Faith jogged to a halt at the edge of the cemetery stopping to look across the street toward City Hall. It looked different in daylight, a perfect example of everything that was bright, clean and good about Sunnydale. Bullshit. It was all just a pretty façade.
Sunlight glinted off its sparkling windows much like it did from Mayor Wilkins’ too-charming smile. Cobblestones lined the sidewalks. A whitewashed trim surrounding the front doors always looked freshly painted. Even the lawn appeared greener than green, dandelion free and sported a little ‘Do Not Walk On The Grass’ sign.
Crossing the street, Faith took a shortcut across the common knowing that she was probably the only person in town that could get away with it. The mayor cut her a lot of slack. If she was some little old lady whose dog decided to take a crap on the pristine lawn, she’d probably be slapped with a fine or have her senior citizens bridge club shut down like Bev’s bingo parlor. Worse, being the bunch of frickin’ chowderheads they were, he’d make the public love him for it.
If City Hall was a shiny apple, Wilkins would be the worm at its rotten core. Political intrigues barely scratched the surface of what went on inside those graffiti-free walls. Faith planned to uncover every dark, dirty secret starting with the so-called business meeting Nicolau Cibran had with the mayor before yesterday’s funeral.
Pretending to be secret buddies with Wilkins was getting difficult now that it put her real friends at risk.
She wasn’t anything like the Twinkie and her sidekicks. Making friends wasn’t exactly one of her strengths. Until recently, she didn’t give a shit about that. Then the mayor stepped in. He treated her like she mattered. The things he asked for made her feel needed, like her skills counted for something, not just because she was an accidental fill-in for the true slayer in town.
The mayor might be the real power in Sunnydale, but she no longer saw Wilkins as a sugar daddy or any kind of friend. He was a user and thanks to her real friends, that was something Faith had decided she didn’t want to be.
Just the thought of it brought a dimpled smile to her face. Warm fuzzies squeezed at her heart for a few seconds before Faith shook it off and wondered what the fuck had just happened. It wasn’t a sensation she was used to feeling.
“Must be those leftover chili cheese fries I ate for breakfast.” Getting indigestion was much easier to explain especially when it came to Xander’s cooking. “Trust a vampire who doesn’t eat solid food to put that scrod in charge of the kitchen.”
Letting people get close only made it hurt more when they walked away. So why risk it at all? She was used to taking what she wanted and getting out first. Cordy was a lot like her that way, or used to be. Things weren’t going to be that easy anymore for either of them. This friendship thing was frickin’ hard work.
Faith continued on through the front entrance at a normal pace, blending in with the small crowd milling about inside. No one took notice. They were focused on work or their own troubles. She headed for a back corridor that would lead her to the offices of the mayor.
Giles wanted her to stick with the plan even though it was tempting to forget about the little underworld Wilkins had set up here in Sunnydale. Whatever it was he was up to only proved that he knew everything about the true nature of the town and the kind of creatures that roamed the streets after dark.
From the cops and reporters down to the sanitation crew, everyone who reported to the mayor was part of his scheme to hide the truth from the people of Sunnydale. He liked to call his cover up a way of protecting his constituents.
It was just the routine business of letting people keep their heads up their collective asses. Too bad it was likely to get them killed.
Until Bev’s funeral yesterday, Faith wouldn’t have guessed the mayor had anything to do with the prophecy. The business with Bev and the bingo parlor seemed more like a front for one of Wilkins’ anti-corruption campaign promises than a way to get closer to Cordelia. How could he know Cor was going to be chosen as one of the five sacrifices? Why would he even care?
Showing up with Nicolau was a big time mistake. Faith knew she should’ve followed her instincts. Instead, she ended up lying about his identity. The mayor told her to smooth things over and she practically fell over herself to do it.
She’d lied for that bastard. Thinking about that made her stomach twist into knots. It wasn’t the chili cheese fries this time.
Supposedly he’d been at City Hall conducting business and just happened to come tagging along for the funeral. Next thing the mayor would be telling her to believe in the Tooth Fairy. No sir. Showing up wasn’t a coincidence.
Somehow, Nicolau knew Cordelia would be there and he used his connection with the mayor to wangle his way into meeting her. Faith felt like kicking herself for mistaking a vampire for some foreign hottie. Hello, this was Sunnydale, not Boston. Not exactly the hub of the universe unless you were a demon.
