After the night that Eugene Podgio is murdered, the Lawndalians try to go on as it didn't happen. With Sophia Hakiojopoulos still around, Andrea Hecuba still not found, and some new characters arriving in the town, that's not going to be very likely.
Daria (and associated characters and locations) is copyright © 1997-2000 MTV Networks. If any characters didn't appear in the MTV's series, they're mine.
This story is copyright © 2002 by Bacner () and has been written for personal enjoyment. No infringement of the above rights is intended.
"And so the funeral of Eugene Podgio is going to happen this weekend," Angela Li sighed. "Just what this town really needs - a funeral-on-weekend trend. First the Ruttheimers last Sunday, now Eugene Podgio this one. And people used to complain that life was stodgy in Lawndale!"
Her interlocutor shrugged. "What can I say, Angela? It's been an odd week, and it's not over yet. Plus - we've got a loose end."
"Oh? What is it?"
"The disappearance of the student Andrea Hecuba."
Angela Li rolled her eyes. "No skin of my back, this one. A pustule-like rotter, this one is. And she has relatives, to my awareness. If they're bothered by her absence, they should notify the police."
"Angela, you and I know that policemen in this colossal precipitation tank couldn't find their arses with their hands. The only thing they're really good at, is chugging donuts."
"Am I to presume that you and Miss Akimoto had another falling-out?"
The man gave Angela Li the evil eye. The young lady in question was actually Tiffany Blum-Deckler's older sister, and she worked in LPD. She also had a one-on one-off relationship with James Tompkins, the rather elusive vice-principal of Lawndale High, and Angela Li's partner-in-crime. Oh sure, like all partners, they had their own little falling-outs, but Angela ensured now that the skylight over the swimming pool was bullet-proof now, so all was cool.
All was cool now, as a matter of fact, but things were almost imperceptibly heating-up. "Angela, am I to presume that you're not about to use your inquiring skills in the discovery of whereabouts of our missing student?"
Angela shrugged. "I phoned Hecubas' home earlier today. Mrs. Hecuba came to the phone, and told me in her own unique way that her daughter's absence was no concern of mine. Personally, I had enough of O.D.'d bikers from the time her father came here. That bloody man, acting as one of the Haradrim of Tolkien's, came in here, yelling in his really mangled NYC English-"
"Angela. The man's parents are from Turkey. Originally."
Angela Li gave James a cold eye. "Listen James. I know that you're no Teuton from Topeka, but just look at me. My mother was a Vietnamese from a small settlement from the Red river. My father was... an agent of communism, originally from Yung-ning or Yun-nan, or something like that. Personally, I know China only a bit better than your girlfriend knows her historic homeland, agreed?"
"I've managed to do rather well for myself, for a while at least, and I've certainly managed to prevent speaking in Mandarin whenever I got mad. An earful of that Turkish-NYC English slang mix was enough for me; I didn't want to learn some of the more... colourful words from Chicago slums as well."
James shrugged. "I'm telling you, our little town of Lawndale is a precipitation tank, sort of a man-made bog."
"You mean peatland," Angela Li snorted amusedly.
"You and your damn political correctness, boss! ...Besides, wasn't it me, who had to calm-down that indignant moose of a biker?"
Angela Li paused, remembering. "Well, yes," she admitted grudgingly, "you did. And this brings me up to my point: why won't you search for the missing student? You've got a lot of pull in some parts of Lawndale, that is a fact."
"Boss, my stance is set by your wind: you're my weather-vane, so to speak. A student is missing, and you don't care - something's odd is going-on around here, and Lawndale High is involved."
Angela Li paused. "Not exactly Lawndale High. Merely, I'm thinking..."
"...that Miss Hecuba, acting like a bloody Cassandra from Troy, got in the hands of some not-so-nice people and got her noddle twisted-off as a result?"
"Exactly," Angela Li nodded solemnly. "I even know - or rather, suspect - who're actually those not-so-nice people: the president of the company 'Gorgün'."
"I see," James shrugged. "But things won't stay quiet for long -at this point in time, a loose end quickly finds itself being a fuse to a petard that hoists its' own maker."
"Well, that petard certainly isn't of LH brand, so we don't have anything to worry about," Angela Li shrugged. "Now what is O'Neill doing at Manson's office?"
"Good day, Timothy. What can I do for you?" the school's psychiatrist, Harriett Manson, turned to the English teacher.
"Uh, Harriet, can you give me some advice? It's about Janet."
Harriet inwardly groaned. A day wouldn't pass without her receiving at least one boy (usually a freshman), whose first experience of Janet Barch proved too much for him to handle. Of course, Anthony DeMartino ran a close second, but he wasn't the one talked about at this point. "About Janet? Timothy, I thought she liked you!"
"Well, uh, that's the problem. I think she's wanting to marry me - soon. This fall or winter, most likely."
"Well, congratulations. Am I invited? 'Course, I'm not sure that a white wedding is all right for you - Janet is rather touchy-feely about all that symbolism, you know?"
"Um, Harriet, the problem is that I'm not ready for that kind of commitment!"
"How can you be sure of that, Timothy?"
"Um, well, you know, it's just that, Janet-"
'I thought so,' Harriet silently mused, but spoke outloud something completely different. "Listen, Timothy. I must admit that I was kind-off surprised, seeing how you and Janet gravitated together during the last couple of years - I didn't think you had it in you for each other."
"Now Janet, you see-"
'Oh no you won't.' "Timothy O'Neill! Who's got the diploma in psychology here?"
The meek college student that was permanently engraved in O'Neill's cerebral subcortex immediately snapped back on. "You, ma'am!" he gulped.
"Good. Then don't interrupt the lecture! You savvy, O'Neill?"
O'Neill bobbed his head in mute accordance. Satisfied with her success, Harriet Manson continued. "Now, as I was saying, I was kind-off surprised, seeing how you and Janet gravitated together during the last couple of years - I didn't think you had it in you for each other. However, happen that did. And now, well, here's my professional opinion: the two of you are made for each other."
"Not perfect, for each other?"
"Timothy, no couple was ever perfect for each other. Even prophet Muhammad had problems with his wives."
"He did? Uh, how did you know?"
'Oops. A slip-up.' "It's just an example, Timothy. Look, you're obviously a man enough for Janet, and she's woman enough for you."
"Uh, can I not answer that question?"
"What did I say about interrupting the lecture, O'Neill?" Harriet instantly raised her voice successfully erasing her little slip-up with Muhammad from O'Neill's mind.
"Sorry!" O'Neill actually cringed from Manson's shout.
"Good. Now. Where were we? Oh yes. You're obviously a man enough for Janet, and she's woman enough for you. Therefore, you don't have anything to worry about concerning the wedding. Coincidentally, where are you going on your honeymoon? I've heard that the island of Capri is perfect in the spring."
"Look, Harriet, my concern is that I won't be man enough for Janet!" Timothy suddenly yelled, his despair finally overriding his instinctive fear.
Manson, paused, surprised by that development. 'Whoa, he actually has some masculine pride and concern. Hoo-boy and hootenanny.' "Look, Timothy. Janet is a very... judgemental person, is she not?"
O'Neill nodded in agreement. "Then if you weren't man enough for her, she wouldn't have put your relationship on a... less professional basis. Therefore, I don't have to worry about being man enough for your wife."
"Yes. Don't worry, be happy. And if problems arrive - let me know. I know this marriage councillor, he'll straighten you up in no time!"
"Great!" O'Neill perked-up immediately. "Thanks a lot, Harriet!" he cheerfully said, and went out of the cabinet.
As soon as he left, Manson's face fell. "I swear, the teachers here are weirder than the students. Oh well, just more to put onto my dissertation paper, nothing more."
Harriet Manson smiled. Soon, her dissertation would be complete, and she'll be able to leave Lawndale High and the rest of Lawndale itself behind her.
"You know, we probably would've heard it all, and wouldn't have to go with lip-reading and guess-work, if somebody had fixed the audio gear on time," Angela Li turned accusingly to James Tompkins.
The vice-principal calmly shrugged. "Angela, to get the type of gear we require takes a lot more time than you have given me. Be patient... and someday the object of your desire will arrive, no?"
Angela Li shook her head. "I don't have time for this."
"What do you have time for? Wasn't there some letter from DeFoe?"
Angela frowned. "Yes. Exactly. Here it is. Dear Angela and James: got a family emergency back in Slidell; will be gone for the rest of the month (yes, you can dock my pay - I do have to go home for the rest of the month). I'm sending a trainee from Rutherford Art College to take my place in my absence. So say 'hi' to-" Angela Li stopped reading in disgust. "Wonderful. Just bloody wonderful. That bloody Creole wannabe probably got scared and ran to lay low till the excitement dies down, figuratively speaking, of course. I wonder what she told her folks back home."
"Going to phone and find out?" James suggested.
"No," Angela said firmly. "Do you know how much phone conversations between Massachusetts and Louisiana cost? We'll have to do without Clare." Angela Li shrugged. "And as long as it doesn't leave this cabinet, I can freely say: small loss there."
There was a knock on the door. "Come in," Ms. Li said.
"Say, Daria, can I ask you a question?"
"Yes, Jane," Daria replied, mock-weary.
"Do you know to whom that big black behemoth in the parking lot belonged?"
"That would be ours," said a semi-apologetic semi-friendly voice.
Daria and Jane looked around and stared. A young man who was built as solidly as a gorilla stared back at them, in a rather friendly manner. "Hey," he said. "I am Alex. Alex Barch."
There was a pause.
"Are you related to our science teacher, perhaps?" Daria said, as Jane's input into this conversation suddenly got restricted to a minimum.
Alex winced. "Look, can we go someplace where we won't be bothered? I think it needs some explaining to do."
"Good day, Ms. Li, Mr. Tompkins," boomed one of the giants.
"Good day Paul, Nicholas," replied James Tompkins. "Long time, no see. How is your honourable father?"
"He's fine," rumbled Paul. "It's our mother we want to talk about."
"Oh, at this moment she's in her classroom. I believe I can show you where it is," Angela Li said nonchalantly.
"Could you rather give her this message?" Nicholas spoke.
"Why? What's the matter with it that you don't want to give it her yourselves? A notice of appointment in a court of law?"
"An invitation to our father's second wedding."
"To quote Mr. O'Neill, oh my."
"Well? Speak," Jane finally found her voice, as she, Daria, and Alex found a place to seat - one of cafeteria's tables.
"What to speak about? Better take a look," Alex offered, producing a rather creased photo. On it - family-picture style were rendered the likeness of Ms. Barch alongside with seven men of various age and somewhat differing appearance - but almost all of them (the biggest five, at least) could probably pick-up the relatively small woman and carry her around like a sack.
"That's your family? Wow!" Jane whistled. "Now I see why Ms. Barch is so gung-ho on women rights' thing. After living with such a blatantly obvious masculine majority, well... any woman would. So how did your folks divorce?"
