This is a continuation of my previous fic, “A Chain Reaction Begins”. In it, the Ruttheimer line gets cut-off, we see how Linda Griffin and Amy Barksdale met, and Sandi Griffins confers in her fellow Fashion Club members about her family legend. Part two 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.
Things started to speed-up shortly afterwards. As the toll collector Curtis Stalato would later tell the investigators, the beginning went like this:
“There was this cloud of dust coming through this here road, inspector, through this here road. A great big cloud of dust, bigger than any dust devil I ever saw before. And right out of the middle of that cloud came some loud, really strange singing – and not in English, too. Then, as the cloud drew closer, I recognized that this wasn't a dust devil, but some really weird car, a van, maybe, but bigger and sturdier than any van I have seen before. The driver was some guy, not Arabic, not Caucasian, but somewhere still from Middle East, I presume. It was he, who was singing. Further in the van I've managed to catch glimpses of two people, but that’s all I can tell you, I swear!”
And so then, the mysterious van arrived in Lawndale around five-thirty in the evening, and stopped right before the Landon house, finally showing-off its’ passengers to the world. But meanwhile, others in Lawndale didn't nod-off either…
“So Jane, why did you want me over in such a hurry?”
“Things have started to grow weird, Daria!” Jane said, looking a bit scared. “First Penny goes into a trance, and then comes-out, shocked, saying nonsense!”
“Okay, calm down,” Daria quickly said. “Is she on a trip? I remember when you, me and Trent got O.D.’Ed from the fumes of that revolutionary new paint of yours, and had a really weird trip about the holidays.”
“That was no overdose, I experienced, Daria, but a genuine trip into the spiritual realm,” Penny said, her voice ringing.
“No insult intended,” Daria said, “but I've read that such trips are first pre-lined by consumption of some mushrooms or such.”
“Nah, in my case I've learned to do with tequila,” Penny replied nonchalantly. “The thing is, there’s somebody in town, someone adult, who has a non-human soul.”
“And now you’re going to explain to us this concept, one part at a time,” Daria firmly said.
“All right. We’ll talk and walk.”
“I don't know,” said Jane, “too many destructions…”
“And the man gonna go after his sodden star,
Which may lead him to the frozen north,
Where men breathe in steam, polar lights never dim,
And the bears are polar, of course!”
Trent’s voice came from the basement loud and clear, followed by the music he deserved from the rest of Mystik Spiral. Daria and the Lane sisters were out of the door before the next verse was heard.
The door slammed in the Griffin residence. “Linda, are you okay?” Tom Griffin called-out from his room.
“Fine!” Linda snarled back. “I just have one mean headache, that is all! Please, do not bother me till dinner or later!”
“Okay,” replied Tom Griffin, returning to his newspaper.
The eyes of Angela Li snapped open. Moments before, an echo of extreme agony had reached her mind. Somebody’s mind-core has been laid open – and resented that. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Angela felt it in her guts. “Well, when always in doubt, or worrying,” she spoke to herself, “follow your gut.”
She went out.
“Penny, we’re out of range of Mystik Spiral, starting talking!” Jane demanded her older sister.
Penny nodded. “Okay. Do you know about reincarnation?”
Jane and Daria exchanged glances. First Ms. Li, now Penny? What gives?
“It's when people get reborn into cockroaches and stuff?” Jane volunteered.
“Something like that,” Penny said. “In the original, unedited version, when a living thing dies, the gods evaluate its’ karma and judge what it’ll become in the next life. Only a chosen few get to keep their memories of the previous life, and some may try to forget, I suppose.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere,” Daria deadpanned.
“Daria, how can you carry your ego… Anyhow, the reincarnation motto isn't really Chinese; it’s Buddhist, and as such is distributed freely over Far East, starting from India and Tibet eastwards.”
“And, as a result, a human may not be reincarnated as a bug, but as a demon of the underworld as well. Naturally, the reverse is true too, I suppose.”
“So what we have here in Lawndale is a human whose past life was a demon?”
“Plus something evil is coming to Lawndale on its’ own.”
“Life just couldn't be much better,” Daria sighed. “Hey, we're near the Landons’ house. Why?”
“’Cause they seem to be in the middle of this whole mumbo-jumbo,” Jane said. “Now let’s hush-up and watch!”
Angela Li frowned. As her brain suspected, her instincts had led her to the Landon house – only natural, since this whole day was centred on them. And there was a suspicious-looking van parked in front of it.
Ms. Li crouched in her vantage point and watched.
There was a knock on the door in the Landons’ house. “Mom? There are some strangers at the door!” Rachael called-out.
“Oh really?” Michelle asked and came downstairs, and opened the door.
Outside stood a rather picturesque trio. The leftmost person was a small, sturdy man of Jewish nationality, with extremely long and muscular arms, however. He looked like an ape.
The rightmost person was, on the other hand, of Arabic descent. Or maybe not. He looked like a highwayman from some medieval Middle Eastern flick all the same. And in the centre…
And in the centre stood a woman about Michelle Landon’s age. Tall, thin, graceful, there was something of a wildcat in her, and rather big amount, too. The woman’s hair was long and black and braided in a single strand. “Hello, Michelle,” the woman said warmly, with a barely discernable accent.
“Hello, Stephania!” Michelle smiled back.
“Eh, how do you know mom?” Jodie asked with some concern. Just a smidgen.
“I just do,” the woman smiled at Jodie. “I’m Stephania Hakiojopoulos, and I'm here to help you out with your high school principal problem.”
“Really?” Jodie asked sceptically. “And those two guys are?”
“On my right is Hassan – he does all the heavy work. On my left is Aaron – he collects information.”
“Stephania!” Michelle said, mock-sternly. “You have your own plans for coming here, don't you?”
“And please don’t tell me you didn’t have some selfish interests in inviting me, Michelle,” Stephania said right back.
“True… But where are my manners? Please, come in – all of you,” Michelle said.
The trio went-in. The door to Landon house closed.
“I think I can say for the three of us – those three are trouble!” Jane told her sister and Daria.
“Make it Trouble with a capital letter,” Penny said grimly. “If only we knew who that Stephania woman was…”
“I think I can provide the information,” another voice spoke from behind the trio.
