The Way, Way Back
"Toe the line," the guard barks from behind the wire screen. "Stay *back* of the line."
I look down to see my slippered toes barely half a freaking inch over the yellow marker. The prison hacks are so anal about this shit, like they think a couple inches would make a diff if I wanted to throw some static. Anyway, I know this guard and he's not that bad. Just kind of a hard case, a Sipowicz wannabe. I roll my eyes, bite my tongue and step the fuck back. Things are too close to good for me to make a stink now.
"You heard the property recitation, right? Take one step forward and sign the claim voucher, retrieve your property envelope and step back behind the yellow line."
"Envelope? Hold up, Hondo, I had more stuff than could fit in that thing," I say, sort of low-grade pissed already. "Shirt, jacket, pants, my kicks - where's all that? You lift it? Your wife into leather or something?" Well, I won't make a *big* stink, anyhow. I gotta get a few licks in before he's rid of me.
He just throws me a look like he's passing gas through his nose. "I don't have to take your mouth no more, so you shut it PDQ, right? Now, if you wanna return to your cell and wait for me to go hunt down the rest of your things..."
"Forget it." I take one giant step toward the counter, lean forward and sign the paper. "Hope your wife doesn't pop the seams on my duds. Have fun pretending she's me."
He's glaring at me, but there's not much doubt he'll snipe back in a second or so. It's all he ever does, and in some funky way, I know he enjoys it. "Get lost, Punky Brewster. Go play on the freeway or something."
"I'll miss you, too, Luther." I blow him a kiss and follow my two gigantic hack escorts down the hall to my next stop on the farewell tour.
The hacks lead me through steel doors and wood doors and glass doors, past twenty-odd security cameras, until we finally get off the industrial tile and onto carpet -- a good sign. I haven't set foot on carpet in over a year. This is really happening. I'm getting out.
They lead me into a conference room and I drop what's left of my stuff on the floor, let them cuff me to a rolling office chair. I expect the cuffs, so it's no biggie by now. They tell me to sit tight and they leave me alone in this room with a big shiny table and leather chairs and this long, wide window full of morning sunshine. Eastern view, bright, bright light. Must be around seven-thirty or so.
There's a little spread on the table: danish, muffins, O.J. and coffee. I spent breakfast in the warden's office filling out paperwork, so I'm scraping down near the dangerous, growly levels of hungry. I'm eyeing the food pretty hard and just raising up to snag something when the door opens. On reflex, I sit back down and assume my "I wasn't doing nothing!" look.
"Eat if you're hungry," a woman says from the doorway. "That's why food exists."
Before she even gets all the words out of her mouth, I've got half a cream cheese danish stuck in mine. The damned thing tastes so good, I close my eyes and moan. It's the little things you miss while living the institutional life. I fold the rest of the danish into ye olde pie hole and stretch up for a plastic juice cup when I catch sight of the woman.
"I know you." It comes out as a crumby mumble, but she understands me just fine.
"Ditto, Faith," she says, taking a chair across the table.
Kate something or other, that's her. A cop who knows Angel, which means she knows what I am. She sat in when I wrote up my statement, but she didn't say much. She didn't raise the Slayer issue. Not saying much now, either, which is cool with me since I'm busy chewing and looking at her and such. Mostly looking, truth be told.
The sun's pouring over her shoulders, catching her hair, making it shine in a way that uproots memories of a girl I used to know. I feel this weird itch in my brain, and I wonder if I'm still allergic to blondes. Kate's look is simple: it's all about clear blue eyes, nice form, good clothes -- a light gray suit with a deep blue blouse underneath. The colors pick up her eyes. If she wasn't a cop, I'd say she was a fox, but I've never been able to separate the pig DNA from the fox elements right off. Takes more than a pretty face to shut down that old fear.
She slaps down a file and flips through some papers, then shuts it and starts eyeballing me like... I don't know. I can't tell what she's thinking and it ticks me off. I assume the worst. Always safer that way.
"That file isn't me, you know. I'm not that girl."
"Really?" Her eyes widen and she shakes her head. "That's too bad. The woman in this file is someone worth knowing."
I chug the juice and barely avoid spewing it on the table when I hear this. "Hello? Am I in the right room?"
She flicks an eyebrow and starts the double-talk. "The woman in this file has a record of exemplary behavior. Only two serious altercations in fourteen months - both incidents provoked by other parties. She's held a steady job in the prison factory for the last year, even been promoted three times. She's respected by her peer group, as well as her... umm, *supervisors.* Five trustees of a major California institution have vouched for her as a straight-up chick."
It's uncomfortable, hearing chapter and verse on my jail time, but I try to smirk it down to size. "Is that so?"
"Mmm. She's mentored abused inmates, intervened to defuse volatile situations and generally been as good as gold. On paper, this woman seems well-adjusted, a virtual poster girl for rehabilitation. She's centered and quiet, but still friendly and outgoing."
"Well, there's something we have in common. I'm *outgoing* -- right out the front gate."
"Wrong," she says, and I feel my heart drop until she finishes -- "I'll be taking you out through the police entrance on the east side."
The relief is so strong I can't help laughing. "Works for me, boss."
She brought me clothes. Her own, I think. Nothing slick, just a white button-down, faded jeans and old Adidas sneaks, but they're the most righteous civvies a convict could ask for. I changed in a bathroom stall while she waited at the sinks and made a phone call on her cellular.
"It's me. We're leaving soon... yeah, they signed off... you don't have to do that... probably half an hour or less, depending on traffic... okay, I get it, I get it! I know... just... just back off and trust me one more time, please... I promise you, I know what I'm doing."
That was her end of the phone conversation, and I'd be lying my ass off if I said it didn't bother me. I shook it off. Kate was taking me out of jail and that was all I knew for sure. She beeped off the phone and swore a few times, but she was sufficiently chilled by the time I popped out. No small talk then, just a thumb toward the door and we were beating feet out of the building.
We rode down the elevator, shot through the rat maze of halls and right past six armed L.A. County Deputies loafing at the front desk. One of them gave me the eye and, purely on reflex, I turned and winked at him. Couldn't help it. As Kate breezed by, she latched onto my elbow and hurried me along through the final passage - a long white hall with a video cam overhead. She flashed her badge at the lens. There was a loud buzz and the double doors whooshed open... and I saw the parking lot.