Alex shrugged. "What can I say? They weren't really that close-"
"Close enough," Daria said mildly, looking back at the photo.
Alex coloured. "Please. Every couple of parents gets that close."
"He's got a point," Jane nodded, remembering her own well-sprawled family tree.
"Yes, anyways, but not that close. There was something about pre-arranged marriage floating in the air whenever the question of family stability came up, but it didn't go further than some words and hints."
"Pre-arranged marriage? I can see that. When they got married?"
"Late 1960s, I believe. Me and my brothers - we were always big for our age, and became quickly of age, so I can't be really sure."
"I'd bet," Jane snorted. "Hey, is that your brothers coming over here or what?"
And indeed, two really big men walked over to them. "Let's go, Alex," spoke one of them, with the sideburns but without the moustache. "Say good-bye to your new friends."
"Bye, friends," Alex told Daria and Jane, and the brothers left.
There was a pause.
"Well, that was certainly bizarre," Jane finally spoke. "And look - he has left his family picture: what a guy!"
"What, want to make an acquaintance of him?" Daria said somewhat wryly.
"And you don't?"
"Let me put to you this way: while what have here are no Thompsons, do you really want to be considered as a sister-in-law for so many manly men?"
"And you don't?"
"Obviously, our views are in complete misalliance here," Daria shook her head. "Well, if you want to try to get to know him better, no skin off my boots."
"Hey guys," Jodie Landon walked over to her friends. "Aren't our classes about to get started soon?"
"True," Daria nodded. "Jane? You go and take your crush to your art class."
"Yeah,.. hey, I do not have a crush!"
"A crush? Jane? On who?" Jodie said incredulously.
Daria smiled. "Let's go, and I'll tell you."
When Jane approached her art class, she saw a notice on the door that Ms. DeFoe was absent, and that a substitute from a nearby art college was taking-over for the rest of the month. Jane shrugged and went inside.
Inside, a big tough shock was awaiting her: she knew the new art substitute!
"Let me get this straight: our science teacher has six sons?!" Jodie almost yelled-out.
"Not so loud! You don't want our English teacher to hear that, do you?"
"Well, you know, we knew that Barch wasn't a virgin, but six sons?"
"See for yourself - I kind of swiped the photo of Jane's hands for your benefit. What do you think?"
"If O'Neill ever saw that, he'd have to attend his self-esteem class as student. Or perhaps Barch should - she's obviously got issues."
"Jodie! That was actually nasty!"
"Sorry! It's just that in a contest of manliness, O'Neill, well, not a winner."
"Yet according to my sister, the FC did see them from time to time in rather compromising situations."
"Speaking of your sister and FC, wouldn't they notice such a parade of American yeomen of the Guard in our high school?"
Daria looked thoughtful. "Quinn is home from the shock of last night, Sandi is settling-down, boyfriend-wise, as you know it, Jodie-"
"Nevermind me and Sandi-"
"-and Tiffany and Stacy aren't much on their own, boyfriend-hunting-wise," Daria finished.
"Good point. Still, shouldn't you be feeling something about our visitors?"
"Why should I?" Daria shrugged. "Me and Jane have a bit of difference in our attitudes in relations to this affair."
"You're playing it cool, aren't you?" Jodie asked.
For one of those rare times in her life, Daria blushed.
Jane quietly sat at her seat, drawing something on her assigned piece of canvas. "You know, you're drawing something weird," suddenly spoke-up Ted DeWitt-Clinton, who recently got assigned the art class for this period too.
"Hmm? I do? What?" Jane looked at her picture and blinked.
"Looks like a giant woodworm coming out of a scallop-shell-shaped-like altar," Ted said thoughtfully, "with some sort of a fiendish-looking crab underneath it. Like seafood much, Jane?"
Jane took a first good look at her latest artwork. The main background setting was obviously some sort of a waterfall - or a series of rapids - in the mountains. The water flow wasn't deep, however, in one place a stone rose from it, bearing some sort of a scallop-shaped thingy with it, but it was too distorted to tell. It, however, did resemble a scallop that Jane once saw in a seafood store. The shell was opening upwards, and out of it, uncoiling, rose a worm-like creature coloured green. The green was varying from maple-leaf shade to the one of oak. Finally, at the pedestal of the shell-like thingy scuttled some particularly fiendish-looking insect, a cross between a spider and a crustacean. Coupled with Jane's visual effect - a circular fading there, a scattering of white dots or some blue waves, the result was rather weird.
"I wonder what Daria would make out of it," Jane muttered. "I don't think I like seafood that much either." She paused. "Hey Ted, what have you drawn?"
"Corn!" Ted replied cheerfully and proudly. "Seas and seas of corn!"
"Very interesting," the substitute art teacher spoke-up suddenly. "When I asked the students to draw something sea-related, I got a lot surprises, so far. One painting actually consisted of waves and waves of sea - vertical scan - out of which faces of drowned men and women popped-out towards the viewer. But a sea of corn and an avant-gardistic painting of a shellfish - it's something beyond weird."
"Say, who painted the drowned folk's faces?" Jane asked.
"I don't know. Its' author didn't shop up. It's either Charles Ruttheimer or Andrea Hecuba."
Ted and Jane exchanged looks. "Didn't anybody tell you?" Jane asked the substitute. "Ruttheimer is dead - and it is anybody's bet as to what state is Andrea in."
"Hey Tiff! Guess what!!"
"Slow down, Stace!"
"I just saw the coolest-looking guys walking towards our class."
"Guys? Working towards the science class. They must be freshmen."
"Oh no, I think two of them are too old for school, but still - they're hot!!"
"If they're too old for high school, then we're too young for them, Stacy," Tiffany patiently explained. "Don't get your hopes up in vain."
"But the last one looks just about high school age! Maybe he's a new student or something, enrolling!"
"Girls? What are you talking about?" Janet Barch walked over to Tiffany and Stacy.
"Stacy just told me that there are some men walking towards this class," Tiffany replied calmly.
"Ah! More men! Just what this school doesn't need!" Ms. Barch said angrily and walked-out.
There was silence.
When silence - in students' opinions - went on long enough, one of the girls - it was one of less fashionable students - took a look outside.
The school hallway outside the science class was completely empty.
A phone rang.
"Who is it?" Angela Li said tiredly.
"Ah, it's the Lawndale police department speaking."
"Please don't tell me there are more corpses that you need me to recognize-"
"Well, not exactly."
"What do you mean, 'not exactly'?" Ms. Li said curtly, all of her tiredness vanishing in a flash.
"Could you come over to the district and see for yourself."
"Yes. Of course. Right away." Angela Li turned to James Tompkins, who was listening to her phone conversation with interest. "James, I've got to go. Apparently - with Lawndale's latest luck - Andrea Hecuba has also resurfaced - and in the Ruttheimer fashion!"
"What do you mean, Charles Ruttheimer is dead, and Andrea Hecuba may be too?" the art substitute said curtly.
That burst the dam of silence that was hanging-around school ever since this morning, and students began, in eager rivalry, tell their new-temporary boss just what was going-on around here since Monday.
When they were finished, the young woman just flapped her eyes, and managed to speak only after several attempts. "Why I, why me, why her, why here,.. okay. I've got to speak with 'The Boss'." She pressed the intercom speaking. "Ms. Li? This is Allison, the art substitute."
The voice that came back wasn't of LH's principal at all. "Ms. Li is currently unavailable, please call her later."
The students exchanged worried looks between each other. "Why do I feel that murder and mayhem aren't over in Lawndale yet?" spoke one of them.
In the doorway to Lawndale's police department Angela Li collided with Sophia Hakiojopoulos. "What are you doing here?" she growled.
"I was called here," the other woman calmly replied. "What about you?"
"Any idea why?"
"Yes. Another one of my students."
"That's what we're going to find-out!"
Inside, the two women were met by several grim-faced policemen, who escorted them to the evidence room.
"Why are we here?" Ms. Li took the bull by the horns straight away.
"Do you recognize anything on this table?" a police officer instead asked, indicating with a broad sweep the contents of a table-top: ripped clothing, some jewellery, a make-up case, etc.
Ms. Li carefully looked at the subjects. "This-" she indicated at the much-ripped clothing, "can your forensics tell me more specifically, what are those rags? A dress or what?"
"A label was preserved. The salesman down at a Gothic get-up shop down on Dega street recognized it as one of their dresses, indeed to sold to some short and stout Gothic girl."
"How short?" Angela Li said in a clipped tone. There weren't too many Goths in Lawndale, as far as she was aware, and besides, she doubted that they were identical - cloning wasn't that wide-spread yet.
"Taller than your waist, but shorter than your chest," the policeman told the shorter woman. "And wider than you are, too."
"Well, if it's not Andrea, then there's no proof otherwise," Ms. Li shrugged. "Still, there are no signs of an obvious crime, eh?" se nudged Sophia.
The other woman looked with half-lidded eyes, her nose twitched, as if she was smelling some elusive scent. "Is this all you found?" she asked the officer.
Judging from the way the officer's eyes have shifted away from Tina's-Sophia's question, Angela realized that the other woman had hit the metaphorical nail straight on the head. "Well?" Sophia repeated the question.
The officer visibly wilted. "Well, it's very foolish, see?" he said, "but... there was a feather."
"What sort of a feather?" Sophia spoke in a low tone, but seemingly sunlight has dimmed in the examination room, and in her eyes flashed a spark of a red-coloured blaze.
The officer gulped and unwrapped a small bundle. "This one."
There was a pause, as Angela and Sophia examined the feather. "Interesting," Angela muttered, examining the small object. "Interesting colour... coppery? And is it just me, or does something reek here?"
That was actually true: a thin stream of a foul smell suddenly appeared in the room, making people in it wince from it. "Interesting," Sophia echoed the older woman. "I... have a friend who studies birds. Can I, ah, take the it?" "It" was the feather.
The policemen looked at one another. "Well, yeah. But, uh, can you tell us later what sort of a bird was it? Certainly not a starling or a cuckoo."
"Or a hawk, for that mutter," Angela muttered.
Sophia nodded. "I think so; yes, I think so."
Tom Sloane turned around, not very pleased. Sure enough, he has been called by David Calmanoff, not-too-despicable a guy, but rather weird. And also - not a close friend of Tom's. Certainly not that close to call him by his first name. "What do you want, David?" Tom spoke.
The shorter and sturdier boy calmly looked at the taller and thinner Tom. Calmanoffs have originally come to Massachusetts and Lawndale from Canada or Alaska, and supposedly had blood of either Slavs or Dukhobors, but Tom wasn't bothered by that fact. "So what do you want, David?" he repeated the question.
"Me? Want? Just to say hi, Soulless," David said the last word very quietly, but Tom heard it anyway.
"What did you call me?"
"You heard what I've called you," David replied calmly, "and remember, that nothing is on top of the world all the time."
