This is a continuation of Roger Moore's story "Potential". Now, I would've never done that, but a message threat on PPMB, called "Blanket Passage", informed that Roger had allowed others to write sequels/prequels to his stories, and that's exactly what I did - I just couldn't let Quinn die in vain. For comments/criticisms e-mail Bacner email@example.com.
Daria and related characters belong to MTV, Noggin, and others. Karen, Vlad and Adam are my inventions. Juan and the whole story idea - to Roger Moore. Read and enjoy.
It was a damp, dreary day. The thunderclouds had began to gather earlier this week and shown no signs of dispersing. But nobody cared. Everybody in Lawndale had a much more desperate thought on their mind - they were attending the funeral of Quinn Morgendorffer.
As one farewell speech was spoken after another, it showed that everybody loved Quinn - and for many, it was genuine. As somebody has said, the deceased may've been a vacuous little airhead, but as a person she wasn't too bad and she certainly hasn't deserved to die like this - and so on.
Of the other murder victim, one Ethan Yeager, few words were said, and fewer yet knew of his existence present - besides the police, his killers and Quinn's immediate family, the Morgendorffers, who stood in a tightly cluttered bunch at the head of the procession that had come on this day to see Quinn go off for her last journey that she'd ever make in this world.
The bell rang - and the coffin was lowered. Daria Morgendorffer turned to her mother, her eyes cold and frozen underneath all this grief. "Mother," she said softly, practically hissing. "My sssissster will not be unavenged, will she?"
Helen carefully looked at Daria, and mother and daughter had a long, heavy look between them. "Yesss, Daria," Helen finally said in an equally soft tone. "Ssshe will not be."
The bell rang - and the coffin was lowered. Jane Lane felt like somebody slashed her knees with a scythe, and she half-fell half-leaned onto her brother. "This is bad, Trent," she half-sighed half-wept. "If this is how bad I feel, can you imagine how Daria feels?"
Trent nodded, half-mechanically, half-owlishly. His gaze alternated between the burying ceremony and between Jesse, who was doing the same thing. Their looks, whenever they came to contact, meant that there would be Hell to pay if they were found-out.
Trent inwardly sighed. Maybe all those ounces and grams of drugs weren't worth this, after all. His gaze met with Jesse's yet again, and Trent knew that his fellow murderer felt the same thing.
The bell rang - and the coffin was lowered. Linda felt a sudden tug on her sleeve, turned around, and saw her step-niece. "Oh, you, what do you want?" she asked.
Monique paused, her face looking hawkish and haggard in the deepening dusk and drizzle. "Just asking you how quickly will you be able to pack your bags, Sandi, your man and your brats, and go on a long vacation until this blows over," she said.
Linda looked almost incredulous. "Are you finally snapped? I will not be panicked so easily by-"
Monique's grip on Linda's grip suddenly began to feel as hard as steel and as cold as ice. "Have you deluded yourself in believing that you and your family are invincible, fool, or are you just plain stupid?" the younger woman hissed. "This is daughter of Helen Morgendorffer we're talking about! The woman bends backwards to help her clients - can you imagine what she'll do now that it's personal? She'll bulldoze this town to the ground and sow it with salt, most likely!"
Linda paused, her gaze holding Monique's - and not breaking. "And what are you planning to do, Monique?"
"Think I'll go over the border - to Concord, or Manchester, maybe," Monique shrugged. "I feel in my bones that it's in our best interests to get as far from Lawndale as possible - maybe even everybody's."
Linda's eyes narrowed, as she thought. "That serious, hmm?" she finally said. "Monique, be a dear, go to LTA and get us six tickets to Hawaii."
"Six tickets? Does this mean that I am along for the ride?"
"Yes... if you can live with the fact that I'll be the boss."
"That's going to be hard... but on the other hand methinks that if I stay in Lawndale, that 'live' factor will be called in question. Deal."
"Good. Now go, Monique, to LTA and be at my home... for dinner... with your bags. Got it?"
Monique nodded as she turned to follow Linda's instructions. "Sure thing... boss," she said, vanishing in the deepening murk of rain.
Meanwhile the bell rang for one more time - and the coffin was buried.
Jake Morgendorffer walked through his house - and didn't recognize it - it was quiet. So
Jake paused and sighed. It was less than a day or two since Quinn was... gone, and he was already missing her. No matter what others said, no matter what his mother told him, Quinn, his youngest, his departed, had been his at heart even though she tended to act more like Helen than him, trying to endear herself to her mother, just like he tried to endear himself to his father, that cold, cynical bastard...
Jake sighed and shook his head. He mustn't lose track of what was important, of what he has been thinking.
Jake shook his head and listened. The house was still quiet... maybe even too quiet, and that, Jake felt, was unnatural. He didn't know why, but he felt that it was wrong.
Slowly, on tiptoe, ignoring the fact that it was supposed to be his own house, Jake began to walk around, trying to find Helen and Daria, who had silently vanished upstairs while he'd been locking the car. After all the trials and tribulations, the last thing they needed was for some pistule of society to hijack their vehicle!..
"...mother, I've been thinking. Maybe you ssshould call your friend Karen Volzer, and asssk her to help. Ssshe isss a P.I., isss ssshe not?"
"You're right, Daria. And I'm sssure that LPD won't mind her helping the invessstigation..."
Jake frowned. Something seemed wrong in the conversation of his wife and his last daughter. Slowly, still on tiptoe, she sneaked to the closed door of the room and sneaked a peak inside.
Inside, Daria and Helen were sitting, hugging, on Daria's bed, estranged mother and daughter that had finally come together over the death of somebody they both valued - you could practically paint a picture of them at that moment, worthy of Lawndale's art gallery!
Only, Jake noticed, their faces were dry, their eyes cold, and their facial expressions were much more calculating than mournful.
For a few seconds Jake mutely stared at his wife and remaining daughter through that slit in the door, and then he withdrew - still tiptoeing. And he didn't stop tiptoeing until he came back down to the living room, where he collapsed on his knees, weeping. "Oh God!" he moaned. "I know that I'm a just a man, a somewhat stupid and unsuccessful man, but I need guidance. Daria and Helen are up to cook something, and I'm scared of them - I mean, for them! God, what should I do!"
Suddenly - and it was probably a coincidence, nothing more, but Jake suddenly had the idea of what to do and a sunbeam had momentarily made contact with the crown of his head before vanishing once again into the clouds.
Almost smiling, but more collected at any rate, Jake went to phone one of his sisters-in-law.
Jane was sitting on her bed, musing. To say that she was upset, would be to say that David Boreanaz's play-role of Angel was a little angsty.
As a matter of fact, that was how Jane felt - more than just a little angsty over the death of Quinn.
I never like her, me and Daria even joked - more than once - that she'd be dead, even by our hands, Jane thought. And now she is dead, and all I feel is empty. Drained even. And I didn't even really know her, other than the fact that she's been a blabbermouth and a fashion diva. Now can you imagine how Daria feels, for Quinn was her sister for so long?
The big clock on the wall chimed the start of a new hour, suddenly shifting Jane's thoughts in a new direction. And I hope that whoever it was that had cast Daria into such Hell, he - or she - will die horribly as it befits a-a... somebody like that!!
Suddenly, from the other side of the wall, Jane heard Trent moaning and tossing over the bed. Guess he's suffering too, Jane thought of her brother, not knowing just how right she was. Well, maybe now he and Daria may gravitate to each other...
Naturally, Jane was wrong.
But, on the other side, Jane was right. Trent was having a nightmare, and of a highest potency!
He was sitting in the auditorium of LH, while on stage, a blue-skinned, haggish-looking creature with blue skin, jagged claws, and broken fangs, dressed as a master of ceremonies, spoke into a microphone. "And now, for the sake of Trent Lane, we are presenting Quinn Morgendorffer, singing "(You drive me) Crazy" of Brittney Spears!"
