I walked into 'Mr. Bogarty's pawn shop' hopeful about finding some answers. I was intrigued by his request to talk to me alone. He knew the rest of the gang and knew that they could be trusted unconditionally. Mr. Bogarty was a man that I grew up knowing through my father. He was an expert on jewels and antiques and he could get the skinny on any fence in town. He had helped my father out a couple of times on some 'stolen goods' cases.
He came out quickly from behind the counter as soon as he spotted me and rushed to put the 'closed' sign on the door. "I don't want anyone interrupting us now," he said looking nervously outside. "Come sit down."
I took off my hat and sat down quietly waiting for him to take the lead.
He wiped his forehead and adjusted his glasses. "Oh dear, I was afraid this day might come. I tried warning your father." He fidgeted in his chair. "I think I need a drink of something cold. Do you want anything child?" he asked and before I could even answer he was heading to the back room to fetch something.
I was getting antsy with all the stalling and accepted the drink when he came back. He took a long swig and then finally started talking. "What youíre looking for itís not 'jewels' it's a 'jewel' in singular. Your father came to me about it shortly before his accident. He sought me out not only for my knowledge on gems and our friendship, but because as you know Iím also a mythology and history enthusiast. This gem is very special, it's called..." He hesitated, took another drink and looked nervously around the room as if he were afraid that someone would listen in. "The Eye of the Raven," he said in a hushed tone.
I was about to interrupt to ask him some questions when he put his hand up and silenced me with a gesture. "Please let me tell you the whole story and then you may ask anything that you want to. It's quite an extraordinary tale. But there's something you must also learn first, the gem is not the only thing that you need to look for." He paused and ducked down behind the counter. I heard shuffling and a click of a lock. He stood exclaiming "Ah-ha! I got it! Here you'll need this," he said extending his hand and offering me a small silver key.
Again I was going to make with the questions when he simply squeezed the key into my hand and shook his head. "Nah-uh remember no talking. This is a long story and we donít have much time. Where was I? Oh yes... 'The Raven', a lot of people are interested in its 'Eye'," he said raising his glass half way and continuing, "now listen to me you must trust no one. You have hidden enemies and they want..." He never finished the sentence a loud bang pierced the air and his glass shattered. I dove down instinctively and pulled out my piece I could hear screeching tires outside. I raised my head and put my back to the wall, I pushed back the shades with the tip of my revolver and there was no one outside except scared onlookers. I turned my attention back into the shop and Bogarty was still sitting at his chair clutching at his chest. I ran over to him and held him in my arms. I gently lifted one of his hands, it was bad, the blood was flowing too quickly from the wound. I knew he was a goner. So did he. He held my hand tight as I lowered him to the ground. He wheezed and coughed. "The 'Eye' Don't let them get the 'Eye'..."
He was in pain. "Hey take it easy pops, don't try anymore talking," I said gently.
He grabbed the lapels of my jacket with as much strength as he could muster and gulped out in a labored breath, "You... don't... under-... it... could be the-end." It was the last thing he ever said.
I got up with his blood all over my hands. I wanted to cry, I wanted to scream, I wanted to punch somebody. What the Hell was going on? I exited the shop just as two flat foots had finally managed to get their asses to the scene. Fortunately I knew one of them and that meant I wouldn't have to waste too much time with explanations and red tape.
I asked around to see if there were any witnesses. What a surprise, there weren't any. When this sort of thing happens nobody ever sees a damn thing. I talked to my buddy in blue and he agreed to let me know if anything turned up. I thought I had spotted a familiar face in the street when I had looked through the cracks in the shades. I would check that out later.
I got in the car and slammed the door nearly off its frame. I had to sit there in silence for a while just calming down. I stared at the key that Mr. Bogarty had given me like it had all the answers. Now it wasn't 'jewels' it was a 'jewel' leaving a trail of stiffs behind it and I was beginning to suspect that one of them could've been my father.
The minute I walked through the door my friends jumped up from their sitting places and bombarded me with questions, everyone talking at once.
"Oh my God boss... the blood... what happened?" Anya yelped.
"Are ya hurt?" Xander asked turning me over and checking for injuries.
"Good Lord!" Giles exclaimed wiping his glasses furiously and keeping a safe distance.