Tom frowned. "You know, David, you're pretty weird. You scarcely ever open your mouth - and when you finally do, you seem to be acting-out the part of the seer Teiresias - only the times of Agamemnon and Ulysses are long gone."
David shook his head. His orange-coloured hair was almost all cut-off and covered with gel. "But the Harpies are here. They haven't left."
Tom instantly stiffened. "It's about Calais, isn't it?"
"Precisely," David smiled a crocodile smile. "Precisely. I've happened to see you last week - when one of the federal investigators got drunk - and you were with somebody else instead of her."
"And do you think she'll care?"
That was the tricky part. It was unlikely that the Canada-born Harpy would be bothered much by her part-time boy friend's 'infidelity', simply because she herself neither knew nor cared as to what 'fidelity' meant.
"Who says anything about her?" Calmanoff seemed to be unshaken. "What about your secret little friend?"
"And why do you care about my 'secret little friend'?"
David shrugged. "'Cause you're trouble, Tom, and you know it. You have been down this block before, and we know it."
"And you start to worry about this just now?"
David shrugged. "The situation in town has changed. The forces beyond the curtains are starting to play with us for keeps."
"I wasn't informed," Tom countered. The other youth was obviously in his own little world, so why be bothered by him and get into trouble?
"No? Then you will. Good luck Tom - 'Oh, the solemn merciless of Dissonance, you haven't given Light a chance!"
With this parting shot of gibberish, David left.
"You wanted to see me, Miss-"
"Allison. Allison Thorvaldson," the art substitute teacher spoke. "Don't look at me - I didn't pick the name!"
"Yes, well, Miss Thorvaldson, why did you want to see me?" spoke Angela Li.
The young woman looked indignant. "For some reason I wasn't informed about the crime spree that was happening in this town."
Angela Li winced. "There wasn't a crime spree."
"What? Corpses floating up river without heads, students disappearing of school premises, drug runners in copses-"
"The student of whom you speak has disappeared off school premises," Ms. Li said firmly. "And besides, this wasn't a crime spree; this was, well, just an-"
"What about that guy that got supposedly nailed to a wall?"
"That was never proven. Well, yes it was, but despite that..." Ms. Li paused and looked at the younger woman, tiredly but sternly. "Look, our discussion is technically pointless. Are you going to continue to work here or should we start looking for another substitute? Say it now and let's be done with it."
Allison opened her mouth, then closed it. The old (well, relatively old), principal got right to the crux of the matter. Should she leave or shouldn't she?
And then a memory struck.
Jane opened the door to her bunk. Well, a barrack would be a better term. Anaïs, Paris, and some other roomie of her made her stay there almost impossible. Then again, that was only a part of the whole problem. The whole problem here was that... the camp sucked.
Basically, it was a perfect place to kill time, fair enough. Unfortunately, this rather dubious advantage was rather damaged by Jane's memory of how one of Summer's ex-boyfriends, Eugene, once told her a "Tale of the Lost Time", and given the fact that Jane back then was at the rather impressible and malleable age of five, it stuck. And it suck. It sucked at the root of Jane's mind, causing Jane to have discord and strife within herself. Jane even found herself from time to time arguing with herself - outloud. And although Daria assured Jane that all of Jane's multiple personalities sounded normal to her, Jane was pretty sure that Daria was being sarcastic, and a real case of multiple personalities would... well, get her thrown out of LH, for one thing. And Jane now could see far enough into the future to know that getting thrown out of LH wasn't worth the trouble she'd receive in the future.
Jane's mind did a rotation at that point. Daria. Why didn't she leave with her and Trent a couple of days ago? Well, cause it would suck. Daria did have a job outside Lawndale (at some summer camp) and so didn't spend her days sitting at one spot reading a book. Must be Helen's doing. Jake wasn't cluefull enough for that, even if it was a real word.
Jane wondered idly about was Daria getting bribed into doing that or not, and entered inside. There, a surprise was waiting for her. A rather scary surprise named Allison.
"Allison? What are you doing here?" Jane rasped. In the long hop-frog stream of events that had happened to her lately, Allison occupied one of the frontal seats. Aside from the fact that the girl has hit on Jane in the last way Jane had thought possible, their last meeting went very roughly because of conflicting points of view.
"Um, to patch the things between us?" Allison said, rather sheepishly. "I cannot but help feeling that things have left rather... unsettled between us."
"Excuse me? First you hit me because I'm-"
"-hot?" Allison said helpfully. Actually, it was more of a disservice, 'cause now Jane really did feel hot - only this heat didn't have anything to do with this summer day.
"If I'm so 'hot'," Jane said, urgently trying to regain her spiritual footing, "then why the next day I saw you with our lowly-esteemed mentor, hmm?"
Now it was time for Allison to look flustered. "Well, I, uh, I was, um, trying to-"
"-make me jealous?" Jane spoke-up, semi-sarcastic.
"Yeah. Did it work?"
Jane sat right where she had stood a moment before. "Why me, great God, why me?" she nearly wailed. "Admittedly, we the 'Bohemian' Lanes and all of that, but damn it - I'm straight!"
"How can you be so sure?" Allison said half-calmly half-curiously.
"I was never attracted to the same sex!"
"Was there anyone of the same sex to be attracted to?"
Jane paused. Allison had her there. Dating pool of Lawndale High was never too deep if you didn't strive for shallowness. Admittedly, Upchuck never did strive for shallowness but didn't get any dates either, but then Upchuck was so shallow, that he almost skimmed the metaphorical water like a metaphorical frigate bird. As for the girls... Jane didn't meet a lot of girls either, except for Jodie, who didn't look gay... or particularly sex-motivated either. Although, considering what one heard about politicians...
At this point Jane realized that her mind had wandered off-topic, and Allison was patiently waiting beside her. "Well, I suppose I do see your point," Jane admitted. "Still, even if I'm not straight, just how do I know... that your intentions are... honourable?"
Now it was again Allison's turn to look confused. "Uh, Jane, I tried to come with bed to me and all that. I'm not sure that I'm that honourable, or ever was."
"No, I mean, how do I know you're really into me and I'm not some quick lay like our empty-headed mentor a couple of days back?"
Allison almost smiled. "Then I did make you jealous? Uh, Jane, believe me that I'm not that horny. I did want to get some contacts from him, nothing more, and besides, one doesn't make a living wearing white gloves... metaphorically speaking?"
"Then you're clean?"
"I guess this is personal, but in a medical sense - you're clean and not some urban legend?"
Allison looked flustered. "Look Jane, I'm an artist, not a member of womankind's old working union."
"You mean a junior gardener-security guard?"
"That's who Eve was. At day time she and Adam tended Eden, and at night they took care that nothing vanished from it without their registration."
"Oh, Eve. I was taught that the first woman was Lilith, not Eve!"
"That's debatable," Jane shook her head. "But seriously - you've got nothing amusing on you, have you?"
"Nope. I'm clean. Honest," Allison sat next to Jane, looking frivolously at her. "So did I assuage your self-assurance and are you ready to give me another chance?"
Jane sighed. She betted that Daria would never be in such a situation. Despite all of her cynicism, there was something... prim and proper about her. Maybe because she was Jewish. Maybe she knew more about Eve and Lilith. Maybe...
At that moment in time Allison touched Jane in a certain spot, and the younger girl yelled like from an electric jolt. "Well?" Allison beamed angelically at her.
Jane sighed. "I must be crazy, I must be desperate, or it must be my parents' genes or something. Very well. Allison, you're getting your chance-e--woah!"
...Skipping the various details, all that remains to be said on that matter is that Jane's dorm-mates were rather surprised, when they came onto Allison and Jane in the dormitory.
Allison smiled faintly. After she and Jane resolved their issues about each other, the art colony... hadn't been so bad. Also, she and Jane gotten kind of good in tandem. And that was one of the reasons why she had decided to come to Lawndale to be an art substitute teacher. Allison wasn't overly ambitious, but any person got a right to dream. And now...
Allison sighed. "Ms. Li, I'm staying. But I would be ever-so-grateful, if I'd be informed of any such little things on a quicker basis. It's not nice marking a student absent when he's dead."
"The Ruttheimer kid, hmm?" Ms. Li replied. "He wasn't taken off the school record? Right." Now the principal was upset. "Now that matter will be resolved Miss Markowitz, don't you worry."
"Good. I'll see you later then."
A phone rang. "Who is it?" spoke Linda Griffin.
"Kathryn," Linda stiffened. Kathryn was the sister of Tom Griffin's first wife, and relations between her and Linda have never been peachy, even after Tom's first wife died. "What do you want? From where do you call, anyways?"
"I am serious. I'm calling from Nassau, you know?"
"Why are you calling me?"
"Why, can't you guess? It's about your nephews and niece."
"That's going to be hard to explain ever since they are almost here - or are here already, I don't know which."
Linda slammed the phone receiver down angrily. "Family problems?" Michelle Landon spoke up.
Linda took a deep breath. "You have no idea. Although you don't know, me and Tom met after Sandi was born."
Michelle blinked. "No, I don't know. Care to run by it again?"
Linda smiled. "Sandi's my child from my first marriage. It didn't work out, thanks to Vicki, my sister... Tom also had a first marriage, but his wife had meningitis... it's a messy story. Tom and I have Sam and Chris, and then there's Kathryn. Tom's first wife had a sister or two of her own, and one of them - Kathryn - is such a pain, almost as bad as Vicki."
"She has three kids. Two boys and a girl. Each one of them is older than Sandi... well, physically bigger at any rate. And they are trouble, Michelle, mark my words: they, are, trouble."
"So what do you plan to do once we get to uncle Tom's house?" a girl spoke to her brother in a bar on Dega street.
The boy shrugged. Actually, he was more of a young man, at least physically. "Bugger me if I know. Mr. Virden isn't such a bad person, I think we can stay here, if tensions with Linda arise."
"What? With Anton's attitude?"
The pair looked in the direction of aforementioned Anton. Anton was as big as the other young man, and possibly even wider in the shoulders. The bigger difference, however, lay in the hair style: if Anton's hair was a long, disshevelled mane of hair dyed green-white, then his brother's hair was cut almost completely off, and dyed black-green for some reason. Their sister's hair, however, was done in an even odder style - a punk Mohawk. But that is beside the point.
"You know something?" the girl said. "I think you're scared of Linda for some reason."
"I'm not scared."
"Aw, come on. The decapitator of Lawndale, as the tabloids had named him, is gone, vanished, arrested, caput."
"Question is, what impact he had done on Lawndale's society?" the boy replied, almost hissingly.
"You always got to look at the whole picture, Marcello?" the girl snorted.
"Somebody's got to, Mara," the boy replied, unimpressed. "And it certainly can't be brother Anton, can it?"
Mara shrugged, condescending a point. "Touché. But still, let's try uncle Tom's place first. If not - we'll come back here." She paused. "If brother Anton doesn't get us thrown out of it, however."
"Oo-kay. Why's the change of heart?"
