I still don't have a beta, so if you see any errors please tell me.
He’d kept a packed overnight case in his apartment all summer. When he heard of a possible sighting, he’d grab it and be on his way. To Reno, to a small village in Mexico a day’s drive from the border, and once as far as Vancouver in Canada. There was never a Slayer in any of the places he went. But he’d come back, empty the bag of dirty clothes and fill it up with clean and leave it close to the front door. When school started again, he put the bag in the trunk of his car. He was at the school when he got the next call.
Someone had talked to someone who talked to someone about something odd in Los Angeles. Giles hadn’t broadcast inquires about a wandered-off Slayer so these vague hints were all he was likely to get. A few discreet colleagues asking casual questions was scarcely a MI5 spy network. Still.
He decided it was worth checking out. There was a hurried admonition to his little band of vampire hunters not to get killed while he was away and he was off for a weekend of scouring a city covering hundreds of square miles for one blonde teenager who didn’t want to be found.
When he got to LA he checked into one of the inexpensive chain motels he came across. The costs of these trips were all his burden; he couldn’t see itemizing a Watchers’ expense sheet under the heading. Charges to Find a Misplaced Slayer. And he certainly wouldn’t get away with putting it all down to Miscellaneous.
That evening Giles found the location of the whispered sighting of the Slayer rather easily and quickly knew that this was going to be another disappointment. It was a club filled with bored young people, boys and girls, wearing too much mascara and swaning about in black outfits. In their struggle to be “different” they found it necessary to gather with others who looked just like them. A middle-aged man in slacks and a sports jacket was the real curiosity here. Ah, well, this journey was always hope against hope.
He debated doing a prowl about the city, seeking more likely places vampires and Slayers would meet, but that struck him as a very foolish notion. It wasn’t as though he thought Buffy was in any physical danger. Putting himself in some wouldn’t help her any. Best to go back to the motel and get an early start home tomorrow. In the morning, though, he changed his mind about going right back. There was at least one more avenue he could explore. A place he’d heard mentioned in conversations at the Council.
He found the address he was looking for in the telephone book and charted out the route to it on his AAA map. The trip reminded him what a sleepy little place Sunnydale really was; to survive traffic in a big city one must assume a gladiator mentality. He felt as though he’d just fought a dozen vampires when he finally parked near the bookstore he wanted.
Giles said, “Good day” to the man behind the cash register counter just inside the front door. The man made a non-committal sound, not even looking up from his book. Giles went on, “I’ve heard you have some interesting volumes here. Mind if I look about a bit?”
“Nah, go ahead,” he turned his head toward Giles and gave him a speculative glance, his attention probably piqued by the accent. “Got any questions, let me know.”
Giles walked around reading the titles. The shelves were filled with books about the occult, new and used, faddish and serious. There wasn’t anything Giles hadn’t come across before. He approached the reading man. “I’ve heard about your store from friends. Some of them have bought some rare things through the owner, Denver. Is he here?”
“That’s me. I do most of the counter watching. I like to keep overhead down. So who recommended me?”
“Well, I know a colleague of mine, Dr. Miller, Caryn Miller, bought an 11th century demonology manuscript through you.”
“Yeah, I remember that. Crazy drawings in that one. So, wait, you’re a Watcher?” The man stood up, laying his book aside. “Man, I haven’t seen one of them since the early seventies. Hey! Does that mean there’s a Slayer in town? ‘Cause we could use one.”
“Well, that’s the crux of it. I’m looking for a Slayer.”
“Oh. Huh. Like, you lost one?”
“Something like that. I thought perhaps you’d heard something. Some odd doings.”
The man made a small snorting sound. “This is LA. There’s always odd doings. But, geez, I haven’t heard any particular buzz about vamps lately. Have you been by Caritas?”
“It’s a bar with music. It’s a demon hangout; if anybody knows anything you should be able to find out there. Ask for Lorne. He owns the place.”
