Crocodile tears

Tim Radley and Ostercy

Normally I wouldn’t touch the Oscars ceremony with a bargepole, but Angel had insisted - or rather his assistant Cordelia had insisted - that if we wanted a glimpse of the secret reptilian government of America then this was a great place to start.

The limo drew up in front of the hotel entrance - red carpets, bright lights, huge crowd, flashing flash bulbs - you’ve seen it a million times. It’s the American equivalent of Trooping the Colour.

“You forgot to finish every last drop of the gin,” said Cordelia.

“I hate publicity,” I said. “I might as well be hammered.”

“The English. You’re all so Dick Van Dyke.”

“And Wesley tolerates you, does he?”

“Let’s just say we have a mutual support group,” said Cordelia. “Are you ready to give good face?”

“No,” I said.

“A good mental attitude. Superb.”

She gestured to the chauffeur who opened the door. It was like opening the door to a blast furnace.

Cordelia swung her legs out of the car in a professional way and stood up like a catwalk model. An unfeasibly wide smile appeared on her face. I scrambled out after her, ignoring my debutante training.

“Ms. Croft!” the photographers shouted. “This way.”

I ignored them.

Cordelia was trying to say something through her glittering teeth. It sounded like “smile”. She was gesturing at her mouth using a well concealed fingernail held at waist level.

“You’re such a starlet,” I said. “Let’s get on, shall we?”

Cordelia flushed in a minimal way and said something that sounded like “shame-making”. At least I wasn’t wearing my desert boots under my designer dress.

The Tomb Raider film, which wasn’t very good, had been nominated for a technical Oscar - Best Supporting Brassiere or something. I’d ignored my invitation to the premier at Leicester Square and I would have ignored this, if it wasn’t for David Icke and the lizards.

“So where’s your boss?” I said to Cordelia as we swished up the red carpet.

“He likes to stay out of the limelight,” said Cordelia in a brightly delighted voice, as if we were discussing having a shag. She kept her face turned to the paparazzi. “It’s a skin thing.”

“And Wesley will be in there somewhere with the gear.”

“He’s working behind the bar.”

“Can you remember the smell?”

“Listen your Ladyship,” hissed Cordelia without breaking grin. “I’ve been kicking demon ass since ... since ...”

“Since about three years ago?”

“Exactly.”

“I know I’m impressed,” I said.

“Oh my God,” said Cordelia, turning deathly pale.

“What is it?” I said, taking hold of her arm. For the first time, I put on an artificial smile.

“Nicholas Cage,” said Cordelia.

I’d been contacted by David Icke a few months previously. Of course, like everybody else in Britain I knew him well. He was the sports commentator who went a bit crackers whilst doing a sponsored cycle ride for Blue Peter and declared on Wogan that he was the Son of God. Still, I’d thought, it was no worse than pretending to be God whilst advertising underarm deodorant, like Des Lynam.

Mr. Icke had sent me a package of Sumerian tablets along with the results of a DNA test that the Duke of Edinburgh had agreed to have carried out in the quest to identify the body of Tsar Nicholas and his family. DNA code and ancient Sumerian do not fall within my areas of expertise, but I knew some clever people and I checked it out.

The Sumerian text told of a reptilian people that were the rulers of, presumably, Ancient Sumeria, whilst the DNA illustrated that there was an unusual quality to Prince Philip’s mitochondria - it had a higher than usual homology to that of the gecko. Not that I cared. I was equally at ease with lizards or humans ruling the planet provided that they kept out of my way.

“There’s this artefact owned by the President of the United States,” said Mr. Icke.

“There’s always an artefact, David,” I said.

“It’s your sort of thing, honestly, Lara. Very old, very valuable, very powerful. All I want you to do is ... acquire it.”

“And the lizards will no longer rule the planet?”

“Exactly!” said Mr. Icke with slightly wide-eyed enthusiasm. “Exactly! Well, probably.”

He had lovely grey hair, lovely Aryan blue eyes, and to top it off he was quite fit. “Are you married?” I asked. I’d always wondered what it would be like to have the Son of God.

Mr. Icke smiled as if he understood my interest, but chose to ignore it. “Now I know you’ll find all this hard to believe, so I’ve arranged for you to meet this chap I’ve hired in L.A.”

