The Imposing Discomposing Posing
A/N: Disclaimer, crossover, spoilers, etc. are all given in chapter 1.
Penny wasn’t expecting Lorraine to give her a job like this, but she was going to give it her best effort anyway. But seriously, why couldn’t Lorraine be the one who had to do this stuff? Or Buffy? Faith would be good, too. Scary, but good.
Okay, she knew Buffy and Faith were out of the office dealing with something gross and icky and supremely dangerous that someone like her couldn’t hope to handle without maybe a couple tanks, a squad of heavily armed infantrymen, and maybe Andrew’s imaginary ‘demonic rocket launcher’. Not to mention that if something like that ever came after her, she’d probably pee herself and then faint. And there would be lots of screaming in there, too. She definitely wouldn’t grab a big old sword and charge right at it.
And she knew Lorraine was hard at work on a ton of stuff, since Penny was the one who was handling details on a lot of it. Penny was glad she wasn’t the one who was assigned the ultra-fun task of talking the Los Angeles Police Department into accidentally not patrolling around the Wolfram and Hart building for five hours in the middle of the night, on a particular date. That job had the extra-fun chore of coping with all the side issues the LAPD didn’t want to deal with, like not admitting the supernatural existed, and not admitting that plenty of their officers were taking payoffs from Wolfram and Hart.
And not admitting that four of their officers were only part human, even if three of them were part demon species known for blending in with humans and not trying to kill people. That ‘four’ was really only their best guess, because even Willow couldn’t wiggle her nose and magically have the correct number pop up in mid-air. It was based on personnel records the Council members really weren’t supposed to have access to. And it would be a major problem if it got out that someone inside the department had been sweet-talked into giving Kate Lockley some passwords she shouldn’t have access to, and someone whose last name was Rosenberg might have just searched through the backgrounds of every person in the LAPD using a genealogy database the Mormon Church didn’t want outsiders to access, along with using a database the NSC wasn’t willing to admit they even had. So Wolfram and Hart would have no trouble getting a bunch of goodguys locked up pretty much forever if this kind of information ever got out.
And she had the information. The dumb girl who couldn’t learn physics. The bimbo with the meth addict brother. The loser actress who couldn’t land a role better than a hemorrhoid commercial. That chick. She had top-secret international supernatural knowledge that even the CIA wouldn’t know. That was just freaky. Or ‘of the freaky’, as Buffy said. And people trusted her with the information. That was also pretty freaky.
Ordinary secretaries got stuck with jobs like going out on their lunch hour and buying a nice gift for the boss’s wife because the boss was too lazy and jerky. Or they got the ‘casting couch’ kind of tasks because their boss was horny and jerky. She didn’t get those kinds of things. No, she had to drive over to El Monte and argue with a landlord and not let him figure out he was looking at a Slayer-related problem.
When she pulled into the parking lot of the apartment complex, it was pretty easy to tell which apartment was the problem. The smashed picture window with torn drapes hanging out through the hole was kind of a giveaway. The police car in front of the building was another hint.
Penny parked as close as she could, and took a peek at the ground underneath the broken window. Uh-oh. The crushed bush and the dent in the lawn and the slime in the dent were pretty much everything she needed to know about what happened.
She pulled out the ‘kit’ Lorraine had given her and headed into the building. The kit was a fancy-looking briefcase that had stuff inside it. She was really hoping she didn’t need the two bottles of holy water or the two stakes or the big silver knife. No, she was hoping the rest of the stuff was what she needed. The black-rimmed glasses that were fake, and the fancy-looking leatherbound notebook with super-expensive looking pen. Okay, the glasses had runes on the inside of the frames so the wearer could ‘see’ certain kinds of dangerous magics while she was wearing them. Lorraine had warned her that wearing them for more than maybe an hour would probably give her a migraine. Great. Just what she wanted. A pair of glasses that could only show you dangerous magical stuff by giving you crippling agony in your head.