“A demon bar? I don’t think that...”
“It’s not like a lair. It’s a karaoke bar.”
“Really.” Giles made the word a question and an exclamation. Once again he encountered something never brought up at any Watchers’ meeting he’d ever attended. “It’s not dangerous?”
“Nah, Lorne’s got a spell on it that prevents fights breaking out. I usually go about once a month. Every second Tuesday they have a ‘Motown Night’. You should see what gets up to sing the ‘girl group’ songs!"
“Wait, I got the address on a card. Tell Lorne I sent you. I introduced him to some good music when he was sorta new in town.” Denver shrugged. “Well, he’ll tell you that story if he wants to.”
“Yes, well, thank you.”
Giles felt he must have looked completely skeptical because Denver added, “It’s worth a shot. I mean, if you sing Lorne can read your future or see your path, or something. I never did; man, I just don’t want to know. But maybe he can zero in on your Slayer.”
“Thank you. I might give it a try.” Giles was unconvinced about demons being anxious to share information about the whereabouts of a Slayer. And in any event, this place wouldn’t be open until much later. So he thought he’d fill the hours until then as best he could. “You’ve been very helpful. I wonder, since I’m here, if you have any unusual books or manuscripts, something that would interest the professional.” Well, that has a sub rosa flavor to it, he thought. It’s as though I’m asking to see the pornography.
But Denver knew what he meant. “Man, a Watcher’s probably seen everything I’ve got. Let’s see...the cabinet downstairs might have something. You might not have seen some of the original Asian stuff. Let me lock up for a while so I don’t have to deal with any of the trendies wanting ‘Kabbalah for Dummies’”.
The shopkeeper and Giles spend several hours going over the stock. Denver grew quite expansive about his inventory and was eager to hear about the Watcher’s hands-on experience with demons. Giles was amused to hear himself spin several stories all with a ‘Ripping Yarns' quality about them. Great fun and the good guys always win! Maybe that is what being so close to Hollywood did to one.
Giles left several hours later with a purchased slim volume about cleromancy in his pocket. The time he’d spent with Denver made Giles feel more sanguine about trusting his recommendation about Caritas. He decided a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude was best.
The rest of the day he spent at the Getty Museum, guilt nudging him at the odd moment because he wasn’t looking for his Slayer. Sitting on the museum terrace under the warm sun, he scanned the panorama of the city. She may be here; she may not. How wide the world was; how was one to know where to start?
It was much later that evening when he went to the address Denver had given him. He’d see-sawed in his mind about going at all but finally gave in to what he admitted to himself was his curiosity. Arriving, he went cautiously down the steps leading to the bar. He could hear music and chatter and to his experienced nose there was the whiff of “demon” under the usual bar smells. The sophistication of the room the stairs led to surprised him. It was subtly lit and had a prominent stage. There seem to be a great deal of neon, but maybe that was to be expected on Los Angeles. Obviously, not every demon bar should be judged by “Willie’s” with its shabby look and glum customers. He’d only been there once with Buffy, but she had assured him it was always like that.
Giles took a stool at the bar and ordered a beer, specifying in a bottle and unopened. He was by no means the only human in the room which gave him hope he wouldn’t attract attention. It was all quite fascinating. He looked around the room, trying to identify the various types of demons congregated here, as though he had a “bird” list to check off.
On stage a green demon in a floridly cut yellow suit seemed to be in consultation with a large lizard. After a few whispered exchanges he turned to the audience and said, “All right, Liz here was feeling all torn. Springsteen or Mellancamp? Bruce or whatever the cougar is calling himself now? But Liz is all about “No Surrender" now.” And with that he handed the microphone over to the mottled-skin demon who launched into a enthusiastic attack on the song. Giles called the bartender over and confirmed his guess that the MC was Lorne.
