Inspired by a real Weekly World News cover article
. Leverage, Faith, and the Weekly World News
do not belong to me, I'm just having a little fun with them. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made.
Faith tossed a copy of the Weekly World News
in her basket and swore under her breath. The checkout girl raised her eyebrows, but Faith wasn't inclined to share her thoughts, and ignored her.
As soon as she was out in the parking lot, she pulled out her phone.
"G, you read the papers yet?" They'd gotten a lot of tips from this particular tabloid over the years. A lot of false alarms, too: monsters sometimes turned out to be more a product of Photoshop than any real demonic presence, but the Weekly World News
headlines were usually worth checking out.
"The Boston papers?" he asked, and she could hear the sound of rustling carry over the wires.
"No, I was at the market and--"
"Ah, yes, I see it now," Giles said. "'Giant sea serpent washes ashore'?"
"That's it, right on Cape Cod," Faith confirmed. "Looks familiar, too." Faith didn't give a long explanation. With Giles, she didn't need to. It helped that she was right: they'd both seen this kind of thing before.
"You believe this is connected to the incident with the giant squid off Ogasawara--"
"This thing makes the giant squid look like a goldfish," Faith said grimly. "I could be there in an hour."
"Go," he said.
It took Faith two hours to make it to the Cape, with a short stop at her apartment for supplies. She packed a small duffle bag with two bikinis, three throwing knives and a handful of stakes. She covered it all with a beach towel, threw in a pair of flip-flops, and was on her way.
It wasn't every day she got an all-expenses-paid beach vacation, after all.
The scene in South Yarmouth looked pretty much the same as the gruesome image splattered across the tabloids. The enormous body of a sea creature was stretched across a wide sandy beach and what was left of a tourist boardwalk, its head resting right beside a small saltwater taffy shop. All around the body were bits and pieces of debris, stuff that might've been part of the boardwalk or the shop's roof until recently.
Faith approached the shop slowly. She was wearing only a bikini and a short denim skirt, with a pair of flip-flops on her feet; terrible for fighting, but this trip was strictly recon and she wanted to blend in with the natives. It was strange to see a creature like this, obviously supernatural, out in broad daylight. A small fence of sawhorses and caution tape marked off the area around the creature's body, and three people stood beside its massive abdomen, inside the taped-off area. There was a man in a suit with slicked-back hair, a dark-haired woman in a slim skirt and high heels, and a guy with a ponytail in a white lab coat. The store behind them had a sign in the window that said 'CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE.'
Faith approached slowly, taking it all in before she approached the three people.
"'Scuse me?" she asked, deepening her Boston accent until it was almost ridiculous. "D'you know if the store is opening anytime soon?"
Faith spent a lot of time watching people, reading people. She could spot a vampire at thirty feet and she knew when someone was bracing for a fight. The reactions of these three gave a lot of away, to someone who knew what to look for. The man in the suit barely even looked at her -- so, not the owner of the store, who would've wanted to make a sale. The woman glanced over, but kept all her focus on the man beside her -- she had more important things to deal with. And the guy in the lab coat tensed his shoulders and threw her a sharp glance, shifting his feet into a ready stance. Up close, Faith could see that he was built of solid muscle, and he moved like someone who knew how to fight. He might've been dressed like a scientist, but he sure didn't act like one.
She just smiled and put her hands on her hips, waiting for her answer. The guy in the lab coat -- his ID badge said Dr. E. Lourie, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service -- flicked his eyes up and down her bikini-clad body, then relaxed his stance when he decided she wasn't a threat. Faith let herself grin a little wider. Hey, if this guy took off those geeky glasses (which had to be fake anyway) and let his hair down, he'd be pretty hot.
"Sorry, Miss. The store's not open right now," he said. "But it should be open again real soon." He had a low, sexy voice with a little hint of a southern accent, and Faith licked her lips. She really hoped this guy wasn't the shaman she'd come looking for, because there were about a hundred things she'd rather do with him than kick his ass.
"Damn," she said, smiling and trying to keep the harmless look going. "That taffy is wicked good." Based on the fact that he could actually speak English, he was probably more than just hired muscle, so Faith figured that she might be able to get some information out of him. As if it had just occurred to her that hey, there was a ginormous sea monster in the middle of a parking lot, she widened her eyes and asked, "What is that thing, anyway?"
Lab Coat, as she was now thinking of him, pushed his fake glasses up his nose and turned to look at the creature. "She's a member of the species elasmosaurus gigantus," he said. "Native to the Amazon a couple thousand years ago, but thought to be extinct until this one showed up. Ain't she a beaut?"
