Taggart in the Administrative Wing
First things first: Mr. Giles was simply stunned from impact. After he recovered and replaced his glasses, he said, “Hold on a moment, if you would.” Then he reached for the phone on the wall. “Please put me through to Mr. Wood,” he said after a few seconds. “Robin? Giles. I’ll be a bit late for our appointment . No, no, I trust your judgment. A change of diet will probably be good for them. Just make sure you buy enough. Thanks.” He hung up. “We were to make our next order from out food service. Mr. Wood is a vegetarian. So,” and the mildness left his voice. “Why on Earth would you want to see the Hellmouth?” he said in a voice that was shocked and “I’d bloody well better like the answer” at the same time.
“From the tone, I’m guessing that ‘Why not?’ isn’t going to be a good enough answer.”
“Your guess is accurate.”
Taggart shrugged. “Well, that is most of it, no porky – if ‘Because it’s there’ was good enough for Mallory, it’s good enough for me. I’m not planning on opening it or crawling into it or doing anything but looking from a respectable distance. Maybe see if there’s any radiation coming from it; my EMPT –“ he held it up and showed it to Mr. Giles” – might not specialize in things like that but it can do a fair imitation of a Geiger counter.”
“What are you expecting to see?”
Taggart said, “A hole in the ground. Maybe with a few nasties cavorting around. I’d just like to see if it looks as dangerous as it is. Might want to be able to identify one if it pops up sudden-like in Eureka. Or anywhere, really.”
“One of the sure signs is an increase in monsters, vampires, and mysterious deaths in the vicinity. In the case of Eureka, neither Vi nor Kennedy has been able to detect anything more dangerous than a tree sprite within a ten mile radius of the town.”
“Quite right. I told Miss Rosenberg why there weren’t any vampires, but why there aren’t any other demons there beats me. Of course, I’m hardly an expert. Still, if you would like to send a team to try to figure it out, I’m certain they’ll be well-received.”
“Willow and Vi are doing some research into the topic while they’re there,” Giles said.
“I know their scientific qualifications; Vi’s a crackerjack plant biologist and there can’t be five people on the planet better than Willow with computers. But are they magically qualified?”
Looking like he was trying to repress a smile, Mr. Giles said, “Willow is to witchcraft as she is to her use of the dread machine. Vi is no witch but she’s well qualified to assist.”
Taggart assumed that ‘the dread machine’ meant computers; he’d noticed that Giles tended to be somewhat on the technologically-averse side, though he was clearly no Luddite. “Ace then, is she? Alright then. Can I see the Hellmouth?”
“Will you follow all of our instructions?”
“Of course! You’re the natives here; I’m just a tourist.”
After a few more seconds, he said, “I’ll arrange something. It may be a couple of days.”
“No rush,” Taggart said. “I’m guessing it’s not going anywhere.”
X X X X X
The following afternoon, after Taggart came back from a day trip to the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge – he’d gotten some fascinating shots of waterbirds – including an American White Pelican that had no business being in this part of the country – but was tossed out and told never to return when all he did was try to get a closer look at a snapping turtle. Apparently the sight of Taggart floating in the water motionless had “disturbed the other visitors,’ or something. He couldn’t understand why; it wasn’t like he was floating au naturel
, or even simply wearing a swimsuit. Fully clothed, he was. You had to not move in order for the wildlife to know not to be scared of you. He’d gotten some lovely pictures that way of the snapper devouring a pickerel frog, and some native fish besides.
But then the park rangers came and tossed him from the park. This was why he didn’t go to parks very often. Too much interference. Oh, he knew why the rules were there; a lot of blokes would happily throw trash everywhere and run off with precious snapping turtle eggs if they could. Taggart knew better, though. All they’d need to do is look at his credentials.
Ah well. Back to untracked wilderness for him. Lot more fun, anyway.
He was walking to the cottage they’d assigned him when Faith came hobbling up behind him. Fast. “You know,” he said, “I’d bet a dollar or two you could probably outrun me even on those things.”
“Damn right I could. Save your money, Jimbo,” she said.
“I see you’ve decided on my nickname,” Taggart said. “I’ve heard worse.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“How’s your ankle?”
“Still hurts like a motherfucker, but it’s getting better.”
Taggart said, “And it’ll still only take three weeks?”