The creature walked off stage, as a large screen dropped down, and Quinn Morgendorffer, dressed as Brittney Spears, came on stage. Sadly, she was quite dead, as Trent could easily see the bullet hole he had made in her, as well as the smell the stench of death and rot that now emanated from her skin.
Quinn looked at Trent, smiled very sadly, and began to sing as the music began to play.
Baby, I'm so into you -
You've got that something, what should I do?
Flash! And on the screen came the appearance of Quinn talking to Daria about Trent when he and Jane have been staying at the Morgendorffer home.
Baby, you spin me around -
The earth is moving but I can't feel the ground!
Flash! And Trent saw Quinn, lying in her grave, surrounded by mould, plant roots, and worms.
Every time you look at me,
My heart is jumping, it's easy to see.
Flash! And Trent saw him gunning down Quinn once again, just as Jesse has finished shooting that guy, Ethan.
Loving you means so much more,
More than anything I ever felt before!
Flash! And Trent saw Daria, earning for him, and Daria, mourning for Quinn, with a sad-yet-unreadable expression on her face.
Flash! And more scenes followed, of Trent, and Daria, and Quinn, and of the tonight's funeral, and of the cemetery. Big, dark cemetery full of tombstones, and mould, and fungus, and death. And throughout it all, Quinn continued to sing.
Tell me - are you in to me?
You got that something, it's easy to see.
Tell me - I am not in the blue,
That I'm not wasting my feelings on you!
Flash! And scenes flew before Trent's eyes and brain, how he received the message from Juan, how he and Jesse got the package from Juan, how he and Jesse went on chasing Quinn and Ethan, how they in the end got them.
Loving you means so much more,
More than anything I've ever loved before!
Flash! And scenes of Quinn and Ethan, how the two of them fell in love with each other, and what plans did they had, and how those plans died along with them - by Trent and Jesse's hands.
You drive me crazy - I just can't sleep!
I'm so excited - I'm in too deep!
Crazy - but it feels alright,
Baby, baby, love for you keeps up all night!
Crazy - I just can't sleep!
I'm so excited - I'm in too deep!
Crazy - but it feels alright,
Every day and every night!
Suddenly the scene changed. Now it was no longer LH auditorium, but some sort of a medieval show-booth, complete with a wooden rostrum, on which the corpse of Quinn danced some sort of a crazy dance complete with a pack of imps in the back.
Crazy - you drive me crazy baby,
Baby, that feels alright!
Every day and every night!
Crazy - but it feels alright,
Baby, baby, love for you keeps up all night!
Suddenly the ground beneath Trent and his chair, and Trent fell - fell into a pit, full not of hellfire, but snakes, giant, giant snakes with large, venomous fangs and muscle-rope bodies, and cold, cruel eyes. But they weren't enough, weren't the worst.
Worse were even more gigantic creatures were bodies of snakes - but heads of dinosaurs like the T-rex and clawed forelimbs of a dragon. And they all reached for Trent, couldn't wait to grasp him and render him piece by piece. But they weren't the worst.
The worst was a huge creature with a scaly, serpentine body, humanoid face, four arms and two leathery wings - and it reached for Trent, and Trent knew that that thing will reach him, will rend him apart, and what will be left, the lesser monsters will pick up the pieces.
Baby, baby, love for you keeps up all night!
Suddenly, a hand jerked Trent out of the pit, and Trent found himself back on solid ground, looking straight into Quinn's face, once again a mask of life.
"Repent," the mask said simply.
That was enough. Trent snapped. "Be gone you foul thing!" he literally roared, swinging his arms. "Be gone, and take your devilry with you-ou!!!"
Trent's eyes snapped open. He was back in his room, back in the real world... covered with sweat.
"Trent!! You okay?!" his sister's voice came from the door. "You want to speak to me?!"
As if! Moving quicker than a hare, Trent jumped, burst from the door, and ran outside and into the darkening night, leaving Jane extremely worried. "This is serious," she muttered.
"Mother, what is going on? Why are we packing?" Sandi Griffin demanded from her mother, Linda. "Where are we going?"
"Does Hawaii on three days hence answer your questions?" Monique's voice answered instead. "Got the tickets and my stuff, boss-lady, as you told me to," she turned to Linda.
Sandi's mouth almost fell open. "Mom? What's going on?"
"We're going on a family vacation," Linda said faux-cheerfully and turned to her husband and sons. "What are you three staring at? Get packing!"
Sandi's eyes narrowed and her expression turned defiant. "Now wait a sec. Why should we be going? I can't go! I can't abandon Stacy and Tiffany after Quinn's death! That'd be wrong!"
"Sandi - I don't give a whit about your reasons," Linda turned around, looking positively icy. "It's not safe here for now, we're going!"
"You heard the boss-lady, Sandi, start packing," Monique echoed.
Sandi's mouth thinned into a thread-like line. That was Monique, a girl who had some very scared friends of her own - and hadn't flinched when dealing with Ms. Li's great guard-dogs. Who did she think she was, acting so scared?..
Think, a sudden voice echoed in Sandi's head. If Monique was acting would she tolerate Linda's attitude and actually agree and work for her? This is real.
"So just of what are you so scared of, cuz?" Sandi spoke-up. "Not of whatever bullcrap you fed mom, that's for sure!"
Monique's eyes frowned. "Smart thinking, cuz. Ever heard of the Infinite Serpents?"
"What are they?"
Sandi frowned. "Are we talking about a gang war?"
Following that exchange, Sandi's suitcases were packed in record time.
A phone rang in El Paso, Texas. "Karen Volzer is at the apparatus," spoke a dry-sounding female voice.
"Karen, it's Helen."
"Hel-len, so nice to speak to you! What's up?"
"Oh Karen! Quinn has been killed!"
"Well, it all started with Coyote and Willow - remember them?"
"Yeah, a pair of idiots."
"Amen. Well, they got into drug business, and-"
The woman on the other end of the line narrowed her eyes. "This isn't perchance related to that ugly story in San Manuel, Arizona?"
"It most likely is! Oh Karen! Quinn's dead, Willow and Coyote's son Ethan is also dead, and the last thing I heard about Coyote, he wasn't in too good - or healthy - a state, either."
"But naturally," Karen almost snorted. "Helen, you did the right thing in contacting me."
"Will you help us, Karen?"
"But of course. If I won't be there personally, I'll send an employee who'll do their best."
"How will we know?"
"I'll phone you," and the woman named Karen Volzer put down the receiver, and looked thoughtfully into the full-length mirror on the wall. The mirror reflected a woman with blue-black hair, sand-colored skin, a nose that was broken long ago... and dead, empty eyes. "Now those Mexican parasites have gone too far," Karen spoke to her reflection.
She walked into the waiting room. "Hey, what's up?" spoke her secretary.
"Markovitz," Karen turned to her, "the word for today is anathema."
The secretary changed in her face and dialed a very special number
And another phone rang - this one in Fichburg, this one answered by an answering machine.
"Hey, Amy?" Jake's voice spoke after the welcoming message and the beep. "This is Jake. I got bad news. My Quinn was shot. Mortally." The message got interrupted by brief sobs. "But that's not why I phoned. Well, it sort-of is, but it's not. I have phoned because I think Daria and Helen are up to something. Something bad. And- and I want you to come over here and... talk with me first? And... can you not share the message? I want to have a talk with you first, as I said before. Bye!.. It's Jake."
The message was over. In about 8 minutes after that, there was the sound of a door opening...
Trent found Jesse in their usual place - a warehouse that was technically an associate of Lawndale's boat-building association, but practically - a very empty place, basically four concrete walls and a tin roof.
"Hey," Jesse greeted Trent. "What's up?"
"Bad news, man," Trent shook his head "I've dreamt of Daria's sister."
"Uh-ha. She's was singing one of them teen pop songs. Almost died," Trent said, taking a seat next to Jesse. "It's bad, Jesse, real bad. Half of me wants to get drunk up to my gills, but the other half of me is afraid. What if I then hear something like "Oops, I did it again"? I'll go mad!"
