I’m just a beta machine and I don’t work for nobody but you…
A mighty sexy beta machine.
Merry Christmas all.
Disclaimers: Tom Lynch and the MTV Networks own the SON characters. We make no money.
Rating: A, for comic-book violence
* * * * *
Send in the Clowns, Ep 5.2 [by clomle44]
Ashley put her guitar down and stretched.
“Okay, I’m officially out of creative juices,” she called out to the men in the recording studio. “I’m done for the day.”
“Come on, Ash. We’ve got another hour of time at least,” Jared said through the communication mike.
“Jared, we’ve done three full songs and I’m fucking beat. I’m not doing any more.”
He sighed, as though her insistence at finishing early was an insult to him personally. As far as Ashley was concerned, being a famous rock star was really just a job where you were bossed around by more, rather than less people. She made a fortune for her record company and if most of that money hadn’t been flowing back to her own coffers, she might have just quit.
“We’ve got tour meetings, Ash.”
Ah, yes, the tour. There was no way Ashley was going on a worldwide tour, but she hadn’t quite gotten around to telling Jared that yet. She’d do some fly-in shows, but there was no way she was leaving LA for months on end.
She’d spent enough time away from home and away from Kyla.
Jared was going to have a coronary when he found out, or a fit: one or the other. Looking at his grumpy face told Ashley that now was not the time to bring it up. Maybe she should just sit through the meeting for him; he did work pretty darn hard.
She stood up, stretching again, and watched him through the glass. He leaned down and pressed the mike button again. “Your phone is ringing.”
Damn. Who could that be?
Ashley didn’t exactly have a lot of friends. There was Kyla, and then there were the people who hung around her and sometimes had drinks with her. Then there was Spencer, who had basically become a somewhat permanent fixture in the rock singers’ life. Whether the girl fell under the category of friend was yet to be seen. She was certainly on Ashley’s mind a fair bit.
The missed number turned out to be Kyla.
Eager for some non-record-producing companionship, Ashley called her sister back.
“You rang, oh uniformed one,” she said when the policewoman answered.
“Very funny. I need you.”
“Well, I feel needed. You need me?”
“Yes,” Kyla said bluntly. “Get here.”
“Whoa, hold up there, Charlie! You need me? Lil’ ol’ guitar-playin’ me?” Ashley grinned. This was unusual: usually, in a work capacity, Kyla wanted to speak to Ashley’s leather-loving alter-ego.
“Ashley, stop screwing around and get your ass down to the precinct.”
“Now?” Sometimes teasing Kyla was just too much fun.
“Now!” Apparently Kyla wasn’t much in the mood to be teased because she hung the phone up.
Yet another person to boss her around.
“Jared, I’m leaving,” she informed her frowning manager.
“Oh, for God’s sake, I don’t have to be in every organisational meeting. You go. Call me if you need me.”
She let him stand there with his jaw dropping open before she picked up her backpack and walked out. Sometimes people forgot that Ashley Davies had a very strong mind of her own. But they could always be reminded.
* * * * *
It had been one of the most interesting meetings she’d ever had. Admittedly, flirting wildly with Spencer would be a high point in any day, but today’s flirtation had been particularly wonderful.
God, the blonde had a mouth on her.
And the brain wasn’t too bad, either.
Ashley tried not too look too hard at the body because it made strange things happen to her own.
The fact that Kyla was actually dragging them into an investigation was just added bonus, and a little strange, at that.
As soon as Spencer had closed the door with an admonition for the older brunette not to dally, Ashley turned on her sister.
“My God, could you be any less subtle?” were the first words out of Kyla’s mouth.
“What?” Ashley’s brow furrowed. She had been intending to quiz her sister on the case. She had no idea what the shorter woman was talking about.
“You have the biggest crush on Spencer.”
“I do not!”
“Uh-huh. Methinks she doth protest too much.”
“Protesting once is hardly too much,” Ashley retorted. “And, even if I did have a crush on her, it would be irrelevant.”
“I dunno. Maybe if she didn’t think you were such a massive brat.” Kyla rolled her eyes and took the seat behind her desk.
“She’s supposed to think that,” Ashley pointed out. “Everyone is. It works better that way.”
