Title: Like Father, Like Son
Authors: Pat and Michelle Weakley
~*~Chapter One ~*~
Connor curled into a tight ball. The stomach cramps were getting worse. They were always bad at night, but tonight was the worst yet. During the day, the pain though always there, would lessen enough so that he could pretend that everything was normal. It was at night that the cramps were so bad that he would find himself staring at the ceiling until it began to turn pink with the coming of dawn.
It was useless to stay in bed anymore. After putting on some pants he crept out of his room and through the darkened hallway. Everyone was asleep, except for Angel, but he was quiet, doing whatever he does in the dead of the night. Even though they had come to accept Connor's presence and he had come to grudgingly accept them, he would never become one of them. Even if he wanted to.
His wandering led him to the hotel's large kitchen. The thin moonlight streaming through a high window gave him just enough light to see his way around the stainless steel appliances and cabinets. Opening a cabinet door, he rummaged through boxes of cereal and canisters of Cordelia's diet drink power. Finally he found her secret stash of M & M's and took a large handful of them. He ate them one by one, wondering why the brunette actress was so blissful about eating the things or anything else that was chocolate for that matter.
Deciding that the little bits of chocolate did nothing to ease the pain in his belly, he opened the refrigerator door. For a few moments he stood transfixed by the bright light coming out of the opened door. He had never realized how bright it was. It took a few minutes until he could see clearly again. There were several bottles of soda in it plus some limp carrots. Connor lifted the lid of a dish and found in there something covered in green velvet that looked half alive. He experimentally sniffed it, then with a grimace of distaste tossed it back into the refrigerator.
Connor noticed several bottles of Angel's blood supply, a reminder of the vampire's unnatural needs. Gross, he thought, How could anyone ever consider drinking the stuff? In his eyes Angel was not even a true man. He was monster masquerading as a human being. Even though he was of Angel's blood, he could never consider the man as his father. He would never call him father with affection.
Nothing looked even remotely appetizing except for a package of hamburger meat. He had seen Gunn cook up large patties of the meat, transforming it into a massive sandwich that was nearly too tall to bite into. If the vampire hunter could do it, Connor figured, so could he. He found a small frying pan and lit a fire on the industrial size stove. Imitating Gunn, Connor formed a large patty and threw it into the pan where it began sizzling.
With a disgusted grimace, Connor noticed his hands were sticky with a cold layer of fat from the hamburger. He automatically started to wipe his hands on his pants when he remembered Cordelia lecturing him about it. As if she was standing next to him, he could hear her say, "Ewww, don't do that! That's nasty and totally gross."
He groaned looking at the mess on his hands. He had to do something about it. There weren't any towels around, or any paper towels either. With an exasperated sigh he headed for the sink. Unthinkingly he licked a finger. It didn't taste half bad. He licked another finger and another until he had licked them all clean. Still unconcerned, he washed his hands in the sink until they were completely clean.
Returning to the stove, Connor flipped the hamburger with a spatula onto its other side. It didn't seem to be cooking fast enough. He raised the heat, but it still wasn't cooking fast enough. Connor pressed the hamburger with the spatula impatiently, watching the pink juices run out of the cooking meat. Gunn had told him before that a hamburger was done when the juice came out clear. Connor was starting to get hungry. Very hungry. He couldn't wait anymore. He hungrily grabbed at the hot meat. It was very hot and barely cooked inside. He didn't care. It tasted very good. The knots in his belly began to slowly loosen.
Then the half-cooked hamburger was all gone. There was only the raw meat in the package. Too hungry to cook the remaining meat, Connor grabbed a chunk and ate it. He was surprised to find that it tasted better uncooked. Hungrily, he ate it handful after handful until the package was completely empty. The pain in his belly was nearly gone, but he was still hungry. In fact he was even hungrier than he was before.
He slammed open the refrigerator. There had to be more meat in there. He needed meat. There was none. The bottles filled with blood called him. He could feel his own blood respond to that siren call. His ears roared with a dizzying rush of hunger. The blood was such a beautiful shade of red. It was so very, very lovely. So very tempting. His mouth was watering with desire. He grabbed the nearest bottle, guzzling down its contents without taking a breath. It tasted so good. Never had he tasted anything so sweet, so wonderful. The pain was gone. Never had his head felt so clear. Never in his life had he felt so alive and powerful.
The blood was cold and there was an odd tang to it. An unnatural tang. Something in his own blood told him that it was not quite right. Pigs' blood, not human, of course. Angel in his self-imposed denial refused to drink human blood even if it was stolen from a blood bank instead of a living throat.
"Connor? Are you okay?" Fred asked from behind him.
Connor spun, wiping the blood from his lips with the back of his hand. She was so pale in the light from the refrigerator. Curly brown hair tumbled down her slender shoulders. She looked frail and helpless despite the thick robe she clasped close to her throat. He could hear her heartbeat. He could hear it beating wildly with fear. He could hear the blood rushing through her veins. Warm blood. Hot blood. Living blood. Connor leapt at the girl.
Fred screamed, the feral light in his eyes frightening her. Yellow eyes and fangs that gleamed against blood stained lips.
Connor grabbed Fred's hair, turning her head back, exposing her white throat. The blood was very close there. He could feel its heat. He could almost taste it.
"Connor! What the hell is going on?" Gunn roared, rushing for the boy.
Connor looked up at the tall black man, the light from the open refrigerator door shining on the man's shaved head. Glancing down in shock at the sobbing girl in his arms, Connor thought wildly, Oh, my God, what am I becoming?
Gunn's fist slammed into his face, sending him against the hot stove, spilling the hot fat in the pan onto the floor.
Slipping and sliding, Connor yelled at him, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to!"
Gunn grabbed at him, slipped on the fat and landed cursing with a heavy thud on the floor.
"Gunn! Connor!" Angel yelled.
Connor helplessly saw Angel standing in the open doorway with a horrified look on his face. The horror on Angel's face matching the horror the young man felt deep in his soul.
There was nowhere to go. Panicked, he spotted the open window. Connor chinned himself up to the window then smashed through it with his bare feet.
The window was too small for Angel to go through. He headed for the front door, trying to catch up with Connor. Gunn grabbed Angel's shoulder. "What the hell's is going on with that boy?" he demanded. "What kind of monster is he turning into?"
"I don't know," Angel shot back.
"He attacked Fred!" Gunn persisted. "He was drinking blood. He was going to bite her. You saw the fangs."
"Yeah, I saw the fangs," Angel bit out, angrily snatching Gunn's hand away from his shoulder. "We won't know a damn thing until I catch him." He glanced back at Fred who was shakily walking toward them. "Take care of her," he growled at Gunn. "I'll be back as soon as I can."
It was hopeless, Angel decided after several hours of frantically searching the neighborhood. The boy could be anywhere. He glanced up at the sky. The stars dimly seen through the LA smog were becoming even more dim as the eastern horizon began to lighten. It would be day soon. He had to get back now.
Fred greeted him as he wearily entered the front door. "How are you doing?" he asked her.
Fred nodded with a small, self-deprecating smile, "I'm okay. I was just frightened that's all. He didn't mean to hurt me."
"That didn't mean he wouldn't have. You saw those fangs. He's going Vamp on us," Gunn stated harshly to Angel.
"That might not be so," Fred said, trying to ease Gunn's worries. "His face wasn't all vampy looking, you know."
"Maybe so, but he still was going to bite you," Gunn replied, protectively wrapping his arms around the much smaller girl.
"Hey guys!" Cordelia said stepping through the open door carrying a large pink box in her hands. "Where's Connor? I got some donuts. I couldn't figure out what he likes so I got some chocolate covered, some cinnamon rolls and filled ones too. Now don't anybody touch the apple fritter. That one's mine."
Suddenly she noticed the grim looks on everyone's faces. "Uh guys. What's going on? Where's Connor?"
"Uh, Cordy," Angel said, drawing the brunette to the side, "We got a problem."
"He didn't run away again, did he?"
"Yeah, he did," Angel admitted reluctantly.
"I thought we finally had everything settled," she replied, "this sucks big time. How are we going to find him?"
"Well," Angel said slowly, "there's another problem."
"What problem? Other than a teenager on the loose, that is?"
"He attacked Fred."
"He was going to bite her."
"You're kidding. Right?"
Angel shook his head. "No."
"I think he's inherited a lot more than just vampire strength from Darla and me."
"I think he's hungry . . . "
"Hungry for . . . " she pressed impatiently.
"Uh . . . "
"I think he's developing a hunger for blood. Human blood."
"Oh, great. Now not only do we have a teenager on the loose, we got one who is hungry for blood. Great."
Cordelia looked over the shambles in the kitchen as she laid the donuts on the counter. "Jeez guys, did you have to make such a mess? Good grief." She spied the open canister of M&M's. "Great," she said with a frown, "He ate most of my M&M's too."
Suddenly she dropped the canister, shattering the glass and spilling the remaining M&M's onto the floor. She pressed a hand to her forehead as her eyes fluttered wildly.
"Cordy, are you all right?" Angel asked, placing a concerned hand on her arm. Even though Cordelia's visions no longer left her incapacitated since she became half-demon, they still worried him.
"Yeah, I'm fine. I think I may have a clue where might be. Maybe," she said uncertainly. "I saw a man, tall, dressed in a long dark green overcoat. I can't see his face. I dunno, maybe there's a mask. I can't be sure. I wish these visions were a lot more direct. I don't know why the Powers That Be have to be all so mysterious anyway. Why can't they just tell you straight out what they mean . . . ?"
"Cordy . . . the vision . . . " Angel pressed.
"All right, all right," Cordelia replied testily. "I see this guy, no make it two guys, the other guy's all dressed in black. And there's this car. A big one. It looks kind of like a limo, only a little bit shorter. But it's real big. And it's black, but it looks kind of weird."
"What do you mean weird?"
"I dunno," she shot back, "it just looks weird that's all. It kind of has a grille that looks kind of like a Mercedes, but not like anyone that I've seen before. Did I say it's black?"
Angel nodded impatiently.
"Well, anyway, it's black. And yeah," she said with a puzzled frown. "I think it's firing out rockets. Now what kind of car fires out rockets?"
"I don't know," Angel said, as puzzled as she was. "Anything else? How does this relate to Connor?"
Cordelia shrugged. "I have no idea. It's just a feeling I have. I think he's in danger. Of course he's in danger, but I think there's something else. I think he is a danger."
Connor glared up at the sky. He had never seen a place where it rained so much. The trip from L.A. had been exhausting. He traveled most of the way by jumping trains. Sometimes when he was lucky, he'd catch a ride. When he was unlucky, he walked. He didn't have any destination in mind, just away from Angel and L.A. Now he was in this miserable city on the Great Lakes.
The chill rain soaked him to the skin. The thin jacket he had stolen from somebody's clothesline didn't help at all. He huddled closer to the grimy brick wall. It, at least it cut off a little bit on the wind that snatched and caught at him. Never before had he been so miserable. Even when he had lived in Quor-toth he had at least had a sense of being in his own element. Holtz had trained him very well to survive in that demon dimension. Holtz had been the closest thing he had known to a father. Now he was dead. Connor still could not believe that Justine had killed him.
Having nowhere to go after Holtz's death, Connor had grudgingly gone to live with Angel, even though he refused to acknowledge him as his true father. Now he didn't even have that doubtful refuge. He was all alone for the first time of his short life. Squeezing his eyes shut, Connor sank miserably to the wet ground.
Despite himself he could feel hot tears fill his eyes. He never had a mother. No one who had loved him as a mother. His mother had killed herself so that he could be born. Why did he have to be born? "Mother . . . " he half-sobbed, half-whispered.
"You okay?" came a soft voice as a slender hand grasped his shoulder.
Connor started at the touch. A pretty girl was looking down at him. She was dressed in a leather-look jacket that was far too large for her thin frame. Her hands were buried in the long sleeves of the jacket. Short hair curled damply around her ears and down the back of her neck to the collar of the jacket. She smiled encouragingly. "You need some help?" she asked shyly.
Connor shook his head. "Nobody can help me."
"Maybe I can."
He shook his head again. "No, you can't help me. Nobody can."
"I can try. Give me a chance."
"No. I'm hopeless. I'm a monster."
She gave a short laugh. "You don't look like a monster. In fact, I think you're kinda cute."
Connor turned his head away from her. "You don't know what you're dealing with," he gritted through his teeth.
The girl touched his shoulder again, "C'mon, it can't be that bad."
"No, it's worse," Connor shot back at her forcefully, turning back at her, his eyes flashing yellow in the dim light, exposing his fangs.
The girl reared back startled. "Oh my god," she whispered.
"See," he shouted at her as he rose to his feet, "This is the real me. I'm a horrible monster. Run away before I hurt you."
The girl stepped cautiously up to him. "Do you really want to hurt me?" she asked.
Suddenly deflated, Connor hung his head. "No," he said barely above a whisper.
The girl walked up to him. She pressed a warm, dry hand against his face, caressing it. "I've seen worse monsters than you," she said wistfully.