"Wurst?" Jesse suggested, extending a wurst sandwich to Trent.
After a momentary pause Trent shrugged and began to eat it. "You know, otherwise, all is kind of cool," he continued after he ate it all. "Nobody suspects a thing. Just as long as I don't get to dream of teen pop songs I'm okay. You?"
"Same here," Jesse shrugged, chewing a salted croissant. "We're A-okay. Nobody is suspecting a thing."
Monique stopped contemplated the ceiling and turned to Linda Griffin. "Yes, boss-lady?"
"What the Hell did you say to Sandi? Christine Rowe and Anne Blum-Deckler just called, accusing Sandi of spreading slandering rumors about gangs!"
"It's no rumor, boss-lady, at least not slandering ones," Monique shrugged. "I've talked with some friends before I came to the funeral, and apparently, one of the deceased may've been associated with the Infinite Serpents' gang, and they don't like when their members get killed by outsiders."
"This is ridiculous! Quinn Morgendorffer-"
"Boss-lady, calm down! I never said it was Quinn Morgendorffer, it was probably the guy!"
"Don't you read the newspapers? In the article in which this whole sordid event was described, 2 victims were talked about - Quinn Morgendorffer and some guy called Ethan Yeager. And according to both the comments in the article - and it was a big one - and to some of my friends, this guy's life history has a nasty smell."
Linda's eyes narrowed in thought. "I don't remember about a second burial; of course the noise around Quinn Morgendorffer distracted everybody-"
"Look, I'm selling only what I got for sure," Monique replied. "You want more info about that guy - talk to Helen Morgendorffer and the gal who's investigating this case - Lilly Parish I believe her name is."
Linda didn't react immediately, and when she did it was completely unrelated to Monique's last comments. "So there is gang involvement?" she asked instead.
"Aha. The way I see it, boss-lady, what with Helen Morgendorffer moving Heaven and Hell to find out who killed her daughter above, and with the Infinite Serpents' gang doing the same thing about their dead member below, the town of Lawndale is going to be about as fun as England in the time of coal strikes and suffragist protests."
Linda nodded thoughtfully. "I see. Well, thank you for the info, Monique. I see why Sandi tends to spend time with you," and with those words she went out, rather regally.
Monique watched Linda's retreating back with narrowed eyes. "Say what you will, Linda," she muttered. "When this is all over, I'm getting you off your high horse!"
"Wha-? Oh, Helen, hey!"
"Jake, what are you doing, lying on the couch?"
"Oh, I didn't want to mess-up your quality time with Daria. How is she handling?"
"Oh, uh, thank you, Jake," Helen paused. "She's fine. What about you?"
Jake paused, thinking. Helen has seeming gone back to normal, and she spoke like she usually did - and Jake wasn't any longer sure that he had dreamt-up the whole thing about Daria and Helen speaking together.
And on the other hand, why did it disturb him so? Was there really an inconsistency between their body language and faces? Has there been really a strange hissing accent in their voices or has he just imagined it?
After wavering for a few moments, Jake decided not to speak to Helen about it. There's no need to start a stupid scandal in that a time.
"Badly," Jake sighed, telling the truth. "I think I may be cracking up from the strain or something."
"Oh Jake!" Helen sighed, giving her husband a hug. "Relax! It's going to be all right! The police are going to find that creep and put him into jail for life."
"I know, Helen," Jake murmured, burying his face in her hair. And suddenly stiffened. It wasn't his imagination, but some sort of a weak acidic smell came from Helen's skin.
"Jake, what's wrong?" a genuine worry sounded in Helen's voice.
Jake thought very quickly. "We-ell," he said, "I was wondering, if we could, you know-"
"Uh, mom, dad - I'm going over to Jane, to see how she's doing?" Daria's voice came from the anteroom. "And please don't do it on the couch!"
"Daria!" Helen and Jake spoke at the same time, equally frustrated.
But Daria was already gone, leaving the two adults to stare sheepishly at each other. "So," Jake said, getting back into the topic. "Do you want to do it?"
There was a slight pause, and then they proceeded to do it. On the couch.
Jane was sitting gloomily on her bed, looking at her canvas. The latter was now depicting some sort of a gloomy Celtic motif, full of morning-glories and what-not.
"Nice," Daria's soft voice came from behind her.
"Daria!" Jane ran over to her friend and gave her a hug. "How are you faring?"
"We are all doing all right," Daria said with a sad smile. "When I left, mom and dad were doing it on the couch."
"Now Daria, there's no need to be sarcas-tic... you're not."
"No," Daria said, sitting onto Jane's bed. "So what about you?"
"Lousy. I think Trent had a nightmare."
"Yeah, and I've been faring not too good either, you know?"
"Mmm. Jane, have you ever thought of taking Trent and possibly Jesse and go someplace else - like for a vacation?"
"Daria! I am your friend!"
"And I don't want you to die!"
"Daria!" And the two girls began to weep in unison.
It was quite some time until they were able to think rationally again. "So what did your folks do?" Jane finally asked.
"Well, I don't know what dad was doing, but mom contacted a P.I. friend of hers from Texas - one Karen Volzer."
"She took the case. But she hinted that this case is bigger than just a straightforward murder and even a drug distribution case, yes."
"I wasn't told."
"Hey Daria, Janey," Trent walked into the room, "everything's all right?"
"Yeah," Jane sneezed briefly. "Daria's mom has hired a P.I. to investigate Quinn's murder."
"Oh?" Trent's interest of the girls conversation increased. "How so? Is he good?"
Daria frowned. Something suddenly bothered her in Trent's attitude, but what? "Well, he's still alive, and so are his clients," she said.
"Oh yeah, of course. But I meant-"
"Don't worry, I know what you meant," Daria said in semi-friendly tone. "And don't worry - he'll get that jerk!"
Oh boy, Trent nervously thought. That is what I was afraid of.
A phone rang. "Yes?" a male voice with a Mexican accent spoke into the receiver.
"Juan? It's Jesse. Bad news, man."
"What are you talking about?"
"I heard from Trent that on top of the police investigation in Lawndale, a P.I. is coming over - a guy who knows stuff, stuff about San Manuel and Tucson and all those other places. And I am worried, man. I don't want to go down because of Tucson!"
"Jesse, relax. What is his name?"
"Uh, Trent didn't ask."
"What?! What is he, nuts?"
"I think so. Earlier he came acting really unglued. I think he's coming unglued, Juan. In the head. And I am worried, man. I don't want to go down because Trent came unglued in the head!"
"Don't worry, Jesse. I'll send a guy over and they'll solve the problems - unless there's more."
"Nope. None that I know about. Bye!"
And Jesse hanged-up.
Juan sat for a while, listening to the beep in his receiver, and then dialed another number. "Hello Vlad. I've got a job for you and Adam."
When Amy Barksdale arrived at her home street, she was met with a heart-wrenching scene: a police cordon. However, there was no hint of blood or bullet holes, so it didn't appear to be a total disaster.
"Hey, what's going on here?" Amy asked a nearby person.
"Some apartment got robbed."
"Oh?! Which one?!"
"2367, or 2357 or something like that-"
"What? That's my apartment!!" Amy bellowed and charged to the police. "What apartment got robbed? I live in 2367!"
The policeman's face shifted. "Then my consolations, Miss. It was yours."
Amy groaned. The settlement of all police procedures, the estimations of loss, the negotiations with the insurance - it was going to take days, if not weeks. "So, what should I do?" she helplessly asked the policeman.
The man nodded. "Follow me, Miss. We're going to write the protocol papers."
Jake quietly sat on the porch, musing. Amy still hadn't called. "Well, that's not unexpected," he sighed sadly. "She's probably on one of her business trips - can be away for weeks, if not months!"