“I don’t do sidekicks,” I said.

Mr. Icke looked bemused. “What about that American guy in Chronicles?”

I leaned forward and grabbed him by his tracksuit top. “What about him?” I said, with my iciest stare.

“Never mind. It doesn’t matter.” I let go of him. “Anyway - this chap. He’s not a sidekick. He’s a vampire.”

“A what?”

“A vampire.”

I laughed because he’d actually managed to say something surprising for the first time since I’d met him. “I thought that you thought that vampires were a distorted legend that really referred to this blood-sucking lizard elite of yours?”

It was Mr. Icke’s turn for an icy stare. “Have you read my book?”

“Do I have to?”

“Well if you had, you’d realise that we all have a portion of the reptile within us. The elite have to drink human blood to counteract the effects and to maintain their human form.”

“So without their daily pint of the crimson nectar ...”

“Exactly! Exactly. Now when you get to L.A., ask Mr. Angel - he’s the vampire - to show you his real face.”

“O.K.”

“If he doesn’t look a bit like a lizard to you, you can pack it right there and then.”

We shook hands on it.

So there we were, Cordelia and I, with Wesley and Angel skulking around somewhere in the background.

“What is this ghastly champagne?” I said.

“It’s California’s best,” said Cordelia, peering into her glass.

“That would explain it.”

“And you wonder why we’re a republic ...” Cordelia sniffed the air. “Can you smell that?”

I had. “Who was that who just walked past?”

Cordelia looked solemn. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No.”

“Warren Beatty! Doh.”

“I thought he was supposed to be tall and handsome,” I said. “Where’s he going?”

“The restroom, I expect.”

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s find Wesley..”

“But they’re about to start. Can’t it wait?”

I looked around at the glittering party. “But ... who really gives a fuck?” I said.

Cordelia graced me with a frown. “I thought you well brought up English girls didn’t do the sewer mouth thing?”

“I think you may have confused me with Mary Poppins. So do me a favour, princess. Shift your liposucked arse. It’s time for some lizard fun.”

**********

I was on the roof. “And I’d been hoping it would turn out to be Tom Cruise.” Talking to one’s self isn’t considered healthy, but it’s never bothered me much.

“Why? I like Tom Cruise,” said a voice in my ear.

It was Angel. I managed to lower the gun just before blowing the top of his head off. Nasty habit he has there. “You would.”

“Would you mind getting that thing out of my face? Where’d you get it anyway?”

“Borrowed it from a friendly security guard.” Short barrel Desert Eagle .357 Magnum. Much nicer than the peashooter I’d strapped to the inside of my thigh on the off chance.

Angel frowned. After brooding it was his second favourite expression. I’d almost have thought he practised it in front of a mirror, but vampires are supposed to be somewhat challenged in that respect.

Still, he managed the tall and handsome well enough. It made up for the disappointment of Warren Beatty slightly.

“You’re not suggesting that Cruise is a lizard too?” He asked as we ran across the rooftop after the rapidly disappearing figure in front of us.

“I don’t suppose you’ve seen Interview with a Vampire?”

“I have, actually,” said Angel.

Ahead of us Mr. Beatty, our would-be lizard, reached the edge of the roof, vaulting straight over without so much as a pause. Angel surged ahead, following his example. His black leather coat flared out behind him as he dropped out of sight.

Unfortunately, having to worry about trifling details like bones rather cramped me from doing likewise. Instead I sighted on the back of the first rapidly moving figure. At the last moment I shifted my aim down slightly.

Capture, not kill was our first priority I remembered. Not generally my preference.

The gun’s sight was obviously misaligned. Well, what other possibility could there have been?

Too late for a second shot.

Down the fire escape then, although by that time I’d rather formed the impression I was going to miss out on the ‘fun’.

Speaking of which, Wesley and Cordelia were probably still back in the theatre in the middle of all the carnage. Poor old Gwyneth. Though, on the bright side, no one else will ever have to suffer through one of her acceptance speeches again.

