The drops of rain make a hole in the stone, not by violence, but oft by falling.
It was nearly dawn, and Wes sat at his desk carefully reading the next document from the stack of papers in front of him. His eyes were bleary and bloodshot; two days growth of stubble covered his cheeks, and his clothes were the same ones he’d been wearing the day before.
The simple check of the phone number and name Elise had given him had led him on an odyssey through the building that began in the personnel offices the night before last and ended in the basement files almost a day later. Intrigued by the bits and pieces of information he had found, he had spent reminder of last night holed up in his office reading and rereading, trying to make some sense of all of it.
The phone number had belonged to a Serge Dobryshkin, who was no longer with Wolfram & Hart. Pulling his personnel file, Wes found that he had been with the law firm for about two years, working in IT for Willow as a System Administrator. He was originally from Tver, Russia, though he had been in the United States for eight years. From all indications, he was hard working, brilliant, and one of the top performers in the department, until his sudden departure a year ago. No reason was listed for his leaving, so it was unclear whether he had quit or been fired. A brief search of the Los Angeles phone directory offered several Dobryshkins, but none by the name of Serge. It didn’t mean much; his number could be unlisted, or he could have left the area.
Alex Smith had proved to be a bit more revealing. A lawyer with more than twenty years experience at Wolfram & Hart, he specialized in asset protection planning, construction law, evictions, land contracts and trusts, and real property. After graduation from Georgetown, he worked at the New York branch of Wolfram & Hart for four years before transferring to the California office. He had been the principal attorney on the larger real estate transactions for the Los Angeles branch of Wolfram & Hart, until his death on August 18, 2000. He had been found in his office on the eighteenth floor, slumped over his desk. The cause of death was determined to have been an aneurysm; at least that’s what was documented on the Los Angeles Country coroner’s report, a copy of which was in his personnel file. Oddly, the acquisition of ‘Eastwood Park’ had been one of his last cases.
Tracking the contract for that particular deal had required considerable persistence. The folder in the standard real estate transaction files contained only a single page with a reference number. The reference number, once decrypted, led to another set of files; files which happened to be stored in the cavernous vaults of the Wolfram & Hart basement. It had taken nearly two hours of searching before the cabinet containing the file was located; another hour before Wes managed to figure out the magical lock.
One thing that Wes had to say about Alex Smith: he kept meticulous records. There wasn’t just one file on Eastwood Park; there were twenty-six.
Wes scanned through them until he found the actual contract. Pulling it out, he quickly flipped to the last page. A chill crawled up his spine on first glimpse of the signatures. There was no longer any doubt that the Council – or at least the Quentin Travers – had been involved in the purchase of Eastwood Park. His scrawling penmanship had been immediately recognizable.
Impulsively, and since he was already in the basement, Wesley went to another familiar cabinet and combed through the files until he found one that he was actually hoping didn’t exist: Quentin Travers had a personal contract on file with Wolfram & Hart, and in it, the standard perpetuity clause. That explained how he had survived the explosion that killed the other watchers. Just like Lilah, Quentin could be brought back from the dead until the Senior Partners chose otherwise.
With a growing sense of unease, he stacked the files on Eastwood Park in his arms, and took them back to his office for further review and study. That had been almost ten hours ago.
Sighing, Wesley closed the file and ran a hand over his face. He still wasn’t quite sure how it all fit together.
The procurement of Eastwood Park had begun at the request of the Senior Partners in July of 1999; there was nothing to indicate that Quentin had been the initial requester, though the timing was coincidental, as Quentin’s own contract was dated June of 1999. The acquisition took over a year of negotiations finally closing on August 12, 2000 – only six days before the former Wolfram & Hart lawyer was found dead in his office. The seller, as it turned out, was a kamadi demon, which explained the unusual mark on the contract. Kamadi demons were typically illiterate, as well as notoriously simple minded.
Alex Smith had taken several trips to London during the months prior to the contract execution; copies of his expense reports were maintained in one of the files. He and a guest dined at such exclusive restaurants as La Gavroche, The Connaught, and Nobu. During that same time, he had also taken several trips to a place referred to simply as Bjoutan.
