Love Machine

by Christine Morgan

Love Machine
Christine Morgan (

Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles belong to Disney and are used here without their knowledge or consent. The character of Nikki belongs to Leva. For mature readers only! This one is just plain tacky!
David Xanatos leaned back in his plush leather chair, arms crossed behind his head, and hoisted his feet up on the desk. "You look pleased with yourself," his wife observed, coming into the office with a large plastic bag. "Make another billion today?" He waved nonchalantly. "Haven't checked the stock reports, so I can't really say. No, I've just been thinking about Goliath's bachelor party." "What a coincidence. I've just been shopping for Elisa's." "Shopping? Whatever happened to getting drunk and leering at strippers?" "Oh, we'll do that too," she purred, shaking her cascade of fire- gold hair. "But you know women, David darling. We must accessorize!" With that, she upended the bag and spilled its contents over the glossy surface of his desk. He yanked his feet back to the floor as if they'd be burned, and looked for a long, long time. Finally he glanced up at Fox and said, "I had no idea there were so many penis-shaped products." And so they were. Straws topped with tiny rubber ones (for cocktails, he hadn't a doubt). Chocolate lollipops. A hopping wind-up one. A salt shaker. Plastic headbands with penis-shaped deelie-boppers waggling around on springs. A blow-up one advertisted as a bath pillow. Pencil erasers (to go with the doodle pad with a sketch of a naked man with a blank area where his groin should be). Keyrings. A "Pin the Macho on the Man" game. X-rated playing cards. And last but not least, a bulbous plastic squirtgun fully eleven inches long. "Elisa's going to kill you," he added after another incredulous scan of her purchases. "And I hope you didn't put this on one of _my_ credit cards." "What's the matter, you don't want the accountants to find an item listing for the Spank Me Mama adult apparel store?" He winced and picked up a sampler box of flavored heats- when-you-blow-on-it body oil, which had fallen from the pile onto the arm of his chair. He set it atop the edible finger paints. "The only problem is," she mused, stirring idly through the collection, "they were only available in pink or brown, and they're not shaped quite right." "And how would you know?" "Still, it's the thought that counts." She blithely went on. "There aren't nearly as many novelty items for men, but I could go back and pick out a few for you boys, if you'd like. Could you picture Goliath in a baseball cap with a pair of big foam boobies on top?" He could, and laughed until he hurt himself. "They had an inflatable sheep," she added. Tears were rolling down his face. He gestured for her to stop but she pretended not to understand. "A G-string with "Rock Hard" on it." David Xanatos slithered from his chair and curled in a fetal position on the floor, gasping for air and clutching his pained sides. Every time he thought he was about to get it under control, he would once again envision Goliath in such a boobie-adorned chapeau, or the expressions on the faces of MacBeth and Hudson. "And these are just the party favors," Fox said. "Wait until you see the cake!" "Oh, no!" he choked. "I'd show you the gifts I bought Elisa, but if Goliath knew you'd seen them and were possibly imagining them on his woman, he'd punch you into the next century." She flashed him a bit of black wispy stuff with poufs of maribou feathers on it, and then something of black leather with fine chrome chains. Once he could breathe again, and after he'd made a mental note to have the cleaning staff take care of that colony of dust bunnies under his desk, he pulled himself together and struggled to his feet. "Well, my love," he said, mopping at his face with a handkerchief. "You've had a productive afternoon. Did you make your reservations?" "Yes, and I explained the entire situation. Money talks, and Xanatos money talks loudest of all. They're not even going to squawk about Aiden being underage. So," she perched on the edge of the desk, her skirt riding to the limit of her stockings, "what devilment do you have in mind for poor Goliath?" "Just what I'd said before. Getting drunk and leering at strippers." He grinned. "Clarence's project came out right on schedule." Fox made a face. "God, I'm glad he's gone. I don't think he's ever looked above here --" she leveled her hand at her collarbones "-- and while I have that effect on a lot of men, _that_ guy's eyes were like two snails, leaving little trails of slime." Xanatos shrugged. "He was the best candidate for the job." "I looked at his resume," she reminded him. "He was a comic- book artist, for God's sake!" "His skills and personality profile matched what I was looking for." She snorted. "Oh, I see! So now we're hiring socially- maladjusted bozos who can't say two coherent words to a woman but paper their offices with cartoons of space vixens and other jerk-off fantasies? He's a sleazehead! If that's the direction Xanatos Enterprises is going, I think you'd better re-evaluate your strategy!" Owen chose that moment to come in. "Excuse me, Mrs. Xanatos, but it's Bakerotique. Something about a penis cake?" He held out the phone and remained utterly unruffled by the scathing glare Fox gave him as she ripped it out of his hand. "Once again, the bubble of moral outrage is popped by the needle of hypocrisy," Xanatos chuckled. She saved half the glare for him too, before returning her attention to the phone. "Yes, of course the cream filling!" she snapped irritably. "Impeccable timing, as always," Xanatos complimented Owen as they beat a strategic retreat. "Do you wait in the hall until you hear a good cue?" Owen merely smiled an enigmatic little smile. * * Goliath was dreading the evening, and the delighted caperings of his younger clan members did little to change his mood. "This is gonna be great!" Broadway exclaimed. "You know