Code Word: Goldfish

by Maureen Wynn (with a little help from Betsy Vera and Susan Garrett)
Copyright © 1997

Another War story - noteworthy for the fact that it has the most over-lapping flashbacks of any Forever Knight story before or since written! I consider that a personal best. :-))

Real-time, Premiere:

"Hey, Betsy! I see you found the place all right!"

"Oh, be quiet! I don't always get lost! Besides, I've been on every street in this city twice — I now know it better than the natives." Betsy did a double-take. "But what are you doing here?! Didn't you know that he was going to be here?"

"Yes, I knew. I don't have anything to worry about," she said, unconcerned.

Betsy stared at Maureen, sure that she had finally lost it. She isn't usually so naive — has she really gone mad?

Maureen turned around as she heard someone call her name, and waved and smiled at someone across the lobby, calling out "Hi, Nancy!". Betsy turned to also greet their neighbor, then cringed as she noticed LaCroix standing in the doorway to the theatre, glaring toward them. Betsy tugged on Maureen's sleeve, then tried to nod her head unobtrusively toward the vampire to point him out to Maureen.

Maureen frowned at her, saying, "Are you developing a twitch, Betsy? I know the War was stressful, but it's over now."

"He's here," Betsy hissed through her teeth, trying to point toward the vampire without being obvious about it.

Maureen turned to look where Betsy had indicated, and exchanged glances with LaCroix, then smiled and nodded at him. Betsy's jaw dropped when he smiled back at Maureen, with no hint of rage in his face or eyes, then turned to enter the theatre.

"Um, Maureen... I thought he threatened to, um, kill you? Didn't he?" Betsy said, starting to doubt her own sanity.

"Oh, that was ages ago. We're over that now." Maureen smiled, remembering...

*****Maureen's Flashback*****

The angry vampire (surely that's redundant?) towered over the mercenary, eyes glowing red. "You have angered me for the last time. We will end this now, and I will be bothered by you no more!"

He bent over her neck, baring his fangs, and was about to bite when she said "Pocket."

He stopped, startled. He looked at her face, and said, "What did you say?"

"I said, 'pocket'. Look in my pocket."

"Why would I want to do that?" he snarled, bending over her throat again, and opening his mouth to expose his fangs.

When she didn't shrink back, he paused, then pulled back. He sighed/snarled, and said, "Which pocket?" (Narrative hooks get them every time!)

"Inside coat pocket."

He pulled open her coat roughly (no need to be gentle with the wench!), and pulled a set of folded papers out of the pocket. He kept one hand wrapped around her neck as he opened the papers and started to read. As he read, he frowned, and the hand around her neck loosened, then dropped away.

She wanted to rub her neck, but she'd be damned if she'd give him the satisfaction. She stood calmly and watched him as he read through the papers.

He sighed (without the snarl this time), and looked up from the pages. "How did you get this information?"

"It's a cliche to say that I can't reveal my sources, so why don't I just say urkkgh!"

He tightened the hand that was once again wrapped around her throat. "I asked you a simple question. A simple answer is all I require. Now, where did this information come from?"

She tried to talk, but only a choke came out, and he loosened his grip slightly. This time when she tried to talk, actual words came out. "I have a friend who was there when it happened; she helped me find them all..."

****LaCroix's Flashback (from FK War 2)****

...Robin pulled a cassette tape from her pocket. Betsy V. took the walkman from her belt, inserted the cassette, then walked toward LaCroix.

When LaCroix glared down at Betsy, Natalie cautioned, "Believe me, you want to use the headphones."

LaCroix reached out and took the walkman from Betsy with the hand that had been at Janette's neck. LaCroix's eyes widened as he turned on the cassette and listened to the first few moments. He glared down at Natalie.

"One never knows about people and their pets," she said, seeing Janette smile at the echo of her words. "We've got a full twenty minutes of that."

"Not any more." LaCroix tore the headset off and tossed it down to Betsy V. "This one's mine. Destroy the tape," he ordered.

Betsy just grinned at him. "Sorry, I'm a double agent."

***Betsy's Flashback (from FK War 2)***

"...can't you blackmail him with something? Something you could threaten to publicize?"

"Like what? He's never left any witnesses; besides, I can't think of anything he'd be ashamed to have spread around."

Betsy got this innocent look on her face. "How about, oh, I'm guessing here, something like, say, a recording of LaCroix talking baby-talk to his pet goldfish?"

"A wha—!!" Natalie choked while an incredulous laugh and a piece of powdered-sugar doughnut tried to use her windpipe at the same time. After a few minutes, she had recovered enough to ask as she reached for some kleenex to wipe her eyes, "Where are you going to find something like that, even if it exists?"