Connor glanced into her eyes.
She gave him a soft, sad smile, "Not all monsters are ugly on the outside. Take my father, for instance, he was a lot worse than you."
At Connor's confused look, she said, "Come with me, and I'll tell you all about it."
Angel glared over Fred's shoulder as she scrolled through the police files on her computer. "Have you turned up anything yet?"
"Nope," she replied, "I wish we had Wesley helping. Maybe he could find something."
"Don't even mention his name," Angel angrily snapped.
"Sorry," Fred said meekly.
The closing of the front door and the sound of footsteps caught Angel's attention. He ran to the front door. "Connor," he said hopefully.
"Oh, it's you," he said disappointedly, seeing the green-skinned demon nattily dressed in a purple suit standing in the hotel's lobby.
"Well, great, that's the way to greet a long lost friend who has some information you might need. But if that's the way you're going to act, I'll leave right now," Loren said as he turned back towards the door.
"Hold it right there, Loren," Angel bit out, "What the hell are you talking about?"
Loren shrugged. "I just thought you might be in interested in some information about your little lost lamb."
"Tell me. Now."
Loren again shrugged, "It's just that there's this guy who's been wanting to see you. I thought you might be interested."
"So he tells me."
"Where is he?"
"Just out the door."
"Then let him in," Angel said sharply through a forced smile.
Loren opened the door, "It's cool, man, c'mon in."
A slender dread-locked black man slouched into the hotel's lobby. He glanced at Angel, making a peace sign. "Peace to the world, mon," he said in a heavy Jamaican accent. He removed his dark sunglasses and looked around the lobby with an approving nod. "Nice digs, mon," he said turning to face Angel with a broad white-toothed grin.
Angel was startled to find that the man's eyes were totally black. Looking into his eyes was like falling into eternity.
"Uh, Angel, sweetheart, I think you better come back to us, now," echoed Loren's voice, pulling Angel away from the bottomless well of the Jamaican's eyes.
"Yeah, right," Angel finally said after a few more brief moments.
"This here's Jimmy Sears. He's been asking around for you."
Jimmy replaced his sunglasses, then extended his hand. "Nice to meet you, mon. I hear good things about you. Some people call you the Champion."
"Thanks. Loren says you've been looking for me?"
"That I have. I hear your son has disappeared."
"He has. Do you know where he is?"
"Yeah, I think he's up near around Detroit City. There's a bad scene happening around there."
"What do you mean?"
Jimmy made himself comfortable on the large circular couch in the middle of the lobby. "Have you ever wondered why there aren't demons and vampires all over the world? After all there's only one Slayer. Why hasn't the world been taken over by all these nasty types?" Jimmy leaned back, warming to his tale. "I'll tell you why. It's like there's this kind of magical magnet. Demons and stuff are attracted to certain places where there's lots of this mystical energy. In these places the barriers between the dimensions are very thin. You know, like L.A., Sunnydale. Some places have a lot, most places don't. That's good. Problem is, things change. Your boy is at the center of a really big change that's a comin'. It can be for good, or it can be for bad. It all depends on him."
"So what do I need to do?" Angel asked.
"Well, there's one more thing you gotta know. In this here city there's a hero. He goes by the name of Green Hornet. Most people think he's some kind of criminal. He ain't though. So you gotta work with him to save your kid. 'Cause if you don't, there's this vampire chick who's quite fond of the idea of a second hell mouth in the good ol' USA. And your boy's gonna be one who's gonna open it. That is if he turns to the dark side. You know like that Darth Vader dude."
"So I have to go to Detroit and find this Green Hornet guy."
"That's about right, mon," Jimmy said rising to his feet and heading for the door.
"But how will I find him?"
Removing his sunglasses, Jimmy turned to face Angel, with a broad delighted grin, he said, "Don't worry, mon. He'll find you."
The girl led Connor several blocks down the street until they came to an old building that used to be an auto repair shop.
"Come on. This way," she said sliding aside a board that was hanging by a nail. Inside was a large open area that used to be the shop's repair bays. An old refrigerator hummed in a corner and in front of a battered couch was a new television set and a large expensive sound system. Scattered around the area were some mattresses covered with worn blankets.
After guiding Connor to the couch, the girl pulled some beers from the refrigerator. "The guys will back soon," she said handing him one of the beers.
Connor took the can, opened it, and took a short swig. Then with a grimace of distaste set it on the floor. "Guys?" he asked.
"Yeah, there's about six of us," she answered, settling down onto the sway-backed couch. "There's Pike, Chelsea, Kyle, Castor and Pollux," she said, ticking off the names on her fingers. She held her hand out to Connor, "By the way, my name's Constance. What's yours?" she asked.
"Nice to meet 'cha, Connor," she said, shaking his hand.
"So you all live here together?" asked.
"Are you all runaways?"
Constance nodded. "Yeah, one way or the other we either got kicked out or got tired of the way we were livin'. Take Pike, for instance. His old man was one of these super authoritarian types. He wanted to send Pike to military school because he thought that would straighten him out. Pike had other ideas and ran off. When his father found him, he beat him so bad he wound up in the hospital. As soon as he could, Pike ran off again and wound up here.
"Kyle got tired of his parents fighting all the time. They couldn't stand each other, but they figured that it was 'better for the children' to stay together. He finally got tired of the whole scene and split.
"Now Chelsea. She never knew her old man. Her mom was on like her sixth or seventh man when she was born. And then this last guy found out that he preferred Chelsea to her old lady. So Chelsea's mom got jealous and kicked her out of the house.
"My story's kind of like that, except it was my own daddy. He told me he loved me and that we had to keep it secret so as to not hurt my mother's feelings. Then he started on my kid sister and hurt her real bad." A grim look appeared on Constance's face, "He's in Hell now, but I figured I'd better take off anyway. I didn't like the idea of being sent to Juvie or being 'counseled'."
Connor nodded his understanding. "And Castor and Pollux?"
Constance smiled. "You'll find out when you meet them."
"Hi Constance! How's it hangin' baby?" yelled a young Hispanic man with slicked back hair as he entered the room. Four others followed him in.
A tall girl with her black hair exploding from her head in multicolored spikes took in Connor 's spare form with a raising of an eyebrow. "So you found yourself another stray," she commented, snapping big bubble gum bubbles as she spoke. "Cute," she added approvingly.
A white-blonde boy nodded his agreement with a broad grin, "I think he's perfectly lovely," he murmured as he seductively lowered his long brown lashes.
"Fresh," pouted another young man who was as dark as the other was pale. He playfully swatted the blond boy, "Can't you see you're scaring the child?"
"You're just jealous, dear. Besides, you know my heart only belongs to you," replied the pale boy as he blew a kiss at the dark one.
Connor stepped away from the pair with a doubtful look on his face, "Uh," he stammered.
"That's Castor and Pollux," Constance explained to him. "You can see why they had to run away."
Connor shook his head, not quite understanding.
"Oh," he responded still not fully understanding how two men could be lovers. In Quor-toth he had never seen anything like it.
"My heavens, I do believe the boy has never seen fairies. How precious," said the pale one, Castor.
"Yeah, and my name's Pike," drawled the black-haired young man as he presented a hand to Connor. "You got a name, kid?" he asked as he possessively wrapped an arm around Constance's waist.
Constance pointedly removed Pike's arm, "His name's Connor. He just came in from L.A.. You know, the City of Angels," she explained.
"Hi Connor, welcome to Motown," said the last young man, "My name's Kyle," he said in a surprisingly soft voice that belied the bright orange-red spiked hair and metal studs scattered around his features. "I'm the brains of the group."
Connor shook his head, "I don't understand."
Kyle's smile widened. "I'm the magic man when it comes to computers. If you want to know something or don't want somebody to know something, I'm your man."
"So," Constance asked Pike, "Did you get lucky?"
"Nah," Pike answered. "They're gettin' wise to us. Most of them are heading for shelters as soon as the sun sets. I was thinking of heading for bum town near the swamps, but Kyle here, wanted to talk to you first."
"Bum town's not a good idea," Kyle said defensively, "There's too many of them. It might take too long and then we'd get caught by the cops," he explained.
Pike swaggered to the refrigerator, pulled out some beers and gave them to the others. He shook his head. "So that'd be a problem? How? We'd take them down too. No problem. It's not like we can die."
"Kyle's right," Constance said thoughtfully. "There'd be too much noise if we took some cops. It's one thing if we take out a few bums. Nobody gives a damn about some drunken loser, but a cop . . . They take that personal."
"So," Pike replied brashly, "What's the big deal?"
"I want to keep things quiet for a little longer. There are those who are able to stop us. If they get wind of what we're doing," she explained. She cast a quick glance at Connor. "But it won't be much longer now. I can promise you that."
Kato had just brought in a tray of coffee cups into the office of Britt Reid's townhouse when the chimes announcing Scanlon's arrival sounded.
"I'll get it," Britt said as he tilted selected books in the large bookcase set against a wall.
The fireplace, fire and all, rose, revealing the D.A. F.P. Scanlon standing in an elevator.
"You look tired, Frank," Britt said, greeting the district attorney.
With a nod of thanks, Frank received a cup of coffee from Kato as he tiredly lowered himself into a chair next to the fireplace. With a wry smile he watched the elevator platform rise as the fireplace settled back into place. "I don't think I'll ever get tired of your gadgets, Britt."
Taking his own cup of coffee, Britt settled into the chair across from Scanlon. Arms folded across his chest, Kato leaned against Britt's desk, listening alertly.
"So, what did you need to talk to me about?" Britt asked.
"There're things that have been happening lately that have been getting me worried," Scanlon began.
"What kind of things?" Britt asked.
"There've been a lot of mysterious deaths lately."
"I haven't heard about any mysterious deaths."
"The police have been keeping it quiet."
"Why? I would think if several people have been dying mysteriously, news of it would've leaked out. I can't imagine the victims' families staying quiet about it."
"Most of the victims have been homeless or street people. There's nobody who cares whether they're dead or not. The only way we know about it is when a beat officer finds a dead body."
"What's so strange about these deaths?" Britt asked.
"All of the bodies have been completely drained of blood."
Britt's eyes widened, as Kato leaned forward. "How?" Britt asked.
"Don't know. There's no sign of massive blood loss at any of the crime scenes. It just that there's no blood left in any of the bodies."
"Could it be that somebody's draining the victims and then dumping their bodies?"
"We've thought of that and are checking on it."
"But why would anybody do that?" Kato asked, puzzled.
"We have no idea," Frank responded tiredly.
"But there's something else, isn't there? Otherwise the police wouldn't be keeping it quiet," Britt guessed.
Frank nodded, "That's why I'm here." He contemplated the cooling coffee in his cup for a few moments. "You're both going to think that I'm nuts, but . . . "
"But what?" Britt pressed.
"Every one of those bodies look like they've been bitten by some kind of animal." The D.A. grimaced at his thoughts. "If I didn't know better I'd swear they look like they've been bitten by your classic vampire."
"Vampire? You think the city's homeless are being attacked by vampire bats?" Britt asked in disbelief.
Scanlon shook his head. "Not vampire bats. Vampires. You know the living dead. Dracula . . . "
"Now, Frank," Britt said, shaking his head, "You can't be serious. There's no such thing as vampires."
"You know that," Frank responded, "And I know that, but look at these pictures." He handed Britt a stack of photos from the inside pocket of his suit jacket. "Look at these and tell me what you think."
Britt shuffled through the pictures, the frown on his face deepening as he went through them. Then he handed them to Kato who also went through them. "What do you think?" Britt asked his valet.
"Looks like they were bitten by some kind of animal, but the marks are all wrong. It almost looks like a human bite, but the teeth . . . They're not right," he said, looking as puzzled as Britt and Scanlon when he handed the pictures back to the newspaper publisher.
"Looks like they were all bit in the neck," Britt commented.
"They were," Scanlon replied. "Right in the area of the jugular vein. In fact the M.E.'s thinking that's how they were bled. He calls it exsanguinated. We've sent pictures of the bites to animal experts all over the country. Nobody can identify them. Like Kato, they all say they look kind of like a weird human bite. Most of them think we were pulling their leg." Scanlon sighed. "I wish we were."
"So how can we help?" Britt asked.
"I want the Green Hornet to cruise around the city. Maybe he can spot something that the police haven't. Or maybe he might hear something through some of his contacts."
Britt nodded absently as he leaned back in his chair. "I can't say that chasing after vampires is really in the Green Hornet's realm of expertise, but it could be interesting. That is if we find something. Which I doubt. What do you think, Kato?"
Kato nodded his agreement. "I agree, but Mr. Reid . . . "
"The Green Hornet may be out of his depth in this one."
"C'mon, Kato. Surely you don't believe in all that supernatural mumbo jumbo, do you?"
Kato shrugged. "There have many tales about the undead or those who feast on the blood of the living. Not only those coming from Eastern Europe, but also in the Far East. I have even heard of stories of a girl who was supposed to have been trained by monks much like the Shao lin as a vampire slayer. If the creature or creatures committing these acts are truly vampires, we may not be able to handle them."