it!" Brooklyn high-fived Broadway, who gave it right back, and they finished it by slapping their tails together. At least they'd gotten over that belly-bouncing nonsense, after Brooklyn was thrown into a wall and knocked cold. "Is this really necessary?" Goliath groaned. "Now, lad, ye're the one who's been saying we should observe these human customs," Hudson pointed out. "And ye're the one getting wed." "The old ball and chain!" Brooklyn laughed. "Got to have one last night of freedom!" "Yeah, well you better look out too!" Lexington crowed. "Angela's got her hooks in you for sure!" The female gargoyle gave them all an arch look, but spoiled it by giggling. "Here comes Talon!" Broadway called. The leader of the mutates winged his way toward the castle. He was carrying a human, his and Elisa's mother Diane Maza. Talon's wife Maggie and their fellow Labyrinth-dweller Delilah were close behind, each with one of the twins strapped securely on. "See, lad," Hudson said to Angus, "I told ye that ye'd have company. They all be smaller than ye, though, so I'll be trustin ye to keep an eye on them." "It's good of Elisa's mother to offer to watch the children," Angela said, "but it's a shame she'll miss the party." "If I know Fox," Lex grinned, "Mrs. Maza will be just as happy staying here." "But the bride's mother should be at the shower, shouldn't she?" Angela frowned. "I don't think a traditional bridal shower is what Fox has in mind," Brooklyn said. "That's what I'm afraid of," Elisa said, emerging onto the roof behind them. She was wearing her little black dress, which had once caused Broadway and Brooklyn a great deal of consternation, and did so again now. So much, in fact, that Goliath made a point of draping his wing concealingly around her. After the guests landed and greetings were exchanged and everyone had a chance to admire how fast the twins were growing, Diane Maza bundled them off to the nursery with Angus and Alexander in tow. A cab delivered Beth straight from the airport. Elisa was dying to ask about her recent trip to Avalon, but Beth would only say that she couldn't talk about it yet. She did, however, boast a patch of not-quite- right pancake makeup over a mark on her neck, and there was quite a sparkle in her eye. MacBeth and Aiden arrived together, having driven down from the Sterling Academy where he was teaching another course in medieval history and she was a student. Matt showed up next. Although his girlfriend Edie had stayed with Elisa for a while and they'd become friends, he didn't know if she was ready for a night of debauchery just yet. Elisa's cousin Nikki was last, breezing in as if she owned the place. She winked at Xanatos like they shared some juicy secret, tossed her coat to Owen, sashayed around the clan going kiss-kiss on everyone's cheeks, and announced that she finally had a role in a major production. "Is that everyone?" Fox asked, joining the group. She was wearing a strapless painted-on mini of forest green stretch velvet, fishnets, and sparkly emerald high heels. Goliath nearly flung his other wing over her to keep his young warriors from going into hormonal shock. "I feel like a ten-year-old!" Aiden murmured to Lexington as she stared enviously at the older women. "You look gorgeous!" he assured her. "Gentlemen, shall we?" Xanatos beckoned. "Ladies?" Fox headed for the waiting helicopter with so much wiggle that even Hudson smothered a cough. "Don't get too wild," Talon teased Maggie, with a parting embrace. "I understand you've got a fine cellar," MacBeth said to Xanatos, giving Lexington a wry wink. "Many of my best vintages were ruined by fire." "Into the abyss," Elisa muttered. She stood on tiptoe to kiss Goliath on the cheek. "I'd better not catch you with lipstick on your wings." He shook his head. "I cannot believe we are permitting those two, of all people, to make these arrangements for us." "Well, it beats having to sit around with Mom and Grandma and Aunt Agnes, eating cucumber sandwiches and saying, 'ooh! towels!' whenever I open a gift. If nothing else, this ought to be interesting." He ran his fingers through the black river of her hair. "Of that, we can be certain." * * Xanatos led the men -- no, the males, he had to remember that some of the gargoyles got irked when called men -- into what Fox called "the rumpus room." The walls were paneled halfway up with dark wood, and the rest of the way with thick maroon wallpaper boasting a subtle military theme in gold. The chairs were all large and solid, capable of supporting the mass and awkward shape of even a gargoyle in comfort. Antique dartboards, woodcarvings of hunting scenes, and other pieces representing masculine pursuits adorned the walls. A collection of beer steins were lined up on the mantle, and in one corner was a globe of the ancient world. Brooklyn wasted no time heading for the wet bar. He started grabbing bottles off of the shelves, doing a passable Tom Cruise impression as he flipped and juggled them. "Who's for booze?" he called. Owen tensed. "Perhaps I should serve ..." "Not a chance, Owen." Xanatos took him by the shoulders, steered him to a chair, and pushed him into it. "Tonight, for once, be one of the guys." MacBeth examined the wine rack, with many an appreciative murmur. Xanatos was pleased. He'd stocked it with stuff sure to impress, even if only MacBeth was able to recognize it. "So, what's the plan?" Matt Bluestone asked, drawing himself a brewski. "Poker game?" Talon grinned hopefully at Xanatos, who laughed and shook his head. "I learned my lesson!" Xanatos replied. "Brooklyn! Get Owen a drink!" "What'll he have?" "No, really, I insist ..." "Let me do it!" Lexington vaulted over the bar, trod on Brooklyn's tail by accident, ducked a swat, and started rummaging. Goliath was near the door, looking like he might be thinking of trying to slip out. Xanatos intercepted him and planted him in the chair next to Owen. "Oh, no you don't. It's your party, and you can cry if you want to, but you're going