“No!” Ashley cut her off before she could say any more. “Nothing is going to happen there.”
“Not with that attitude. Did you come back to talk about Spencer?”
The older girl shook her head. Actually, there had been somethign else on her mind. “Why me? Why not our friend?”
“Because no-one can know that I have a close connection to her. Technically, vigilantism is a crime.” Kyla swang back in her chair. “If I didn’t need every person I know and their dog on this, I would totally have never called Spencer. But she’s good. She has a reporter’s nose and great instincts. She’d be a fine detective. Only, she needs someone looking after her.” Kyla grinned. “I figured you were my second-best choice.”
Ashley rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
“You’d better get out there, Champ, before she drives off on you.”
“If she gets into trouble out there, I’m blaming you,” Ashley replied obstinately.
“She certainly has a knack for it. That’s why you’re there. I know she’ll be safe if you’re around.”
“I’m not blowing my damn cover,” the older sister grumbled.
Truth be told, she was glad for the distraction from the rest of her life. And the opportunity to spend some time with Spencer was not lost on her. What she’d said to her sister about the crush going nowhere was true. Nothing was ever going to happen between them, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy some good old-fashioned banter.
“Just look after her. And yourself,” Kyla said, before picking up the phone, effectively ending the conversation.
Ashley shrugged her shoulders, turning her back on her sister before donning the baseball cap and glasses that formed her main protection against her fame. It was astounding how well it worked, actually. Everyone knew Ashley Davies for her loud-mouthed ways and mane of brunette curls. Add in her flashing chestnut eyes and willingness to do or say anything, and you had someone who was instantly recognisable.
Then, if you slammed a baseball cap over a ponytail, threw on some aviators and kept the mouth shut, it was really, truly amazing how few people actually saw through such a meagre disguise.
So few that not a single person noticed her as she waltzed out of the police station into Spencer’s waiting car.
* * * * *
Spencer had asked her to be quiet. Rather than causing an escalation into an all-out war of words between the two of them, Ashley had aquiesced. That didn’t mean she wasn’t up to trying other methods to get the blonde’s attention, though.
She’d tried slurping her coffee; it hadn’t worked.
Singing worked, though, but only because it infuriated the reporter into letting her talk. Ashley was hungry and, when she was hungry, she got a bit grumpy. The solution to that was food. Any food. Only Spencer wasn’t biting on the request.
“We can’t get dinner. We’re working. Supposed to be looking for anything suspicious or asking the neighbours questions.”
“I see something suspicious. I see a pink goddamn elephant in the street, I’m so hungry.” Growling, Ashley leaned forward and blinked.
The blonde leaned past her and opened the dash compartment, pulling something out and dumping it in the musician’s lap. What it was, Ashley didn’t notice, far too distracted by the sudden wafting scent of Spencer as she leaned past.
What would she feel like pinned to the shower wall?
Heat shot through her like a river of molten rock.
“You can have that. We’ll get something for dinner before the next location.”
“Are you asking me on a date?” Keeping her voice level even while still affected was something Ashley was good at. Banter helped calm her down.
Ashley waited until the blonde moved back and eyed the sandwich. “I think it’s stale by now.”
Spencer shrugged, her eyes darting around the street. “Then don’t eat it.”
She had no intention of eating the sandwich. She was hungry, but she wasn’t that hungry. It had more been an excuse to talk. Silence with Spencer just wasn’t that much fun. She threw the food in the back and watched a little old lady walk across the street with a pile of papers under her arms.
“And there’s Patricia going over to Ethel’s with yesterday’s newspapers and some dirty magazines.”
“She’ll hear you,” Spencer replied. The brunette could see a sliver of a smile on the blonde’s face.
Oh, good, that was practically an invitation for Ashley to continue. “At her age?” she scoffed.
There was a long silence and the musician wondered what had changed. Spencer looked thoughtful, though, not mad. Eventually she said, “Can I ask you something?”
The brunette turned to face her. “You can ask, but I might not answer,” she replied honestly.
“Why isn’t it in the press that you have a sister? I mean, you’re always in a magazine or a newspaper, and you’re always being interviewed or photographed. How do you keep it from everyone?”