Still, there was something compelling about the way he looked, darkly handsome, almost beautiful. A lot like Angel. He was the kind of vampire that never went hungry because there would always be a surplus of men and women eager to crawl into his bed—or just find the nearest dark corner. If he was human she could definitely go for some of that. Not that vampires couldn’t be hotties. Most just left her cold, or were more appealing to her as a pile of dust.
He might be a Pretty Boy, but the rest of Nicolau’s act was a turn off. Too cultured. Too foreign. He was probably the kind that asked permission before he kissed you. Definitely not her type. Except, of course, that she bet he could go all night, and that was kind of appealing.
Faith shuddered. What was she thinking? Nicolau was a vampire. It had to be the snazzy suit. She thought of her new watcher in his blue suit and bow tie. Guys in suits seemed to be her thing lately.
Maybe it was a good thing she was away from the mansion. Giles would probably be pissed if she seduced the new guy. The last thing she needed was another lecture on controlling her wilder instincts. Oh, he’d made it sound as if he was talking about her sometimes impulsive reactions while in the midst of a fight, but she wasn’t so dumb that she couldn’t read the warning in between the lines.
The air inside City Hall smelled of heavy doses of Lemon Glade and furniture polish. Faith’s nose twitched as she resisted a sneeze. Hiding out behind a tall plant at the edge of the outer office, she waited until the mayor left for an appointment. Giles had given her an assignment that required something other than her usual breaking and entering. It also required that she show up during the day rather than after hours.
The mayor’s inner sanctum wasn’t her target. It was his personal assistant, Mabel Tuttle. Miss Mabel was the deceivingly sweet-little-old-lady type right down to her purple hair and offers of freshly baked cookies, but she kept the mayor’s schedule organized and everyone else in line.
The maintenance crew never questioned the occasional large dust pile or goo-slimed wall that appeared inside the Mayor’s office. This was Sunnydale and strange things happened. When they did, Miss Mabel took care of it by expediting the clean up. She kept the crew on a tight leash.
“Whistle while you work,” Faith had heard her chirp on more than one occasion while ordering the men to scour the floors to her specifications. “Our wonderful mayor likes his people to show that they’re happy with their jobs.”
She’d rather go head-to-head with a demon than tussle with Tuttle. Unfortunately, this job couldn’t wait for the middle of the night when there would be fewer people around. Giles needed specific information and there was only one place to get it.
Taking a second to paste a dimpled smile on her face, Faith rounded the corner and walked over to the tidy oak desk. “Well, well, well, it’s a little early to be seeing you, Faith, my girl. I was sure you street walkers roamed around after dark.”
Oh. So it was going to be one of those days.
A fake smile was apparently easily detected on the old woman’s radar. Faith dropped it. “The mayor doesn’t pay me for coming here if that’s what you’re getting at.” She didn’t like the inference that she was some kind of hooker.
“Whatever you say, dear.” Smiling guilelessly, Miss Mabel lifted up a china plate that was patterned with purple violets and decorated by a white doily. Cookies were piled in a neat little arrangement. “Snickerdoodle?”
Faith knew better than to argue with the woman. She was just trying to rile her up. In a weird kind of way Miss Mabel was a rival for the mayor’s attention. Wilkins had never made any kind of come-on. That had surprised her at first. He wouldn’t have been the first guy his age to try it. They’d built their friendship on mutual respect. Only now she knew that it was actually more of a wobbly house of cards.
The mayor’s real confidant was sitting right there behind the desk. “I need your help with one of the mayor’s projects.” Taking a cookie, Faith nibbled on it. She propped a hip on the edge of Miss Mabel’s tidy desk. The old woman twitched as a few crumbs fell onto the polished desktop.
“Special projects are best discussed directly with the mayor.”
“Oh, no need to bother him. You’re the one with the 411. Can I have another one of those?” Faith reached for another snickerdoodle. “These are the best frickin’ cookies I’ve ever tasted.”
They actually were pretty damn good, but Faith was less interested in baking than she was in getting into Miss Mabel’s good graces. Giles had suggested this forward approach. Faith had been all set to follow the old biddy home, but she supposed it wouldn’t go over very well if she got caught mugging the mayor’s assistant in order to get hold of his personal schedule.
