DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: After being assured Willow is all right and will sleep through the night, Wesley has gone back to the hotel at Spike’s request to figure out what to do with the knowledge that it’s both Angel and Wood behind the hit. Meanwhile, Kate has gone to check out the disturbance at Lindsey’s hotel, while Riley has begun to be suspicious of Warren…
Chapter 35: Unholy Partners
She was waiting for him by the elevator, eyes bright, an eager smile on her face. Riley frowned. If he didn’t know Kate better, he would almost expect her to be bouncing up and down from whatever glee was percolating inside her.
“You called?” he said as he stopped in front of her.
“Come on.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him away from the closed doors, leading him toward the reception desk. Flashing her badge at the clerk, she nodded at Riley to do the same, staying silent until they had stepped through the doors that led to the inner workings of the hotel.
“When do I get the lowdown on why exactly I’m here?” he asked.
“How much have you heard?” she replied, directing him down the corridor.
“I know from nothing. When I didn’t hear back from you right away, I figured it was all a big bust, but then you called and you told me absolutely squat except to get my carcass down here…” The irritated look he shot her was less one of annoyance and more one that he’d bestow upon an ornery younger sibling, and she grinned even wider as she pushed open a door. “…so here I am.”
“And here we are,” she said. “Stop number one.”
They stood at the mouth of the back hallway, gazing down its length to the outside door and the fading sunlight that filtered through its opening. Various sections of the floor had been taped off, and a uniformed cop was kneeling on the tile, scraping away at the stains that marred its perfection.
“What exactly happened here?” Riley asked.
“Shootout in the alley. Witnesses put the number of guns anywhere from two to twenty, so they’re not sure yet how many were involved. So far, forensics have picked up at least three different casings, but they won’t have a definitive answer until they’ve finished their sweep.”
He nodded toward the bloodstains on the floor. “Somebody got hit.”
“A couple someones,” she agreed, “but only one got dragged back inside.”
“Do they have the body?”
“No. And nothing’s shown up at the hospitals yet. They’re monitoring the emergency rooms for bullet wounds in hopes that whoever it was will seek treatment.”
“What about the others?”
“One dead, one wounded. The wounded one’s still out cold, probably will be for a while, the docs say. Both have been identified through rather extensive police records out in Harlem. Organized crime, to be exact.”
Riley folded his arms across his chest, and turned away from the scene, looking down at Kate. “I’m still not seeing what any of this has to do with the Wilkins case,” he said.
He could tell she was bursting to tell him, but did surprisingly well at maintaining her composure. “There’s more to see,” she said, and turned to punch the button for the service elevator.
They rode in silence, and when they stopped, were immediately assaulted by a young rookie demanding to see ID. Another quick flash of their badges, and Riley and Kate were strolling down the hallway, stopping before a pair of opposite doors.
“That one first,” she said, pointing to the one at his left.
He didn’t bother knock, just pushed it open and stepped inside. The opulence within made him want to whistle out loud in amazement, but instead he kept his quiet, wondering how in the world people could justify spending this kind of dough for a bed to sleep in temporarily.
On the couch, a nervous young steward was playing with his hat, waiting for the cop before him to snap closed his notebook. Upon their entrance, both occupants looked up, and Riley recognized the visage of Adam Walsh, not too long ago transferred from his own precinct. So this is how Kate knew it would be all right for me to show my mug around here, he thought as he stepped up to the couch. Adam had been the one of the first to help Riley out when he’d moved to the city, and was the closest thing to a brother he could call this far from home.
“You look like crap,” Adam commented, his face stoic as ever but his tone light. He stood, closing his notes and tucking it inside his jacket.
Riley lifted his eyes to meet his friend’s. “Same could be said for you,” he replied with a smile, hand coming out in greeting.
“Miss Lockley here seems to be of the opinion that my new case is going to interest you. In fact, she hasn’t stopped barbering away about it.”
At his side, Kate blushed, but Riley ignored it, focusing on the young man on the couch. “I assume he saw what went down?” he queried.