Buffy panicked. "What happened? Sit down. Should I bring you water? Does someone covered in blood need water?"
I had to whistle loudly like I was hailing a cab "Hey!" I put out my arms. "Everybody just stop. Anya the blood is not mine it's Mr. Bogarty's. Xander I'm not hurt anywhere unless you count the ringing in my ears from your girl's screeching. Giles the good Lord be with you too and Buffy no I don't want any water, thank you very much."
"Oh o.k.," everyone said in unison and sat back down looking at me expectantly.
Tara came out from the office upon hearing the ruckus and paled when she saw me. She gasped and brought her hands to cover her mouth. I saw her sway a little on her feet and rushed over to catch her when she nearly fainted. "Hey kid easy there. I got you."
"You're hurt," she said nearly in tears.
"I'm not. It's not my blood. Calm down o.k.?" I said putting her down in a chair. "Anya do me a favor and get her some tea or something."
Anya crossed her arms. "Sure. Blondie gets tea and we get yelled at for worrying."
I glared at her. "Anya..."
She uncrossed her arms. "O.k., alright tea coming right up, plus doughnuts all around on you."
Once I explained what had happened to minus a few details everyone was more settled down and I asked Tara to please wait outside in the reception area while I discussed a few things with my partners. She seemed to understand and didnít hesitate to grant my request.
Giles was the first to start. "I ran Mr. Maclay's prints. He's no boy scout, but there's nothing major coloring his records. He has a few write ups for assault and drunken public disorder, disturbing the peace, stuff like that. That's about it."
Buffy repeated the information that she had given me over the phone so everyone would be on the same page.
Xander offered up a new tid-bit that could help us along. "Well he's a busy man I'll tell ya that much. First he visited every jewelry store in town. In the early afternoon he met with... you'll never guess who, 'Jimmy the Moose' I couldn't get a make on what they were talking about but they were looking worked up about something. Moose left and Maclay took off in the opposite direction, he stopped off at a house on River Drive and picked up a nice looking brunette. I think I recognized her Boss. I'm pretty sure it was one of 'Miss Kitty's' girls. He slung her on his arm for the rest of the day and I'll bet you a double malted that he'll be picking her up tonight too. Anyhow after picking up the 'lady' he met with a foreign looking guy they also talked for a good while and had a late lunch. If this guy is broke he sure ainít showing it. He took a cab everywhere and always picked up the tab. After speaking with the unidentified Joe he dropped off the girl and retired to his room. I spoke to the guy at the front desk. He's got dinner reservations 8 o'clock for four at Marino's and a table at 'The Copa' at 10 o'clock." He smiled and sat back in his chair. "That is it."
I rubbed my hands together. "Thank you Xander that was a job well done. We've got a couple of hours then. I'll talk with Miss Kitty see if she'll help us out. Buffy you and Anya are having dinner tonight at Marino's on me. Buffy you make sure you get the booth that's directly behind Mr. Maclay and company. Xander you scope out 'The Copa' and Giles I need you to look out for Tara for a few hours. I also have a feeling I shouldn't be leaving my house unattended to these days. Could you please go over there and keep your eyes peeled and make sure to go in the back way," I instructed.
Giles nodded. "Of course, I also think I can find out more about the gem that Mr.Bogarty mentioned I have some scholar friends that are very interested in history and mythology. They may know something about this 'Eye of the Raven'."
I had another thought. "Thanks Giles. I think there's also something else you could do. I think maybe if you've got some friends down south you could try digging a little deeper. Financial trouble or no financial trouble 'Little Donnie' still comes from 'old money' and 'old money' families tend to cover up their dirty laundry."
Anya who had been quietly taking notes was now raising her hand to intervene. I thought, This silence was too good to last.
"Speaking of rich or formerly rich southerners... boss do you really think it's a good idea to be sharing a bed with you know who? I mean pardon me, but I'm confused as all Hell. What is it exactly that we're doing? Who's our client? What's really the case? And who are we gonna send the bill to when were done doing whatever it is we are doing?"
These were all very good questions. I really wished I could've given Anya and myself all the answers.
Later that evening after I had washed, changed and seen Tara off I headed for was known as 'The Kitten Club', it was a private brothel run near the city's outer limits.