“Ms. Li,” Daria said flatly. “What are you doing here?”
“The same thing as you,” Ms. Li replied. “The only things are, we know different things. Why won't we go to my place and share them?”
“This could work,” Penny said. “Let us leave together.”
“Well, we’re here,” said Ms. Li a short while later. “Care for a drink?”
“Tequila?” Penny asked, semi-suspiciously, semi-hopefully.
“Ch’ai,” Ms. Li shook her head. “Green tea. I don't drink alcohol; that’s Anthony DeMartino’s department.”
“You don't look like a tea drinker,” Daria stated.
“I can’t help it. All of those carbonated cola drinks gets me hyper and crazy,” Ms. Li admitted. “And as for caffeine, it is much better in chocolate.”
“Mmm, chocolate,” Penny nodded wisely. “I remember a cocoa plantation. You can’t imagine what I did to it.”
“It wasn’t episode of SSW last year?” Jane looked suspicious. “I don't have such good memory unless it’s Lane genealogy, but I do remember that peccaries and bromeliads were involved.”
“Can we get back to track?” Daria spoke sharply. “Ms. Li, who is that Stephania woman?”
“She’s a federal inspector. If she doesn’t find things to her liking here, she may cause trouble for the entire town.”
“And her friends?”
“Her assistants. I don’t know who they are.”
“Look, how much trouble can one woman cause?” Jane argued.
“She isn't just one woman, Miss Jane Lane. She’s got two assistants, who looked rather intimidating, some unknown equipment in the van, almost certain assistance of Michelle and possibly Jodie Landon, and I’m not sure that Linda Griffin will stay out of this either.”
“Speaking of Linda Griffin, I think that Stephania woman looks rather like her,” Daria admitted.
“It is irrelevant,” Penny turned to her. “What worries me about all this is what will she be up to?”
“Now that is relatively easy to find-out,” Angela Li spoke. “Allow me.”
She dialled the Landons’ phone number.
“Hello? Who is it?”
“This is Angela Li, Jodie’s high school principal. I wanted to apologize for my behaviour earlier – who is this?”
“This is Stephania Hakiojopoulos, Angela. You know who I am.”
“And why are you here?”
“Business. I have been summoned here. See you later!”
Ms. Li put down the receiver. “Well, that was encouraging,” she said dryly.
The other three looked suspiciously at her. “My mom and aunt Rita have more dialogue over the phone than you two did!” Daria said. “Do you know her before Lawndale?”
“Yes. She’s a federal inspector. She inspects various places back of beyond like Lawndale on the topic of social trustworthiness.”
“Hey! That’s America! The homeland of democracy!” Penny said sarcastically.
“Funny, I always thought that it were ancient Greece and Rome,” Daria said wryly.
“Oh, America is democratic as possible, with just one catch,” Ms. Li said with her own sarcasm. “You only have to be capitalistic, and all will be just fine. If not – then not.”
“Hey!” Jane said, with some suspicion in her face. “Tell me, when did you and Stephania what’s-her-last-name crossed paths?”
“Before I became principal at Lawndale High.”
“And it was when?”
“When you didn't go to the kindergarten,” Ms. Li replied primly.
“You're not that old,” Penny shook her head. “Unless…”
“Well, you have that Goth girl Andrea in the school, right?”
Ms. Li made a dismissive gesture. “Please. I do not want to discuss her. That subject is too painful. That marvellous piece of rubbish is like an abscess in her class. And the teachers won't dare to do something against her because then her father will step-in, a bloody gorilla in leathers, and will start telling about unfairness of everything, while emphatically shaking his boulder-sized fists under one’s nose. Peace and fairness for everyone! Please! Andrea’s father doesn't have any right…”
“Excuse me,” Daria interrupted Ms. Li’s rant. “You see, Andrea had come to me earlier today, and warned me that something was wrong in Lawndale, and the Landons’ were in the midst of it. We’ll leave that forewarning for now. She also administered astonishment in your belief in reincarnation system.”
“She said that it was impossible for someone with your aura to believe in reincarnation – unless you weren't human.”
“Well, it would be. But Penny double-checked, and told us that something bad was coming to Lawndale – Stephania and her team, who’re staying at Landons’, like Andrea told me, and that there was a demon reincarnated as a human in Lawndale as well.”
Ms. Li looked thoughtful. She thought about that echo of mental pain that awoke her from the sleep. Obviously, Penny Lane found something much bigger than she was about to handle. “Miss Morgendorffer,” she spoke in a no-nonsense voice. “Your Goth friend may have some skill in reading aura or such – although, personally, I doubt that. She may be a good estimator of personalities instead – for her age. She was quite mistaken about my identity, I assure you. As for Miss Penny Lane – it’s not relevant for now.”
“She’s right,” Jane spoke-up. “Let’s get back to Stephania what’s-her-last-name. What kind of trouble can she cause?”
“There’s nothing solid or specific, of course,” Ms. Li said, grimly, “and my channels of information aren’t that good or trustworthy, of course, but I heard rumours that Stephania and her friends have done an incognito investigation at Columbine High school and the neighbouring areas before the shootings started… That’s just the recent news, of course, but basically, Stephania and her team go around looking for trouble, and find it with plenty for others to share – and share it they do!”
“Aw, come on, it’s just a rep!” Daria argued.
“Aw, come on, Daria!” Jane aped her friend. “You saw her and her aides. I may not read auras like Andrea, but anyone could see that they were trouble!”
“Our trouble is that we don't know what they’re up to,” Daria said.
“Yes, they must make the first move,” Angela Li nodded. “More tea?”
Another phone rang. “Who is it?” Linda Griffin spoke into the receiver.
“Hello, Linda.” The voice was soft, yet brought down shivers down Linda’s spine.
“That’s me, Linda. Want to come over to my latest crushing joint and say ‘hi’?”
Linda smashed the receiver down. “So you’re here?” she spoke quietly to yourself. “Well, I’m not licked yet. I will get you – one way or another.” She quietly re-dressed, and went outside, to see a possible ally.
“I wonder where Daria is,” Helen nervously said. “That Lane boy said that she wasn't with his sisters at their home; in fact, both Jane and Penny were out.”