"I'm surprised to hear you admit that there's something you might not be able to handle," Britt said wryly.
Kato bowed his head humbly. "I am only a man, as is the Green Hornet," he reminded Britt. "As mere mortals we could not hope to deal with such creatures. At least not alone."
Dressed in a long midnight green overcoat, a matching snap brim hat and a dark green mask, the Green Hornet followed Kato down into the garage. Like the Green Hornet, Kato wore a mask that conformed comfortably to his features, but unlike the Hornet's, his mask was black. Kato had also changed from his valet's white jacket and black tie to a black chauffeur's uniform.
Despite Kato's concerns about handling supernatural creatures, the Green Hornet savored the anticipation of action. He also noticed that Kato's steps were light and confident. Whatever his reservations, he knew the oriental preferred a night's prowling to contemplating the could be's and what if's. Better to find out the truth, than guess.
Standing at the pegboard in the garage, Kato twisted the end of a socket wrench hanging there with a series of audible clicks. A small panel opened in the pegboard revealing several switches and buttons. He touched a switch and the bright over head lights dimmed to a soft green. A button was touched and rams sprouted from the front and rear corners of the fenders of Britt's beige convertible. Another button was pressed. Large clamps rose from the garage's floor and gripped the rams with a heavy thunk. Then Kato touched another button and beneath their feet they could hear the deep-throated thrum of a powerful motor.
The garage floor under the convertible began to tilt then completely rotate. The convertible disappeared, revealing the Green Hornet's rolling arsenal, the Black Beauty. Even just sitting there, its black flanks gleaming softly in the dim green light, the massive vehicle radiated menacing power. Huge, powerful, armed with rockets, gas jets, a flying spy camera; few dared to challenge the Black Beauty and fewer still ever survived an encounter with it.
With a slight smile barely betraying his eagerness, Kato quickly shut the secret panel and headed for the invitingly open driver's side door. With a slight nod of approval, the Green Hornet followed him, entering the rear passenger seat.
"Kato," the Green Hornet said, "Test the Hornet scanner."
Kato flipped the lid of the armrest to his right open revealing an assortment of buttons, switches and telltales. He flicked a switch. Out of the Black Beauty's rear deck rose the scanner. Shaped somewhat like a satellite, the flying television camera beeped its readiness.
"Scanner, check," Kato said.
"Good," the Green Hornet responded.
He reached into the weapons locker hidden in a panel next to him and pulled out an oddly shaped green gun that looked vaguely like a streamlined luger. Sliding aside a catch, he slipped out a fluid filled cartridge from the gun's base. Satisfied with the level of the fluid in it, he snapped the cartridge back and checked a gauge on the side. "Hornet gas gun, check," he said, slipping it into an inner pocket of his overcoat.
Next he pulled out a slender black cylinder that was banded on both ends with gold. He flipped aside the domed end, and a loud buzzing whine filled the air. Satisfied, the Green Hornet flipped it closed again. "Hornet Sting, check," he said.
The Green Hornet settled into his seat. They were ready. "Kato, Let's roll."
Ahead of them the rear of the garage door including a planter and an ivy espalier, rose. The Black Beauty rolled silently out onto the patio and through the backyard. She rolled quietly through a series of interconnected alleyways until she came to a blank brick wall. The wall rose in front of them. A billboard on the other end separated, allowing the mighty vehicle through. Behind them the man and woman on the billboard were reunited in a minty kiss. The Green Hornet and Kato were again out on the town.
"Where are we going?" Connor asked Constance.
"You'll see," she answered.
The rain had stopped and the sun had set although the day had been so dark and gloomy that it was hard to tell the difference. They could have been the only human beings in the city. Occasionally a car would splash by, but otherwise the streets were empty and the storefronts they passed were shuttered or boarded up.
Pike took a run at a beer can lying ahead of them, then with barking laugh kicked it flying into a light post. It ricocheted off into a wall and back to the sidewalk ahead of them with several more bounces. Kyle ran after the can and kicked it back to Pike who laughingly kicked it into another wall across the street.
Slipping her hand into his, Constance stood close to Connor as they watched Pike and Kyle kick the can around until it slammed into a storm drain and disappeared.
Whooping, Kyle crowed, raising his arms in victory, "Score! Another one for the home team!"
"How are you feeling?" Constance asked Connor.
"Okay," he said quietly.
"You're hurting, aren't you?" she asked.
"A little," he admitted.
"How long has it been since you last eaten?"
"I dunno," he answered, not wanting to admit that the last thing he had was a bottle of pigs' blood.
"Don't worry," she said, "We'll get something to eat real soon."
"I don't want anything," he denied. The unnaturalness of his hunger disgusted him down to his very soul.
"Nobody's going to be out in this weather," Chelsea groused.
"We could always try near the mission," Castor suggested, "they don't have a lot of beds and somebody's always hangin' around there lookin' for a handout from the do-gooders."
"No good," Chelsea said, "those missionaries have taken to handing out crosses. Everybody's wearing a cross out there. Yuck!" she spat out.
"How about dockside?" suggested Pollux, "Maybe we can catch some sailor or foreigner."
"Sounds good," said Kyle, as he and Pike caught up with them.
Pike frowned at Connor, noticing Constance's hand in his, "Who do you think you are?" he demanded angrily. "She's my girl."
Constance snorted, "I've never been your girl."
"Well, you sure acted like it," Pike growled.
"That's because I didn't have anything better to do at the time," she replied heatedly, pushing past Pike.
"How about me and him mix it up some. Maybe that'll show you who's the man around here."
Constance regarded Connor with a knowing look. "Forget it. Besides we gotta stick together, you know. We can't get to fighting each other. Okay?"
Pike looked he was going to say something, then changed his mind, "Okay, for now," he finally said.
They continued to walk the streets for another hour with no luck until they heard the slap of waves against wood. They had reached the end of the land. In the darkness, it was hard to tell where the sky ended and the lake began. Several ships laid moored at the docks. In a few of them lights glowed yellow in the damp air. Most though were dark hulks against the starless sky.
"Oughta find some luck here," Castor said hopefully.
"I hope so," Pollux answered plaintively as he affectionately brushed against his lover, "I'm hungry."
"We're all hungry," Pike growled at him. "Now just shut up," he added peevishly.
Loud laughter caught their attention. "Sounds like it came from around the corner," Chelsea said, leading away.
Ahead of them sandwiched between the blank windows of dark stores was a bar from which loud music and raucous laughter exploded every time the door was opened. Overhead a neon sign occasionally sputtered to life while in one small flyspecked window shone a yellow neon beer sign.
A pair of men lurched drunkenly out the door, slamming it loudly behind them.
"Food," Pike hissed.
Constance grabbed his arm. "No. Not them. No more than one at a time."
"Damn it. I'm sick and tired of your god damn rules. There's seven of us now. One just ain't going to cut it anymore. I'm god damn tired of sharing one," Pike growled at her.
"Only one," she insisted. "It won't be long now. Soon you can have as many as you want."
Pike angrily pulled from her grasp. "I go alone or you can come with. I don't give a damn." He ran after the lurching men.
"Pike!" Constance yelled after him.
"Pike's right," Chelsea said, looking hungrily after Pike, "One isn't enough." She ran to catch up with Pike. Kyle ran after her. After a few moments of indecision, Castor and Pollux followed at a run.
"Crap!" Constance screamed. "The goddamn freaking idiots! C'mon," she yelled at Connor.
"Idiots, idiots, idiots!" Constance muttered repeatedly under her breath as they ran to catch up with the others.
They found the rest of the gang in an alley, cornering the two drunks. However, the men no longer acted drunk. "Hold it!" demanded the taller of the two as he pulled out a gun and a shield, "Police! You're under arrest."
Pike laughed derisively, "Police. Big freakin' deal." He rounded on the man, slamming the shield out of his hand.
The gun went off, missing Pike, hitting Chelsea instead. Chelsea fell to the ground with an angry screech. To Connor's surprise, she got to her feet, uninjured.
"That freakin' hurts," she screamed at the stunned police officer. He fired again, twice more hitting her. She rose to her feet again. "I said that freakin' hurts," she screamed at him, grabbing the gun out of his hands. Suddenly her face transformed into the demonic appearance of a vampire. The man's screams were drowned in her growls as she bit into his throat.
Feeling shocked and betrayed, Connor turned on Constance, "You're all vampires," he yelled at her.
Behind him he could hear the other officer scream repeatedly into a radio above Pike's taunting laughter, "Officer down! Officer down! Officer down!"
"Yeah, and so are you," she shot back to him.
"No, I'm not," he insisted heatedly. All the while he felt the blood hunger sing in his head.
"Yes, you are. You just can't admit yet," she countered. "You can feel it. You want to feed just like the rest of us. Admit it!"
"No! I have a soul," he shot back to her. "I'll never be like you. You're all unnatural monsters."
"Monsters. Don't you know yet that we're all monsters? Having a soul doesn't stop somebody from being a monster. Hell, the world's filled with monsters with souls. We're no worst than any other of them. Maybe we're even better. We only want blood. We only want to survive. Who cares if the world's short another person or two?"
Connor looked around at the others. Pike had finished feeding and was watching with a satiated grin as Castor and Pollux took turns feeding on their victim.
"Constance, you want some?" Chelsea asked, holding her man with his head bent back, exposing his naked throat. "Kyle and me's done."
"Yeah," Constance said, shooting a challenging look at as her face turned vampiric. "So what you gonna do? Stake me or feed?" she challenged.
She grabbed the man and began to feed. Then she looked at Connor, "You're hungry. You can feel it in your belly. You know this is what you are. Don't fight it. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Join me. Be a part of us."
Connor shuddered. He remembered Holtz's frenzied ranting during the entire time they were in Quor-toth. He remembered the man damning Angel and all vampires with every breath he took. Holtz had dedicated his life to making the boy a master vampire hunter and the boy had learned his lessons well. He had to. Every day, every moment in that evil place was struggle to survive.
Then he learned that he had been ripped from his true home, and brought to Quor-toth by Holtz, a place no child should ever have to experience. The man he had thought his father had turned out to be a monster and the man he had thought a monster was his true father. Now he was discovering that he himself was all that he had been raised to loathe.
"What'll it be, Connor?" Constance pressed. Her lips gleamed redly with her helpless victim's blood.
Connor wanted to turn away. He wanted to turn it all back. He wished he had never been born.
"Connor." Not a question. A demand.
He was hurting so badly. The cramps in his belly were returning with more force than they ever had been before. He could smell the blood. He could hear Castor and Pollux sucking the life of the man they feasted upon. He could hear the ragged breathing of the man in Constance's arms. One could almost think that it was a lover's embrace. Except for the blood. The red, warm blood. Living, human blood. Blood that flowed with every heartbeat.
Connor trembled. He couldn't turn away even though he desperately wanted to. His own blood pounded in his ears. His heart slammed against his chest as the hunger made a red mist before his eyes. He could think of nothing else but the blood and his hunger.
Then he could taste it. He found himself beside Constance, feeding as she watched him with approval in her yellow, feral vampire eyes. "Feed, Connor, feed and know what it is be the hunter of men," she whispered seductively.
He rose from his feeding, and looked into the eyes of his victim. No fear, no panic. There was only the resigned acceptance of death. He could feel the man's heart slow. There was little blood left to keep it beating.
"Hold it!" demanded an authoritative voice.
Connor felt something sharp bite into his arm. Surprised he dropped the man. He growled at the figures standing at the mouth of the alleyway. One man was tall, dressed in a dark overcoat and hat. The other, much shorter, dressed in a chauffeur's uniform, crouched at the ready beside the tall man. Connor glanced down to see a green-stripped dart imbedded in his arm. He swept it away, annoyed at its stinging pain.
"Damn," he heard Constance curse, "It's the Green Hornet."
"Good," Pike answered, "I've always wanted to take him on." Pike charged at the Green Hornet.
Yowling like a catamount, Kato met his charge low, his hand a knife edge into his belly. Pike folded in double. A chop to his neck sent him to the ground in a cursing heap. The Green Hornet rushed in from behind Kato, meeting Kyle in mid-leap, slamming the butt of the Hornet sting against his head. Kyle landed on his feet, more wary of the masked man. He circled the Green Hornet waiting for an opening.
Chelsea jumped the Green Hornet, wrapping her arms around his neck in a choke hold, angling for his jugular. "Dinnertime," she hissed into his ear.
"I'm gonna drain you, you freakin' bastard," Pike screamed angrily as he got to his feet. As a vampire, he was far stronger than Kato, but draining helpless bums had given him no fighting skills. Grabbing up a discarded piece of two-by-four, he swung it at Kato. A blur in the dark alleyway, Kato's hands flew, shredding the wood into kindling. A high kick sent Pike flying across the alleyway into Castor and Pollux who huddled together in panic. Those two were lovers, not fighters.
The Green Hornet bent, throwing Chelsea to the ground. Kyle charged him, trying to drag him to the ground. The Green Hornet threw a fist into his stomach and an uppercut sent him skidding alongside Chelsea.