“Not exactly.” Adam nodded toward the steward. “Go on. Tell him your story.”
Bit by bit, the tale fell into place. Getting the breakfast order. Bringing it upstairs. Running into the men at the elevator. Taking the bribe to get away. And then identifying the bodies afterward as belonging to the same group he’d seen on this floor.
At the end of it, Riley frowned, and glanced back at Kate. “Still not seeing the connection here,” he said.
“Tell him who has the rooms on this floor,” she instructed the steward.
“They’re booked by a law firm. Wolfram and Hart.”
Law firm. “McDonald?” Riley asked Kate.
She nodded. “And guess who had this room?”
“Well, we don’t actually have that confirmed---,” Adam started.
“But the description fits perfectly,” she argued. She beamed as she looked up at Riley. “Faith.”
Bingo. “So, let me talk to them,” he demanded. “Her lawyer’s around, she’s got these triggermen showing up for breakfast. She’s got to know---.”
“You can’t. She’s not here.” She held up her hands to cut him off. “And before you ask, McDonald’s not here either. But I think there’s someone else who might interest you to speak with.”
Furious, Lilah slammed down the phone, wincing when she caught her last remaining good nail and snagging it in a jagged tear. “Damn it,” she muttered, and marched off to the bathroom, pulling out her file and honing it down to match the others. Perfect end to a perfect day, she thought bitterly. Too bad Lindsey’s not around to put on the polishing touches. Bastard.
She stared at her reflection in the mirror, examining the small scratch on her forehead that she was doing her best to hide behind her hair. It was the only physical reminder she bore from her car ride from hell earlier, though the broken heel on her shoe, the rend in the back seam of her skirt, and an incredibly bruised ego were right there on standby for when it healed. It had taken her nearly six hours to get back into the city and to the hotel---using feminine wiles on men she was repulsed to admit to even talking to---and once there, she’d been immediately accosted by the police, wanting to question her as to Lindsey’s disappearance and the shootout that had happened outside.
Damn Lindsey. This was all his fault.
Then, as if her day hadn’t been awful enough, Holland had called. Apparently, Wood had decided to eliminate what he considered a bad seed, with Holland’s approval, but Lindsey had eluded their grasp, though how, they had no idea. Mr. Trick had told some story about one of Rook’s men showing up to turn him over to the lawyers, but it sounded like nonsense to her. Anyone who knew Rook knew his people were loyal to him to a fault; only an idiot would buy that kind of story.
And she’d made the mistake of saying so to her boss.
“Find him,” he had ordered, his voice like ice. “Actually, find both of them. Use whatever means necessary. Lindsey is no longer an asset to this company and needs to be treated as dangerous. Do you understand?”
She’d stumbled over her assent, and had been eager to hang up the phone, when his final warning drifted across the line, tingling her spine in fear and fury.
“Oh, and Lilah? The Senior Partners are quite dismayed that this is turning into such a three-ring circus. If it’s not resolved by the end of the week, consider yourself fired.”
And that had been it. God, she could really use a drink right about now.
The knock at the door made her want to scream in frustration. Who the hell could it be now? she raged inwardly as she marched for the door. She almost rolled her eyes when she saw the blonde on the other side. Great. Back to the cops again.
“Miss Morgan?” Kate said, stepping forward just enough to make it impossible for Lilah to slam the door on her. “I hope we’re not intruding too much, but I was hoping you could speak to Detective Finn for a few moments.”
She gestured toward the tall man behind her, and Lilah affected her brightest courtroom smile. Damn, they grew them big here in New York, she thought as she stepped aside to let them enter. Between him and Detective Walsh…Her eyes roved over the broad shoulders, the slim hips, and then she shook her head at her own foolishness. Too bad he’s a white hat.
“Can I get you something to drink?” she asked, striding toward the liquor cabinet.
“No, thank you, ma’am. Not while we’re on duty.”
Ma’am? She had to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. They grew ‘em stupid, too, it looked like.
