Taggart in the Demon Bar
Note: I've tried to pepper some of Taggart's speech with Australian slang – but since I live on the east coast of the United States and have barely ever left this time zone, I've relied on online references. Apologies if I've gotten any of it wrong.
“Okay,” Xander Harris said. “This happens with almost everyone, so don’t take it personally. In the old days, Watchers could and sometimes did just throw their Slayers into the deep end and see if they survived. I call it the ‘crunch all you want; we’ll make more’ philosophy. It ended up with a lot of dead Slayers.”
“That’s atrocious.” Much as he liked jumping into the deep end, it was his choice to do. The folks on the former Watchers’ council sounded like a bunch of evil, cowardly figjams who thought they were too good to do real work, but thought nothing about simply chucking a young teenaged girl out among a bunch of alpha predators to see if she was up for a job she hadn’t volunteered for in the first place.
“Yeah. Most of the people responsible are dead, and anyone else who bought into that philosophy and is still alive is keeping a very low profile. Anyway, so now, if possible, we gradually introduce them. It’s not always possible. Some of them are either driven to hunt before we can find them, or they’re jumped by some demony thing that sense their power. Anyone left, we take it slow with, and though you’re not a Slayer, the same thing applies.”
“Sounds right enough. So, where’re we off to? I know you folks don’t have yourselves a dungeon around here.”
Nodding, Xander said “Right. We’re not the supernatural cops. Any human-looking demons et cetera commit crimes, we tip off the local police. Any nonhuman ones do, we do anything from letting it go – if we tried to restrain every publicly drunk demon we ran across we’d never get anything else done – to telling them to knock it off, to killing them – but, you know, only for the ones who are doing really horrendous things. We have a couple of holding cells and an interrogation area just in case, but that’s about it. Your Dr. Barlowe was the first human we’ve had in there in, I think, ever.”
“Right. So, where’re we off to?” He appreciated the data, but it didn’t actually answer his question.
“Yeah. Right. Local bar. Every good-sized metropolitan area has a few demon bars. One we’re going to is called Charlie’s. It’s a demon sports bar.”
“So does that mean the demons sit around and watch American football and NASCAR races, or do they watch demon sports?”
Taggart got it. Both. “I’m guessing I’ll see why when I get there.”
“Yup. And so you know, what you’ve got on is fine; the only dress code is, wear something. As far as weapons go, we always carry when we go into a demon bar. We try not to make it obvious unless some of the customers have been starting to cause serious trouble, so no crossbows or shotguns tonight.”
“Damn, Patch,” Faith said. “You tryin’ to cramp my style?”
“You can leave them in the car, Faith,” Xander said with a drawn-out sigh.
“Ms. Lehane. You’re escorting us?”
“’course. Patch is good, and you don’t completely suck, but trouble starts and you’re gonna want a lot more than ‘good’ and ‘don’t completely suck.’ And call me Faith, okay, big guy?” She cracked her knuckles. “I’ll meet you guys there in fifteen. Got some energy to burn off.”
“It’ll take her what, maybe five minutes flat chat?”
“Not sure what a flat chat is – a talkative pancake, maybe? But, yeah, it’s a maybe a mile and a half on a dead run. Five minutes is about right.”
“Give her time to knock off any nasties she might see creeping round, then.” As Xander nodded, Taggart added, “And ‘flat chat’ means all out. I’ve been bopping around the world for decades but my Strine still comes out.” He leaned forward conspiratorially towards Xander. “I think ‘Australian’ is a dominant trait. Genetics, you know.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Xander said. “I once knew a British vampire who concentrated on killing Nazis during World War II because, dammit, he may have been a soulless bloodsucking demon, but he was an English soulless bloodsucking demon. Anyway, we should probably get going.”
X X X X X
Ten minutes later, at the end of a tree-lined side street, they came across a building with a single light on the outside and a small sign over the front door reading, simply, “Charlie’s.” There was a small parking lot in the back, maybe three-quarters full with maybe twenty cars in it. As Xander parked, Taggart said, “Not exactly what I’d expect from a sport pub.”
“Demon bars tend not to want to draw attention to themselves. They save the rowdiness for the inside.” As they approached the back door, Xander stopped, held Taggart back, and said, “One side.”