She put on the glasses as she rode up in the elevator. Good thing she had touched up her hair and lipstick before she got out of her car. Good thing Lorraine had already told her what to do if she got stuck with this kind of task. She opened up the notebook and found a post-it note next to several fake business cards. Next to Lorraine’s crisp writing were cute cursive comments in parentheses that she thought were maybe from Buffy:
Landlord: Tony Delgado (on third wife, thinks he’s a playa)
Tenants: Tasha and Randi (Randi smarts off)
Last crisis: broken dining room table and chairs with damage to three walls (fight over who stained Tasha’s white suede minidress, totally Randi’s fault)
Last resolution: we paid for repairs (cop avoiding is good)
Penny sighed inwardly and got off the elevator. Once she got near the apartment and heard Randi, she sighed outwardly.
“Look, Stabler, I already told you! These guys busted in and attacked us!”
Penny stepped into the room, put on her best imitation of Lorraine, and said, “Ahem. If I might interrupt. Randi, apologize to the nice police officer for calling him ‘Stabler’.”
Randi looked at her, did a double-take, and then shrugged. She didn’t exactly look the policeman in the eye as she said, “Sorry for calling you a name.”
The policeman grinned. “I’ve been called far worse things than a competent detective in a good tv show. At least you didn’t call me Benson.”
Penny handed the policeman one of the cards. He glanced at it and then stopped to read it in detail, so she gave one to the landlord. Ugh. The cop was a nice, decent-looking guy around thirty-five who obviously stayed in shape. The landlord was a sleazy forty-five or so, a bad hairpiece hiding his male pattern baldness, and a pot belly that was bulging over the belt of a pair of pants that probably fit him ten or fifteen years ago.
Both guys stopped and gave her a better appraisal after they read the business card. Lorraine (or Buffy) had really laid it on thick. The card said
The Honorable Penelope Eugenie Victoria Carstairs-Summerton
And that was followed by addresses in London, Paris, and Los Angeles. The L.A. address was the only real one, and it was the current address where her office was. There were also four phone numbers, three of which were overseas and the fourth was her number at work. She knew two of the overseas numbers were Council numbers in England, because she had needed to dial both of them, so she was guessing the other one was real too.
At least they hadn’t listed her as Lady
Penelope. That would have been way too Andrew.
She maintained her best ‘Lorraine Goodbody’ real British accent and said, “It would be reasonable to call the local number, rather than the numbers in Europe. Unless you have a great deal of money to waste.” She looked the policeman in the eye and said, “Please, just call me Penny. It will be so much simpler.”
She turned to face the landlord. “You must be Mr. Delgado. Natasha and Miranda have filed reports about you with our Human Resources personnel.” He even winced! Awesome! “Just let me make a quick aside and remind you that they are both underage.”
She managed not to smile as Delgado flinched and the cop caught his reaction.
She managed not to break into a smile, but it was close. “Now then. What sort of apartment has a door so flimsy that felons can simply smash it open?” She pointed at the broken doorjamb and the deadbolt lock which was mostly ripped loose from the door. It looked like the door had to be made of cardboard, even if she knew a Slayer could do that kind of damage to even a steel door.
She looked at Tasha. “Natasha. Please describe the felons, and what happened. In detail.” She knew Tasha would lie like crazy, but after a ton of incidents all over the world with police who didn’t have ‘Sunnydale Syndrome’, there were certain agreed-upon fibs.
Tasha said, “Well, I was in the kitchen when the door busted open. Three big guys wearing these really cheesy ‘demon’ Halloween masks came charging in. And they had freaky weapons. I mean, who busts into your house carrying swords? But two of ‘em had swords, and the other guy had a mace.”
The policeman asked, “No guns?”
Tasha said, “No guns. No switchblades. Two big-ass swords and a mace. With spikes on it.”
“And can you describe these men?”
Tasha shrugged carelessly. “White guys. That’s it. The masks were those gross Halloween-y rubber things that go over your whole head? So, no idea what they looked like. Masks and heavy coats. And I guess jeans. I was kinda concentrating on the swords, especially after one guy came right for me and tried to chop me in half, right down the middle.”