He waited until she was seated on the couch, gazing up at him expectantly, before he spoke again. “Miss Lockley tells me you’re an associate of Mr. McDonald’s,” Finn said. “I was hoping that you might be able to enlighten us on one of his clients.”
Inwardly, she steeled herself. “Mr. McDonald’s clients are his own concern,” she replied evenly. “And even if I did know anything about them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. Client confidentiality, you know.”
“So, you have no dealings with the young woman who was across the hall?”
She kept her surprise hidden. “None.” What woman?
“It’s just…” He settled himself in the chair opposite, unbuttoning his jacket as he leaned forward. “…she’s a major witness in one of my cases, and with both Faith and Mr. McDonald now missing, I’m beginning to get concerned about the integrity of my investigation. I’m sure you appreciate my problem here.”
So that’s what this is about, she thought as she kept her eyes on Finn. She should’ve made the association right away---Finn was the one assigned to the Wilkins murder---but in her heightened state of agitation, it had passed right by her. And now he was telling her that Lindsey had been hiding little miss Faithie-poo right under Lilah’s nose.
The fact that she’d spent most of her morning on a wild goose chase with Spike now suddenly seemed to make sense. What was it he had said?
“If it wasn’t for your little distraction, my part in this little escapade today could’ve been bum-numbingly boring.”
A set-up. And she’d fallen for it. Lindsey must’ve gotten wind of Trick’s plan and jumped ship while he still had the legs for it. Not good. Not good at all.
“You don’t think anything…bad has happened to Lindsey…do you?” It was easy to feign concern for his wellbeing. If he got away, she wasn’t so sure she wouldn’t be floating in the East River as punishment for letting it happen.
“We don’t know,” Finn admitted. “Do you mind telling us where you were today?”
Almost imperceptibly, her eyes narrowed. She’d been too quick to judge this one, she decided. He was the first to inquire after her whereabouts. “With a client,” she said smoothly.
The glance he shot the scratch on her forehead was unmistakable. “Did it not go so well?” he asked.
“Unrelated. My heel broke when I was hailing a cab to return to the hotel, and I stumbled.”
“Guess you must’ve fallen pretty hard to break all your nails like that.”
There was no change in his demeanor, still the politeness, still the cordiality, but Lilah could sense the warning behind his words. Don’t lie to me, it said. I can see straight through you.
“The price we women pay for our vanity,” she said with a tight smile. “Do you have any leads on where Lindsey might be?” Time to stop sitting back. Time to take back control of the ball.
“We have our suspicions,” he said.
He was lying to her, but at least he was trying, she had to give him that. “I’d like to help in any way I can,” Lilah said. “He may act all tough and smart, but at heart, he’s still a small town boy. If he’s in any kind of danger---.”
“Why do you think he’d be in danger?”
Finn’s question was rapid, and he was leaning even further forward, his forearms resting on his knees while his eyes remained locked on hers, momentarily startling her into silence. She scrambled for the first words she could find, and hoped they’d be enough to cover herself.
“That Detective Walsh told me earlier that he’d been seen with those men who were shot in the alley. And men with guns usually don’t inspire feelings of confidence in me. I meant what I said. I want to help in any way I can. The last thing I want to see is Lindsey getting hurt.” Or myself, she added silently, but kept her gaze level as she prayed the cop would buy it.
The room was silent for a moment. “It would help us considerably if we could see his files,” he finally said.
She shook her head. “Absolutely not. I’ve told you. Short of a court order, I absolutely cannot let you have those. Ask me anything else.” She brightened. “Maybe I could go over your crime scene notes. I’m not exactly lacking in the brains department. Maybe I’ll see something you’ve missed.”
Finn and Lockley exchanged a quick look before he shook his head. “I’m sure something will come up that you can help us with,” he said, rising to his feet. “I appreciate your taking the time to tell us what you could.”
Following them to the doorway, Lilah pulled one of her business cards from her purse by the entrance and passed it over to them. “Please. Contact me whenever you need to. It’s important that Lindsey be all right.”