'Miss Kitty' ran it. She was a rambunctious, tough old broad who had been in the business for a long time. It's a business that's publicly frowned upon, but privately enjoyed at night by those who condemn it in the daylight. Personally I have no problems with it, I'll even admit to 'visiting' the establishment on matters other than business on a few occasions when I was younger.
I knew the guy at the door and he let me right in. I waited in the hall enduring 'funny' looks from some of the 'joes' lounging around. I was about to say something curt to a guy who was giving me a particularly 'dirty' look when 'Miss Kitty' showed up in all her glimmering splendor. I tell ya you could use one of her dresses as a searchlight during a black out.
She smiled and twirled her feather boa. "Well, well, well, look at what the cat dragged in," she said smirking and giving me the once over.
I got up to greet her when I was interrupted.
The guy that was giving a look got up in a tizzy and stood between us. "Hey I was here first," he said
'Miss Kitty' raised her eyebrows. "Keep your pants on honey... or on second thought don't, it would be bad for business. Don't be so impatient, my girls are worth the wait," she said winking and patting his cheek. She left him standing there stewing in his own juices while she led me by the arm through the main door.
Once inside her playful manner resurfaced. "Long time no see. Come here," she said pulling in me in for a hug. I returned it and she sneaked in a pinch to my butt only to distract me from the hand that was reaching for the crotch of my pants.
"Hey!" I said surprised and jumping back.
"Hey yourself. So is that a wet cherry in your pants or are you just happy to see me?" she asked coquettishly.
I think I actually blushed before gruffly answering, "Come on 'Miss Kitty' behave yourself. I'm here on official business."
She mock pouted. "No cherries for me then? Darn it. Alright honey come up to my office then."
She continued teasing me in there too. "Don't sit on that chair honey. Come on and sit on my lap. Make and old broad happy, why don't cha'?" She said patting her legs and wagging her eyebrows.
"Official business, remember?" I said as seriously as I could. It was hard to be serious around a feisty kitty.
"Oh poo! You're no fun anymore Red, o.k. just the facts then. What can I do ya for Red? Just between you and me I'd do ya for free." She wiggled her hips on the chair and winked at me.
I had to shake my head and chuckle. "You never give up do you?"
"No. But I do give it up plenty," she said grinning.
"Enough funny business. I'll just say what I need or you'll have me here all night... nah-ah, no comment on that one please." She looked disappointed that I had cut off her reply. I continued, "There's this guy 'Donald Maclay', Xander thinks he saw him around town with one of your girls, brunette, ring a bell?"
She lit a cigarette and puffed out a couple of rings. "Yeah, sure thing. I know the guy, slick as a weasel and real smug. I didn't like him, but I sure liked the green he flashed. He said he needed a classy looking girl to swing on his arm. He's the sort of fellow who likes to impress by showing off his doll. What's up with him that has you so somber looking?"
"I wouldn't even know where to begin. I'm still figuring some things out. I need to ask you a favor." Before I could even continue she cut me off.
"Whatever you need sweets. I still owe you and your dad a couple of big ones," she said flashing me a sincere smile.
"Thanks Kitty. I need to know more about this guy, anything at all. I want to know every step he takes and why he takes it."
She put out her smoke and clasped her hands together. "Don't worry it's done. He's with Trixie and that girl can make any man do anything she wants to. I'll talk with her and he'll be singing like a canary in no time flat."
I was grateful that she hadn't asked too many questions. I'm sure I wouldn't have had many answers to give her. I had always known that 'Miss Kitty' had a heart of gold. She always put up tough and playful faÁade because she had to, but when the chips were down she showed her true colors and did anything it took to protect those that she cared about. I considered myself lucky to have her as a friend. I'm not a woman of many words so I nodded and gave her a simple "Thank you" before walking out. Just as I was reaching for the door she stood and with her hands on her hips called out to me.
"Hey Red don't be such a stranger. Come up and see me sometime."
I smiled and blew her a kiss. She caught it in the air and placed it over her heart.
I drove around the block a couple of times before going up to my two story house. I entered with caution and found Giles standing alertly in the living room facing the door.
"Hello Red, anything new?" He asked.
