This is a continuation of my previous fic, “(More) Trouble on Tuesday”. In it, the mystery haunting to Lawndale comes to its culmination, as the mysterious killer strikes one more time, before he is stopped for good. Part one of two.
Daria (and associated characters and locations) is copyright © 1997-2000 MTV Networks.
This story is copyright © 2002 by Bacner () and has been written for personal enjoyment. No infringement of the above rights is intended.
It was two days later, a Thursday. Few things changed in the little town of Lawndale, since last week. True, old Biter was buried, and Mrs. Petersen’s household was shaken-up, and Mrs. Vudrudakis had to go to Lawndale Hospital for a brief treatment, but other than that, few things changed: Michelle Landon was still working in ‘Gorgün’ Linda Griffin’s business company, and her daughter Jodie still didn't resume her social life, and Andrew Landon was still out for the count.
Then again, some things did change…
“Yeah, Daria, look – the gods have come down from Olympus to mingle with us peasants,” Jane said jokingly.
“Would you sock it with the myths, Jane?” Daria growled in a warning tone. Ever since she gave Penny this book on Greek myths, Daria understood too late, she became a part of some intricate inner-Lane feud and had to pay the price. But she was Daria Morgendorffer, and few could force her to do what she didn't want, like getting involved in an in-family argument of another family, for example.
“Daria!” Quinn howled. “This is important!”
“It obviously is, if you're coming over to us in public,” Daria agreed. “What is it?”
“Have you seen Andrea? I didn't see her ever since her almost-fight with Sandi this Tuesday.”
“Neither did we,” Daria was thoughtful. All kidding aside, after decapitated Ruttheimers in the river and the dead bulldog in upper Lawndale, a disappearance of another living being was no joking matter. “Still, she doesn't have any real friends around here, does she?”
“Uh-huh,” Quinn shook her head. “She may be even more unpopular than you and Jane – especially since you're no longer as unpopular as you were before.”
“This doesn't have to do anything with the fact that Jodie Landon started to hang-around with us?” Jane asked sceptically.
“Jane, keep your mind on the track!” Daria said sharply. “No, Quinn, we haven’t seen Andrea. But I'm sure she’s okay.”
“Oh, I’m not worried about her, if that’s what you’re implying,” Quinn waved her hand airily. “I'm just curious, that’s all.”
“Right,” Daria and Jane exchanged knowledgeable looks. “Well, if anything comes up, we’ll tell you.”
“’kay,” Quinn left.
“What is this? You're hereby invited to a soiree by Eugene Podgio in Lawndale art gallery, this Thursday evening, 7 p.m.? What’s going-on?”
“Why, it’s an invitation, of course. You do know what’s a soiree, right Helen?”
“I know that – what I don’t get is why I am invited. I’m not yet a partner, am I?”
“Well… no. But Mr. Podgio was so insistent for some matter.”
“Wait a second. What was his name, again?”
“Eugene Podgio? Hmmm… Let me, let me see – I knew that odd name was familiar somehow… Ah-ha!”
“What is it, Helen?” Eric Schrecter asked, feeling a mixture of curiosity and worry.
“See for yourself.”
“What’s there to see? Yes, that man does look like Mr. Podgio, but that woman-“
“Is my sister, Rita Barksdale-Podgio. That man is Paul Podgio, my brother-in-law, and apparently Eugene’s brother.”
Eric paused. “Does this mean that you two are related?”
“Yes. So’s Amy. Do you mind if I give her a call and ask if she got a similar notice?”
“Not at all, not at all – but can you do it during lunch? Now is a bit of a busy time for us, see?”
Linda Griffin stared incredulously at the notice in her mail. “You're hereby invited to a soiree by Eugene Podgio in Lawndale art gallery, this Thursday evening, 7 p.m.? What kind of nonsense is that?” She paused, remembering Tuesday evening. Admittedly, most of it was occupied by talking to Alecto, but still… “It’s that idiot from New Hampshire,” she realized. “Sheesh, what an ugly mug! And that goatee of a beard of his doesn't make it any better either. Still, I'm never the one to refuse an invitation… I'll take Tom with me, or maybe – Alecto? Right, that’ll be the day…”
While the president of ‘Gorgün’ was thinking those thoughts, her business manager was thinking along different lines. “This is just great,” Michelle Landon thought. “I just establish contacts with my late brother’s children, and one of them is a criminal. Lord, how insane mankind is! Is this why you have created us? Oh, what am I saying obviously you haven’t. It was Eve, Eve and that snake, that made Adam – and the rest of human-kind what we are.”
Suddenly Michelle shook her head. Her train of thought went-off in a totally wrong direction. What she needed was something else. And Michelle Landon knew what she had to do – she did something that brought her joy and happiness: she buried herself in her work.
Sophia Hakiojopoulos looked at her assistants, Aaron and Hassan. “So let’s take the stock for yesterday. Yesterday, the identity of the one who got at least one of the two dead bulldogs was Nina Joneston. And who discovered that?”
“Angela Li,” Hassan quietly said. “She hasn't lost any of her skills, and she is allied with the lawyer firm.”
“So she did,” Sophia agreed through an almost-closed mouth. “It’s only a question of breaking them up.”
She took her cell-phone out and dialled.
In Angela Li’s office the phone rang. “Who is it?” she asked.
“It’s me, Angela. Sophia.”
Ms. Li instantly stiffened. Sophia’s voice had the constancy of melted butter this time, which meant only one thing: the woman who once ran a smuggling ring in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, was out for blood.
However, Sophia Hakiojopoulos, or Tina Eckett, as she was known once, wasn't the only person with a bloody past in Lawndale.
“So it is,” Ms. Li said, doing a very nice imitation of a perky personality herself. “What can I do for you, Sophia?”
“How ‘bout we bury the hatchet of war?”
“In whose skull? Yours or mine?”
“Aw, Angela, you dwell over your past too much, methinks!”
“Maybe, but my future doesn't look a lot like worth looking!”
“Maybe that can change. I mean, what does your lawyer ‘friends’ offer you so that you help them?”
“Justice being done.”
“Come on. You’ve seen Valeriy Vitale – do you think that that ‘Slim Shady’ is interested in justice?”