“And what did you do?” asked the policeman.
“What do you think? I defended myself.”
Penny interrupted, “Officer, it behooves me to point out that Natasha and Miranda, as emancipated minors doing home schooling and college prep under our aegis, are highly trained in the martial arts so it is safer for them to be on their own when we are not watching them more closely. Natasha has black belts in jujitsu and wing chun, and Miranda has black belts in jujitsu, aikido, and shin shin toitsu.”
The officer was taken aback. Tasha and Randi didn’t look like they could defend themselves from a horny high school football player. But black belts in martial arts was the best way they had for lying to outsiders about how Slayers could the kinds of things they could do. And plenty of the girls even had real black belts now, thanks to some cooperative martial artists who wanted to work with people as ‘talented’ as the average Slayer. There were a ton of martial artists in Los Angeles, and some of them had run into the supernatural, so getting to spar with Slayers was a huge draw for those guys.
Randi lied, “I wanted to go for my fifth degree black belt in shin shin toitsu, but there aren’t any qualified testers for that level except in Japan. So I’m stuck at fourth degree ‘til next year.”
Penny cleared her throat annoyingly and said, “Natasha, please explain further.”
Tasha shrugged, “Okay, so the guy went with a vertical strike. But he wasn’t as fast as me, so I did… well, in English it’s a two-handed bare-blade block.” She illustrated with a motion that looked like she had clapped her hands together over her head and trapped a razor-sharp sword in the process. “Then I kicked him three times. The third time? He lost the sword and went back onto the dining room table.” She pointed at the sword still stuck in one of the walls, and the broken table.”
Randi said, “I heard the crash when the door went, even if I didn’t know what it was, but I was back in the bedroom, so I got out here in time to see Ugly One go flying and land on his back on the table.”
Tasha said, “She said ‘this time you have to pay for the table’ and then Ugly Two went after her with that mace.”
“Morningstar,” Randi insisted.
“No way, that wasn’t a morningstar,” Tasha replied.
Randi said, “Was so, and-”
“Ladies!” Penny snapped. Wow, they actually stopped. Or maybe they just pretended to. Anyway… “Let us simply call it a medieval weapon and move on. The nice policeman would like to be somewhere else by the end of his shift.”
Randi growled, “Fine. Ma’am. Ugly Two took a big swing with that… thing and totally overbalanced when I did a slide-step inside his arc. So I slid under his swing, caught the inside of his forearm with my right arm, and hyperextended his elbow with my left hand. I think he wanted to have that mask off so he could scream right. The mace went right out the good window, and when he reached into his belt for another weapon, I gave him a hip throw. It totally wasn’t my fault he went right out the window after the mace.”
Tasha said, “Ugly One and Ugly Three pretty much panicked at that, and ran back out the door. I ran after ‘em, but they were really fast.”
Randi said, “I went over to the window, but Ugly Two was limping away. The three of ‘em piled into an old panel truck and took off. All I got of the license plate was 5-W-R-H-6-something-something.”
Penny didn’t know if that was really the license plate or not, but she knew the girls would file a real report on the Council intranet and include what they did catch of the real plate. Not that it would do any good, since it was almost certainly a Wolfram and Hart attack, done with a stolen vehicle. She also didn’t say anything about the clear slime on the kitchen floor, which if you looked at it the right way was the shape of a seven-foot-tall humanoid body.
The cop made the girls go over their stories two more times, and neither slipped up. It wasn’t like a policeman could intimidate a Slayer. Every night, Tasha and Randi saw a dozen things that were hundreds of times scarier than a cop with a pen and notepad.
Finally, Penny led the cop over to the window and pointed down at the impression in the grass. “Look. It’s obvious that someone landed there hard. And look at the shape. He must have been wearing some sort of body armor, perhaps under his coat. I fail to understand why insane people with weapons out of the Middle Ages attacked some of our charges, but clearly this apartment is shockingly substandard. That door is a disgrace. I should have one of our building experts and one of our lawyers go over this apartment block with a fine-toothed comb. I suspect they would find dozens of violations and probably hundreds of building features which are not up to code.”