to sit right there and have a few drinks." "Mead?" Goliath asked without much hope. "Second cabinet, top shelf," Xanatos directed Brooklyn. Within moments, Goliath's vast mitt was curled around a thick glass of rich golden liquid and Owen was peering doubtfully into the concoction Lex had whipped up. "What is this?" he asked. "Better if you don't know," Lex replied. Owen didn't care for the sound of that, but raised the glass. He sniffed, considered, and sipped. His dour expression changed to surprise. "It's good!" He took a longer drink. "Whoa!" He shuddered all over, and for an instant his human form wavered, revealing a very startled Puck. Lex howled with mirth. "By the powers!" Owen said, shaken, not stirred. "What is _in_ that?!" "Not telling." "Where'd you learn to mix drinks?" Brooklyn asked suspiciously. "Again, not telling!" "Well, at least make me one!" MacBeth settled himself comfortably in the chair beside Hudson and filled them each a goblet of velvet-dark burgundy. Talon poked through the fridge until he came up with a bottle of Guinness, hunted for an opener, and finally said, "Screw it!" and used his teeth. Broadway set to making himself something with so many cherries and pineapple pieces in it that it looked more like a fruit salad than a beverage, gulped down a few green olives, and balanced his bulk on a barstool. Xanatos helped himself to a fishbowl-sized snifter of his best brandy and stood in the center of the room. "A toast. To Goliath. For a thousand years, you were frozen in stone. But soon you really lose your freedom!" * * "Are you sure about this?" Elisa asked for the fourth time as Fox neatly settled the chopper on the roof of the club. "Will you quit worrying and put your headband on?" "I am _not_ wearing this thing." She held it up, and once again the waggling bobbling penises on springs set Angela and Nikki into hopeless gales of laughter. Aiden had been the one, by Fox's order, to retrieve the bag of goodies from a compartment shortly after takeoff. The teenager was still trying to recover from the shock. "Give her the squirtgun!" Beth called. "It won't fit in my holster!" Elisa protested. "That's not the impression _I_ got!" Fox said with a lewd wink. "What is female impersonator?" Delilah asked, reading the words slowly off of the flashing neon sign. "A man who dresses like a woman," Nikki explained. "This is entertainment?" Delilah was now even more confused. "Give it a chance." Fox cut the engine. "Ladies, we've arrived. Elisa, I told you before, quit worrying. They're expecting us." "All of us?" Elisa nodded at Angela, Delilah, and Maggie. "All of us. And I personally cleared it with Queenie." "Who's Queenie?" Maggie asked. "You'll see." Fox led them from the helicopter to a door. As she reached for the handle, it opened to reveal an apparition in elbow- length gloves and rhinestones. "Fox, dahling!" this apparition crowed in falsetto. "You look mah-velous!" Six foot four, wide as a linebacker, enormous breasts suspended in a spangly silver gown, Tammy Faye makeup, and topping it all off a blond beehive 'do that bumped the doorjamb. Angela glanced at Elisa, who spread her hands and shook her head in amused resignation. "Queenie!" Fox greeted "her" happily, then turned to introduce the others. "Mer-cy!" Queenie trilled as "she" got an eyeful of the three winged females. "Honey, if any of these sweeties have brothers, Ah'd be offering them jobs!" "As female impersonator?" Delilah frowned, puzzled. The very idea sent Angela into another fit of the giggles. "Could you just see ..." she gasped. "Or as strippers!" "What is stripper?" poor Delilah asked. "Now, that show don't start until midnight!" Queenie chided. "Who's the bride-to-be?" "I am," Elisa said as if confessing to multiple murders. "Right this way, sweetness." Queenie linked arms with Elisa and swept her helplessly into the darkened interior of Club Victoria, where the men were real men and so were the women. * * "Let us eat, drink, and be merry!" Xanatos declared, grandly gesturing with his arms and sloshing a bit of brandy onto his right shoe. "Way ahead of you," Broadway called. Medically-inadvisable amounts of booze had gotten the gathering of males to a nicely jovial state. Over by the pool table, Matt Bluestone was casually whuppin' the bejesus out of an astounded MacBeth while Brooklyn peered owlishly at the ricocheting pool balls. By the way his eyes kept crossing and uncrossing, Xanatos knew he was seeing a lot more than the requisite number of pockets. Talon was patiently attempting two difficult things at once. One was teaching Broadway how to play poker, and the other was trying to turn Hudson on to classic Motown greats. Lexington had coaxed Goliath into a game of darts, and the smaller green gargoyle was showing off by hurling the projectiles with his tail. Except that, he had imbibed a truckload of those suicide cocktails he'd been mixing, so darts were embedded helter-skelter in the walls (and one smack between the eyes of a stuffed bear's head that Xanatos had picked up at an auction seven years ago). Owen was slouched in his seat, feet hoisted over the arm of the chair, quietly singing a dirty ditty about a sultan with a hundred concubines. He had for some reason taken off his tie -- dark red silk with a muted gold pattern -- and knotted it around his head like Rambo. On Broadway's suggestion, they had gone whole hog and ordered massive take-out. Xanatos, who normally tried to maintain a good diet because he couldn't bear being taken out by something so mundane as cholesterol or heart disease, had chucked his health- cautious sensibilities and agreed. The oval coffee table was all but hidden beneath unhealthy chow in truly appalling quantities. A kettle-drum sized bucket of Cajun- spicy buffalo wings, surrounded by a graveyard of tiny gnawed bones. Three enormous pies from The Pizzazoic Era (Alexander's all-time favorite eatery thanks to the lifesized animatronic dinos) -- a Carnivorus Rex, a Triceratoppings