"No, Connor," Constance said sharply as she grabbed his arm, stopping him from joining the fight. "Not yet."
"But . . . " Connor protested.
"Listen," she replied.
Above the sounds of battle he could hear the thin wail of police sirens.
"They're going to come in shooting. We can't be killed by bullets, but you can," Constance explained. "Kyle, Chelsea. Let's split," she ordered. Castor and Pollux had already disappeared. "Pike!" she called, "Let's get the Hell out of here!" she ordered.
"Like Hell," he called back, charging again for Kato.
Kato held a broken piece of the two-by-four in front of him to break Pike's charge. Pike was moving too fast. He found himself impaled on the impromptu stake.
He looked into the startled oriental's black eyes, as surprised he was. "Damn," Pike said as he turned to dust.
The police sirens were becoming earsplitting.
Kato turned to the Green Hornet. "He turned to dust," he said in shock. "What are we dealing with?" he asked.
"I don't know," the Green Hornet replied as he bent down to touch the dust that had been Pike.
"Should we follow them?" Kato asked.
The Green Hornet shook his head. "The police are getting too close. Besides, do you really want to?"
Kato sighed. "Not really," he admitted reluctantly.
"Same here," the Green Hornet said in agreement. "At least not until we know what we're up against."
Kato quickly ran for the Black Beauty. It was time to leave. It was almost past the time to leave. The Green Hornet, still not believing what he had seen turned to follow, then a movement caught his eye. A stray flash of light, perhaps a trick of reflection from the lights of the nearing police cars briefly illuminated a man hidden in the shadows near the mouth of the alley. For a moment their eyes locked.
The man was dressed a long black coat. The coat, unbuttoned, showed him to be slender and tall. His brown hair was slightly spiked. His eyes, also brown, met the Green Hornet's pale green. They showed a depth of grief that the masked man had never known was possible. Then the man was gone, disappearing in the shadows.
Barely in time the Green Hornet and Kato reached the Black Beauty. Police cars screeched to a halt near the alley as the Black Beauty peeled away from the curb. A police officer exploded out of his car, firing at the big car as it swept by. The bullets popped against its bullet proof hide harmlessly. A pair of oncoming police cars swerved out of its way. One of them u-turned with protesting tires in the narrow street, bumping half on and half off the sidewalk, narrowly missing a light pole.
The police band radio in the Black Beauty was going wild with reports from units coming in from all corners of the city.
Kato risked a glance back at the pursuing police car. "We got to lose them, boss," he said tightly.
Ahead of them a train was entering a crossing. The crossing guard was down and the crossing lights were flashing wildly. The crossing's clanging was drowned out by the siren of the police car behind them.
"Think you can make it?" the Green Hornet challenged.
"No problem," Kato answered confidently. He pressed on the gas pedal, sending it down to the floorboards. The Black Beauty roared ahead. It slammed into and through the cross guard. For a moment the world was nothing a whirlwind of sirens, train claxons, and flashing lights.
Then there was silence. The train was behind them, leading a long line of cars to its destination. Somewhere on the other side a pair of police officers were cursing their frustration.
At a more sedate pace the Black Beauty wound its way through the darkest and emptiest streets until it found its way home.
Britt smiled appreciatively as Lenore Case came into his office. Even dressed in a business-like pink Chanel suit and with her red-gold hair piled up into a French twist, she was a pleasure to watch. Paperwork was one his least favorite things to do at the Daily Sentinel, but watching Casey walk into his office was one of his favorites.
Although careful to maintain the appearance of a strictly professional relationship, Casey cared for the big blue-green eyed newspaperman and her return smile showed it. "Mr. Reid, Mr. Scanlon is here to talk to you."
Tossing aside his pen as he leaned back into his chair, Britt answered, "Good, show him in. And Miss Case, please stay."
"Yes, Mr. Reid," she responded.
Britt greeted the D.A., "How are you doing, Frank?"
Scanlon settled into a chair in front of Britt's desk as Miss Case took one near Britt, "Okay, all things considered."
"Did either police officer survive?" Britt asked.
"Only one, the other was dead when the police arrived. Like all the others he was completely drained of blood."
Britt nodded. "I'm sorry about that. How's the surviving officer?"
"Still uncertain, as far as I know. The doctors don't know what kind of shape he'll be in even if he does live. He lost a lot of blood. They're worried about brain damage. And even if the damage isn't as bad as they're worried about, they don't know what kind of mental shape he'll be in. After all being drained of your blood by some kind of freak is mighty traumatic."
Britt grimaced, "Is the current feeling still that the Green Hornet is involved?"
"'fraid so," Scanlon answered, "Nobody got a good look at the attackers you saw. All they really saw was the Green Hornet."
"Bad enough to have every major crime laid at the Green Hornet's doorstep. Now to be blamed for sucking the blood out of cops . . . " Britt shook his head in frustration.
Changing the subject he continued, "Were you able to find anything on that black '68 Plymouth GTX convertible Kato and I saw at that crime scene?" he asked.
"Well, we might have hit pay dirt there."
"Oh? How so?"
Scanlon removed his glasses so he could read the notes from the pad he had pulled from his jacket pocket. "We got a good I.D. from that license plate number you gave me," he prefaced. "The car belongs to a private investigator from L.A. by the name of a Mr. Angel. No first name, just Angel. He meets your description; brown hair, brown eyes, around six foot, 175 more or less."
"Get anything on his reputation in L.A.?" Britt asked.
Scanlon nodded, "I knew you'd want to know, so I checked around with some of my contacts in the L.A. police force. Most of them don't think very much of him. He was involved in something unfortunate with a lady detective. Nobody will talk about it, except she really had it in for him. Then there was a problem with drinking and then she left town very suddenly."
"Doesn't sound good," Britt said thoughtfully.
"Gets worse, or should I say weirder?" Scanlon continued.
"He, or rather, his agency, Angel Investigations, has a reputation for dealing with the supernatural. You know, if you're having problems with a demon, you call them for help. Of course that being La La Land, what else would you expect?"
"Except that would tie in with what Kato and I saw," Britt said, "Those were definitely not your normal run of the mill kids. I could almost believe that they were vampires."
Scanlon studied Britt for a few moments. "You sure they weren't wearing masks? They can make them pretty good these days, you know."
Britt shook his head. "I'm positive. Besides I saw these creatures actually in the act of draining the blood from two helpless men. It's not something you can make a mistake seeing." He grew very grim. "I don't think I'll ever forget what I saw," he said with an involuntary shudder. "It's something that haunts your nightmares. What was worse was that kid. He had the face of a choirboy, but his eyes were yellow like a demon's and he had fangs. I can still see his face covered with that officer's blood."
He noticed that Casey had wrapped her arms around herself and that her eyes were shuttered in terror, even though it was second-hand. "I'm sorry, Casey, I didn't mean to be that graphic."
"It's all right," she answered, still looking frightened. "It's just that if it bothers you . . . "
Britt gathered himself. "Do you have a number for that Angel guy?" he asked Scanlon.
"Sure," Frank said. He made a copy of the number in his notes and handed it to Britt.
"Casey," Britt said, as he moved out his chair and pressed on the speaker phone on his desk, "I want you to call this number and find out if this Mr. Angel is here." He thought for a moment, then added, "Ask them if they're involved in a missing persons case."
Casey took his chair. "Missing persons?"
"Yes, ask them if they're looking for a kid. He's about 5'10", 120, 130, medium length brown hair, blue eyes, maybe around 15 or sixteen," he said describing the boy he had seen.
"Blue eyes?" Casey asked, "I thought you said his eyes were yellow."
"Now that you mention it, I think I do remember his eyes changing to blue just before he ran off with the rest of those kids," Britt explained.
"Why do you think they might be looking for him, instead of one of the others? Or looking for anybody at all?" Scanlon asked.
Britt shrugged, "I don't know. Intuition, maybe. I think the others are far too gone along whatever path they're taking. But that boy . . . Despite what I saw, something tells me there's some hope for him yet. Maybe if somebody can get to him in time."
Continuing thoughtfully, Britt said, "The look on that man's face... if he was this Angel fellow . . . there was so much grief . . . like the grief that a man might feel for his son. My gut tells me those two are connected."
While Britt leaned over her shoulder, Casey dialed the number that the D.A. had written down. A woman's voice answered the phone. "Angel Investigations. We help the Helpless. How may I help you? Cordelia Chase speaking."
Casey introduced herself and where she was calling from, then continued, "One of our people at the Daily Sentinel spotted a boy," she explained, then gave the description Britt had given her, "We had word that your agency might be involved in a case involving somebody matching that description."
They could hear Cordelia's barely restrained excitement over the speaker phone. "We certainly have. How is he doing? Do you know where he is?" she asked eagerly.
Casey shot a questioning look at Britt who mouthed a reply then nodded. She said into the phone, "Unfortunately we don't know where he currently is. He was only seen for a few minutes. He does seem to be doing well, but he's mixed in with a bad group of young people."
"Oh, fudge," Cordelia responded unhappily.
"Perhaps if we could talk to Mr. Angel, we might be able to arrange a way for us to be able to help you," Casey suggested.
"He's not here right now. If fact he's in your city right now. I could give you his phone number or I could have him call you."
"Would you be able give me his phone number and where he's staying? That way we can contact him," Casey answered.
Cordelia gave Casey the phone number and the name of the hotel where Angel was staying. Then Casey asked, "Can you tell us anything about the boy's background. Anything that might help us if we happen to see him before we can contact Mr. Angel."
For a few moments there was silence on the other line, finally, reluctantly Cordelia said, "His name is Connor. He's Angel's son. They had a big fight and Connor ran away. Angel is very worried about him. We're all very worried about him," Cordelia admitted, her worry coming plainly across the distance. "We'd really appreciate anything you can do for us."
After saying goodbye, Casey turned to Britt. "No wonder why they are so worried," she said. "I feel sorry for his father. It must be terrible to have your own son run away."
"I'm just wondering about what kind of man this boy's father is," Britt answered thoughtfully as he began to pace, "I wonder if that boy became the way he is when he came here or is does it reflect something else. I wonder what kind of man, or maybe I should say, creature, is this Mr. Angel."
Angel headed back to the hotel he was staying at after another fruitless night of searching for Connor and the gang he seemed to be hanging around with. He had searched the area where he had last seen them as thoroughly as he could. Unfortunately the cops were everywhere. The death of one of their men and the maiming of another had made them suspicious of every stranger they saw. The entire city felt like a powder keg ready to go off.
He glanced into his rear view mirror to see a large black car a few car lengths behind him. The car seemed to be keeping at a discreet distance, but he had a feeling it was tailing him. Once in awhile he could spot it under the light of a street lamp as they passed under it, but he couldn't see enough of it to know who it might belong to. It didn't have a light bar on top so it wasn't a police car. All he knew that it was very large and black. The Jamaican's words about the Green Hornet finding him echoed in his memory. He had seen the masked man fight the gang that Connor was with, but he still didn't know how he could be any help in getting Connor back.
Finally the traffic had thinned out so that they were the only cars around. The black car pulled forward then alongside him. The black masked chauffeur motioned for him to pull to the side of the road as the black car started crowding him toward the curb. Perversely, Angel decided he would test the masked man's intentions. He stomped down on the gas, shooting past the black car. The black car responded quickly, easily catching up with him. The driver glanced at him with a small confident smile. Angel pushed his gas pedal all the way down, but the black car easily kept pace with him. In fact it nosed slightly ahead him, showing that it still had plenty of power to go even though his own car was threatening to shake apart if he pushed it any further.
He spotted an intersection ahead. Suddenly he cranked on the wheel, sending his car fish tailing around the corner. Behind him he could hear the black car screech around the corner. Much heavier than his own car, Angel could see it rock dangerously before the driver brought it under control. Angel took another corner dangerously fast. He couldn't see the black car behind him, but he didn't count himself safe yet, knowing that it could reappear at any moment. Not sure that he could head for the hotel yet, he headed for the opposite part of town. He would have to find another place to spend the day until the sun had safely set.
After another hour of not seeing the black car, Angel decided to look for a place to stay. Unfortunately he was in a largely residential area with only a few scattered hotels that promised to be very pricey. However, he decided, at this point any refuge from the sun would be well worth the cost. Suddenly out of nowhere the big black car reappeared, heading straight for him. Angel jerked his car out of the way, sending it off the road and into a shallow ditch.
His face changing into vampire mode, Angel leaped out of his convertible, charging at the two masked men as they stepped out of their car. With a banshee cry, the black clad chauffeur met his attack. Angel dodged the man's flying leap, spun and side-kicked him. The chauffeur quickly recovered, turning his fall into a somersault that landed both of his feet in Angel's chest. Angel fell to the ground, rolled and pushed himself off toward the chauffeur, who dancingly sidestepped his charge. Angel blocked the man's chop toward his stomach, and tried to return it, but found his own blow quickly blocked. He tried again, only to find all of his jabs quickly repulsed, and that he was hard pressed to prevent any of his opponent's moves from making it through his defense. He was entirely on the defensive now.