"Nah, but I'm hoping that soon there will be. Anything new here?"
"Well when you go upstairs you might want to check out the street from the west window. There's a guy that's been in the phone booth since we got here."
I cranked my neck and hung up my hat and coat. "That's an awfully long phone call."
Giles nodded. "Yeah it is. Do you want me to go and lean on him, see what his deal is?"
"Nah. That would only tip them off that we're on to something. Let him freeze his tail out there. You go home and get some rest. We'll see what we can get done tomorrow."
Giles put on his coat and squeezed my shoulder on his way out. "You be careful." Before exiting he called out to Tara. I had almost forgotten that she was there with all the hustle and bustle of the day. "Goodbye Miss Maclay and thank you for dinner."
When I closed the door my senses suddenly registered an unfamiliar and pleasant odor coming from my kitchen. Tara walked out wearing an apron and wiping her hands. She stopped in her tracks when she saw me and smiled. "Oh hi. You're home. I didn't hear you come in. Is Mr. Giles gone? I just got the pie out the oven."
I raised an eyebrow in surprise. "Pie?"
Tara blushed and stammered a little. "I-I... uhm... saw that you hardly had anything in the cupboard so we... picked up some stuff and I made dinner. I hope you don't mind me taking over your kitchen."
I shrugged my shoulders. "No, it's o.k. I never go in there anyways. It's just that... well you really shouldn't have troubled yourself."
"It's no trouble at all really. I wanted to. Here sit down and I'll right back. "She said patting one of the dining table chairs."
I sat down a little unbalanced by the situation. It had been a long time since I had sat down at the table for a real meal. Usually I brought home a sandwich or take out. I've never been much of a cook, my old man used to take care of the meals on weekends and Sadie my nana used to make them on weekdays. Now Sadie only came around once a week to put the house in order, do the laundry and lecture me on how I didn't take care of myself enough. I had to admit that the smells coming from the kitchen were great. I became aware that I was actually pretty hungry. I had forgotten to grab a bite all day.
Tara made several trips to and fro the kitchen. I hadn't seen that much food since Thanksgiving day at Buffy's house. I sat there a bit amused and a bit stunned at the whole unexpected scenario. Finally after about four trips she sat down and joined me.
"I hope you'll like it. I didnít know what your favorites were so I just made some of mine." She said looking at me expectantly.
"It looks delicious and some of these are my favorites too," I said trying to put her at ease and it was also true.
"Really? Cause if you don't like it I could whip you up something else," She said quickly.
I nearly laughed. "No, please. You already cooked like you were going to feed an army. This is fine, more than fine, perfect even. I love fried chicken and mashed potatoes, gravy, peas, corn bread..."
"And pie," she added.
"Can't forget the pie. What kind?" I asked with a shimmer of hope.
"Cherry. Is that o.k.?"
I was real excited now. "It's my favorite." I clapped my hands together in pure glee.
She smiled and that made me smile in turn. I forgot about the day's tensions and enjoyed my meal in the company of a beautiful lady who looked, walked, talked and to top it all off, also cooked like an angel.
After dinner we engaged in small talk on the couch for a while. It was getting close to bedtime and I was growing increasingly nervous. Despite everything that had happened between us I didn't want to make any assumptions and I didnít want to make Tara uncomfortable.
I shifted in my place and cleared my throat. "So... it's getting pretty late, if you want to turn in there's two spare bedrooms and..." I stopped in mid-sentence cause she looked upset. "Hey are you alright?"
"Oh, I ah... fine, I just thought that... never mind I shouldn't have assumed that you would want... I mean, the spare bedroom is fine. Just tell me where to put my stuff," she said in a breathless voice, abruptly getting up.
I grabbed her arm and stood toe to toe with her. She was doing that thing where she hid her eyes from me again and again I searched for them until I found them. "Hey now... I didn't mean it like that. I do want you with me. I just wasn't sure how you felt about it and I didn't want to upset you. I guess that plan didn't work out."
She looked at me with a 'kicked puppy dog' expression and asked, "You really mean it. You want me to stay with you?"
"Yeah. I want you to stay with me. I want you period," I said before kissing her and leading her by the hand upstairs to my bedroom.