“Don't worry,” Amy said reassuringly. “I'm sure that Daria is fine. It’s not even sunset yet – not by a long shot!” There was a knock at the door. “See, it’s probably her,” Amy said and opened the door.
It was Linda Griffin instead.
“Linda?” Amy said, trying to hide her confusion. “Why are you here?”
“I need your intelligence,” Linda said simply. “A big, bad problem from my past came here, and want your help to put it down to rest.”
“Linda, I don’t know what to say-“
“Then here me out first. It all started-“
Linda Griffin sat, nervously, in the office of the TV company – her company, in the sense that she was going to work here, not that Amy Barksdale. Oooh, how she hated her! More than even Vicki, in all probability.
Thinking of Vicki abated Linda’s emotions a little. After all, her sister had given her some cash to promote Linda’s ‘cause’. Maybe she wasn’t so bad. And that tongue-lashing in El Paso – well Sandi did kind-of allowed herself to be taken by those two street-vendors, even if they were also kids. ANYWAYS, the money was spent, all that was needed to say was written down and handed over to Linda’s current, and most assuredly, future, superiours, and all Linda now had to do was to await for her triumph and for Amy Barksdale’s failure.
A door opened. “Mrs. Griffin? Come in.”
Linda walked-in, her worries mounting-up once more. Something was wrong.
Once inside, Linda’s worries multiplied. Amy Barksdale wasn’t alone with her was another woman, a few years older than either Amy or Linda, and with a certain air of self-assurance and determination. “Mrs. Griffin? Meet Mrs. Helen Morgendorffer, a lawyer and a sister of Miss Barksdale.”
Amy has a lawyer sister? Bad. And judging from the look that sister gave Linda – even worse. “Hello,” said Linda as professionally as possible.
“Hello,” Helen Morgendorffer said, outdoing Linda at the professional game without a problem. “Mrs. Griffin, I'm here on business.”
“So she guessed,” Amy Barksdale spoke in her usual manner. “Helen, get to the point.”
“Yes,” Mr. Baldwin, Linda’s superiour, spoke. “Please do.”
He likes Amy’s sister, Linda realized. Bad.
“Very well. Mrs. Griffin, do you or do you not have a sister alive and in a good health?”
“That’s common-place knowledge,” Linda said tried to hide nervousness. “What’s so incriminating about this?”
“What is the occupation of your sister?”
“I admit that I have no idea about it,” Linda admitted. It was bad enough that Helen Morgendorffer managed to grasp the control of this conversation so quickly; Linda should try to minimize that control as quickly as possible. “My sister lives in El Paso, me and my family live in Troy’s suburbs. We don't make contacts much often.”
“What about that visit two months ago, in August?”
“That was different,” Linda said, flustered. “We wanted to have a reunion. Unfortunately, our differences proved to be great.”
“Say,” Mr. Baldwin spoke thoughtfully, “didn't you have a bit of financial uplift after that, in September?”
“If it is so, Mrs. Griffin, than that’s bad for you,” Helen Morgendorffer said, flatly. “Your sister, Miss Vanelk, is currently wanted by FBI, as well as Texan state police and Interpol for being a willing and powerful participant in a gold smuggling ring. Many of other members have already been arrested.”
Linda felt as if floor had fallen from under her feet. “Gold smuggling?” she said.
“This looks bad for you, Mrs. Griffin,” said Mr. Baldwin. “We cannot have people with criminal relatives involved in our company.”
Linda’s face drained out of blood completely. “But, but,” she managed to say – all in vain.
She had lost.
As she was leaving, Linda Griffin cast one more glance at the Barksdale-Morgendorffer sisters. Helen was talking to Mr. Baldwin with a cool, calm, nonchalant air. “Someday,” Linda swore to myself, “someday, I will be as professional as her, and will make people pay for my humiliation!”
Unfortunately, the fate wasn’t over yet. When Linda drove back to Troy, no one else was awaiting her, but her own sister, Vicki.
To say that Linda was shocked, was an understatement. She gaped, like a fish out of water. “What are you doing here?” she managed to say. “I know all about you!”
“That’s not important,” Vicki shook her head. “And I’m Stephania Hakiojopoulos now, also.”
Linda’s eyes bulged. Her infamous ‘gorgon’ temper was coming-out after a long, self-forced restraint. “I don’t care who you are, Vicki; it’s what you are, now, that matters.”
“And I, now, work for the government!” Vicki laughed her trademark, silvery laughter that Linda hated with all of her heart. “It’s all the matter of kissing-up to the right people, you know? And now I'm a federal inspector, and somebody else is out of job! Not you, of course,” she said hurriedly, seeing how Linda’s expression turned from angry to murderous in less than a heartbeat.
“Yes, me,” Linda said, coming closer to her sister. “I got fired due to your previous activities, Vicki Vanelk. That’s who you are, Vicki – a criminal, whose greed and malice greater than her wits!”
“Pot and kettle, dear, pot and kettle. Trademark of our Greek ancestors – one of them, anyways.”
“At least you don't quote one of family’s legends, which tell about how our forefather charmed a female monster into becoming his wife!”
Vicki smirked. “Maybe it’s a fact, you know? Anyways, sorry you about losing your coveted job. But never fear. You’ll be able to restart someplace. At some different job, of course, but, you know, win some lose some!”
The only thing that prevented Linda from going after Vicki’s throat was that her sister was much stronger than her. That was just of unfair hands that life had dealed to Linda.
“Vicki, go away,” she finally said. Her self-restraint cost her a lot of heavy mental anguish, but it still was there. “Go away, and I don't want to see you again. Ever.”
“If you ever need cash for bribing, search for me in North Dakota,” Vicki said and drove away.
Linda went inside and got drunk.
“You know,” Amy thoughtfully said, when Linda finished speaking, “that sister of yours sounds like such a rotter that world has never seen before. The only question is, what’s the events of fourteen years in the past got to do with the present?”
“Simple,” Linda said grimly. “She somehow knows Michelle Landon – and Michelle Landon invited her, or rather – Stephania Hakiojopoulos, here. To Lawndale. And so, I’m asking you, Amy, to back me up if things go bad.”