Cordelia - Miss California Perfect - had point blank refused do anything as undignified as running in front of all the stars and cameras, even though they were all too busy screaming and trying to avoid getting blood on their outfits to notice. Wesley on the other hand - after thoroughly bollixing up a spell meant to let us see through to the lizard’s inner self - managed to trip over his own feet and knock himself cold.

Embarrassing. It almost makes you understand why Americans have such a bizarre view of us.

A commotion from up ahead alerted me to the fact that maybe I wouldn’t miss out after all. Angel, in the middle of being jumped by four ugly looking bastards with horns and blue scales. They were dressed in tuxes.

He seemed to be enjoying himself, so I paid more attention to the Mr. Beatty, who was on the point of making a clean getaway. Missed him again, and he disappeared from view round a corner.

“A little help here?”

Two of the blue guys had jumped onto Angel’s back, pinning his arms to his side. A third was advancing on him, twirling a length of chain. The remaining one was head first in a bin, legs kicking feebly.

I concentrated on the individual with the chain.

Splat! It was gratifying for once to see a demon - or whatever - actually behave itself properly when I shoot it. Less gratifying was the glutinous mess of blood and brain tissue that I got showered with.

It toppled over backwards with a hollow thud.

With a throaty growl Angel managed to hurl off the two still holding him against the walls on either side. Still growling - I got my first chance to see what David meant by the lizard in him - he flew at one, almost literally.

The other, perhaps seeing me as the easier target, pulled itself up and charged, horns first. Three bullets at point blank range showed it the error of its ways, though didn’t quite stop it in time.

A little slow, its dead weight collapsed on top of me before I managed to get out of the way.

By the time I’d extricated myself - even more blood-drenched than before - Angel was just finishing doing something gratuitously unpleasant to the demon stuck in the bin.

“Get away from me,” he said.

Charming. Though I’d already come to the conclusion that he doesn’t really like me much. Falling below the ethical standards of a vampire. I suppose that’s probably an achievement of a sort.

Then I realised it might have something to do with all the blood, and him being on a diet and all.

“Not mine.” After wiping my brow I held up my hand to show him. “I thought you lot only went for the human variety.”

He turned away, shudders wracking his shoulders for a few seconds. When he looked at me again his face was restored to pretty boy.

“David didn’t mention about them having pets.” Talking to myself again as I bent to take a closer look at one of the demons. “Even the Son of God is fallible I guess.”

“They don’t,” said Angel.

“Oh?” Under my gaze he managed to look almost shame-faced.

“Er . . . That is to say . . .”

“Yes?”

“They’re nothing to do with the lizards. I killed their boss last week. What can I say? They took it personally.” He turned away and started kicking the bins with a similar ferocity to which he’d been assaulting the demons.

“So you believe in all that then?” he asked, once he’d finished working out his pique. “About him being the Son of God and all.”

“Why not?” I recall feeling a little mischievous. “What with him being an ex-goalkeeper. Like the Pope. It’s probably symbolic. Jesus saves . . .” And Satan scores from the rebound, or whatever the expression was. “Although you could hardly call Coventry City a proper football team, so I guess it’s open to interpretation.”

“So what now.” Thoroughly pissed off by the look of him.

“Perhaps we should pay Mr. Beatty’s home a visit. How inconspicuous can he be?”**********

We still had the limo.

"Do you want to know what I've discovered about these lizard people?" said Wesley. He like Cordelia was covered with crap, but he was still firm of jaw and manly of smile. He'd have been in the front row of the Light Brigade.

I decided that he wasn't talking to me and concentrated on driving on the wrong side of the road. Angel flicked a glance at the rear view mirror but said nothing.

"Shower," said Cordelia. "I must shower."

Wesley wavered between being sulky and being solicitous. "Are you OK?" he said.

Cordelia's lips quivered. "She said ... she said ..."

"We all know you haven't had liposuction. Right, Angel?"

Angel considered for a moment. "Right," he said.

"Really Ms. Croft," said Wesley. "Courtesy costs nothing."

I gave him a look. "Are you sure you're really English?" I said.

Wesley started to splutter, but Angel was rubbing his forehead in a pained way. "What did you find out?" he said, eventually. "About the lizards?"

