Tuesday, December 9, 2003

 

 

Predictably, getting the reindeer back from the LA zoo was a hell of a lot more complicated, stressful, and not to mention expensive, than getting them there in the first place. Because after Gunn had pointed out the loss of face that going back on one's donation entailed, Angel had grudgingly green-lighted the—costly—acquisition of nine real, unenchanted reindeer and then helmed a complex rescue operation.

The switch had been made in the middle of the night, under a chilly full moon, and now the nine reindeer were in the big conference room again. Under Angel's baleful gaze, the smelly beasties were trying to graze, furrowing the ground with their hooves in search of moss and other greens, and completely ruining the plush carpet in the process. He'd liked this conference room! They were never going to get the smell out.

"Which one do you think is Knox?" Fred asked.

Angel rifled through a dozen versions of 'Who cares,' decided that they all sounded rude instead of hard-boiled, and silently folded his arms in front of his chest.

"Who cares? Un-mojo them all an' you'll know soon enough," Spike answered in Angel's stead, and sauntered in to join them. He nodded at Fred and was rewarded with a friendly, but slightly distracted smile.

There was a rumpled look about him, and the customary cigarette smoke miasma was not only stronger than usual, but also laced heavily with booze. In other words, while Angel had spent the better part of last night making sure the W&H field unit got Prancer, Dancer, and Knoxy back in one piece, Spike had been on one of his benders. Life was so unfair. Angel's mien darkened even further.

"Hey, you're looking pretty grim this morning," Spike greeted him.

"You're pretty cheerful this morning.  Also pretty drunk," Angel pointed out, the accusatory tone in his voice hard to miss.

"So I had myself a few drinks. What's it to you?" came the indignant reply. "Ran into an old mate last night. Played cards, talked about old times." He rubbed his hands and looked around searchingly. "So. Who's gonna do the hokey pokey? Where's Percy?"

Wesley was bent over several books, attempting to determine just what spell to use. He didn't acknowledge Spike's comment. "I believe this spell should do it."

Angel hovered over his shoulder. "Cloutiér's reparare-spell? That's not too hard. . ." He studied the requirements needed and then turned to actually see Wesley's face. "So? We have all of these things?"

"Of course." Speaking quietly on his cell phone—they all had one, although only Angel used it with any real frequency—Wesley asked someone named Carol to bring several items up to them. "The ritual itself should take only about an hour."

"Well, I'll leave you two cowboys to it. Don't bother saving me a seat," Spike declared and headed for the door. "You can give me a heads up later. Not that I care."

Fred checked her watch and took her leave as well.

"So who's this old friend?" Fred asked, as she followed Spike out of the conference room and to the coffee vending machine. "I didn't think you had any friends. Except me, that is." Her apologetic smile took the sting out of her remark.

Spike pointed at the machine and when she nodded punched in the code for coffee with milk and sugar. "Someone from Sunnydale," he divulged reluctantly. "He's looking for a job. I promised to ask Angel, but with the foul mood our head honcho is in… well, you saw him." He handed Fred the full Styrofoam cup and pushed the buttons for his own hot chocolate.

"And? Is he evil? I mean, your friend?"

"Clem? No, 'course not." Spike scoffed. "What makes you think I only know evil people?"

"The fact that you've been evil a lot longer than you've been good?" she offered.

Spike accepted that with a good-humored smile. "Listen," he said. "About what you did for me, calling Willow, finding out how everybody's doing…. I just wanted to say thanks. It meant a lot to me."

"That's what friends are for, right?"

"Right," he said and raised his cup with a grin. "Say, you wouldn't have some more of your cookies to go with this, would you?"

***

"So, tell us, what is the last thing you remember?" Wesley asked, pen poised over his notepad. Beside him, Gunn was leaning against the desk, looking suave.

Their interviewee, a slightly plump man in a rumpled suit, folded his hands nervously. According to his file he worked in Accounting and during his screening Lorne had marked him as 'okay but lacking in backbone.'

"Nothing, I mean, I was working. Or, well, actually, I was taking a coffee break and going through my mail. I ordered this book on Amazon and I always have those delivered here because—"

"What book?" Wesley asked reflexively, while jotting down notes.

"Oh, uh, do you really think that's important, sir? I mean, what do my reading habits have to do with getting turned into a reindeer?"

"Mr. Elliot, please answer the question," Gunn joined in, a courtroom-edge to his voice.

"It's uh, it's called 'Narcissus in Chains' and it's not what you think, it's just some vampire novel, for… uh… for my niece, for her birthday… uh… Christmas…."

"Yes, thank you," Wesley interrupted the man. He stifled a sigh.

"So, what happened after you opened the package?" Gunn asked.

"Oh, uh… I was kneeling on the floor in the conference room, chewing on some carpet…"

"When you were taking your break, was the door open or closed? Could anyone see you? You said you were drinking coffee. Where did you get it? Did you make the coffee yourself or did you get it from the vendor in the hall?" Wesley questioned him, determined to get to the bottom of this mystery.

"Oh, uh… I … uh… never drink coffee, it gives me heartburn, you know."

Wesley exchanged an exasperated glance with Gunn. This was a lot more insight into the banal underbelly of Wolfram & Hart's staff than either of them had ever wanted. And there were eight more interviews like  this to conduct. It was going to be a long day.

***

Seven hours later, all the ex-reindeer had been thoroughly debriefed.

"It would seem most of the victims were alone, either in their office, or lab, or in one case in the men's restroom when the transformation occurred," Wesley reported his findings. He dropped his notes on Angel's desk.

"At least we were able to rule out potions." Gunn joined in. "Three of the victims didn’t eat or drink anything."

"So, we have to assume the spells were pinned to some other object, like a magical seal or unleashed via a curse of protection, so that whoever touched that object was exposed to the spell. For all we know the spell could have been cast on the elevator button." Wesley continued.

Angel frowned. He'd expected more. A lot more. "Eve?"

"Whoever did this covered his tracks well," she said. "Our seers haven't been able to come up with anything, and our spell detectors never noticed anything unusual on Friday.   A skilled mage, however, might be able to evade our standard security measures, provided he has an accomplice in the building."

"That's just great. You're telling me we don't know anything, it could happen again, and we might even have a traitor in our midst?" Angel summed up the situation.

"Yup," Eve nodded.

Wesley and Gunn nodded.

Angel sighed. "Sometimes I really hate this job."

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

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