Several files down in the stack was the folder devoted exclusively to Bjoutan. It had been the home of the kamadi demons for centuries, until, for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, or at least undocumented in any of the files, they had traded it for several acres of land on the east side of the Island of Java, near the Kelut volcano. A little research had shown that coincidentally, or perhaps not so given the way that Wolfram & Hart tended to operate, the land was practically uninhabitable given the heavy tephra fall and relatively frequent eruptions of Kelut. The kamadi certainly hadn’t gotten much in the bargain, unless they actually liked living in the shadow of the volcano.
Bjoutan, unlike the island property that it had been traded for, was apparently not covered with tropical rainforests, fertile soil or active volcanoes. However, the two areas did share the monsoon-like weather conditions, and high humidity. One other thing that significantly differentiated the two areas was that Bjoutan was not in this dimension. In the file was a twelve page narrative on the magic required to open the portal that was needed to gain access to the dimension. It was written entirely in the language used for the Avesta, the sacred book of Zoroastrianism, by someone named Morgana. Until that moment, Wes had never seen the language used other than rare glimpses of surviving bits of the aforementioned manuscript. Needless to say, it was a bit of witchcraft that was not for the unskilled or faint of heart.
There were no other names on any of the documents, making it appear as though Alex Smith alone had worked with Quentin Travers, and whatever kamadi demon had marked the document, to indicate his or her acceptance of the deal. The price was also not disclosed, which was most unusual for a land and title contract pertaining to a real estate sale.
Still, after reading through all the files carefully, Wes couldn’t figure out why the code name Eastwood Park had been chosen, what the Watcher’s Council would have wanted with such an inaccessible dimension, or how and why anyone from the Watcher’s Council – once an honored, venerable organization devoted to good – had gotten involved with Wolfram & Hart at all.
Initial research on places named Eastwood Park offered no additional clarification. There were Eastwood Parks in Canada, Jamaica, Alabama, and Scotland, among others. The most likely reference was, of course, Eastwood Park near Bristol. Quentin would have known that area over the others; but there was nothing that struck Wes immediately as relevant or significant. Eastwood Park had once been a family estate that had eventually been purchased by The Commissioners of His Majesty’s Works and Public Buildings and turned into a school, and later a District Police training center. Currently it operates as a training and conference center, as well as a popular destination for weddings.
Sighing, Wes slipped the last document he had last been reading back into the folder and closed it. It wasn’t making any sense, though he felt that there was something that he was missing. It was just the kind of thing he would normally take to Angel, who – if he didn’t immediately have the answer himself – always somehow managed to ask the right questions that would unlock the mystery. Of course, he couldn’t exactly do that with this one, at least not just yet.
He swiveled his chair around to the window and looked out at the graying light of dawn. Did he risk attempting to contact Quentin himself? Almost certainly the former head of the Council knew about his employment at Wolfram & Hart, and given the recently discovered connection between the two organizations, the contact wouldn’t be completely implausible. He would, however, need to frame an acceptable excuse. The timing was too coincidental with Elise in London and asking questions. He had no doubt that the Council knew about her, given that her father’s old friend was apparently still involved with the organization. The man would have been required to disclose the fact that he had seen her, even if he covered up any details around their visit, or her search through his office.
What about Rupert Giles? Was he in contact with this new Council? That was certainly possible; he did have the slayers in training in London, after all. Perhaps he should give him a call.
At the sound of his name, Wes started and whirled around in his chair. Deep in thought, he hadn’t heard the door to his office open.
“Willow. You’re here early.”
“I was just about to say the same to you,” the red-haired woman commented as she walked in to the office. She was carrying a half-eaten bagel in one hand, and a cup of coffee in the other. “You’ve been burning the midnight oil around here a lot lately.”
“Yes, well, you know what they say about idle hands,” Wes remarked with a smile.
“Ah, yes, the devil’s work. That’s the saying, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he agreed with a nod, “And there’s plenty of that around here, as we all know. Devil’s work, not the idle hands.”
“So what have you been working on that’s keeping your hands not in the idle state?” she asked brightly, taking a seat across from him.
“The usual, or rather the unusual. Mainly I’ve been researching these symbols,” he began as he shuffled though the papers on his desk to pick up a copy he had made of the etchings off the stone that Marcus Hamilton had delivered to Angel. He sat the other documents aside, unintentionally covering the Eastwood Park files.
“Sumerian?” she asked, glancing at the document he held up for her perusal.
“Perhaps, though they’re similar to the Nasca lines. Much smaller in scale, of course.”
