Matt Bluestone choked. Then he gagged. He slammed his coffee cup down on the table next to the coffeemaker and backed away from it slowly. He contemplated pulling his gun on it, but decided that would be excessive. Instead, he looked at the secretary - no, Administrative Assistant - in wild-eyed shock.
"What the hell is that?" he demanded, pointing to his coffee mug.
"It's coffee," said Gladys, somewhat nastily. "If you don't like you, you can all make it yourselves." She returned to her computer, pounding her fingers against the keys in clear irritation.
"That is not coffee," Matt grumbled, then returned to his desk, sitting down heavily in his chair. He and Elisa had been switched to morning shift this week and he didn't think he could make it without his coffee. Elisa smirked at him from across their desks, facing together. She poured both of them a cup of coffee from a thermos, then slid one cup across the table to him.
"Thanks," he said sourly, sipping at the drink that really did taste like coffee. "What's Gladys' problem, anyway?"
"She's upset that we all forgot about Secretaries' Day," Elisa replied, leafing through a case file. "Do you have that interview from Sneakers?"
"Secretaries' Day?" Matt said incredulously. "That was back in March!" He tossed the requested document to Elisa. "How can she still be upset about that?"
"Woman knows how to hold a grudge." Matt looked up as Officer Morgan passed, carrying his own thermos of coffee with him.
"How long until we get transferred back to the graveyard shift?" Matt asked Elisa, his tone mildly pathetic. She shrugged and Matt sighed, pulling out his notebook and turning past case notes until he got to a blank page near the back. He picked up his pen and tapped it thoughtfully against the desk, before writing neatly across the top of the page, "New Year's Resolutions".
1. Make amends with all secretaries, as they rule the world.
* * * * * *
If he were any less experienced, the odor as he entered the old warehouse attached to a manufacturing plant would have made him reel backwards and run outside to throw up his breakfast, as most of the uniformed officers were doing. Fortunately (or unfortunately - Matt couldn't decide) this was starting to become old hat. The only outward reaction to the smell of rotting flesh was a slight narrowing of his eyes and a wrinkle of his nose. He pulled out his handkerchief and tried to block the smell as best as he could, though it was a hopeless gesture.
Even though it was the dead of winter in New York, the warehouse was hot and humid from the manufacturing plant next to it. Matt shooed away a cloud of botflies and kneeled down next to the body. The corpse was face down and well-past its prime. He looked across the body at Elisa, who nodded once, confirming his suspicions.
"Marcus Dentrick," he said, shaking his head. "This is one of Dracon's boys. Guess he won't be testifying for us after all."
"Guess not," Elisa said, sighing and stepping away from the body. She grabbed the arm of a green - in more ways than one - uniformed officer, who was doing his best to look anywhere but down. "Get forensics down here. Tell them we're going to need an entomologist to look this over, though I'm sure they know that already. With the temperature variations in this place and the humidity..."
"He could have bought it yesterday or a week ago," Matt finished, making a few notes in his casebook. The rookie nodded and rushed outside to make the call, probably happy to be sent away. Matt gave a sympathetic look to his retreating back, then looked over at Elisa. "I'll interview the person that found the body, see if we can get a list of who has access to this place and get an employee record. Notice something about the scene?"
"No blood," Elisa said, looking around the room to see if it was any way unsecured, which would give them a clue as to how the body was dumped. "This guy didn't die here."
"Nope," Matt agreed. He looked down at the corpse formerly known as Marcus Dentrick and shook his head. "Great way to end the year, isn't it?"
"Just lovely," Elisa agreed. "I'm going to case the neighborhood."
"Right." Matt walked a little ways away from the body, finishing his notes on the crime scene and knowing there wasn't a whole lot they could do until forensics finished up their magic. He flipped to the back of his notebook for the second time that day.
2. Skip breakfast. Permanently.
* * * * * *
"Here you go detective. I added extra some extra pickles, just like you like it."
"Thanks, Molly," Matt said to the perky waitress, then waited until she was out of sight to pick the pickles off of his sandwich. The girl was nice, but a little dense. He hid them under his napkin. He looked over at Elisa, who was staring at his hamburger with unhidden disgust.
"That's going to kill you someday," she said, trying to get Molly's attention to bring her the dressing for her salad. The café wasn't even crowded, but it never seemed to affect the quality of the service. They got free meals here, though, so Matt couldn't complain.
"We're cops, Elisa," Matt said, putting ketchup on his burger. "Everything is going to kill us someday."
"You don't have to hurry it along."