“To a limit. He and his co-workers are interested in learning who did the deed, and when they learn, they won't be satisfied with beans!” Angela added a hissing accent over word.
“Oh Angela – vengeance and vigilance are so passé!”
“What did you say? Something about your asse? Clean-up your mind, Sophia – this is a school! Good-bye!” Angela Li put down her receiver and mumbled. “Oh, and mayhaps see you over at Lawndale Art Gallery this evening.”
Sophia turned-off the talking function of her cell phone with a grimace.
“Didn't go well, hah?” Hassan asked.
“Nope. Angela may’ve gained a few years – or even decades – on her body, but her mind remained same old same old.”
“Does this mean-?” Aaron curiously asked.
“Of course, Aaron – this means war!”
Once again Amy Barksdale entered the fast-food joint where her sister Helen Morgendorffer got her vittles – at least the portion that didn’t come from Jake. And once again her sister Helen Morgendorffer beckoned Amy to join her at the table. “Helen, what’s up?” Amy asked curiously.
“Amy, tell me. Did you get a note this morning or yesterday?”
“Oh yeah. That,” Amy said with a dry grimace. “What’s going-on? I'm not that much of a celebrity!”
“It’s not the case of fame, it’s the case of relations. Eugene Podgio is the brother of our darling brother-in-law, Paul.”
“Paul? Our Paul? The Paul who is married to our sister, Rita?”
“Stepsister, I prefer,” Helen growled down in her throat. “Yes, that Paul, and Eugene is his brother. This means that Paul and Rita may come here, and so will little Erin, and her honey – what’s his name, again?”
“Oh God. That’s just a step away from mom. Helen, tell me this doesn't turn in a Barksdale family reunion?!!”
“Oh God, I hope not. Anyways are you going to attend?”
“Helen, come on. I know you like to show-off your family as much as possible (except for Rita), but seriously – Daria and Quinn aren’t invited to this party, are they?”
“This isn’t a party, this is an opening of a photo exhibition!” Helen pointed-out mildly (all those confrontations with Daria started to pay-off). “But yes, it’s adults-only.”
“Then Daria and Quinn are going to need a babysitter, you know? With the recent events, and what-not…”
Helen paused, thinking, until she said, quite reluctantly: “Well, Penny Lane can watch over them, I believe.”
Amy caught the reluctant notes in her sister’s voice. “Why the sour attitude, sis?”
“Remember my letters to you back from Texas? All the long way back?”
“All the way back? Till the time you settled-down and Daria… oh boy. I always wondered, how that mess got straightened-out. Well? What part does Penny Lane play in it?”
“Her family was the reason – or the way – how that mess got straightened-out, to par-quote you, sis.”
“Yeah. Penny and Daria re-met the day before you came for a visit, and Daria almost left with her for a world tour of an unlimited amount of time.”
“Yeowch! But she didn’t?”
“Not before a great-big confrontation, no. Still, the idea of Penny Lane and my girls… makes me uneasy. Maternal instinct, I suppose… What’s so funny?”
“Just wait till mom learns that you said that, Hel. She doesn't believe in you having maternal instinct, no. I wonder how she’ll react to those news of Penny, yes.”
“What does she know about Penny so far?”
“She knows about this so far as much as I did till I came to see you now. I lived with her while you were in Texas, see?”
“Oh yes. I remember,” Helen said darkly. “I remember… and I'm not happy!”
“Well, sorry sis – but back to tonight.”
“When you will be here in my arms?” Helen par-quoted Jennifer Lopez. When Amy gave her a look, she shrugged and said: “What? With two teenage daughters – something aught to stick. Admittedly, Daria isn’t your average teenager – but Quinn is, and so…”
“All right, all right. I'll come tonight, and Penny Lane gets to baby-sit?”
“I can dig that,” Helen nodded nonchalantly.
Neither of the sisters noticed a big bird flying away at the last words.
“Sisters, sisters, fever sisters – in the Hell you were playing twisters; sisters, sisters, fever sisters – of your jobs I summon you, rise from Hell, thirteen arrows true!”
“Alecto! We need to talk.”
“Calais. Can't you understand that we’re a band? We need to practice.”
“Alecto. We’ve got that trouble-maker, Andrea. Our friend gave her to us on a platter. Let us eat her now.”
“I don't have any objections,” Alecto looked thoughtfully through the murky gloom, “but I have a suggestion: let’s wait till the murderer of Ruttheimers is apprehended. Then we’ll eat her – and make it a special affair, yes?”
“This is a special affair on its’ own, Al! We didn't feast on man-flesh properly ever since our flock settled in this Massachusetts town!”
“Calais, you always did think with your gut,” a third voice joined the first two. “However, this time I think she is right, Al. With the Lane situation escalating into violence, we shouldn’t leave a possible witness untouched that can escape.”
“Monica, I thought you had more sense than that.”
“It’s Monique, and it’s my sense that tells me that Calais’ course of action is more proper.”
“Well who is in charge? I or Calais? Go on Monique, answer that!” Alecto’s voice rang like a bronze gong.
“Maybe we do need a change of leadership, yes,” Calais’ voice hissed like an oiled blade. “What do you say, Monique?”
“Oh my – trouble in the happy land of Goth Girls?” a different, male voice ran in the murkiness.
“Oh look – Thumbelina came to visit us!” Calais smirked.
“I resent that, Calais,” the male voice replied. “But seriously – Effïndïe came to me all shaken-up, something about you three at each others’ throats?”
“It’s our prisoner. I want to eat her later – the other two now,” Alecto said, angrily.
“A prisoner, eh?” something sounded suspiciously like a smacking of lips sounded in the murk. “What says thou, Alecto, that I take this veritable social bomb off your taloned hands and send her into the next stage of her circle-o’-life myself?”
“No, freaking, way,” Calais voice rang. “There’s no way possible, you greedy-guts, that we’re giving you our prize!”
There was a growl – a low, animal, growl, that carried surprisingly far through the chamber.
“Calais, you should speak of greedy-guts!” another female voice sounded in the chamber, this one quick and worried.
“Effïndïe? You did enough. Shut-up,” Alecto advised.
“Alecto? Your own leadership is hanging by a thread at this moment, so you should be quite quiet yourself!”