Nodding, Willow studied the drawing for a moment. “Isn’t there some theory about the Nasca lines being some sort of energy collector or transmitter? That at some point on the diagram there’s actually the key to your soul?”
Wesley considered her words thoughtfully before slowly nodding. “I believe you’re right. That was one theory behind the symbols. And certainly we all understand the importance of Angel retaining his soul, though the Senior Partners might prefer otherwise. It wouldn’t be out of the question that they would gift him with something that might alter that particular condition.”
Shrugging, Willow took a sip of her coffee. “I didn’t think he could lose his soul now. Are you saying you think otherwise?”
“I’m saying I wouldn’t put it past the Senior Partners – or any of a number of other evil entities around here for that matter – to try.”
“Ah. But it won’t do any good, right?”
“Doubtful,” Wes answered, studying the diagram intently now.
“Good. I mean because I don’t mind not having to resoul him any time soon. Twice is more than enough for any one person.”
“Indeed,” he replied absently, his mind now occupied with the various possibilities of how the stone might be used to affect one’s soul.
“Hey, so I haven’t seen Elise around lately. Are she and Angel not seeing each other anymore?” Willow asked casually.
“Hm? Oh, she’s away. Visiting a sick aunt I believe.” Dragging his gaze away from the paper, he finally looked back at his morning visitor.
“Oh. Then they’re still together?”
“I’m not entirely sure, but I suppose they are,” he answered truthfully.
Willow shrugged. “I don’t know. I just thought it was in bad taste for him to get involved with someone so soon after Buffy, you know, just disappeared.”
“Yes, well, life is rarely black and white. I think that in one’s darkest hours of grief, they can be moved to do things they wouldn’t otherwise. Some seek revenge against what or whomever they blame for their pain, thinking that will help.” Wes pointed out, not noticing the anger that briefly flashed over her features. “Others… may seek a momentary respite in some other form. We all deal with grief differently.”
“Hm,” she sniffed irritably. “I guess.”
Wes offered a smile to break the tension. “You’re comment on the stone etchings is a big help, I think. Thank you. And now I’m sure you didn’t come in this early just for that, as much as I appreciate the tip.”
“No, I didn’t,” Willow said, rising to her feet. “I’m working on a plan to covert the majority of our paper files to electronic format. It’s more secure, and will take a whole lot less space. Plus, we’ll know who’s looking at what, when. We can’t exactly do that with paper, unless we want to dust every thing for fingerprints every few days.”
“Ah, sounds intriguing,” he returned calmly. He wondered for a fleeting moment if she knew somehow about his recent searches through the Wolfram & Hart archives. He struggled to keep from looking down at his desk at the incriminating stack of files; he didn’t exactly want to explain those to anyone else just yet. “But I didn’t mean to suggest that you should leave. Though it’s early, I’m enjoying the company.”
“I know,” she said, returning his smile. “But I really should get going. There’s never enough hours in the day around here to get everything done that needs to get done.”
“Agreed.” Wes nodded with a sigh.
“I don’t suppose Wesley told you the real reason why I’m here?” Elise asked while Oz cleared the table from their late lunch. Oz had picked up Thai from a restaurant nearby while Elise called the former Watcher. Over lunch she excitedly updated Oz with Wesley’s findings; they all agreed that they were on to something but what, exactly, was what remained to be seen.
“No, I guess he didn’t.”
“I’m sure you can guess, given what’s going on, that I’m researching my next book,” she explained. “I’m planning on writing about Buffy, and about Angel. Changing their names, of course. I had come to London see Rupert Giles and Dawn, when all of this just, sort of happened.”
“Ah,” Oz replied without expression.
“You said you knew them, right? Buffy and Angel, when you were all in Sunnydale,” she said, tucking her feet under her. She sat at the table and watched him move around the kitchen with comfortable efficiency.
“Yeah,” he agreed reluctantly.
“So what did you think?”
“A slayer dating a vampire.”
He shrugged. “Not one to judge. Werewolf, remember?”
“I didn’t mean it that way… just, is there anything you can share with me about their relationship? Some night on the town, something you guys all did. Anything at all.”
“Well, there was prom,” he replied after a long moment.
“And?” Elise questioned eagerly, hopeful for some new bit of information that she could use in her book. She wanted details. She wanted to know about conversations that they had, things that they had done. She wanted a glimpse at the life that Buffy and Angel had led together.
