, acknowledging them. “I, uh, don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything,” she suggested, consulting her Palm Pilot. “Tomorrow night I’ve got a soiree to attend for the Boucher Agency at the Met. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

“But—I—” he was going to say he wasn’t invited.

Kaerista—THE Kaerista, coveted by men planet-wide, envied by women of every creed and color—turned with a slow smile and left his house.

A string of curse words rattled through Gabriel’s head, trailing just behind his headache. If only he could remember more about last night he might actually know if there was anything in his mind, or his heart—and not his pants—that wanted to see her again. As it was, he had rather more the feeling that he had endured drinking a knock-out potion and just woke, rather than having spent the night in a beautiful woman’s arms.

He had some sorting out of last night to do. Eyeing the herbal remedies she had left for him, he stood from his bed and walked to the medicine cabinet in the bathroom, the mirror still wet with condensation from Kaeris’ shower, a towel somewhat worse for wear (she had rinsed the black out of her hair, staining it) hung over the shower door’s top. Opening to the cabinet behind the slick mirror, he grabbed for his trusty aspirin and filled his hand with water from the tap to swallow the dosage down.

Probably a good idea to call Sly.

In the other room his clock radio switched on, as programmed, and he heard the morning’s headline loud and clear. “Police are reporting a body found last night in Central Park. Although as of yet unidentified, the body has been confirmed to be female, late to mid twenties. And get this,” the DJ on the alt. station crowed, “seems the young lady lost her head. That’s right folks, straight outta Highlander. Seriously,” he said, clearing his throat, “’lotta bad junk out there, kids, take care of yourself—and if you have any information on what happened, or even any suspicions, the 11th is ready to take your call.”

Weird killing, freakish M.O., Gabriel thought. Yeah, he gave it about two hours before Pezzini knocked on his door. He just hoped his head would be clear enough by then to sort out his own late night before assisting Pezzini with hers.

**************

Slinking along the sidewalk like a mangy dog, Orlinsky followed a half-step behind his equal/opposite, Dante, who walked like the frickin’ Emperor. Bruno glanced briefly at the donut shop (Jerry really hoped they’d stop in, he was in serious exhaustion mode after this latest all-nighter), but he continued toward the station, a sardonic smile now on his lips after seeing Pezzini with that brain-washed idiot Irons kept on a short leash. Orlinsky panted behind him, trying to keep up, but Dante kept his stride.

Across the street from the station, Dante abruptly stopped and Orlinsky nearly bumped into him. There was nothing unusual he could see, the cruisers were in and out, uniforms were back and forth, a few guys waved, one or two glared in his direction, but something was off; something was up, and he was sure it would somehow wind up tied to the events of the last six hours.

Orlinsky’s smoke-damaged voice insinuated into Bruno’s thoughts, “Think Cousin It was sent to reconnoiter with the nosy broad?” Dante slid his eyes at Orlinsky, pursed his lips for a moment, and nodded. “So… damage control, yes?” Again, the affirmative. Orlinsky nodded assent, and headed around the corner to the station garage, while Bruno, ever-confident, strode into the domain that would be his one day quite soon—if Joe Siri would just get off his lazy ass and admit defeat.

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