“Is that a challenge, Calais?” Alecto’s voice rose to a shriek.
“Enough!” If Alecto’s voice was a high-pitched shriek, the male’s voice was a roar, so loud, that it was almost leonine. “Girls – is a single prisoner worth shaking-up your social order? Don't forget, Calais, Alecto is a good deal older and stronger than you, not to mention bigger. And Alecto – a wise leader knows when to bend-down with his or hers people. So you should give-win.”
“Very well. We’ll eat the prisoner tonight. Without your assistance, pal.”
The phone rang.
“The Harpies’ HQ – the Head Harpy is listening,” Alecto spoke into the phone, knowing that only one people person knew this number.
“Alecto. Me and my husband are going out this evening and won't possibly be back too soon. Perhaps your girl – Monique – watch over my kids while we're away?”
“I don't know – we have our own plans for this evening, you know?” Alecto said thoughtfully. “Still, I guess Monique can have an eye on your offspring.”
Linda Griffin hang-up.
“So what’s the plan, Al? Does the prisoner gets eaten, or what?” Calais rasped.
“Here’s the plan, Calais, here is the plan.”
Back in school, Sandi Griffin was not happy.
“Sa-ndi, what’s wrong?” Tiffany drawled-out.
Sandi gave the Fashion Club’s treasurer an evil eye. “Tiffany, dear, how was your little trip into the world of crime-fighting espionage?” she said acidly.
“It’s a se-cret,” Tiffany continued to drawl.
Sandi made a face. Everything turned to secrecy when it came within attention span Ms. Li, and the attention span of the principal of Lawndale High was huge. Every social activity organized by students and/or school staff came under it; every social activity concerning the school or that that could be used to glorify the school further came under it; and every activity that could be used to finance the school further came under Ms. Li’s aquiline gaze as well.
And everything that Ms. Li touched as often as not came under her control. Everything that Ms. Li considered important, that is. The Fashion Club, Sandi Griffin suspected, was not ranked terribly high in Ms. Li’s book of scholarly important – which wasn't too bad, for what was ranked so, usually received immediate and personal supervision of Ms. Li – and that wasn’t too good for student creativity – an important aspect of the Fashion Club.
“So Sandi, are you and Mack a couple?” Stacy Rowe asked meanwhile.
Sandi pierced Stacy with her gaze. Sandi’s gaze had various effects on the other Fashion Club members. Tiffany just ignored it. Quinn responded with her own gaze. But Stacy folded under it every time.
“Sorry Sandi!” she squeaked. “I just- I just want to know!”
“Yeah, Sandi, tell us,” Tiffany agreed.
The last quarter of the Fashion Club – Quinn Morgendorffer – didn't say anything. She just looked at Sandi in such a fashion that Sandi wondered once again, what did the redhead knew this time? Somebody else’s corpse came floating down Merrimack River?
“Quinn, what are you thinking about?” Sandi asked, eager for any diversion from Stacy’s questions.
That was not to be. “I'm thinking about what Stacy asked you – are you and Michael Jordan Mackenzie a couple?”
“More trouble on the Fashion Club island, it seems,” Jane Lane commented to Quinn’s sister, Daria Morgendorffer. “I wonder what the queen drone did to deserve the rest of the hydra to turn against her.”
“Use your brain, Jane,” Daria snorted. “What is lying on the lips and tongues of the Lawndale students these days?”
“Jodie Landon becoming a slacker?”
“Lower, but not enough.”
“Ah! Sandi Griffin seen with Jodie’s ex-boyfriend Mack?”
“Right on target!”
“Daria! Jane! Mack isn't my boyfriend, and he never was!” Jodie snapped. She came onto the other two girls while they were playing detective.
“So what news in Landon-Joneston land?” Jane changed the subject with her usual tact, or lack of it.
“Lousy,” Jodie grumbled. “I and Nina really connected, and I still think she’s cool.”
“Didn't she run away into the night?” Daria asked, curious.
“Actually – no. She’s living now in a small house near the river, bought to her by Mrs. Petersen a few years ago,” Jodie grumbled. “And she doesn't act affected one bit.”
“Why should she? She just whacked the dog – if she whacked it,” Daria said thoughtfully. “Maybe somebody else did it and let your cousin catch the blame, Jodie. And let’s not forget – there’s still no way that the dog and Ruttheimers are connected.”
“Ah-huh, Daria, re-think it,” Jodie argued. “The bulldog died in the copse. Another bulldog died in the copse – or rather, because of the copse, because of the mushrooms that grew in it. The Ruttheimers died because of the copse – or mayhaps because of my cousin, who is involved with the copse somehow. Truly, this is not a copse but some Gordian knot!”
“A what?” Jane asked, confused.
“What Jodie here means, everything has been tied around the copse since Monday,” Daria explained patiently.
“So how should it change?”
“Why should it change?”
“Because the copse seems to be pretty much a dead point now. All right, it has served its’ purpose with the mushrooms, but now…”
“Say, what does that copse look like?” Jodie asked, curious. “I never had a good chance to look at it.”
“Take a moderate – two-four acres – area of a lawn, overgrown with trees and some bushes, and you got it. If you just cleaned-it-up a bit and put-in some benches, it would be just like a regular park!”
“I see,” said Jodie disappointedly. “Once – before Rachael and Evan – me, mom and dad went hiking in Shawnee National Forest in Illinois. Now that was cool!”
“Say, Jodie,” Jane said in a tightly measured voice, “doesn’t it bother you that your dad is in Lawndale Hospital and all? I mean, you should visit him every once in a while or so.”
Jodie gave Jane a hard look. “Dad has changed, Jane, really changed. Ever since we came to Lawndale, and mom had Evan, he was no longer fun, but a control freak. I mean, even Sandi’s parents allow her some personal freedom, but my dad.”
“Say – is it resentment I hear when you said Miss Griffin’s name?” Jane asked brightly. “Perhaps you still have some feelings for Mack?”
“Jane? Can it,” Jodie said in a rather Daria-like expression. “Tell me better, what are your plans for the evening?”
“The evening? Oh yeah, our folks’ invitations,” Daria said thoughtfully. “Well, I think Penny Lane is coming over.”