Amy looked doubtful. “Very well, I'll help you, though I know yet how.”
Linda looked relieved. “Don't worry. We still have time for manoeuvering.”
“Good. Now can I ask you for one more request?”
“What’s that family legend you have mentioned?”
Linda looked pained.
Another meeting of Fashion Club was in order. All were present, though all gave nervous looks to each other. “So what are we going to discuss today?” Stacy nervously asked.
The meeting was being held in Lawndale park. Due to recent events, holding the meetings inside no longer appealed to four girls. “Uh, Sandi, I just want you to know that I heard your mom tell my aunt Amy, that you aunt was in town,” Quinn said, somewhat shyly.
Sandi gasped. “Seriously?” she said.
“I heard it with my own two ears! And boy, is your mom upset!”
“Was she telling about our family legend?” Sandi asked, nervously.
“No; yes. She mentioned it during the greater story, but what’s it about?”
Sandi looked embarrassed: “I don’t want to speak about it.”
“Ow, but Sandi, what if it is really cool and stuff?” Stacy piped-up.
“Yeah,” Tiffany said, placidly.
“That’s okay,” Quinn said quickly, remembering the weekend’s events. “If Sandi doesn't want to tell, it’s okay. After all, it would be probably something embarrassing, like a Mary-and-Joseph story.”
“Huh?” Stacy looked blanked.
“You know, the Birth of Christ? Conceiving without sin outside the marriage bed? You know? Christ not being related to Joseph and all.”
Stacy didn't get it; Tiffany did get it, but kept quiet; Sandi also did and was quite emphatic about it: “It’s nothing like what you're suggesting, Quinn!” she said. “It’s just a silly piece of family history, that’s all!”
“Then tell us, and get over it!” Quinn said. “We’ll keep quiet about it; right, guys?” she gave a pointy look towards Stacy. “After all, we’re going to the same school as Jane Lane: now her family history is embarrassing.”
“Yeah,” Tiffany agreed: now seemed the appropriate time for it; and besides, she agreed with Quinn.
Sandi wavered. “Well guys, okay. But it’s, like, totally geeky and stuff.”
“Family history often is,” Quinn agreed. “But we can't just cut it off, you know? So spill!”
And Sandi spilled.
Mack was quietly walking through the park, when he heard some voices some distance away from him. The Fashion Club? What were they doing here? Confused, Mack got closer to the voices.
And so he also heard Sandi’s family story.
“Our family comes from a (relatively) big village in Rhodope Mountains in Bulgaria, some distance between the Greek border and Plovdiv. Our ancestors lived in Bulgaria from uncountable times and till the end of WWI. And because of such close proximity with Greeks, our ancestors were considered more Greek (or Turkish) than Bulgarian. And so, here’s what had leaked-out from the Greek proximity…
The first Vanelk, well, not Vanelk exactly, back then there were no last names; no concept of them at all, in fact; but the Vanelks’ first real ancestor, was a man named Simeon. And this Simeon was considered a wizard, almost a necromancer, amongst his fellow villagers; in short, he was kind of ostracized because of it; lived on the outskirts of the village, all alone. His property consisted really just a house and a (relatively) small yard. And he didn't keep any live livestock: not a dog, not a chicken, no anything. And yet – he somehow lived. Rumours circulated that Simeon was not even a human, but a ghoul of some sort. Still, no action was done about it…
And so, one day, a stranger arrived from over the Greek border – a strange wrapped-over in clothes from head to toe. Only eyes were visible: they almost flashed with strange, metallic light – but that was probably just light reflecting from them… Anyways, when the stranger spoke, the villagers realized that she was a Greek – but, apparently, from some really remote place, for she spoke with some strange hissing accent. And so, both this strange accent, that strange glare, and the fact that she was wrapped completely in clothing, earned the stranger a really quick mistrust of the villagers. This was too bad, since the stranger wanted a lodging – for a few days, weeks, even, because she walked for some time by now, and just wanted rest. The villagers were in a quandary: none wanted to have such a strange lodger, but they didn't want to anger her with an outright refusal; so Simeon’s number pretty quickly came-up. The stranger was directed over there. In their hearts, many, if not most, villagers hoped, that the strange and scary wanderer, and the may-be ghoul and wizard may finish each other off…
…Stheno grumpily looked-around the shack. She disliked her newest dwelling at the first sight: a house that was rather like a two-storey tower, and a yard that was surrounded by a tall fence that had a tall, rectangular door, that kind-of resembled a coffin lid. And – nothing live inside. Just a somewhat scrawny vegetable garden.
In short, a perfect place for her to take a rest.
Stheno came-in and looked around. Apparently, two storeys were not enough; there was a hatch to an apparent cellar as well. Interesting…
As Stheno took-off her turban, she shook her hair free, trying to untangle her disobedient locks. No luck; they were tangled-up as usual, a regular snakes’-nest. Oh well; no one here will admire them anyways; besides, although whenever Stheno looked in the mirror, she didn't think that she was homely; but people got uncomfortable when she looked at them.
To say the least.
Suddenly, Stheno felt that she wasn’t alone in the room. She turned around.
A man stared at her.
Stheno stared back.
The man was pale-skinned (and Stheno, though not as full-bloodied as the people native to this country was still pretty swarthy), and looked pretty discerning. And he had a weird gaze: flat, dead, and yet somehow perceptive.
The man yawned, showing-off his sharp teeth. “And who are you, o picture of beauty?” he spoke flatly.
Stheno guessed that that was sarcasm: the tone didn't match the words, and besides, no one had ever called her beautiful.
“I was told that I could lodge here. For free,” she said, feeling worried for the first time since she fled her home in Chalcidice.
“Were you now? Hmmm… I hate to agree with my neighbours, but they are right. You can stay here for free…on one condition.”
Stheno stared at him. Normally, even when her face was wrapped-up in the turban, her stare was very effective. However, although her face was fully unwrapped at this moment, the man didn’t show any signs of peoples’ usual reaction to Stheno’s gaze in the least, while Stheno herself was growing uneasy by the moment. “What condition?” she said.
“I'm the master here. What you do outside my property is no concern of mine, but if you bring anything inside, you’ll have to answer to me.”