Deluxe, and a Raptor's Revenge. What had started out as an eight-foot hoagy was down to crusts and dabs of mayo. A silver soup tureen nearly drained of onion dip. Ruffles in a bag big as a kingsize pillowcase. An army of white cardboard boxes with red Chinese lettering -- unable to decide, they'd gone ahead and ordered one of everything. Looking over the demolished remains of the repast, remembering the gluttonous feeding frenzy, Xanatos wondered if Rolaids came in thousand-count packages. He chuckled aloud, trying to decide which had been the funnier -- Goliath dealing so unsuccessfully with chopsticks that he finally gave up and speared an entire eggroll, or fastidious Owen contending with a drippy sloppy slice of pizza. Xanatos himself was mostly sober, or at least he thought he was, although he was already four brandies past his usual limit. His insides were busy tackling the unexpected amount of grease and meat that he'd scarfed, and he wanted nothing more than a long snooze. But the party wasn't over yet! "My friends!" he said, waving for their attention. "If you'd care to join me in the viewing room, I think we're about ready for the entertainment!" "You didn't really get one of _those_ movies, did you?" Broadway asked, wide-eyed. "Better!" Xanatos grinned. Brooklyn leered unsteadily. "If it's a stripper, I hope she's come dressed as Xena!" "He could afford the real Xena!" Lex said. "Yi-yi-yi-yi-yi!" He tried a leaping kick, tripped over his own tail, and crashed into Goliath's wing. "I dinna know why ye must watch that show," Hudson mumbled, divesting himself of the earphones Talon had forced on him. "You'll see, you'll see." Xanatos pressed a button on the wall and one of the panels slid away. "Right this way." "Is she gonna be wearing a cake?" Broadway ran a happy tongue over his lips. * * "But the third little old lady said, 'All I got was hand lotion.'" "Oh, gross!" Elisa immediately howled. Fox doubled over laughing, then waved her finger at Beth. "I've got to remember that one!" It was intermission at Club Victoria. The female impersonators and their elaborate costumes had cleared the stage, and in a few minutes the male revue would begin. The club was more than halfway filled, a good showing for a weeknight. Mostly women in groups. Birthday parties, other bachelorettes, and just chicks on the town. With one exception, Elisa didn't see anyone else she knew, but it was one whopper of an exception. "Happy birthday, dear Margot," a table full of professional- types sang merrily. "Happy birthday tooooo yoooooouuuuu!" "I'm glad Birdie isn't here!" Aiden confided alarmedly to Elisa. The blonde DA either hadn't noticed them or was pretending to ignore them, and either option suited Elisa just fine. What would Ms. Yale do, anyway? Tell the media that she'd seen gargoyles at a strip club? That'd go over well! Nikki was sulking because the female impersonator who had done Tina Turner had better legs than Nikki herself, and he was a guy. Maggie and Aiden had been doing their best to fade into the background, until Beth had gotten them both drinking her pink- lemonade-and-vodka slushie drinks, so they were both loosening up a bit. Elisa also felt pleasantly warm. As the guest of honor, Queenie had made a show of presenting her with the house special, a tall thin glass with figures of naked men molded into the sides. The glass had been filled with liquor of different colors and densities, making it layer like a rainbow. The whole thing was topped with a swizzle stick made from some sort of crystalized rum sugar. By the time she was down to the green layer, she was beyond mellow. "Okay, Aiden, your turn," Fox said. "What?" Aiden tried to disappear into the back of her chair. "A joke, a joke," Fox urged. "Everyone else has told one." "Well, all right." Aiden paused, then added, "but it's Birdie's, so don't blame me." "Get on with it, child!" Angela gave her a friendly swat. "Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella who wanted to go to the prince's ball. But she didn't have anything to wear. So she went out in the garden and wished and wished, and then poof! a woman appeared. 'I am your fairy godmother,' she said to Cinderella. 'I have come to grant your wish and let you go to the ball.' So she waved her magic wand, and poof! Cinderella had a beautiful dress. Poof! a coach and four. Poof! glass slippers. 'But, fairy godmother,' Cinderella said, 'what if I meet someone ... you know ...' 'Oh, yes,' said the fairy godmother. Poof! 'Here is a diaphragm. But be warned -- if you are not home by midnight, it will turn into a pumpkin." Beth and Nikki chorused "Ouch!" Aiden continued. "So Cinderella thanked her fairy godmother and rushed off to the ball. The fairy godmother waited and waited. Eleven o'clock. No Cinderella. Quarter to twelve. No Cinderella. Midnight, and still no Cinderella. Finally, at three in the morning, Cinderella came staggering home. Her dress was in tatters, her shoes were gone, and she had a huge smile. 'Cinderella!' said her fairy godmother. 'Where have you been?' 'Oh,' Cinderella said, 'I met the most wonderful guy!' 