“Penny… Lane? Jane – she’s your sister, right?”
“None-the-other,” replied Jane, giving a look to Daria. “Want to join us, Jo? You can bring Rachael and Evan too, I suppose.”
“I don't know…” Jodie said thoughtfully. “But I'll ask mom all the same.”
“So Quinn – did your parents get an invitation for today’s evening?” Sandi asked, wishing to get off the track of her and Mack’s non-relationship. “My parents did.”
“Both my parents and my aunt,” Quinn said proudly.
“Mine didn’t,” Stacy muttered.
“Mine neither,” Tiffany added.
“’S okay,” Quinn shrugged. “It's for adults-only.”
“Oh! That’s okay then!” Stacy brightened-up somewhat.
“I wonder,” Sandi said, “if me and my brothers will get baby-sitter for the evening?”
“Why won’t you come over to our place?” Quinn suggested. “We're getting a baby-sitter for sure – Penny Lane.”
Sandi glared. “Quinn, I already had some encounters with both Penny and Jane Lane, and so don't want to increase them.”
“Suit yourself,” Quinn shrugged. “It’s your call.”
Sandi paused. “Well, I think about it,” she finally said, secretly unwilling to spend the evening with just some stranger and her brothers.
“Can we come too?” Stacy bubbled. “Can we, can we?”
“I'll ask mom and dad,” Quinn promised.
The phone rang in Jake’s office. “Morgendorffer consulting agency on phone,” Jake replied primly.
“Hey Jake! It’s me – Rita!”
“Gah! Rita! What a surprise! How’s Erin?”
“Oh, Erin is fine, fine, happily married to Brian.”
“So, uh, why are you calling me?”
“Well, I don't suppose you know where Amy is?”
“No,” Jake truthfully admitted – he really didn't know where Amy was at this point. “Uh, Rita, why are you phoning me?”
“Oh, Jake. My Paul has a brother called Eugene, who is a photographer, and he – Eugene – is having an exhibition in your Lawndale. Isn't it great?”
“Hah? Wah? Paul’s last name is Podgio?”
“Yes. Isn't it strange? That’s why he so rarely speaks his full name outloud. Anyways, me and him are coming to Lawndale, and-“
“Um, Rita, I don't know if it made the news yet, bu-ut, Lawndale is kind of restless at this moment – may-be you shouldn’t come.”
“Nonsense, Jake! Your Lawndale is the sleepiest town on Earth – nothing happens in it! Well, we’ll call you later – ciao!” Rita hanged-up.
Jake was left sitting there, looking glumly, like Lucifer drawn and painted by a German artist Franz Fon Stuck – really miserable. And to think that a week ago all was simple!
“So Helen, why are you so strange?” asked Marianne, Helen’s secretary.
“Hmm?” Helen looked-up from the file she was examining and at her secretary. “It turns-out that my sister is married to that photographer’s brother and is coming-over to Lawndale.”
“Does Eric know about this?” asked Marianne, wrinkling her brow in confusion.
“Not Amy! We have another sister – Rita, and she and her husband, who is the photographer’s brother, are arriving in Lawndale – my husband just called and told me that.”
“Oh! Ah! Say Helen – this isn't my business, of course, but why don't you like to speak about your sisters?”
“Family tensions, Marianne. You have any siblings close to you in age?”
“No,” the secretary shook her head.
“Then you won't understand,” Helen replied and fell silent.
“So, ladies and gentlemen, what is the consensus?” Valeriy Vitale asked Michael Davis and the rest of the firm’s law partners.
“Lousy,” replied Davis. The bulky man was in a foul mood – he, Arnold Riordan, and Alan Schrecter spent the last twenty-thirty hours or so discussing the new developments, and they were ranging from dissatisfactory to disappointing.
“If I may ask,” Arnold Riordan spoke-up, “I want to know – what is Angela Li’s standing in relation to ours?”
“What about Angela Li?” Valeriy Vitale turned to Eric Schrecter. “Eric, you met her, I presume?”
“Yes, as well as Mindy and Michael,” Eric said, unwilling to be a singular centre of attention. “Nothing special. Why is Arnold so interested in her?”
“Well, you see,” Arnold shrugged, “her name came-up in a number of cases. Nothing important – nothing of this importance, certainly – but there were cases.”
“What area?” Mindy Horowitz instantly snapped to attention. There was an old animosity between her and Riordan; all knew that.
“Finances, mainly. Ms. Li tends to involve her school in various financial undertakings – sometimes shady ones.”
“There was this incident with cola,” Eric Schrecter remembered something. “I think the word around town is that the Lawndale High’s principal is a glory hog of sorts.”
“So what?” Davis shrugged. “Who isn’t in this town? Why is Riordan so interested in her?”
Riordan paused, unwilling, this time, to share info with his colleagues. “Well, she did discover those footprints in the copse, right?” he said. “I was just curious…”
“If it is about fiscal reward, then that’s the police’s concern, not ours,” Mindy snapped. “You know that, Arnold.”
“Fine, fine, just wanted to make sure, that’s all,” Arnold snapped back. “I just don't want no un-turned stones left behind, Mindy.”
“Oh boy,” whispered Vitale to Peter Schrecter, one of Eric’s two cousins. “Here we go again.”
“So what do you think about tonight’s evening invitation?” Peter Schrecter spoke loudly, wanting to diffuse the argument as quickly as possibly.
His exclamation did the trick, fair enough. Mindy and Arnold stopped arguing. “I don't know – maybe we should send somebody to see what it is – in case some ghost of Tuesday night appears,” Eric Schrecter spoke quickly.
“Good idea,” Valeriy nodded. “Davis – take Peter with you. You're going.”
“’Cause you like art, and Peter knows photography. That way you won’t be as bored as the rest of us.”
“Very well,” Davis nodded glumly. “Peter – we’re going.”
“Sisters-sisters, fever sisters, in the Hell you were playing twisters,” a young man sing-songed as he rang the doorbell. “Damn! That dumb tune is stuck in my head,” he grumbled, as he pressed the doorbell button again. No doubt – it was still broken. He pulled on the door-knob – and the door opened.
Loud sounds of rabid (no other words could describe it) music almost blasted the in-comer back onto the street:
Yo Wind! You are my brother and my pal!
