by Marcus L. Rowland
On Sunday morning there wasn't much happening; some more routine reports came in from our contractors, and I sent a query to the guy in England, who hadn't reported since Friday night. There was still no sign of Willow Rosenberg and Dad was still working on tracing Harris in Gibraltar, so I dug out some information on Sunnydale then started to research the murderer Dad had mentioned, the guy they called 'The Pope.' He was still on the LAPD wanted list, and seemed to have his own creepy fans on half a dozen web sites.
When Dad was between calls I said "Cordelia said Kate Lockley killed this Pope guy. According to the LAPD website he's still wanted, and they don't know who he is."
"I don't know the circumstances," said Dad, "She was very cagy, but she said that the body was never recovered so they left it open."
"Like Lynn Echols?"
"I don't know. From the little she said, and what I know about him, I really don't want to know."
"But Cordelia knew?"
"Apparently Angel Investigations were involved in the case."
I said "It's odd that there's nothing on the record."
"My guess would be that there was something off about the way they found him; maybe it was the result of an illegal search. With no body and no usable evidence they might just let it drop."
"Oh.. I guess that makes sense. Just hope she's right about him being dead, because some of this stuff is scary."
"I don't think you were his type," said Dad. "According to the reports he went after teenage boys."
"So I can't be worried about my friends?"
"Sunnydale..." I said.
"What about Sunnydale?" asked Dad.
"I wonder what really happened there. The government report reads like a whitewash; it says '...a hitherto-unknown cave system suddenly collapsed...,' but I checked a geological web site and they've had at least six earthquakes there this century, the last one only four years ago. Why didn't it happen before? My guess is damage from mining. But it'd have to be really recent, and there's nothing like that on record."
"I remember someone suggesting that there might have been a water dome under the town, like an oil well only filled with water. Sunnydale must have got its water somewhere. Pump out enough, without taking the right precautions, and eventually it collapses."
"Sounds plausible, I guess. Maybe Cordelia knows."
"You said that she'd said something about corporate liability."
"You know... I thought that she did, but she didn't. She let me make assumptions and didn't tell me that I was wrong. She does that a lot, drops hints and half-truths and leaves it to us to fill in the gaps. I wonder if there's anything else she's told us that we've completely misunderstood. Maybe she'll explain it some time."
"Anything from Gibraltar?"
"It's late in the evening there, the florist is closed and so far Garcia's had no luck with hotels. It's possible that Harris was just passing though anyway."
"What do you want me to do then?"
"Go out and get some fresh air. Relax. Oh, and if you have time swing by the motel, make sure that Lilah Morgan and her flunkies have checked out. They had rooms 204 to 206. If they're still there I don't want their room bugged or anything else that might bring you to their attention. So far they aren't interested in you, I think, and I'd like it to stay that way."
"They've really got you freaked, haven't they?"
"If half the stories I've heard are true Wolfram and Hart are like something out of a John Grisham novel, only a lot worse. I don't want to have anything to do with them if I can help it."
"Okay. I'll be careful."
After I'd checked the motel and found it lawyer-free I went over to Weevil's place. He wasn't there but his grandmother was. She still thinks she owes me one, so I thought I'd sound her out about Sunnydale. BIG mistake. She gave me nearly an hour of rapid-fire Spanish about "la Boca del Infierno", the town's old name, literally the Mouth of Hell, said that the Devil had sucked the whole town down, that nobody who knew anything about the place would have lived there, yadda yadda. When she'd calmed down a little she started to tell me stories about the place, mostly from when it was a Spanish colony. They ran heavily to massacres, mysterious deaths, and horrible disasters, from earthquakes to plague. It was all wild exaggeration, of course, but there was no denying that modern Sunnydale hadn't had a big Spanish community; according to the census statistics I'd seen it was one of the smallest in California. All sorts of oddness in those statistics, not least the violent crime rate. I had a feeling someone somewhere had mixed up the data for Sunnydale and a much larger town; say Los Angeles.
I managed to get away eventually, and finally caught up with Weevil at the junk yard, where he and some of the other bikers were doing something complicated to an old Harley, which looked like military surplus. I could tell because it was drab mottled green and had a couple of big fibreglass gun cases instead of pannier boxes.
"Hey, Veronica," said Weevil. "You come by to pay off your favour?" The other guys laughed, and Backup popped his head out the car window and glared at them. The laughing stopped. They've seen Backup in action, and it never hurts to remind them who has superior firepower.
"Hey, Weevil," I said. "Got a minute?"
"Why am I thinking that paying off debts isn't what you have in mind?"
"I asked you a question yesterday, you didn't answer it."
"You ask a lot of questions," he said, but he looked uneasy.
"About Sunnydale. Do you or any of the guys know anything about the place?"
"It's gone, chica," said one of the bikers, a guy I didn't recognise. "Fell back into hell where it belonged."
"And when exactly were you in Sunnydale?" asked Weevil, glaring at him. The guy shuffled his feet, didn't answer.
"Any of you ever actually been near the place?" I asked.
Eventually one of them stepped forward and said "I was through there once."
"And it was a town, pretty much like any other."
"Did you stay the night?" asked Weevil.
"Do I look loco?" No way was I going to answer that one.
"Bunch of pussies," said Weevil.
"How about you?" I asked.
Weevil hesitated, then said "You promise you won't tell my grandmother? She knew I'd been in Sunnydale, she'd probably arrange for an exorcism."
"Sure. I promise."
"I was there twice, the second time I went to one of the clubs and stayed at a motel overnight. It was a few months before the place collapsed."
"And nothing happened to me." It felt like I was missing the punch line of a joke.
"So when I was checking out the police were in one of the other rooms, a couple of doors from me. Someone had killed a girl during the night, ripped her throat open, and no-one had heard a damned thing."
"How long did they hold you?"
"About five minutes."
"Maybe ten. They took my name and address, checked my driving license, said they'd be in touch if they needed any information, then let me go. Never heard any more about it."
"Way I figure it, they knew who they were looking for. But I never heard anything about it on the news, and you can bet I was listening."
"Or they knew that the killer wouldn't be around in the daytime," said another biker. Most of them laughed, uneasily, and a couple of them crossed themselves.
"And that's it? None of you know any more?"
I got back to find Dad trying to get the laser printer to work. I had a look and couldn't find anything wrong with the hardware, then tried to print from my laptop. Nothing. After a few minutes I found the problem; the router wasn't passing data to the printer, and the queue was stuck. The error messages said that the printer was unknown.
I tried our usual password to log onto the router. Zilch, we were locked out. Dad said "Must have reset itself" and went looking for the instruction manual, while I tried a few obvious defaults and eventually got in as user 'admin' with the password 'password.' I hastily reset everything to something a lot less obvious - that router is our main firewall, amongst other things - re-installed the printer information, and re-started the print queue. Then I went looking for the cause.
"According to the print log you printed eighteen pages at two," I said eventually, "then around two-forty-five it jammed. Does that sound about right, dad?
"Were you into a lot of files around two-fifteen, two-twenty?"
"I don't think so... no, that would be when I went to the post box with the Jensen invoice."
"Then I think we've been hacked." I showed him the file list on his computer, sorted by time of access. A few earlier in the day, then dozens at around two-fifteen. And nearly all of them were related to one case.
Three guesses which one.
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