He only nodded and began walking away. Before Kate could join him, Lilah’s hand shot out and gripped her arm, stopping her moving any further.
“Lindsey can be…impetuous,” she said quickly, keeping her voice down. “If he’s got Faith with him, that makes him twice as hard to predict. Please. If you find anything out, call me. I know him better than anyone. I can honestly help.” And with that, she stepped back into her suite and shut the door.
Kate was frowning as she joined Riley at the elevator, glancing over her shoulder at the closed door in the distance. “I need to get Graham on the phone,” he was saying, though she barely heard him. “I want him to see Walsh’s perps, see if either of them is the witness who took a powder at Faith’s apartment---.”
“She’s lying to us,” Kate said suddenly as the elevator doors swooshed open in front of them.
Riley’s arm shot out to prevent the doors from closing again, but followed her gaze to where it was locked on Lilah’s hotel room. “Not that that really surprises me,” he said, “but what makes you say it?”
“She said she didn’t know anything about the woman across the hall. Yet, she just tried warning me that Faith made McDonald unpredictable. Seems mutually exclusive, if you ask me.”
His face was grim as he stepped inside the elevator, waiting for her to join him. “You’d make a hell of an investigator,” he commented as they started their descent. “Feel like making Lilah Morgan your new best friend?”
She smiled, delight sparkling in her eyes. “I thought you’d never ask.”
Part of him still couldn’t believe she actually had the moxie to ask such a thing. As he listened to Wesley quiz the others, Spike could only watch Buffy as she sat and fidgeted at the dining room table, separate from the group but still hanging on to every word. As if her future depended on it. As if Angel was her future.
This sense of obligation to her fiancé made him ill, because he was convinced more than anything else that Wilkins had something to do with the nightmares of Buffy’s past. She didn’t see it, of course, and Spike didn’t dare to voice his suspicions. Bringing it up would only distance her from him, and he couldn’t bear the thought of his life without her in it.
But couldn’t she understand that he had to do something about it? Wesley’s report had eased his mind somewhat about Red, but until she was back in his presence, smile bright and endlessly perky, Spike would not be content. And even then, he’d still have to avenge her shooting in some way.
“Interesting,” Wesley said, leaning back into the couch. His gaze shifted to Spike. “You killed this Wood’s sister?”
“Yes,” he replied through gritted teeth. “For the last soddin’ time, yes.” The faster they moved away from the subject of just what he’d done five years ago and on to what they were going to do about the current situation, the happier he would be.
“And you don’t want to kill either of them…why?”
Spike’s sigh of exasperation was explosive in the close air of the room, and he leapt to his feet to begin pacing in front of the fireplace again. “Because I bloody well don’t want any more lives on my head!” he snarled.
“Didn’t stop you with Richard,” Faith remarked coldly.
Her comment barely made him pause. “Entirely different,” he said.
“Spike.” Ripper stepped forward, arms folded across his chest, his expression grave. “I understand your concerns, but these are not the type of men to just give up. They’ve gone to great lengths to set you up on this. They’re not going to simply roll over and play dead because we ask them to.”
“Hence, my dilemma,” the blond replied tightly. His head swiveled to stare at Wesley. “I’m open to suggestions here whenever you’re ready.”
Wesley shrugged. “I think Giles is right. I don’t see how sparing their lives is going to alleviate your situation.”
“And you’re both jingle-brained if you think you can get close enough to either guy to even blow on them,” Lindsey interrupted. “They’ve got money. They’ve got power. And they’ve got Wolfram and Hart behind them every step of the way. You’d be dead before you could even consider drawing your gun.”
“Too bad we can’t just click together our ruby slippers and wish them away to Oz,” Xander joked. “No muss, no fuss.”
“Maybe you could try apologizing.” Faith’s tone was mocking. “You know, walk up to Wood, put on your best, I’m-so-charming-you-have-to-believe-me smile, and say, ‘Hey man, sorry about blowin’ away your sister---.’”
Her words were cut off in a gurgle when Spike whirled and caught her throat in his hand, shoving her back off her stool and up against the wall. “Keep. Your trap. Shut,” he growled, eyes ebony in anger.