Suddenly he felt something wet splash against his arm. It burned like acid. The chauffeur quickly took advantage and sent him to the ground with a powerful blow. Angel desperately tried to take off his damp shirt. Beneath it his flesh was sizzling painfully. Panting in pain, he barely noticed that the chauffeur had pulled back. The tall man was watching him grimly as he placed a stopper into a clear glass bottle.
"The priest thought I was kidding when I told him I needed some holy water to fight a vampire," the man said. "That's what you are, aren't you?"
Angel nodded. Once rid of the shirt, the pain in his arm was starting to ease. "Yeah, I am," he admitted. "I take it you're the Green Hornet."
The Green Hornet nodded, "I am. I hear that you go by the name of Angel."
"That's my name," Angel replied. "What do you want?" he asked.
"What's your connection with that gang of vampires? That is what they are, aren't they?"
"That's none of your business," Angel bit out.
"Anything that happens in my city is my business," the Green Hornet snapped, "Especially when innocent people are being attacked by vicious monsters, and more especially since I'm being blamed for it."
Beyond the Green Hornet's car Angel could see the first rays of dawn. The Green Hornet noticed his gaze. "It's going to be morning soon," he said. "If the business about the holy water is true, I'm willing to bet that the sun is not going to do you a whole hell of a lot of good."
Gritting his teeth angrily, Angel remained stubbornly silent.
"We have all the time in the world," the Green Hornet said smoothly. "In fact I always enjoy the sunshine. Do you?"
"All right," Angel finally said, "We'll talk. Inside."
The Green Hornet glanced at Angel's car, "Can't imagine what would lead a man in your, ah, condition to drive a convertible."
"I guess I like taking risks," Angel replied.
The Green Hornet shrugged. "Looks like you're going to need a tow truck."
"Looks like it," Angel agreed.
"We'll talk in my car," the Green Hornet said, leading the way to the Black Beauty.
Angel noticed that the chauffeur had taken position behind him. He was more of a guard than an escort.
Once in the car, the Green Hornet asked, "Just how sensitive to the sun are you?"
"I can't take direct sun," Angel said. " Filtered light is tolerable, deep shade is better. During the day I prefer to stay inside with the shades closed. And before you ask, no, I don't spend the day sleeping in a coffin filled with dirt."
"I see, so do you drink blood?"
"Yes," Angel admitted reluctantly, "I have to. I can't live without it."
"No, animal blood, usually pigs' blood."
"Why not human? What makes you different? Or is that a choice all vampires can make?"
"It's a long story. Too long and involved to explain right now," Angel answered. Ahead of them he noticed uncomfortably that the sky was starting to turn pink with the rising sun. Even in a fully enclosed black car he was not relishing the coming of morning.
"We'll be at a place soon where you'll be able to spend the day safely," the Green Hornet said, noticing Angel's growing unease. "Until then I still have questions I want answers to. Like those kids. I asked you about them before, and I'm asking you again. What's your connection to them?"
"They have my son," Angel answered, trying to keep his voice as even as possible.
"Your son? That's the one that wasn't as . . . as deformed as the others, right?"
"Then is he a vampire too?"
"I don't know. It's complicated," Angel replied.
The Green Hornet frowned. "Everything appears complicated with you or involves a long story. How about you give me the short form?"
"Vampires are only created by another vampire. It's the whole undead thing. I'm 246 years old myself," Angel explained. "Being undead, vampires cannot have children. At least that's what everybody has always believed."
"But . . . " the Green Hornet pressed.
"That boy you saw is my true son. His mother was a vampire as well. That's supposed to be impossible."
"And yet he exists," the Green Hornet said.
"Yes. There was a prophecy about him, and he was kidnaped by somebody I thought was my friend. My son spent his childhood in a demon dimension raised by a madman who loathes vampires, especially me," Angel continued. "When he finally reappeared, all he wanted to do was kill me. That's changed, at least I think so. But I always thought, or maybe, I always prayed, that he had not been tainted by his vampire parentage. Now I see that it was a foolish hope."
"And now you're trying to bring him back home?"
"I hope that will be possible."
"And if it's not?"
"I may have to destroy him," Angel answered, his heart breaking.
While Angel was searching the city, Connor and Constance were watching an old apartment building burn. Although they were high on the roof of a neighboring building, they were so close that Connor could feel the heat on his face. Constance's eyes were bright in the reflected firelight.
"I always love fire," she said in an awed whisper. "It is so primal. It is the most powerful of all the forces of the universe. It cleanses everything it touches. Man thinks he has harnessed it, but he is fooling himself. It is always waiting. Always waiting for a chance to break free and destroy those who are foolish enough to try to contain it."
Constance leaned against Connor, remembering, "My father was the first one I took. I still remember the look on his face when he tried to hit me and I attacked him. I don't know whether he was more surprised that I resisted him, or that I had turned vampire. I can still taste his blood. It was so sweet and hot.
"The lamp had turned over and there were flames everywhere. I wanted to dance with those flames, but they wouldn't let me play with them." She paused. For a few moments the image of the house where she had sent a childhood of shame superimposed itself over the city spread out before them. Then she continued, "The air outside was so cold and the ground was so damp under my feet. I could hear my sister and mother screaming from inside. Then it was all over. Nothing was left but clean ashes. Everybody said it was so sad. That my father had been a good man. I left the next day and never went back."
A murmuring crowd had gathered in front of the building. People who had lived in it were crying for their lost homes and possessions as the firemen went about their business pouring water over the flames that licked at the building's dark brick.
A woman still dressed in a white waitress uniform burst through the crowd screaming, "David! David! Has anybody seen my husband?"
A policeman held her back before she could run into the building. "You don't understand. He's in there. He's in there with my baby. Oh my God," she cried out collapsing in the officer's arms. "My baby, my baby. Somebody do something! Save them," she pleaded with sobbing breaths.
The shapes of two men emerged out of the smoke that belched from the black hole of the apartment building's doorway. One of them was a fireman, looking like a knight of old, dressed in a heavy coat, helmet and breathing mask. He was supporting a man in ash-covered clothes, whose face was so sooted that it was impossible to tell if he was white or black. In his arms was a small blanket-covered shape.
The woman tore away from the policeman's grasp, "David!" she screamed as she ran to the man.
He wearily knelt to the ground releasing his burden. Dreamily, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon, a small boy pulled himself out of the blanket. "Mommy, Mommy," he cried reaching for his mother.
Together the small family huddled in each other's arms, protectively enveloping the little boy away from the night's terror. Behind them the building collapsed into itself. This night, at least, Fire had failed to claim a human life.
Constance studied Connor's face. "What are you thinking?" she asked.
"You said that the world is filled with monsters. Maybe, but maybe it's also filled with heroes," he answered thoughtfully. "That man risked his life to save his son. Those fireman were risking their lives for absolute strangers. There's a lot of evil around us, but maybe there is also a lot of good too."
Constance angrily rounded on Connor. "And do you honestly think you could be a hero?" she said bitterly. "Why do you think your old man hides in the shadows? For all the times he has saved this worthless ball of crap, those people down there, those people who you feel so much sympathy for would feed him to the fire if they knew him for what he really is. And they would do that to you too. Hell, what do you think your precious father will do when he finds out your true nature? Will he understand or will he try to destroy you?"
Connor shook his head. He remembered Gunn's reaction. Could any of them ever feel they could trust him? Could Fred? Could Angel?
"Why do you want to be so much like them, anway?" Constance asked. "You can be the greatest vampire in the world. You can be immortal. You can live forever, never growing old, never feeling the aches and pains of old age. The lives of those people down there are as brief as mayflies compared to us. We are the superior beings. All humankind are our prey. As it should be. Don't you understand?" she asked. "You're the Chosen One. That's why they all want to kill you. Even your father. He knows, they know, that if you're not stopped, you will rule the world. That is what they fear. Do you want to throw all that away just so you can try to fit in? You can't. You never will. They won't let you."
She clasped his face in her hands, searching his eyes. "Connor, I love you," she breathed as her face changed. "Join me," she whispered huskily as her lips met his.
Their passion spent, Constance and Connor walked arm and arm back to the lair. They looked nothing more than a pair of teenagers in love. Connor still wasn't sure what this was all leading up to. Constance made him forget his worries and his shame, but still a voice whispered in the back of his head. No matter how much he tried to ignore it, it was always there. Constance's presence most of the time could distract him, but not always. The voice said that there was something terribly wrong. Something that was horribly evil.
Constance leaned against his shoulder with a soft sigh, "Anything wrong?" she asked.
Connor shook his head. "No," he lied.
Ahead of them another man and woman were walking. The heavy set man was in his late 50's and was dressed in rumpled clothes and a battered hat. He was carrying a red gas can in his right hand. The woman, much younger than him, was trimly dressed in a pair of dress slacks and a light jacket. "Mike," she was saying, "I can't see how you managed to run out of gas."
"I'm sorry, Casey. I was meaning to get some gas, but when I got the word about the fire . . . "
Casey laughed. "Mike, you old war horse, what am I going to do with you?"
Mike shook his head. "I dunno, Casey, but don't tell Britt, will'ya? He wanted me to drive you home from the Sentinel so you'd be safe. And here I am dragging you through downtown looking for a gas station. What with those murders going on, Britt'd kill me if anything happened to you."
He paused and turned around with a puzzled frown. There was no one behind them. "Strange. I thought I heard somebody behind us."
Casey shook her head, as puzzled as he was. "I thought I did too," she said looking down the street.
"Oh, well," Mike sighed. "Maybe they went into one of them buildings."
"Maybe," Casey said unsurely.
Mike shrugged. "I think I see the lights from a 7-11 up ahead, maybe they'll have some gas pumps."
"I hope so," Casey answered, "and Mike?"
"Can we call a taxi?"
Mike gazed at her for a moment, noticing that she seemed disturbed. "Sure," he replied.
"What's going on?" Connor asked Constance as they watched Mike and Casey from the shadows of a nearby doorway.
"That woman, she's the one," Constance answered.
"Yes, her aura practically glows. I've never seen one so white and pure. She's perfect."
"Constance, you're not making any sense. What's an aura?" he asked.
"It's something that everybody has. It kind of reflects your life force. Most people can't see them, but I can."
"Do I have one?" he asked.
"What is it like?"
Constance tilted her head studying him. "It's a very nice bright one," she said, "It shows that you're healthy, strong, and, oh yeah, destined for greatness."
"Greatness," Connor said wryly, "Right . . . "
"No kiddin'," she answered, "Someday, maybe soon, you will be great."
Connor shook his head. "I'll believe it when I see it," he said.
"You will," Constance said confidently. She did not mention that in his aura the light warred with the dark. If it was up to her, the dark would win.
Constance looked at the thin claw of the moon overhead. It was so sharp that it could have made the thin shreds of clouds that whispered across it bleed. She gave him a secretive smile, "It's almost the dark of the moon. She's the one we need to make you the greatest vampire this world has ever seen." She folded her arms into Connor's. "C'mon, let's get back. I have some work for Kyle to do."
Connor and Constance found a gloomy pall hanging over the garage when they returned. Castor and Pollux were glumly watching the TV while Chelsea was in a world of her own, listening fixedly to the music blaring through the earphones that covered her ears. Hunched over a laptop computer, Kyle sat crossed legged on a flat mattress on the floor.
Constance walked directly over to Kyle and crouched down beside him. "You're just the man I'm looking for," she said.
Kyle looked up at her, "What do you want?" he asked.
"I want you to help me find somebody," she replied.
Castor and Pollux turned at the sound her voice and rose from the couch. Castor was taking the lead, but only because Pollux was pressing him forward. "Uh, Constance, we got to talk to you," he began.
"Can't it wait?" she asked sharply.
He shook his head, "No, it can't. Me and Pollux. We're going to leave."
"What?" Constance demanded.
"Things have gotten way out of hand. It was one thing if we took a bum or two once in a while, but now we're dealing with the cops, and worse, the Green Hornet. We can't handle that. We're splitting," he answered. Behind him Pollux nodded emphatically.
"Are you guys nuts? What did you think being a vampire involved? Milk and cookies?"
Castor shrugged uncomfortably, "I don't know. We didn't really want to hurt anybody. It's just that Pollux was dying from AIDS and that was the only way I could think of saving his life."
Pollux nodded, "And I sired Castor because I couldn't face living forever all alone."
"I can't believe it," Constance said, "You guys are vampires. You know, the living dead. You're supposed to be demons. You're supposed to be evil. How can you two be such big wimps?"
"I don't know," Castor answered miserably. "Maybe we just aren't cut out to be vampires."
"So what are you planning to do about it? Do you think it's as simple as turning in your Union card?"
"Look guys, being a vampire is permanent until you get dusted. There's no other way out."
"Yeah, like Pike did," Chelsea added as she strode toward them.
"That's another thing," Pollux answered, "I thought that vampires were supposed to be real tough and nearly impossible to kill."