Besides, a hidden voice spoke to him. What you would talk about with if she'd responded and came here? "Amy, my wife and last daughter are talking weird, and acting weird and looking weird, and Helen smells weakly of acid on top?" She'd probably just suggest therapy because I just imagined that because of the loss of Quinn!
Jake paused, his thoughts growing deeper. And why do I think that this isn't just mental trauma because of the loss of Quinn? I think it was something that was... related to Amy...
Jake shook his head. This was deep. This was very deep. And how to solve this problem (now that Amy was not around)? By taking a walk!
Feeling suspiciously something akin to cheerfulness, Jake went for a walk.
Despite being located in Texas, these living quarters were actually damp.
The weak lights that glowed in this chamber didn't so much as disperse and penetrate the gloom as saturated it with a mass of flickering shadows, making it hard to distinguish as to what was were.
"Ah, Karen. You wanted to see me?" spoke the person in the room.
Karen nodded. "Yup. I think I found a tail, so to speak, of that little drug-smuggling operation that's been troubling us so lately."
The figure nodded. "Good, good. Far it would be for me to stick sticks into the wheels of justice. Where have you found that... tail? In Yuma?"
"In the state of Massachusetts, actually."
The figure half-whistled half-hissed. "Fancy that - that's quite a distance! Need any companions for the trip?"
"Markovitz will do nicely."
"Then you have my blessing."
Bending her head in respect, Karen left.
"So, what was that all about?" a man named Adam turned to his partner, Vlad. "Who was that?"
"Juan, the bloody economist!" Vlad added a long string of curses in his native tongue. "He had to economize once again, and now we have to fix it!"
"What'd he do?"
"Had some local talent fix up a leak in Arizona, the bloody daft--man!" Vlad explained. "And now he's got two police investigations - one in Arizona, another in Massachusetts, and one done by a P.I."
"And on top of that, some of that talent is coming unglued, apparently. So we've got ourselves a little extra expenses to take care of!"
"Do you think the Serpents are involved?"
Vlad's face turned as dark as a thundercloud. "Oh, I hope not. 'Cause then - we're dead. Those guys are nasty, and if one of them got blown-off..."
Vlad's voice trailed-away as the two partners looked at each other - and started to pack.
In a bug hurry.
Trent Lane was a man concerned. His latest action, namely the killing of that guy and Daria's sister, originally quite straightforward and relatively simple now started to accumulate complications that Trent just haven't had any means to foresee those few days ago.
Well, Trent corrected himself, that wasn't exactly true. Trent had realized that by gunning Daria's sister he'd bring onto himself and Jesse many, many complications. After all, their orders were to kill that guy only right?
Or has he become confused again, with all that druggy smoke in his head? Whatever.
The point was that Jesse probably thought that Trent came apart, went crazy - and that's what was crazy. "Just because Jesse is as solid as a rock and just as flappable doesn't make him better than me," Trent muttered grimly. "And if he got anyone to come here and do me as well as that P.I. and anybody else - he's wrong!" Trent snarled. "I'll show him, I'll get him first, yes, and no doubts included!"
Full of purpose, Trent stood up and walked towards the place where he and Jesse had hid their weaponry - to remove his and hide it in another place - just for precaution's sake.
And so wrapped-up was Trent in his purpose, that he never noticed Jake Morgendorffer walk pass him, wrapped-up in his own musings.
"Well, Jane, I'll say it again, if I hadn't said before - Trent can be weird some times. I mean, what's gotten into him lately? I thought that he had just returned from Jesse and now he's gone already?"
Jane shrugged. "Bugger me if I know, Daria. Trent was always weird, and these latest events..." she paused. "Well, maybe he's going right now to Monique, rather than Jesse, who knows?" She paused. "Hmm."
"You know, I just realized something. Unlike Dumb and Dumber Monique usually has a very good idea of what is going on in Lawndale. Maybe we should go over there and ask her."
"Well, what have we got to lose?" Daria shrugged. "Let's go."
And according to Murphy's law, in about ten minutes after the two girls left Casa Lane, there was a knock on the door - but naturally, nobody answered.
Helen Morgendorffer opened her eyes. Jake wasn't in next to her, and he wasn't in the house, either. That was disturbing, and also worrisome. "Oh boy!" Helen nervously said. "I hope he is not planning to do anything rash."
Quickly, she dressed-up and went looking.
Adam and Vlad got out of their vehicle and looked around the neighborhood. "We have left Green Valley... for this?" Vlad muttered dispassionately, looking around. "Boy, was that a long flight or what?"
"I told you so, or my name's Mary Poppins!" Adam replied, walking around in a circle. "What are we to do now, Vlad?"
The thinner man scratched his chin in a thoughtful matter. "Well, we must meet this... Moreno guy..."
Another car stopped and Jesse climbed-out. "Uh, are you two waiting for me?" he asked.
"Looks like it," Vlad shrugged. "So where can we talk?"
"How 'bout here?"
"In a bus station?!" Adam replied in an incredulous tone. "I was thinking somewhere more-"
He stopped abruptly talking, and together with Vlad looked around the building with its' cracked and dilapidated walls and ceilings and seats. It was practically abandoned save for them three and a white-collar, who looked like a dilapidated alcoholic than anything else.
"What my partner meant to ask," Vlad interceded smoothly before the local talent began to have doubts about their professionalism, "is that what is the problem?"
"I told Juan, man," Jesse shook his head. "Some P.I. is coming from Texas - and he knows about San Manuel and Tucson and all that other stuff, Trent said. Only I'm no longer trusting what Trent says man - I think he's coming apart. He's claiming that that dead girl spoke to him in dreams and stuff."
"I see," Vlad said crossly. As far as he was concerned, at this moment it looked like the typical overkill policy of his employers, caused by their lackadaisical attitude in the first place. "Apparently, San Manuel wasn't enough to change their style," he muttered.
"Uh, dude, you don't think that this was the only reasons you're here?" the local suddenly spoke. "Well, actually they are, but-"
Vlad raised his eyes in his surprise. "What do you mean, buddy?" he asked.
"Well, I have this part-time girlfriend, Monique Dupri, and she knows stuff. No, she doesn't know that it's me and Trent that did the deed, but she hinted to me - when we last met - that either the guy or the girl or maybe both were in some gang, Infinite Circles or something."
Vlad paled. "Serpents?" he asked in a voice that held no hope for the future.
"Yeah, maybe, probably - I don't remember."
"So!" Vlad spoke in a way that drew the attention of Jesse, but Adam as well. "Let's go and see your girlfriend, Mystique."
Jesse shrugged, and the two vehicles drove off.
Penny Lane felt pretty tired and sour. Neither Jane nor Trent were at home, and she had forgotten her keys. "Hey," she said, sitting onto a bench, where some man was already sitting. "Would you care in giving my twenty bucks to rent a room in a motel? I'll pay you as soon as I can, I swear."
The man looked at her absently, and Penny realized that he didn't really hear her, busy thinking his own thoughts. "Do you know any recent urban folklore about Texas?" the man suddenly spoke. "Something about snakes, I think."
"Silver-plate my hand, dear, and I'll talk," said Penny, imitating an old gypsy fortune-teller. But Jake was not such a full blunderer either.
"No, first the goods, then the bucks," he said, remembering the hard days of his life in the military academy. "Spill it!"
Penny shrugged. She didn't expect this scheme to work, and now- "Well, what I know this is sort-of a new legend, told by this old chief," she shrugged. "Basically - I haven't re-remembered it in a long while - it said that 'when the white man created death in metal and rained it in the East, the Great Spirit was angry, and he awoke the Serpent spirit that slumbered underground, and the spirit had poisoned the wells and underground waters that men drank, causing them to slowly adapt the spirit's manner and likeness'..."
"Of course!" Jake cried, interrupting Penny, startling her. "The nuclear contamination! Amy told me about it! When the scientists were working with the nukes, some radio-active matter got spilled into water tables of the southwest! Only it was actually some sort of slag made from special types of nuclear matter, and so instead of dying, the humans started to mutate into some sorts of reptilian monsters! Yes, that was about it! That was why Amy persuaded Helen and me move here after Quinn was born..."
