One must look for one thing only, to find many.
— Cesare Pavese
Elise slept late the next morning. She stayed up the night before working and reworking a plausible outline for the story based on what she knew so far, and had written a few draft chapters. She had been so engrossed in her work she hadn’t gone to bed until well after three in the morning.
When she did wake, she was still so immersed in the story that immediately after her shower she sat down at the desk with her laptop and began to write. She typed away for a good two hours, before she took a break to order coffee and a light breakfast from room service. She was pleased with her progress so far, and thought this might be one of those rare occasions when the story actually seemed to tell itself.
It was almost six when she went downstairs and out of the hotel, needing a break, along with some exercise and fresh air. Deep in thought, she walked distractedly for a while, ending up in Holland Park. The homes were familiar, and she realized with a start that a friend of her stepfather’s had lived in the area. William Wells had been a member of the Watcher’s Council too, and they had often visited his house so the two men could discuss business over cigars and scotch after dinner. Elise would usually sit in the kitchen with her mother and William’s wife, Maggie, doing homework or reading her latest Nancy Drew mystery novel and listening with half an ear as the two women exchanged stories. Maggie had been fascinated by the tales that Catherine, Elise’s mother, told about living in New York and working on Broadway as a production assistant. Of course, much of it hadn’t been the truth; Catherine never mentioned her real job at P.J.’s, or later Silhouette’s, the strip club where she had met Charlie. Elise herself only found out the truth about her mother and stepfather’s meeting after Charlie’s death. Thinking about it now, Elise believed that Maggie, a no-nonsense practical woman with an easy smile, loud laugh, and bawdy sense of humor, would probably have appreciated the somewhat scandalous history.
Chuckling inwardly at the thought, Elise wound her way through the area until she spotted the white, pillar-fronted house at the end of Ladbroke Walk. It looked just as she remembered, right down to the neatly trimmed boxwood shrubs.
On impulse, after seeing a light on through the window, she crossed through the gate and knocked on the door. She shivered in the cooling evening air as she waited for someone to answer.
“Yes?” The elderly gentleman opening the door asked, squinting at her through thick glasses.
“Hello, I’m looking for William or Maggie Wells.” Elise returned politely. “They were friends of my parents.”
“Ah, come on in then,” the man groused backing away from the door. “William’s at home but Maggie is away at her Mum’s. It’s been nigh on a month, and she won’t be back until a week on Sunday, which is a tad too long. He ain’t used to being alone, so I stop in time to time, keep him company.”
Elise followed the man into the house and down the hall until they reached a lovely, glass enclosed conservatory. Several plants lined one wall, their blooms pink and cheerful. On the opposite side of the room, a thin man dressed all in black and with a thick mane of graying hair, was humming softly and trimming a rose tree.
“I think they need food. What do you think, Pete? Do you think they need food?” The man asked without glancing up. Holding one leaf up to his face and peering at it critically, he continued, “Can you over feed roses? Or maybe I’m not watering them quite enough.”
The unnamed man in front of her cleared his throat loudly and announced, “You’ve company.”
Turning abruptly, William looked in their direction.
“Elise? Elisie Seymour? Is that you?” Dropping the sheers and the leaf on a nearby table, he walked toward her with his hands extended. “Come here, and let me have a look at you? It’s been a year too many. I don’t think I’ve seen you since Charlie’s funeral.” He said the last with a bit of sadness in his voice.
“Hello William,” Elise returned with a smile, kissing his cheek. “How are you? And Maggie?”
“Cantankerous, as always,” he answered cheerfully, “And I’m fine as well. How’s your mum? Let me get us some tea and some brandy. Peter, would you like to join us?”
“I know that you’ll ask me next to get the tea, so yes, of course,” Pete replied with a wry smile. He had been William’s neighbor and close friend for more years than either of them could count. He ambled off in the direction of the kitchen.