"Gorgeous," Faith agreed, looking over the creature in front of her, which looked like the love child of an alligator and a winnebago. Native to the Amazon? It was a good cover story, she had to give him that. The only weakness was, she didn't believe a word of it. Especially when she'd seen a monster very like this one wash ashore only a couple months earlier.
Pivoting in place, she cast her gaze over the ruins of the boardwalk, taking in the wrecked neon sign, cracked planks and pieces of roofing scattered all over the beach. It had been at least a day or two since the creature had washed up on land, so any obvious tracks or marks would probably be gone by now.
She turned back to Lab Coat and found him watching her intently, as if he knew exactly what she'd been looking for and why. Faith felt a little shiver run down her spine at the idea. Again, she wondered -- just who was this guy?
Laurie." The Skirt spoke in a British accent, with a harsh edge that made Faith feel grateful for Giles all over again. There was no question who was in charge here. "If you have a moment?"
Faith flicked a glance up and down his body one last time, admiring all that muscle and confidence. She would've liked to undo that ponytail and find out what his hair looked like loose, but she had bigger fish to fry today. Much bigger fish.
Indulging herself just a little, she flashed one dimple at Lab Coat and winked. "Thanks for the info, Doc," she said.
He returned the wink quickly, and added an appreciative leer that didn't make his scientist getup any more believable. "See ya around." Then he adjusted his geeky glasses and turned back to the skirt.
Faith turned and walked away, heading down the boardwalk until she reached a small hotdog stand. She pulled out her phone, and quickly snapped photos of the sea creature, making sure she got several shots of the three people standing nearby. As soon as she'd gotten what she needed, she blended back in with the crowd and circled around to a souvenir shop where she could watch without being seen herself.
Behind racks of tacky housewares and overpriced beach towels, Faith punched in a few buttons and sent her photos to Giles, with a text message that said 'extinct elasmosorus? doubt it.'
In the Ogasawara Islands, the locals had talked of a shaman summoning a giant squid to punish them. By the time Faith arrived with Satsu and managed to gain the locals' trust, the shaman had been long gone and there'd been nothing to do but cleanup an enormous, rotting squid carcass. This time, the fish was still fresh, and maybe the trail of the shaman would be, too.
When she looked back up, she saw the group near the monster beginning to break up. The dude with the slicked-back hair was shaking hands with the Skirt and Lab Coat. Faith slipped out of the store and around the block, where she slipped on a pair of jeans and shimmied out of her skirt, then grabbed a leather jacket out of her panniers and put it on, and pulled a helmet over her head. The way Lab Coat had been checking out her legs, he probably wouldn't be fooled by this weak disguise, but unfortunately he wasn't her target here.
There was no question in her mind that Lab Coat was hiding something, but if he was the shaman, why would he need to return to the scene of the crime? He could have just summoned another big fish to study it. No, in Faith's mind the more likely scenario was that Lab Coat and the Skirt were running some kind of scam on the third guy, and he was the one with the connection to the sea creature and to the shaman who'd summoned it.
A long black towncar pulled out into traffic from the back of the taffy shop, and Faith revved up her bike and slipped onto the street a few cars back, grinning under her helmet.
Faith followed at a safe distance, and the towncar led her to an industrial district only a few blocks away. She parked her bike across the street and watched through the tinted screen of her helmet as the car pulled up to a small warehouse. The back doors opened and Faith watched the same guy with slicked-back hair get out of the car and walk into the warehouse as if he owned the place.
Well aware that she might be walking into a trap, she snapped a photo of the sign that said 'JORDANO'S WHOLESALE SEAFOOD' and sent it to Giles, before circling the place looking for a way in.
Near the side door, a ventilation grate presented itself. It was too high off the ground for any normal person to reach, but Faith was no normal person. A running leap and a solid punch had the grate on the ground, and after a second leap, Faith was hanging by her fingertips from the side wall of the warehouse and pulling herself inside.
Ventilation ducts were hardly her favorite way to access a building, and under other circumstances Faith would simply have kicked down the front doors and announced her presence loudly. But this wasn't just another vampire nest, and she didn't have backup a block away. It was time for surveillance.
Faith pulled herself through the shining silver tube of the shaft, until she saw another ventilation grate, this one oddly skewed. It looked as though the grate had been removed and then leaned back in place, to give the appearance that it was intact. And if someone had been messing with the ventilation grates in the ceiling of the warehouse--
Faith cursed under her breath and looked around. Sure enough, there was a thin layer of dust on the floor of the ventilation tube where she'd been crawling along, but the shaft ahead of her had been wiped clean. Someone else had made their way through this duct recently. In Faith's experience, that meant only one thing: trouble.