"Is that your problem?" Chelsea sneered, "You afraid to die?"
Pollux hung his head. "Yeah," he answered very softly.
Disgusted, Chelsea shook her head. "Talk about jellyfish. Pike was an idiot. Hell, he ran right into that stick. If he'd have used his head, he would've taken that guy."
Castor angrily rebutted, "I didn't see you doing so hot either."
"Yeah, at least I was fighting. Not hiding in the corner like you two. Ooohh," she said, opening her eyes wide while biting her knuckles, "Somebody save me. I'm sooo scared."
"Stop it, all of you!" Constance demanded angrily. "We're supposed to be a team here."
Chelsea snorted. "I didn't see you or Wonder Boy, here, pitching in either," she snapped back.
"Leave Connor out it," Constance warned.
"She's right. I should have fought," Conner broke in. " Pike would still be alive if I had. I'm the only experienced fighter here."
"Oh? And you think you're so special?" Chelsea sneered.
"I grew up fighting demons and monsters," he replied. "It takes a lot more than strength to fight somebody, especially those two. You called them Green Hornet and Kato?"
Chelsea nodded and shrugged.
"They are very skillful, experienced fighters. Especially the one in black. They're different from the drunks you have been killing. That was slaughter. Those men are warriors. You have to know how to fight if you want to defeat them," Connor explained.
"So if you're this big, tough fighter, why didn't you join in?" Chelsea demanded.
"Because I wouldn't let him," Constance said evenly through clenched teeth. "If you don't remember, there were carloads of cops coming. And while bullets only annoy you, they would kill him. Once the ceremony is done, Connor will be invincible and we, all of us, will be able to take whoever and whatever we want. And we won't have to worry about two mere mortals who hide behind masks and a fast car either."
"When will this ceremony be, anyway?"
"It will be soon as soon as Kyle gets me the information I need."
"What do you need?" Kyle asked, deciding that it was finally safe to say something.
Constance smiled at him. "Connor and I saw a woman while we were heading back here. She's the one we need for the ceremony. But we have to find her first."
"Why didn't you take her then?" Constance asked. "It would've been simpler," she added acidly.
"Because it's not time yet. If we took her too soon, there would be too much time for people to start looking for her. There are people besides this Green Hornet who could stop us if they found out what we were doing," she explained as though she was talking to an idiot child.
"So how are we going to find her?" Chelsea asked.
"Kyle," Constance said, turning to the spike haired young man, "You always said you could hack into anything. Let's see if you can get into the DMV and find out her address."
"Depends on what you got," he answered, already intrigued.
"Okay, the guy we saw kept on calling her Casey. I don't think that's her first name, so it must be her last," she began.
"Case. There's going to be too many in the city to go with just that. Do you have any idea of her first name?"
"No, but the man mentioned the name, Britt and a place called the Sentinel."
"That must be the Daily Sentinel," Kyle said thoughtfully as he connected to the Internet and opened a search page on his computer screen. "I think the boss' name is Britt Reid."
"Maybe she works for him," Constance said. "From the way they were talking, I think she's important to him."
Kyle's right eyebrow rose, "If she is, it's even more important that we don't take her until the last minute. That guy has juice in this city. If you think it's bad now after taking a pair of cops, wait until we take her."
He scrolled through a few pages. "I'm checking the local society news. If she's connected to Reid, she'll probably have been to some kind of party or event with him." He quickly ran through a few more pages. "Damn the guy has a taste for the blondes. Any of them look familiar?" he asked Constance and Connor.
They both shook their heads.
Then another page came up, one of a charity ball earlier in the year. "That's her," Connor said.
"Yeah," Constance agreed. "It says that her name's Lenore Case."
"Good, that gives me enough to work with," Kyle said as he closed that page and began another connection through his computer. "It's going to take me a few minutes to get into the DMV database. But not too long. Their last upgrade was the pits. They got security holes all over the place," he explained as a series of numbers and prompts came up on his screen. Finally he had what they wanted. "Here she is, Lenore Case," he said, then read off an address. "She's several blocks from here, but I think we can manage. I know a lot where we can 'borrow' a car and have it back before they even know it's gone."
Casey stepped out of the shower, humming as she dried off with a towel. Britt had spent practically every night roaming the city with Angel, but tonight he had promised her they would go out for an early evening dinner at Chez Marie's. After wrapping a heavy terry robe around her slim figure, Casey went through her closet. She found a long sleeveless sheath dress of pale spring green. Since the night was going to be cool, she also pulled out a thick wrap of white cashmere. She hung both things on the hook behind her bedroom door then started rummaging through the top shelf of the closet for the right purse.
Finally after finding a small one of gold lame, she checked it for the essentials of lipstick, compact, and a few clean tissues. At the bottom she found a small disk. It was a homing beeper that Britt had given her the last time she had used the purse. Absently slipping the bug into the pocket of her robe, she thought with a smile about the wild adventure that had all started with another dinner with the newspaperman.
Britt always seemed worried about involving her in his Green Hornet escapades, but she had never yet turned down a chance to help him. In a way, she had to admit to herself, she enjoyed it even if it did at times get dangerous.
A panicked banging on the front door broke through Casey's thoughts. She ran to the door and peeked through the peep hole. A frightened girl with short red hair stood trembling in the porch light. She banged on the door again, "Please," she pleaded through half-choked sobs, "Somebody, please help me. They're going to get me."
"What's happening?" Casey asked through the door.
"Please let me in," the girl begged, "Please help me." The girl turned away from the door, looking behind her, she screamed. "Help!"
Casey angled so that she could see more, but could see little more than shadows.
The girl banged on the door. "God, help me," she cried, "Help me."
Casey threw the door open. "Come in," she said hurriedly, pulling the girl in. She slammed the door closed, only to find a thick-booted foot stopping it. She turned helplessly to the red-haired girl.
"Sucker," Constance said as she turned a vampire grin on Casey.
The moment he arrived at Casey's place, Britt knew something was horribly wrong. Her front door gaped open, the light spilling out deceptively inviting. Inside it looked like a tornado had spun through in a maddening dash. Chairs were overturned and a lamp laid shattered on top of scattered books. Britt frowned. One of the books was lying open, with an Angel figurine sitting on top of it. In the midst of all the chaos, it looked oddly out of place. It was too neat. He picked up the book. It was Bram Stoker's Dracula. "Casey . . . " Britt said under his breath. He strode quickly for Casey's bedroom. If they were lucky . . .
The bedroom was untouched. Casey's evening dress and wrap still hung on the door. On her dressing table was the gold lame' purse, half opened, sitting next to it a compact and lipstick. Britt checked the purse, the beeper was gone.
Britt called his home. "Kato," he said tersely when his valet answered the phone, "They have Casey. Meet me at her place with Black Beauty."
Waiting impatiently for Kato, Britt wore a path in Casey's carpet as he paced back and forth. Finally he saw the long black car pull up. Without waiting for a greeting, he climbed into the car and began to put on the Green Hornet disguise.
"I called Angel. He'll be waiting for us at the hotel," he explained. "Casey has a tracking bug on her." He slid open the control panel behind the back seat and turned on the tracker. A slow beep filled the air.
"Why do we need him?" Kato asked, "We could waste valuable time going for him."
"We could waste even more valuable time if we don't. He is the only one who has experience with vampires and the like. I don't know for sure what we're heading into, but the more help we have, the better."
The garage was filled with activity as the gang was preparing for the ceremony. On the roof Kyle and Chelsea were removing the large pieces of plywood that had been covering the sky light. Inside, Castor and Pollux were busy cleaning. Constance was pulling open some boxes filled with magical paraphernalia. "Hi Connor," she said as he walked up to her. "Ready for the big night?" she asked.
"Yeah, sure," he said uncertainly.
She gave him an encouraging grin. "Don't worry, you'll do fine."
"Yeah, I'm sure I will."
"You still aren't sure about this, are you?" she asked rising to her feet.
"I guess I'm not," he replied.
She wrapped her arms around him and kissed him. He was first reluctant, but soon found himself responding to her passion. Before things could too far, she pulled away. She stroked his arms, "That's what I love about you. You don't have any pretensions. It's the ones who think they are all that who fail. You won't," she said.
Then she noted the bag in his hands. "What do you have?" she asked.
"I got something to eat for the lady. I thought she might be hungry," he answered.
"You don't have to worry about her. Soon she won't be hungry ever again."
Connor frowned at her meaning.
"Connor, sweetheart. We aren't going to harm her. You're going to be doing her a favor. You will be giving her the gift of eternal life. That's what most mortals want."
"I doubt she sees it that way."
"Not now, maybe, but she will thank you once you have granted her that greatest of gifts."
"But why her? She hasn't hurt anybody."
"That's why. Her goodness shines like a beacon. As your first she will give you the power to rule over all of us. That's the way it works," she explained as though it was the most natural thing in the world.
"Anyway," Connor said, "Can I bring this to her?"
"Sure," Constance answered. She pulled out a white robe from the box. "And while you're at it, why don't you give this to her. She should be properly dressed for the ritual."
In what used to be the garage's office Connor found Casey curled up on an old cot that had been shoved up against the far wall. She was holding something small in her hands which she hurriedly hid as he entered the room. He pretended not to notice.
"I have something for you to eat," he said, showing her the bag in his hands.
"I'm not hungry," she answered.
"I didn't think you would be," he said as he set the bag on a battered desk.
"I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry."
"Yeah. I didn't want things to turn out this way. Do you mind if I sit down?"
"Go ahead," Casey replied, making room for the young man.
For a few moments Connor sat next to her in an uncomfortable silence.
"What did you want to talk to me about?" she asked.
"I don't know. It all feels wrong, but I can't stop it. It's all out of my hands."
"You can always do something. I have a feeling this is all being done for you."
Connor nodded his agreement. "It's my destiny."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah," he said in a very soft voice.
Casey touched the locket that had slipped from inside Connor's shirt. "That's a very nice locket," she said gently.
"Yeah, it was my mother's," he explained.
"Your mother's? May I see it?"
He pulled the locket's chain from around his neck. Casey opened it. "These pictures look they're from the 1800's. Who are they?" she asked, noticing the picture of the blonde woman on the right hand side of the locket and the dark-haired man on the left. "Are they your great great grandparents?"
"No, they're my parents."
"Your parents? How can that be? These pictures must be over a hundred years old. How old are you?"
"Fifteen, I'm going to be sixteen this November."
"My parents are vampires."
At Casey's surprised look, he grimaced lopsidedly. "That's what I mean about destiny. Vampires don't have children, but I was born anyway. There's a prophecy . . . " Connor hung his head unhappily.
"Tell me about your parents."
Connor sighed. "My father's name is Angel. He's cursed with a soul."
"What does that mean?"
"It means that instead of his inner demon controlling him, he controls it. At least most of the time. The curse is that he can never have a moment of pure joy. If he does, he reverts to pure evil." Connor stared at Angel's picture thoughtfully. "He is condemned to remember and feel every person he killed while he was evil. Because of that he's always trying to make amends for all the bad he has ever done. Sometimes, I wonder, why bother?"
"I see," Casey said very simply, not explaining that she knew of Angel and had spoken to the others in L.A. "What about your mother? Is she a vampire with a soul?"
"No, at least not until she was pregnant with me. Then she knew what it really meant to love."
"What happened to her?"
"She died bringing me into this world."
Connor shook his head as he fingered the faded mark on his cheek. "She staked herself so I could be born."
Casey was thoughtfully quiet. "That took a lot of courage. And love."
"For what? To bring a monster into this world?" Connor said bitterly. "All that pain and loss, for what? It's my destiny to destroy this world."
"Are you sure?"
Connor nodded. "Could it be any other way?" he asked. "I will be never like anybody else. I'll always be the child of vampires. I have the blood thirst. There's nothing I can do about it," he said helplessly.
Casey placed her hand on his, "You can say no to that destiny. You can change it."
"I can't. Even if I tried. So what? Nobody will ever accept me. Look at my father. He styles himself as some kind of champion. He spends all of his time fighting demons, vampires and all other kinds of supernatural monsters. He's saved the world many times. And for what? Do you think anybody will ever thank him? No. If anybody ever found out what he is, they'll stake him. Then all he'll be is dust. For all of the good he tries to do, the evil still remains."
"I know how you feel," Casey replied. "I know a man who does the same thing. Night after night, he goes out risking his life to fight crime. Yet if he was ever caught by the police he'd be tried as a criminal and likely sent to the electric chair."
"Then why does he do it?"
"Because he has to. He can't stand by and watch people hurt by those who consider themselves above the law. He feels that the law, that justice, applies to everyone, not just the powerful."
"But what does he get out it?"
"Nothing, nothing but a good night's sleep."
"He once told me that it's a matter of balance between good and evil. You can choose to add to the evil, to increase it in this world, or you can choose to add to the good. There's so much bad in this world, isn't it better to add to the good?"
"Even if you don't get any recognition for it?"
Connor stood up. "I have a lot to think about."
Casey gave him a sad smile. "I'm sure you do."