Wesley perked up. "It's quite interesting, actually. I think I've found out why they drink blood." He realised what he'd said and flinched with embarrassment. "Of course, completely different to ...."

"Get on with it," I said.

"Well, yes, it's a bit technical. I had to do a bit of a crash course in genetics." His face was lit from beneath by the lights of the minibar, and his glasses twinkled.

"You're a very very clever man."

Wesley gave me a glare. "Mitochondria," he said.

"I know this!" said Cordelia. "That's that Jedi thing from the Phantom Menace. The Imperial family have them and you can link to the Force."

"I think that's midichlorions," said Angel.

"You went to see the Phantom Menace?" I asked. I laughed.

Angel sank down a little into his seat. He had a lovely pout.

"Mitochondria," said Wesley. "Mitochondrial DNA is passed down through the maternal line. Normally any of the father's mitochondrial DNA is destroyed when the egg is fertilised."

There was silence in the car.

"Good," I said. "Very useful."

"I haven't finished," said Wesley.

"Just ignore her," muttered Angel.

"In crossbreeds, however, the paternal DNA can leak through. If you were to cross a man with a lizard, then the lineage might be patrilineal."

"So what?" I said.

"Well, there's this theory about race memories being coded in the mitochondria."

"Like Star Wars," said Cordelia, sotto voce. She was trying to remove gunk from her hair.

"Sounds like nonsense to me," I said. "Did you do your research in a Marvel comic?"

Angel held up a hand. "So ... why do they drink blood?"

"I don't think it's a nourishment thing like ... you know," said Wesley, beginning to blush.

"I've learned to accept myself, Wesley."

"Yes ... I ... I think it's necessary to maintain the correct mix of human and lizard DNA. One could speculate, perhaps, that this enables them to keep their minds attuned to a collective memory of some sort, whilst still allowing them to maintain their human appearance."

"So to sum up," I said, "if we stop them drinking human blood they won't like it."

"Precisely." Wesley was triumphant for a second until the tone of my voice sank in.

"I still say it's like Star Wars," said Cordelia in a sullen voice.

I gave Angel a look. Angel licked his lips and blinked a few times. "Background information is always useful," he said defensively.

"Uh huh. Can we drop them somewhere?

**********

The Beatty house is on the tourist maps, but it never occurred to me that the great man might actually live there. Maybe we'd forced him to run to earth.

Angel had studiously averted his eyes as I changed in the back of the limo and now we were hunkered down in the bushes by the side of the street. Not that there was anybody there to see us - there are probably more pedestrians in the Mojave Desert than there are in the suburbs of L.A. In front of us was a tall wall, which ringed the estate.

"What do you think?" I said.

"I think we should ask him a few questions," said Angel. "I'll go over first in case it's electrified."

"What about searchlights? Won't they ... you know."

"Your job."

"Do you want a gun?"

"No thanks." I could see he was on the verge of doing the Dracula thing.

We ran up to the wall and Angel ran up it without pausing. He squatted on the top like a giant frog.

"Rope."

He hauled me up, and we jumped down.

The searchlights flicked on. Angel did a sideways roll before throwing his coat over his head. He was sprinting for the house when two silent shapes intercepted him, knocking him off his feet

I shot out the lights. When I got to him he'd already severed the head of one dog - his face was bloody. I killed the other.

Angel kicked in some patio doors and the alarms began to go off. I was a second behind him and dived to cover behind a shadowy piece of furniture.

The door to a lighted central hall was flung open - it was two men with semi-automatic weapons. They caught Angel at point blank range and he hesitated before sinking to his knees. It wasn't a stake or a decapitation, but a hail of lead slowed him down. He fell over onto his side with a crash.

I shot them from behind the furniture, with a neat bullet to each head.

"Two can play at ‘shoot first, ask questions afterwards’," I said.

I started to drag Angel out.

"Go," he said.

"Forget it."

Maybe I should have looked behind me, because the next thing I knew I'd been bludgeoned into unconsciousness.

**********

There was a splash of water into my face. I found myself focusing on a hand holding the metal champagne bucket. It belonged to Mr. Beatty.

"Hi there," he said, with a dazzling smile. "I'm Warren Beatty. Pleased to meet you."

