|Author’s Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney
and are used here without their creators’ knowledge or permission. All
other characters belong to the author. Adult themes and language; mature
eyes only please. August 2001; 5,400 words. Originally written for the
Avalon Mists writer's
The creepy guy had been looking at the video selection for over an hour now, and Denise Charmaine was starting to get edgy. The keen little nerve endings that every inhabitant of the Big Apple developed – the ones who didn’t never lasted long in this city, either ending up someone’s victim or fleeing for more sedate surroundings – were pinging like submarine sonar.
He didn’t look like much. Scrawny and stoop-shouldered, with a puff of dirty-brown hair shedding a snowdrift of dandruff onto his shirt. He had on sunglasses, startling black ovals against that pallid, pocked, greasy complexion. As if he thought nobody would recognize him. The way that Superman, maybe, reasoned that putting on a pair of shades and combing his hair a little different would make everyone fall for his ruse.
Not that the creepy guy was anything like Supes. The thought of him bending a paperclip, let alone a steel bar, was laughable.
But there was something about him that put Denise’s teeth on edge. Something that set him apart from the garden-variety scuzzball that wandered into Spank Me Mama on a daily – or more frequently, nightly – basis.
The bell over the door tinkled, announcing another arrival. Denise felt a new layer of relief with each person who came into the store, layers that were stripped away as each customer left. She didn’t want to be alone with Senor Dandruff over there.
At the moment, counting herself and the creepy guy, the shop’s occupants consisted of a thin woman with a dour face, skimming “1001 Erotic Nights” with an expression of skeptical disbelief, a clean-cut college boy and his blonde coed girlfriend having a lively discussion over in the latex-and-rubber section, and the new one, a portly, jowly, embarrassed-looking man.
Denise smiled. She knew the type. Anniversary coming up, a landmark one. The twentieth, that was her guess, and he was here for something saucy to spice up the old love life. After twenty years, she could just bet they needed all the help they could get.
“Evening, sir,” she said as he hovered uncertainly by the counter.
His eyes slid nervously around, trying to look and not look at the same time. They fixed on Denise with palpable relief, which grew somewhat strained as he got a gander of her tight silky tank top going to heroic lengths to restrain her bust. The emerald-green fabric shimmered in nice contrast to her tumble of vixen-red hair, if she did say so herself. If she inhaled too deeply, she supposed, it’d be a toss-up to see which popped out first – her chest or his staring eyeballs.
The married man stammered, “I’m here for a present for my wife. It’s our --”
“Anniversary,” Denise said.
All the while as she was helping him pick out a nice satin peignoir set and a tin of honeysuckle-scented dusting body powder, Denise remained aware of the guy still lingering in the back corner, where the videos were kept. He’d had time to read every title and back-cover teaser three times over by now, and given the content, it wasn’t like he was back there debating significant plot points.
She glanced at the clock and saw that she had half an hour until closing time. And she’d be able to close tonight, happily. It had seemed for a few weeks there, in the wake of that insane night in which the whole city had been plunged into a literal living hell, business had been overwhelming. Busier than the week before Valentine’s Day.
It wasn’t all that surprising. The aftermath had seen a lot of people make drastic life changes, from getting heavy religion to quitting high-power jobs in favor of spending time with family, to diving into hard-core drugs or booze like Prohibition was just around the bend. With all that going on, an upsurge in people wanting to get sexy or even explore some of the kinkier, wilder side of things, wasn’t such a big deal.
The married man left with his purchases tucked into a discreet brown bag, having chosen to forego the ones with the bright red and gold store logo splashed boldly across them. Moments later, the college couple came up, with a boxed set of Bondage For Beginners (faux-fur Velcro wrist and ankle restraints, quilted satin blindfold, tuft of magenta and black feathers on a small wand). Denise rang it up and put it in a bag. The dour-faced woman was next, having given up on the books and settled for a birthday card with a buff, bare dude holding a strategically-placed fireman’s helmet.
When all of them were done, and no one else had come in, Denise realized
with sinking spirits that she was now alone with the creepy guy.
She frowned, telling herself not to be too relieved, that this was too good to be true. Her every instinct had been telling her the guy had been waiting for just such an occasion as this, whereupon he’d probably whip it out and show it to her. Then she’d have to call the cops …
A cheerful person by nature, Denise had already been telling herself that if she was lucky, they’d send out the hot Latino cop to take her statement. There wouldn’t be anything the police could do, really, since the creep would be long-gone by the time they got here, but as a consolation prize, that Alvarez hunk was better than a year’s supply of Turtle Wax. He’d been the one to respond the time she called in because a couple of kids had shoplifted a bunch of panties from the bargain bin and run out giggling. Nuisance, nothing more, but still, you had to do something, had to at least try.