It was a voice of command, and since this was ground Xander knew better than he did, he took a couple of steps to the right. Not two seconds later a pink-skinned humanoid with a nose like a tapir’s flew out and landed on the gravel where he and Xander’d just been. “Good call, mate,” he said.
“Always someone who wants to make their reputation by offing a Slayer, even in places like this. Pinky there must be new in town.”
“You friends of that bitch?” Pinky said, standing up. “Good. You can pay –“
“Definitely new,” Xander said. “One-time only: Trying to kill a Slayer’s usually suicidal. Trying to kill a Slayer’s friends is always suicidal.”
“Whoa,” Pinky said. “How did you think I was going to finish that sentence?”
“With some kind of threat,” Taggart said.
If Pinky wasn’t shocked, Taggart was a snow goose. “What? You crazy? You can pay off the bet she made.”
“I don’t owe him jack shit,” Faith said, sticking her head out the door. “He’s tryin’ to cheat me.”
Xander sighed. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll settle this.”
“Just keep her away from me,” Pinky said. A bemused Taggart followed the two of them inside.
The inside was ninety percent typical American sports pub. There were autographed jerseys on the wall from the local baseball and American football teams, some lacrosse sticks, and some weird-shaped bowling pins and an autographed facsimile of a 300 scorecard. The televisions were mostly tuned to the same sports, but there was one with a football game on it – European league, from the looks.
There were also trophies and equipment Taggart had never seen before, and a ball that looked heavy enough to split his skull open like a melon if it fell on his own head. Based on the thickness of the horns the demon-thing sitting under it had, it would likely just bounce right off.
Or, possibly, all three; he didn’t know enough about them. Perhaps there was a field guide he could consult.
The other ten percent -- the center of the place was an arena of sorts, though smallish – maybe big enough to hold an MMA match if the folks were cozy. Right now they were racing some kind of grub and placing wagers on the winners.
“Okay, Charlie,” Xander said, walking straight to the bloke tending bar. “What happened?”
“Penjalus there –“ he pointed to Pinky – “Bet the Slayer ten bucks that there was someone here she wouldn’t be able to beat at arm wrestling. She said, sure, bring ‘em on, as long as it wasn’t Arnie.”
Arnie was the horned fellow sitting under the giant-sized bowling ball.
“Yah,” Arnie grunted. “Break her arm without trying. Wouldn’t want to do that. Like her.”
But Xander was nodding his head even before Arnie was finished talking. “So you set her up with Quawk,” he said to Penjalus.
Penjalus said, “Yeah, I did. And she was screaming before Quawk even got to the table.”
“I can’t blame her,” Xander said. “How much was the bet for? ‘cause if you bet ten grand or one of her kidneys then I’m thinking I’m going to have to side with her.”
“Twenty bucks,” Penjalus said. Arnie and Charlie confirmed the amount.
“Pay up, Faith,” Xander said.
“You’re shitting me,” Faith said. “Hey! Quawk!”
And as soon as Quawk appeared Taggart saw why Penjalus had made the bet and why Faith was mad as a cut snake. Quawk looked like Fargo’s new pet, Martina.
Martina was a dodo. Quawk was maybe a half meter taller and its feathers were purplish, but they were both very much avian.
“See?” Faith said. “And anyway, he didn’t beat me.”
“Faith?” Taggart said. “Penjalus here didn’t say that Quawk would beat you; he said you couldn’t beat Quawk.”
“You can’t beat someone at arm wrestlin’ who doesn’t have any damn arms in the first place!” Faith said.
“Didn’t ask,” Arnie said. “Should have.”
“And again with the ‘pay up, Faith,” Xander said.
“Shit!” Faith said, but took a $20 out of her pants pocket and handed it to Penjalus.
“You got two tens?” the pink-skinned demon said. “I kind of promised Quawk half.”
Faith’s growl told Penjalus that maybe now wasn’t the time to press his luck. Heck, it would have told any grizzlies in the area the same thing. The demon took his $20 and skedaddled, with Quawk running after him. Faith said, “I’ll be back,” and walked outside.
“Charlie,” Xander said. “Just to let you know, prop bets on that level are fine. Anything above that or anything that smells like a serious scam –“
“I know,” Charlie said. “I’m not dumb. Anything dealing with humans stays penny-ante.”