“Half-sister. And, we don’t keep it from everyone. You know.”
Ashley resisted the urge to bite her nails. She practically never talked about her private life, and somehow it felt strange. It had been a long time since she’d opened up to anyone. It was fine when she was behind the mask, whichever mask. Brat Ashley was extremely good protection. She felt her mask slipping now, though.
Apparently the blonde didn’t notice. “But what about the press?” she asked. “The story would be huge.”
Ashley held eye-contact. “Then why haven’t you written it, or tipped anyone off?” She knew Spencer wouldn’t. There was an implicit trust there, despite the blonde’s dislike of her.
“Because it’s not my business,” the reporter answered seriously. “I was just wondering why it’s not common knowledge.”
“I love Kyla, and I don’t want her to have the same problems I have.” Ashley held up her hand. “And, before you say anything, I’m just talking about the paparazzi. I know how lucky I am to have what I have. Kyla has enough problems with work right now. I don’t want to add to that.”
Spencer was staring at her.
The blonde shrugged, looking back to the street. “Nothing. You just sounded… almost sweet.”
For a moment, both their masks slipped altogether. There was a way in there, Ashley could tell; Spencer was open. Ashley wanted to reach across the car, grasp the back of the reporter’s neck and kiss the living hell out of her. The urge was so strong she could almost taste it.
But that was too much seriousness, too much reality.
She grasped on to the only thing she knew: Brat Ash.
“I can be very sweet.” She put her hand out sinuously, trying to touch the other woman’s leg.
Spencer smacked it away. “And very annoying,” she retorted, casually.
Ashley almost breathed a sigh of relief. The blonde wasn’t mad, but it had worked: everything was back to normal.
The old woman who, earlier, had been crossing the street, was now on her way back. Spencer turned and grabbed her jacket from the backseat, dusting off the breadcrumbs. “Don’t throw food over my clothes.”
“Where are you going?” The brunette frowned.
“To talk to that lady.”
“Crypt keeper? What for, baking tips?”
The words were half-missed by the blonde getting out of the car. Despite Ashley’s protestations that the fine ass she was watching should be back in the car, the reporter ignored her.
“God, you’re annoyingly stubborn,” she grumbled to herself.
The blonde wheeled around, glaring. That made Ashley frown again. There was no way Spencer could have heard that. Shrugging, she grabbed her own jacket.
“Is that Ashley Da-” she heard the old woman start to say, as she stepped out into the night air.
Spencer’s immediate denial seemed to work. Ashley was stamping her feet in the cold when she saw the blonde begin to follow the old lady over the street. Closing the door and locking the car, she caught up with the reporter on the sidewalk.
“You know, Kyla tells me all about the situations you get yourself into. Now I can see why. You don’t just walk into someone else’s house, Spencer. You don’t even know her.”
“I have Mace in my purse. It’s okay.”
“You’d use Mace on a senior citizen?” That made the older Davies’ eyebrows go up.
“Just… go and sit in the car,” Spencer said, shaking her head. “You can yell your insults from there.”
Ashley ignored her.
The inside of the house smelled distinctly of old woman and incontinent cat. There was a moth-eaten-looking sofa that at least seemed clean. As was the rest of the house. Almost simultaneously, the girls sat down, facing the old woman. Their legs barely touched and Ashley was distracted. It was only Spencer’s words that drew her back to the situation at present.
“I’m sure you know all about the murders here recently, and I was wondering if you could tell me anything you remember about that night. Anything at all.”
The old woman stood slowly and reached for a small diary, quickly pulling out a small piece of paper. She walked over to the women across the room and handed the paper to Ashley. “Ten minutes before gunshots were fired, I saw a van pulling up around the back.”
Spencer almost snatched the paper off her before reading it over. It was a license plate number. “If you had this, why didn’t you give it to the police?”
“You two aren’t police?”
“Undercover,” Ashley interrupted, wrapping her arm around Spencer’s shoulder. “We’re partners. Thank you for this. I’m sure it’s going to be a big help.”
Spencer shrugged out of the other woman’s embrace and sent her a look that spoke louder than any words could have. Turning to the elderly woman, she nodded in agreement. “Can I ask why you haven’t brought this to our attention before now?”