But the creepy guy was gone. When she edged to the left, she could see the entire back corner. Nothing but boxes with titles like Lesbian Spank Inferno and The Bitches of Madison County, and The Pool Man Cometh. Nor was he lurking among the racks of lingerie, nor behind the mannequins showing off the seasonal display.
Denise, letting herself be relieved now after all, snickered as she looked at the mannequin in the front window. That had been Bradley’s idea, her boss, and it certainly got attention. After those gargoyle-creatures saved the city, proving themselves to be the good guys after all, they were all the rage. She must have sold fifteen of those catsuits with the attached imitation-velvet wings and tails since Devil’s Night.
Five minutes until closing. She began tidying up, peripherally aware of a car easing into a too-small spot out front. The only reason she even noticed was because of the color, a ghastly Pepto-Bismol pink in the harsh white light of the streetlamps.
Someone got out of the car, an overweight brunette in leopard-print stretch pants and a long ribbed black tunic-top belted with gold chain. She hurried toward the door just as Denise was headed for it herself, and set her hand on the knob a second before Denise could grab the Open/Closed sign and flip it around.
“Hey, come on, we’re closed,” she complained.
“Got here as fast as I could,” the brunette said, forcing her way in by virtue of the fact that she had fifty pounds on Denise and Denise wasn’t really trying to shut the door in her face. “My friend needs to do some shopping.”
“Your friend can come back tomorrow when we’re open.”
“No dice. She just woke up, see.”
“Yeah, well, some people have to work nights. Life sucks.”
“Come on, Denny,” the brunette wheedled. “It’s me!”
“So it’s you, Birdie, so what? Why should you get special treatment?”
“Old times’ sake?”
Old times … they’d gone to elementary school together, which had been a joke and a half. It was one of those upper-crust private schools, the kind where most of the kids summered in Cape Cod or Maine. The only reason Denise was able to attend was because her mother was one of the school nurses, so the administration let her in for a reduced rate.
She’d been the gawky one, the combination of her screaming red hair and braces leading the other kids to call her Carrotbot. And now here was Birdie Yale, bringing back all those sour memories. Birdie, who had been pudgy instead of stacked back then, and who dressed how she wanted instead of how all the pretty, popular girls were dressing. Birdie, who should have been an outcast but whose mouthy, devil-may-care charisma somehow squeaked her through.
Sighing, Denise stepped away from the door. “Okay, but you better not just be looking.”
“Guaranteed.” Birdie waved a couple of squares of cardstock in her face and Denise recognized them as Spank Me Mama punch cards, buy ten and get one free.
“Where’d you get all those? I haven’t seen you in here that many times.”
“Fox gave them to us.”
“Fox?” There was only one person by that name Denise knew of, at least as a regular customer in here. “Fox Xanatos?”
“The one and only. She says she always forgets to use them and someone else might as well.”
“Since when do you know Fox Xanatos?”
“I have my ways.” Birdie tossed her head, that burgundy lock bouncing on her brow. “So, what do you say, can I bring in my friend or are you going to freak out?”
“Why? What’s the matter with her?” Denise recalled what Birdie had said – she just woke up – and incredulity made her take another step back. “You’re not telling me … your friend … and you know Mrs. Xanatos … are we … is it …”
“This is why you got D’s in elocution,” Birdie remarked as she turned back toward the car and made a beckoning gesture.
The passenger-side door opened and a totally normal-looking girl got out, a little awkwardly. Denise snorted. Here she’d gotten all excited, thinking that it would be … well, never mind. She swept the girl with a dubious look.
“She needs to shop here?”
The girl probably wasn’t even old enough to legally set foot inside the store. Beige-blond hair fell to her shoulders, framing a meekly attractive face dominated by huge grey eyes. She wore a peach-colored knit dress and a silver necklace with a filigree heart pendant.
“Fergs, this is Denise Charmaine, old school chum of mine. Denise, this is Aiden Ferguson.”
“Hi,” said the beige-blond in a voice as soft and unassuming as the rest of her. She came in, and as Denise let the door swing shut behind her, Aiden sprang forward in a hurry and almost knocked over a freestanding shelf of warming body oils and flavored lotions.