Man, I wanted to scream right then, just let one rip and hear my voice bouncing across the world again: "Hey, Cali! Lock your doors and windows and secure all your fuckables! I'm back on the bricks!"
That's what my cell mate Chuny claims she's gonna yell when she gets out next year. She's knocking off the last leg of an eighteen-month bid for castrating a bartender who raped her while she was catatonic, stuck in a K-hole. Dumb bitch shouldn't have been doping on cat valium in the first place, though nobody deserves what she got. He worked her over pretty bad, but he won't be pulling that shit on anybody else - can't doodle with a clipped noodle.
Chuny's been pretty sweet to me, but she's a total sheetkicker, wilder than I ever was. Makes me feel like a cloistered nun when she starts ticking off all the things she's done, all the people she's done 'em with. Christ, I think national sales of condoms, dental dams and Astroglide must have dropped off sharp the day my bunkie got arrested.
Anyway. Kate must have seen that urge to shout coming over me because she tightened her grip on my arm and gave a tight shake of her head. She sped us up to double-time until we reached her ride, a midnight blue Dodge Durango SUV that looks like a crouching gorilla. Once inside, she let out a long breath and shut her eyes, lowered her head. Body language that reads "I just screwed the pooch, big time."
That's when I admitted to myself that something was truly fucked about this whole deal. I felt it from the first moment I got word, but I didn't feel like I should open my trap and blow it. I hadn't asked any questions when they told me I was being released this morning. It didn't seem *right*, serving just fourteen months for all the shit I'd copped to, but I held my tongue and let it roll over me. If this was the way it was supposed to be, then fine. I can make it work. Whatever happens next, I can deal. Can't save the world in jail, right? That's what I told myself.
Now I'm sitting here beside this cop, in her personal car, wearing her clothes, and we're blasting down the interstate toward Los Angeles - way too fast to stop now - and I finally get up the nerve to say it out loud.
"This is bogus, isn't it? I'm not supposed to be out."
She grips the steering wheel tight and changes lanes. She glances over at me and holds my eyes real steady. "No. I faked the paperwork."
"Awww, fuck me!"
I feel like I'm gonna be sick. All the work I did to straighten out my twisted head, to get back on the right side of the game, and this happens. Shit, I knew it was wack from the get-go and I *let* this happen anyway. Gwendolyn Post was right -- I am an idiot.
"Who's paying you?" I ask, not at all friendly and a little loud. "The Watchers? Those pansy fucks at Wolfman and Hart?"
"It's *Wolfram*, and no, it's not like that. I'm not some bounty hunter."
It takes a second to decide, but I believe her. She's not selling me out, but that's not enough to cool my temper. "You know, I may not be nesting with the cuckoos anymore, but I can still go off on you like a goddamned nuclear warhead. Why am I here? Lay it out for me and make it good."
She sighs and rubs at her face with one palm while the other is still white-knuckling the wheel. I notice that she's crying. Proud tears, the kind that don't come with sobs and shaking shoulders. Just an overflow of pain sneaking out through your eyes.
"I need your help," she whispers, so low I can barely hear her.
Maybe I've got no self-esteem or something, but this strikes me as ridiculous. I'm not tops on anyone's hero call sheet anymore... like that was ever the case. I don't laugh or smirk, though. She's obviously in a bad way and it wouldn't be cool to play her off like that.
"C'mon. You're a cop and you got friends. Anything the blue army can't handle, Angel can."
"The department can't get involved in this. Angel *could* help... but he won't."
That sends a chill climbing from hips to neck. The Undead Pimpernel will snap the crap out of a rule if the cause is just, which means this is a just cause of the un-variety. I don't know if I'm ready to test my moral compass yet. It's working better these days, but I don't want to push my luck.
"Take me back," I tell her. "Say it was a computer error or something."
"It's too late for that. The conference room was the point of no return. I can't say I didn't recognize you and I can't claim it was a good faith mistake."
"Then take me back and dump me in the parking lot!" I'm yelling now, and I'm good and pissed. And scared. "You fucked up here, lady, and I don't wanna go down with you!"
"Christ, you think I *wanted* to do things this way? I just flushed my entire career to get you out because I *need* a Slayer!"
"Hey, there's one up in Sunnydale - oh, and you know what? She isn't serving a fifteen year bid for multiple homicide! She isn't an escaped felon! "
"If Angel wouldn't help me, what are the chances that Buffy Summers would?"
She makes a good point, this Kate. B is righteous, in her own self-righteous way. She generally doesn't truck with vigilante jack-ups, which is what I'm leaning toward as Kate's motive for this slick little jail-break... which really sounds too tough for what happened. A jail-walk, stroll? Jail-abandonment? How the hell did this happen?
It was so easy, Kate must have had help. Big-shot type help. All that paperwork looked real to me, signed by judges and clerks and what-all. The warden bought it, let me out with a pat on the back and a "good luck, young woman." Maybe it's a conspiracy, like that stuff on The X-Files... shit, I hope not. I'm about to tell her that I don't want to make alien/Slayer hybrid babies when she pipes up again.
"I've arranged for a safe-house, a little place out in Echo Park," Kate informs me. She's all calm now, no more tears, and her voice is dead steady. "All I can ask is that you give me a chance to explain why I did... why I need you. If you choose not to help me, I'll have someone take you back to the jail, along with a letter explaining my actions. And my resignation from the department."
We're nearly to Echo Park already. Even though she's not crying now, the ache is still showing on her face. She's just so *sad,* desperate for somebody to listen, to help. What could it hurt to hear her out? It'd just tack on a few hours to my 'accidental absence' from the big house. My cell mate wouldn't even have a chance to miss me. What could it hurt? I'm supposed to help people. That's why I was called, that's why I exist. Who's to say that Angel and Buffy are the last word on what's right, on who gets helped and who gets blown off? What could it hurt?
God, she looks so hopeful, it's almost pathetic. "This better be the explanation of the century," I warn her, "and you'd better have plenty of snacky cakes on hand. Slayers don't listen so good when we're peckish."