“Because this is my house. I lived here first, and will continue to live here after you moved-on.”
“Now why would I want to move-on?” This was a challenge. Stheno didn't like to run from challenges.
“Because I know how you are at heart,” the man said flatly. “I have knowledge, you know, and some power, and I've been to Greece before I settled here. And I know that it’ll take a pretty powerful reason for you to stay here, because of who you are. It’s always the case with your kind.”
Stheno felt blood rush to her face – her old ailment. Her eyes bulged and the tongue lolled out of her mouth. She charged the man.
A few moments later she was flat on her ass on the floor, her head spinning from a hard blow to her forehead.
“As I said,” the man nonchalantly continued speaking, as if nothing out of ordinary had happened, “I’m the man of the house, and I plan for it to stay this way. You want to stay here – fine by me; but if there’ll be any dispute, I want to have the last word on any matter; you clear on that?”
“And also to be able to force yourself on me whenever you feel likely?” Stheno asked. She didn't doubt that the stranger could do that if he wanted to.
The owner of the house laughed. “No, that’s something that I won't do, my dear demoness. But my own point still stands. Do we have a deal?”
Nonetheless, that didn’t happen. The strange woman went to Simeon’s house and stayed there. And continued to live there, to the surprise and speculation of the villagers. Rumours began to circulate anew: what normal woman could live in close proximity with such a man?
And then a shepherd, younger and braver (or maybe more curious or foolhardy), added the fuel to the fire: one night he decided to see what was going-on inside the wizard’s house? He took a peak and fled to the village’s tavern, all white from fright. According to him, he saw a white-skinned ghoul with long claws and scimitar-like fangs engaged in a sexual act with a scaly-skinned, serpent-haired she-demon with iron eyes. No one believed the shepherd, of course, yet the next time he took his herd to the hills, he never returned, though he flock did – in bits and pieces, three or five sheep at a time. And the searching party found nothing of the man as well.
Meanwhile, back in the village, it was obvious that Simeon and the stranger – she had a weird name, even for a Greek – were living as a man and wife, and soon had a girl-child. Their daughter apparently resembled her mother, since she didn't look anything like her father, yet she didn't seem to have her mother’s strange eyes… When she came of age, a passing knight of prince Mstislav’s court fell in love with her, married her, and took her and her parents to live with him in Sofia…
“This is a weird story,” Tiffany drawled-out.
“I don’t know,” Quinn replied. “My... um, Daria, writes those Melody Powers’ stories whose plot is much worse than that.”
“Please,” Sandi felt that his dignity was insulted. “James Bond films’ have better plot lines than your sister’s Melody Powers’ stories.”
“I don't know,” Stacy slowly said. “Uh, Sandi, what did happen to your ancestors in Sofia?”
“My grandmother, Mileena, she had all family stories written way in an iron-shod chest somewhere in her attic,” Sandi said. “I don't know where it is now, and do not care – not after learning that our ancestor Ion used to serve in Vlad the Impaler’s army, and another ancestor – my very own great-grandmother – used to be one of the best pickpockets in Ukraine, Moldavia, and Romania. That kind of family history I can do without.”
“You're right, Sandi,” Quinn nodded thoughtfully, thinking of how should she introduce that idea – the best female pickpocket in Eastern Europe – to Daria’s Melody Powers, and see how they get along.
“Quinn, you’re not going to tell your sister about that,” Sandi spoke, thinking along similar lines. “Not without me getting my copyright cut out of the whole earnings.”
“Of course, Sandi.”
Meanwhile, Sophia’s henchmen, Aaron and Hassan, were walking around Lawndale, searching for anything out of place. And since they were both incognito and with power, it meant that all doors were potentially open to them. And the first place they went to, was the rather gloomy and running-down Lawndale archives’ office.
“Why are we going here?” asked Hassan.
Aaron looked at his co-worker with disapproval. He didn’t like the tall mountain-dweller from South Ossetia. Hassan was neither Asian nor European; neither Muslim not Eastern Orthodox; in the spiritual plan he was a human patchwork of various Georgian and Southwest Russian customs, most of which were bad.
Unfortunately, in the physical sense, this human patchwork came as a six-foot man with a face of a brigand directly out of “Arabian Nights”. And Aaron Guthan, an ex-rabbi, didn’t dare to voice his disapproval outloud.
Yes, Aaron wanted to be a rabbi. Unfortunately, he had broken several of the Ten Commandments, like “Thou Shall Not Steal”. He wasn't above a little blackmail either. All in all, all of this commented most unpleasantly about his unsuitancy of a man of cloth – even if it is a Jewish surcoat. However, the superiours of Stephania Hakiojopoulos in DC thought that a certain secretive agency could use an agent like Guthan, whose skills of sniffing-out dirty linen of anyone and anything have recompensed themselves time and again.
“Why are we here?” Hassan repeated his question, restructuring it somewhat.
“We're here to learn about the town’s history,” Aaron replied grumpily. “Any secrets lie in one’s past, and I am kind of curious about it anyways.”
“Isn't America’s past those Indian guys?”
“The correct term is “Native Americans”, Hassan,” Aaron instructed his partner. “You don’t like it when somebody calls you “charcoal-face”, do you?”
“Anyone calls me that, and I'll break him like rubbish!” Hassan snarled.
“My point exactly. Let’s go in.”
Some time later Aaron with or despite his partner’s help, found-out some interesting facts.
In the beginning, pre-colonization day, Lawndale, like the neighbouring areas of Massachusetts, was inhabited by Penacook Native Americans. In the 17th century, however, due to persecution from the settlers, the Penacook Native Americans fled, leaving behind, just a small population, that still inhabited population.
“Interesting,” Aaron told himself, “but I don't see how it’ll help us deal with that principal of Mrs. Landon.” He began to compare the names. One leapt out to him: the Morenos.
“I think,” Aaron smiled smartly, “that we’ve got a thread!”
The phone rang. “What’s up?” Stephania spoke into it.
“Boss, this is Aaron. I think we’ve found a thread to unravel Ms. Li’s clew of thread.”
“Oh really? Spill!”
“Try to find-out about Jesse and Danny Moreno, boss. I believe they’re the Native Americans at this region.”