Say Wind! Why did you hit on cousin Al?
The crazy music played-on. “Damn Trent and his ribaldries,” the boy muttered. “Jane! You in here?”
“No, she is not,” a young woman with reddish hair and tanned skin came downstairs. “And who are you – another one of Monique’s Harpies?”
“It’s an all-girl band,” the young man mumbled. “And who are you – Trent’s new girlfriend?”
“Actually, I’m Trent and Jane’s older sister, Penny. So who are you?”
“I’m Tom. Sloane. I'm here to see Jane?”
“Jane isn't here – she’s in school?”
“But today is a half-day!” Tom argued.
“It is? Hmm… Maybe it is. Oh well. Maybe she went to see you. Good-bye!”
“What’s the bad mood?” Tom asked.
“None of your problem – good-bye!”
“Has it got something to do with Monique?”
Penny paused. “Do you know Monique?”
“She is Trent’s girlfriend?”
“Yeah, unfortunately. There’s something in that person that just rubs me the wrong way.”
“You sure it’s not sibling jealousy?”
“Out,” Penny snarled. “I do not need therapeutic advice from perfect strangers!”
How the Hell you got into such bind!”
The music re-shook the house. “Who’s Wind?” Tom asked in almost morbid fascination.
“Another one of my siblings,” Penny snapped. “Trent! Tune it down a little!”
You know, Wind, that plan more half-un-baked!
For such a plan you don't have the guts!”
“Is he for real?” Tom asked, his hands clamped over his ears, his face full of morbid curiosity.
Penny scowled. Trent’s rendition of “Our brother Wind” was getting on her nerves all day. “Trent! Put a sock in it!” she yelled louder.
The music stopped. “Has the floor over the laundry room start leaking again?” Trent yelled back. “Use of your own socks Penny, mine are both on my feet!”
“I so don't want to know,” Tom mumbled. “Well see you later – Penny, got to talk in more normal surroundings.” He left.
So tell me Wind, what you see in that gal?”
“So girls what do you want to do now?” Jodie asked Jane and Daria, as the three girls made tracks from the school. “Who knew that today will be a half-day!”
“How about we go to Pizza Forest?” Daria suggested.
“Can't. Got a date with Tom,” Jane explained.
“Who’s Tom?” Jodie curiously asked.
“A boyfriend of Jane’s – from Fieldings,” Daria explained curtly.
“Well, got to go, bye!” Jane said.
“Jane wait!” Jodie said quickly.
“Kevin at two-fifteen!”
And indeed, Lawndale High’s head clown and “the QB”, Kevin Thompson, was making his way across the parking lot with his girlfriend, the head cheerleader, Brittany Taylor. He was telling her a joke – probably. “And so do you what’s the difference between a policeman and a donkey?” he was asking Brittany.
“Exactly! There is no difference!” Kevin beamed.
“Oh Kevvie! You're so smart!” Brittany cooed.
“Those two are hopeless,” Jane sighed.
“Is that what you and Tom do on your dates?” Daria asked.
“No, we’re discussing nuclear physics!” Jane snapped – obviously, this was a sore point between the two girls. “Daria, maybe you should go out on a date once in a while – it won’t hurt you.”
“With whom?” Daria softly asked, but Jodie fancied she heard a sword being drawn out of its’ sheath and took an involuntary step back.
Jane realized too that she has ventured too far into Daria-land and had to pull back, before her troops were slaughtered to the last person… and her troops consisted of only one person – herself. “Look, sorry, but you're giving me a hard time, Daria. Hate to sound Quinn-ly, but when people are on dates, they turn their brains off!”
“What about your brother, Wind?”
“Wind’s brain is constantly off. That’s why he is paying so many alimonies.”
“How many?” Jodie asked, curious.
“I have no idea and am unwilling to pry,” Jane complained. “Come on – walk me home?”
When the three girls approached Casa Lane, Penny Lane, Jane’s older sister, was waiting for them, before a background’s of Trent’s new song (thankfully, not about Wind):
“And the sun began to set in its’ gold bed-o’-sea,
The valiant knight, the brave St. George, came down the sea to…”
“Eh, what’s up, Pen?” Daria said, trying to imitateBugs Bunny – and not very successfully.
“Daria, Jane – let’s go,” Penny hurriedly said. “I don't think my skull can take anymore Trent’s singing.”
“It’s that type of a day, eh?” Jane said. “Say, did a boy named Tom come and asked about me?”
“Yeah – I told him you weren’t home, he left after a short dose of Trent,” Penny said grouchily. “Now Daria – your mother called, I'll be looking over you and your sister tonight.”
“At our place?” Daria asked.
“Judging from a expression, a ‘yes’ is what you’re waiting for,” Penny replied. “And ‘yes’, it is.”
“Okay,” Daria said. “Let’s go, then.”
None of the girls noticed a bird circling over the Lane house.
“Ah, Effïndïe, so nice of you to join us,” Calais croaked, releasing another tiny cloud of meat-smell into the air. “What’s the development?”
“The eggs are gathering over in the basket of Morgendorffer,” Effïndïe replied quietly. “And you, Calais, seem to be needing to lose some weight.”
Alecto and Monique exchanged gazes – the two needed to talk, in private.
“Alecto. Can we get over this morning’s incident, already?”
Alecto snorted. “It may be nothing to you, but it is something to me. I do not want to be o’er-thrown by Calais.”
“You won’t be.”
“You sure? Effïndïe will go with the flow, and you and Calais aren't getting into much arguments, lately.”
“Well, Calais was considerably more active than any of us, lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know that place, Pythoness’? I think Calais is making friends over there.”
“She does? Hmm… When this all comes over, then, by Alcestis and Xanthippe, Calais and I are going to have a little talk, to be sure.”
“You don't know?”
“Well, I met your siblings, for a change. Trent was blasting music about Wind, his brother and his pal, while Penny wasn't very happy to see me.”
“Yes, well, she and Monique got off a bad start, and I suppose it sort-of leaked onto you as well.”
“Oh. Well. This kind of sucks.”
There was a pause, and then Jane restarted their conversation. “So where were you last Monday and Tuesday?”