Penny frowned. Some names have stuck in her memory since her previous visit to Lawndale, and she decided to...
That was when she noticed that the man looked like he might weep now. "What's wrong?" she asked.
"I'm sorry," Jake pulled himself together. "It's Quinn. I just remembered - she's been killed."
Penny's mental processes made an abrupt 360-degree turn. "Killed? How?!"
"Haven't you read the newspaper?"
"I, ah, just arrived here."
"Oh, well, here's what happened," Jake sighed, and began to tell the tale.
Jane and Daria were softly walking through the path. "Run this by me again," Daria said slowly. "Monique is living in such a near-wildness, and nobody that knows her minds or is concerned?"
"Nope," Jane shrugged. "That's the funniest thing. I don't know how she does it but nobody does. And I think she actually likes it this way - when I made of fun of her, she actually kicked my ass. Literally."
"I see," Daria began to speak, when she suddenly slipped on a rotten branch and fell onto her ass. "Ouch."
"Daria, are you okay?" Jane asked, worryingly.
"Yeah, I'm-" Daria's gaze briefly stopped at a spot on the ground, but then flickered quickly towards Jane. "-fine," she finished. "In fact, I'll prove it to you by beating you in a race! Catch me if you can!" and she raced-off.
"Daria!" Jane yelled and chased after her, secretly confident that she'd catch up to her in no time. But apparently, jogging through the streets was somehow different from jogging through cross-country, and soon Jane realized that she had lost Daria for good, as the latter's black-and-green clothing apparently blended with the forest around them. And when Jane looked around, she realized that she was actually lost. "Daria! Where are you?! This isn't funny! Daria!" Jane yelled.
Nothing. There was no sound; in fact, the birds and insects around her seemed kind-of hushed by now, as if something big and dangerous was in the neighborhood.
Jane was no woodsman, but even she managed to catch that vibe. "Daria," she said much quieter, looking nervously around her. "Where are you?"
There was no reply.
"Hey, Monique. Can I ask you a question?" Sandi nervously approached her step-cousin.
"Speak," Monique said, not taking her eyes off of a bowl made out of dark stone.
"Oh. I see you got your stuff."
"Yes. Is that what you were going to ask me?"
"Yes. And, uh, what are you seeing?"
"I think I'm seeing," Monique's voice grew calm and detached, as she continued to watch the events in her magic bowl, "that I really should've gone to New Hampshire rather than stay here. Time has run out!"
Neither grass blades nor leaves, neither needles nor twigs, moved as a... humanoid moved through the forest.
That humanoid looked as a human and moved as a human, and yet... there was some sort of a serpentine grace in its' movement, some sort of specificity that distinguished it from average humans.
Well, and there was also the face, with the upper lip curled back to demonstrate two small cavities on its' inner side, similar to the ones inside a mouth of a pit viper, a flickering serpentine tongue, and teeth that actually resembled serpentine fangs.
No, say what you want, the walker in the forest wasn't a human.
But the trio of creatures that it was silently following, were.
"Wow, mister," Penny said slowly, shocked by the amount of information that she'd been given freely during the last half-hour or so. "That was awful. I mean what you and your family have been through. But what I don't understand is what that urban legend of Texas got to do with it?"
"Oh, nothing," Jake waved his hand in a carefree manner. "Just something that I've been musing on to distract myself... Look, you're a nice girl, do you want to know a nice hotel?"
"Sure, but wait a sec first. I need to go and check if my siblings are here or what. Care to accompany me?"
Jake shrugged. He didn't have anything else to do at this point. "Lead on," he shrugged, and they went-off.
"Uh, cuz, what's up?" Sandi repeated her question, after Monique finally looked from her bowl, washing her tired eyes with some cold tea. "What'd you see?"
"Sandi, can I ask you a question first?"
"When is a human not a human?"
To say that Sandi was confused would be to say nothing. She was all about to ask her step-cousin for an explanation, when she remembered just who Monique really was, and what they've been through a couple of times already.
"When a human makes a deal with a power?" she asked, unsure.
Monique nodded. "Yup. That's it in a nutshell. When a Power gets into a contact with the human populace. And roughly about 50 years ago a native power named the Snake made a wide-spread contact with the human race. And that's roughly how the gang named the Infinite Serpents was born. And that's why now we're going to have to deal with them - or rather, they'll deal with us."
Sandi's face turned stone-hard. "Cuz, just answer me one thing: who are the Infinite Serpents?!"
"None of your business," Monique's own face turned stony. "I think I may've said too much already. I have no desire to go as plucked as a chicken, and feel some moral twitchings to prevent you from going that way also. So bugger off!"
Sandi tried to lead a counter-attack. "You tell me or I'll find-out on my own!" she tried to threaten.
Monique's gaze was as cold and stiff as a metal rod. "Don't even try it, Sandi. Don't even try it. And right now - bugger-off."
For a few minutes they glared at each other, then Sandi walked away. Monique watched her retreat, and her facial expression changed from inaccessible-stony, to worriedly-concerned.
"This is bad," she slowly muttered.
And reached into her suitcase for a certain package.
Trent Lane was doing two things. Firstly, he was cleaning his Mauser, and secondly, he was swallowing a certain kind of pill. Coupled with coffee - a definite don't.
But Trent didn't care. Currently, the acid-base equilibrium in his mind was so unbalanced, that it wasn't hard to say that Trent Lane was nuts.
And also enraged. Quite murderously enraged.
That emotion started when Trent had phoned Jesse and the other youth didn't answer. That, to Trent's mind, wreaked with visions of a monster snake pit and Britney Spears' songs, was enough to get him over the edge.
"Nobody is double-crossing me," he hissed quietly, as he filled himself with drugs and caffeine, and focused his rage on the weapon in his arms. "Nobody. And that moron is going to find this out - the hard way!"
Downstairs, there was a knock on the door. But Trent, filling himself up with drugs and rage never even heard it.
"Yup, that settles it," Penny spoke from the porch to Jake. "They're gone. Probably on some road trip or other, just as I suspected..." Penny muttered. She was expecting something like that to happen lately, but that it happened today, when she chose to come to Lawndale to visit, was disappointing.
"Gone, wait a second, gone?" Jake repeated. Some logical discrepancy squeaked in his brain louder and louder, and now he finally realized what it was. "But- but Daria is with Jane! Our last daughter! Help!"
Penny reacted quicker and faster. "Shut up you fool! Go and phone the police!"
Wordlessly and efficiently, Jake complied.
"Just where the Hell are we going, punk?" Adam's voice ripped the sylvan silence apart. "Who the Hell your Monica think she is? A druid?"
"It's a Monique," the local replied in his trademark unflappable manner, causing Adam to explode with new fury. "I don't care if it's Christine; all I want-"
"I think we're here," Vlad spoke loudly, interrupting the amplifying argument, stopping before a large, rust-eaten trailer. "And you know, Jesse, I got to agree with Adam for once. Does she think of herself like some sort of a witch?"
"Never asked, never cared. Not my business. But she knows things, knows people-"
"What, in this God-forsaken place?" Adam snorted, but suddenly stopped and started listen.
"Well, apparently she knows - or knew - something," Vlad said thoughtfully, ignoring Adam's sudden shift in attitude. "According to this message, stapled to her door, she has left to New Hampshire '...until the situation stabilizes, and the possible gang war averted'. Interesting..."
"It's around here!" Adam suddenly yelled, pulling-out his weapon.
"It's somewhere around here, the abomination!" he bellowed, and raced off into the woods, firing several random shots.
"Adam, wait!" Vlad yelled-out, but Adam didn't hear him, and soon vanished among the trees.
Vlad slowly settled onto the ground. "You don't happen to have a cell, kid?" he slowly spoke.
"Because the Infinite Serpents are here. And they've got Adam."
"But he's just left."