“You okay? What’s the matter?” Denise asked.
Birdie reached out and turned the sign from Open to Closed. “Can you keep a secret, Denny?”
“It’s just,” said Aiden, wringing her hands a little, “that the door almost shut on my --”
At that moment, Denise, crossing behind her to turn the sign back, trod/tripped on something that felt like a thick, twitching cable, or a big snake. She yelped and looked down at bare carpet.
“My tail,” Aiden finished.
“Whoa,” Denise said as the meaning of it all trickled into her stunned mind. “You are one, aren’t you? One of those gargoyles.”
“She shoots, she scores, the crowd goes wild!” Birdie trumpeted.
“That’s some disguise. How do you do it?”
“Yeah, right,” Denise said. “It’s some invention, some top-secret thing that they’re working on over at Xanatos Enterprises, right?”
“Right,” Birdie said before Aiden could reply. “You’re still a sharp cookie, Denny. So, what say you lock up and pull the shades so we can do a little shopping?”
“You mean, for her?”
The ‘her’ in question was gazing around, those big eyes even bigger as she took in the inventory. Her mouth made a perfect little O. “Uh, maybe not …”
“Come on, Fergs,” Birdie said. “Fox shops here all the time. You were the one who told me how she got all Elisa’s bachelorette party favors here.”
“I’m still not over that,” Aiden protested. “I don’t really think I need anything here, Birdie, honest I don’t.”
Denise, not peeved anymore and all intrigued, twisted the thumb lock, threw the bolt, and drew down all the shades. She dispensed with lowering the interior portcullis; after all, they’d still have to get out of here. “What do you really look like?”
Seeing that the windows were blocked off, Aiden threw a quick glance at Birdie as if for reassurance, and then shimmered. Where the small, slim human girl had been standing, there was now a small, slim gargoyle with a rising, backswept crest coming out of her hair like the fin of a surfacing shark. Her dainty feet widened into triple-toed talons. The tail upon which Denise had stepped coiled in a grey curl. Her wings, fine pearly-grey membranes, stretched from her wrists to just below the knee.
She wore a backless, turquoise-blue dress with a belt that seemed to pass through the wings, through slits in them right about waist-level. The silver necklace remained unchanged.
“Wow,” Denise breathed. Her first impulse was to poke at the wings, or at the crest, but she restrained herself, thinking of how annoyed her sister always got when someone assumed that her pregnant belly was public property. “You’re really real.”
“I guess,” Aiden said with a shy little smile.
“You’re one of the ones, you fought those monsters on Devil’s Night,” Denise went on in a thrilled rush. “Saved the whole city! It was in all the papers and on TV and everything.”
“Yeah.” When she blushed, uncomfortable, it turned her skin from pale grey to a dusty plum color. “Except I’m not a warrior, not like the others. They really did it. Not me.”
“You never give yourself enough credit, Fergs, and it irks me. Irks me, I say,” Birdie said like Foghorn Leghorn. “Elisa told me how you saved her bacon, and Puck’s.”
“Come on, Birdie, not now,” begged Aiden. “Let’s just go, okay? I changed my mind.”
“No way, Fergs. I smuggled you out of the castle in direct violation of Goliath’s orders – you know he wanted everyone to stay put and out of sight until the furor died down – and if I’m going to get in trouble for it, it’s not going to be for nothing.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“I know.” Birdie rapped her knuckles on the crest. “But that’s what pals are for, huh? So, Denny, we’re looking for something that will turn a guy to stone by night. Whatcha got?”
Denise surveyed Aiden dubiously. “I’m not sure. It’ll be kind of, um, a challenge.”
“No kidding. But let’s give it a try.” Birdie smirked at the winged catsuit, which had snaps at the crotch and foldaway cups held up with Velcro. “It looks like you’ve been doing a good business in that sort of thing.”
Aiden’s hands were climbing over each other like a pair of fretful mice. “I don’t think anything here is really my style, Birdie.”
“High-necked white flannel nighties are your style, Fergs. I was your roomie. I remember. But times have changed, and you’ve got a mate now, and you said yourself how nice it would be to do something to take Lex’s mind off all the clan’s troubles and cheer him up.”
“I did say that, but this wasn’t quite what I had in mind.”
“And don’t go giving me the I’m-so-shy speech. I heard about you two during the breeding season. On Xanatos’ office balcony?”
“Birdie!” Aiden squeaked. And then, mortified, “He told?”