“Oh really?” Stephania almost purred from contentment in this voice. The racial angle was often good. “Continue to work at this angle. Some slivers are bound to come-off.”
Tiffany was thinking, as she and the rest of Fashion Club were going home – separately, this time – what to do now?
And the thoughts were unhappy, melancholic even. Tiffany didn't consider herself a genius in any way, but even Stacy Rowe could foresee the times of distemper and the causes of alarm in near future. Things were starting to happen in Lawndale, and happen fast.
Now Tiffany knew that Lawndale was somewhat small and insignificant, even by the measures of New England, where space was expensive and given-away scantily. But it wasn’t, like, Persia; it wasn't so far from the capital of US, and furthermore, things were going too rapid even for Boston, Tiffany believed.
Tiffany looked down from the bridge onto the waters of Merrimac tributary that flown through Lawndale – and stared. Then she slowly, very slowly, walked off the bridge and to the nearest payphone. She dialled 9-1-1 and she waited.
It seemed that events in Lawndale were developing faster than she had thought.
Sandi Griffin turned around. Michael Jordan Mackenzie was hurrying after her, his clothing – never too neat in the best of times – now was covered with twigs, moss, and leaves.
“Mack, were you eavesdropping?” Sandi said sternly.
“Eavesdropping on what?” Mack tried to joke his way out, but Sandi just stared at him and he gave in. “Do you think that the personalities of both you and your mother have come from that foremother of yours?” he said instead.
Sandi glared. “Please. We don't like to think about it. We try to be respectful and honest members of society.”
“Not lawyers, you mean?”
Sandi felt like snapping at Mack. “Now look,” she began. “Sunday was – where are all of those police cars going to? With sirens on?”
“Let’s check it out?” Mack suggested.
Quite a large crowd gathered on the river’s shore. “Tiffany!” Sandi and Mack instantly picked-out a familiar face. “What’s going-on here?”
“Two corpses. In the river,” Tiffany said, quieter and slower than even she usually spoke.
“What? You're joking, right?”
Tiffany shook her head.
Meanwhile, the crowd was sorting itself out into smaller groups of people.
“Daria!” Quinn ran-up to her sister and the Lane sisters. “What’s going-on here? Why are you with those two?”
“Why won’t you say hi to-“ Jane began and stopped, since Ms. Li, with whom they have arrived at the spot, was no longer with them, but in the frontal rows to the spectacle. “How does she do it?” Jane muttered quietly.
“Daria? What’s going-on?” Quinn persisted asking. “Who’s that woman with Jodie and her mom?”
The other three females turned and looked – and saw a tall, smoky-skinned woman standing next to the Landon female. Unlike Jodie and her mom, who were black-skinned, the woman’s skin was more of a sun-tan shade, which made Daria think that while the woman’s ancestors originally came from the south, they didn't come from ‘blackest Africa’ as Landons’ ancestors did. “She doesn’t look like an Arab,” Quinn said.
“Oh, and where did you see an Arab?” Jane sneered.
Wordlessly, Quinn pointed in the western direction. There, an odd pair were joining the crowd. One was a giant of a man who looked like a brigand from “Arabian Nights”, while the second one was composed like an ape. Both of them joined the Landons and the strange woman.
Penny, Jane and Daria exchanged looks. Quinn, meanwhile was continuing to scale the ever-growing crowd for familiar looks. “Hey! There’s aunt Amy! And Mrs. Griffin!” she told Daria and others.
Amy Barksdale and Linda Griffin got out of Linda’s car and looked around the crowd. Linda, Amy sensed, was looking for one face in particular.
And she found it.
Suddenly, Linda’s gaze was full of hatred and venom, and it was directed – like by a cord – in one point. Amy followed Linda’s gaze – and saw a tall, foreign-looking woman standing by Michelle and Jodie Landon. “Hmm. Southern but not African. Yes, she could be from Greece – northern Greece. Say, Thessaloniki. Whoa! And those two men next to her – I don’t want to meet them anywhere, under any occasion.”
“Hey, look at that!” Quinn told the other girls. “Do you see how Mrs. Griffin looks at that female stranger? And I thought mom and aunt Rita had it bad for each other!”
“What are you talking about?” Jane asked. “So what if Mrs. Griffin is giving an evil eye to her?”
“Jane! Don't you know that such looks are reserved for your family only? No doubt, that woman and Mrs. Griffin are family. Close one, if I'm any judge.”
“Speaking of family, where’s our mom?” Daria asked.
“I don’t know; go and ask aunt Amy.”
But at that moment the cause for Tiffany’s phone call was extracted from the river, and a deep breath of horror rolled through the crowd.
Two sodden dead bodies lay now on the ground. Two dead bodies without heads.
“Oh my God!” Jane told Penny. Nearby, Quinn was regurgitating. So were a lot of other people of both sexes. “Who is it?” Jane also asked.
“How should we know?” Penny snapped. “Lack of heads makes identification a bit tricky!!”
“Don't get in such a boil!” Jane said placatingly. “Surely there are other clues. Besides, Ms. Li is in the front rows-“
“What about Ms. Li?” Quinn stopped vomiting and re-started to pay attention.
“Well, nothing specific so far,” Daria admitted. “But we are starting to suspect that she is more than just a high school principal – or at least used to be.”
“And how will this enable her to identify 2 headless bodies?”
“We have no idea. But perhaps the police around there will estimate a guess?”
“The corpses may have other identification marks, other than their now-missing facial features,” Penny said with an air of knowledge on the subject.
Quinn looked thoughtful. “Do you speak from experience?” she asked.
“What are you hinting at?” Penny worriedly asked.
“Nothing,” Quinn quickly said. “It’s just that I thought that dead people were common occurrence in Third World.”
“True – but from different, far different, causes,” Penny replied.
“I still wonder who they are,” Jane mused.
“Are there any identification papers on them?” one of the policemen asked the other.
“No,” the other policeman shook his head. “Somebody went over the clothing with a blade: every pocket is cut-open and emptied – by hand or by water, I cannot tell.”
“Any marks on the body?”
“Aside from the unusual number of freckles? Let’s see. There are some bruises, but-“
“Excuse me. Can I see the corpse.”