Delgado actually blanched, and his eyes bulged. The cop spotted it too, and said, “Now Mister Delgado, I think we should go have a private little chat down in your office. Whadda ya say?”
Delgado gulped and said, “I want my lawyer!”
Penny kept up her accent and said, “Don’t worry Mister Delgado. You go have a nice chat with the bobby, and I’ll summon some construction workers to repair this disgrace of a door, and the window, and whatever other inadequate construction elements we happen to find.”
Tasha and Randi waited until Delgado and the cop were on the elevator going down to the ground floor before they burst into laughter.
Penny tried to ignore their merry recaps of their favorite parts of the battle and then the dealings with Delgado and the policeman. Meanwhile, she called back to the office. “Hi, it’s Penny. Is Xander around?”
Suddenly the merriment vanished.
She waited while someone found Xander and got him on a phone. “Xander here. Is this Penny?”
“So, you’re lacking in banter partners and you felt the need to call me.”
She managed to get a word in edgewise. “I’m lacking in people who can fix doors and walls and windows.”
He groaned, “Let me guess. Tasha and Randi again?”
He asked, “Let me guess, was it over a damaged dress this time? Maybe who got to watch their favorite tv program? Who got to use the big sword?”
Apparently, word had gotten around about Tasha and Randi. She said, “This time it apparently wasn’t their fault. Three demons broke in and attacked them with weapons. I’m guessing that only one got away. We have one shattered door, two damaged walls, one smashed dining room table and chairs, one smashed picture window including drapes, and one broken entryway table. Plus anything I haven’t spotted yet.”
He said, “I’ll get the address and be there with help as soon as I can.”
So Penny had the fun of being ‘the adult’. She had to make Tasha and Randi clean up the slime on the kitchen floor. She had to make them get out their Council laptops and submit incident reports. She had to put up with more whining than Sheldon when he had to do his laundry on a night other than Saturday. It was no fun being the adult.
It was half an hour before Xander showed up in what looked like a truck from a building company. A burly guy with blond hair was driving. Xander and the guy hauled toolboxes out of the truck and marched up to the apartment. Penny noticed that Tasha and Randi were both getting less and less comfortable.
Xander walked in and put his toolbox down. “Hi, Penny. Looks like you got one of the fun jobs for the day. The Goodbody too busy sweet-talking the fuzz? Oh, and this is Cliff. He’s Petra’s big brother, so he’s fully read in.”
Penny said, “I don’t think Lorraine does a lot of ‘sweet talking’ with the LAPD.”
But Xander was already studying the doorframe. He turned and gave both Slayers a one-eyed glare. They both quailed from the force of it. “Who busted the wards on the apartment? I can see right here someone put a knife right through one of the words of the inscription.”
Now that he mentioned it, Penny could see that there was faint carving all up the side of the inside of the doorframe.
Tasha said, “It was Randi!”
“Bitch!” Randi said, “Tasha was doing it too!”
Xander looked up and down the doorframe. “I see. Lots of knifemarks. You two having a contest to see who could get the closest without putting a knife in the writing?”
“Umm… maybe?” whispered Tasha.
At the same time, Randi said, “No way! We wouldn’t do that!”
Xander pulled out his cellphone and flipped it open. He pressed a speed-dial button. “Hey Lorraine, it’s Xander. Tasha and Randi aren’t mature enough to live on their own. They’ll be moving in with the other baby Slays this afternoon.”
“NO!” screeched Randi.
“Oh please, please, please Xander, don’t make us move in with everyone else!” Tasha begged.
Xander pretended he wasn’t listening to them as he said, “They can share the smallest room… Oh no, it’s okay, they can clean it first, and then use sleeping bags until we get some bunk beds in there.”
Penny thought she was being tough earlier, but Xander had already reduced Tasha to tears and Randi looked like she wanted to tear her own hair out.