Denise turned half an ear to the teasing banter, knowing that in the end, Birdie would get her way. Some things never changed. She went to one of the racks and began sorting through the hanging garments, most of them tissue-thin and soft to the touch. By the time she’d found a few likely prospects, the discussion was over and a blushing Aiden had agreed that yes, okay, maybe something from here would get her mate’s attention and shake him out of the depression that had held sway since Devil’s Night, so long as Birdie was on her word of honor not to let anyone else know.
“Fox already does,” Birdie pointed out. “Can’t hold me accountable for what she might or might not say.”
Glumly, Aiden gave up and looked at the hangers that Denise was holding up. Her eyes went all big again. “Oh, gosh …”
“It’s not going to be easy working around those wings,” Denise said, “but we can give these ones a try.”
“If all else, how about some pasties?” Birdie held up a gold-glittery pair to her own ample bosom. The tassels, festive Mardi Gras yellow, swung back and forth. “They come with an instruction sheet on how to spin ‘em, same way and opposite directions. I tried once, but damn near gave myself a concussion.”
“I’m not pasting those anywhere!” protested Aiden.
“Here,” said Denise. “How about this one?”
The first was shiny fire-engine red, a backless little nothing of a
leotard that snapped on the sides. High on the sides, beyond French-cut.
It clasped behind the neck and plunged to below the navel … if gargoyles
even had navels, which Denise paused to ponder. The front had an expanse
of black fishnet filling in some of that deep V, and was meant to be worn
with matching stockings. That, however, wasn’t going to happen. And they’d
still have to do something about that tail …
“Or there’s this.” The next was a black stretch lace number with electric-blue
satin trim, a sort of strapless underwire corsety-looking arrangement
“Don’t you have anything … well … less scary?” Aiden asked.
Denise held up the third. “You mean like this?”
Aiden’s worried expression turned into a gleam of delight. “Now, that’s cute!”
Birdie grimaced. “It looks like cotton candy.”
She was right … the color was that exact shade of pink, and it had an airy, insubstantial, cloudy texture to it. As if it would dissolve on contact. Tiny white beads, fake seed pearls, decorated it and gave it a bit of weight.
The garment came in two pieces, the first of which was a tiny panty that might actually work around Aiden’s tail, and her wings, because it consisted of a triangular scrap of pink cloth and a bunch of ribbons, made to tie in place. They could thread it through the holes in her wings, and around the base of her tail.
The top half was a loose, floating thing that resembled a short poncho. It could drape over Aiden’s shoulders and lay along her upper arms without interfering with her wings, and if she held her arms at her sides, it would drape to her waist. If she raised her arms, however …
Aiden realized that at the same time Denise did, judging by the telltale color climbing in her cheeks. She demurred, about to protest and reconsider, but before she could get a word out, Birdie had snatched the garment from Denise, thrust it into Aiden’s hands, and whirled her toward the rank of curtained changing booths that ran the length of the side wall.
As she reached for the curtain, it was yanked back, the metal rings chattering on the bar with the sound of a slot machine payoff. A hand shot out, and the creepy guy seized Aiden by the wrist before he even got a good look at what he was grabbing. She gasped.
Denise, shocked but down deep not really surprised, cried out.
Hiding, he’d been hiding in there waiting for the store to close, for her to be locked in and alone! But by the astounded look on his face, he hadn’t been able to make out their conversation, which had taken place by the door with the radio still issuing Top 40 from the overhead speakers. He’d known Denise wasn’t alone in the shop, but not what she’d welcomed in.
The realization that he had a gargoyle by the arm made the creepy guy falter, but only for a moment. He brought up the gun in his other hand and shot at Aiden.
Horrified beyond measure, understanding only that the creepy guy had been planning something more than a flasher move, Denise was frozen in place. Even Birdie, who would have greeted full-scale alien invasion with nothing more than a yawn and a cocked eyebrow, was rooted to the spot.
Silver light flared painfully bright. The bullet hit a wall of sparkling light that had sprung into being around Aiden and ricocheted off with a horrid screech, the sound of a nail being levered out of hard, seasoned oak. It plowed into the shelf of oils and lotions and abruptly the shop was filled with their overpowering scents of cinnamon, strawberry, pina colada, and chocolate.