'Really? Who?' asked her fairy godmother. Cinderella said, 'Peter Peter!'" Fox shrieked and pounded on the table. The others (except for Delilah, who still didn't have a good grasp of humor and had to have all the jokes explained) gaped at Aiden for a moment, then joined in. As their merriment was winding down, a scanty-clad waiter appeared with a large box. At Fox's nod, he set it down in front of Elisa. "Your cake, ladies!" Elisa opened the box, took one look, and hastily slapped the cover closed. She stared accusingly at Fox. "Let us see!" Maggie reached over and opened it, then gasped. "It's a --" "I'm going to get you for this," Elisa promised Fox. "I don't know when, and I don't know how, but I will!" "In that case, you might as well open your presents!" Fox slid two more boxes across the table, both wrapped in shiny paper that looked like black lace over silver silk. One of them had a glossy black bow, and the other was tied with a ribbon and had a miniature leather whip dangling from it. "Oh, God!" Elisa muttered. With extreme reluctance, as if she might find snakes or spiders inside, she picked at the wrappings. Then, with a resigned sigh, she didn't even bother trying to hide the items but held them high for her companions to see. "What is it?" Angela asked, fascinated. "A hat?" "A hat!" Fox snickered. "Put it on your head, Elisa!" "It's underwear," Maggie said, pointing to a tuft of black maribou feathers and a few elastic strings. "At least, that part is. I don't know what the other puffs are for." "They go here," Nikki said, seizing the feather-puff pasties from her cousin and holding them over her chest. "How they stay on?" Delilah asked. "Adhesive. Like a postage stamp," Fox said. "Open the other one," Beth urged. "The one with the whip!" That one turned out to be a black leather garment, cut nearly to the armpits on the sides and below the navel in the front, with fine chains across the cutaway cups and dangling at the hips. "Oh, hurt me!" Nikki cried. "I've got just the pair of shoes to lend you!" "What's this?" Angela delved into the package and came up with a studded leather collar. Her mouth dropped open. "Is this for you to wear, Elisa, or my father?" Elisa glowered at Fox. "I think I preferred you as an enemy!" * * Drunk and high-spirited, the males crowded into the viewing room and stumbled through the dark jostling each other goodnaturedly as they all tried to find seats. Xanatos' private theater was a hundred times more comfortable than any cinema, with cushy wide seats arranged in a semicircle around a curtained stage. Behind the curtain was a screen only slightly smaller than a cinema's, and one entire wall was covered with cabinets and rack after rack of films of all varieties. There was an old-fashioned popcorn machine in the corner, currently unused but still wrapped in the ghost- smell of popcorn past. "Goliath, you should sit in the front row," Xanatos said, finding the remote that controlled the sound system. "Everyone else, make yourselves cozy wherever you like." "What are you up to, Xanatos?" Goliath asked. "Just a little entertainment," he grinned. "Designed specifically with you in mind." He pressed a button and the strains of Eastern music, sitars and other less identifible instruments, wailed through the room. "May I present ... Godiva!" The curtain drew back and a muted spotlight came up. On the stage was a figure wrapped completely in indigo wings. "What the --" Brooklyn and Broadway leaned forward. The figure began to move with the music, slowly, swaying, revealing nothing except the velvety contours of the wings. And then, from between the folds, a taloned foot emerged. Sapphire blue, the three clawed toes tipped in gold, a bangled anklet just above the high arched heel. Following the foot came a shapely leg, encased in transparent yellow gauze. A combination of movements drew the wings aside and brought the female gargoyle into the light. Lexington nearly fell off his seat. Except for the music and a low incredulous whistle from Matt's direction, the room was silent. Yellow see-through harem pants with a skimpy bikini-bottom were topped with a belt of tiny metal disks. The yellow halter had a row of disks along the bottom edge. Where a human's navel would have been, the dancer sported a large jewel. Gold grapelike clusters hung from her pointed ears, and she wore cymbals on her fingers. Easy to see how she got her name, what with six feet of thick, flowing golden hair. A row of thin horns, almost like quills, swept back from her hairline like a natural tiara. Large eyes, pouty lips. And her body ... "That's gotta be the most amazing pair of hooters I have ever seen," Matt said in an oddly reverent tone. "She canna glide with those things," Hudson said, but didn't take his good eye from the female. Yes, indeed, they were firm and upright and all things considered she probably had a chest measurement to rival Goliath's. Her waist was as narrow as Titania's, which made her look like she should by rights snap in half. She had come-hither hips and long, long legs, and her tail was a smooth sapphire line that ended in a spade- shaped tip. Goliath spent about ten seconds just gawking while Godiva preened before him. Then, as the music changed and she clashed her cymbals and began to move in a whirl of sapphire and gold, the lead gargoyle tore his gaze away and fixed it on Xanatos' smirk. "A gargoyle? Where did you find her?" "That's not important. Enjoy the show!" He sat back to take his own advice, though he was thinking more about the time Fox had first done some dirty dancing for him, ten years ago in Seattle. Godiva danced in perfect time with the music. Her hands moved over her body, making gestures of offering and then spinning away tauntingly. She undulated close to Goliath, flung her head so that her banner of golden hair lay across him, and pulled it silkily over his lap. Then she replaced her hair with her own supine form, draping over his knees, her hands and arms twining in front of his face. Goliath's fingers flexed as if he couldn't decide whether to push her away or cop a feel. Godiva sat up, snuggling her rump against his thighs, gripped him by the ears and drew his head into the valley of her cleavage. When he tried to pull back, she let him and then sprang up so that her feet were planted on his chair, standing astraddle his legs. Her hips were on a level with his eyes, the jewel at her waist winking and flashing. She tossed her hips so close that the coins of her low-slung belt brushed against his brow ridges. She braced her hands on his shoulders and cartwheeled over his head, landing neatly in MacBeth's lap and giving him the same treatment. The immortal king looked like he'd been whopped on the head with a two-by-four. The trio were hollering and cheering and pounding their tails against the floor. When Godiva moved on to Broadway, though, the