Kate tells me she doesn't want to jump into the deep end of the story until we're off the streets and settled in, and I don't press her. I get the feeling that would be a bad idea, with her being so edgy and moody and heavily armed. My jail shrink says I'm real perceptive and that I should trust my 'better instincts' more often, so I'm following Kate's lead for now. Mostly for shits and giggles, I ask her a bunch of obnoxious little personal questions. I figure since she practically kidnapped me, she's gotta humor me, right?
Well, here's my crash course on Detective Kate Lockley: thirty-one years old... unmarried... no kids... parents dead... dad was a retired cop, mom passed when Kate was little... she respects Angel's whole evil-fightin' thing but *hates* talking about vamps... non-smoker... drinks a beer or two socially... thinks O.J. did it... likes Liz Phair and Portishead (I saw the cd covers in the glove box)... always has a pack of Dentyne Ice in her purse or jacket... speaks Spanish... knows the truth is out there, but wishes the creepier parts of it had stayed the hell away from her relatively normal life.
I pumped out all that info in less than three minutes. She says I should have been a cop, but I don't know how to take that. I think she meant it as a good thing.
I'm already leaning toward liking her, but I'm not totally sure why. She always looks over at me before she answers, and I like that. Eye contact is good, builds rapport and trust. She's got an honest vibe humming under her words, and I like that, too. I need to be around people who tell me the truth. Maybe that's why I'm warming to Kate. It's either that or the novelty of being jail-napped by a troubled hottie with a gun and a badge. I gotta admit, this is the most excitement I've had in months.
"So are you and Angel, like, boyfriend and girlfriend?" I ask while smacking on three pieces of poached chewing gum. I'm not a hog, I only snagged so many because my breath was wicked foul. And I already know the answer to the boyfriend question. I'm just being a pain, testing her out.
"No." She turns pink around the ears, down her throat. It's cute, how she blushes.
"How come? He's got a righteous job, nice manners, looks like an after shave model... oh, wait! It's not that little *dental challenge* he's got going, is it?"
She shoots me a nasty look for that one. Right, she's touchy about the vamp issues. Gotta remember that. She's still stammering around her excuse, and it's actually kinda nice how she doesn't want to say anything mean about him, undead or not.
"It's not that he isn't... at one time, I thought... I'm just... no. We're just friends."
Well, okay. So she doesn't dig him enough to overlook the lack of pulse. Some girls don't mind if the broad shoulder is a little chilly. This I know for a fact. "Is he seeing anbody?"
"I don't keep tabs on his availability." She squints a little, gives a half-smile. "Why all the interest in Angel's love life?"
Heh. Turn the tables on me -- typical cop tactics. Fine, I got nothing to hide, no pocket motives. I sucked at all that secret squirrel junk anyway. I'm better off just being real. "I'm not going all green-eyed monster here, okay? Angel used to see this friend of mine... ex-friend, I guess. I was wondering if they'd worked things out, hooked up again, that's all."
She pauses and nods, making me think she knows what I'm referring to. I wonder how much she does know about that whole scene -- the curse, Angel and Buffy, Angelus and Buffy... me and Buffy. I'm hoping she's ignorant on that last score. Not a big source of pride for me.
"I don't think so, but I can't say for certain," she offers. "Doesn't he write to you every week? There was a notation in your file about a regular correspondence."
"Yeah, he writes, but he doesn't let on about his personal life. Some topics are off-limits."
Kate nods and checks the mirrors, changes lanes. "I know what you mean -- when he clams up about something, he stays that way. I can't imagine him opening up enough to write more than ten words. Ten terse words."
"So he's not Johnny Verbal, so fucking what. At least he's trying."
I hear myself sounding defensive, even though Kate's obviously joking, not really slamming Angel. Huh. New feeling: irrational protectiveness. My shrink would be so proud of me for recognizing it and slapping a name on it, he'd probably try to hug me or sneak me one of those nasty granola bars or something.
Dr. Steinman's a hippie, a real touchy-feely, hemp-wearing throwback, but he's pretty cool. I decided he was cool after our first session, where he listened to my bullshit rant about how the shitty prison food was messing up my stomach, then looked me dead in the eyes and said, "Papaya enzyme." He gave me a handful of chewable yellow pills that tasted like candy and told me to hide them from the guards, then he told me to get lost. The papaya stuff worked like a charm. Wasn't long before I actually started talking to him for real.
Doc's always saying how I should think more before I snap off an insult or a punch, and I've been trying to do that. Maybe it's working, 'cause once I see that it makes no sense to be pissed over some weak remark, I pick back up and start talking to Kate again -- sans attitude.
"Anyway. He lets me vent my brain and gives me advice on whatever's bugging me. Sometimes he sends stuff for me to read, like books and articles. Lot of word puzzles, crosswords and that kind of thing. Comic books, too, but only once in a while."
I have to smile about the mind movie that always brings up: Angel in a comic shop, asking the clerk what's a good read for a nineteen year-old female convict prone to promiscuity, boredom, loneliness, and violent psychotic breaks. For whatever reason, he always comes up with the same titles - Strangers in Paradise and old X-Men back issues. I don't complain. What's that old saying? Beggars shouldn't bitch or they won't get shit? Well, that's my maxim on the comic issue.
Kate glances at me as she's changing lanes again and sliding onto the exit ramp. She's a good driver. I half forgot we were on the freeway, things have been going so smooth. Man, I wish I knew how to drive good, but my lessons got cut short. Never got to practice again once I left... once I ran away from Boston. It would have saved me a lot of trouble with boxcars and buses over the years. 'Course it would have brought down a lot of grand theft auto charges, too. Hell, maybe I'm better off ignorant.
"I'm sure Angel would have come to visit you if he could," Kate says, gently breaking the silence.
I know he would. He reminds me of that all the time. The fact that he wants to visit is almost better than a visit. It's a good feeling, knowing I'm not forgotten, that somebody's walking the world and thinking about me without hating me. "Yeah, well. No underground access at the jail. Makes the *day* part of visiting day kind of tough on him."