"Hah? Jodie? Sorry, was lost in thought."
"Well, Daria was telling me that you met a new boy earlier today?"
"Oh yeah. Him."
"And, I know for a fact, that you were positively thrilled back then. What has happened between then and now? An old flame resurfaced or something like that?"
"Well, there was reminder of the past. Somebody forgot to take Upchuck of the list."
"And Andrea doesn't show much signs of life if you know what I mean, either."
"And, I would like you to meet Allison, a good friend of mine from the art camp last summer."
"Hey," Allison smiled back, examining and evaluating the Afro-American girl in the process. 'Nope. Not an art type.' "I don't think I have you in my art class," she said instead.
Jodie thoughtfully looked Jane and her older friend. Something about them was giving-off weird vibes. But she didn't say that - it wasn't polite. "No," she said instead. "I'm not a very artsy person."
Allison smiled. "Eh- what's your name?" she suddenly said, looking sheepish. "I didn't quite catch it."
"Just call me Jodie."
"Jodie. Right. Well, Jodie, as Jane here can attest, in my class - well, Ms. DeFoe's class - people have been drawing mermaids and drowned people - and that's just today. While I'm not saying that you can get away drawing stick people, but you get away with almost anything barring that."
"I can? Hmm. Maybe I can try it," Jodie said.
"Groovy," Jane replied. "But don't try corn - it's copyrighted by Ted DeWitt-Clinton."
"Sure," Jodie nodded. "Eh, can I visit you later today and give it a preliminary try?"
"Sure, I was going to show Allison Lawndale this afternoon, and was afraid that Trent would get all lonely."
"My brother. Last time he got lonely, he got into our parents' ants."
"Your parents don't keep ants," Jodie said slowly.
"Not anymore. Not after they almost took over our house."
"Oh. And can I take Rachael and Evan with me?"
"Sure. The more the merrier. Just keep an eye (or an ear) out for Mystik Spiral, Trent's band. They can be kind of rambunctious."
"Is that a word?" Allison blinked.
"Yes," said Jane and Jodie in unison.
"Excuse me, Ms. Li?"
"What is it, Miss Rowe, and make it snappy. I've got a busy afternoon ahead of me."
"I would like to report a missing teacher."
"Ms. Barch. Some men came to see her, and she just vanished."
"Oh, her ex-husband is getting married, and invited her. I'm pretty sure that she'll reappear some time later this week, after she lets go off steam."
"Oh. That's a good idea," Stacy slowly said.
"Is there anything else, Ms. Rowe?" Angela Li said coolly.
"Eep! No! Bye!" Stacy Rowe scuttled off, Ms. Li shook her head. The Rowes should install some backbone into their daughter, and that was a fact.
A phone rang.
"What is it now?" Angela Li grumbled.
"Ms. Li? It's Linda Griffin. Can you pass a message to my Cassandra, please?"
"Sure. What is it?"
"Her cousins Anton, Marcello, and Mara are coming over to stay."
"Will they be attending Lawndale High?"
"No, they're out of high school."
"Right. The message will be passed-on."
"You still haven't answered my question," Michelle Landon spoke-up. "Why are you hold in so much disfavour your husband's ex-sister-in-law's children?"
Linda Griffin smirked. "When they'll come, you'll meet them. And speaking of relatives, how's Andrew?"
Michelle paused. "He's stable."
"Oh. That's good," Linda said, recognizing the signs and not prodding further. "Stable's good."
"My thoughts exactly."
"What a day!" Ms. Li sighed. "Truly, it was better when the Ruttheimers were still investigated."
"Excuse me?" James Tompkins turned to his boss. "What has happened now?"
"Janet Barch called. She's going to be absent for some weeks too. Family issues."
"Again? First Clare DeFoe now her?"
"No, it's for real this time. Her ex-husband is getting re-married and he invited her. She decided to accept to make him miserable for last time."
"I don't like how that goes for O'Neill."
"And that concerns you how?"
"I believe you have forgotten his last crying jag. Harriet Manson said that he needs some serious therapy stat."
"And where do you presume to acquire the funds to cover his cost to some serious psychotherapist stat?" Angela Li said irritably. "Lawndale High isn't something like U.S.S. Enterprise, you know? It's more like Ahab's Pequot after Moby Dick was through with it."
"We can always sell some bullet-proof glass."
"All right then. Where are we going to find a substitute teacher?"
Ms. Li wavered for a bit, then sighed. "Where do you keep the phone number of Victoria French?"
James blinked. "The last time Vicki had substituted, you called her a Sukuma and a lot of other things."
"I was wrong. I know now for sure that she's from Raleigh, North Carolina, and not from some remote tribe of Serengeti Plain."
"And that's exactly my point. You hated her before, why do you want her now?"
"I still hate her. But she is a licensed science teacher, and perhaps after experiencing her, the students will be more appreciative of Barch, what do you think?"
"I think after she and you are through with each other this time, you'll need more than bullet-proof glass to keep you happy."
"Oh, just call her. I've got to contact Miss Griffin."
"Yes, Stacy? Why were you called to Ms. Li's office? It wasn't because of Ms. Barch, was it?"
"Oh, no. It's just that some of my cousins are coming over and cruise at our place for a while."
"Why are you so sad, Sandi?" Tiffany wedged-in. "C-Cousins are nice." Tiffany was speaking deliberately slow so that she wouldn't miss anything that super-fast Stacy and slower but still speedy Sandi might miss.
"Not those," Sandi shook her head. "Here's a photo of them and us."
"A joint photo? Cool!"
"Nothing's cool about it. Dad was just feeling patriarchal, and when that happens, we all just grin and bear it."
"So can we see the photo?"
"Yeah, sure. It's not like Ms. Barch is in here anyways."
And with these words Sandi produced a photo, and Stacy and Tiffany began to look at the unfamiliar faces at it.
Stacy looked at the first guy. When she wrote the horoscope for LH school paper, she got experienced in recognized the person's sign and element quickly enough. "Hmm, looks like a fire sign - Leo or Ares. Not Sagittarius, not collected enough." The boy's hair was long and in a wild style, and he looked like standing still for the photo shot required an incredible amount of will for him. His eyes were even photographed blurry - they must've been darting around their sockets when the photo was snapped.
The other boy and girl looked similar. "Scorpio," Stacy decided, "doesn't look like Cancer or Pisces." The other boy was almost taller than the first one, but his hair was cut short - almost scalped, and he stared flatly straight ahead. So did the girl, but there were some differences. The second boy's stare was so flat that it was almost lifeless - and rather creepy.
As for the girl, she spawned some super-crazy hairdo, and was the only one who remotely smiled for the camera, besides Tom Griffin. Linda and her side of the family seemed to be no more thrilled than the first boy, though nowhere as bad as the second. "That's them, my cousins," Sandi said, seeing that neither Stacy nor Tiffany was commenting. "Anton, Marcello, and Mara."
"Which boy cousin's which?" Tiffany said.
"Let me explain. Cousin Anton is a real wolf. Always hungry, almost starving, for anything action-wise. He's the one with the long hair. Cousin Marcello, on the other hand, is cool and logical - almost too cool and logical. He also creeps me out. Anton, of course, can be very scary if he gets carried away in excitement, but Marcello... he's perpetually like that, like you're a bug that's to be stomped into dandruff."
"Mara's Goth. She can be cool and fashionable - but she chooses to be Goth instead, and can be quite creepy about it."
"And you dislike them why?"
"I'm going to introduce you soon to them, and you'll see. Oh, you'll see."
"Hey guys, where are we going? Hey guys?"
"Anton, how many times must we repeat? We're going to uncle Tom's and Linda's."
"Oh, that's cool, that's very cool! Think they got any more kids?"
"Nah, Cassie, Sam and Chris are enough, I wager," Marcello said calmly.
"Still, that's cool, that's cool! I always wanted to be an uncle!"
Mara and Marcello exchanged looks. "Don't bother," Marcello said. "Let's go, Anton, before you hurt yourself."
"All right, all right, all right! We're off to see the wizard-" Anton went on, almost skipping from the energy.
Marcello groaned and followed him, muttering something under his breath.
Mara shook her head and blew a gum bubble. "Hello Lawndale, here we come." She smiled evilly. "Those who didn't hide, will be eaten!"
"What a day!" Helen groaned, coming inside. "Quinn! You okay?"
Quinn Morgendorffer looked rather balefully at her mother. "If by okay you mean dreaming of being stuck in a glass box with giant three-legged birds trying to get you from outside, then yeah."
"Da- Quinn. I'm sorry, but you are going to the funeral of your uncle Paul's brother this weekend.
"Mom! Come on! There probably won't be any kids at there, but Daria. Even Erin won't be coming from Switzerland to see Eugene Podgio go off on his final road."
"That's besides the point," Helen fumed. "Rita's child can afford such lackadaisical attitude, 'cause her mother is your grandmother's favourite. Now if you or Daria were to pull-off such a stunt-"
"Get divorced in Switzerland?"
"-then we all would be in so much trouble!.. But Rita, she's the favourite of mother's, mother lets her and Erin do whatever they want, the goddamned cooperationist, that they-"
Realizing that this was a Helen-rant, Quinn quietly slunk away. 'Lucky Daria,' she quietly thought. 'She gets to spend the afternoon at Jane's.'
"Lucky me," Daria Morgendorffer was telling Jane Lane at the same time. "I get to spend the afternoon at your place while Quinn has to endure mom and dad. Given the fact that dad continues to rant about grandfather Morgendorffer and mom now has joined in rants about Rita and grandmother Barksdale, now's not the time to enjoy family bliss and serenity."
"Wouldn't know, never had any," Jane shrugged. "With Mystik Spiral around serenity is a damn near impossibility."
"What about the times when Trent and others are asleep?"
"That still leaves-out bliss."
"Ever heard the term - 'blissful silence'?"
"Isn't that what your room is for?"
"With Quinn and mom on the phone and my dad yelling-out about something or other, my room walls' padding is nowhere thick enough than I need."
Jane shrugged. "I see your point. When my whole family comes over to stay for a holiday dinner, that's what happens too. Only it's dad and Wind male bonding, Summer chasing her kids, and Penny talking on the phone."
"And your mom?"
"Out of curiosity, where did your mom get it?"
"Why? Want to give it a try?"
Daria shrugged. "Can't say I'm getting in touch with my artistic side, but I am interested in giving it a try." She paused. "Can you show it?"
"Sorry. Not now. I'm off to show Allison some of the finer points of Lawndale-town."
"Oh. Sorry. Didn't realize it was my que to live."
"It's not. Jodie's coming over, and I want you to chaperone her."
"Oo-kay. This is getting me back for your little drool-fest this morning?"
"Daria! Please! I didn't drool this morning!"
"No, you daintily dabbed at your chin with a napkin."
"Hate you, but chaperone Jodie you will."