Aiden tried to pull away but despite everything, the creep’s grip was strong. He pulled her toward him, hard. Her feet tangled in the garment she’d dropped and she fell forward. The creep sidestepped, the top of her crest whacking him under the eye as she went down. Her head hit the rear wall of the changing booth, cinderblock with a thin layer of earth-tone indoor-outdoor carpet climbing halfway up. Aiden crumpled into the corner like a swatted moth.
The creepy guy lunged out, waving the gun. His shades had come askew from the collision with Aiden’s crest. Muddy, awful brown eyes glared daggers at Denise.
The world narrowed to a pinhole, total tunnel vision through which all she could see was the guy, not just creepy but a complete psycho, coming at her. His tongue, weirdly as pink as the cotton-candy negligee, slicked out like a snake’s to wet his thin lips.
“You,” he said. “You, babydoll. Don’t even move.”
Don’t move? She couldn’t move.
He half-turned toward Birdie, motioning with the gun in the way that all the bad guys did on television, indicating that she should get over there and stand by Denise. Birdie moved far faster and with more agility than she’d shown on the school playground, batted at the gun with something long, bulbous, and unnaturally salmon-colored. The gun, which was old and pitted and looked like it was just as likely to blow up in his face as fire in a straight line, flipped out of his grasp and went into the bargain bin.
Squawking in outrage, all the more when he saw just what Birdie had seized off the “Self Help” table to clout him with, the creepy guy dashed to the bin and plunged both hands in it up to the elbows. He rooted frantically, throwing thongs and Marvel Bras in a silky shower.
Denise didn’t so much recover her wits as they crashed back into her. She ran at the guy and slammed her crossed forearms into his back. As he was already leaning way over, pawing through the undies, it was no contest. His legs flew up, his head went down, and before you could say Spank Me Mama, she had him pressed face-down and mostly buried. His arms beat and pinwheeled.
Birdie came up beside her and dug her own hands into the heaps of panties. She came up with the gun, triumphant. “You got him?”
“I got him,” Denise said grimly, continuing to press down hard. The guy was making a muffled choking, wheezing sound now and she understood that she could well be smothering the jerk in discounted underwear, but she kept on pushing.
After checking on Aiden, who was groggily sitting up and rubbing at a sore spot on her forehead, Birdie went to the phone and dialed. Not 911, Denise noted, but some other number, and spoke urgently but familiarly with whoever answered.
“Who’s he?” asked Aiden.
“Some creepy guy,” Denise said. His struggles were intensifying as the fact of his own possible suffocation dawned on him, and she was having a hard time holding him down. “Get me those cuffs, will you?”
Moving with a mincing fastidiousness that Denise would have found funny under other circumstances, Aiden went to the dom display and brought back a pair of authentic steel cuffs. Not the fur-lined ones, not the fake easy-release ones, but the real thing. She carried them at arm’s length and tweezed between her fingers like they might bite, or like they had germs.
Between the two of them, they got the guy’s wrists wrestled around and cuffed behind his back. Only then did Denise let him up. He emerged with his sunglasses now gone altogether, and the strap of a lacy white bra hooked over his ear. He was florid, sputtering, his hair standing up in crazy tufts.
He tried to make a break for it, but the attempt was cut short when Aiden, looking sterner and fiercer than Denise would have thought possible, karate-chopped her hand at his legs. She was nowhere near hitting distance, but an amazing wedge of light zipped from her fingertips and exploded across his shins in a silent, silvery burst.
The guy went down like his bones had turned to noodles and all of his ligaments had been cut. He sprawled on the floor, whining in what seemed more confusion than pain.
Birdie finished her call and came over to report, “Police are on their way. What’s his story?”
Denise explained, while the creepy guy lay there without any further attempts to get up. He was pouting, sullen, like a kid who’d been caught getting into the cookies and was in for a grounding. She surmised that he’d been planning to rob the place.
“It’s not like that,” he interrupted sulkily. “It’s not like that at all! I don’t need money.”
Birdie’s ebon brows climbed toward her burgundy forelock. “Oh, yeah? So what was it, then? As if I couldn’t guess.”
“I wasn’t going to hurt anyone! I just wanted … her.”
Shuddering, Denise barely resisted an urge to kick in his teeth. “You bastard.”
“You would have liked it!” he pouted. “You would have. If you work in a place like this, you must like it. You must do it all the time. So what difference does one more make? Huh? Huh?”
Aiden shuddered too. “That’s just sick.”
“Is that what you think, you pathetic sorry lowlife?” Birdie jabbed him in the ribs with a forefinger, which was tipped with a scarlet curve of nail that had a gold “B” painted on it. “Is it?”