"Mmm. You know, if this works out... " she starts, then pulls back, shakes her head and starts again on something else. "I'm sorry. I should have tried to help, asked the warden for an evening exception or something."
Where did *that* come from? She sounds all guilty and sad again, but damn if I know why that is. "Why should you have done that for me? You didn't owe me jack."
She's chewing on that one as we turn off the surface street and into a mobile home park. It's neat and clean, little lawns and flowers, no cars up on blocks or washing machines rusting in the yards. We keep rolling deeper into the park until we hit the last row of trailers, and she parks in front of a squat brown one with chipped cement steps. Not quite what I pictured when she said "safe house," but she's not running this game on LAPD funds. A room at The Beverly Wilshire is probably out of her range.
I'm ready to get out of the car but Kate's sitting still, gripping the wheel and staring at nothing. Tight face, eyes unfocused, white knuckles criss-crossed with thin red cuts I hadn't noticed before -- she's pounded the hell out of something or someone recently. I know this drill, the staring, the spaced-out bit. She's seeing something, holding on to something that ain't there. Whatever it is, it's burning her up inside. I can practically smell it.
I should do something. I'm still shaky about comforting people with words - 'cause I usually say something lame - so I put my hand on her arm. Just a touch, just a light grip, and the moment breaks. She turns to me and smirks, like she's embarrassed over the drift, then looks out the window. I let go of her and guess I did the right thing. Touch is good that way - it's a 'right now' message that you're not alone. Dr. Steinman didn't have to tell me that one. I got a long history of *touching* people when I felt like shit. Sometimes it even helped for a while.
"This isn't what I wanted to be. I'm supposed to *help* people," Kate whispers.
Maybe that's her answer to my question, maybe she's talking to herself. Either way, it sounds like a familiar song. I think maybe I should ask her for another verse, but there's no time as she shifts in the seat and opens her door, gestures for me to follow along.
Once out of the Dodge, I'm looking around the place for any signs of trouble. Doesn't take long to find one. There's no underpinning on this brown trailer, so I can see underneath all the way to the back. There's a car parked behind, a shiny black Lincoln hidden from plain view.
"Somebody's already here," I say to Kate. She nods at me, but I'm still hanging back behind her ride until I get more info. "Black Lincoln. Friend of yours?"
She's already up the steps and unlocking the door. "Yeah, I know him." She swings it wide open and checks inside, then motions for me to come ahead. "It's okay. I wouldn't go to all this trouble just to let you get jumped out here in the boonies."
I'm not really expecting a fight, but I clench my fists anyway and head up the steps, past Kate and into the trailer. It isn't half-bad inside; there's clean gold-colored carpet and linoleum, wood paneled walls, no dust on the furniture, air smells like lemons. It's way better than most of the places I've stayed.
There's a guy sitting at the kitchen table, old guy with snowy hair and a spiffy business suit, and he's looking from Kate to me and back again. He sits up straight and folds his hands - manicured, with two narrow, antique-looking gold and diamond bands on his left ring finger. Money, money, money.
"This is the young woman we spoke of?" he asks. He sounds like a guy from a Bible movie, all deep and bossy, like everything he says matters. He's sneering at me already. "The one who is supposedly able to help us?"
Kate locks the door behind her and moves to stand by me. She jerks her chin at the old man. "The honorable Daniel Guerlain of the California State Superior Court. He helped mock up your release paperwork."
Oh. Well, that explains a couple things, but it raises another slew of questions. Why the hell would some big-shot judge pull strings, lie, and risk his job just to get me here? Since I'm hoping to find out the easy way -- letting Kate tell me instead of beating it out of some rich old fart - I give him a half smile and a little wave. "Hey. Thanks for the furlough, your honor."
He just blinks at me real fast, like he's trying to make me disappear, and scowls at Kate. She hasn't even spoken to him yet. If there are sides being taken in this room, I get the idea she's on my side... or maybe I'm supposed to be on hers. Whatever. There's a definite chill between these two.
"Faith, you can help yourself to whatever's in the kitchen," Kate offers, "The judge and I need to talk." She crooks her finger at him and marches off to a back bedroom.
He scowls at me and I smile back. As soon as he gets up and turns away, I flip him the bird. Some people are always going to look down on me, no matter what. I can't beat his balls off just for being pissy, I know that now. He's not the first to look at me that way, and there'll be more after him. I hear the bedroom door slam loud, and I'm guessing Kate doesn't like his attitude, either.
In the kitchen, there's bread and sandwich stuff aplenty, so I set about assembling a monster Dagwood while drinking a Pepsi and eavesdropping on their conversation. Dr. Steinman says I'm good at multi-tasking. It's a good thing, too, because they talk low and fast.
"I cannot believe I allowed myself to become involved in another of these ill-conceived schemes. Kate, she's a child! Over and above that, she's a murderer!"
"And we're pure as the driven snow?"
"That was entirely different. We had just intent and made a mistake - one mistake - but this girl..."
"Daniel, she can do it. I believe that."
"Cold comfort, my dear. You also believed that Angel fellow would give aid, and where is he?"
"I told you that he had personal reasons for refusing. He said they would interfere with his judgment and he didn't want to risk it, but Faith doesn't have his history."
"No, she has an *entirely different* history, one which could result in entirely different disasters. Namely the destruction of both our careers - and possibly a great deal more - should she fail."
"I'm willing to take that chance. The book says that only those touched by the hand of destiny can make the machine work. I'm telling you, she qualifies. You've got to trust me on that."
"Supposing she can operate the apparatus, what makes you so certain she won't betray us and use it for her own gain?"
"I have it on good authority that, if she agrees to help, she'll keep her word."
"Her record hardly indicates a person of surpassing honor."
"But she genuinely *wants* to be. You're a big proponent of women's rehabilitation, right? This could help her as much as us. Everybody wins."
"I want to believe that, but if she fails..."
"But if she *does*, I suppose we'll be taking early retirement in Mexico."
"Daniel, you know I won't -- "
"I know, I know. You don't want to run away from this. Still, should you change your mind, I obtained the papers you requested. The key is in the cabinet."
"Thank you. You should go."
"Now? Shouldn't I stay and help explain things to her?"