Not that it wasn’t tempting.
Faith spun her carefully woven story. The one where they mayor had asked her for a favor that had to do with Nicolau Cibran. Just the mention of his name caused Mabel Tuttle to titter, “He’s such a handsome man,” and then, lean forward conspiratorially to whisper, “for a vampire. So suave. So debonair,” she sighed.
That settled it. Even though Angel was certain the man at the funeral was actually a vampire, Faith needed to hear it confirmed by other reliable sources. Next to Mayor Wilkins himself, Mabel Tuttle was it.
The old woman’s dreamy smile turned sour when she said, “His girlfriend’s demeanor was quite icy. I didn’t like her at all.”
“Yes, that was her name. Cold as the grave in more ways than one.”
Knowing that Willow had identified Isobel as being at City Hall it made sense that she had been here the same time as her sire, but Willow had cast that spell before the day of the funeral. That meant Wilkins had more than one meeting with Nicolau. “My project for the mayor—uh, can I check out his schedule for the days that Nicolau and Isobel were here?”
There was a long silence as Miss Mabel considered her request. “Certainly. Anything that will help our dear mayor. I know he will want your little project to be a success. There were two occasions.”
An expensive-looking leather binder was placed before her on the desk. Faith flipped through the calendar until she got to the appropriate calendar page. It looked like a pretty typical day with meetings and activities scheduled from 9 a.m. through the late evening:
Greet Scouts. Longshore & Warehouse Union Workers—speech rescheduled. Nicolau Cibran. Attend funeral @ Trinity Church /Beverly Quinn. Haircut. Become Invincible. Meeting with PTA.
There were no other notes surrounding the meeting with Nicolau on the day of the funeral. Just his name. She was annoyed to see Bev’s name scrawled into Wilkins’ schedule. It wasn’t out of respect or a sense of duty, but a chance for publicity that he was there in the first place. She had to wonder whether Nicolau knew the mayor would attend and that Wilkins was his way to crash the funeral or if it was really just a coincidence.
Ticked off, Faith flipped backward in the calendar searching for the first meeting. The words blurred suddenly as something she scanned over on the previous page finally clicked. Turning back to it, she read it again: Become Invincible. It was listed right between a haircut and a meeting with the PTA as if it was something just as routine.
That was yesterday, so if things went as scheduled, Wilkins was now invincible. Faith started to think that the mayor was up to a helluva lot more than she ever imagined. Looking up at Miss Mabel who was watching her every reaction like a hawk eyeing its prey, she asked, “What’s this mean?”
Before she could respond, the mayor made a grand entrance into the room, his arms opening wide as he saw Faith chatting with his personal assistant. “My favorite girls. It’s early for you, Faithy. I didn’t expect to see you today.”
Sliding off the edge of the desk Faith straightened up and smiled instead of saying what she was really thinking. Fuuuuck. What’s he doing back so early? Now she had no choice but to talk directly to the mayor. When he headed for his private office, she followed leaving the ever-watchful Miss Mabel back at her desk.
Plopping down into the cushioned leather chair in front of his desk, Faith stretched out her legs, crisscrossing them at the ankles. Getting comfortable, or at least doing her best to look that way. Since she didn’t normally show up here during office hours it seemed best to cut straight through the bull.
“I was curious about that guy from the funeral. You don’t usually get so worked up about out-of-towners. Must be some important hotshot.”
Wilkins swiveled his chair in order to face her directly. His eyes narrowed slightly as he studied her and Faith fought against the urge to squirm under his gaze. Staring back, she waited him out in silence.
“Do you know what he is?” the mayor finally asked.
“A vampire,” Faith responded without hesitation. Apparently, it wasn’t a secret from Miss Mabel, so she doubted Wilkins planned to keep the truth totally under wraps. “A vampire who doesn’t go up in flames when he stands in the sun. Kinda breaks all the rules, doesn’t it?”
Wilkins looked contemplative for a moment. “I don’t like people who break the rules, Faithy.” It went unsaid that any rule breaking could only be done for his personal benefit. “This vampire is something of a mystery. There is very little information to be found through the usual channels.”
Trying not to look as surprised as she felt, Faith wasn’t very successful. It showed on her face. “You don’t know the guy?” She had started to build up this big expectation that all of Wilkins’ sneaky underhandedness had to do with the prophecy. How could he be involved and not know about the vamp in charge?