Xander smiled. “Good. Glad we understand each other. So, any trouble we need to know about?”
“Couple of vampires wandered in a few days ago, but all they did was watch Manchester City take down Man U, have a couple of beers, and leave. Otherwise, the regulars. Nothing worse than a couple of brawls.”
“Poker in the back room?”
“Yup. You looking for Clem?” He was eying Taggart when he said that.
Shaking his head, Xander said, “I gotta be less predictable.”
As they weaved their way through the pub, past the smallish arena, Xander said, “We kill vampires on sight unless something a lot worse is in the area.”
“Kind of like not worrying about the jaguar when there’s a mess of army ants coming for both of you?”
“Exactly. You know, you and me should swap stories sometime. I spent some time traveling tracking down some of the Slayers – Africa, Australia and Asia mostly.”
“Ever run across any cryptids?” Xander looked confused. “You know, like the yeti. Or sasquatch, or bunyip?”
“Never heard of a bunyip, and I haven’t met any sasquatches – haven’t spent that long in the Pacific Northwest. Yetis are real; they’re also intelligent beings, so don’t go planning any trips to capture them.”
“Capture a sentient being? Never. I might want to meet them and take a picture just to prove to some of my skeptical colleagues that they exist, and if they were endangered I might see if I could help them survive, but that’s about it.”
“Good.” They stopped before a closed door. “Oh. One other thing. They might be playing for money, but they might be playing for a number of other things. Back in Sunnydale, they preferred kittens.”
That reminded Taggart to ask what had happened to Sunnydale – Stark had spit rivets for a week after being ordered not to investigate. “Kittens? Ordinary house-pet kittens?”
“Yup. Some species of demon find them delicious.”
“Hmmm. Can’t say I agree with them.”
This made Xander pause in the act of opening the door. “Huh?”
Someone inside snarled, “If you're coming in, get in here,”
Xander shook his head and said, “Later,” and stepped into the room.
There were seven humanoid demons sitting around a table playing what looked to be seven-card stud. There were no kittens in sight.'
One of them – with skin so wrinkled he looked like he'd lost about half a ton – said, cheerfully, “Xander! How's it hanging, man? Come to join in?”
“Not tonight. It's initiation time.”
Clem tilted his head and looked at Taggart and said, “New Watcher?”
“Howdy!” Taggart said.
Clem said, “Hey there,” back. No one else greeted him. Then Clem said to Xander, “Give me till the hand's over.”
“Sure. Hey, where're the kittens?”
Pointing to a demon with a truncated equinoid face and black and white stripes, Clem said, “Greeve's allergic. Tonight it's strictly cash.”
And then they were quiet for a few minutes. Showdown was between Greeve and a woman who looked almost human, if you discounted the silver eyes and the bone spurs on her elbows. The woman won with a nine-high straight vs. Greeve's three kings.
“Deal me out this hand,” Clem said, and the three of them walked back outside the poker room. “So,” he said with a friendly voice, “I'm Clem.”
“Jim Taggart. Everyone calls me Taggart. Good to meet you.” He shook Clem's hand.
“You too,” he said. “Xander?”
“Here's your $10,” Xander said, slipping the demon a folded bill.
“I don't mind doing this, you know,” Clem said. “But thanks.”
“Doing what?” Taggart asked, right before Clem's face exploded. There appeared to be four snake-like protuberances of varying colors, and his ears had suddenly developed extensions that seemed to be a combination of a dinosaur's crest and an elephant's ear. The center, beneath the eyes, was now practically all mouth, with what appeared to be nearly a shark's dentition. He blinked, and took a step forward, “Fascinating!” he said. “Do the snake mimic tentacles have a practical purpose? And is the skin on your ears to help cool you down when you get too hot?”
His face resumed its former appearance, “Uh, yeah,” he said. “I can get really hot when I exercise. I don't know about the snakes, though. They've always been like that, and, you know, I've never been much of a scientist.” He turned to Xander. “Look, I need to get back to the game.”
“Cool. Talk to you later.”
This was damned nice of them, bringing him to a demon bar to see the number of different species there were – and even to pay one to show off a bit for his benefit. He told Xander as much.
“Sure,” Xander said. “Let's go with that.”