Angel and I were tied to chairs on what looked like a sound stage. There was a film crew and a camera.

"Lights!" said Mr. Beatty, with an air wave of his hand and a bank of arc lights thudded on. The wave of light was almost physical in its intensity.

Angel writhed and kicked. He moaned as a thin wisp of smoke trickled from his collar.

"Camera ..." - there was the whirring of a rather old fashioned movie camera - "and action!"

Mr. Beatty began to stroll around us in a theatrical way, glancing at the camera now and again, and doing that smile.

"I need to know who you are and why you have pursued me," he said.

"Go find a mirror and pull yourself off," I said.

Mr. Beatty looked into my eyes, a broad grin fixed upon his face. He was wearing a cravat that failed to hide the leathery skin around his neck. There were what normally I'd have taken to be liver spots - he was either no spring chicken or else his ancestry was showing.

"I'm sure you can cope with this amount of attention all day, baby," he said, "but your friend will be needing some factor twenty sunblock any minute soon."

He put a hand under my chin - his fingers were cold - and tilted my head back. Leaning forward he licked my lips. His tongue was very long and dry and I felt the tip enter my mouth for a split second, too fast for me to bite it off.

"Delicious, my dear," he said. "Quite exquisite. You taste just like Julie Christie. Ah - these English roses."

"If I want to have sex with an ageing movie star," I said, "I'd prefer one a little less like a newt."

"Very witty," said Mr. Beatty with a relaxed smile. He cupped a hand around my breast.

"Did they approach you for Jurassic Park 3?"

He looked at me for a second and then, turning to the crew, burst out laughing. "Did you hear that? Jurassic Park 3. She kills me." They all laughed as well as he strolled around the set, clapping his hands.

"If you think that's killing, wait until I get out of this." Angel was surrounded by a mist of smoke.

Mr. Beatty walked briskly over to me and planted a hard hand between my thighs. "Do you know how many women I've had?" he said.

I gave him a level look. "Not very many willing ones I'd imagine," I said, "and as for the willing ones - those that survived with the full eight pints - none that didn't regret it afterwards."

Mr. Beatty smiled a beautiful smile and sank his teeth into my neck. He grunted like a pig as he fed and I could feel his erection pressing into me. The film crew applauded.

"Mr. Beatty has wood," said one of them.

Fortunately at that moment Angel burst into flames.

He was free in an instant, the rope that held him having smouldered away. He seemed to manage to do several things at once. Mr. Beatty was knocked across the room in a smear of my blood, and the next moment I was set free. Angel did a forward roll and pulled at the cables trailing across the floor of the set. The cameraman received a shock and was thrown backwards. The lights went out.

Mr. Beatty scrambled to his feet but Angel leapt twenty feet across the room and knocked him down.

There were four people in the crew and I saw to them. The door to the set was already closed and a red warning light advised that filming was in progress. Nothing was more guaranteed to stop an Angelino investigating, whatever the circumstances.

Angel had his face on and he was snarling.

"I've met some lounge lizards in my time," he said in a faint Irish brogue, "but you are the king of sleaze."

"Can't we just kill him?" I said. "I'm afraid I've lost interest in the rest of it."

Mr. Beatty's face had become more papery and his nose and lips seemed to protrude like a snout. His eyes had taken on a yellow sheen and his tongue had become even longer. No doubt being strangled does this to a person.

"I'd be missed," he hissed.

Angel dropped him and turned his attention to a small fire in his own clothing.

"Let's question him," he said, patting at his ruined coat sleeve.

**********

"You're so vain," I sang, and I gave Mr. Beatty a kick. "I bet you think this song is about you." I gave him another kick. His earlier romantic overtures had left me in quite a bad mood.

"Hypocrites," he mumbled through a broken mouth. He had refused to answer any sensible questions.

"I bet you think this song is about you," - kick - "don't you?" -- kick - "don't you?" - kick.

"Easy," said Angel, putting a hand on my arm.

Clockwork Orange set to Carly Simon,” I said, wiping the angry sweat from my face.

“I got the reference. You’re certainly in the right city for performance art.”

I took a rest.

Angel crouched down to look at him. "What do you mean - hypocrites?"

"You have the same instincts as me, both of you."