“Mother is… the same. Still in Brazil, I think,” she said dully. She hadn’t talked to her mother in almost four years. Catherine was bitter that Charlie had left the bulk of his estate to his stepdaughter rather than his wife. Elise had still been grieving for Colin at the time, and was less than patient, sympathetic or understanding with her mother. Instead of bonding over the shared loss of loved ones, things were said that were difficult to take back, and so mother and daughter had gone their separate ways, a seemingly irreparable rift between them.
Ignoring the subtle but noticeable discord in her voice, William continued on, “Good, good. And you?”
“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile and shaking away the unpleasant memory.
“What brings you to London? Last I heard you were living in Hollywood with all the movie stars and such.” Taking her arm, he led her over to a floral print settee near the window.
“Los Angeles,” she corrected, though she knew most people didn’t really understand the distinction, especially since the cities blended together. “I’m actually here doing research for a new book.”
“I’ve read one or two of them, you know, your books. Quite entertaining, if a bit pedantic,” he said with a grin.
“Pedantic? she questioned defensively, her brows lifting.
He shrugged. “You can’t intellectualize everything, my dear. Motivations are often much simpler than you think at first glance. They can even be inexplicable, and illogical. It’s the gut. The gut is eighty percent of why we do what we do, not the head. Much as we like to think otherwise with our opposing thumbs and big brains, at base we’re still animals. It’s about what we feel, not think.”
“Yes, but what has that to do with my writing?” Elise looked skeptical.
“Grave robbing demons, ghosts that come back to punish the sins of the past. Assuming for a minute that they even exist…” pausing, he winked, “They’re not driven by logic. The reason they do what they do, its emotion. It’s the gut, I tell you. It doesn’t always wrap up in a nice, tidy explainable package, much as we’d like. You write that, and you’ll have yourself one of those best sellers.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Elise replied, nodded slowly and biting back a retort. She already had two best sellers, though she wasn’t going to be immodest enough to say so – though she was very tempted.
“Good, good. You’ve said you’re here researching then?”
“I am. My next novel is going to be about a vampire slayer,” she said plainly, watching him carefully for his reaction. She hadn’t planned on mentioning the subject initially, but annoyed by his criticism she was unable to refrain.
“Oh?” he asked, glancing back at her. “What’s a vampire slayer?”
“A vampire slayer is a young woman, fighting the forces of evil essentially on her own. She slays vampires, of course, and other demons,” she explained. “I think it’ll make for a good story.”
William nodded agreeably. “Probably would. Take it to one of those Hollywood studios. I’ll bet they’d even make a movie or TV show out of it.”
“I don’t suppose you know anything about the topic?” she prompted, trying again to provoke some reaction from him.
“Now why would I know anything about something as farfetched as all that?” he asked with a perplexed look.
“William, you know I know about you, and Charlie, and the Watcher’s Council,” she admonished crisply. She had to give him credit; his expression was bland and unreadable. Had she not known better, she would have believed he genuinely had no knowledge of the subject in question.
Peering over the rim of his glasses, he looked at her speculatively. “Oh?”
“I used to spy on him sometimes. I loved hearing about the demons, and the magic, and all the ancient lore. I know that the two of you were in the Watcher’s Council together.”
“You do, hm?” Crossing his arms across his chest, he gazed at her considering.
“It’s really too bad that so much of that history was lost,” she went on casually.
William blinked. “Lost?”
“When the Council offices were destroyed. I mean, they must have had priceless relics and books, countless artifacts…”
“Hmm, yes,” he murmured noncommittally.
Elise tilted her head curiously. “They were blown up, weren’t they?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” William admitted, watching as Peter walked in carrying a tray with a teapot, three cups for tea, sugar, cream, brandy snifters, and a bottle of brandy. He poured a tea and brandy for himself an for Elise, then took a seat in a nearby chair.
“Thank you,” she murmured, swirling the brandy gently in the glass he handed her.
“Now tell me really, they were destroyed, right?” she asked, astonished. Up until that point he hadn’t really acknowledged her queries one way or the other.