It occurred to him that he should jot down a note or two about this experience. He’d just about filled one page of his notebook when he heard a voice close to his ear say, “I hope you’re not writing down health code violations or stealing Ramon’s appletini recipe.”
Giles turned to see the horned MC standing next to him. He felt a little loomed over. “No, no, just some observational notes for my self. Sort of a habit.” He slipped the book back into his pocket. “Your place is very...interesting. Impressive. I understand you are the proprietor. Lorne, is it?” Giles flustered a little as the other’s red-rimmed eyes seemed to weigh him up.
“That’s me. This little chunk of paradise is all mine."
"I was given your name by Denver, the owner of the bookshop."
"Oh, Denver, great guy. He turned me on to Charlie Parker and Chet Baker The man knows his tortured musicians. Is that what you are?"
"What? No. I play but I...no...," Giles said in a firmer tone, "I'm looking for someone who may be in Los Angeles."
"It must be somebody who isn't looking to be found if you've come here for help."
"Perhaps. Yes. Mostly I'm concerned that she's all right. She's the Slayer."
Lorne looked startled and moved in closer. "Of all the gin joints in all the world, a Watcher walks into mine. Excuse me if I keep my voice low. The clientele would get antsy knowing somebody like you was in the house. You are a Watcher, aren't you? You have that stern look, like von Stroheim, only not bald."
"Er, yes. I'm a Watcher." Giles felt buried in words; evidently this green thing's personality was as extravagant as its clothes. He didn't remember running across "makes innumerable show business references" as a characteristic of any species in the many books about demons he owned. "I thought perhaps you'd heard something."
"Well, demons talk as much as anybody after a few drinks, but I can't say there's been anything about a Slayer in town. I haven't read anything either, when they were singing. If you'd like to belt out a few bars of "Rule Britannia" or something, I might have a clue."
"You read minds, or something of that sort?"
"Using that tone of voice about it won't win you any friends."
"Really, I didn't mean to give offense. It's just I haven't run across this in a demon before. It works...that is...you are able to read humans?" Giles left unspoken the question of why this demon would want to apply his gift to humans.
"Where I come from, nobody sings. When I came over here, not only did I have all this glorious music but a connection to The Powers That Be. It helped me fit myself in here. There I was, all 'stranger in a strange land' and this gift helped me get my bearings. People, demons, if they've got the music in them, I can read them. Sometimes I see specific things that'll happen; sometimes it's just an indication of the singer's path. It's really not up to me." Lorne continued with a smile. "Well, guess who's gotten me all autobiographical! Want to step up to the mic and give me a rendition of, say, 'A Hard Day's Night'? It might tell me if there's a Slayer in your future."
When Giles hesitated in answering, Lorne said, "Think about it; I have to go and intro a sad Slug demon who's broken up with his girlfriend and who's been kicked out of his garbage dump. He's going to be singing Hank Williams and dripping slime all over my stage."
Lorne was gone for a while introducing several singers, demon and human, taking their turns at the karaoke machine. Giles had been sitting facing the room but gradually he felt enough at ease to slide around and put his elbows on the bar. He ordered another beer and assumed the position of the solitary drinker at a bar with a mirrored wall behind it. He stared at his reflection.
This was certainly different from the demon world he'd been prepared for at the Watchers' Academy. Was he out ill when they covered "Demons in Cocktail Lounges"? The world grew more and more gray-hued as one was out in the field. It did seem that this place was fulfilling the needs of a niche market. Perhaps he should plan on opening a demon pub when he retired. He understood ex-policeman often went into owning a pub or bar. It was a natural progression. One understood the clientele. The karaoke was a nice touch, though it would mean listening to a great deal of bad music. Giles idly let his mind run along these lines, lost in his daydreams. He began to hum along to the song being massacred on stage, "Heart of Glass".
He heard a voice close to him say, "Well, it has been a long strange road, hasn't it?" and turned to see Lorne at his side.
"What? I'm sorry?"