"No, I can... I'll *try* to do it myself. Just go home. I'll call you later."
I'm wolfing down the last bite of my sandwich when the bedroom door opens and the old guy comes out. He casts a hard look my way, shakes his head, then ducks out the back. Well, screw you, too, Judge Judy. Time was, I'd have taken his gavel and shoved it up his... nevermind.
I want to wash up, so I duck into the bathroom and switch on the lights. Another clean, run-down room, mostly beige and white, with a low toilet, cracked fiberglass tub and drippy sink. The medicine cabinet mirror is gone; I see shards of broken glass in the trash can. So much for primping. I must look like hell, not that it matters. Who's around to impress? A cop who snatched me from jail? Aww, don't be a jack-ass. Kate's looking for a soldier, not a cover girl.
I wash the mustard off my fingers, swish some water in my mouth, and head back to the empty kitchen. I wind up fixing my hair by using the shiny side of the toaster. Shut-up. I can't help not wanting to look like a scrub.
By the time Kate comes out of the bedroom, I'm at the table chugging the last of my soda and wondering if there's any candy bars around. Haven't had a Twix in a long time.
"Did you find something to eat?" she asks.
"Yeah, I'm full-up now. Thanks."
That was a damned fine sandwich, if I do say so myself, although the dinner conversation was a little confusing. Angel's past, hand of destiny, some machine-thingy, cops and judges running off to Mexico... and Kate saying some pretty cool things about me. I heard it all, but I'm still lost. Kate grabs a beer from the fridge and sits down across from me.
"Can I have one of those?" I ask, eyeing the longneck bottle. I just want to see what she'll say.
She frowns and shakes her head. "You're underage."
"You turn me into a fugitive from justice and you're gonna nit-pick about the wholesome goodness of barley and hops?"
"Yes, I am."
"Christ. Well, it's barely nine o'clock - isn't it kinda early for even a fully legal adult to be hitting the brewskies?"
She looks confused and checks her watch, shakes her head. "You're right." She puts the beer back and replaces it with a can of Pepsi. "I haven't been sleeping much lately. My body clock must be off. It feels later than this."
"You should try prison," I joke. "All that regimented living will get your clock right back on track. I could probably tell the time within ten minutes at any point, day or night."
"Mmm. If I keep committing felonies at this rate, I might just wind up there," she responds. "Are you in the market for a new cell mate?"
Her face is so still, it takes me a second to realize she's joking, too. Bet she's good at poker. Bluff you right out of your last nickel with a face like that. It makes me nervous, that serious look, and when the nerves vibrate, I wanna get hostile or make with the jokes.
"No offense, but if the cholas found out my bunkie was a cop, I'd lose all my social standing. No more high teas with the cell block D garden club."
Kate actually smiles at this. Nice smile, real pretty. "Oh. We can't have that."
"You'd be welcome to visit my pod, though," I add, "Don't want you to think I'm rude."
She snorts and looks down at the table. "That's not my impression."
"Really. So what's your take on me, Detective Kate?"
I leave the question wide open. Doctor S. says you get more insight that way, get a better feel for what's on someone's mind. Kate quits smiling -- uh-oh. She looks away and then turns back to me, all serious again. It's unnerving how her eyes can harden up from water to ice within a couple of blinks. She leans forward and uses those blue icicles to pin me down, make me pay attention. Surprisingly, it works.
"I think you walked into the maze intending to kill the Minotaur, but your guiding thread was cut and you were left alone in the dark," Kate says, totally straightfaced.
"I think you got lost, confused. You struck out at anything that crossed your path because, in the dark, you can't tell friend from foe. When the lights came back up and you saw the damage you'd done, you were penitent. Now you're a humbled hero on bended knee, waiting for the call to arms, waiting for a shot at redemption. You're afraid that call will never come or, if it does come, you won't be able to hear. You've been serving your time so very quietly, not making any noise, because you're *listening* for that call. The only reason you haven't beaten me down and run back to your cell is you're wondering if *this* could be it."
She glances at me, checks my reaction. "How'd I do?"
Goddamn. I was expecting another cop dodge or some shrinky platitude, not Greek Myths 101. I think I like her abridged, glossed-over version of my story - it's a whole lot prettier than the truth. If she got that rosy impression of me from Angel, the guy's in the wrong line of work. He oughta be a publicist. And it's kinda flattering how she took it for granted that I'd know what she was talking about with that Minotaur stuff... or maybe she just got some inside information. Makes it easier to work me.
"You checked my library record, didn't you, Kate?" I ask, eyebrow at half-mast.
She nearly smiles again, knows she's busted. "You took out Hamilton's Mythology eight times, Bulfinch's five times. I figured my clever choice of reference wouldn't go to waste."
"Sneaky, sneaky." I wave a finger at her and make that tsk-tsk sound, a routine my second grade teacher used to lay on me when I tried to pull a fast one. "Trying to soften me up by making me feel all smart, eh? I gotta admit, nobody's tried that one before. The odds are too long."
"You are smart," Kate says. "If you weren't, you wouldn't have realized what I was doing."
"That's not smarts, that's me being gun shy," I admit. "I got a history of being a world class dupe, and it's a habit I'm looking to break."
"Sorry. I didn't mean to offend you."
"Don't sweat it. Stroking me once is a mistake, but twice could mean static. It'd be better for you to just spit it out, you know."
She looks confused, all blinky and squinty. "Spit it out?"
"The reason you nabbed me. Why the urgent need for a shady Slayer?"
I lean back in my chair and cross my arms, content to wait her out. Kate bites her bottom lip and flicks the tab on her Pepsi can... takes a sip... sighs... and finally speaks. Boy, does she ever speak.
"I've been putting this off because I suspect that you'll say no, and I won't blame you if you do refuse, but I had to take the chance that you might want to help because it's something that definitely counts as a good deed, and it's one that only someone with your unique qualifications can undertake or could even attempt to understand since the nature of the problem is beyond absurd and maybe I'm wrong and there's nothing that can be done, but I need to know if you're willing to try."