Voices echoed up from the warehouse floor, and Faith froze in place, peering through the slats of the ventilation grate and trying to see the speakers.
At first, the words were indistinct and echoed oddly off the concrete walls and the metal tube where she lay, but as two figures walked across the floor and into her field of vision, she could hear them clearly.
One of the figures was the first man she'd seen at the beach, who she'd begun to think of as the Boss. The other guy didn't look like much: just a weaselly-looking guy with a receding hairline and a corny Hawaiian shirt, but by the way he talked it was obvious that he had some power.
"...thought to be extinct," the Boss was saying. "This thing could be worth big money. We can't just leave it there."
"We can and we will leave it there. That was the original plan, and there's no reason to change it." The guy in the Hawaiian shirt folded his arms and glared stubbornly at the Boss, helpfully projecting his voice right toward Faith's hiding place.
The Boss's voice was less clear, but Faith caught enough to get the gist. "...Marine Sanctuary... pay a hundred large... can't pass that up."
"My fee has already been settled, and it didn't include transporting that thing all over the Eastern Seaboard!" The Hawaiian shirt shouted. "You wanted a sea monster to ruin some schlub's business for the season, I got you one. I ain't doing no more work without another payday, and that's final."
Faith let out a slow breath. So that was the shaman who'd summoned the creature. She still didn't know exactly how he'd done it, but it was clear why: cold hard cash.
The Boss held up his hands in a placating motion, and spoke in a voice that was too low to hear. After a few minutes of back-and-forth, they walked toward the door that led to the parking lot, and Faith heard the door slam.
She counted to thirty before pulling aside the already-loosened grate and easing her way out of the duct, then dropping easily to the floor.
Most of the space was a standard warehouse: a large open area full of crates and cartons. It wasn't refrigerated, and most of the boxes looked like they'd been sitting around for far too long for there to be legit business going on here, but Faith already knew that the Boss wasn't really interested in wholesale seafood.
At the end of the building were a couple of small offices, and Faith headed in that direction, knowing that would be the place where she'd find evidence of dark magic, if there were any to be found.
Before she'd taken more than a few steps, she heard an unfamiliar buzzing sound coming from above. She dropped back into a defensive position and looked up, just in time to see two black-clad figures descend from a ceiling beam on a zip line. They landed just in front of the office where Faith had been heading.
Within a moment, the smaller of the two had nimbly detached herself from the zip line and assessed the building's layout. When she saw Faith, she froze. The taller figure, a dark-skinned guy, was still fumbling with the zip line. When his partner elbowed him and hissed in a low voice, nodding at Faith, he looked up at her with wide eyes and then tapped his ear.Shit
, Faith thought, they're calling for backup
As quickly as she could, she made her way toward the two figures, her palms out in a peaceful gesture. "Hey, plenty here for all of us, right?" Faith asked in a low voice. If she could convince these two not to call for backup, then she might be able to get out of this without breaking anybody's legs.
The smaller of the two thieves glared at her with a suspicious frown. With blonde hair escaping in little wisps from her black cap, she looked young enough to be one of the slayers that Faith trained, but her expression was hard and cold. Having finally unhooked the zip line from his harness, the guy with her looked more receptive.
"My kinda girl," he said, grinning at Faith, a flash of white teeth in a dark and friendly face. The blonde glared at him in response, her expression ridiculously transparent, and Faith almost laughed out loud.
"Hey, I ain't no security guard," Faith said. "You two do your thing." A quick sweep would tell Faith if the shaman's spell were anchored in this building, and if the place were robbed after she was done... well, so much the better. It would cover her tracks.
The blonde, all business, had already turned toward the office, but her partner was still facing Faith. Suddenly, his eyes shifted to a spot over her shoulder and widened with surprise.
Faith froze in place, and heard pounding footsteps, but none of the panting breath that would indicate human security guards.
"Get out of here!" she yelled to the two thieves, then spun into a roundhouse kick that caught the first of her attackers in the chest. He staggered backward, caught by surprise by Slayer power, but he had five friends who rushed to fill the void.
The vampires split up, with two heading for the thieves behind her, and the others surrounding Faith. She cursed under her breath, angry at herself for her overconfidence. She'd been so sure that she knew what was going on with the sea creature and those con artists down at the beach that she hadn't even brought a stake with her. It was Slaying 101 material, a class that she actually taught, and she was being tripped up by the most basic lesson.