“I tried. I was put on hold every time I called the precinct. I was going to take it in tomorrow but you girls have saved me the bother.”
Ashley followed the blonde out of the house after giving the lady all the thanks and goodbyes they could muster. By the time they were both safely ensconsed back in the car, Ashley could see the strain visible on the reporter’s face. Her beautiful visage was worried, her head leaning back against the head rest with eyes closed.
Ashley watched her carefully.
Finally, Spencer opened her eyes. “I know we still have places to go, but I think we should just take this to Kyla and then see what light that plate sheds.”
Ashley grinned. The blonde was so cute when she was on the trail. There was only one thing the musician could think to say.
“Can we stop for a burger on the way?”
* * * * *
Kyla was indeed impressed. Despite all the genuine police officers that she’d sent out, this was the only piece of information even resembling a lead that had surfaced.
Ashley was surprised. Getting away with killing sixty-five people and having no-one at the precinct turn up anything concrete was almost impressive, in a sick way. On the other hand, having killed sixty-five people, there probably weren’t a lot of witnesses who would be willing to talk.
“It’ll probably be stolen,” Ashley said, not wishing to dampen everyone’s happiness but feeling the need to be honest.
She watched Kyla tap the information into her computer.
“Well, if it is, it hasn’t been reported,” the policewoman swung the screen around to show her sister. “Daniel McPherson is the registered owner and he hasn’t told us anything yet.”
Ashley watched Spencer reach out and trace the address line on the screen with the tip of her finger. “Maybe he knows something.”
The older sister scowled at Kyla. The policewoman should have known better than to give Spencer that information.
Acknowledging her mistake with the slightest of nods, the younger brunette turned to the reporter. “And maybe if you go anywhere near him, his house or his van, I’ll arrest you for obstruction of justice and then make sure that no-one in this precinct, or any other precinct in town, talks to you ever again.”
The vehemence with which she turned her screen back around merely punctuated her words.
“Sorry,” Spencer replied softly.
Ashley had a feeling that despite the apology, the blonde wasn’t entirely put off. She put her own hand on the reporter’s arm. “Spencer, you don’t need another near-death experience.”
The blonde looked down at the hand on her arm and then up at the musician’s serious face. “I don’t know that it’s any of your business.”
Ashley sighed. Brat Ash was becoming a hinderance. “Look, I have the capacity to care, okay? I don’t want to see anything happen to you and I’ve heard the stories.”
That just caused Spencer to glare at Kyla and yank her arm out of the older brunette’s grasp. “I’m not an idiot, despite what you two seem to think. And I can handle myself just fine.”
“Yeah, when there’s a superhero around,” Kyla shot back.
It was Ashley’s turn to glare at her.
Spencer’s adoration for the leather-clad vigilante had not gone unnoticed. Even more poignant was the strange sense of jealousy that it gave the musician.
“She won’t always be around,” Ashley said softly. “Please, can you just take a step back on this one?”
For the first time ever, she looked deep into Spencer’s blue eyes and watched her stare back. There was dead silence during the exchange and Ashley could have sworn that the hairs on the nape of her neck were standing on end.
“I promise I won’t do anything stupid,” Spencer finally said, turning away. If the brunette wasn’t mistaken, there was a slight tinge of pink to the blonde’s cheeks.
“Good,” said Ashley and Kyla, simultaneously.
“And I’m starving. I’m going to go get dinner,” Spencer turned to pick her jacket up off the floor. “Er, Ashley, were you coming?”
The invitation shocked both sisters, but Ashley’s shake of the head seemed to surprise Spencer even more. “I’m good for the moment. I just wanna have a word with Kyla. In private.”
Those final two words seemed to shake the blonde out of whatever mood she was in. Almost angrily, she bade them goodbye and walked out the door, causing it to shudder a little as it closed.
“Jesus, what got up her nose?” Kyla said, turning back to the computer.
“Sometimes, you’re the most oblivious person on the planet,” the older brunette countered. “I’m calling in our friend.”
Kyla looked up from the glowing monitor again. “Now?”
“Now,” Ashley confirmed.