"Trust me, kid, I know 'em better. Let's get out of here."
To say that Helen Morgendorffer was steamed would an understatement. "Jake!" she yelled as soon as she appeared at the doorstep of LPD. "What are you doing? And who's that?"
"Helen, calm down! Daria and her friend Jane are missing-"
"Wha-a-at?!" Helen bellowed. "Daria's missing?!"
"Ee, citizen, Mrs. Morgendorffer," the officer-on-duty brought Helen's attention to him - an action that he repented immediately.
"What are you doing here when my last baby is out there?!!" Helen roared. "Take your men, women, androids, humanoids, anything else and go find her!"
The officer on duty convulsed involuntarily. Helen's burning gaze made him want to immigrate. 30 times. Away from here. To Nepal, most likely.
"Well?!" Helen's voice reached a new height.
The next moment LPD exploded into a flurry of activity.
Adam was running. Running and pursuing a snake man. An abomination.
Once, when he was young and innocent, Adam didn't believe in Bible, didn't believe in anything. He only thought that man was the only sentient creature on this planet, in this world, and that all sci-fi books were a genre. He also believed that every problem could be solved with a fast (and preferably big) gun. Needless to say, with such an outlook on life, he quickly ended-up in the Brava brothers' drug-smuggling ring as a killer, and his life went-on in a circle of violence, until it all just fell through.
...There had been a plenty of odd appearances lately, odd appearances and events, that people like Alphonse Peppys claimed were the signs of the impending Apocalypse. Adam, like Vlad, like Vic Post, had thought that that was just a bunch of malarkey. Until their superiors started to establish a cell in southern Arizona. That's when it all went through.
...Adam had heard before about the Infinite Serpents' gang, that those guys were just a bunch of weak-willed oddballs that were, however, gaining strength in the southern states. However, the Brava brothers were that they were sure to take them on. They were wrong. The first operatives that tried to establish drug trade in Tucson were killed, leaving behind them just a bunch of messages about snake-men working for the Infinite Serpents.
Needless to say, the Brava brothers were not impressed, and sent several new operators - including Vlad, Adam, and Vic Post - back to Tucson with the instructions to capture several Serpents and send them to Mexico under armed "escort". And that's when it all fell through.
True, they had managed to capture several Infinite Serpents lowlies, and they had looked quite human, but...
When they were "loading" them in Tucson's airport onto a flight to Tampico, their counterparts in the Serpents' gang attacked. And Adam had the chance to become sure that yes, there were serpent men in their gang - the mutants, as the Brava's agents in Tucson and San Manuel and Green Valley called them.
And they were damn near unstoppable.
And they helped their human members escape.
And they had killed Victoria.
And when Adam awoke - on a flight from Tucson to Kenner, Louisiana, of all things! - he swore that he will kill every last one of them.
And now, it seemed, he had his chance.
Adam smiled and ran-on.
A police siren howled outside. Trent Lane visibly shuddered. Damn that Jesse! He had already brought police onto his trail! "Well, it won't elapse so easily for him! I won't forget it!" Trent snarled, slowly beginning to retreat back upstairs. "Nobody double-crosses Trent Lane. If anybody's to hang for that double-murder it's the both of us, and if anybody's going to Hell, it'll be Jesse. First. By a margin.
Trent scratched the back of his head. His brain itched, and his knee joints welt weak and bendable. The drug-induced rage was retreating, slowly turning into an unhealthy, drug-induced sleep, and everything may've been avoided, but... at that moment a key sounded in a lock... or was it just a hallucination?
Trent stiffened once again, and brought the gun out. His parched lips twitched, forming words: "No mercy."
Adam had finally checked the progress of his run and took his time to look around himself. He saw nothing, but he felt that the Serpent was nearby. "You can't wait me out!" Adam yelled, giddy with triumph. "I've got heightened sensibility! I know-" Adam's finger stiffened as he slowly began to turn around himself, "you're behind-" Click! "me!"
Adam finished turning around much faster than when he began - but he never had a chance to shoot anybody. Rather, something cold and metallic slammed into his chest, releasing a flash of electric pain.
As the world dimmed around him, and earth rose up to meet him, Adam did find a strength to fire one, single shot.
The sharp barking sound of a gunshot ripped the sylvan silence to pieces, as the various birds, beasts and insects now started to sound a cacophony, as if to compensate their silence earlier.
"Daria?" Jane nervously whispered and turned around. "Daria!"
And there indeed was Daria, standing her clothes, looking her regular self. "Daria?!" Jane exclaimed the third time. "Where the f-"
At that moment Daria exploded into tears. "Jane!" she half-yelled half-weeped. "We must get out of here! There's some nutcase with a gun that started to chase me!"
"Wha-? What are you talking about?"
"When you two girlfriends started to race, she ran into this guy, who started to chase her," explained a tall woman with black hair that had a bluish sheen to it. "Luckily for you, I had arrived just in time to join the search for you."
"For us?" Jane repeated, confused.
"Yeah. Her mother and your sister have the LPD plowing the town with their noses in search for you two."
"Really?" Jane asked, surprised. "Which sister?"
"I think I remember something about red hair."
"Oh, that must be Penny - isn't that a surprise," Jane muttered, and then remembered something else. "So what did happen to the guy that's been chasing Daria?"
"Oh, I forgot!" the woman slapped her forehead. She went back and pulled-out a handcuffed man from behind a tree. "That's him, he won't bother us soon."
"Shouldn't we deliver him to LPD?" Jane said, weakly.
"And that's where we're going," the woman nodded.
Jane blinked. "Uh, Daria, who is she, anyways?"
"Why, Jane, you forgot? She's that P.I."
"Just call me Karen," the woman added, smiling.
Jane slowly looked at Karen. Really, that woman didn't look so scared, even if her nose was broken. But there was something about her eyes that made Jane very worried. Very worried and very scared.
And as for Daria... Jane was even less sure about what was wrong with that picture, she was probably just angry with Daria pulling off the earlier stunt, but now she just really wanted to go home. "Let's go," she curtly said and walked-off. She never turned back, and so she never saw the exchange of glances that Daria and Karen had behind her back.
The officer-on-duty nervously watched as Helen Morgendorffer paced back and forth. The woman was like a coiled spring, ready to lash out at anybody who caught her attention, and woe was to that poor sap that did that. Unfortunately, he was that poor sap, and thus - a sacrificial turkey as well.
"Now-now, let's think positive," he muttered to himself. "So what if there was a double-murder on Lawndale's land, including that woman's daughter?.. Eh, I think I got it all wrong, I think-"
It was at that moment the officer-on-duty realized that there was no silver lining to this cloud, not unless he was ready to believe that a woman that had already lost one child and may've lost the second one, could be pacified with mere words. If so, then he was fully ready to be isolated from the rest of the society.
Of course, after Helen Morgendorffer was through with him, he would be fully prepared to isolated as well - in a hospital ward, that is. And that statement rang true not only for Helen - her husband, and some red-haired girl, whose sister was also apparently missing, wouldn't do much different to him, either.
"Please, God, keep those brats safe and sound," he muttered.
At that moment the communication board at his desk began to sound. "What's going-on?" he weakly asked.
"A big commotion on Chestnut!" came the merciless reply. "Need reinforcements."
The officer-on-duty closed his eyes and groaned.
Jesse was not having a good day. After that Adam had run off, there was nothing afterwards, but a single shot. Vlad claimed that "the Serpents got him", but Jesse didn't care. Those guys were whacked. Equally whacked like Trent, only this guy - Vlad - hid it better than that other guy, Adam, or Trent.
Trent... Jesse's thoughts turned to his old friend and new partner. How could've that happened? Trent had taken the dose so many times, and he was okay. Now... it's teen pop songs and snake pits? Eech!
Jesse paused, suddenly thinking: maybe he had overreacted. Maybe he could've managed with Trent by himself - Trent was such a dangerous guy.