"Your humming; it tells me things. You weren't always the leather patches on the tweed type, were you? Your choosing the straight and narrow was a smart move; too bad it came a little too late."
Giles answered with an irritated, "Well, that's really neither here or there, is it? I'm only interested in...," he realized his voice had gotten louder than he wanted. "... in the person I'm looking for."
"You won't find her here. She'll be back but in her own time."
Giles studied Lorne's face. "You're sure? That she's all right?"
"She is what she is, so there's always some mess to clean up but she'll be fine. Only, you should take what she says about why she left with a shakerfull of salt. Be patient. Want me to tell you any more?"
Giles sighed and shook his head. "It's better not. Some of the things that have happened I'm glad I didn't know about beforehand. Thank you for your help. I feel a little easier about it now."
"My pleasure. You could do me a favor and not mention being here to the Council. I don't need that 'Eye of Sauron' fixing on me. Keep it on the down low."
"You have my word."
"Good. I've got to go and mingle. Enjoy your beer; ask the barkeep for the special bar snack bowl, it has cashews. I know you like them." Lorne moved away, looking at the bartender and giving a nod toward Giles. The man came over to Giles who declined the offer of another beer or the nibbles bowl. They chatted for a few minutes about demon bar running before the man was summoned over to another customer.
Giles started to leave when a man, a human, two stools over spoke to him. "Hey, excuse me." The man got up and stuck out his hand. Giles got the impression of expensive clothes and manicured nails. "I'm Om Tarish. I hear you talking over there, not that I was eavesdropping, you know, just listening and nursing my drink. Boy, they charge an arm and a leg here, don’t they?" Giles shook the proffered hand releasing it as soon as possible. The man continued, "Anyway, I was listening and I have to say you got a great voice. You ever think of using it?"
"I don't understand."
"I'm sort of an agent. A talent scout. In advertising. In TV. I like to come here, this bar, once in a while, you'd be surprised, sometimes I find somebody we can use in an off-beat campaign. And I like coming for myself, too, because, you know, I get tired of the pretty. Everybody in Hollywood's got perfect teeth and they've botoxed the wrinkles. This sort of balances it out. Creatures with scales, yellow pointed teeth and all. So I was saying, your voice. Perfect for voice-overs. Classy English accents. Americans eat them up. Though why it'd sell more toilet paper, I don't know, but it does. The accent. So, what'd you think? Interested? We could have you in for a test."
Giles, perplexed and rather amused, said, "Thank you, no. I have rather a full schedule (he emphasized the English pronunciation) at the present time. But, again, thank you for the offer."
The man conjured a business card so quickly Giles didn't see when it came from. "OK, too bad, but OK. Let me know if you change your mind. Easy money if you can do it. Great accent. Let me know." And as suddenly as he accosted Giles he was back on his stool attending to his drink.
Giles left the bar, musing over the possibilities of two future careers. Perhaps he could combine them: Pub owner to the diabolical/Seducer of the American television-viewing public. Something to tuck away and think about when he wanted to supplement his pension.
Going back to his motel Giles decided to drive home that night. He longed for his own bed and things about him. His mood became darker as he drove along the freeway toward Sunnydale. Once again without his Slayer.
He felt utterly useless. This really was too bad of Buffy. Whatever happened at the mansion and later at home she should have let them know where she was. Joyce must, despite her brave front, be half-mad with worry. Children! He wished he could say he never caused this kind of trouble to his own parents, but of course, he had. Perhaps it was a rite of passage that even Slayers must go through. He must remember to assure Joyce that it wasn’t her fault.
It was still dark when he climbed the steps to his apartment. His whole body sagged with weariness and frustration. He meant to get a few hours sleep and then go over to see Joyce, disappointing her once again with his news. Before he turned in, he emptied his travel bag and repacked it with clean things. He put it near the door. Lorne said she'd be back and Giles believed him, but he might get a call; she might need him. It would be ready. Just in case.