The doorbell rang. "Good luck, that's my friend," Jane said and left, living Daria in proud reclusivity. Well, not for long. Soon afterwards, there was a knock on the door. "Jodie," Daria muttered, and went downstairs.
Downstairs, Jodie was waiting for her, with a couple of smaller surprises, called Rachael and Evan - her younger siblings. "Hey, Jodie," Daria said monotonously. "How's it going?"
Jodie gave Daria a look. "Hardy-har-har. Ever since dad went out of action and mom went out of the house, us three have been on our own."
"Whoopty-doopty-doo," Rachael muttered, but quietly, so that nobody heard her, except for Evan, and he didn't count.
"Well," Daria shrugged awkwardly, "come in. Jane's out, showing her new friend the sights of Lawndale."
"How nice," Jodie shrugged, taking her siblings inside. "Now guys, you act nice while I try to paint, okay?"
Rachael glared, Evan just gurgled. "We're in perfect agreement," Jodie told Daria instead.
A phone rang. "Who is it?" spoke a female voice in the receiver.
"Yo! Miz French?"
"Victoria French speaking. There's a temporary opening for a science teacher at Lawndale High, and your services are required."
"They are? I see."
"I don't usually say this, but yeah, I'm in."
"Glad to hear it."
"So Allison, what do you want to see first?"
"Jane, it's your turf, you decide what I want to see first."
"Allison, we're public, so you got to change your options."
"Jane, can't we go to some ho-ho-ho-hotel and do what want to do?"
Jane sighed. "I don't know, it feels weird... besides, why won't we go to "Pink Flamingo" instead and see what goes instead?"
"The Pink Flamingo?"
"Oh, you'll see," Jane cackled, "you'll see."
Tom Griffin opened the door into his house and went straight towards the kitchen.
"Hey, uncle Tom!" a cheerful female voice greeted him.
Tom turned around. "Mara!" he greeted his niece (well, ex-niece) with surprise.
"Yup," Mara bobbed her head. "How's life, uncle Tom?"
"I didn't know you were coming."
"Mom phoned Linda."
"Oh. I guess Linda forgot to phone me. Where are Anton and Marcello?"
"Out. Anton just went for a walk, and Marcello went to the zoo."
"Mmm. Where are Sandi and others?"
"Sam and Chris are upstairs, hiding. They still think Anton and Marcello are in the house. Sandi - we don't know where. Some club meeting or other."
Tom shrugged. "Of course - with Sandi it's always one Fashion Club meeting or other." He paused. "What do you want to do?"
Mara shrugged. "Don't know. Watch TV?"
Tom snorted. "Mara, come on. It's a beautiful day outside, too good to watch TV."
"Come on, I'll take your for a walk?"
"What about Sam and Chris?"
"If they're as scared as you say they are, they won't notice where we are. Deal?"
"So Daria - what are your reading?"
Daria looked-up from the book. "Rachael? That's you? Why aren't you with Evan?"
"I put him into some old crib," Rachael shrugged. "Evan's not a very active kid; he'll stay put. So what are you reading?"
Daria looked sort of defensive. "Neville's Moby Dick. What's it to you?"
"Um, can we just talk? 'Cause Jodie's just painting and stuff, and you're just reading and stuff, and Evan's, well, a baby, and the whole silence - it's just creeping me out."
Daria blinked and looked at her hand watch. "Jodie's been drawing this whole time? This I got to see. Rachael - come on!"
There was a knock on the door. "Can we come in?" Daria said not too loudly.
"Yeah, sure, whatever, don't bother," Jodie replied absent-mindedly.
Daria went inside followed by Rachael and they stared. Jodie's painting was less colourful that one of Jane's black colour period, although not as depressing. The tone was black-purple-pink, darker at the edges, brighter in the centre. However, the centre was "obscured" by a woman dressed in a typical temple dancer suit, the whole effect somewhat spoilt by a-la combat boots she wore on her legs, and the fact that her whole body was literally purplish-pink in colour with blackish hair on her head.
"Oo-kay," Daria said. "Jodie, what's the meaning of your painting?"
"I don't know!.. Dusk walker, or something!"
"And you are painting it because?"
"I don't know! I just want to! I just have to!"
"I think that Jane's errant muse has decided to drive Jodie instead," Daria said thoughtfully. "Rachael, let's leave her alone."
"Yeah? Well, what are we to do?"
"Ever used a kiln before?"
"Me neither. Will be fun to try."
As the two girls went downstairs, Daria's voice lingered behind: "But however I wonder what Jane is doing at this moment."
"Wonderful," Jane shook her head. "The first place I want to take you, and it got raided by the police."
"Don't worry Jane," Allison playfully ruffled the top of Jane's head. "Methinks it could've been worse."
"Yeah, we could've been inside. Still, the police have been rather riled-up ever since that FBI-st, Hassan, first did his little drunk song-and-dance number that scattered a dozen of them all of this neighbourhood, and then apprehended the murderer with just some local talent - none of which work in the police."
"So what are they doing? Waving fists after a fight?"
"No, looking for a fight more likely."
"Well, you know what they say: they who want a scandal, will get it in the end."
"Yeah, who will want a scandal with the police?.."
While Allison and Jane were chatting in such a fashion, a new face appeared on the scene, a new new face in Lawndale that is - one of Tom Griffin's ex-nephews, Anton. "Hey, cool!" he exclaimed merrily. "Police!"
"Who's that idiot?" Allison turned to Jane.
"Bugger me, never saw him before. What, you think that Lawndale is such a small town that everybody in it knows everybody else?"
"Well, that's sort of what you implied back in the art camp."
"Oh really? Oops. Good thing Daria doesn't know about that, I'd wager."
"Speaking of her, when will I meet her? She sounds like quite a good friend."
"Why not? Obviously, the police are looking for a fight."
Jane and Allison left.
Anton Birmingham, however, didn't have that sort of initiative; in fact, his initiative was completely opposite. He was itching for a fight. And, as Jane Lane had wisely pointed-out, so did the police department of Lawndale, after "the decapitator" fiasco. Plus, a new face and not a friendly looking one at that...
In short, a conflict didn't have to wait long to unfold.
"Hey you!" yelled one of the policemen, turning to Anton. "Where are you from?"
"Brighton," Anton shrugged. "I'm just visiting relatives, what is it to you?"
Now, at this point in time, the conflict was still greatly touch-and-go: an older, experienced policeman would've realized that that character was itching for a fight himself, while they didn't have any good reasons to encourage that. However, this policeman was young and, as Jane said earlier, itching from a fight. He deliberately led the situation towards a conflict. "Can I see your documentation?" he asked.
"No. Left it at my uncle's home," Anton smiled a lupine smile. "Then I'm afraid we'll have to take you in for questioning."
"No," Anton shook his head. "'Fraid I've got to go, my family will get worried. Bye." He gave the policeman a hearty slap on his back. The man went stumbling past him. That was the final straw.
"Freeze!" yelled the rest of the cops, drawing-out their guns.
"Buck-buck-buck!" Anton clucked, staying perfectly at one spot. But as soon as one of the cops came close to him to snap-on handcuffs, Anton punched him. The blow - and Anton was frequently doing muscle-gaining exercises - took the other man straight into the rest of the cops. "Score!" Anton laughed insanely.
Then he ran-off.
"Hey, Sandi. What's up."
"Hey, Mack. Stacy went to visit Quinn, I don't know what Tiffany is doing, and I'm hiding from my cousins."
"Your cousins? What's so scary about your cousins?"
Sandi opened her mouth and closed. Then opened it again, then closed it again.
"Well?" Mack patiently repeated his question.
Sandi exhaled. "Look at the tiger's cage. The weird guy before it is one of my boy cousins, Marcello."
"Hmm?" Mack took a good look at that mystery guy. The guy was tall and lanky and muscular, and although he was standing with his back towards Sandi and Mack, Mack could see that his hair was cut very closely to his skull and dyed some venomous black-green colour. "Still not getting it, Sandi. He still doesn't look worse than Tommy Sherman acted."
Sandi shook her head. "You don't know him and others as well as I."
"Well, they're your family."
"Not exactly. It's complicated to explain, now that aunt Vicki's in town and everything... Oh, aunt Vicki is cool, fair enough."
"Glad to hear it," spoke the aforementioned aunt, appearing next to Sandi and Mack. "Only, my name's Sophia, not Vicki, Sandi."
"No. However, what's this about family members on your father's side?"
"There's one," Mack said, pointing to Marcello, who finally turned away from the tiger's cage. And now, for the first time, Mack (and Sophia) took a good look at the face of one of Sandi's cousins. Marcello's face was flattish, and his nose - near absent. The most prominent feature, however, were his eyes. They emanated the flattest, coldest gaze that either Mack or Sophia had ever seen, like two pieces of transparent ice. To make the illusion complete, they were also the sea-green colour.
Marcello glanced in their direction only briefly, then walked away, towards the duck pond. However, Mack at least released his breath with a gasp.
"You know," Sophia said slowly, "many ancient cultures believed that eyes are windows to one's soul. If that's the case, I really hate to see your cousin's soul out of flesh. No normal human could have eyes like these."
"You didn't meet his brother and sister, my cousins Anton and Mara," Sandi sighed. "They're as bad as he, only... different."
"Say, Sandi, I have an idea: why won't you dine at my house tonight?" Mack suggested. "My parents were kind of hinting that I should invite you to their dinner some day..."
"I've got a better one," Sophia interrupted before Sandi could respond. "Why won't you come over to us?"
"Um, no offence, but Sandi told me that there was bad blood between you and Linda..."
"True, the Griffin family dinner tonight will most likely resemble a nest full of vipers... Mack, you're right. Take Sandi to your house to dinner this time. It'll be good for both of you."
"I knew you see things our way, aunt Vicki," Sandi instantly cheered-up. "Let's go Mack - I don't want Marcello to see me."
"Good thinking," Mack agreed.
The pair left.
"So James, why the long face?"
"Are you getting personal with me?"
Angela Li blinked. That was unusual attitude for her VP, it meant that something was wrong. Quite wrong. "Out with it man! Don't tell me that Victoria French is getting on your nerves!"
"No, being in the same building with you and Victoria "Devilhorse" French is getting on my nerves only partially. What really bothers me are the Griffins' relatives."
"You know them?"
"Anton, Marcello, and Mara Birmingham. Children of Kathryn Birmingham, fathers unknown."
"Don't ask. The trio of worst characters you ever meet. Harriet Manson would have a field day working with them."
"Speaking of Harriet, she's dropping hints that she'll be leaving for greener pastures soon," Ms. Li said slowly.
"Call the school board. I'm pretty sure that they can find a replacement school psychiatrist for this precipitation tank."
"Yes. Sadly, with our budget, we cannot afford a good one." "Coincidentally, when she'll leave, will we throw her a party?"
"If the budget allows it, and if she'll leave."
"You mean she may not?"
Angela Li shrugged. "It's all in the hands of Buddha."