“And… Buffy looked great. Kicked ass on these hell hounds that were all set to attack the kids, and got this class protector award,” he paused in recollection. “Angel showed up, and it just sort of made the night perfect for her… But it was bittersweet actually.”
“Because it was just for the night. They had already broken up, and Angel was planning on leaving town.”
“Oh,” Elise responded softy, feeling suddenly like a heel for asking. She was prying into someone’s very personal, very private life – and there were moments, like this one, that reminded her very clearly of that fact. She didn’t say anything more until Oz finished and sat down across from her at the table.
“So tell me about you and Willow,” she asked, her curiosity getting the better of her, despite her recriminations.
Oz looked over at her. “Not much to tell.”
“But you dated?” she pressed inquisitively.
“It was your typical high school relationship,” he returned vaguely.
“Were you in love?”
Oz sighed. “Yeah, at least as much as you can be when you’re eighteen.”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“I’m sorry. It’s a trait of mine,” she apologized with a small smile. “Too personal?”
“A little,” he replied plainly.
“I meet a lot of people that like talking about themselves. It’s rare to find someone that likes to keep things private,” she excused, genuinely contrite. She was too nosy, a little pushy, and often impatient; she knew that about herself but it wasn’t easy to change – especially if those very same characteristics were often the ones that helped her to get the better stories. “Sorry if it comes across like an interrogation.”
“It’s okay. I just don’t really-”
“Like talking about yourself or your friends,” she finished for him when he trailed off.
“Something like that, yeah,” he agreed with a nod.
“Understood. I know I don’t have the restraint to not ask you any more questions, but I’ll try to keep them to a few at a time and a bit less personal,” she offered with an apologetic smile. “So can I still get that ride over to St. Margaret’s?”
Elise waited in Giles’ office for almost an hour before he returned, one of the Slayers in Training close on his heels. He introduced Elise as a family friend, which was met with a skeptical look by the young woman named Stephanie. She closed the door behind her with a smirk, leaving them alone. Elise had no doubt that within minutes the other girls at the school would be hearing some juicy, albeit untrue, gossip about Giles and the woman in his office.
Chuckling, she said as much to him when she took a seat opposite his desk.
“Yes, well, several of the girls have been trying to set me up with Ms. Cottswald at the bakery. They don’t think I get out enough,” he replied with a wry smile.
“Perhaps you don’t,” she said laughingly. She didn’t doubt that there were many women that would find the former Watcher attractive.
“What brings you out here again so soon?” Giles asked, changing the subject to one less personal. Though the school and the training kept him extremely busy, he got out more than the girls even suspected. Ms. Cottswald was only one of several women in town that enjoyed his company.
“I hope you don’t mind me dropping in unexpectedly,” Elise began earnestly, “but I needed to clarify a couple of things.”
“No, it’s quite all right. I do have a history lesson in, oh, twenty, minutes, so if it won’t take longer than that.”
Glancing at her watch, she nodded. “Then I’ll get right to it. I understand that the Council was destroyed back in 2002.”
“When did they reform?” Reaching in her bag, she took out her notebook and pen. She didn’t really need them for this particular interview, but she often felt more comfortable with them in her hand.
“Reform?” Giles repeated, surprised. “I wasn’t aware that they had.”
“Are you certain? Because I have heard rumors suggesting otherwise.”
“I ended my affiliation with the Council quite some time ago. I disagreed with many of their practices,” he admitted honestly. “So even if the Council has reformed, it’s doubtful that they would have contacted me.”
“Really? That surprises me given that you’re the one training so many young Slayers, I would have thought you’d have been one of the first people that they would have contacted. I mean, after all, where better to find Slayers to watch?” she mused somewhat disbelievingly.
“Yes, well, the Council, as you may know from your experiences with your stepfather, tends to be rather inflexible about most things. One of those was membership. I don’t think anyone that ever left, or was dismissed from, the Council was ever admitted back in.”
“Do you think it’s possible that they reformed?” she asked, watching his expression intently.
Giles shrugged. “Possible, though it seems unlikely. When the offices were destroyed, most of those that were considered to be the managing executives were inside. They were all killed in the blast, leaving only a few scattered Watchers left alive to pick up the pieces.”