Uh-huh. Guess I'm not the only one who's nervous. I wait a beat to make sure she's done, then another just for safety. I don't wanna get run over if she cranks up again. "Sorry, but you lost me right around 'good deed.' Slow down, huh?"
"Right, I'm sorry for going on like... no. Just get to the point, Kate," she tells herself, fingers flexing and tapping on the tabletop. "Faith, do you believe in time travel?"
Oooo-kay. So maybe she's cracked, right down the middle and sideways for good measure. Still, she looks so earnest, so serious, that I have to give her a chance to make sense. I try to wipe the "you're shittin' me" smirk off my face before I respond.
"Yes. Do you believe it's possible?"
"Are we talking 'science machine' possible or 'magic' possible?"
She gives a frustrated groan, like that's some majorly tough question. "A little of both. There's a machine involved and, apparently, it operates through the use of magic." Kate sighs and drops her face into her hands. "My God, this sounds so stupid."
Yeah, it does, but I've seen enough weirdness to know that she *might not* be crazy. It's a slim chance, but still. Plus, there's that whole 'big gun under her jacket' issue. I shrug off the doubt and decide to toss her a bone, maybe make her feel better.
"Naw, it's not stupid. It's like that old cartoon show on Bullwinkle, right? Professor Peabody and Sherman had this machine that sent them back in time, but they never said how the thing worked. It had to be magic," I offer. "I mean, how else does a dog become a professor in the first place?"
"Liberal arts schools," she says. Kate lifts her eyes and smiles again. "It was called 'the way, way back.' Professor Peabody's machine."
"Oh. I see you know the classics."
She looks so different when she smiles. I like helping it happen, but man, that was almost too easy. I'm using the playful voice, working the wide, sensitive eyes and gullible open mouth for all I'm worth -- good to know it still does the trick. Doc says that if I'd done this routine for the judge at my sentencing, he'd have lopped five years off my bid for sure.
"I'm not joking, you know," she tells me. "This is a real thing, this machine, and the demon who operates it is real, too."
Demon! Okay, now this is starting to make sense. I lean closer and I can't help sounding excited. "Lemme guess -- you want me to knock off this demon, right?"
"Bust him up and wreck his gadget?"
"No! No, no."
"Do a little seduction routine while you steal his goodies?"
"God, no," she winces.
"Uh-huh." I sit back again and throw up my hands. "Well, so much for me winning Ben Stein's money. I'm tapped."
Kate rolls her eyes, then quickly resumes the serious face. "I want you to apply what you've learned in prison, along with your Slayer abilities, to fix something by using that machine."
What I learned in prison? There's not much that could be put to practical use, that's for damn sure. I learned how to read an entire book without getting restless - real useful for fighting demons. I learned how to cuss someone out in Spanish, how to eat baked fish without puking, how to come without making a sound, how to make a multi-point shiv with a toothbrush, a lighter, and broken sewing needles from the prison factory where I work - wait a second.
This might sound like a stupid question, but... "Does this machine-thing involve sewing?"
The blue eyes spark a bit. I think she likes it when I catch on fast. "Yes, of a sort."
"Kickin' - I can do that. How's the gadget supposed to work?"
"That's just it, no one seems to know for sure. The specifics are a mystery." Kate punches the air with a finger, like she's pushing the pause button on this scene. "But I do have a couple of things I want you to see."
"Good strategy. I'm down with the visual aids."
She gets up and ducks into the bedroom. After a few seconds, she comes back carrying an old wooden box and a big fat book. She sets the box in front of me on the table, folds her arms around the book and looks all expectant, like she's waiting for me to gasp in awe or something over this stupid hunk of wood. It does look old and expensive - dark and shiny from countless coats of enamel, pretty green inlay on the lid worked into a pattern, like a bunch of strings wound into a figure eight - but it takes a lot to impress me.
"I like your box, Detective." I give it out deadpan, but Kate sighs and lets it slide.
"So open it up." She's almost smirky, which raises my expectations for a nasty surprise.
"For me? How thoughtful." I smile sweetly and flip up the lid, ready for whatever strange, scary, creepy... aww, what a gyp! No spiders, no snakes, nothing much to speak of, really. Inside the box is a string, just a piece of jade green string about eighteen inches long. I pick it up and dangle it in the air. "Okay, I'll try it on, but I won't pose for pictures."
She gives me a crooked little sneer. "Life is full of disappointments."
"Ain't it just. So what is this? Magic yo-yo string? Saint Patrick's dental floss?"
"I believe it's something called a fatecord."
"Uh-huh." I wrap it around my pinkie and pull until the tip turns purple. I pull tight, hard and harder until it hurts. The string is stronger than it looks. I give it a serious tug, but I can't break it. I guess that's saying something. "And what is it supposed to do?"
"Fatecords are used by temporal demons to secure alteration seams in the timeline. At least, that's what this book says."
Kate holds up the fat, leather-bound volume. It's like the ones Giles used to have scattered all over his place, the ones I was *supposed* to study but never did. If I ever used a book like that, it was as a coaster for my soda can. God, that used to piss him off.
"The Temporal Lore of Jeulnor," Kate announces. "There's an entry on fatecords and the demons who used them. Pages ninety-five to ninety-eight." She lays the book on the table and I get the feeling I've just been given a homework assignment.
I drop the green thread - excuse me, the *fatecord* - back in its box and check out the big, spooky book. Lots of drawings of slimy, snarling monsters... spells in dead languages... sketches of cursed objects... it's pretty standard for a demon manual, but it's weird to see one again. These books were never on the prison library cart.
"Kate, where'd you come by this thing? They don't sell these at Borders."
She looks sheepish, glances sideways. "I took it from Wesley."
"Ha! You stole it?"
She nods, so I do the frown and finger wag bit. She shrugs in response, like it's not weighing too heavily on her conscience.
"He took it from the Watchers, I took it from him," she explains. "Needs must."
"If you say so, scofflaw." I flip the pages 'til ninety-five rolls around and I skim the text and pictures -- it's all a blur. I don't like reading with people watching me. I need to take my time and I get self-conscious if somebody's waiting for me to finish. "So what am I looking for?"
"Page ninety-six, bottom right."