"Amen," James Tompkins shadowed, "amen."
There was a pause.
"Well, now that we got that out of our system, let's get back to our sheep," Angela Li said. "Namely, the Griffins' cousins. So their mother isn't a very... honourable person. Big deal. I daresay we know a few wives who cheat on husbands that way, and their kids aren't monsters."
"We're talking about the Taylors, aren't we?" James said with a knowing grin.
"Let's not talk about the Taylors," Angela shook her head. "I always knew Ashley-Amber would make a good life for herself, and as for her stepchildren... Brian's not yet in school - thank God - and Brittany is just a cheerleader."
"So were both of her mothers."
"Vivienne went to this school before I started to work in it, thanks God, and Ashley-Amber did all right for herself, as I said before. But let's leave the Taylors alone." She paused and added. "Although I'd guess you would have Vivienne's number, wouldn't you?"
"Yes, let's leave the Taylors alone," James Tompkins firmly said, ignoring Ms. Li's question. "Let's get back to our sheep. The Griffins' cousins: Anton, Marcello, and Mara Birmingham."
"Well, tell me more."
"All right. Anton "Berserker" Birmingham. Frequents various gyms, with every barbell he lifts, a bit more of his common sense becomes muscle mass, it appears. Has taken mental evaluations a couple of times, never passed them. Suffers from bouts of delusia and paranoia. Suffers from bouts of unprovoked violence, too. Also, has a police record ever since he smashed this pub in the state of Louisiana...
Marcello "Python" Birmingham. Works - or worked - in a number of locations, including a fish processing plant in Secaucus. No less violent than his brother, but has considerably much more self-control. Was supposedly guilty in death of a couple of people, but was proven self-defence and a large financial bail of his mother settled that matter for good. No police record.
And Mara "Nightmare" Birmingham. Doesn't work, just finished high school. Has taken a few mental evaluations, was supposedly proven normal, but rumours have it that she actually has a MPS (Multiple Personality Syndrome), and can be just as dangerous as her brothers. No police records."
Angela Li went silent for a while. "Let me try to rephrase what you said, all right?"
"Good. So what we have here is a trio of young folks with severe mental disturbances and great physical abilities, correct?"
"And what is their relation to the Griffins?"
"The mother is the sister of Tom Griffin's late first wife."
"Gee, so nice to see family bonds surviving themselves," Ms. Li said acidly. "Still, no skin of our noses."
At that point in time, the phone rang.
"Who is it?" James picked it up.
"It's me, James. Akimoto."
James sighed. Akimoto Blum-Deckler had been Tiffany's older sister; she worked in Lawndale's police force and knew James Tompkins closer than was prescribed by her profession. "What is it, Akimoto?" James said.
"Earlier today some new face in town kicked the butts of several of my fellow police officers."
"My condolences. What can I do?"
"Tell me if you know him, for a start. Big, muscular, stocky. Long mane of hair, grey-white in colour, whether natural or dyed we don't know. Eyes burning, black. Face seemingly frozen in an apparently crazy grin. In all, a clear fruit case."
"No tattoos or birthmarks?"
"Then, Akimoto, I'll try to give you answers by tomorrow. Bye!" James hanged the receiver. "No skin of our noses indeed!"
Angela Li had the good grace to shrug.
"Hey Jodie, Daria! We're back!" Jane yelled.
In reply, a baby's wail came instead.
"Am I missing something?" Allison asked.
"Yeah, seems Jodie brought her younger siblings here as well," Jane shrugged. "Yo! Rachael Landon! You here?"
There was some commotion, and Jodie Landon appeared in the stairway, smudged with paints. "Quiet! You're disturbing my painting process!" she yelled.
"Sorry!" Jane yelled back with genuine apology: she knew that process first hand. "How're you doing?"
"I'm taking that art class!"
"Glad to hear it!" Allison yelled. At Jane's glare she shrugged and said: "Well, it means more money for me to take you to some fancy restaurant - not Pink Flamingo."
"Nice save," Jane muttered, then turned back to retreating Jodie. "Where is Daria? And is Rachael here?"
"They're in the basement!" Jodie yelled, and retreated into Jane's room to continue to create.
Jane blinked. "The basement? Oh no, the kiln! Allison, let's go - I've got a bad feeling about this!"
"Mo-om, Stacy was talking!"
"Quinn, do you know where's Daria?"
Quinn shrugged. "At Jane's."
"Then maybe at Jodie's."
"Nobody responding there either."
"Then at Pizza King."
"Oh dear. That pizza - it's not that good for her."
"Oh, like you eat any different."
"What! I mean, you only make lasagne!"
"'Cause it's fast and easy!"
"Then it's no wonder that you've developed problems with your skirt," Amy Barksdale said, coming up. "And speaking of food, Eric has invited me for dinner; don't bother making me anything; bye!"
Amy left. Helen just sat on Quinn's bed and groaned. "And Jake and Penny are busy all day setting-up Penny's business! Oh gods, my day feels so empty!"
"Mom, not in here!"
Helen Morgendorffer left.
Meanwhile, down at the Lanes' basement, it was like Frankenstein's lab revisited. Various instruments and pieces of materials lay scattered everywhere, and Daria Morgendorffer and Rachael Landon were standing, muttering something before Amanda Lane's kiln, watching as something was born in its' guts.
"Yo, Daria!" Jane said purposefully loudly to shake her friend out of whatever trance she was in. "Snap out of it, okay?"
The kiln suddenly blew apart.
And out of the burning refuge that her mother's kiln once was... arose something burning black and humanoid, with glowing red eyes.
"Hello," Jane gulped and gave it a timid little wave.
Allison gave Daria, Rachael and the creature a good look. "So you're Daria Morgendorffer," she said. "Jane here has told me lots of stuff about you."
"Glad to hear it."
"What did you exactly make?"
"Just to see if we could."
"Excuse me!" Jane suddenly found her voice. "Daria, are you saying that you created life?"
"Well, a semblance of it, anyways. More like Clayface on Batman, if you catch my drift."
"It must've been that Prague episode of SSW," Jane muttered. "So what are you going to do now?"
"Go home," Daria shrugged. "Mom's probably going stir crazy or something."
"Yo! I'm home! What're these smells?" Penny's voice came from upstairs.
And Daria (and Rachael) awoke.
"Wah? What happened? Rachael, we have fallen asleep," Daria shook the younger girl awake. "Rachael, wake up!"
"What's going on in here? Daria? Who's your little friend?"
"Oh, hey Penny. This is Rachael Landon. I'm babysitting her while her sister is painting upstairs."
"Do I know Landons?"
"Me and Jane do."
"And where's Jane?"
"Showing her friend Lawndale."
"Who is that guy?"
"It's a girl. Her name is Allison. She's the substitute art teacher while Ms. DeFoe is in the southern states, taking care of family matters."
"Feels freaky staying in school now that two of her students are gone?"
"Exactly," Daria shrugged, as she helped still-sleepy Rachael get upstairs. "Coincidentally, Ms. Barch's ex-husband has invited her for his second wedding, and apparently she accepted."
"He's nuts? She'll rip him apart!"
"Don't be too sure. I've seen their family photo - he's got grenadier build and their six sons to back him up."
"Ms. Barch a mother?!"
"Hey, even spiders, mantises and ichneumon wasps have parents, not to mention jellyfish and flatworms," Daria shrugged. "Me and Jane talked to Ms. Barch's youngest face to face. Pretty mild-mannered guy for somebody so big. But you'll better ask Jane about all the details."
"Somebody's uncomfortable talking about guys, eh?" Penny smirked. "Kid, I remember you: you're Nina Joneston's cousin, right?"
Evan's wail interrupted Rachael before she could answer, though.
"Angela, it's your turn to answer, what's eating you," James Tompkins suddenly said. "You've been thinking ever since you returned from the police district. Has Andrea been found?"
"Not exactly found?"
"Not exactly Andrea, or maybe not at all. Tell me James: you like birds?"
"I know my N.A. wildlife, yes."
"Then tell me, what bird or fowl around here has coppery-coloured feathers that smell odd."
James changed slightly in the face. "Excuse me, I think I've got to call somebody."
"Be my guest."
The clouds were gathering over the Griffin household. Sophia Hakiojopoulos, nee Tina Eckett, nee Vicki Vanelk, felt it with her very bones, and was sort of glad that Sandi was out of the line of fire for once. The Vanelk women don't make friends easily, even between each other, but Sandi and her aunt have actually bonded during the last week or so. And besides, even Sophia whose own gaze had made many men nervous, thought that nobody should remain in the same room with Marcello Birmingham and his icy flat gaze. And speaking of Marcello Birmingham, where were the rest of them?
"Aunt Sophia?" Sam and Chris Griffin climbed out of some bushes that grew near the Griffin residence. "You coming in?"
"I see you have met your cousins, eh?" Sophia snorted, not too unkindly. "Well, I would've let you in, but alas I do not have a key..."
"And a good thing too," Linda Griffin suddenly spoke-up. "The last thing we need around here is related strangers with house keys."
"Then how did they get inside?" Chris innocently asked.
Linda and Sophia froze. "They're inside?" Linda said.
"No, yes, maybe," the Griffin boys noticeably shrugged. "We just ran and hid. Dad can handle them, we can't."
"Well, they are his nephew and niece," Linda snarled. "Come on, let's go and see what sort of damage they did."
"You hurt our feelings, colonel!" somebody spoke loudly behind them.
Linda and her family whirled around - sure enough, Anton Birmingham stood there. Sophia critically compared him to Marcello - and made the following conclusions: the two cousins were so opposite, that they were almost identical - like Nazism and Communism. When Marcello's hair was near absent and greenish-black, Anton's was a grey-white mane. And, while Marcello's eyes resembled a piece of sea-ice, Anton's eyes burned with black flame. Coupled with a grin that seemed eternal on his face, Sophia Hakiojopoulos made a deep and distressing conclusion:
At least one of Birmingham children was at least partially insane.
A phone rang in the Sloane residence.
"Who is it?" spoke Angier Sloane."
"Uh, can I speak to Tom, please?" James Tompkins said calmly.
"On what grounds?"
"Personal ones, please."
"Why, is there a girl involved?"
"Something like that. There may be a major annoyance in the future, so can I speak to him now?"
"Sure, don't I know girls. Hey, son! There's a friend to speak to you on the phone!"
"I'm coming," came Tom's reply.
"Who is it?" Tom Sloane spoke into the phone receiver.
"Dr. Who. Give me Calais' phone number or the closest thing to it."
Tom stiffened. "Why do you need them for?"
"Tell me, have you seen a girl near them, a Goth girl, black-haired and somewhat stout?"
"Yeah. She pissed off either them proper or somebody they knew or were controlled by."
"So what did they do to her? Not wasted, I hope."
"No, nothing so dramatic. Calais was in minority - again. The girl just got pumped and towed-off to Fitchburg."