Looking troubled, the mayor actually frowned. “No. What little I do know is rather worrisome. A vampire who comes directly to me to help suppress news regarding a demon gathering knows more than he should.”
Guessing he wasn’t completely in the dark, Faith prompted, “Demon gathering?”
“Oh, some little ritual at the Hellmouth.” Now the usually unflappable mayor sounded annoyed. “Cibran was rather evasive when I questioned him. There is something happening in my town that I am not organizing. I don’t like it, Faithy. Not one bit.”
It seemed Mayor Wilkins knew less than she did about Nicolau Cibran. “So why did he tag along to the funeral yesterday?”
“At first I suspected it was something of a power play. To prove he could survive the sunlight. Showing off an ability no other vampire could match.” His theory changed upon arriving at the funeral, Wilkins explained. He saw that the vampire’s attention was focused, not on the two slayers in the crowd as would any mortal enemy, but on Beverly Quinn’s granddaughter. “Then I realized his interests were elsewhere.”
“Your pretty little friend certainly drew his attention in a way that was beyond a vampire looking for his next meal. He seems to like brunettes.”
Faith recognized the look in his eyes that told her she was not going to like what came out of his mouth. “Don’t even think about it.”
Smiling, Wilkins leaned forward across his desk. “You can do this for me, Faith. It is important for me to know that Cibran’s plans aren’t going to interfere with mine.”
“What exactly are your plans?” Assuming that the mayor hadn’t already noticed that she was looking at his personal schedule, Tuttle would tell anyway. So it didn’t seem like a risk to comment on what she saw there. “This Cibran guy is invulnerable to the sunlight. You’re invincible now, too. What’s up with that?”
Rather than being surprised or irritated, he smiled even wider. “All in good time, my dear. You’ll play an important role in my future success, but first we have to get a handle on the competition.”
Faith wondered what competition he was talking about.
Decision made, Richard Wilkins relaxed back into his chair, drummed his fingers on his desktop and told Faith what he wanted her to do. When he was finished, Faith did not try to hide her annoyance. “For someone who gives speeches about the moral decay of society, you’ve got a pretty damn strange way of showing you believe it.”
He tutted at her use of language, but Faith wasn’t finished. “I’m frickin’ tired of being pimped out to vampires. First it was Angelus and now Nicolau. I’m a slayer.”
“You’ll do whatever and be whatever it takes. That’s what friends do for each other. Right now that means keeping a close eye on Nicolau Cibran.”
“How am I supposed to do that? I’m supposed to be keeping tabs on Buffy and her little slay pals.”
Picking up a pen, the mayor printed out an address. “Miss Summers isn’t interfering with my plans at the moment. Beverly Quinn’s death worked to my advantage in more ways than one.”
Guilt still held her in a tight grip. Faith was not exactly the forgiving type even when it came to herself. The part she played in Bev’s death would be with her forever. It was not something to be proud of even though it cemented the mayor’s belief that she was on his side.
Wilkins put the pen down. “Her granddaughter’s grief splits your friends’ priorities. That will give you the opportunity to focus on Cibran.”
Faith glanced at the small square of stationary pushed to the edge of the desk. “He’s staying at the Avalon?” Luxury apartments on the south side of town. Security 24/7. Ocean view. Ritzy. The kind of place you could not get in the front gate without some kind of appointment.
“Find out everything you can.”
Killing two birds with one stone sounded a lot easier. “I’d rather just stake him.” The minute she told Angel the news she figured Nicolau was going to be dust, one way or another.
Not opposed to that option, Wilkins reminded her, “A vampire with the kind of power he possesses is not easily killed or controlled.”
“Who said anything about wanting it easy?” Faith winked over her shoulder.
Before she made it out the door, he offered, “Do this for me and I’ll see that you get your own place at the Avalon.”
That charming smile spread across his face and Faith felt it reel her in. He’d talked about it before. Getting her out of the snakepit that was the Downtowner Motel and Apartments was something he’d been promising like a proverbial dangling carrot. The Avalon was far beyond anything she imagined he’d be willing to set her up in.
The idea of living in a classy place made her pause in the doorway, the surprise on her face quite genuine. “Really? Me in a place like that.”
“Only the best for my favorite girl.”