I find the sketch and -- Hey! -- it *is* a sewing machine. It looks like one, anyway... a really, really old one. Iron and brass with push pedals, a fat clear thread holder on top and a needle big enough to take down a rhino. There's no fancy name for the thing, just a caption under the illustration that reads "The Machine." Ooh. I scared.
"The only demons empowered to activate the fatecords or the tools that use them are called, appropriately enough, Tailors. Next page has an illustration," she says.
I flip the page and expect to find a boogermonster with horns and claws, but the drawing of a Tailor demon looks like - I swear to God - John Waters, the movie director. Skinny, pale humanoid with slick black hair and a pencil-thin mustache, shiny shoes and a dandy pinstriped suit. Terrifying. Truly.
"It says here that these guys were 'rendered extinct during a slaughter lasting from 1723 to 1910,'" I read. "They were 'hunted down for bounty due to myriad betrayals and transgressions, including abuse of power and insubordination.'"
"The book is wrong about them being extinct." Kate speaks with surety, like she's telling me the earth is round or chocolate tastes good. "There is a Tailor demon working in Los Angeles -- quietly. He must have slipped through the cracks."
"How'd you know he was here?"
"I paid someone to do a locator spell." She shakes her head, almost groans, like she can't believe she even *said* that, let alone did it. "I know the area where he's hiding. I want to find the Tailor, use him, and put him out of business."
Her voice got all whispery and low on that last part. Girlfriend's got some Dirty Harry Callahan mixed up with her Barbie-ness. I like it. "How dangerous are these things? They must not be so tough if they got hunted down to practically nil in less than two hundred years."
"They're not aggressive, not in the traditional sense," Kate explains. "Tailors don't grab people off the streets and chew on their bones or anything. They lure their victims in through magic, through temptation and desire. The demon is a specialist, and it never strays far from the machine -- the source of its power."
That's good news. I'm not sure how sharp the edge is on my fighting skills these days, and I sure don't wanna play it sloppy and get smoked by this bony little jerk. "What's the deal with the machine?"
"Between what I got through footwork and what the book says, it appears that the machine has the power to alter to a person's past, to rip an opening in the fabric of time and send you back to your one moment of greatest regret, allowing you to change your actions. To alter the course of your life."
I gotta admit, she's got my full attention. I feel myself getting worked up - heart picking up speed, muscles jumping, mouth watering... oh, this is good. Sick as it seems, I really miss hearing this kind of freaky shit. Nobody talks about demons in the slam, unless they're just dissing their player boyfriends in a creative way. They probably couldn't bend their brains around what Kate's giving me.
"You can go back and change *one* event? Just one?"
"Mmm, that's one of the known constraints. It's said that a Tailor can provide you with only one chance to remake a specific event, that you can't revisit the same time over and over and do it ten different ways. As soon as you make a significant change, that's it."
"Do you get to pick what you undo or does the demon choose it for you?"
"I don't know. I hope they believe the customer is always right." She rubs her eyes and shakes her head. "Anyway, after you un-make your error, the Tailor stitches up the tear in time and you're returned to the present to assume your newly repaired life. You return to a changed world, and the changes reach as far as the repercussions of your actions."
"So, like, everything could be different?"
"Or everything could be nearly the same as it was. It's a crap shoot."
Damn. No wonder the Tailors got so full of themselves and started acting up. That's some heavy power to trip on, giving people a do-over on their worst scenes. Even if there's no satisfaction guarantee, a lot of folks would be trippin' over themselves to give it a whirl.
"What's the catch for the customer?" I ask, 'cause there's always a catch to these 'fix your life through sorcery' schemes.
Kate's leaning against the refrigerator. She looks tired and her face is tight again. "In return for the Tailor's services, he makes you blood-sign a contract giving over your immortal soul to... his boss. You know who."
"Hell's Big Kahuna?"
"So says the book. You live out your altered life with no interference, but when you die, you go directly to hell."
"Do not pass go, do not collect two-hundred dollars," I add. "Steep ticket."
"I'm guessing a lot of the customers just didn't believe in hell, or didn't care. It's a price a lot of people are willing to pay if they can make this life happier." Kate pauses and lowers her voice to a whisper. "Ease the pain. Whatever."
I see her cheek twitch, but that's it. She's still holding it in pretty good. "You said that when you come back from making the fix, things are just... different? How far does that go?"
"I honestly don't know. I guess the extent of the changes you see would depend on what events you personally altered by the choices you made, the impact your decisions had on others. Also, the changed event must be something that happened to *you*, so you can't go back and assassinate Hitler or anything like that. It's all about your personal experience."
"Makes sense. And I'm guessing that no one is any the wiser after your fix? No one knows the real deal but you and the demon?"
"That 's how I understand it," Kate agrees. "The Tailor sews up the holes with fatecords, and once the deal is signed and sealed, that's it. The alterations become permanent."
"Okay, I'm with you so far, but where does the sewing Slayer thing come into play?"
She nods and boosts herself away from the fridge, sits down opposite me again. She traces a finger on the black box lid, following the colored loops round and round. "Wesley was explaining that part when Angel barged in and told us to drop it. He was only interested in finding the Tailor and destroying the machine."
"And you clammed up on him."
"You're damned right, I did," she snaps. "You get what you give, and Angel didn't give me anything. I tried getting more information from Wesley later, but by then Angel had convinced him that it's too dangerous. He shut me out, too."
Too dangerous for a souled vamp and a sacked Watcher. Naturally, she thought of Kamikaze Faith, the suicidal Slayer who jumps off buildings without a parachute. Hell, I don't know what I was expecting. "Did you snag any other info from Wes?"
"Not much. As I said before, these demons are supposedly master manipulators, able to use your deepest desires and regrets to tempt you into signing their contract. He also said the only other beings capable of using the Tailor's equipment are those touched by the hand of destiny. He mentioned Slayers, saints, martyrs, warriors of the Dioscuri -- "
"Dioscuri, it means divine twins. They were demi-gods and prophets or something. Angel once told me they looked like glittery club kids with supernatural powers. Oracles, I think he said, but he led me to believe they are now... defunct."