“It’s true! My father told me. Any girl who’d be in one of those magazines, or work in a store like this, or read those nasty books, or be in those rooms, those computer chat rooms, has got to be a slut. Otherwise she wouldn’t do it.”
Birdie looked at Denise. “I say we shoot him in the nuts.”
The man howled and began to blubber. “You can’t! You can’t! The police are coming! They’ll get you if you do!”
“Well, we should do something,” Aiden said. She’d backed away from the guy as if he were contagious.
“Any ideas?” Birdie asked.
“One, but it’s really not very nice. If it was up to me, I'd turn him into a woman and see how far through Central Park he got.”
A siren warbled to a stop out front. Denise ran to the door and tugged the shade so it rattled back into its housing. She unlocked and opened just as Officer Alvarez got out of the black and white police car. Her stomach skipped in giddy exultation. He was darkly handsome in his uniform, lean-hipped and broad-shouldered, with a fleeting but dazzling smile as he came past her into the shop.
Belatedly, it occurred to Denise that Aiden didn’t have her disguise on, and she floundered for an explanation that would make sense. She needn’t have bothered. Alvarez, stopping in the middle of the room and shaking his head at the sight, said, “What’s this, Aiden? More gargoyle vigilante justice?”
“I guess you could call it that.” She dropped her gaze, abashed. “But he shot at me.”
“Hi, Rick,” Birdie said with easy familiarity. “Here’s his gun.”
“Well, I’ll be.” Rick hunkered down next to the guy, who was doing his best to hide his face. Rick grabbed a handful of flaky hair, lip curling in distaste as he did so, and raised the guy’s head to get a look at him. “Hello, Ezra. When’d you get parole?”
“His name’s Ezra?” Aiden said.
“No wonder he’s messed up,” Birdie said.
“You know him?” Denise wasn’t sure which ‘him’ she meant and who her question was aimed at – might have been at Birdie, who was sure traveling in some weird circles lately. But it was the cop who answered.
“Sure do. We busted old Ezra here five times in the last four years. Indecent exposure, mostly, but the last time was for attempted rape. Looks like he’s kicked it up a notch, thrown in assault with a deadly weapon. Good going, pal.” He let go of Ezra’s hair.
The guy, not expecting it, didn’t catch himself before his head smacked into the floor.
“So you’ll arrest him?” Denise asked, hit with a good case of the shakes now at her close call.
“Oh, absolutely.” He favored her with a longer, stronger version of that dazzling smile. “All part of the job.”
“Do you have to say everything that happened?” Aiden asked, blushing again and this time furiously, like someone had installed a red bulb inside her. “Who all was here, and everything?”
His smile turned into a grin as he looked at her. “Why, that’s right … Elisa told me the whole clan was confined to quarters for a while.”
“Don’t sweat it, Fergs,” Birdie said. “Just tell Goliath it was all my fault. He’ll believe it. He always does.”
“It always is,” Aiden muttered.
“I don’t see the need to get into specifics,” Rick said, hauling Ezra to his feet. “A statement from you, Miss, should be all we need. Let me just get our buddy here out to the car and I’ll trade you handcuffs.”
He half-led, half-dragged Ezra through the store and out to the car, where the usual crowd of onlookers had gathered. Aiden quickly wiggled her fingers and said something in what Denise thought might be Latin, and was suddenly garbed again in her human disguise.
“What about the pink one?” Birdie asked, picking it up from where it had fallen, crumpled.
“I’m not going to try anything on with half of Manhattan out there,” Aiden said primly.
“We’ll just take it, then.” She handed Denise one of Fox Xanatos’ punch cards.
Numbly, going on pure routine, Denise initialed it and dropped it into the cash drawer. It was now almost a full hour past closing time. She stuffed the cotton-candy outfit into a bag and gave it to Aiden, who held it like she wasn’t sure what to do with it.
“Hey,” Denise said as they started for the door. “Thanks. If you hadn’t been here …”
“Don’t mention it,” Birdie said. She rapped her knuckles again, this time on what appeared to be empty air above the top of Aiden’s head. “Gargoyles protect, isn’t that right, Fergs? Now let’s get on out of here before the rest of the clan starts wondering where you’ve gotten to.”
“Birdie!” Denise called. “One more thing?”
Smirking, Birdie shook her head. “Nope, he’s not married, not seeing
anyone as far as I know, and apparently straight. Go for it and good luck!”