“Elise, love, let’s assume you have some centuries old organization, such as this, what’d you call them – Watcher’s Council? I would presume, just thinking out loud here, that such an organization wouldn’t exist for hundreds of years with the enemies the likes of theirs – rumored to be, of course – without taking some precautions,” he explained cryptically as he rose from the settee.
“Are you saying that the Council still exists?”
“Exists?” he echoed casually, walking over to pick up the brandy bottle.
“As in, survived, continuing to operate?” she clarified, sitting forward with interest. If the Council was around, they certainly would have information that would be useful for her book.
“Who told you otherwise? Just speculating again, of course,” he laughed, pouring a liberally splash of brandy in his teacup.
“I… I heard it through some of my underground sources,” Elise supplied. “The word on the streets in the demon world is that the leading Council members were killed in the explosion, and the Council was never reformed.” It was close to the truth, and she would never give away Wesley as the source of any specific information.
William chuckled. “That’s good. It’ll keep them on their toes then.”
“Are you saying the Council is operating? That they still exist?” she questioned as she took a sip of her brandy. “And who? Who will be on their toes?”
“Now Elise, honey. I couldn’t answer any of that even if I wanted to, now could I?” he said lightly as he once again sat back down next to her. “Now what do you say we talk about something more interesting. Tell me what it’s like to live in Los Angeles. Are there movie stars on every corner? Do you get all dressed up and go to those film premieres?”
When the car down the street backfired, Elise jumped nervously. She had been standing outside the nondescript building for over an hour watching the activity. Two men dressed in suits had exited not long after she arrived, and a thirty-something year old woman had arrived in a cab and entered. Tourists on their way to Westminster Abbey passed by often, keeping the street congested, and making it difficult to see the building entrance.
She had gotten the address out of William’s desk, having excused herself for a bathroom break after they had talked for quite some time about a variety of subjects that included almost every subject except the supernatural or the Watcher’s Council, much to her frustration. In her hasty search, she hadn’t been particularly careful to leave things exactly as they had been. No doubt William knew that someone had rifled quickly through his desk next time he entered the room, but she hadn’t a lot of time, and she knew, knew he had information about the Council. And she had wanted that information, all else be damned.
Over the last two days she had checked out the addresses that she had hastily scribbled down, all of which had appeared to be relatively new entries in William’s address book, all without names on them. This last one appeared to be the most promising.
Her cell phone rang, and Elise jumped again. Taking a calming breath, she checked the number on the small screen before answering.
“Hello to you too.”
“Hi. Sorry,” she replied quickly.
“Your message was rather early, not to mention cryptic,” he said, referring to the voice mail she had left him earlier that day – 4:23 am his time, to be exact.
“Remember you told me the Watcher’s Council was gone. Defunct and all that?” she asked, shifting the phone to her other ear and ignoring the subtle chastisement in his tone.
“What if I told you they aren’t? That they’re still in business?”
“I’d have to ask you what gives you the idea,” he replied calmly, “followed by what you have been drinking or smoking? The last of the Council members, at least the core executive team, were all killed in November of 2002.” He was more than familiar with the date; his father had been among those who had met their demise at the hands of the First Evil.
“But I don’t think they were all killed. That or new ones were appointed,” she insisted as she blended into the crowd and walked toward the Abbey.
“You’re certain of this?”
“No,” she admitted reluctantly. “It’s just speculation right now. Look, I stopped in on an old friend of Charlie’s the other night, William Wells. He was also in the Council. Anyway, I mentioned the Council, and how disappointing that their store of artifacts was lost and also that I heard the Council was gone. He laughed and said something like ‘good, it’ll keep them on their toes’ and that an organization as old as the Council doesn’t not have contingency plans. Which makes sense if you think about it. So I figure they have to still be around.”
“That’s still a fair stretch to believing the Council has been reestablished and is operating again,” Wes returned skeptically.
“It was what he didn’t say, as much as what he did. He didn’t deny the Council is still around. That’s telling.”
“It’s a stretch, Elise, and you know it,” he reminded her flatly. “Besides, I doubt he would have admitted it to you, regardless of any friendship with your family. The Council members were notoriously close-mouthed.”