big lummox evidently couldn't handle that much aggressive gargoyle pulchritude and reeled backward semiconscious. The thud of him landing made the music skip a beat. "Take it easy, babe, I've got a mate," were Talon's laughing words of advice as Godiva coiled her tail around him ran her fingers thought his pelt. She leapt and spun and wound up kneeling in front of Hudson. She flung back her hair with a practiced sweep so that it trailed behind her on the floor, and pressed the side of her head against his knee and began to rub like a cat. Hudson cleared his throat and had to fan himself with the edge of his wing. Godiva threw herself to the floor at Brooklyn's feet and writhed, arching her body. Brooklyn's tail was drumming against the back of his chair, and if it was drumming in time with his pulse, he'd be needing CPR. Unlike the others, though, he grew bold and when she rose to dance in front of him he let her take his hands and place them at her waist. "Angela's going to kill you!" Lex goggled. With a grin, Brooklyn whirled Godiva toward his smaller rookery brother. She overtopped him by a clear foot, and her statuesque proportions were stunning. She leaned down, giving him an unbelievable view, and then licked him up the side of the jaw and flicked her tongue at the tip of his ear. Lex joined Broadway on the floor, staring like a deer caught in the headlights. On she went, to Matt, where she coaxed him into grasping the gauze of her harem pants and then spun away so fast that the entire pantleg came off in his hand. He needed little urging to do the same to the other leg, leaving her lower half bare except for the belt and bottoms. Over to Owen, swinging her hips and shaking her tail in his face as the music revved up to a new rhythm. Slackjawed lust was a new look for Owen, Xanatos thought. Godiva danced back to the stage, then drew her wings around her, a swaying indigo cocoon. A yellow coin-encrusted halter came flying over the top edge of her wings. It landed on Goliath's arm. Next came a pair of yellow panties and their belt, which caught on the end of Brooklyn's beak. Brooklyn bayed at the ceiling, and Matt did a not too shabby imitation. In days gone by, strippers would use giant feathered fans to artfully conceal and reveal their bodies as they danced. Godiva used her wings, folding them this way and that, hinting, teasing, tantalizing. When her wings seemed unable to do the job, that six foot cascade of hair helped out nicely. The music reached its climax. Just as it did, Godiva faced her audience and opened wide her wings, and at exactly that moment the spotlight cut off, plunging them into darkness before they had so much as a glimpse of her revealed beauty. Silence. Thunderous applause and piercing whistles. When the curtain had been drawn and the houselights came back up, Xanatos turned to his friends with what he knew was a huge beaming smile. "Well?" "Words cannot describe," MacBeth said. Broadway and Lexington just whimpered. "Can I keep these?" Brooklyn asked, holding up the yellow undies. "Who is she?" Goliath might have lost track of that question when the dancing started, but he had recovered his wits. "A comic artist's sex fantasy," Xanatos replied. "You should have seen the looks on the faces of my robotics engineers when I showed them the sketches!" Lex popped up off the floor. "She's -- she's a robot?!?!" * * "I see a few men in the audience," Queenie said, making exaggerated kissy noises into the microphone. "Now, you boys sit on back and enjoy the rest of the show. Our dancers will warm the ladies up, but you get to take them home! And to begin our show, put your hands together for Billy!" Amid tipsy applause, Queenie left the darkened stage. A wide screen lit up, showing a panoramic blue sky, fields of wheat, and a barn silo in the background. A golden spotlight illuminated a hunky guy with sun-bleached blond hair and a white, even, All-American smile that belonged on a Colgate commercial. The hunk was wearing jeans so snug you could read the dates on the coins in his pockets, red flannel shirt, and cowboy boots. He had a piece of straw sticking out of his mouth like a cigarette. Billy started strutting his stuff to Springsteen's "Born in the USA," flashing his brilliant grin at the audience. He wiggled out of his shirt, whirled it overhead, and flung it at Margot's table. Next he skinned off the jeans, revealing a pair of stars-and-stripes briefs. Women in the audience were cheering and clapping, and many were waving bills in the air. "What are they doing?" Angela asked. "Watch!" Fox said. Billy stripped off the briefs, eliciting a sudden startled gasp from Aiden and Maggie, but modesty was barely preserved by a peach- colored thong. He sprang from the stage and gyrated between the tables, close to the women with the money. Eager hands reached to stuff the bills into the thin elastic bands. Nobody had ever done a study on the effects of alcohol on the systems of female gargoyles, but both Angela and Delilah had been tossing back tequila shooters like there was no tomorrow, and they were bordering on rowdy. "Anybody got a dollar?" Angela squealed. "Here!" To Elisa's dismay, Fox produced a huge roll of ones. "It's on me!" Angela took a bill, and, having watched the audience long enough, stood and beckoned to Billy. At the sight of the sable-haired gargoyle, he faltered only a moment, then danced her way. Angela placed the dollar against his well-muscled chest and slid it slowly down over his belly to the waistband, then collapsed into her chair screaming with giggles. "Billy's going upstairs now, ladies, into the gallery where private dances can be yours for a mere ten dollars!" Queenie announced. "My treat," Fox offered, giving Elisa a dig in the ribs. "No thanks!" Elisa hastily slurped down more of her drink. The next performer was a broody, sensual-lipped Italian guy named Dante. The movie screen behind him shifted to images of leaping, flickering flames. He glimmered in a shiny gold