“Yeah. Not so much. Who knew that jumping around and fighting on a cracked anklebone would be bad for a joint? It didn’t break so much as shatter. It’ll be at least five weeks before I’m ready to slaughter a vamp or two. At that, I’m lucky to have Slayer healing. Someone without’d be down for a few months and it might never heal right.”
Taggart made a decision. “Alright then. I’m going to flex a little of my Eureka muscle.”
Laughing, Faith asked, “You gonna offer to carry me, Jimbo? Thanks for the offer but I’ve still got one good leg here.”
“Not what I was thinking, lass. I had something else in mind.” And then he explained all about the motorized wheelchair.
“You’re not shitting me?”
“No defecation involved whatsoever,” Taggart assured her.
Faith’s grin threatened to split her face in two. “Man. That would be wicked. I’d love one of those.”
“Mr. Giles seemed to think you might be something of a holy terror on wheels in such a thing,” Taggart said.
“Damn right I would,” Faith said. “Any chance you can add some weapons? Maybe a side-mounted stake gun?”
Taggart said, “I’ll see what I can do.” Which would be nothing; Eureka wasn’t going to mount weapons on a wheelchair for anyone who wasn’t in law enforcement or the military. Since she’d love everything else, Taggart didn’t feel guilty.
“And again: Wicked. Anyway, I didn’t catch up with you just to chat. Giles wants to see you in his office.”
Must be about his visit to the Hellmouth. “Sure thing. Where is that, exactly?” Despite technically being the ambassador from Eureka, he’d never been to the administrative section of the Academy. He’d only encountered Mr. Giles, Mr. Wood, or the teachers elsewhere.
“Follow me. And try to keep up.” Faith spun on her good foot and began to hobble away at a speed marathon runners would have envied. Taggart had to hurry to keep pace.
A couple of minutes later, down a nondescript hall he barely noticed until Faith took his hand to guide him through it, he was in the administrative wing. “Why didn’t I see this before?” he asked.
“You saw it, but a spell Red set up makes so that no one who’s not supposed to be there goes down there. Extra protection in case we’re ever invaded. You’re with me, so you didn’t have any problems.” They stopped in front of a door.
“What about mind control?”
Faith looked up at him and said in a voice with sorrow and rage, “Got that taken care of too, but not before someone used the loophole to try to come in and blow the place up. A junior Slayer, a teacher, and a Watcher died stopping the bastard. Now no one can come in here who isn’t coming of their own free will.”
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to tear open old wounds.”
“’salright. Slayers got enough of those that if people had to tiptoe every time something sensitive came up we’d never be able to open our mouths. No way you could have known.” And she immediately knocked on the door and yelled, “Yo! Giles!”
“Enter,” Mr. Giles’ voice said. Faith opened the door, and there the man sat, behind a wooden desk that looked like a relic from the Victorian era, and may well could have been. The room was about as opposite from Fargo’s office as it was possible to be, with the exception that both rooms were well-organized.
Fargo’s office, though, was uncluttered practically to the point of being spartan. Mr. Giles, however, was stuffed to the gills with books, papers, maps, and other documents, most of which looked and smelled as old as they probably were, and some of which were bound in animal hide of some sort. They were shelved cleanly and stacked neatly. The telephone almost looked like an invader from another time, as did the Rolodex towards one edge of the desk. There was no computer, though there was, perversely, a fax machine.
“Thank you, Faith,” Giles said. “Mr. Taggart, we’ve arranged for you to see the Hellmouth, per your request –“
Faith, who’d settled into a chair, said, “Jimbo, are you out of your fucking mind?”
“Quite possibly,” Taggart said amiably. “It’s been a while since I’ve had my yearly evaluation. Why do you ask?”
“It ain’t called the Hellmouth because it attracts puppies and baby ducks. The baddest of the bad guys want to get that thing open. I’m talking people who make Hannibal Lecter look like a kitten. And even not counting those nutjobs, it draws in vamps and evil demons by the buttload. When we got here one demon had a damn spa set up so others could bathe in the energy. Bitch and a half getting that shut down, and we still get pissed former customers gunning for us.”
“Indeed,” Mr. Giles said. “We have all of the entrances save one collapsed under tons of rock and dirt, and that one entrance is under our control, but unlike the Hellmouth I was formerly stationed at, which was concealed underneath our school and thus made more difficult to locate, the nearest surface entrance to this one is not buried under anything save dirt – dirt and the remnants of Old Warren.”