“On a school trip. To Boston,” Tom cheerfully said. “And I should add, I didn't know the Ruttheimers one bit.”
“What about that Vudrudakis character?”
“That old bat? Nina Joneston just had to kill that bulldog so close to her – an insult on top of an injury, it seems! This woman just loves animals, you know? She’s got a lot of cats and dogs and some unnamed rodents living around the house, on top of it all. Basically, not very popular around Upper Lawndale.”
“An’ life ain't nothing but a popularity contest wherever you look,” Jane sighed.
“True. But ‘tis only us humans who made that semi-official, ‘y’know?” Tom was not to be outdone by his girlfriend. “Anyways,” he continued, slipping back to normal, “do you have plans around this evening?”
“Uh-huh, and they do not include you,” Jane said firmly. “It’s girls night only.”
“Oh, what are folks in Hollywood – each one of them is true blue-blood!” Hassan was whistling cheerfully, as he and Aaron went down the street.
Aaron sighed. After listening to “strolling through the park”, his temper was shorter than it should be, when dealing with Hassan. “Look, if you’ll shut-up, I'll buy you a drink,” he suggested, forgetting what happened the last time Hassan had a drink. That happened in the capital of Texas, Dallas. And back then, Sophia warned Aaron what would happen, if the semi-Muslim Hassan would ever get his hands around another amount of alcoholic beverage. But what Sophia didn’t count on, is that Hassan didn’t forgot as to what has happened after he downed the fiery liquid. It made him six times as strong as when he was sober, and Hassan already was very, very strong. And Hassan was quite clever, too…
“You're on, comrade!” he declared boisteferously. “Give me your best shot!”
Aaron shivered and complied.
Angela Li sat on a bench in Lawndale park, thinking that perhaps she should re-start smoking (a habit she gave-up long ago). She was thinking thoughts – gloomy and shady, like autumn sky. The week was not going well. On top of the deaths of Ruttheimers, came the disappearance of Andrea Hecuba. That was not good going, Angela Li knew. Admittedly, the Goth girl dressed wretchedly and behaved worse. But she also didn't skip time in school – the principal suspected that was because she didn't have anything to do at home. And now, since Tuesday afternoon, no one has seen her anymore.
Ms. Li sighed. “Just what I really need at this moment – disappearing Goth girls! Sheesh! And damn that sense of rightfulness – I guess I'll have to find her.” She paused. “But later. Say – next week?”
“Talking to yourself, Angela? Oh my – senility setting-in, maybe.”
“Ah, shut-up and sit down, Tina!”
“Tell that to somebody else, Tina. Mrs. Griffin calls you Vicki Vanelk, her sister.”
“I doubt that. She may be unethical, but quite, quite, sane. Unlike some I could mention at this moment.”
“Angela. I'm serious. Let go of the past and take the present. You’ll just get yourself killed, which’ll be done. After all, you made me see the light.”
“So when is the oncoming train due?”
“I don't know – ask Jesse James,” Sophia sighed. “I'm telling you Angela – you’re out of practice and over your head.”
“You're tiring me Tina, really. I am who I know I am, and you don't have the resources at hand to change that formula.”
“That can be arranged, Angela, and you know it.”
“But not right now. You're too busy, looking for someone.”
“Someone already has been found – Nina Joneston!”
“Where’s the proof, then? She has killed the bulldog, all right, but the Ruttheimers? Tina, come on, you got rid of men – you know it’s done, so tell me, how could Nina Joneston drag Charles Ruttheimer Jr. and his son from Upper Lawndale to Merrimack River?”
“It seems that America has this wonderful new invention that didn't reach Texas and Mexico yet, called cars,” Sophia said suggestively.
“Oh, come on! Both you and the police examined Nina’s car and found no traces of Ruttheimers being transported via it. And keep in mind, this is a rich girl, somewhat spoilt by her grandmother, not one of your Texas ex-girl-friends.”
Sophia paused. “True, but do you have any idea? Your friends are out for blood?”
“My friends aren't for blood, and those who are, aren't my friends,” Angela Li replied critically.
“Well, who they are then?”
“Allies – at best. People whose interests come in contact with mine, more accurately.”
“Mmm… The years have hardened you even more, Angela, it seems,” Sophia shook her head.
Two old non-friends just silently sat on a bench, looking at the world surrounding them, like two birds on a tree branch. Angela, with her rounded haircut and glasses, looking like an owl, and Sophia, with her Greek/East European sharp features and black hair, looking like a crow.
Suddenly Sophia’s cell phone rang. “What is it?” she spoke harshly.
“Ms. Hakiojopoulos? This police sergeant Moore. Your men are acting in a dangerous fashion.”
“What do you mean?” Sophia asked, looking nervously at Angela, who was looking and listening-on with great interest.
The answer didn't abate her fears one bit: “One of your men, Ms., appears to be drunk.”
Sophia went off like a rocket, Angela Li following her closely behind.
Jane and Tom were walking down the Dega street, when noises and shouts from nearby caught their attention. “Uh, Jane?” Tom asked, curious. “What shall we do?”
“What can we do?” Jane asked.
“Stick around or run away,” Tom helpfully elaborated.
“Hmm…” Jane looked thoughtful. There was quite a crowd gathering to the fighting sounds already, and the odds were that quite a bit would join soon enough.
“Come on, let’s go and see what’s going on,” decided Jane.
Hassan was drunk; Hassan was happy; Hassan was feeling mighty powerful at the moment and was itching for a fight! And a fight was he getting, as various Dega street patrons and policemen tried to subdue him. But the drunken cross-bred could shoulder each and every one of them, as he ripped steel handcuffs like webbing. He ripped metal apart and he continued to laugh crazily.
Some distance away police sergeant Moore was talking to Aaron Guthan. “Do something! Restrain your savage!” he hissed.
“You wish!” Aaron snapped back. “This bloody Muslim infidel either doesn't touch a drop, or licks-out an entire pail-full of the bloody stuff, and till alcohol is aired-out of his brain, he is in such a state!”
“Guthan!” Sophia Hakiojopoulos seemingly wove herself out of thin air. “How the f*ck did Hassan get his paws on alcohol?”
“Lady sort things out with your men later; restrain him now, or will shoot him!” sergeant Moore snarled.