Angel frowned. "I agree with you about my ... instincts, but why her?"

"He's talking about the reptilian brain."

"She knows," said Mr. Beatty.

"It's this stupid cod scientific theory that Mr. Icke subscribes to."

Mr. Beatty began to laugh in a broken way. "You're with David Icke?" He spluttered blood and teeth. "Priceless."

"Apparently we all have a very primitive part of the brain. The bit linked to aggression and the more primitive emotions."

"Lust," said Mr. Beatty. "Even blood lust."

"Why reptilian?"

"We're all descended from reptiles, allegedly," I said.

Angel shrugged. "I'm not a big believer in evolution myself," he said. "I tend towards creationalism."

"What?"

He looked cryptic. "Oh ... it's a Powers-That-Be thing."

"You've just named the two sides in the war," said Mr. Beatty. His voice had taken on a crafty, beguiling tone.

"Firstly - who asked you," I said, giving him a bonus kick, "and secondly - why are you talking in that ridiculously hammy way?"

Mr. Beatty was whistling with pain and his face had turned green and scabby. “Everyone’s a critic.”

“What were you saying?” said Angel.

"Creationalists are afraid of the snake that lurks in every brain and thus they try deny it. They try to refuse the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, but they will lose."

I shot Mr. Beatty through the head before Angel could react. "Sorry. He was getting a bit too camp for my liking."

I thought he'd be angry but he smiled for the first time since I'd met him. I shivered. "I guess we can search the house instead," he said.

**********“Bohemian Grove,” I mused, looking at the invitation. “Mean anything to you?”

Angel shrugged. “I’m not a big fan of hippies,” he said.

I wondered if he was attempting to be amusing. “That would be a no then?”

Another shrug. “Wesley is better at this sort of thing.” He gave a vague sort of wave. “Details. You’re leaking by the way.”

Apparently lizard saliva contained some kind of anti-coagulant. The love-bite on the side of my neck was still oozing. I improvised a dressing from my first-aid kit. Handy, those things. “Does it bother you?”

“The smell, you know.” He managed another smile, which made twice in an hour. A positive epidemic by his standards. “It’s worse when I’ve . . . got the face on.”

“Good thing it’s not my time of the month then.” I caught a vague flicker of disgust.

Angel held up the piece of paper that we had found. It was covered with names of the rich and famous. “This could be just an invitation list to some sort of movie party.”

“Which he kept in his secret safe? I don’t think so.”

He shook his head. “Do you always carry high explosives round with you?”

“Be prepared and all that.” It had seemed like a sensible precaution. You never know when you might need to blow something up.

“I don’t really picture you as a Girl Scout.”

“We call them Guides. And no. I wasn’t.”

**********

“This is absolutely fascinating,” Wesley exclaimed.

I stifled a yawn. “Hmm?”

“Yes, yes.” Amazing. He did indeed sound genuinely fascinated. I’d have been tempted to suggest he should get out more. “Look here. Bohemian Grove.” He indicated a spot on a map about a hundred miles north of San Francisco.

“I’m thrilled.”

“Absolutely.” Angel patted him on the shoulder, making him jump. “Well done Wesley.”

“Sarcasm is the lowest form ... you know.” Peeved. I never thought I’d use that word to describe a twenty-first century human being. But that was what he was.

“We’re just teasing,” said Angel. “Dazzle us with what you’ve found out about Bohemian Grove.”

“Well yes. Certainly.” He cleared his throat. “It looks like we’ve located Lizard Central.”

I straightened from my slouch. Suddenly the tiredness and boredom were replaced by something close to interest.

“It seems like it’s been going on for more than a hundred years, right at this spot,” he continued. “A gathering point for the ruling elite of this country. Every single Republican president this century, prominent businessmen, Hollywood producers, famous actors, media moguls. You name it. They’ve been linked to that site. Apparently back in the 1930’s ...”

“Could we have the concise version please?” said Angel, mildly. I got the impression they’d had this type of discussion before.

“This is all relevant I assure you.” Clipped and precise.

I cleared my throat. “It’s fun watching you two bicker . . .” I said.

“I’ll continue.”