“Well, what about those Watchers? Wouldn’t they have gotten together and done something?” she questioned.
“I don’t know that they really had any incentive to reform the organization,” he said speculatively.
“Did you consider it yourself?”
“Not really, at least not in the formal sense. Informally, of course, we have a similar system. I’ve been training Dawn as well as Andrew. Certain aspects of the knowledge – at least what little of it I still possess – will be passed on.”
“Why not make it formal? Round up a few of the former Watchers and put something together? You could undoubtedly use the help,” she suggested.
The former Watcher shifted uncomfortably. When he spoke, his tone was cool. “Tradition for tradition’s sake is not something I’m particularly interested in at this time. The girls need practical knowledge, and practical training. That’s how they will survive. There are only a few surviving members from the Council that I believe would take that approach, and frankly, I don’t have the time nor the patience to deal with the rest.”
“You seem quite passionate about this,” Elise surmised thoughtfully. She wasn’t sure why, but her instincts were telling her that Rupert Giles was telling her the truth. If the Council had reformed, then he wasn’t aware of it or involved. Still, she wasn’t about to divulge all that she knew.
“Well, then, I suppose that’s because I am,” he agreed. “And now I’m sorry, but I really must prepare for class.”
“I’ll walk with you, if you don’t mind. I have just a couple of last questions.” Dropping her pad and pen in her bag, she rose gracefully to her feet.
They walked out of the office and into the hallway.
“Have you ever heard the name, Eastwood Park?” she asked in a hushed voice as they walked along.
“Yes,” he replied, a perplexed expression on his face.
Her nerves leapt anxiously, though she tried to hide her excitement. “What do you know about it?”
“Other than that it’s near Bristol, not much really. I’ve never been there.”
Elise sighed, disappointed. She had been hoping for something more.
“Why do you ask?”
“No reason, I was, uh, just thinking of taking a trip there so I wanted to find out if it was worth a visit,” she excused. “What about Bjoutan? Have you ever heard that name?”
Giles looked thoughtful as he considered her question. Shaking his head, he replied, “No, not that I recall.”
“I think I found something that you might be interested in,” Oz said as Elise climbed into the car. He had dropped her off near St. Margaret’s several hours ago, explaining that he was going to make some inquiries on his own about the information that they had gotten from Wesley.
“Yeah, what’s that?” she asked, leaning back against the seat tiredly. She hadn’t slept much in the last couple of days, her mind on overdrive due to the recent discoveries. She, like Wes, was still puzzling over how it all fit together. She had hoped that her conversation with Mr. Giles would have been more enlightening, but that had not proved to be the case.
“I found a guy, part demon, that says he knows something about Bjoutan,” he returned, easing the car into traffic.
“Really?” Elise perked up interestedly. “That was fast. Really fast.” She frowned. “Too fast.”
“Surprisingly fast,” he answered flatly, also skeptical of how quickly he was able to find the information. “I know some people that know people, so I put the word out. I thought it’d be awhile, if we got anything at all. I guess we’ll see if we got lucky.”
“Or someone is lying,” she replied suspiciously. “So what does this guy know?”
“I don’t know. The guy that turned me on to him says he’s credible. I figured we’ll listen to what he says then we’ll decide.”
She gave him a brief update on her conversation with Giles as they drove, then they rode in silence the rest of the way. Reaching Greenwich, Oz parked the car and they got out. The streets were relatively busy with people going in and out of the various pubs and bars that lined the street.
Just past Trafalgar Tavern, they took the stairs up to a relatively quiet bar. Elise recognized the symbols along the wall as one that identified the place as a demon friendly establishment, though it wasn’t obvious, even after they stepped through the heavy iron door.
She followed Oz inside, where he stopped and talked quietly to the bartender for a few minutes. They seemed to be well acquainted, and Elise hung back to give them some privacy for their conversation. Eventually, the woman nodded, and pointed them toward the back. Winding their way through the tables, they stopped when they reached the one in the back corner where a man with long, thick dark hair and an equally thick mustache sat drinking a beer. There were several empty glasses on the table, indicating that the man had been there for a while. Except for the gills on either side of his face, he appeared human.
“You Gary’s friend?” Oz asked plainly.
“Yeah. Name’s Rhys,” he muttered, holding out his hand. Next he glanced past Oz to Elise. He blatantly looked her over with beady eyes, as he stretched out his hand. “You the writer?”