"Mr. Moreno, you've got the key, remember?" Vlad spoke-up, gazing around. "Come on, hurry up, or the cops will be here. If the P.I. gave them the descriptions of me and Adam..."
The P.I. Now Jesse remembered, and his pity about Trent instantly evaporated, giving place to business. "Just a moment," he said, opening the door.
A Mauser's black muzzle stared back at him.
Trent couldn't believe his eyes. Just when he was finally ready to give-up and crawl back to bed, trying to risk another session of the snake pit and Britney Spears. Instead, there was Jesse! And some other guy!
"Dude, what are you doing with your gun?!" Jesse said, incredulously (for him).
Vlad, on the other hand, didn't ask any questions. His hand slipped into the internal pocket of his wind-breaker, where he kept his own weapon. He hoped that Jesse keeps this Trent distracted for him to reach it. This Trent looked high on pills - and that was bad.
Unfortunately for Vlad and Jesse, Trent was high - not only on pills, but also on coffee and on the hormones that his body produced naturally - under the unnatural stimulants of the drugs. Therefore, his senses were particularly sharpened, and so, he noticed Vlad reaching into his wind-breaker and reacted with his first coherent thought.
The heavy shot got Jesse right in the upper abdomen and threw him off the porch onto the street.
Upon seeing this, Vlad abandoned all strategy and fired right through his wind-breaker, hitting the junkie in the right side of chest.
Trent began fall onto the side, but his body, energized with the drugs, failed to realize what his nervous system, clouded with the same drugs, was telling him, and so it fired one more shot, hitting Vlad's side, before it died.
In the distance, police sirens began to howl
Needless to say, the reaction caused by the policemen caused by the latest contact did not gladden Jake and Helen. Rather, they grew even more scared and worried about Daria's well-being. If she were to go 'the way of Quinn', then they would probably go mad.
Penny, on the other hand, was also worried about Jane and Trent, but, since she was also a Lane, she just couldn't give herself completely to the worries about them. Her pre-Quinn conversation with Jake Morgendorffer started to make her think and wander about Jake's query about the snake-men, and why did it bother her too?
Unfortunately for Penny, her trail of thought was no more steadier than Jake, and she didn't have a sister-in-law, or even a more remote relative like Amy Barksdale to steady her and direct in the right way. Rather, that line of thought got cut-off altogether when the front doors of the LPD opened, and in stormed a trio of people, led by Daria, who, with joyous cries, ran towards her parents.
As the trio of Morgendorffers exchanged hugs, Penny felt a tug on her sleeve. She turned around and saw Jane, looking nervously at her. "Uh, sis," the younger girl nervously said. "Maybe we should-"
At that moment a certain sound interrupted Jane's suggestion, as everybody's activity stopped and everyone looked at a tall woman with dark hair, sandy skin, and a disfigured nose.
"Karen!" Helen uttered. Jake said nothing. He looked at this woman, and tried to remember, when and where did he see her before, and why did she make him think of Amy - and that damn Texan urban legend?
"Helen, Jake," the woman nodded, bringing out a handcuffed man from behind her. "I found this guy chasing Daria with a gun."
"Uh, mom," Daria began, looking at Jane, "it went like this... uh, Jane, why don't you explain?"
Her tone was rather confused and perplexed (for her), but her gaze effectively pinned Jane to the spot. Jane gulped, cursed her sister's slowness of mind, and began to explain where they actually were all this time.
"Honey, honey, come quick!"
"What is it?" Linda snarled as she joined Tom before their TV set.
And froze. The set effectively showed the members of the police force wrap-up a pair of corpses - both young men, both looking somewhat familiar. "Kids! Monique!" Linda yelled-out. "Come here! I think someone got caught!"
Sam and Chris appeared quickly, followed by petulant and Sandi and Monique, who just stood in the doorway. A thought briefly appeared in Linda's head that Monique was hiding or expecting someone... and equally quickly disappeared, when Tom turned-on the TV's volume. Apparently, there's been some sort of an exchange of fire, and two men were dead, shot in the upper and lower parts of torso.
"Hey, I know them!" Sandi exclaimed. "Those guys - they went to Lawndale High, or something! Yes! I think one of them has this loser sister, too!"
""Well, Monique, it looks like you were right," Linda said, turning to the daughter of her step-sister, "perhaps we should've gone immediately to New Hampshire or wherever immediately rather than to Hawaii in near future-" Her voice drawled off.
Monique was gone.
In the following silence they heard a window open and shut.
"...And that's when we got here," Jane finished telling the tale of her, Daria, and 'Karen', if that's what the woman's name was. "Now can somebody tell me what is going on here?"
"Uh, before we start," the officer-on-duty was not about to tell about a fire exchange without making some preparations for his speech, "can somebody tell me who is this woman?"
"My name is Karen. I'm a P.I. I'm here because I know the Morgendorffers and because I know why there was a double-murder. The answer to that lies in the story that happened a few days ago, in San Manuel, Arizona."
There was a pause, and then the officer nodded. "Go on, you realize that this is being recorded?"
Karen shrugged. "Once upon a time, like right now, there are two crime gangs. One of them is headed by brothers Brava and works in Mexico. The other one is called the Infinite Serpents and works in southwest USA. And one day... their interests collided in the city of Tucson, Arizona. There... were several shoot-outs, and quite bloody ones too."
"This is all very interesting, but Willow and Coyote, Ethan, Quinn?"
"Ah, yes. The dealer that contacted Willow and Coyote worked for the Bravas, one of the last ones in San Manuel, since the Serpents started to win. However, with the money that Willow and Coyote started to provide to the Bravas that could've changed. Unfortunately-" and at that moment Karen's eyes quickly paused at Helen and Daria's, "-the son of Willow and Coyote, one Ethan Yeager, was one of the Serpents. Needless to say, he was much cleverer than his parents, not to mention cunning. And consequently, the dearest son didn't suffer any pains of conscience once he found-out what his parents were up to, and informed his superiors in the gang, and they quickly got the San Manuel police involved, who promptly arrested everyone involved - except for Ethan."
"I had wondered why and how he was able to afford such an expensive car," Daria spoke-up.
"I can't believe this!" Helen exclaimed, still looking at Karen. "He was such a nice boy!"
"Alas," Karen shrugged. "The good boy quickly sold his parents down river - but as you know, he got his."
"Well, apparently, the Bravas have hired some local junkies to take care of him - but what the junkies don't know is that the Bravas tend to get rid of such local executors as well - usually with pretty 'showy' results..."
At this moment the doors of LPD opened once again, and in came two more cops. "Is there a Miss Lane present?" one of them spoke.
"Are you talking about me or my sister?" Penny spoke.
The cop who had spoke blinked, exchanged glances with his partner, and shrugged. "Why don't both of you follow us? We need you for the identification of the bodies."
Vlad carefully climbed down from the bed and looked around. Nothing. Nobody in the room, no footsteps or voices in the hall. Nothing.
"Good. It's seems that my luck has finally changed," the East European man spoke to himself. "And in good time, too."
Vlad badly needed some luck. First Adam went berserk because there were Serpents in the neighborhood and rushed off to his doom, and then that other local yokel - Trent or something - had completely come unglued, and now...
And now Vlad was on his own, and very, very worried. Last time they've tangled with the Serpents for real many good joes bit the big one, including Vic Post, Adam's friend, and ever since that day Adam was more than a bit nuts.
Vlad posed. Of course, the latter fact meant that there may've not been any Serpents, just that Adam's paranoia had proven too much for him, and he rushed-off, eventually blowing his brains out or just breaking his legs in some ditch. As a matter of fact, the latter seemed more and more obvious, the more Vlad thought about it.
"Yup, I've panicked too early," Vlad decided. "I just contact Juan, give him a piece of my mind, and then get for reinforcements or new instructions to arrive. Then will I worry."
Vlad smiled and went into the hall. That smile withered abruptly when he saw a girl standing in the other end of it. The girl just took a good look at Vlad's bedraggled appearance and ran-off.