jumpsuit and shook his groove thing to the melodic refrains of "Disco Inferno." He was totally in love with himself, almost disdainfully accepting the tips from the audience. He peeled away layers of clothes until he was in nothing but a purple pouch. "I'm glad they leave something on," Aiden stammered nervously. "They have to," Elisa assured her. "They can't show it all." And then the disco dude promptly made her a liar by tugging his pouch aside. Aiden modestly buried her head in her folded arms so hard that their drinks sloshed. She peeked out enough to give Elisa a single you- tricked-me look, and then wouldn't raise her head until Dante had left the stage. A driving hip-hop beat brought out the next dancer, Lucas, a short but thoroughly buffed brother who seemed to really enjoy his work. He was the most athletic they'd yet seen, using a steel pole in the center of the stage to spin around and even threw one leg high so it was almost a case of vertical splits. By the time he was down to a bright red thong that contrasted gorgeously with his dark brown skin, he had half the audience on their feet and a forest of bills waving. "Dare you," Elisa heard Nikki say to Beth, and her heart sank. Poor Beth had never been able to refuse one of Nikki's dares. And so it was that Beth got on her knees on her chair and held a folded-up dollar between her teeth, making the dancer retrieve it with his own mouth. Nikki, not to be outdone, produced a dollar of her own. She was wearing skintight jeans and a satin bustier, and she placed the folded bill smack between her tits. Lucas gleefully bent to go for that one too. Fox observed this, gave Nikki a sidelong challenging look, and then held up a dollar herself. She hiked her skirt the little ways it could go and tucked the bill into the top of her stocking. As Lucas knelt between Fox's legs to collect his tip, Nikki laughingly admitted defeat. Aiden and Maggie steadfastly refused to even touch a dollar, but Angela persuaded Delilah to tip a musclebound studmuffin in a Roman gladiator's costume. And then there was a lull in the chaos, and a tall handsome man in a suit appeared by their table. "Romeo is looking for a volunteer from the audience," Queenie's voice told them. "It seems he's found his Juliet!" "No way!" Elisa said. Fox pushed Elisa out of her chair. She would have fallen if Romeo hadn't caught her. The spotlight fell upon them. Angela, Nikki, and Beth cheered encouragingly. Elisa glared at Fox, sure she'd set this up. Fox badly feigned an innocent shrug as Elisa was led onto the stage, where a single chair sat in a cool blue fan of light. Romeo turned away from her, a silhouette in blue. Then, as the music started (it was Scarlet Angel's "Heart of Stone," and even from here Elisa could hear Aiden choke in horror and disbelief), he turned back, ever so slowly, with a bottle of champagne in one hand and two glasses in the other. He poured them each a glass, twined his arm through hers, and coaxed her to take a sip. He lit candles, then danced as if just for her, a man undressing for his lover, slowly, with many a meaningful gaze. Elisa wanted to clap her hand over her eyes and brow, but then she saw the lovesick yearning looks on the faces of the women in the audience, and figured that she might as well at least pretend to enjoy his attention. It was okay as long as he was romancing her, but when he started prancing about and bumping his hips so that his overstuffed thong jiggled and bounced like ripe fruit, she didn't know whether to laugh or be sick. Finally, he let her escape the stage and started answering the clamoring calls from frantic women. Elisa slunk gratefully back to her chair, kicked Fox in the ankle, and downed the rest of her drink. Then, reading Nikki's mind, Elisa pleaded needing the bathroom and hurried away before dollars were forced on her. Angela tagged along, only a little wobbly from taking on enough tequila to floor a frat boy. The bathrooms were upstairs, which meant they had to pass through the gallery to get there. In the shadowed gallery was a different class of woman than the partying ones below. These were older, or homely, or fat, or any combination thereof. Most of them held tight to rolls of bills and had countenances filled with sadness and desperation, as they bought private dance after private dance, performed by dancers who now seemed dutiful and perfunctory. "You don't think this is what the males are doing, do you?" Angela asked. "God, I hope not!" "Double standard?" "No, it's just all so ... tacky!" Elisa saw her refelection and gasped. "Who put those on me?!" she cried, tearing off the penis deelie- boppers so fast that she lost a clump of hair. "How long have I been wearing those?" Angela snickered. "You had them on stage!" "Oh, no!" "I wish someone had brought a camera!" "I'm glad they didn't!" She dropped the deelie-boppers into the trash, scrubbed her hands at the sink, and then sighed. "Come on, if we don't get back soon, who knows what they'll arrange while we're gone!" As they left the bathroom, they could hear a new song start up, and overlaying it was Queenie's voice. "Put your hands together, ladies, for Mr. Roboto!" The song by that name, one of Styx's greatest hits, rocked through the club. Angela glanced over the rail toward the stage, and then stopped in her tracks. "Elisa!" "What?" She couldn't tell if it was just the lights or if Angela really did have such a peculiar look on her face. "Don't we ... isn't that ... haven't we seen him before?" "Who?" Elisa peered over the rail, and her jaw thunked to her chest. "Jackal?!" Alarming but true. The Pack-ster was gyrating on stage, lights gleaming on his various metal implants, and when he ripped off the space-age silvery astronaut uniform he'd been wearing, the audience erupted in shrieks of surprise. Bad enough that one of his eyes was a glowing red Terminator orb, his hands ended in razor-tipped claws, and his joints all seemed capable of bending any old way. But at some point