“Yeah,” she answered, returning his handshake. Afterwards she had to resist wiping away the feeling of his sweaty, slimy palm on hers.
“You’re going to put my info in a book if I tell you what I know about Bjoutan?” he asked bluntly.
“Um, okay, yeah, sure,” she replied, wondering what Oz had offered in order to get this meeting.
“How much is it worth to you?”
“Worth?” she repeated dumbly.
“Money, honey. Talk may be cheap, but it ain’t free. You make money off them books of yours. I want a cut if you’re going to use my 411.”
“Okay. If your information is useful, then I’ll give you…” Glancing at Oz she lifted her eyebrows questioningly. In response, he covertly held up his hand. Turning back to the guy at the table, she continued, “Twenty euros.”
Oz grimaced. He had meant two-hundred, not twenty.
“I want fifty,” the half-demon grunted, surprising them both.
“Okay,” she answered with feigned reluctance, attempting to keep the surprise out of her voice.
“But let’s talk out back,” Rhys suggested quietly. “I can’t be seen saying anything here, if you know what I mean.”
Elise looked at Oz who nodded agreeably before answering. “Of course, yes.”
The three of them trooped out the side door and into a narrow alley. Oz and Elise watched the half-demon check all the nooks and crannies carefully, including the area along the River Thames, before returning to stand in front of them.
“So tell us what you know,” Elise prompted tersely. The cool, dank air and less than pleasant smells coming from the water or the demon – she couldn’t tell which – weren’t helping to curb her impatience.
“Gimme my money first,” he demanded, holding out one beefy hand.
Reaching in her purse, Elise took out a few bills and handed them over. “Okay, part now. The rest after you tell us what you know.”
“Look, you can’t use my name,” he insisted gruffly. “There are people that don’t want people talking about this kind of thing.”
“I don’t reveal my information sources,” she returned haughtily; there was no need to question her integrity.
“Not even by description,” the half-demon continued adamantly. “You can’t say nothing to no one about what I’m going to tell you.”
“I won’t, I promise. Look, I talk to… uh… people, all the time about things like this and never disclose the informant. I understand the risk that you take simply by talking to me.”
The half-demon scrutinized her apprehensively for a long moment.
“Please, just tell us what you know about Bjoutan,” she asked politely, hiding her frustration.
Pursing his lips, Rhys shrugged. “It’s hot, it’s humid. They have monsoons. Mainly though, what I think you want to know is that it’s a prison and it’s in some other dimension.”
“What?” Elise’s eyes widened. “You’re joking, surely.”
He shook his head. “Clean the wax outta yer ears. I didn’t stutter, and I ain’t joking. It’s a prison. Jail. Lock-up. You know, the can.”
“Are you sure about this?” she questioned with disbelief, glancing at Oz. “How do you know?”
“I hear things.” The half-demon shrugged contemptuously.
Elise stared at him. “Who’s imprisoned there?”
“Demons, I guess, though mostly from what I heard it’s Slayers in there.” At her look of alarm he added matter-of-factly, “Hey, most of ‘em deserve to be there. They abused their powers, or what have ya.”
“But who… who runs it?” Stunned, she looked back at Oz. She knew or could guess, but she dared not say it for risk of planting the idea in the head of the demon in front of her. They needed to know what he knew without leading him to any answers.
“I dunno. Mostly the guys that go there don’t come back. My cousin Freddie, he signed on to work there a coupla years ago. He ain’t a demon like me, he’s all human. Our fathers were brothers. I’m demon on my mother’s side. Anyway, he came back once or twice, but after that – nothing. Never heard from him again. We was told that he permanently relocated to Bjoutan but I dunno that he’d do that.”
Oz frowned. “You think something happened to him?”
“Maybe, I don’t know.” The half-demon wiped a sweaty hand across his face.
“Why’d he take the job there?” Elise asked, licking her lips nervously.
“Money, why else?” The created snorted noisily. “From everything I heard, they ain’t got no problem finding people, demon or human, to guard the place. Pay’s real good, the work ain’t hard. The prisoners are kept drugged with something that keeps them weak as kittens. And then there’s the perks – if you get my drift.”
At his obvious leer, Elise stepped back and tried to hide her disgust. If any of this was true she shuddered to think of the implications.
Agitated, Oz paced a short distance away.