Well, she might've made a mistake, but she wasn't down for the count yet. Faith took a running start and flipped over the heads of her attackers, moving the fight into a larger open area where she could hopefully attract their attention to her and let the two thieves get away. "Come and get me, bloodsuckers," she said, urging them closer with her hands.
Three of them obliged her, and rushed in with their fists drawn. Still without a stake, all Faith could do was engage them and try to keep them occupied, throwing punches and kicks as she drew them backward with a strategic retreat while she gave the others a chance to escape. A solid kick to the stomach sent one vamp flying backward into a wooden crate, where his weight broke the slats. A moment later, a cloud of dust was settling over the concrete floor.
Down to two attackers, Faith risked a glance toward the other end of the building. The two thieves, instead of running, had engaged their two attackers. Faith shook her head. It was a brave move, but a stupid one. They were holding their own, but only because the vamps thought they could take them alive. It wouldn't be long before those two were lunch.
And that left one vampire still unaccounted-for. Not a good sign.
Faith spun out with a clumsy punch, staged to look as though it were aimed at the vamp closest to her, and instead landed full-speed against a wooden crate. She came up fast, a broken wooden slat in each hand, and swiftly turned the tables on her attackers.
A moment later, the main door of the warehouse sprang open, and a shaft of sunlight pierced the dark room. Faith's opponent shrank away from the light, and she pressed her advantage, moving to stake him quickly. Shaking the dust from her hair, she turned to look toward the door.
To her surprise, she saw a familiar figure moving toward her: Lab Coat. Only this time, he looked ready for a fight, dressed in jeans and a flannel shirt, with his hair down. He paused inside the door, still protected by the beam of sunlight streaming in, and glanced first at the two thieves, then back to Faith.
In a split second, Faith made a decision. She tossed Lab Coat one of her stakes, and simply trusted that he would know what to do with it. A moment later, her third attacker was back, and she was occupied again.
By the time she'd dispatched her third attacker, Faith saw the two thieves with Lab Coat in the back of the warehouse. Two piles of dust lay across the floor nearby, and Lab Coat was struggling with the last one. The vampire looked to have the advantage, with his fangs out and reaching for the jugular. Faith crossed the large room at a run and sank her makeshift stake into the vamp's back, aiming for the heart.
The vampire burst into dust and covered his opponent thoroughly, so that he came up coughing and shoving his hair back from his face with both hands, trying to shake out the dust.
"Any more of those guys?" he asked in his low, husky voice. If Faith had found it sexy when he was wearing a pair of fake glasses and a scientist getup, it was irresistible now that she'd seen him fight.
The two thieves responded in unison. "No, that's all of them."
"You all right?" he asked them, and Faith realized that her earlier hunch must have been correct: this guy was the backup that the two thieves had called for earlier.
"Holy shit, man!" the tall guy said, apparently in answer. "Holy… Those were vampires
. I am not
okay with that." Faith nodded and didn't say much. She'd seen this reaction a lot, and knew he'd be fine. After all, he'd fought back when attacked. The deer-in-headlights victims were the ones to worry about.
Lab Coat looked over and smiled a little. "I guess they were," he said, shaking his head. Turning back to Faith, he reached out and handed the stake back to her. "Thanks, Taffy Girl."
"No problem, Lab Coat," she said with a grin, tucking her own stake into her back pocket. "Keep it, just in case."
In answer, he grinned and saluted her with it. "You going after Jordano, too?" he asked, and Faith remembered that was the name on the outside of the warehouse.
"Not exactly," she said. "I'm more interested in his friend."
"Like you said, plenty to go around," the tall guy chimed in.
"Let's find it and get out," the little blonde said decisively, and turned toward the office where she'd been heading before the vampire guards attacked them. If she was at all bothered by the attack, she didn't show it.
Faith didn't bother to worry, but stayed focused on finding the shaman's magical focus. It had to be in the building somewhere. "Good plan," she agreed, already heading toward the other office door.
"Eliot, man, can you--"
"I'll look out for trouble," Lab Coat answered, spinning his stake on the fingers of one hand like a baton. Faith filed away his name for future reference.
The office door was locked, but a swift kick took the door right off its hinges, and Faith was in after a few seconds. Inside, it was just a messy office, a desk piled high with papers, a computer and some filing cabinets. Faith wrenched open the drawers but found only more papers, along with a couple of guns and several packets of unmarked bills.
The blonde thief appeared at the door a moment later, just as Faith was concluding that there was nothing in this room for her. "I think you want that one," she said, tipping her head in the direction of the other door. Her tall friend was right behind her, his dark skin tinged with an odd shade of green.