"Uh, Miss, uh . . . " he began.
"You can call me Casey."
"Uh, Casey . . . " he began, embarrassed. "Constance told me to ask you to dress in this robe," he said, handing it to her. He turned to go.
"Connor," Casey said as he started to open the door, "I'm sure you'll make the right decision."
Pulling up to the curb, The Black Beauty barely slowed before the rear passengers' door opened. "Get in!" the Green Hornet yelled to Angel.
"What's going on?" Angel asked. He threw in a large bag that clanked when it landed on the floor next to the Green Hornet's feet. Angel pulled the heavy door closed as the car picked up speed again.
"They've kidnaped somebody. Just like you thought they would," the Green Hornet answered tersely. He glanced down at the bag, "I see you brought some 'toys'."
"Yeah, I did," Angel answered, "I see you have quite a 'toy' here, yourself," he said noticing that a control panel had been tilted from behind the front seat. The control panel was covered with a large number of buttons, tell-tales and dials. Above the panel set in the back of the front seat was a small television screen and a green lit oscilloscope on which was a slowly flashing dot. The angle of the cross-hairs on the screen and the rate of the beeping tone changed as they moved forward.
"That's a tracking device?" Angel asked.
"Yes," the Green Hornet answered. He made a few adjustments to the screen. More to the driver than to Angel he said, "They're on the west side of town. Looks like the Claridge area."
"That's about where we saw them the first time," Kato answered.
"Looks like it. It'd figure. They're likely not to stray from their home base," the Green Hornet said.
"How did you manage to get a bug on them?" Angel asked.
"I didn't," the Green Hornet said, a grim look in his pale eyes, "It's on the person they kidnaped."
Angel nodded his understanding, "Someone close to you I take it."
The Green Hornet nodded, the muscle in his jaw tightening as he fought for control of his anger. "God only knows why they took her."
"So this wasn't something you planned on."
"Of course not," the Green Hornet gritted. "Have you found out anything about this ceremony or ritual they're going to be doing?"
"Yes, I checked with my people in L.A.. The ritual requires somebody pure of heart and mind," Angel began. He glimpsed at the Green Hornet before continuing. It was obvious the masked man cared for the woman the gang had taken. "It is supposed to take place in the dark of the moon, with the climax taking place on the final stroke of midnight. At that time a link will be formed between this world and the netherworld. Literally a Hell Mouth. I've seen one in action before. It's not something you want to see here."
"Exactly how does this happen?" the Green Hornet asked.
"When the Destroyer takes his first victim, the doorway will open, but it will only become permanently open if that victim takes the blood of the Destroyer, thereby becoming vampire in turn. If the victim does not become vampire, the doorway will close."
"I take it then your son is the Destroyer."
"Yes, he's called that by vampires and demons. By those of the Light, he's called the Miracle Child."
"So he has the potential for great evil or great good," the Green Hornet said thoughtfully.
"Yes," Angel answered.
"The Destroyer . . . " the Green Hornet said, continuing his thought, "That could be taken two ways. He could be the destroyer of humankind or he could be the destroyer of demonkind."
"That's how I see it," Angel agreed.
The Green Hornet frowned, not liking where his thoughts are leading. "It looks like we have three chances of stopping this world from going to Hell, literally. We can stop the ceremony itself, or we can stop the 'Destroyer' from taking his victim. If all else fails, we can stop the victim from becoming vampire."
"I agree," Angel said.
"We may have to kill your son," the Green Hornet told Angel.
"I am prepared for that," Angel responded sadly. Then he asked the Green Hornet, "The person they kidnaped, I take it she is close to you."
The Green Hornet nodded. "And before you ask," he said grimly, "I am prepared to do whatever needs to be done to save the world. Even if it does involve killing her. I know that is what she would want."
"Boss," Kato said, "We have trouble."
"What kind?" the Green Hornet asked.
"The Cop kind. I've been listening to the police band. There's cops all over the place. It's going to be tough avoiding them."
"Do what you can. Switch to the silencer."
The deep throated rumble of the Black Beauty's massive engine suddenly silenced to a whisper.
"And go dark," the Green Hornet added.
The view through the windshield dimmed to a pale green glow as Kato switched to the polarized headlights. While from inside the car everything could be seen clearly, from outside the big car had become practically invisible. The Black Beauty had become a silent black ghost.
"Stick to the back ways?" Kato asked.
The Green Hornet shook his head. "No. We don't have the time. We have less than an hour to go."
"I hear you, Boss," was Kato's terse reply.
"Turn up the police scanner," the Green Hornet said, "Keeps tabs on where the cops are. We'll have to try to avoid them as much as possible."
"I don't think that's going to be possible," Angel said as they passed by a police car that had stopped a speeder by the side of the road.
"Maybe he won't notice us," Kato said hopefully.
"No luck there," Angel replied as the police car suddenly tore away from the curb, its siren screaming a banshee wail.
"Lose him," the Green Hornet ordered.
The Black Beauty picked up speed. The police car tried to keep up, but to no avail. It was quickly falling behind.
"We're losing him," Angel said as they rounded a corner at high speed.
Kato shook his head negatively. "We might lose him, but not his radio. They're putting up road blocks." He was silent for a few moments as they listened to the rush of voices and codes over the police radio. "We're trapped. They must've been waiting for us to show up. There's no way through. Not even back."
"Then we'll go forward," the Green Hornet said harshly.
Ahead of them was a line of police cars and a barrier of water-filled barrels. The flashing lights from the massed police cars lit the scene in a surreal kaleidoscope of red, white and blue. Behind the police cars was a forest of drawn guns of every size and shape. The Black Beauty did not slow.
"Uh, Hornet," Angel said nervously, "they got guns."
"No problem," the Green Hornet answered, "the Black Beauty's bullet proof."
"Well, then I'm glad that we took your car instead of mine," Angel commented wryly.
"As long as they don't have anything armor piercing, we should be fine," Kato said, without taking his eyes from the road. Bright floodlights had been brought in so that they could see the grim resolve of the men facing them.
"Damn," Kato said under his breath, "I spoke too soon." A man in Army fatigues stood in front of the road block. On his shoulder was the ugly tube of a rocket launcher.
"Think they'll believe us if we told them we're out of save the world from a demon invasion?" Kato ventured.
"What do you think?" the Green Hornet responded. He flipped some switches. Angel could hear a whine come from the front of the car. "Keep her steady," he told Kato.
"Don't you think we should try some evasive action?" Angel asked apprehensively.
The Green Hornet shook his head, "Nope. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead," he said as he pressed a pair of buttons.
A pair of rockets blasted out from the Black Beauty, skimming so low to the road that it was singed by their heat. The solider fired his own weapon, but at the last moment he lost his nerve and dived for cover. The rocket from the launcher barely missed the speeding Black Beauty. Angel was sure he would have been able to read its markings if it had been going by just a little bit more slowly. "Sh . . . t," he muttered under his breath.
The rockets from the Black Beauty blasted through the barrels, sending up a drenching spray of water. Another pair blasted out closely behind them. The Black Beauty followed behind at top speed, sending whatever was left of the roadblock in all directions by the force of its impact. Angel spared a glance behind them. If it hadn't been so close he would have cheered at the sight of the devastation and consternation they left in their wake.
Connor stared glumly at his reflection in the mirror. Even though it was dim and cracked it still didn't improve what he saw in it. He'd almost wished that he didn't have a reflection like the others who had gathered around him to admire the new clothes they had gotten for him. The black jeans were far tighter than the oversized baggy ones he usually wore. They uncomfortably hugged his thighs and backside far too much. He was afraid they would split if he dared move in them.
In his opinion, the soft satin shirt of royal blue did not help things either, even though Pollux had cooed that it brought out the color of his eyes beautifully. While the whole outfit emphasized the breadth of his young shoulders and the narrowness of his hips, it made him look too much like Angel. Something that he'd rather not do.
"Now, Connor, dear," Pollux said silkily, "All you need is a touch of mousse and you'll look just perfect."
"You touch my hair and I'll break your hand," Connor growled.
Pollux quickly pulled his hand away with a moue' of disappointment.
"Don't worry, precious," Castor said to his lover, "He's young. I do think he does look lovely though."
Connor gave a big gusty sigh as he turned to regard the others. Castor and Pollux were dressed in matching outfits of tight black leather pants, something Connor was glad they had not been able to foist on him, and full-sleeved black shiny shirts that were open to their navels.
Chelsea had also gone with the all-in-black look. She had dyed her hair completely black and had slicked it back into a hard helmet. Her short black velvet and lace dress was complemented by black net tights and high, thick-soled boots. Black lipstick, eye shadow and nail polish completed her monotone look.
Connor jealously regarded Kyle's clothing. Kyle had washed out the gel out his light-brown hair and had removed all piercings from his face except for an eyebrow ring that sported a devil's head. He looked comfortable in baggy black jeans, a loose black T-shirt and a mid-length black leather coat. Connor wondered briefly if Kyle would be willing to trade, but doubted that he would.
Chelsea stepped forward with package in her hands. "Constance had this made especially for you," she explained. "You're supposed to wear it for the ritual."
Thinking that nothing could be worse, Connor tore open the package. He was wrong. Inside was a long robe of the same royal blue fabric that his shirt was made of. Worse yet were the yellow and red flames that decorated the hemline and wide sleeves.
"Do I have to?" he asked, even though he already knew the answer.
"Sure," Chelsea answered. "Constance had it made especially for you."
Rolling his eyes, Connor slipped on the robe and again regarded himself in the mirror. Perversely, he looked like he had stepped out of a Disney movie.
"You look wonderful, Connor," Constance gushed from behind him as the others parted to let her through.
Constance moved alluringly in a long satin dress that emphasized curves that Connor had never known the girl had. The dress had a low plunging neckline that exposed most of the swell of her high, small breasts, and the long slit along the side showed how long her legs really were. High, spiked heels added several inches to her height. A tall stiff collar of black lace framed her long neck and high-cheeked face. The lipstick that lined her lips was blood red as was her nail polish. Gone was the runaway waif, in her place was an assured woman who exuded pure evil.
"Looks like something out of a bad vampire movie," Chelsea muttered snidely under her breath.
Constance hearing Chelsea's remark, gave her a catty sneer as she slid by her.
"Everything is ready," she said, coming to Connor's side, "Kyle, Please open the skylight. Castor, Pollux, bring the sacrifice."
Constance led Connor to a white marble altar that had been set up in the middle of the garage. Midnight black drapes hanging from the ceiling transformed the shabby interior into a mysterious temple to evil. Black candles sitting in black wrought iron stands made the air heavy to breathe.
The flames briefly danced as the skylight was opened to the moonless sky, but the air was still filled with the cloying scent from the candles. The hairs on the back on Connor's neck rose from the electricity that filled the air. Shadows just beyond the sight of his vision, shifted in and out of solidity as barely heard whispers hissed and giggled insanely around him.
Castor and Pollux appeared with Casey between them as Chelsea and Kyle followed. Dressed in the simple white robes, Casey glowed brightly in the guttering firelight. Her red-gold hair flowed over one shoulder like a living flame. She was supernally calm even though her large brown eyes were wide with fear. Castor and Pollux tied her to the altar, then took their places to her right and left. Kyle and Chelsea stood at her head and feet.
Holding its obsidian hilt tightly, Constance lifted up a silver bright sword and began to chant. The gang joined in the chant, although it was a language that had not been spoken for thousands of years. Its rhythm was like the gushing of blood through opened veins. It was the rhythm of battle drums and violence. It was the beat of lovers' bodies, one meshed with the other.
The gibbering voices became louder as demonic shapes formed out of the shadows. It hurt his eyes to look directly at them and his stomach cramped with nausea. A fetid wind rushed around them, teasing, pushing and pulling. It was rough like thousands of hands, intruding, defying, violent and persuasively seductive. Mad laughter and horrifying growls intermixed with whimpers and soul-tearing cries of agony.
Chelsea, Kyle, Pollux and Castor's faces went vampiric, yellow-green eyes glaring from under heavy brows. They grinned fang-filled grins. Constance's face alone remained unchanged, and yet it did change. It became infused with the triumphant glow of pure evil.
Connor could feel the hunger rise in him. It inflamed his blood, his eyes, his skin, down to his very soul which cried out in anguish. The battle raged inside him. All of his loss and anger warred inside him. All of his bitterness at being ripped from his proper home, the bitterness of being born. There was a tearing, a ripping and he could feel the cold rush of rain surround him, even though his clothes were dry.
He approached Casey. All was silence. The voices had stopped. The air crackled and snapped, but the silence sat heavy like a shroud. The hunger was overpowering. Connor looked down at the bound woman. He could see his face reflected in her frightened eyes. He was a monster. There was nothing he could do. This was his destiny.
"Connor," she said in a whisper.
Suddenly there was thunder and the building shook violently as if struck by a giant hand. Some of the drapes fell, revealing spider webbed brick. A large black car stood in the midst of settling dust and shattered bricks. It was the first one the garage had seen in decades. The Green Hornet and Kato scrambled out, closely followed by Angel carrying a large crossbow. Connor didn't know whether he was angry at the intrusion or relieved.