"Yeah, yeah." Matt bit into his sandwich. It was more than a little overdone, but he knew Edward, the old man that owned the place, tried his best. They'd halted some extortion against him, a group of gangsters trying to buy out his location, and he'd been so grateful, he'd offered free meals to both he and Elisa for life or as long as the restaurant was open. He also insisted on cooking for them himself, even though he had a very good and highly qualified short-order cook on staff. Given his salary, a free meal wasn't something he could pass up, no matter how bad it was.
Matt opened up his copy of The Sun, a nice little rag that often gave him a laugh and made him think too much. Anything was better than thinking about that dead body in the warehouse that had been a person they were supposed to protect so they could get him to testify against one of Dracon's operations. He flipped through to the back and read one of the articles - it was about aliens implanting subliminal messages into the cellular system, so that everyone that used a cellular phone would eventually become under their control. He showed the article to Elisa.
"You know, it makes sense," he said as she scanned it. "People get addicted to their cell phones like mindless slaves, can never seem to let go of them. Not fifteen years ago, we survived just fine without having a phone on hand at all times. Now, they're like an epidemic. Maybe it is a form of mind control."
Elisa gave him a blank stare. "Matt," she said slowly, pushing the paper back to him, "eat your dead cow."
Matt took back his paper, then pulled out his casebook again before finishing up his burger.
3. Never try to tell Elisa anything.
* * * * * *
It was still a few hours until sunset when Matt got off work. Supposedly, the gargoyles, along with Mr. Xanatos and his family, were hosting a little New Year's party, to which he was invited. Getting a few hours of sleep before attending would probably do him good, he realized, even though his sleeping schedule was shot to hell. He couldn't wait to get back on the graveyard shift. Being awake during the day just seemed wrong to him.
He kicked some of the snow off his boots, his toes feeling frozen. At times like this, he missed Southern California and its beautiful snow-free winters. He knew he should probably call his mother, tell her that he was still alive, that being a police officer hadn't gotten him killed, and that all was well in the world, but he was just feeling too tired.
Matt cursed the lock on his apartment, which was sticking worse than usual. He rattled his key around in it for several minutes, then finally heard the click he'd been waiting for, pushing open the door and looking forward to a few hours of quiet time in his nice, warm bed. The day could have gone a lot worse, he knew. At least nobody had shot at him today.
As the door closed behind him, he heard a click, then a whir - two noises he really didn't want to hear. He looked up, everything seeming to go in slow motion, and saw a fine wire running from the top of the door, past the lock, to a little innocuous brown package on the floor. The package was ticking.
Matt reacted on instinct, kicking the package as close to the window across the room and as far away from his neighbors' walls as he could, then threw open the door to his apartment and dove into the hallway, covering his head. Less than a second later, an explosion roared through the building and Matt knew without question he'd just lost his second apartment deposit this year. As the smoke filled the hallway and the other residents of the building that weren't at work started shouting and running for the stairwell, Matt pulled the casebook out of his back pocket.
4. Invest in better security.
He started to put the notebook back in his pocket, then paused and pulled it out again.
5. See about getting renter's insurance that covers bomb attacks by secret organizations you happen to be getting too close to.
He put the notebook away and ran like hell for the stairwell, almost pulling out his cell phone to call the fire department, but decided against it.
* * * * * *
The bullets had stopped flying over his head for a few minutes. Matt didn't know if that meant they were out of ammo, if they thought he was dead, or if they had simply run off. He couldn't afford to take any chances.
If someone had told him he'd be spending New Year's Eve on a freezing roof top, smelling like smoke from his bombed out apartment, and getting shot at by Tony Dracon's men after answering a call on his way to the Eerie Building, he probably would have told them "What else is new?" This seemed to be the direction his life was going in. New York had to be the most dangerous city in the world, save that one up in Washington... Cascade, he thought it was.
"Here, Glasses, Glasses, Glasses," Matt said under his breath, his voice barely audible to his own ears and he ducked around a heating unit, looking for said individual who was shooting at him. What the hell kind of nickname was "Glasses", anyway? Lots of people wore glasses.
A sudden shout took him by surprise and he found himself being hit broadside by a metal pipe. Ah, must have run out of bullets, then, Matt thought to himself as the world was suddenly much windier and much more upside down and he knew he was falling about thirty stories. The ground was approaching with alarming speed and Matt had a feeling there was a good chance he was going to die. Well, at least he'd go out with a bang. Or a splat, as the case may be.
He giggled a little hysterically, then gasped as the wind was knocked out of him when two arms reached around and grabbed his chest, his descent slowing dramatically until he actually found himself rising up in the air. He blinked, then twisted his head around and saw Broadway grinning down at him. The heavy, blue gargoyle was smiling far too much for Matt's comfort.