“Yes. A little short of a century ago, Warren was a couple of hundred people in a small valley, and the state had plans to flood the vicinity to produce the Loch Raven Reservoir. Events conspired such that the nascent Hellmouth beneath the streets of Old Warren became active at that time, and a combination of mysterious deaths and political maneuvering led to the reservoir having different dimensions than originally intended – though the ground collapsed and buried the entranceways under hundreds of tons of dirt and rock – although, unfortunately, this did not seal the Hellmouth itself. It took the demons attracted by the Hellmouth’s power nearly a century to carve out new access tunnels – their doing so was one of the reasons we relocated here, rather than to Cleveland and its dying and now fully defunct Hellmouth.”
“Can’t you just close this one up, then? A few tons of concrete and chromium steel’d work wonders, I’d think.”
Faith laughed bitterly. “It doesn’t quite work that way. It took an whole town falling in on the last one, plus millions of gallons of seawater, to finish it off. “
“And while the Chesapeake Bay is not far distant,” Mr. Giles said, “Things have not yet reached the point where we needs must create a crater out of Warren. Things would have to be quite dire for that.”
“It’d affect a lot more people, for one thing,” Taggart said.
“Yeah. Sunnydale was damn near deserted by the time it started falling to the center of the Earth. Maybe a hundred people, tops, died in the fall, and that was a small town. This ain’t a small town; around fifty thou live in the area and a shitload more come in to eat, work, and play.”
“So since you can’t shut the thing off entirely, you make anyone who wants to exploit come along one path where they’re easy prey. It’s an old hunting trick. Not that I use it for hunting, mind you.” Well, most of the time. Taggart was no vegetarian but stuck with eating plants and invertebrates when he was out in the wild.
Mr. Giles said, “In any event, We have arranged for your visit, which shall be late tomorrow morning.”
“Why in the morning?” Taggart asked, purely out of curiosity. “If it’s underground and all, it’s not going to stop any vampires either way, right?”
“Just ‘cause vamps can be active during the day doesn’t mean most of ‘em are,” Faith said. “Same with most demons. It ain’t remotely safe, but it’s a hell of a lot safer.”
“Can you be in the athletics field at 10:45 AM tomorrow morning?”
Taggart said, “No worries. I’ll be there.”
X X X X X
The rest of the day was uneventful, except that he had to tell Andrew that he didn’t need to read up on satyrs all night and that he’d be no good the next day if he handed Taggart the wrong chemical and instead of preserving an insect they turned it into an unstoppable killing machine. Of course, that wasn’t likely; all the ‘unstoppable insect killer’ formulas were safely back in Eureka where they belonged.
He called Eureka that evening. If his diplomatic status were more formal, he supposed it would be an official report, but it was just a couple of chats. He talked with Jack first and got the scoop on whatever disasters had befallen the town since he left; then to Fargo to check on the science. Dr. Parrish had gotten the spring peepers and was busily working on his sonic weaponry. He asked for the motorized wheelchair – Fargo said he’d get one out there by the end of the day tomorrow – and then if he could talk to Dr. Drummer.
“Why do you want to talk to Dr. Drummer?” Fargo asked. Taggart’s conviction that the man was secretly Santa Claus was well-known, and universally disbelieved.
Which meant he had Buckley’s chance of convincing Fargo it had nothing to do with that, so he may as well not bother. “I’ve heard someone slandering his good name here.”
“How do they even know Dr. Drummer?” Fargo asked skeptically.
“Well, not him, exactly.”
“We’ve been over this, Taggart –“
“They think Santa Claus is a child-murdering demon!” he fairly exploded. “That’s as slanderous as it gets!”
After a second, Fargo said, “Not the way the legend is usually told, true, but Dr. Drummer isn’t Santa Claus!”
“I know our opinions differ, lad –“
“Your opinions differ from everyone,” Fargo said. Then he added, “I will ask Dr. Drummer to call you. Don’t be surprised if he doesn’t, though.”
Drummer was an amiable sort, and he’d taken Taggart trying to prove his secret identity exactly the way you’d think Santa Claus would; he was amused, but hardly offended. “That’ll be fine. Thank you. And give everyone a howdy for me, would you?”
A few hours later, a bit before midnight and right as he was settling down, he got a call from Dr. Drummer himself, who would be delighted to come by and inform the Academians of the error of their ways, even though he was not in fact St. Nicholas in any shape or form.
Alright then. Santa Claus was coming to town.