“And who are you, ma’am?”
“I'm Angela Li, the principal of Lawndale High.”
“What fortitude! Maybe you can help us identify the boy’s body, at least.”
Ms. Li nodded. The scrawny pubescent body looked familiar somehow. “Let’s see. Did you say that the boy’s corpse has the unusually high number of freckles?”
“Although we cannot speak about facial hair or hair on the head for obvious reasons, does the body has hair somewhere on it?”
“Mhm. Under the armpits, in the groin – the usual places. It’s, uh, red and curly.”
“And the bruises – where are they?”
“Mostly – in the groin area.”
“Then I’m willing to say that the boy corpse was, or is, Charles Ruttheimer the III when it, or he, was alive.”
The policemen’s eyes bulged. “Oh boy! And judging from the similarities between the two corpses – the freckles, the on-body hair, the builds – this must be his older male relative.”
“To my knowledge, the only male relative – in fact the only relative – that Charles Ruttheimer the III had here, was his father, Charles Ruttheimer Jr.”
“Great. And what about Mrs. Ruttheimer?”
“I think Ruttheimer Jr. had divorced his wife a long time ago. You’ll have to go into the archive office and search for his marriage license,” Ms. Li shrugged.
“Good point. And one last question. Who can confirm your statement?”
Ms. Li looked thoughtful. The question was tough. She looked at the still unfaded bruises and had an idea. “Miss Daria Morgendorffer!” she called-out.
“Miss Daria Morgendorffer!” Ms. Li’s voice went over the crowd. Daria’s sister and friends looked at her weirdly.
“Ms. Li is still her old self?” Quinn said in a disbelieving tone.
“I don't know,” Daria shook her head. “Something tells me that as things change in Lawndale generally, so does she.”
Daria went to Ms. Li.
“Miss Morgendorffer?” Ms. Li turned to her student. “When did you last see Mr. Ruttheimer the III?”
“And what happened then?”
“He came onto me; I kicked him in the groin.”
“Recognize your boot-print?” Ms. Li pointed at the smaller corpse.
Daria’s eyes grew as round as her eye-frames. “Yes,” she said in a small voice. “That’s mine.”
“No more questions,” the first policeman told Ms. Li. “You can take your charge away from here.”
“Thank you. And can I ask you for a favour?”
“Can I be notified of further developments later?” Ms. Li asked. “This was one of my students, after all.”
The policemen nodded in agreement.
“Did you ever think that a high school principal… not your best career choice?” Daria asked Ms. Li as they were walking away from the two corpses now.
Ms. Li gave Daria a very tight, very bitter smile. “Don't ever think, Miss Morgendorffer, that this is my career choice.”
Daria decided not to push the issue further.
Sophia Hakiojopoulus followed Ms. Li and her student with a curious look – and met the gaze of her sister. “Ah, Linda,” she shook her head. “You're still as venomous as ever. And who is it with you?” She searched her memory for the face’s name, and found it: Amy Barksdale. “Oh, Linda. Do you hate me that much? Oh well, it’s your loss. If you want war – you’ll have it!”
“Mom? What’s goes on?” Sandi asked her mother.
“I don’t know. Somebody died. Two somebodies. A man and a boy. No heads. And Daria Morgendorffer seems to know them.”
“Oh does she?” Sandi said thoughtfully. “Then I guess we should ask her.”
“Daria, are you okay?” Penny, Jane and Quinn turned to their friend and sister, while Ms. Li began to scan the crowd for familiar faces.
“Upchuck and his father are dead.”
“Now who would do such a thing?” Quinn wondered. “To go to jail because of Upchuck – yuck!”
“Good point,” Jane agreed. “Any idea when it happened, Ms. Li?”
“Do you see those two men?” Ms. Li ignored – or seemingly ignored – Jane’s question.
“Yes. They – and the non-Landon woman have come earlier this morning. They’re that Stephania’s aides.”
“Stephania’s?” Sandi exclaimed in genuine surprise. (She and Mack came to the group of five to ask questions, and overheard the last question.) “But that’s my aunt Vicki standing there!”
There was a pause. “Are you sure?” Penny and Daria exchanged glances.
“Yeah! She looks pretty much like what she did 14 years ago.”
“So that’s your aunt Vicki,” Penny squinted unkindly. “She looks familiar, Daria.”
“I don’t think we met her in El Paso in person,” Daria replied thoughtfully. “No, not in person.”
“Then how?” Ms. Li looked thoughtfully.
“I think we saw her around Hueco Tanks State H.P.,” Daria said. “She was, eh, interested in stones. Basically, she wasn't honest then, and I doubt that she is now.”
“Oh, now she is Stephania Hakiojopoulos,” Ms. Li said acidly. “An inspector of Federal Bureau.”
“Hello, Daria,” Amy Barksdale and Linda Griffin joined the teens and Ms. Li. “Who are your friends?”
“Oh, that’s Jane and Penny Lane, you know the Griffins, that’s Michael Jordan Mackenzie, and this is Ms. Li. She’s the high school principal.”
“And Rabinovich is always just the fiddler,” Ms. Li mumbled under her nose.
“Where’s mom, aunt Amy?” Quinn asked.
“She was called to her office,” Amy replied thoughtfully. “Girls, since the excitement is over, let’s leave.”
“Ma’am?” Aaron asked his superiour. “We got some more info.”
“Not know, chemise-head, we’ve got a shift of priorities. Two people got offed. We’ve got to find-out more. Let’s go. Sorry, Michelle.”
“No prob,” Michelle Landon nodded. Mayhaps she and Jodie should move to… at least to Chicago.
When corpses swim-up, the neighbourhood obviously goes.
The emergency conference of ‘Vitale, Davis, Horowitz, Riordan, Schrecter, Schrecter, and Schrecter’ lawyer firm was open.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what are we going to do?” Valeriy Vitale asked bluntly the rest of the lawyers.
“How bad are things?” Mindy Horowitz asked in reply.
“Quite bad. Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. was a big, solid, dependable client, and provided us with a lot of clientele during his time with us, with just ended… last Friday, it seems.”
“We must help the criminal investigation, then,” Michael Davis spoke thoughtfully. “Ladies and gentlemen, what was the last lawsuit Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. was involved with?”