"Hey, Matt!" he said cheerfully. "We were wondering where you were. Are you coming to the party tonight?"
Unable to find his voice, Matt merely nodded.
"Great! You should see the place - the castle is completely decorated and we have all kinds of food that Xanatos had brought in. It should be a great time and at midnight we're going to..."
"Sounds fun," Matt ground out at last, cutting off the gargoyle's enthusiastic prattle. "Broadway, can you put me down somewhere?"
"Oh, sure," Broadway replied, finding a nearby roof to land on.
Matt stumbled a few times as they landed, his legs feeling shaky and his heart somewhere in the vicinity of his throat. Broadway reached out a hand to steady him, patting him lightly on the back while he tried to catch his breath. Matt looked across to the nearby roof where he'd fallen from and saw Brooklyn and Angela fighting with Dracon's men.
"Thanks," he said, wondering if he were to just sit down and hide his head between knees, would he scare the hell out of Broadway.
"No problem," Broadway said, walking to the edge of the roof. "Me and the others will just finish up with those guys, you can call it in, then I'll give you a lift to the castle. Sound good?"
"Perfect," Matt said, and turned away as Broadway leaped off into the air. He pulled out his notebook again.
6. Get mini-parachute in case of ever falling off a roof when there are no gargoyles present.
7. Purchase some Dramamine.
* * * * * *
The calls of greeting assaulted Matt's pounding head as he staggered, wind-blown, disheveled, and slightly singed, into the main hall of Castle Wyvern. He waved his hand to return all said greetings with as much enthusiasm as he could muster, then found the nearest couch and collapsed on it next to Fox. Broadway broke into the story of how they'd rescued him from certain death and the taking down of several of Dracon's men. Fox gave Matt a critical look as Broadway concluded his story.
"Sorry about your apartment being blown up," she offered.
Matt gave her a thin smile. "Thanks," he returned, looking around the room. Surely there had to be something here to drink that was strongly alcoholic.
"You getting shot at and falling off a roof couldn't have been fun, either," David added, sitting down next to him on the other side.
"Nope," Matt agreed, then visibly cringed as Elisa strode over to him.
"What were you thinking, answering a call by yourself?" she snapped at him. "You could have been killed!"
"I was told it was a simple B&E," Matt said in his own defense, "and there was supposed to be a uniformed cop already there. He was our leak, by the way, that told Dracon where our witness was being hidden."
Elisa opened her mouth to continue ranting at him, but was cut-off as Owen approached from seemingly out of nowhere, depositing a smiling Alexander into the surprised lady detective's arms.
"Perhaps Detective Bluestone would like a moment to collect himself and a chance to change into some clothes that are not burned and smoke-damaged," he suggested, giving Matt a pointed look - and a clear way to get out of the line of fire for a few moments.
"Yes, that's good," Matt said, dragging himself to his feet and practically hiding behind Owen. "You guys enjoy the party. I'll be back in a minute."
Owen turned and led him down the hall, away from the sounds of the party. It was good timing - Lexington had just turned on some noise that might have been music. The party was starting to go into full swing.
The castle was a maze of twists and turns and Matt knew he would have been lost in here for a week or more had Owen not been leading him. His detective's mind told him he should memorize the way, but the rest of him told that part of his mind to shove off. He was too tired and too drained to think clearly. Like a zombie, he followed Owen through a nondescript door and found himself in the other man's room.
The room was neat and organized, but felt lived in, warm, and inviting at the same time. Owen gestured to a comfortable looking bed covered with a soft, tasteful duvet with his stone arm and Matt gave him a grateful look before collapsing once more. He rubbed his head as Owen took to the closet, digging around for something he could wear.
"Thanks for getting me out of there," Matt said, breaking the comfortable silence that had settled around the room.
"You looked as though you needed it," Owen replied simply with little emotion in his voice, stepping away from the closet with a blue button-up shirt and a pair of khaki pants. The shirt was halfway buttoned already and Matt could see the ties hanging in Owen's closet were already done up in perfect Half-Windsor knots. It made sense, since the guy only had one functional arm.
"You have no idea. Today was one for the history books." Matt took the proffered clothes, looking curiously at the stone arm. He never understood how that happened, but couldn't think of a polite way to ask. Maybe Elisa knew. He'd ask her when she wasn't so cranky.
"You may use my bathroom to change," Owen continued, gesturing to another door across the room. "Mr. Xanatos has also offered to give you lodging during the interim while you are looking for a new apartment. Also, he will be willing to find you some legal assistance, discreetly, of course, so as not to compromise your objectivity."