"And unspoilt. Listen Doc, you're not dealing with wild animals."
"Good for you," said James Tompkins and put down the receiver.
Angela Li immediately walked over to him. "Well?" she said simply.
"Throw in a coin."
"Okay. Young Andrea, as sometimes Gothic girls do, fancied herself something of a witch, like Bobbie Joe did."
"Did? What has changed her mind?"
"She became a nun."
"Can we move on?"
"Well, Andrea fancied herself a witch or whatever politically correct name such people bear lately, and started to cause trouble, like Cassandra of Troy did. As any mythologist knows, Cassandra of Troy didn't get anything for her troubles, except that got killed by a jealous wife when the cheating husband brought her over as a part of war-spoils..."
"More to the point!"
"Yes, well, the point was that Cassandra ended her career as a prophet badly, and so did Andrea, it seems. She mouthed-off to a wrong person, and that person contacted one of Lawndale's numerous bands, that sometimes do a double job of towing - like a dug-out of a canoe - of various things across our state and sometimes over the border, like to New Hampshire. In Andrea's case, though, that didn't happen. Apparently, Andrea currently is in the town of Fitchburg, which is some distance away."
"And the feather?"
"Their trademark as well as the sign to their customer that the job's finished."
"Oh. So you can't identify the bird?"
"Hey, Daria, Jodie - why's the door open?" Jane called-out from the doorway.
"Oh. Is she mad?"
"She's tired. Working with dad - it is not easy."
"Oh. Um Daria, why are you so smudged?"
"I was bonding with Rachael Landon and fell asleep in the basement. I think your muse took-over Jodie or something."
"It did? This I got to see."
"Hey Jane," Penny said, appearing next to Daria, "where's your friend?"
"Allison? Went to her rented apartment. Why do you ask?"
"I was curious about her - I didn't know you had any close friends aside from Daria."
Jane shrugged sheepishly. "Well, Allison isn't a close friend - we just bonded-over last summer in the art camp, and now that she's around, I can show her around my town."
"Oh? And where is she from?"
"Rutherford Art College, why?"
"Just curiosity; sheesh!" Penny shrugged. "Daria, hate to say this, but shouldn't you be going now?"
"Not until I help you two and Rachael evict Jodie - she might be tough to bulge."
"Anton, where are your cousins?" Linda Griffin asked her present step-nephew.
"Marcello is at the zoo, Mara is most likely with uncle Tom," Anton Birmingham shrugged, pacing back and forth. That pacing made Sophia think of a caged animal, a tiger, maybe, or a wolf.
"And where you?" Linda Griffin continued with her investigation.
"Just jogging around," Anton shrugged. "So what's for dinner?"
"Till your cousins and uncle get here - no dinner for anybody!" Linda roared. That caused Anton's pace to falter briefly. Apparently however, even he understood that to confront Linda in that state of behaviour was the next thing before suicide with a fool-proof lethal outcome for yourself. So, he let it slide without a comment.
"Dad's probably with Mara," Sam said to Sophia in a confidential tone.
"Oh? What's she like?"
"Like Anton or Marcello?"
"Oh. Well, she's different from either of them. She wears that crazy Gothic make-up, so..." Sam paused, seeing his aunt's blank look. "Look, you've got to see her for yourself. She's an individual, so to speak, in the most bizarre sense possible."
"Hey everybody - we're back!" Tom Griffin's voice sounded unnaturally cheerful in the impending astral gloom.
Four angry glares and one happy-but-impatient one, were his reply.
"Tom. Why are you calling?"
"Earlier today, Dr. Who called me about Andrea. Your little... trademark hs been found, and Dr. Who is not amused."
"Did you tell him the truth?"
"Andrea is in Fitchburg. Whether or not she'll be extracted alive - that's another story."
"Not our tale to tell. Thanks for the memo, though. Bye!"
Jake Morgendorffer drove in his usual chaotic manner through Lawndale streets: i.e. on high speeds and zigging zagging like a giant iron-bound butterfly on speed and crack. And naturally, as it was his habit, he almost drove into another vehicle. "Watch it!" he yelled loudly. And then things went wrong.
"Watch yourself!" a bespectacled female face popped-out of the other vehicle. "Lousy, no-good driver!"
There was a pause, as Jake and the female driver looked at each other, then exclaimed at the same time:
"What are you doing here?"
"So Andrea is in Fitchburg, James?"
"Yes. What shall we do about her?"
"Did you see the first part of the Lord of the Rings?"
"Remember how Saruman told the head uruk-hai about the halflings?"
"Well, whomever you'll be sending to Fitchburg won't have such restrictions. But - tell him or her that they should not get carried away - that's the last thing we need after the Ruttheimers."
"Quinn, what are you doing?"
"What am I doing, mom? I'm watching a fashion show on the television."
"Don't you want to go outside?"
"And get dirt stains, and grass stains, and all sort of other muck on my new clothes? No!"
"So nice seeing things getting back to normal," Daria sat entering the Morgendorffer residence, herself dirtier than a piglet.
"Daria! Where have you been?"
"At the Lanes, bonding with Jane and the Landon girls."
"Oh. Daria, you may think that I'm pain, but when it comes to Michelle Landon's girls, well-"
"Mom? You locked horns with Michelle Landon again?"
"No!" Helen vehemently exclaimed, then sighed. "And I don't want to," she added quietly.
"Fair enough. Jodie just painted, and I told Rachael some of the stories I've read about Rabbi Loev and his life in 16th century Prague."
"But isn't it a bit boring for a young girl?"
"Not when you make it sound like that Buffy movie you made me and Quinn watch one Halloween," Daria shrugged. "Mix-in Amanda Lane's kiln-using instructions... and there you have it: one funky Jewish tale full of gargoyles, reincarnations of people long dead, and one very big and nasty golem."
"Maybe you should read it O'Neill's café or something," Quinn suggested. "It really gone down since you last been in it, and I find it highly improbable that you'll be bothered by rioting football players. Or anybody else for that matter. Except by Mr. O'Neill himself, but he gets bothered by a ruined teddy bear, so..."
"Speaking of Mr. O'Neill, Ms. Barch has left to meet her ex-husband due to him actually marrying a second time," Daria said.
"Really? How do you know?"
"We've seen it. By 'we' I mean me and Jane. We now probably have a substitute science teacher as well for a while."
"What do you mean, as well?" Helen wedged in.
"The art teacher, Ms. DeFoe left for home for some family emergency of her own," Daria shrugged. "We already got an art sub, now we'll probably get a science one as well. And I wonder..." Daria trailed-off thoughtfully.
"Wonder what?" Helen impatiently asked.
"Hey, is that dad?" Quinn spoke-up suddenly. "And I think he had brought a 'friend'. Mom, prepare to act lawyer."
Helen curiously gazed in that direction. "Hmm..." she said. "I think something odd is about to happen."
The dinner at the Griffins' started in a frosty silence. Linda was too angry speak, Sam & Chris - too scared, Tom & Mara & Anton - too hungry, Marcello didn't look like a talkative type at all, and Sophia quietly examined the last Birmingham sibling. And Mara Birmingham was an odd-looking Gothic chick indeed. Her face was covered in Gothic make-up, combined of blue, red, black, and white, in such a way that her face looked like a skull. That effect was intensified further by her hair, dark like Marcello's. But if Marcello's hair was shiny greenish black, then Mara's was a dusty-dull black. As for Mara's clothing, it was bizarre, yet not impractical. Still, that wasn't what bothered Sophia; what bothered her was that Mara refused to meet anyone's gaze. After Anton's burning gaze and Marcello's freezing one, that was what bothered Sophia the most.
And so the dinner went on. For a while, Sam and Chris almost believed that it would pass without incident. But their hopes were dashed, when Marcello spoke-up. "So, Linda, where's Cassie?"
Linda took her burning gaze of the food on the plate and fearlessly stared into Marcello's expressionless eyes. Their gazes met like finely sharpened steel sabres, causing sparks in the middle of the table where they collided. Their gazes and - neither gave-in.
"So, Tom," Sophia spoke-up, "care to introduce me to your nephews and niece?"
"Sure," Tom said, not noticing Marcello and Linda's wordless duel. "Mara, say hi to your step-aunt's sister, Sophia."
"Hi," Mara said, raising her eyes briefly to meet Sophia's gaze. That happened only for a short amount of time, but that moment was long enough to make Sophia see her face properly, and draw corresponding conclusions. And once again, they were distressing: if Anton's gaze was fire, and Marcello's - ice, then Mara's gaze had shown Sophia the blank black emptiness of daze. As far as "eyes - soul's windows" axiom went, Mara's soul was scariest one of them all.
"So Tom," Sophia continued, steeling herself (and Linda was still eye-wrestling with Marcello), "and where does your ex-sister-in-law work?"
"She's a businesswoman. Her company, 'Pardus' is an 'import-export' company, right, Mara?"
"Yeah," Mara nodded, chewing, her eyes half-closed once again. "Mom met Anton's dad in Greece, and Marcello's dad - in Copenhagen, and my dad while vacationing on Palau. That's why we three are so different."
"Palau, Palau... that's in western Pacific, is it not?" Sophia thoughtfully said. "So why your mom never settled down?"
"She doesn't want to."
"So Jake, who's your new friend?" said Helen nervously. Usually, when people who followed Jake home, with rare exceptions (like her sisters Amy and Rita), left with a firm decision to meet the Morgendorffer family in court due to a traffic accident of one or another severity. However, right now, something was wrong.
"Helen, you remember her. It's Victoria. Victoria French," Jake said sort of meekly.
"Victoria French?" Helen echoed.
"Yes. Daughter of my father's secretary."
"Excuse me? Grandpa Mathew's secretary? This I've got to see," Daria said re-appearing from upstairs. She and Victoria looked at each other - and froze, for despite age differences and some personal facial features, the two females looked nearly identical in the face, with or without the glasses.
"Is there something you need to tell us?" in the ensuing silence spoke Quinn.
Surprisingly, Jake spoke first. "Well, girls, the story goes like this. Your grandfather Mathew had a secretary, Daria Spears."
"Daria?" Quinn squalled.
"A secretary?" echoed Daria. "Didn't granddad work in the military?"
"So he still had a secretary," Victoria suddenly said. "That's how it is now, that's how it was then. Deal with it."
"Anyways, by that time your grandfather Mathew passed away," Helen picked-up the narrative, "Victoria's mother was long since married to a man called Ronald French and Victoria herself was considered Ronald's daughter."
"But then-?" Daria helpfully said.
"But then all of your grandfather's family and friends received letters of the decedent," Helen continued. "In Jake's letter - as well as Victoria's - it said that she was grandfather Morgendorffer's daughter, as well as Jake's half sister. And, that he - grandfather Morgendorffer that is - leaves most of his property to US Army."
"And that is another story, altogether," Victoria shrugged. "Well, there you have it, Daria and Quinn."