"Thanks." As Faith made her way into the other office, she heard a sound of undisguised pleasure the room she'd just left, and knew that the bundles of cash had been discovered.
As soon as she entered the second of the two offices, Faith knew she'd found the right place. The small room was set up as a magic workshop, with a couple of small cauldrons along the side wall and a spellbook open on a side desk. There were jars and boxes of odd ingredients along the edges of the room, strange creatures suspended in murky liquids, but Faith ignored those.
In the center of the room was a map of Cape Cod, laid out flat across a table. Atop the map sat a plush purple dinosaur that looked like a child's toy, except it was tied up with red string. Four small nails anchored the map at the corners, and the strings that wrapped around the toy dinosaur were tied tightly to each nail, holding it in place. Faith circled around the map and examined it without touching it, and sure enough, the dinosaur's location on the map corresponded exactly to the spot on the boardwalk where she'd been only an hour before.
Turning away from the table, Faith began to rummage through the drawers and cabinets that lined the side wall. Finally, she found what she was looking for: a large knife, probably more suited to fighting off attackers or gutting small demons than to cutting string, but it would do.
When she looked up, she saw that she was not alone. The guy she had been thinking of as Lab Coat was leaning on the doorjamb, his arms crossed over his chest, watching her silently.
"Eliot, right?" she asked, as she returned to the map table and stood looking down at the plush dinosaur that was the focus of the shaman's spell.
"That's me," he said shortly, but didn't move from his spot at the door.
Faith looked up and returned his gaze. "Nice job out there," she said, nodding to the rest of the warehouse. She'd seen a lot of people take on vampires and demons for the first time, and usually it involved panic. Not this time.
"Yeah, well," he shrugged. "That's kinda my thing."
She grinned. "Mine too."
"I could tell," he said. At this he pushed off the doorjamb and came to stand next to her, looking down at the table. "What about this?" he asked, nodding at the little dinosaur, trussed-up on the map. "This your thing too?"
Faith was very aware of him there, muscular shoulders only a few inches from her own. She wondered what he would be like to spar with, what he would be like in bed. Later,
she promised herself. Right now, she still had bigger fish to fry.
"I've seen it before," she said shortly. In Ogasawara, it had taken her and Satsu nearly a week to locate the spell, while a giant squid rotted on the shore in the summer heat, held fast by the shaman's magical focus. She didn't tell him all that, though. All she said was, "We have to cut the strings."
Eliot turned and opened the shaman's cabinet, rummaging around just as Faith had. When he turned back, he had a small, wickedly-curved knife in his hand.
"Let's do this," he said, gesturing toward the map.
"Don't touch anything except the string," Faith cautioned, and trusted him to believe her. They took up positions on the landward sides of the map, each holding out their knives just under the thin strands of red string.
"One… Two… Three." Faith counted down slowly, and on 'three' she lifted her knife in a swift upward motion, slicing through the string. As she watched, Eliot's arm moved in sync with hers, cutting the other string holding the sea creature to land.
Swiftly, she stepped to the other corner of the map and began to count down again. A second time, they cut the red strings which were the last ties holding the enormous monster in place.
"That's it?" Eliot asked.
Just then, Eliot's two friends appeared outside the door. They didn't seem to be carrying any files or papers with them, but the tall guy waved a digital camera in his hand and said, "Yo, man, we got what we need here."
"Better take this thing," Faith said. She stripped off her motorcycle jacket and used it to grab the little dinosaur, careful not to touch the plush toy in case it was still enchanted in some way. "I'll dump it in the ocean." She'd come back for the shaman later, once she'd dealt with the immediate threat to the beachgoers of Cape Cod.
She looked up to find Eliot watching her appreciatively. Glancing down at herself, Faith realized that she was still wearing her bikini top, and smiled.
"Let's get out of here," she said. Carrying her jacket in one hand, she fell into step beside Eliot and his friends, as they walked out of the warehouse through the front door.
In the parking lot, the two thieves headed for a plain white van, leaving Faith and Eliot alone.
"You know," he said. "I never did get your name."
She looked him over carefully, thinking of all the things she didn't know about this guy, and all the things he didn't know about her. She stood to lose a lot by trusting the wrong person. In the end, there wasn't much of a contest.
"I'm Faith," she said. "You can usually find me at Caritas, in Southie. The bartender knows how to find me." What would this guy think of Lorne? she wondered. He'd fought vampires without batting an eye, but the bar would be a different kind of test.
"Then I'll see you around, Faith," Eliot said, and it sounded like a promise.
Faith just smiled as she walked away. She had a feeling that this might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.