"Get them!" Constance angrily screamed. A crossbow bolt sent her scrambling for cover.
A chime somewhere began to sound, the heavy bong of a grandfather clock or clarion of a far-off church. One . . . two . . . three . . .
The demons surrounding them slipped sidewise into invisibility, reappearing in front of the intruders. Kato met one with a flying kick, slamming it into a steel pillar. The creature stumbled, then charged the oriental again. Kato pulled out a rod and pressed a button. Expanding out of either end was a long double-edged blade. He impaled the charging creature on one blade, then gracefully danced away as he swung the weapon around over his head. Then in a single quick motion he sent the creature's head flying from its shoulders. Green ichor splattered into the air.
The Green Hornet had selected a broad sword from Angel's bag of toys. Not one given to deadly weapons, he still used it well. Using the brute force of his muscular body, he sliced the demon heading for him in half with a single sweep. Another creature charged him, he swung the heavy blade around, catching the creature across the shoulder, cleaving it from shoulder to opposite hip. Demon blood splashed onto his clothes.
Without slowing his charge, Angel shot a bolt into the monster that stood between him and Constance.
"Chelsea, Kyle, get him!" Constance ordered. Castor and Pollux were nowhere to be seen. "Connor," Constance screamed at the young man, "Don't hesitate, if you do the demons will abandon us. This is your destiny. This is what you, The Destroyer, is fated to do. Do it before the twelfth stroke and we will rule the dimensions."
The voices surrounding him were getting louder. "Do it, do it, do it," they urged.
Four . . . five . . . six . . .
"Connor don't!" Angel yelled at him as his face turned vampire, "Don't do it." He leaped over the acidic slime that had been a demon and fired at Chelsea as she rushed him.
Chelsea barely dodged the bolt Angel fired at her. She quickly recovered but found her headlong charge stopped by a strong grip on her shoulder. "Kyle!" she protested.
"This isn't our scene," Kyle answered in a rush, "I want no part in destroying the world. Do you?" he asked.
Chelsea hissed in frustration. "But Constance . . . "
"She isn't really one of us," Kyle answered heatedly. "Look at her."
True to his words, Constance had changed. She looked no longer human or vampire, but the very embodiment of demonic evil. Black flames of power encircled her head like an unholy halo.
Angel fired a bolt toward Constance. It struck her full in the stomach. She pulled it out with a harsh, ringing laugh, "Fool!" she cried, "Do you think I'm some puny creature that you can destroy with a mere length of sharpened wood?" She threw the bolt back at Angel. He dodged it, but not fast enough. It struck him in the shoulder, sending a shock of agony through his body as the demon taint spread through him.
Constance gestured and Angel found himself hanging in the air. "Little man, so you dare try to oppose me?" She curled her fingers into a fist and Angel screamed as the pain worsened. "I could strip you of your soul or send you straight to hell. You have no power over me!" Angel found himself thrown across the room like a bored child's rag doll.
Angel crawled to his feet, "Connor," he begged, "Don't do this. I love you, son."
Constance hissed at Angel, "I will destroy you," as she opened her hand, "like an annoying flea . . . "
"No," Connor shouted at Constance, "Stop!"
Constance turned to Connor. "You will do as I say!"
Connor pulled Casey's hands free of her bounds. "Get out of here," he told her.
Seven . . . eight . . . nine . . .
He turned to Constance. "I won't become your tool. I won't become a toy of evil! I'm my own man. Not yours. Not ever!" He leaped for Constance.
Constance threw him off, "Fool! You would forsake unlimited power for these puny creatures? Idiot! Do you think anyone is ever going to accept you? Do you believe that anyone will thank you for your pitiful efforts?"
"It's not about being accepted," Connor said as he rose to his feet, "It's not about thanks. It's about doing something right because it is right!" he yelled at Constance. He slammed a fist into her face, the force of his blow sending her tumbling into the remaining drapes.
Constance screamed in outrage, "You dare oppose me? You are not the only one I can use." She raised her hands and Connor's feet left the ground. "I will destroy you for your defiance." She threw Connor through the air. Connor twisted his body in midair, managing to narrowly miss being slammed into a pillar. He slid across the floor, landing near a pile of blankets.
A demon growled as it lumbered toward Connor. Connor reached under the blankets for the hard lump he had landed on. It was the wrist mounted mini-crossbow he had been working on. Hurriedly he put it on and fixed on a mini-bolt. The creature growled, opening its arms to fold the young man in a deadly embrace. Connor fired the bolt directly into its mid-section. It looked down at the small bolt, then whimpered in surprise before falling to its knees dead.
Connor snatched up several bolts. He ran toward Constance, firing them rapid-fire. Constance repelled all of them with a single wave of her hand, sending them straight back at him. Connor rolled out of the way. He had to do something.
Connor spotted the Green Hornet on the opposite of the garage. The masked man had discarded the broad sword for a slender long black rod, the Hornet sting. He pressed a button set in the in the device's handle and it began to emit an earsplitting whine.
Constance began to laugh at his effort, but suddenly she stopped. The hyper-sonic weapon was beginning to affect her. Her shape began to blur and vibrate in sympathy with the weapon's vibrations. "No!" she screamed.
Out of nowhere a demon folded into existence behind the Green Hornet. It slammed a powerful double-fisted blow into the man's unprotected back. The Green Hornet fell, dropping his weapon.
The weapon skittered across the floor landing at Connor's feet. He snatched it up and felt for the button he had seen the Green Hornet use. Pressing the button, he aimed it at Constance. The thing vibrated in his hands more powerfully than he had expected. It bucked so badly that it was almost enough to force him to lose his grip on it. But he didn't.
Constance had no defense against the weapon's powerful vibrations. Like a bad dream she began to fade. "Connor," she begged. No longer looking like an all-powerful demoness, she was again the winsome waif he had met on that first rainy day. "Don't do this. I love you . . . " her voice was barely a whisper as a stray gust of wind swept her misty shape away.
"I am no longer your toy," Connor said defiantly to the shadow that had been Constance, "I am no longer your tool of destruction. I am the vampire's child. I am the Champion's son. I am the Destroyer of all evil."
Connor glanced at Angel, the man he could be proud to call father. "I understand now," he said very quietly.
Ten . . . eleven . . . twelve . . .
On the last stroke of twelve the demons faded away into nothingness.
In the ensuing silence, Casey quietly walked over to Connor who had collapsed to his knees. "Connor?" she asked as she bent next to him, placing a hand on his shoulder. Connor looked up at her. All of the defiance and bravado had emptied out of him, leaving behind soul debilitating weariness and exhaustion. "Are you okay?" she asked.
Connor shrugged with a tired sigh. Then he handed the hornet sting to Casey. "Give it back to the Green Hornet for me," he asked.
"You can give to him yourself," she suggested.
Shaking his head, Connor replied, "I can't."
Connor shrugged again.
"It's time to go," Casey said.
Connor shook his head. "There's no where for me to go," he said.
"Connor..." Casey began, but the young man turned away from her. He looked so alone and lost. Casey gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze and rose to her feet.
Quickly she crossed the garage, joining the Green Hornet as he came toward her. He walked like every bone in his body ached. A large bruise was purpling the right corner of his jaw. Somewhere along the way he had managed to lose his hat and his overcoat was damp with demon slime.
"Are you doing okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," he breathed heavily as he gingerly touched a split lip. "That sure as hell isn't something I would want to do every day. How about you?" he asked her.
Casey nodded. "I'm fine," she answered very quietly. She handed him the Hornet Sting.
As he folded up the Sting and placed it back into his inner pocket, the Green Hornet asked, "How's the boy?"
"I don't know," she answered with a sad shake of her head.
Kato limped up to the Green Hornet and Casey. "Good fight, hunh Boss?" he commented wryly.
"Right," the Green Hornet said dryly. "You feel like another round?"
"Nah," Kato answered, "At least not right now."
The Green Hornet, Casey and Kato walked up to Angel who seemed to have frozen where he stood, uncertainly watching Connor from across the room. Conner was still kneeling on the floor, staring at the space where Constance had been.
"You do this every day?" the Green Hornet asked Angel offhandedly.
"Not quite," Angel wryly answered, "but it does seem to happen a lot wherever I am."
"Are you going to be okay?" Casey asked him, noticing the gaping wound in his shoulder.
"That's one of the few advantages of being a vampire. You heal very quickly," Angel said, moving his shoulder with a painful wince. He glanced at Connor with a worried look on his face.
"Go to him," Casey said very gently.
"What?" Angel said absently, lost in his own thoughts.
"Go to him. He's your son. He needs you," she answered.
Angel sighed sadly, "I don't know . . . "
"No matter how big he seems or how tough he is, he's only a child. He needs his father. He needs you," Casey said encouragingly.
Angel looked at the Green Hornet, Casey and Kato. They were a team. He missed the others in L.A. It was time to go. His shoulders sagged. He had to do something about Connor.
"I don't know if he will accept me," he said to Casey.
"Try," she encouraged. "I think you've been underestimating how much you really mean to him. Give yourself a chance. And him."
Angel cast a questioning look at the Green Hornet and Kato. "Do you want us to wait for you?" the Green Hornet asked.
Angel shook his head, "No, I don't think so." He added with a crooked grin, "The way you drive, I think I'm better off walking." He squared up his shoulders, summoning up his courage. His eyes on Connor, he sighed, "I think I'd rather be fighting a bunch of demons."
Casey placed a hand on Angel's arm and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "You'll do fine," she said, stepping back to join the Green Hornet and Kato. The Green Hornet wrapped a comforting arm around her waist.
Looking down at Casey, then at Angel, the Green Hornet said meaningfully, "I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention her involvement in this."
"Don't worry I won't," Angel assured him before he turned away.
Casey leaned her head against the Green Hornet. "Time to go?" he asked her.
For a moment, watching Angel's back as he walked toward Connor, she didn't answer. Finally she said, "Yes."
Angel knelt beside Connor. "Nice outfit," he commented.
Connor looked up at him as if awakening from a bad dream. He shook his head with a questioning frown.
"The robes," Angel said nodding toward the flame decorated robes Connor was wearing. "I never would have thought that you liked flames on your clothes. And robes . . . Who would have guessed?" Angel chanced what he hoped was a disarming grin.
Connor touched the blue satin. "Constance gave them to me. She had them made especially for me."
"Interesting taste," Angel answered noncommittedly.
Connor pulled the robe off and stared at it. Unconsciously he ran the soft fabric between his fingers. "I hate it. It makes me feel like a clown," he said without any heat.
"We all look like clowns sometimes," Angel commented.
"And fools too?"
Angel nodded. "Sometimes frequently."
"I thought . . . " Connor began. "I mean . . . I don't know . . . " he said struggling for words. He sighed, shrinking into himself. "How's Fred?" he asked.
"She's okay," Angel answered.
"She must hate me."
Angel shook his head. "No, she understands. She forgives you."
"How can she forgive me?" Connor suddenly shot out. "How can anyone ever forgive me?" he demanded heatedly. "I can't even forgive myself."
"Sometimes others can forgive us before we can forgive ourselves."
Connor studied Angel's face, seeing the agony of never being able to forget the pain he had caused others..
"I'm very proud of you," Angel continued, "You showed great courage."
"I was tempted."
"We are all tempted. That's where the courage lies. It takes more courage to fight our inner demons than those who cross over from other dimensions."
"But what about next time? And the next?"
"You'll do what's right. You may stumble, but in the end, I know you'll have the courage to do the right thing."
"But . . . "
"Connor," Angel said, placing a hand on his son's shoulder. He felt a momentary flinch, but then Connor's shoulder relaxed, accepting his touch, accepting him. "I have faith in you. I always will."
Connor studied Angel's eyes, seeking and finding not only truth but loving acceptance. Looking past Angel, he thought he could see someone. It was a woman. A beautiful woman whose golden hair glowed like a halo. She looked like angel. Radiating out from her were waves of love as he had never felt in his life. "Mother," he whispered.
Hearing him, Angel turned to see what he was looking at. "She would have been very proud of you tonight," he said.
Connor nodded. "She is."
Connor rose to his feet. "I think it's time to go home."
Angel got to his feet as well and stood next to Connor. "I think so too," he agreed. He looked for the Green Hornet and his companions. They were gone. "I'm afraid we missed our ride."
"That's all right. I feel like walking anyway," Connor answered, heading for the hole in the wall, leaving the robes on the floor where he had left them.
Angel started to follow, then turned around. He stepped to each of the remaining black candles, blowing out each one in turn. The garage was wrapped in darkness. Light from a street lamp framed Connor as he waited. He's so tall, Angel thought with pride. He quickly joined Connor.
Connor wrapped his arms around Angel. "I'm proud that you are my true father," he very quietly.
Returning Connor's embrace, Angel looked up into the heavens. "Thank you," he whispered as a tear rolled down his cheek.
Arm in arm father and son headed home.