The situation indeed was getting out-of-controlled, as Hassan produced a whooping big knife out of nowhere, and waving intricate patterns with it in the air, accompanying it by some native dance of Caucasian mountain-men, was a plentifully disturbing sight, even for the Dega street.
Sophia sent a parting glance at Aaron, promising him Hell to come – it almost singed him like lightning – and then walked-out into the ‘arena’ clearing-it, except for Hassan, with nothing more than a clap with her hands. “Hassan,” she hissed softly. “Cut this out and look at me.”
Hassan didn't look but tried to move away. Unfortunately for him there was a building twelve steps behind him, and his back was soon against it, while Sophia Hakiojopoulos – his boss – was piercing his bulging, glassy eyes – from alcohol – with her trademark stare. Lightning bolts – metaphorically – came from them and transfixed him, firmly exorcising alcoholic vapours from his body and brain. He stood shock-still. “You quieted-down, fool?” Sophia asked coldly. “Then let’s go. You too, Aaron. We three are in for a talk.” The trio left, with Sophia almost dragging the taller and heavier Hassan by his right shoulder, and ape-like Aaron scurried behind them.
“Oh God – now that was freaky!” Jane Lane exclaimed, watching along with the rest of the crowd the weird procession disappearing in the distance. “I really, really hope never to see something like that again!”
“Now what would your sister and your friend Daria think, Miss Lane?” Angela Li spoke from behind the lanky girl.
“Yah!” Jane leapt a foot in the air. “Ms. Li, what are you doing here? How did you sneak-up on us like that?”
“I am a woman of many talents, Miss Lane, and who’s your friend? Not a student of Lawndale High, I know.”
“I'm Tom Sloane; I'm going to Fieldings,” Tom said, uncomfortable – he was rather shocked by the display as well.
“Sloane? Future member of ‘Grace, Sloane and Page’, I presume?”
“That’s my father, yes,” Tom nodded. “Angier Sloane.”
“Ah, I see,” Ms. Li replied; her facial expression spoke volumes to Jane, and made her especially uneager to have a private talk with her high school’s principal.
“Come on Tom, let’s get out of here, the show’s over, it seems,” she quickly said.
“Miss Lane, not so fast. I have some school-related matters to discuss with you – perhaps you and your beau can re-meet some time later, no?” the older woman firmly spoke.
With an apologetic look at Jane, Tom quickly fled.
“Well, Miss Lane, I must say – congratulations. To catch the eye of a scion of one of the better-doing Lawndale families – quite an accomplishment for a girl like you.”
“Ms. Li, please, we’re nothing more than friends.”
“Miss Lane, how old are you?”
“Eighteen. So what about it?”
“You're entering adulthood, that’s what. As a result, you stop being ‘just’ friendly with the members of opposite sex and/or your own,” Ms. Li replied calmly.
“Is that personal experience?” Jane asked, flushed.
Ms. Li smiled slightly – something that she hadn’t done in a while. “You’ll never know, Miss Lane,” she said in such a buttery voice, that Jane realized that that was something that will hold true till the end of time – the world’s, Ms. Li’s, or her own.
“So what did you want to talk to me about, ma’am?” she asked instead.
“Tell me, Miss Lane, when was the last time you saw Miss Hecuba?”
“Andrea? Hah, that’s funny. Quinn Morgendorffer – Daria’s sister – said that Andrea has vanished during school’s lunch time on Tuesday.”
“Tuesday again, hah?” Ms. Li looked genuinely thoughtful. “Just great. Another possible murder. Wonderful.”
“Aw, come on, Ms. Li – Andrea probably just ran away. She’s street smart, she can make it!”
“So’s whoever killed the Ruttheimers, Miss Lane, and he or she is much more dangerous than Miss Hecuba. Besides, think about it: ever since last Sunday or this Monday Andrea was raising a storm – till her very disappearance. This has ‘getting rid of inconvenient person’ written all over.”
“You think – Sophia and her henchmen?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Ms. Lane, take your memory firmly and tell me what has happened on Tuesday before Miss Hecuba disappeared.”
Jane nodded, and began remembering.
“Dad? Mom? Elsie? Is anybody home?”
“Yes son, me and your mother haven't left home yet, and your sister came home earlier than you – I wonder why,” Angier Sloane spoke as he came downstairs.
“I don't suppose I can come with you two? I am older now than five years ago, yes,” Tom said, a little wistfully.
Angier chuckled. “In words of a great sage, who happened to be my mother – ‘No’. Now why the shake-up appearance, son?”
“Just saw the investigator lady in action, dad,” Tom shook his head. “She’s something, I tell you.”
“Just don't tell that to your mother – she’s jealous of other women’ prowess.”
“Of what woman’s prowess should I be jealous-off this time?” Kay Sloane asked as she came downstairs.
“Of the investigator lady,” Tom replied, a little bit uncomfortable. “At least that's what dad says.”
“Ah yes. The Greek girl. Yes, I should be jealous of her – especially of her nose. Isn't it right, honey?”
“Whatever you say,” Angier chuckled.
Tom just shook his head and went to search for his younger sister, Elsie.
“So Miss Hecuba vanished as if carried away by the wind?” Ms. Li sceptically asked Jane Lane, who nodded. “Great, just great. After such things, one may start to believe in supernatural. And her parents are out of town too. This is just great!!”
“Nice to see you have your prerogative in order,” Jane commented.
“I do, I do. Whatever Miss Hecuba does in her free time is one thing, when she gets in trouble in school or on school grounds, that’s another matter entirely. You sure that the Morgendorffer girls aren't involved?”
“Then the town’s in trouble.”
Jake, Helen and Amy were preparing for the soiree, meanwhile. “Oh God, I cannot wait to see Rita,” Helen mumbled, “she’s my next favourite Barksdale after mother.”
“Helen, honey,” Jake began, but Amy interrupted him:
“Helen, simmer down already. I want to go even less, but still…”
“Amy, you’re a celebrity, you’ll have to go.”
“Helen, stop buttering me up!”
“Amy, in Lawndale, this is not buttering.”
“Come on, Lawndale is in Massachusetts, not Alaska!”