Xander glared at the girls. “You two did something so stupid I’m surprised you can walk and wield a sword at the same time! You know how important these wards are, and you screwed around with them, and then you didn’t tell anyone you had ruined them! You could have died! You could have gotten someone else killed! You got to stay on your own by promising to be responsible. Well, this is the exact opposite of responsible! We’ll have a van here within an hour. Have everything you own packed and ready to go. Clothes in suitcases and duffelbags, books and knickknacks in boxes, weapons in your gymbags. We’ll move the furniture and kitchen stuff later.” The girls just stared at him with pouts and teary eyes. “Get a move on! Now!”
They slunk off to their rooms to pack. Penny started to say something, but Xander shook his head abruptly. Oh, right. Slayer hearing.
Xander studied the damage and said, “We’ll fix the place up. We can do it for way less than the deposit and cleaning fee.”
Penny asked, “You can’t just bring in someone who can…” She mimed wiggling her nose. “…and fix it all instantly?”
He grinned and shook his head. “Nope. We don’t tax our specialists for stuff anybody can do. You never know when you’ll need ‘em fully juiced-up and ready to go. Cliff and a couple guys will have this place better than new before tomorrow close of business.”
Cliff finally said something. “If we can get a replacement window by tomorrow morning.”
Xander smiled. “I know a guy who knows a guy.” He said, “Let’s pull stuff off and see what we’ve got to replace.” He turned to Penny, “Anything else? Sorry, but things are gonna get dusty and dirty around here. And you still have to go make Mister Delgado wet himself, right?”
She nodded and said, “There is something else. I’d like you to meet me at Giordino’s at eight tonight.”
Xander cautiously said, “I’m not really ready to jump into anything.”
Penny grinned, “Do I look like ‘anything’ to you?”
Xander laughed and said, “I wasn’t planning on ‘jumping into’ you, either. You sure about this?”
Penny said, “It’s a safe meet with a potential contact. We’ve used Giordino’s for this kind of thing before. It’s also the best pure Italian food in Los Angeles. Be there at eight. Wear something nice. There may be someone else too. We eat all the food, we drink the wine, we have a nice time, we wait and see if they even show.”
Xander said, “That’s sounds… okay.”
Then Penny called Lorraine. “Good news. One, it’s all straightened out. Two, I got rid of the cop too. Three, it wasn’t the girls having a catfight, it was them fighting off an attack by two demons.”
Lorraine stiffly said, “Penny, that does not
sound like good news.”
“There is that,” Penny admitted. “So next step, as soon as I get back to the office, I need to call every Slay-house and warn ‘em about possible attacks.”
Lorraine said, “I’ll call Buffy and let her know. She’ll want a report from you. We need to figure out what the Wolf, the Ram, and the Hart are up to now.”
She got into her car and made another phone call. She got Faith’s answering machine. “Yo, what’s up? Leave one, and I’ll get back to ya if I feel like it.”
She said, “Faith? Penny. I’ve got something I need your help on. I need you for a meet tonight. Strictly peaceful. Giordino’s restaurant. Eight o’clock. Wear something really nice. I don’t know how long it’ll be before I get there, and I don’t know if or when the contact will show, so just eat as they bring out the courses, and enjoy the wine selections, and we’ll see how things play out.”
Penny hung up and made her last phone call. She went back to her English accent. “Hello, Giordino’s? This is Lorraine Goodbody of the NSAWC. I believe we have reserved your private rooms before?”
“Yes ma’am, we’re pretty happy with that arrangement, especially if you want the same deal and the same pricing.”
She said, “This is something slightly different, but same pricing. I need a private room for two to four, the full seven course meal on whatever your daily special is, and a wine for every course. Good wines only, please. Bill us the usual way.”
She smirked all the way down to Delgado’s office. She had a fat weasel to intimidate until he let the Council out of their rental agreement. She figured that as soon as she mentioned checking every apartment in the building for code violations – and maybe telling every tenant about the flimsy door and the unsafe window too – Delgado would be pleading to cut them loose instead.