Other hands were on him in an instant, pulling him away, but Faith refused to slump, holding herself stiffly as her hand flew to her neck. “Guess that repentance jive you’ve been spouting is just talk after all,” she rasped. “Should’ve known anyone B would hook up with would be all about the hitting.”
“Enough!” Releasing his grip on Spike’s shoulder, the Englishman elbowed his way in between the two, eyes flashing behind his glasses. “This is getting us nowhere, and while we’re standing around, bickering like schoolchildren, the men who are responsible for putting Willow in the hospital are walking around this town free as a jaybird. Now. Can we please focus?”
With a vicious twist, Spike wrested himself from Xander and Wesley’s grips and stalked to the opposite side of the room, planting himself on the windowsill and ripping the pane upwards. Sticking a cigarette in his mouth, he fumbled for his lighter, keeping his eyes away from the remainder of the group. None of them fuckin’ understood. Not Ripper. Not Harris. Not even Buffy---.
“What if they weren’t free?” she said quietly from the table. It was the first thing she’d said since emerging from the bathroom, and all heads turned to look at her, curious as to what she was ready to offer. “What if they were locked up?”
“Put them behind bars?” Wesley queried. He shook his head. “You forget. I tried for three years to get something on the Mayor, and couldn’t do it. I highly doubt we could nail two family heads in any amount of time. They’re just too slippery.”
“But…” She rose from her chair, animated for the first time since arriving. “That was before. That was different.” Pointing to each man as she mentioned him, Buffy closed the distance join the rest of the group. “You didn’t have Spike then, and he’s got resources in this city you can only dream about. You didn’t have Giles, and from what I’ve been able to tell so far, he’s as uptight and organized as you are. And you didn’t have their lawyer, you know, the one who knows all their dirty little secrets? You’re telling me that with these kind of people at your disposal, you can’t get enough dirt to put them in the big house? What kind of a federal agent are you, Wesley?”
While the rest of them just stared at her in amazement, Spike couldn’t help the chuckle that escaped his lips. “Obviously, not a very good one, luv,” he joked, and tossed his cigarette out the window, the nicotine fix he’d been seeking now unnecessary.
She had a point. If he couldn’t kill them, he could make sure they paid for their crimes in other ways, by denying them their freedom for the rest of their natural-born lives. It would satisfy his need to make them pay, and spare the wanker’s life like Buffy wanted.
McDonald’s next words were a damper on his rising mood. “Knowing the stories and having proof that will make the stories stick in court are two entirely different things,” he said.
“And then there is the issue of the local police,” Wesley said. “Not that I don’t think your idea has merit, Buffy, but they’re still going to want to arrest Spike for the Mayor’s murder.”
“But…don’t you outrank them? Can’t you just say…no, you can’t have him?”
“If only it were that simple.”
“What if…” Spike rose to his feet and crossed to stand by Buffy. “…we did it as a trade? I help you nail both Wilkins and Wood, and in return, I get my record cleared. Two for one. You’re tellin’ me, your bosses wouldn’t be interested in a deal like that?”
“It wouldn’t matter if they were.” Lindsey rose to his feet and stood next to Wesley, gazing at the two blonds “You still don’t have proof.”
“No,” Spike said, in surprising agreement. “I’ve got you.”
The clack of her heels was loud against the floor as she approached the desk. She’d only ever heard about this place, and certainly never seen the inside of even the one they had back home; she had probably one of the most uneventful jobs in the entire department. Still, a quick glance around the sterile environment was all she needed to know she hadn’t really been missing much. It all sounded much more glamorous and exciting when she was dealing with the abstract of it than facing the reality.
The receptionist didn’t even smile as she walked up. “Can I help you?”
Pulling her identification from her wallet, Jenny held it up for inspection, saying, “I’m looking for Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. He brought a young woman with a gunshot wound in here earlier. Can you tell me where I can find him?”
To be continued in Chapter 36: Big Town After Dark…