“She’s got about half an hour before the cops get there then.” The policewoman stood up. “Because I’m not waiting long on this one. It’ll take that long to get the chief’s approval to move anyway, otherwise I’d be in there now.”
“Well, I guess I’d better go inform her then.” Ashley grinned. More fun to be had.
She was almost at the door when she heard her sister’s soft reply. “Just make sure she’s careful.”
* * * * *
The early hours of the morning were cool as the Vindicator pulled up in the black car she used to get around. It hadn’t taken long after the information had come through and even less time for her to get here. Of course she’d broken a few road rules along the way. What was the point of being a vigilante if you stuck to the letter of the law perfectly?
The van was clearly visible in the driveway of the small clapboard house. The neighbourhood was silent, as expected this early in the morning. She regarded the van for a while and considered her next move. There was no proof that this man was actually responsible for the massacres that had occurred, but his presence at the precinct would probably be appreciated. Given the reach of the criminals that had done the job, it was possible he’d be warned soon.
Should she go in and get him?
As luck would have it, the universe was feeling friendly. Maybe it was making up for that fall off the bridge because, just as she was trying to make up her mind, the front door of the house opened.
A figure of a man, his features concealed in the darkness, walked down the path and got into the van. The ancient thing took a few sputters to get going, but eventually fired into life with a few expulsions of what could only be considered poisonous gas.
She followed at a safe distance.
On the dark streets, it wasn’t easy to keep a distance, but the black of the car was useful. Keeping the headlights off – while dangerous – helped, too.
Kyla would not have been amused.
The van drove on, eventually pulling into a dingy industrial area. It drove through an opening in a beat-up wire fence, and to follow would have been too obvious. It was also unnecessary. The van parked next to the large, dilapidated warehouse, and the man got out.
Parking her car near by, the leather-clad defender of the people stepped out of her car. She scanned the building and spotted what she was looking for.
It didn’t take all that long to climb up onto the roof. Doing it quietly, given the state of the building, was a lot harder. Only at the end did she loosen a sheet of corrugated iron that started its noise-making slide to the ground. Luckily, she managed to catch it just before it tipped off the edge of the roof.
The skylight was even easier to open than the climb had been to make. She dropped lightly into the building, landing on a neat walkway that circled the building just below the high, high roof. There were people talking down below, but she first concentrated on lowering the skylight gently until it was shut again. It probably wasn’t ever intended to open, but very few things resisted her strength.
There was a crowd in the warehouse, milling around.
She snuck along the walkway, ducking behind boxes and staying in the dark and shadows. It was her kind of place. Further along, she could see a stairway leading down to a second walkway, one that also ringed the building but one floor down. Off that were the stairs to the floor far below.
It was on that floor, in the middle, that a lone figure stood. She was on top of a pile of boxes, neatly stacked in the centre of the room. Contrasting with the bare warehouse floor, it stood out.
That was the point.
The small woman on top of the boxes stood out, too. The mass of people milling in front of her were mumuring, but there was no shouting, no real attempt at talking.
And she couldn’t see well enough from here. The stairs weren’t far and, lucky for her, they were shrouded in shadow. With everyone’s focus on the woman, and the woman’s focus on the crowd, it wasn’t too hard for the Vindicator to make her way down to the next walkway.
One closer look confirmed her first suspicions.
Finally, she was able to get a good view of the woman who had been causing so much trouble in the town.
She was taller than the leather-clad girl, but slender. Her hair was blonde, almost white, and flowed out from a face that had been painted in such a way as to be almost pantomime in quality: black and white. Her clothes were skin-tight, showing a body that was fit, slender and well endowed with womanly qualities.
And then she spoke.
The icy command was spoken with the authority of someone who knew they would not be denied. And she wasn’t. The crowd hushed to the point where the proverbial pin dropping would have shattered the silence.
“You… should know why you’re here.” The Harlequin took two steps sideways on her small stage, eyes glued to the crowd. “You’re the people that didn’t die.”
There was a slight murmur from the crowd and then silence again.
“We’ve had a few… disputes. Arguments, if you like. About who was in charge in Los Angeles. Some people went so far as to suggest the police and government might even be in charge.”