"Great. First Daria is almost an adopted Lane, now we've got an illegitimate aunt. Sandi and her family are going to have a field day with this."
"They won't," Victoria suddenly said. "I remember the judicial battles over dad's inheritance. Your mother was truly a titanic and a formidable figure in court."
"Weren't we in Highland then?" Quinn frowned. Daria began to silently count something on her fingers.
"Nope. We moved out of Highland shortly afterwards," Helen almost blushed from a rare compliment.
"Right," Daria said slowly. "Grandpa Mathew expired a year later you were born. That meant, he had time to see me as well."
"Well, of course he had!" Victoria exclaimed. "You were six or seven years old!"
"Not exactly," Daria shook her head. "When I was three, I got lost in the desert, and taken care of by Amanda and Penny Lane. If, by the expiration of that term we didn't ran in into dad and mom, I may've been a Lane after all, as much as it pains us to think about it."
"You lost my niece in the desert?" Victoria looked incredulously at Helen and Jake.
The situation was saved by Quinn with all the tact of her father's shown in it. "So? What's for dinner?" she spoke.
Andrea Hecuba opened her eyes once again. It was still dark, and it still stank of paper. "Where am I?" she wondered for a countless time. Her original captors, after freaking her out of her wits by threatening to eat her, instead drugged her out, and left her here, wherever here was. And that was just about as worrisome.
Suddenly the door slid open, and somebody stepped in.
"Andrea Hecuba?" the voice spoke.
"Are you here to let me out?" Andrea replied.
"Did you realize that raising panic and pandemonium is bad?"
"Sandi? Tiffany? Quinn? That any of you?" Andrea frowned. "Well, your pasty tricks will not intimidate me!" Andrea shouted braver than she felt.
"This is no trick. Just who do you think you are? Cassandra of Troy?"
"Well, maybe I'm her descendant! After all, Troy was in Turkey!"
"Great," the figure's tone turned sarcastic. "All Italians claim to have descended from Aeneas and his team of go-lucky Trojan escapees, and now, apparently, the Turks - or whoever passes for them here - claims to have descended from the rest of the house of Priam. Just great!" There was a slight slithering sound as the figure spoke, and Andrea realized that time was simply slipping away... And then something metaphorically hit her between the eyebrows, and spoke: "And you, Jo "Buckle" Bishops are nowhere as scary as you claim to be!"
"And how do you know my name?" the figure was genuinely surprised.
"I... I don't know. I just had a vision. I think," Andrea said diffidently.
"Then," there was a dangerous edge in the voice now, "I'm going to have some old-fashioned Aussie fun, yes."
Andrea gulped. "No."
"You know," Victoria spoke as a part of Morgendorffer family dinner, "this is kind of weird."
"You're telling me," Jake sighed. "So, uh, what brings you to Lawndale?"
"I'm substituting for the local science teacher - what's name? Beech? Birch?"
"Barch. Janet Barch," Daria explained knowingly.
"So what were you studying before she dropped-out?"
"Make-up?" Quinn suggested helpfully. The rest of women at the table gave her a look. "Sorry, it was a try."
"Uh, aunt Victoria?" Daria spoke in turn.
"Just call me Vic."
"Vic, do I have any cousins on your side yet?"
Victoria shrugged. "Sadly, I didn't meet the right person yet. Also, after Jake described the joys of being married with children, I'll wait a little more yet."
"Oh? Jake, what did you tell her about our family?" Helen asked calmly.
Jake scrunched his face. "Oh, about the time we saw a bunch of black bears in Guadalupe Mountains National Park and what came out of it."
"And this affected your opinion, Victoria, how?" Helen wasn't through yet.
"Take a chill pill, Hellas, would you?" Victoria said, chewing her boiled fish (sprats) with potatoes. "I just realized that I wouldn't want to be caught in a hot car with a bunch of squirming kids."
There was a pause. "What did you call mom?" Daria slowly said.
"That's her full name, Helen Hellas, actually," Victoria said, sheepishly. "What, you didn't tell them?"
Helen blushed. "Well, girls, you see, your grandpa Barksdale was a joker and a fan of Greek mythology."
"What, we're part Greek?"
"No, but grandpa Barksdale fought the Nazis down in the south Europe and the local culture just stuck. I'm Helen Hellas, Amy's Amalthea Alexicaria, and Rita's actually-"
-Some sound came from the living room but everybody ignored it, engrossed in Helen's narrative-
Quinn's eyes slowly bulged till they resembled a chameleon's. "I've got aunts named Amalthea and Erotica? Oh God!" she dropped her face in her hands.
"So how come we weren't named nothing Greek?" Daria asked.
"My- our father insisted," Jake said with a look at Victoria. "You're named in sake of Victoria's mum, and since we wanted twins, well..."
"Oh, I see. Daria means queen in Persian, and we can see how it relates to Quinn," Daria shrugged. "What about Erin?"
"Dad originally made it Eris," Helen said, "but then I actually told Rita what both her and her daughter's names meant. She freaked-out and-"
"You told me you won't speak of it!" Rita suddenly shouted from the living room. Then there was the sound of running feet upstairs.
"Oops," Helen said. "Rita's home." She didn't seem too upset though.
"Uh, I think I'll go and speak to her," Daria slowly said.
"Maybe Helen should," Jake said, but Victoria looked at him. "Maybe that's not such a good idea. Daria, if you want to - be our guess. This is Jake's cooking we're talking about, after all."
"Now what do you mean," Jake began, but Daria was already out of the table.
"Jodie! Rachael! Evan! How was your day?"
"Fine, mom. Is dad coming from the hospital yet?"
"No. Jodie, we spoke about it: your father's condition is serious, he may never come out of it."
"What! You said that he'll be out in several months!"
"That's optimism, Rachael."
"Oh. Well, I just spend the day talking to Daria Morgendorffer and she told me that I and Evan were welcome to spend time with her and Jane any day if you and Jodie need to go."
"How nice of her - I see that Amy Barksdale is rubbing off on her."
"Her aunt, or one of her, I don't know which."
"Daria got an aunt?"
"Or more than one. Maybe someday I'll show her to you. Where's Sophia?"
"She left a message that she'll be eating out today for moral support."
"Very well. I know she'll be back for supper!"
By now, the dinner at the Griffins was totally unravelled. Linda and Marcello just drilled each other with their gazes, neither bulging an inch. Sam quietly urged his brother to wave a hand between them to see what happens, but Chris shook his head: he was afraid that it'll melt, or be blown to bits, or something.
"Uh, we'll be going now to watch TV," Tom said, chatting to Mara a minute earlier. "Anton, you coming?"
"Sure," Mara's other brother shook his head. "When Linda and Marc get like this, they're hopeless."
"Kids," Sophia turned to Sam and Chris. "Want to go outside? Your mother seems to be wanting to be left alone with your step cousin, and I want to see how Sandi's doing on her dinner date."
"Fine," Chris and Sam nodded happily. Right now even their sister was better than the Birminghams.
As they and Sophia stepped outside, though, a streak of white grasped Sam by the leg. "Hey, it's Sandi's cat," spoke the older Griffin boy. "I'll throw it inside."
Fluffy grabbed Sam's leg harder and began to yell at the top of its' voice. "I think the cat wants to meet Sandi too," Sophia slowly said, remembering Anton's burning gaze, Marcello's chilling one, and Mara dead eyes. And Linda too was approaching such a state when hanging around her was about as much fun as sky-diving into a hurricane. "Let's take it with us."
Sam and Chris agreed.
"Daria, what do you want?"
"Well, I wanted to apologize. It's just that an old friend of dad's-"
"Victoria French. Say no more. I heard all of your dinner-table conversation."
"Well then, sorry again. Mom may be a bit like that sometimes when she talks about you. For dad it's his dad, for mom it's-"
"Why?" Rita suddenly said very quietly. "Why?"
"Why what?" Daria slowly said. Her least favourite aunt seemed suddenly very small and fragile, like a dry twig.
"Why do they don't like me so?" Rita said mournfully. "Helen barely tolerates me, Amy basically ignores or makes fun of me - why? It's not my fault that their mother liked me better!"
"Their mother? Excuse me? Are we on the same page here?" Daria slowly said. It seems that this day was the day of surprises for the Morgendorffer-Barksdale scions.
"Your grandmother Barksdale... had an aunt. My mother," Rita said faintly. "She died when I was four or five. Your maternal grandparents took me in. I never knew my father. Your grandmother took care of me, and it made at least Helen jealous. Amy was never concerned about such things much, but Helen - hated me for it. I... just tried to be a good daughter to my aunt. Is it so evil? Then... I visited Helen in college. She introduced me to some friends of her, and they... were worse. They got me drunk on I don't know what, and Helen made it appear as it all was my fault. Then Erin was born and Helen told me what my name was. Erotica Pantidarea - vulgar sex! Oh God, I almost died! Aunt- mom had me in a detox centre in no time, while she took care of my girl..." Rita sighed. "Paul is a good husband. He needs me as a trophy wife mainly, and I'll do it!"
"You don't love Paul?"
"I loved once. After I visited Helen in college it was ruined," Rita sighed.
"Mom's not that evil! Well, she is a lawyer..."
"Your mother's an Aries, Daria. If she gets something into her head, God himself, armed with pliers, would have a hard time making it not so. When your paternal grandfather died and we learned that most of his belongings go not to his family but elsewhere, your mother went ballistic and single-handedly drove the Morgendorffers to victory over some very competent adversaries. That's why today she's in this law firm here and not still wherever you four lived originally."
"Yeah, mom's an Aries all right, just as aunt Amy's a Capricorn (big surprise) and you're a, a-"
"-Pisces," Rita smiled sadly. "You know even Amy better than me."
"Well, I know mom the best, and if I know my mom, she'll be-"
"Come in here, Helen, we've figured you out," Rita said.
The door opened and a sheepish-looking Helen looked in. "Glad to see you two bonding," she said.
"Now it's your turn, the same generation and all - ta-ta," Daria said, leaving her mother and her aunt alone.
"Well," Helen said to Rita, "she obviously has her father's tact."
"Can I talk to you about mom?"
"What about her?"
"Do you think it's strange how she and that Sophia woman are just talking to each other?"
"Rachael, that's not our business," Jodie shrugged. "Besides, I'm going out to buy art supplies."
Back in the Griffins' main room, both Marcello and Linda, finally on their own, suddenly relaxed. "So, how was your summer?" Linda said, strangely amenable.
"Actually, good. Visited old Dan Hazle, this and that..."
"So how good just was it?" Linda said, sounding both urgent and hungry. "Tell me, Marcello."
Marcello suddenly smiled, an extremely unpleasant event. "As good as we only dreamed, step-aunt. I dare say that kalim is exactly the right amount now."
"Yes!" Linda said, her own smile wide and predatory on her face. "The time has come, at last!"
And overhead, though it was an Indian summer day, thunder suddenly boomed, signifying changes that were still to happen in Lawndale.