"Legal assistance?" Matt echoed, feeling a little dumb. He paused on the way to the bathroom. "What for?"
A small, barely perceptible frown touched Owen's lips. "Detective, this is the second time this year your apartment has been bombed. Do you not think it might raise some questions?"
"Oh," Matt replied, knowing that he knew that, but his brain was feeling fuzzy. "I guess that explains all the pointed questions from the fire martial."
"I would advise against answering any of them," Owen suggested.
Matt nodded sadly, then entered the bathroom, closing the door softly behind him. He slipped out of his clothes, pausing only to remove his shoulder holster and gun and put them on the sink. His case notebook, badge, and cell phone sat next to them.
Owen's clothes fit surprisingly well. Matt didn't realize they were almost the same size. Owen appeared to be a little taller than him, but not by much. It hit him with a bit of stunning reality that the clothes he was now wearing, especially given the brand, probably cost three times more than his entire wardrobe combined - which was currently nothing more than a pile of smoldering ash.
After washing his face and finishing dressing, Matt folded his smoky clothes as best he could, then picked up his notebook, flipping once more to the back page.
8. When answering a call, always call for back up, if only to avoid irritating Elisa.
9. Use accumulated vacation time.
Matt slipped the notebook, his badge, and his cell phone into his borrowed pockets, then grabbed his gun and soiled clothes, exiting the bathroom. Owen was standing next to a curio cabinet. When he turned to face him, Matt could see a small decanter of brandy and a single class waiting just for him. Matt smiled in relief.
"Allow me to take those," he told Matt, relieving him of the clothes, "and we'll see if we can salvage them. Would you like a place to lock up your gun?"
"If you don't mind," Matt said. Owen walked over to another cabinet and unlocked it, gesturing for Matt to put his gun inside. As soon as it was secure, Owen handed him the key, then started on his way out of his bedroom.
"I will be in the main hall with Alexander," he said, his voice still as even and expressionless as ever. "If there is anything else you need, do not hesitate to ask."
There was something else in his voice, though - a hint of something that was distinctly un-Owen like, but even Matt's well-honed detective skills couldn't pick it out. He picked up the glass of brandy and sat back on the duvet, sipping the aged alcohol and trying very hard not to think about how much it probably cost.
"Hey, Owen?" Matt called to him, just as the other man was about to leave. Owen turned back to him, his face impassive. "You ever make New Year's Resolutions?"
"No," Owen said simply. "I do not find them necessary."
"Each day is a learning experience," Owen replied. "I should hope I wouldn't make the same mistake twice, regardless of where the Earth happens to be in its journey around the sun."
Matt laughed a little. "See, but that makes sense," he said, waggling a finger at Owen. "There's no reason it should apply to my life."
There was a slight change of expression on Owen's face. If Matt didn't know any better, he'd almost guess it was a smile. It was there and gone again so quickly, he couldn't be certain he'd seen it at all.
"Take as much time as you need," was all Owen said, then walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind him and leaving Matt to his thoughts.
The faint sounds of the party could be heard even through the thick stone walls. A glance at the clock told him it was only half-an-hour until midnight. He knew he should go join the party, not appear to be a bad sport about the whole day. Well, the year had certainly ended on an interesting note, he couldn't deny that. Maybe it was just fate struggling to get all the craziness out of the way before a calm and peaceful New Year.
Matt doubted he was that lucky.
Still, thinking back on the year - the discovery of the gargoyles, the invitation to the Illuminati (which he still wasn't sure was legit - he had a feeling they were still leading him around on a wild goose chase), the loss of two apartments, the making of new friends, and finding a good life inside the police department - Matt couldn't say it had been a bad year. A complicated, dangerous one, yes, but not bad. If anything, he was happier than he had been in a long while.
Matt flipped open his notebook one last time.
10. Never stop looking for the truth and keep a positive attitude.
Same final resolution as last year, he knew. It was the same resolution he made every year and tended to be the only one he could keep. Well, except for being nicer to the administrative assistant. That one was important, for his own sanity, well being, and caffeine intake. The rest, well, he wasn't holding out much hope. That was okay, though.
His cell phone rang shrilly, startling him out of his thoughts. He pulled it out of his pocket and looked at it suspiciously. His mother's number came up on the caller ID.
"Ah, to hell with it," he muttered, hitting the talk button. He probably didn't have enough of a mind to control anyway. "Hey, Mom," he said into the phone instead. "Yes, everything's fine. No problems. Happy New Year to you, too."