“He also said my writing was pedantic. Can you believe that?” she muttered irritably, glancing up at the imposing towers of the Abbey.
“Oh. Well, I’m sure he meant-”
“Do you know someone named Quentin Travers?” she interrupted, glancing around carefully to make sure no one was listening to her conversation.
“Yes. He was the last head of the Council.”
“Well then I’m right. The Council is operating again,” she exclaimed smugly.
“Elise, Quentin is dead,” Wes countered. “He was killed along with the others.”
“No, he isn’t,” she returned firmly. “I’ve seen him. His name is on an office door in the building that the Council is operating out of.”
“You’re mistaken. It could simply be another man with the same name,” he surmised, turning in his chair to look out the window. “I think I would know if the Council was active again. After all, I was a member.”
“Too much of a coincidence,” she insisted. “I tell you it’s the same guy. Do you know what he looks like? I’ll get a picture and prove it to you. And I thought you were thrown out or something.”
“Elise,” Wes began with a sigh. “Okay, say you’re right for just a moment. If the Council is active, they are intentionally keeping a low profile. They won’t appreciate you nosing around, and pictures are out of the question. It could be dangerous. And for the record, I quit the Council. They did not throw me out.”
When she didn’t answer immediately, he added warningly, “Elise… don’t do anything stupid. And by that I mean specifically going into their offices, and asking questions.”
“I never do, Wes,” she said absently, her attention distracted by a young man taking pictures in front of the Abbey. He was startlingly attractive in a rough, unkempt way that reminded her of Colin. Returning her attention to her phone call, she continued, “Do you think you could discretely check into it at least?”
“Humor me,” she pled softly. “You can even say I told you so when it turns out to not be Quentin or anything relating to the Council. How’s that?”
“Oh, very well,” he agreed reluctantly. “Give me the address. But I’m going to hold you to that.”
“Deal,” she returned cheerfully, happy to have gotten her way. “Now tell me, how is Angel?”
With a confident stride, Elise strolled into the building. She purposefully walked close behind the man and woman in front of her, making it appear as though she were part of their group. She quickly slipped into the elevator, all the while hiding behind them so that the security guard wouldn’t get a good look at her. The pair, so engrossed in their conversation that they barely noticed her, exited on the third floor leaving Elise alone.
Breathing a sigh of relief that her subtle ploy worked, she took the elevator on up to the fifth floor, which was the one showing on the property records as leased to ‘Amaranthine Enterprises.’ Quentin Travers, among others, had been the name on the listing with the leasing agent.
Stepping out into the simple, undecorated hallway she cautiously glanced around. The imposing office doors to her immediate left were closed. To her right was a narrow hallway. She followed it, carefully trying all of the doors until she found an unlocked supply closet. It was small, but it would do as a hiding place until later tonight when she could search the offices unimpeded. Making sure her cell phone was off so as to not give her away she closed the door behind her and settled in to wait.
Bored and stiff from the hours spent in the small closet, Elise opened the door carefully. Stepping out into the hallway, she stifled a groan as she stretched her cramped muscles. Checking her watch, she noted that it was already 2:15 am. She’d have a few hours before the morning security guard showed; less if the night guy was ambitious and actually made his rounds in the building.
The first few offices she checked were unlocked and uninteresting. Nothing more than typical office paperwork – notes and memos, a few invoices and some financial statements, but nothing that would indicate that the office was anything more than some sort of import/export business.
The last office in the corner was locked, though after several tries with a credit card she managed to work the door open. That always worked so smoothly and easily in the movies, she thought grumpily as she dropped her mangled Visa card back into her purse.
The office belonged to Quentin Travers, or at least the travel documents on the desk indicated as much. Immediately her heart began to race in anticipation.