during his upgrades, he'd even gotten _that_ overhauled! A ten-foot-long extendable flexible metallic cable curled and uncoiled from the metal plate that had replaced his groin. It looked like a chrome-plated elephant's trunk. At the end was a tennis-ball sized knob covered with winking metal studs, vibrating wildly. Elisa came very close to offloading all of her booze and cake over the railing and onto the heads of Margot Yale's birthday revelers. She saw Fox, the only one of her companions to recognize the new and improved Jackal (he'd changed considerably since the days when Aiden used to be a regular viewer of The Pack). Fox may have been trying to caution the others, except that she was wheezing and hitching so hysterically that she couldn't have gotten a word out to save her life. Tears streamed through her mascara. All she could do was rock in her chair and waggle a finger in Jackal's direction. "Mer-cy!" Nikki shrilled, imitating Queenie's falsetto almost perfectly. "Ah think Ah've died and gone to heaven!" Jackal looked toward that piercing cry, grinned silvery at their table, and then saw Fox. "Oh, hell!" Elisa said. Bright hatred suffused his features. Quick as an f/x anaconda, his expando-thingie whipped out and twined around Fox's neck. "GLAAAAACCCCK!" was Fox's clever remark as she was hauled bodily out of her chair and suspended several feet above the ground. Her shoes flew off as her legs flailed like crazy. Already short on oxygen, she instantly went an alarming shade of purple and scrabbled at the cable, convulsing. Maggie, with no fuss nor fanfare, slid to the floor in a dead faint. Nikki and Beth screamed and fell over each other. Delilah blinked at the spectacle in front of her as if she wasn't sure it was real. Angela dove from the gallery rail. Elisa ran for the stairs fast as her miniskirt would allow, cursing herself for being unarmed and wondering if this sort of thing was going to happen whenever she and the girls got together for an evening. First Sevarius' goons had crashed Maggie's baby shower, and now this! Jackal ground his hips lewdly, flinging Fox's limp body back and forth. He flicked his fingers and long curved blades sprang into view. Angela passed between them in a blur of wings and a flash of her own claws. She sheared through the thick cable. Sparks showered everywhere, Fox fell like a stone, and every other man in the room cried out in psychoempathic castration. The severed half of the cable flexed and bunched on the stage, its end still wrapped around Fox's neck. Like someone had thrown a switch, the audience of happy drunken women exploded into panic. Aiden kept her wits long enough to yell something into the din, something that Elisa could only halfway hear but that sounded like "somnus." The elfin teen made a throwing- confetti gesture and all the people in front of her began slumping in place. Elisa herself felt a wave of drowsiness but shook it off as she scrambled over an upended table and tried to reach Fox. She almost trod on Margot Yale, who was luckily sound asleep with her head pillowed on the sculpted hot-pants-clad tushie of one of the waiters. Delilah had recovered enough to join the fray, and between her and Angela, Jackal didn't have a chance. They got him by the stump of his appendage, wrestled him to a standstill, and tied it around the steel pole that Lucas had used in his acrobatics. Then Angela finished him off with an uppercut to the jaw that would have made her father proud. Elisa lay hold of the cable, her face twisted into the expression her mother wore when pulling the giblets out of a turkey. It was disgustingly warm and organic in her hands, and seemed to be coated with some sort of oily fluid. Wrestling it from around Fox's neck was like trying to straighten out a full-pressure fire hose. At last, she flung it away and it coiled in on itself. "Let's get out of here!" Elisa called to the others after satisfying herself that Fox was breathing. Aiden's spell hadn't caught everyone, so by now the rest of Club Victoria was a madhouse. Beth revived Maggie more or less by accident, when she dumped a tall iced drink onto the mutate's head. Nikki helped her get Maggie to her feet. Aiden dashed to help Elisa with Fox. They made their escape up the back stairs and onto the roof. What a picture they must make, Elisa thought. Hair in disarray, missing shoes, makeup smeared from hell to breakfast, torn clothes ... ooh, yeah! "Who's going to fly it?" Aiden wondered, looking at the chopper that had brought them here. Elisa and Beth exchanged a glance. The two of them had grown up with Derrek's fascination with flight, but still! "Why bother?" Nikki pushed her way to the center of the group. "Look, cuz, it's been a killer bash, that's for sure, but how about Beth and I cab it back to my place, and the sisters with the wings airlift the rest of you home?" Elisa shifted her gaze to Angela and Delilah. "You two sober enough to glide?" "No problem!" Angela gathered up Fox, pausing to shake her head at the swelling bruise encircling her neck. "How she's going to explain _that_ to her husband, I just don't know!" "Gives a whole new meaning to the term throating it," Nikki snickered. "Let's get out of here!" Elisa ordered, seeing the red and blue flashes of cop cars approaching. She wasn't wearing her badge, and the prospect of facing Captain Chavez over this was just as daunting as the idea of Fox's explanation to Xanatos how she'd wound up dangling from Jackal's dingus. Beth and Nikki waved as they headed for the door. Angela took off with Fox in her arms, followed by Maggie with Aiden. Delilah turned to her, those features so uncannily similar to her own. "Fun party," she ventured with a wry Elisa-like grin. "Wedding should be some fun too!" Elisa laughed and found a piece of wood to knock on. "The wedding had by-God better be perfect!" "Even if wedding is not," Delilah winked, "always is honeymoon, yes?" * * The End.

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