All eyes turned to Alan, one of the three Schrecters in the firm.
“The last lawsuit Mr. Ruttheimer Jr. was involved with is, or was, the lawsuit with his neighbour, Alex Nicholson, over the question of land.”
“For a long time the Ruttheimers’ and Nicholsons’ didn’t have any problems, were quite friendly, in fact,” Alan Schrecter began. “However, lately due to some private argument, Mr. Ruttheimer decided to erect a wall between himself and Mr. Nicholson. And it’s the exact position of the wall became stumbling-block of this project. Apparently, the original land distribution plans for the two estates were drawn insufficiently neatly, and so there appeared to be about two feet overlapped.”
“Overlapped by who?” Arnold Riordan asked acutely.
“That’s depends on whom you ask, doesn't it?” Alan Schrecter said reasonably. “Otherwise there wouldn't be a lawsuit in the first place.”
“He got you there,” Mindy Horowitz said thoughtfully. “So what are we going to do now?”
“We're going to do a bit of private investigation,” Valeriy Vitale said thoughtfully. “We're going to find-out more facts about that two-foot overlap, and more about Alex Nicholson’s home arrangement. And there is, of course, the problem of Ruttheimer’s will.”
All eyes turned to Mindy Horowitz now. “His son,” Mindy said simply.
“He’s also dead.”
“Apparently, Ruttheimer didn’t foresee this turn of events,” Mindy admitted.
“Interesting,” said Valeriy Vitale.
“So what do we have at this point?” the police chief of Lawndale asked his subordinates, who were involved in the double murder.
“Two bodies sir. Identified as Charles Ruttheimer Jr. and Charles Ruttheimer the III. The DNA testing confirmed by the testing of Ms. Angela Li and Miss Daria Morgendorffer.”
“The protocol here says it’s the other way around,” the police chief said thoughtfully. “Possible suspects and motifs?”
“Well, both Ruttheimers were infamous for their treatment of girls and women,” one of the policemen said. “Possibly one of them used their lines on the wrong girl and got cut-off along with the other?”
“Not likely. The Ruttheimers knew what kind of women to hit-on, and what kind was off-limits. Too improbable. Other motifs?”
“The business one? Ruttheimer Jr. was often involved in lawsuits; the call to his lawyer confirmed that he was involved in one just apriori to the death of himself and his son. It involved his neighbour, Alex Nicholson, over two feet of land…”
“This should be investigated. I think it is possible that that angle might be the answer to our case,” the police chief said.
“We should send an agent there to investigate.”
“Not as easy as you think,” one of the police officers pointed-out. “That upper Lawndalian society – they don’t respond well to the police investigations. The agent won’t get anything but polite and useless responses.”
“How? As who? As a servant?”
“What is the general situation in that area?” the police chief asked, feeling rather annoyed by now. “I thought that we received a letter of complaint or some sort from there.”
“Mom, where’ve you been?”
“At the business meeting,” Helen said crossly. “Mr. Ruttheimer’s passing was mourned deeply by the firm.”
“He brought in a lot of money,” Daria explained to others.
“Daria!” Helen said, shocked.
“You know,” Sandi said (she and Linda returned to Morgendorffer home for some coffee to soothe Linda’s nerves), “I heard that there was already some trouble among Lawndale’s finest already.”
“Somebody poisoned two of Mrs. Petersen’s prized bulldogs,” Linda Griffin said, joining the conversation. “They are some special breed, white and brown, terribly salivate, and look really ugly. Cost a lot of money.”
“Two of them got sick on Saturday. One survived, one didn't. And there were only three to begin with – the progenitors, to speak.”
“Oh boy. And now?”
“And now there are only two left, and their mistress raves and rages. And since she has a big household, there are a lot of unhappy people up there. Her maid quit, for instance.”
“Hmm,” Helen said thoughtful. “Both our law firm and the police would use it as an opening…”
“Don't look at me,” Daria quickly said. “No people skills.”
“No job/servitude skills,” Quinn chimed-in.
“Aunt Vicki will be around – she is with the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Sandi said.
“Hmm,” Angela Li echoed Helen a short time before. “I think I know a girl who could establish a position there without any of the aforementioned problems.”
“Your niece?” Jane said wryly.
“I was a single child,” Angela Li said gravely. “How about it, Helen? I give my contact a call, and if she agrees and succeeds, you and your lawyer friends… watch over her back while she does the job for you?”
“No harm as I see,” Helen replied thoughtfully. “I think we’ve got an arrangement.”
“Let me get this straight?” Tiffany Blum-Deckler incredulously asked Ms. Li. “You want me to spy in the rich folks neighbourhood to see if there’s anyone guilty of doing the today’s deed.”
“In a nutshell.”
“How much am I going to be paid?”
“You're a freelance worker, Miss Blum-Deckler. But the lawyer firm of Lawndale – the one with 7 names in it – will be most willing to pay for any significant information you’ll provide. So is it a deal?”
“It's a deal.”
“So what shall we do, gentlemen?” Stephania Hakiojopoulos asked her assistants, Aaron and Hassan. “We’ve got a double murder on our hands, and of rich people.”
“This could be used to our advantage,” Aaron said.
“But how?” Hassan asked, not without curiosity. He didn't consider himself to be above such an act, and wondered who was the bastard that had accomplished the deed.
“It looks like our incognito will have to be lifted-off,” Stephania said thoughtfully. “If we unravel this, gentlemen, there’ll be promotions for all of us!”
“But what about Mrs. Landon?” Hassan asked.
“We’ll take care of her problem too,” Stephania said. Her assistants ears’, keen for subtle vocal hints, picked-up some specific vehemence in that statement, and didn't pressed further questions on that topic any more.
Instead, the questions were aimed at the following investigation of the double-murder.
Thus the evening was passed.
Once more dark was falling onto Lawndale. But now it was a different dark, alien to the light of day: evil, unfriendly for the eyes of men.
But home for demons?
Andrea Hecuba, divining with her scrying bowl, suddenly stiffened and shouted: “Oh goddess, oh Hecate! Evil is coming, or it has come! It will swallow us whole! Oh woe!”
Trouble has come to Lawndale.