Angel says. Which means he met them, which means that's probably how he qualifies to work the Tailor's voodoo. Okay, I'm keeping pace with the logic. Barely. "You said earlier that Angel could help, but he won't. Why'd he shut you out?"
"First, he said that too little is known about Tailor demons, and that it's foolish to shake hands with a shadow... or words to that effect. Later, he admitted that he's dead-set against the whole concept of fate alterations. Apparently, he's had a bad experience with them," Kate says with a shrug. "When I asked him to tell me about it, he looked almost queasy. Cordelia implied that it had to do with Buffy Summers, but she wouldn't offer much beyond that."
Buffy. Of course it had to do with Buffy. If Angel's reasons for veering off were about his thing with B, I can't fault him. How I fucked things up with her, that's a sore spot in me that just won't heal. I know it's gotta be a hundred times worse for Angel. I'll be dead in a few years, max, but he's gonna have to live without her forever. He doesn't need to be reminded of that, or tempted to risk his soul to be with her. Guess I can see why he turned Kate down.
I shouldn't ask, but it's like trying not to pick at a scab. I can't stop myself. "Did *he* say anything about what happened? About the ... the fate thing. Buffy and all."
"Barely. We spoke once more, but all he said was that sometimes we have to live with the pain, the guilt of our mistakes. Just... abide it." She stops talking and covers her eyes, rubs at them roughly. Tears are forming, but she's pushing them down as hard as she can. Girl's tough, I gotta give her that. "I don't think I'm that strong, not like him," she says.
"He's had a few hundred years to get used to it, you know," I remind her, but she just shakes her head like that's way beside the point.
"I don't sleep more than an hour or so a night - haven't for weeks now. I've been running on caffeine and it's catching up with me. I'm getting tired, inside, outside... " Her eyelids flutter shut when she says this, like they're trying to sneak her off into dreamland, but she snaps them open after a second or two and pushes through the tired. "I thought I was doing my job - protect and serve - but I was wrong."
"I don't want to be perfect. I just want to be able to look at myself in the mirror without punching my reflection to pieces."
She clenches her fists and I remember the busted bathroom mirror, shards in the trash can. Those thin red lines on her knuckles make awful sense now. I remember hitting my own face once, when Buffy was wearing it. I'd have beaten my body right back into a coma if she hadn't stopped me. I had so much pain in me then, I though I'd bust open like a pinata if anybody got too close, if they squeezed me too tight. It was blind luck that the one person who got that close was the one person who knew how to put me back together.
I'm not strong like Angel, either, and not half as smart. My fourteen months with Doc Steinman aren't helping right now, 'cause I have no clue what to say to Kate. If her burn is even half as bad as the wildfire I had inside, there are no right words to put it out.
"Innocent people got hurt because of me, and the guilt is just... *pushing down* on me and I can't get out from under," she says. "Sometimes it's so heavy, I can't even breathe."
We're down to it now, down to what's hurting her so bad she can't even let herself cry. I lean a little closer to her and try to soften my voice, try to sound like somebody better than me.
"Tell me how to help."
She looks up at me, and there's that same hopeful and desperate expression she had in the car, like she's cracking apart in ten different places and waiting to hear if I've got a roll of duct tape.
"I want you to learn how to work that machine, then I want you to send me back to January 13th of this year, about three in the afternoon."
That's a pretty specific window she's pointing at. "Why then? What happened?"
"Oh, nothing major," she sniffs. "That was the day I killed a man by shooting him in the throat, caused the death of an elderly grandmother, betrayed every principle I ever held dear, and corrupted a previously honest judge in order to send two semi-innocent boys on the path to the gas chamber."
I feel my mouth fall open and the words are out before I can stop them. "Whoa. Busy day."
Her eyes cloud up and the tears sneak down her cheeks, but she laughs anyway. Cops can do that as good as anybody; they get gallows humor. "You could say that. You could also say I'm crazy and that you want to go back to prison right now. Although, if you help me fix what happened on January 13th..."
"You would never have broken me out of jail in the first place," I finish for her. "This deal right here - with you and me and Judge Necktie - it never happens."
"Probably, yeah. The way I understand it, you'll wake up back in your cell and no one would have even known you were gone. Still, it's risky and we don't have much information and it might not even work at all." She raises her shaky hands a little, palms open, and says, "It's your choice, Faith."
My choice. I could go back to jail with my tail tucked between my legs, leaving Kate alone and crying and depressed, with no job, no future, and a loaded gun at her fingertips. Or I could grab the Minotaur by the horns and kick the fucker in the teeth, see if I've still got the stones to be somebody's hero.
Damn right, I do. I'm the Slayer... one of them, anyway. I got nerves of steel and abs to match. I've been thumped on the head by destiny. I can do this. I can help this woman. I can be strong and good and true. I can do the right thing. Anybody who thinks different can kiss my ass.
She's silent, just looking at me in a hazy way, like she's expecting the worst. She won't get it from me; my worst is over.
Her eyes seem to clear up while I watch, slipping right past 'sad and hopeless' to 'everything might just work out after all.' Quite a sight. She smiles at me and it's a killer, full up with gratitude and relief. I've had a taste of this before and I recognize the sweet rush of pride pumping back into my chest. This is how people look at you when you save them.
"Thank you," she whispers. Her shoulders bow forward a little and her hands drop into her lap, like she just laid down something heavy after carrying it for miles and miles.
"Hold up on the gratitude. I haven't done anything yet."
"And you could still change your mind," she adds, tensing a little. "I should tell you the rest right now, just so you know what kind of person you're agreeing to help."
Okay, sounds fair, though I can't see her saying something that would change my mind about lending a hand. I doubt Kate Lockley puts babies on spikes or kicks puppies or anything like that, so I give her a nod and get ready for the details -- but first...
"You got any chocolate stashed in this place?"
Kate hesitates, then her eyes drift aside and she gets up to check a drawer by the fridge. Comes back with a Twix bar and tosses it to me. I've got this big, stupid grin and she couldn't possibly know why. It's just that the last person who bribed me with sweets and self-confidence turned into a big snake and tried to eat the graduating class of Sunnydale High School. Shit, maybe she *does* put babies on spikes and kick puppies. I like her anyway.