Cursing, Vlad pulled-out his handgun and fired.
The hallway shuddered from the sound of a gunshot fired.
The morgue was dimly lit and was rather cold. "Gee, it's not anything like on 'Buffy'," Jane muttered, trying to be brave. God, but how she missed late Quinn. For all of her bad side, the deceased's tactlessness sometimes could be a welcome comic relief - like now. Oh, there was no question, Quinn could've been very rude and irritating, but that rudeness and irritation have been refreshing from time to time. Like now. God, how she, Jane missed Quinn, especially now, if the corpse in one of the sacks was-
With a stony face, one of the morticians unlocked the body bags. Jane took one good look at them and fainted.
Trent and Jesse stared at the world in general, and at the people in the morgue in particular, with eyes unseeing.
"Mom, look. Aren't you exaggerating a bit about the death of those two jerks? I mean, they may not have actual connections to death of Quinn," Sam Griffin carefully tested the dangerous waters of their mother's mood. "Maybe it's just a coincidence, that's all."
Linda looked sternly at her boys. "Even if it is, it's the second double-murder this week, and that means that Lawndale doesn't currently have the right environment for the kids like you! We're going to Hawaii - pronto!"
Sandi chose to appear in the room, like a jack-from-the-box, looking paler than a baker in flour. "Mom!" she yelled and collapsed, blood dripping from her leg.
The next moment a tall, pale-skinned man appeared, standing over the prone girl. "Everybody, quiet!" he roared. "I'm taking over this house now!"
Penny mutely stared at the dead faces of her - their - brother and his best friend. Jane had also seen them, and was currently lying on a couch in some office, getting back to her conscious self - that sight had shaken her to the core. "So what has happened?" she finally found strength to ask.
"They were shot," one of the cops accompanying them explained. "In the torsos. Pretty nasty too. At least the shots were clean - they practically died instantly."
"But - why? How?"
"Well," the cop said uneasily. "Your, er, brother, was apparently in possession of a large number of drugs of barbiturate and stimulant variety, and quite frankly, his blood analysis found that he was full to the gills, if you pardon the slang."
"He... was high?"
"That's not the word, miss. Your brother was practically saturated with drugs at this point, it was amazing that he could function at all, let alone possess a weapon with which he had shot Mr. Moreno. Of course, this leaves open a question who shot him, since Mr. Moreno was found unarmed, but that's not important to you."
Penny slowly straightened from her slouched sitting position and spoke. "Trent was the one who... killed that girl and her boyfriend?"
The cop looked uneasy. "Well, he does make a mighty tempting suspect, but nothing's final. Still, he does have a very good case against him - and his friend too."
"Can you... can you not tell my sister that?"
"Too late, sis, I heard that already," Jane said, appearing in the doorway, "and all I have to say is ask: what are we going to do now, what are we going to do now?"
"So, Daria, I'm so glad that you're alright," Helen said and turned to Karen. "And thanks that you've arrived just in time, it seems."
The black-haired woman shrugged. "Think nothing of it. "Down in the southwest, there's a big investigation going-on now, and not only us, but Mexican Federalis as well. See, the Bravas and the Serpents had clashed several times, and each time - bloodily. Needless to say, the government is not amused, and is currently performing a big, big cleaning-up action. And that's why I came here, in part - to see if here are any loose ends of this story."
"Oh well, thanks anyways," Daria shrugged, before her parents could react. "Nobody expected you to run on pure altruism anyways."
"Yes, Karen, thank you," Helen nodded. "You did save Daria's life, as well. Who is that guy?"
"Apparently, Mrs. Morgendorffer," the officer-on-duty spoke, joining the four people, "a total nutcase. He's just saying something about snakes, lots of snakes... he needs professional help. And he'll have it."
"Well, say what you will, but I'm glad that this is real life, not some action movie," Karen sighed. "Because according to script, by now some gangster should've held you hostage in exchange for diplomatic immunity or something."
The Morgendorffers nodded in agreement.
'This isn't happening,' Linda Griffin thought. 'Crazy-looking, bloodied bandits don't burst into one's home, swinging a gun and threatening.
Linda's husband Tom, meanwhile, was thinking more pragmatic, and consequently more depressing, thoughts. He thought that the crazy-looking man was just going to kill them, as soon as they don't look like they are going to scream immediately - a man like that didn't need any witnesses that could describe him at all. "Look, mister," he began, trying to bargain for the life of the children, but didn't finish: a heavy spyglass, given as a gift by his buddy Trevor, slammed into the man's head, knocking him off the feet. The gun went flying, and Tom brought himself onto rushing onto the still dazed intruder.
The other man was strong. Very strong, and Tom didn't have much practice in wrestling earlier anyways. However, Monique, appearing as silently as an owl, quickly decided the outcome, by wrapping some cord over the stranger's neck and pulling on it until the latter choked and fell unconscious.
"What are you waiting for, mom?" Sandi rasped from the sofa under which she had crawled during the fight. "Call the cops!"
And Linda did just that.
Trent Lane and Jesse Moreno were buried pretty soon after they were identified by Trent's sisters. They could've been cremated, but neither girl really wanted to keep Trent's ashes, and Jesse's relatives didn't really give a drum's worth of damn for him or his ashes. Still, a few people, including a few Lanes and the Morgendorffers have been present to see the two boys go onto their final journey - a descending one, as Daria would've commented,.. if only the latest events hadn't rather decreased the levels of sarcasm in her lexicon. As it was, though, it had rumored for a long time after the burial, that from time to time a big snake was seen to appear crawling in or out from Trent Lane's grave. The rumors claimed that it was Trent Lane himself, punished by God for his murder of Quinn Morgendorffer... but that is just chatter and gossip of the old ladies - after all, in reality, the proof that Trent did shoot Quinn was never proven.
But who cares that there's enough proof behind a rumor? Unofficially, the crowd had declared that it was Trent who shot Quinn, and stuck with it.
Needless to say, this caused Quinn's grave to become rather, well, famous, and the deceased girl became one of Lawndale's most popular dead people. Lawndale High, in particular, had benefited a lot from that. Admittedly, quite a few rumors claimed that Quinn's reputation and achievements have been... rather distorted and exaggerated, but you can't speak ill of the dead, can you?
Admittedly, if the relatives of either decedents had cared to speak up for or against them, things may've been different, but in reality, both the Morgendorffers and the Lanes (those that did make Lawndale their more or less permanent base anyways) had moved away from the city to new pastures.
...After the legal proceedings were over, and the man named Vlad Kostushko got twenty minimum with no parole, and his partner Adam Nash got locked-up in a mental ward (the man was clearly unstable, totally kooky concerning snakes, uncaring to talk about anything else), the Morgendorffers opted to move. Despite the fact that their friend Karen had suggested that they could find a good place to live in Tucson, they instead ended-up in the west coast, in Bellingham - just in time for a huge lawsuit over fishing rights to start, and the lawyers - including Helen Morgendorffer - pulled quite a lot of 'chestnuts' from that fire.
Meanwhile, the Lanes - or at least Jane and Penny also ended-up in the west coast - but much more southwards, in John Day. Furthermore, their relationship with the Morgendorffers - or at least of Daria and Jane had grown slack. Apparently, the fact that Trent killed Quinn was too much for that.
As for the Griffins, they recovered, and Linda even managed to get quite a big chunk of money for Sandi's physical injury and the others psychological ones. Sandi, incidentally, did walk with a limp after that, and grew just a bit more humble as well, so perhaps that money had been earned, however unpleasant Linda Griffin's character might be.
As for Monique... well, nobody really knew or cared about her to learn what had happened to her, but... one day she just came to her step-aunt's house with some poultices and other stuff, and fixed Sandi's limp in less than a day. Needless to say, grateful parents repaid her well, advertising her as some sort of a native healer, so Monique's finances improved.
And on that upbeat note this story comes to an end.