The Harlequin’s wry smile was enough to permit the crowd a titter of laughter. One brave soul even called out, “Yeah, right,” before silence fell again. Not once did the woman on the boxes have to command the quiet; it just came.
“I think we silenced most of those arguments. You’re what’s left and you work for me now.”
If anything, the silence turned uncomfortable, but no-one spoke against her.
The woman motioned with her finger.
The Vindicator’s eyes flickered to the side of the boxes. Two goons, dressed in jeans and shirts, non-descript, dragged a figure through the crowd to the boxes. A man standing next to the boxes looked up at the Harlequin. She nodded down at him.
It occurred to the Vindicator that this man did not appear to be like the rest of the crowd. Where they were uncertain, he was sure. He stood, his muscular form solid and powerful, guarding the boxes. The leather-clad girl supposed he was some kind of bodyguard, or second-in-command.
The man in question hauled the dragged figure from the two goons and dragged him up onto the box. He stood, holding the man by his collar so that he dangled, feet tips dragging on the boxes. The second-in-command – if that’s what he was – was slightly taller than the Harlequin, but the deference was still obvious.
The Vindicator focused on the victim. He was ragged, bearded, and a little old.
The Harlequin sneered. “This man… This man thought he was being helpful when he talked to the police.” There was a jittering in the crowd, until she yelled, “Silence!” and the command was immediately obeyed.
“Let me show you what happens to people who cross me.” From the floor, a thin knife, almost a stilletto, floated up from the ground.
The leather-clad girl took a step forward. There was no way she could get through that crowd in time to save the man and, even if she could, surely one of them would have a gun.
In the end, she didn’t have to do any of that. A gasp, followed by a shouted “No!”, emanating from no more than twenty feet from the Vindicator did the job.
And she instantly recognised that voice; she would know it anywhere. Even just the short “No!” was so painfully familiar that the Vindicatior immediately surmised that Miss Spencer Carlin had gotten herself in trouble again. Only, thus far, she hadn’t been seen.
It took a second for the leather-clad girl to be standing in full light in front of the boxes just near where Spencer was hiding. Suddenly, everyone below had their eyes trained on her, and she could see the hulk on the stage reach into his coat for what was almost certainly a gun.
It was, oddly, the Harlequin who stopped him.
A waved hand quieted the suddenly raucous crowd.
“I’ve been expecting you.”
The Vindicator rolled her eyes. “Who writes your lines, honey? That one’s old.”
The stiletto was throw up, lazily swirled and caught by the handle. “You’re very brave, given where you are.”
The superhero shrugged. “You don’t scare me. I will take you down.”
“Now whose lines are getting old?”
She had to grant that one. She could almost sense the blonde behind the crates getting more and more anxious. “What, you’re gonna send your goons after me?”
The Harlequin just laughed.
“Yeah, it wasn’t so funny when you nearly killed those kids.”
The laughter died in an instant. There was a long stretch of silence and then, to the masked woman’s surprise, the painted woman began laughing again. Insane, she was just insane!
“A small price to pay for the message we convey,” the Harlequin retorted.
“Wow, you even rhyme.” The Vindicator crossed her arms. “I have no idea what you’re out to achieve bu-”
“Well, that one’s simple. I want to rule this town.”
“Over my dead body.”
The Vindicator watched the main henchman – still holding his prey by the collar – pull an oversized pistol out of his jacket. For a second, her heart sped up, knowing that she’d be hard pressed to out-run a bullet. Diving for the boxes might be the only way to go.
But, once again, the Harlequin saved her the trouble. She waved the young man down. His face fell, but the gun was down to his side. The stilletto jumped in the air again and came down.
Then, the most amazing thing the Vindicator had ever seen happened right in front of her. The knife floated up and then stood still. In mid-air, it floated then rotated so that its point was aimed right at the leather-clad hero.
Underneath it, the Harlequin’s palm hovered, as though she was controlling the knife half-a-foot above her.
“You know, you’re not as special as you think you are,” came the sing-song voice of the Harlequin. “You’re not one of a kind. You’re not amazing.”
The knife rose.
“You’re just one of the crowd.”
The girl in leather took a step back.
And the knife flew towards her.
* * * * *