The doorbell rang. The two women looked at Jake, who gulped and went forth bravely to open it. “Please let it not be Rita, please let it not be Rita,” he silently prayed as he opened the door. On the other side was Paul Podgio, Rita’s husband.
“Gah! Paul! What a surprise! How are you doing?”
“Come down, Jake,” the other man said with some amusement. “Helen is ready?”
“We're ready,” Helen replied, as she and Amy made their way downstairs. “How’s Rita doing, Paul?”
Amy was secretly impressed at Helen’s self-control. Apparently, when the oldest Barksdale sister wanted to, she could be quite cool and commanding.
“Rita’s doing fine,” Paul replied. “Can't wait to see Eugene’s latest stunts.”
“Say Paul, why didn’t you invite your brother to your wedding?” Amy asked curiously. “Probably saved cash on the photographer as well.”
“Eugene is a little bit odd, shall we say so?” Paul said, uneasily. “Oh, he’s a great photographer, but a bit odd, too.”
“Maybe he should see a therapist?” Jake suggested, in his usual helpful-but-blundering manner.
“No, it’s more of an oddity of a talented person,” Paul replied, a bit sadly. “I don't have any talent when it comes to photography, or anything else.” He paused. “Well – shall we go.”
“Certainly,” Helen nodded. “One last question – how’re Erin and Brian?”
“Oh fine, fine – a bit high-strung through, like all honey-mooners are. Remember your own youth, Jake?”
Jake paused. He and Helen spent their youth on their working stations in Texas, not far from Mexican borders, and it was something he was preferring to not remember.
“Let’s go,” Amy said before Jake could say anything. “It’s not polite to be late, you know?”
“They’re gone,” Daria told Quinn, as they stood upstairs.
“Oh good. Now excuse me Daria, I've got to use the phone,” Quinn quickly said.
“Oh? Whom are you calling?”
“Sandi, she and the Fashion club are coming over to keep us company.”
“What? Quinn! I've already invited Jodie and Jane!”
“So? Jane’s sister is the baby-sitter, and Jodie… oh boy!”
“Jerry Springer, Quinn?” Daria angrily asked. “Gods, but what were you thinking?”
“Daria! Sandi’ll be all alone with her little brothers this evening! With The Decapitator wandering around, she’ll be scared!”
“The Decapitator? Quinn, you made it up or has it reached the newspapers?”
“The newspapers, Daria, the newspapers. So can Sandi come over here?”
“Can't Mack come over there and keep her company?” Daria replied, unwilling to be outdone by Quinn.
Quinn stared. “Daria! I can't believe it!”
“Can't believe what?”
“Such viciousness, such vehemence – Daria, Jodie is your friend now, hah?”
“Quinn, what are you talking about?”
“You’ve got another friend now on top of Jane – and it is Jodie Landon! Cool! Just wait till mom and dad learn about that!”
Daria groaned. “Quinn, you won. Just remember – if this evening goes to Hell, part of this fault will be yours.”
“And part will be yours,” the younger Morgendorffer girl agreed readily. “Well, I’m off to phone – ciao!”
Tom and Linda Griffin were also preparing to go out.
“Do we have to, Linda?” Tom Griffin was unhappy and voiced his opinions loudly.
“Yes, we have to!” Linda snapped. “I'm finally going somewhere, and I will not let your attitude stand in my way!”
“Well, if it’ll help you finally get over your slump – fine!” Tom cursed. Then he turned to his children. “Sandi, Sam, Chris – I hope you’re ready to go to.”
“Why do we have to be baby-sat,” Sam grumbled.
“Because odd times are upon us,” Linda said, quoting Alecto. Damn, that female was really rubbing off on her. The others didn't know that (though Sandi suspected something since last Tuesday). What they heard, though, that no argument will be accepting, and complied.
The Griffin house soon was empty.
The Landons – or rather Michelle Landon – was also preparing her offspring to leave. “Now Jodie, you have your father’s phone with you?” she asked.
“Yes mom, don't worry,” Jodie replied. “I’m not that absent-minded.”
“Thanks Jo’,” Michelle Landon smiled sadly. “Pity that your father isn't such a hard-headed-“
“Mom! Rachael and Evan are listening!”
“Well, I'll drive you off! Let’s go.”
While all of this was going Nina Joneston sat in her house. The dusk was falling, and as light was fading, she kept hearing-on stranger and scarier sounds by the minute. “It’s nothing, it’s nothing,” she tried to tell herself. “It’s just some odd sounds.” She paused. “No, it’s my cousin. I've got to contact cousin Jodie and tell her all.”
As she went towards the phone, she didn't hear noises around her front door…
“Well, girls what shall we do while downstairs is mobbed?” Penny Lane asked with a nonchalant smile her sister and Daria.
“I'm worried,” Daria admitted, “as to what’ll happen when Jodie and Sandi will have to stay under one roof.
“I'm sure nothing’ll happen,” Penny grinned. “Say Daria – how ‘bout we entertain Jane with some of our El Paso tales?”
“Why not,” Daria agreed.
“I'm game,” Jane added.
“Very well, then…”
Another phone rang. “Yes?” Tom Sloane spoke into it.
“Thanks for the ride, little buddy,” a woman’s voice laughed in the receiver.
“Ah be quiet,” Tom grumbled. The day when he had run into the Harpies had been black, and ever since – well, it wasn't any whiter. “Just get on with it, for whatever insane reasons you have.”
“Our reasons aren't insane,” Alecto’s voice sounded in the receiver. “Calais, of course, is another story, but she isn't reasonable, either.”
“Your sense of humour shakes me to my very soul,” Tom sarcastically laughed.
Alecto’s voice instantly hardened. “Very well, I'll get to the business now.” All Harpies knew that when the heir apparent was talking about something and mentioned his soul, which was non-existent, then the topic meant to him as little as water sinking into sand. And Alecto liked her own humour. “One of us may call you later on – we may need your strength, for all we know.”
“Well, talk to you later then. Maybe.”
Alecto hanged-up. Tom Sloane just sat in his room, watching with his eyes how the sun set – but for good or evil, he didn't know.
Night was falling onto Lawndale once again, but unknown to Lawndalians, this night was packing more shockers than the fourth of July.