"It's on Ivy's tapes. I was listening to them when she surprised me in LaCroix's apartment building."

"Hold it. These tapes are real? You're not just making this up?"

Betsy feigned indignation. "Do I look like the type of person who would invent something like that? The kind who could come up with dialogue like, 'And 'ow is daddy's favowite fishy today? Umm? Is 'oo hungwy? Oo, yes, I can tell 'oo is vewy hungwy. Look! Daddy bought Spiky's vewy favowite fishy food. Nothing but the best for Spiky-wiky, awen't you my Spiky-wiky?'"

By now, Natalie was laughing so hard she was in danger of falling off her chair. Finally, after a long while, she got herself almost under control. "Spiky-wiky?"

"That's what he said."

***End Betsy's Flashback***

LaCroix stared at Nick, who shrugged, "I told you your place was bugged when I apologized."

Nick took a step toward LaCroix, who raised a hand to Janette's throat again. "They've got copies of the tape," said Nick. "Dozens of copies. And there's a loud-speaker system right here. Maybe we should just hook it up--"

"No!" said LaCroix quickly. "There's no need... no need to act hastily." He withdrew his hand from Janette's neck, then released her hands and smoothed down the sleeve of her dress. In response, she smacked him in the shoulder, then stalked her way past Nick, to join her Ravenettes. "I'm certain we can come to terms," finished LaCroix, holding out his palms.

****End LaCroix's Flashback****

He glared at the mercenary he had in his grip. "I thought I finally had taken care of that particular problem, and now I find it returning to roost in my nest yet again." He shook himself slightly; thinking about pets had got him talking in animal metaphors.

"It won't be a problem... if you let me go. All those people in there," indicating the pages that LaCroix still held, "no longer have a tape of you, um, talking to Spike. Each tape has been replace with a tape of Elton John singing "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me". The real tapes are ready to be sent to those radio stations listed there." LaCroix glanced again at the pages he held. "There are an awful lot of them, aren't there? The list of radio stations alone takes up two pages. Single spaced." The pages he held started to crumple in his hand, as it slowly closed into a fist. Maureen quickly added, "The tapes will only be sent to the radio stations if I don't check in at regular intervals. So long as I'm alive, your secret is safe."

He suddenly tightened his grip, and Maureen tried to gasp as the flow of air was cut off. His eyes glowing again, he leaned down to the helpless mercenary. "I will not be blackmailed! You will tell me where to find the tapes..." he said, staring mesmerically into her eyes, which started to glaze over. "Tell me!"

"I... don't... know..." she managed to gasp out.


She tried to speak again, but not enough air was getting through. When LaCroix realized what the problem was, he kindly loosened his grip again. "I gave the tapes to my lawyer to hide, and he passed them on to someone else." She panted for a moment, then added, "They could be in Tibet now, for all I know!"

LaCroix flinched slightly, thinking of Tibet. He released her throat again (this was getting to be a habit!), and stepped back, thinking hard.

Maureen watched him, waiting to see which way the cat would jump (so to speak).

"Perhaps I should get the information from your friend..." LaCroix suggested slyly. "The one who helped you find the tapes?"

Maureen laughed, albeit a little hoarsly. "She doesn't even know who my lawyer is! You're barking up the wrong tree, Lucien!" Maureen shook herself slightly. Darn, now he's got me doing it!

They stared at each other for a moment, then Maureen reached out her hand. LaCroix stared at it, astonished, then back up at the woman's face. "We seem to have an equal advantage... or perhaps, disadvantage, here. Why don't we call a truce, or at least a cease-fire?" she suggested. "Can't we shake on it?"

The vampire was taken aback. No one ever offered to shake hands with him! He chuckled, suddenly amused at the temerity of the mortal. Although this does seem to be a trait of the redheaded variety. He decided to take the little mercenary up on her offer, and took her hand, but instead of shaking it, he bent down to kiss the back of it, in a gesture of courtliness that had been out of date since before this one's grandmother had been born. He felt her start of surprise, and smiled, pleased that he had regained the advantage in their battle of wills.

"We are agreed, then..."

*****End Maureen's Flashback*****

The two women started to move toward the entrance of the theatre. Maureen, thinking of the vampire's hot glare, that Betsy didn't seem to realize yet had been directed at her, said, "You know, Betsy, you've been awfully nervous lately. Maybe you should consider a vacation. I can recommend a good travel agent. You like mountains, don't you...?"

by Maureen the Mad, Queen of the Mercenaries

Comments and compliments gleefully accepted, flames and hate-mail happily deleted.

Special acknowledgements and thanks to Betsy Vera & Susan Garrett, for the use of their incomparable work from FK War 2.

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