Twenty minutes later, she sat at the desk slumped in disappointment. She had gone through all of the drawers and files twice and found nothing even remotely suspicious, much less interesting. Even the file cabinet that appeared as though it was supposed to have been locked, but wasn’t because the lock hadn’t been pushed in quite far enough, hadn’t contained anything of note. Perhaps Wes had been right. Perhaps this Quentin Travers just coincidentally shared a name with the former Council leader.
Deciding to look one last time just to be sure, Elise pulled the few files out of the desk drawer and began to flip through them again. Man, this guy invests in some serious real estate, she thought as she flipped through file after file named for various places. Most contained what appeared to be deeds or escrow materials, but little else.
Opening the file neatly titled “Eastwood Park”, she squinted at the legal document inside. It was hard enough to read the small print in good light, much less the dim overhead fluorescent that stayed on at night, but this contract was markedly different from the others. Still, looking it over, it appeared to be another property transfer document. Just as she was about to close the file disinterestedly, a phone number jotted on the inside corner of the folder caught her eye. It was a Los Angeles number, and even more notably, one with the same area code and initial prefix as the Wolfram & Hart offices. Taking her pen out of her purse, she copied the number down on a receipt that had been tucked in her wallet. Curiously, she flipped through the contract again. She hadn’t paid attention before, but now she noticed that the property was referred to only as ‘Eastwood Park’; there was no specific address, even a city or country. The last page had signatures from Quentin Travers, and one from an ‘Alex Smith’, and one that was completely illegible. It appeared to be more of a mark than a signature. She wrote down the name on the same receipt, then attempted to copy the mark on the document. When she was done, she stuck the paper and pen back in her purse.
With her curiosity sparked, she meticulously went through the rest of the files but found nothing else out of the ordinary. Disappointed, she put everything back as she had found it and exited the offices.
To avoid alerting the night security guard to her presence, Elise crept quietly down the stairs. She heard a noise just as she reached the second floor, and paused in alarm.
A door on a floor above her opened, and a flashlight beam flickered close by her elbow as someone peered down the stairwell. As soon as the light moved away from her, she continued down the stairs at an increased pace.
She could hear footsteps now on the stairs, descending quickly. With Wes’ warning to not do something stupid ringing through her head, and the thought that she’d never hear the end of this if he found out, she raced down the last landing and burst through the metal doors.
The front doors that opened out to the street were only a short distance away. Heedless of the possibility that the security guard might be at the desk, instead of the man behind her, or that the lobby doors might be locked and inoperable without a key of some sort, she sprinted through the lobby and shoved at the door without slowing her pace. Beyond thankful when it gave way, she flew out on the sidewalk.
Knowing that there was a metro station a short distance away, she veered right and continued to run down the street. For once she was grateful she had worn sensible shoes, instead of the heeled boots or impractically high sandals that tended to be the mainstay of her wardrobe. Despite the fact that the clear and quiet streets made it easier to run unimpeded, she wished the streets were as busy now as they had been earlier that afternoon – it would have made it easier to disappear into the crowd.
She was about halfway to her destination when a yellow Mini-Cooper came racing down the road behind her. Glancing over her shoulder frantically, she pushed herself for more speed. The car passed her, then swerved around and came to an abrupt stop.
Gasping, terror-stricken, and thinking that her life was surely over, Elise drew up short and stared at the car with wide eyes.
The passenger door opened, and the man inside shouted, “Get in!”
Uncertain, Elise peered cautiously at the auburn-haired man behind the wheel, then back over her shoulder. She thought she could hear footsteps as the person behind her closed the distance between them.
“C’mon, we don’t have much time,” the driver of the car urged, revving the engine.
Making a sudden, impulsive choice – and hoping it would prove to be the lesser of two evils – Elise jumped into the car. The driver put it in gear and they speed away.
Looking back, Elise saw the man that had been chasing her drop back into the distance. She couldn’t tell if it was the security guard she had seen earlier, or someone else.
Still breathless, she turned back and studied the profile of her rescuer.
After skillfully guiding the car onto Vauxhall Bridge Road heading toward Hyde Park, he glanced over at her briefly. “I’m Oz. You’re Elise, right?”