“Names. Give me some names of some of the women there,” she insisted, her voice wavering slightly.
“How the hell should I know who the dumb bitches are?” Rhys countered indignantly as he cast a suspicious eye over his shoulder at her companion.
“You hear things,” she asserted coolly, her composure returning somewhat though her stomach was churning anxiously.
“I didn’t hear no names.”
“Not even one?”
“Buffy,” Oz snarled, grabbing the demon’s shoulder and turning him around to face him. The two men were similar in height, though Rhys probably outweighed Oz by a good fifty pounds. “Is she there? Did you hear that name?”
“Angelus’ bitch?” The half-demon smirked, shaking off the other man’s grip. “You mean that Buffy?”
Clenching his jaw, Oz nodded.
“Maybe, yeah. They keep everything about that place locked up tighter than your mother’s ass, but I’m pretty sure I heard that name. It’s not one of those names that you hear a lot, ya know, so it kinda stands out.”
“How sure?” Oz persisted, his eyes narrowing darkly.
“It’s worth an extra hundred euros,” Elise interjected, holding out the money.
“I think Freddie may have mentioned the name,” the half-demon admitted, turning back to Elise and snatching the money from her hand. “And hey,” he excused lamely, as he stuffed the bills in his pocket, “A lotta demons were glad to see her off the streets. She was rough on the population. I’m not saying that I was one of em, mind you, just that I understand their perspective.”
“Do you know anyone else we can talk to? How about the guy that hired your cousin to work there? Where can we find him?” Elise queried, her anxiety and unease growing steadily. “How can we get to Bjoutan?”
“There ain’t no one else but me that knows this stuff. And you can’t get there, leastwise without knowing the right people.”
“You don’t know who hired your cousin?” she repeated her question, her tone skeptical. “He told you all this, and never mentioned a name?”
“Nah, he never said. Even if he did, I couldn’t tell you. I said already, I’m probably one of the only living people that can tell you any of this as it is. Anyone else would have been crushed like a bug for shooting his mouth off. Now give me the rest of my fucking money. I told you everything I know, which was more than I shoulda.”
Suddenly and without warning, the half-demon crumpled to the ground. Elise looked up in astonishment at Oz, who was now standing over the man with a metal pipe in his hand.
At her questioningly look, he simply shrugged. “He was starting to get on my nerves.”
“Do you think he was telling the truth, about the prison, and… and about Buffy?” Elise ventured tentatively, her gaze drifting back to the half-demon unconscious on the ground between them.
“I kinda hope not, but I’m usually wrong,” he returned quietly.
“Well, we have to find out. Somehow.”
“We have to tell Angel,” Oz countered firmly.
“But we don’t know anything yet,” Elise asserted, though her voice faltered unconvincingly.
His brows rose questioningly. “We don’t?”
“Well, not for sure. It’s all… hearsay, really. Gossip, until we can find proof otherwise.”
“We have to call Angel.”
“We will, but first we should check this out. Wes mentioned something about some document with magic. We can go back and-”
“Elise, we’re in over our heads. After your breaking and entering in to their offices, the Watcher’s Council may be looking for us, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not really up for them finding me. They’re typically not really understanding about the whole werewolf thing, and if they now have their own secret prison in some other dimension where people go and never come back, I’m doubly sure I want to avoid them.”
“But that’s just it! If we can find this Bjoutan, we can-”
“And even if the Council thing were a non-issue, Buffy may really be there,” Oz continued as though Elise hadn’t spoken. “For that reason alone, we have to tell Angel.”
She turned away and stared off into the distance. She knew it was the right thing to do; it just wasn’t easy, especially given this unexpected turn of events. How was he going to take the news? And what if they were wrong? Could she see him get his hopes up, only to see them crushed? But equally worse, if not more so. what if they were right? How would he take the news that his girl had been in a prison in another dimension for over a year?
“If you won’t, I will.” Oz was firm.
It would be the easy thing to do, to have Oz be the one to break the news. It was also the coward’s way out. Turning back around, she gave a resigned sigh. “Okay, okay. I’ll call him.”
A short while later, with Rhys stuffed into the small trunk of the Mini-Cooper, Elise and Oz drove in silence through the streets of London. They both were uncertain whether their newly discovered information was the truth or a lie. And under the circumstances, they were equally uncertain which to hope for.