Angel mimed a yapping mouth with his hand behind Wes’s shoulder. There was that attempt at humour again. I decided that I preferred him when he was sulking.

“In particular these people - these lizards - gather together every spring to conduct a ceremony they call the Cremation of Care. This involves the burning of a human effigy at the feet of a giant owl . . .”

“A giant owl?” I butted in.

“The owl is symbolic. It represents the god of death, misfortune and human suffering. The human effigy is supposed to represent care, and its cremation represents. . .”

“The sacrifice of all care in the world to the god of death, misfortune etc, etc. I can work that one out. But why an owl? Couldn’t they come up with something . . . well a little more scary? It’s like a meeting of Sheffield Wednesday fans.”

“If you’re a lizard a fifty foot owl is probably very scary,” said Angel, with a studiedly deadpan expression.

“It dates back to Babylon and Tyre,” said Wesley. “Quite possibly deriving originally from Ancient Sumeria. The owl is an interpretation of a number of rather crude images, which may quite possibly have originally been intended to represent something entirely different.”

“I see,” I said. “Not just a pretty face.” I pinched Wesley’s cheek and he blushed.

“So when exactly does this Cremation of Care ceremony take place?” said Angel. “I hate to be picky Wesley, but spring is rather vague.”

“Tomorrow night would be good,” I said.

“No, of course it’s not tomorrow night. Don’t be stupid. That would be too much of a coincidence.” Wesley quickly consulted his notes. “Oh ... in fact it’s in two days time.”

“I don’t suppose there was any mention of Mr. Icke’s artefact?”

“Not as such.” Wesley produced a rather blurred looking photograph, showing a group of fuzzy figures in coloured robes gathered round a large thing. “This was taken by a journalist who snuck into the Grove to observe the ceremony a few years ago. See what this one, who appears to be conducting the ceremony, is holding.”

The indicated figure was holding something, granted. “By the same person who took all those wonderful snaps of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster, by any chance?”

“Very amusing.”

“Would you look at some of these names.” Angel was leafing through the list of names that we’d liberated. “The President is on here. Well I guess that helps explain Florida.”

“Perhaps he has relatives in the Everglades,” I said.

Every presidential candidate America has ever had has been a lizard if you believe Mr. Icke. This based partly on the fact that 33 ex-presidents can trace their bloodline back to Charlemagne, a former King of France. As evidence it’s less impressive than it initially sounds, especially since there’s no particular reason to suspect that Charlemagne was a lizard.

“You think the election was fixed by alligators?” Funny.

“I doubt it,” I said. “Most of the time humans are quite capable of screwing themselves over without any help from alligators.”

“That’s a remarkably cynical attitude to take,” said Wesley. “Also slightly surreal, if you don’t mind me saying so.”

“Ha, Tom Cruise isn’t on here.” Angel had finished going through the list.

“Perhaps they don’t take Scientologists,” I said.

“Perhaps they’ve seen Battlefield Earth,” said Wesley.

“Tom Hanks is,” said Angel. “And Oliver Stone. Now that is ironic.”

“Makes you wonder if JFK is completely accurate, or a complete fabrication.”

“Look at this, Wesley.”

“Elvis Presley?” Wesley looked distinctly underwhelmed.

“Told you he was still alive.”

“Yes, you did. Though exactly how is being a lizard meant to be better than being dead?”

Angel looked sour. He turned and stalked across to the window.

“And here I was thinking it was Jim Morrison who was meant to be the Lizard King,” I said. They didn’t laugh. “Suit yourselves.”

“Where’s Cordelia? Shouldn’t she be here by now?” said Angel.

“I told you. She had an audition for some commercial,” said Wesley. “Tooth whitening products. That smile should in no circumstances be viewed without the aid of sunglasses.”

“Shouldn’t she have been back hours ago?”

“Well you know what these Hollywood types are like. Absolute slave drivers.” Wesley picked up the discarded list of names.

“She said she‘d be back to help us.”

“Angel, this is Cordelia we’re talking about here. And she’s a woman. That makes her genetically incapable of proper timekeeping.” A brief glance in my direction. “No offence.”

Angel didn’t look mollified. “I’m going to call her,” he said, gingerly operating a mobile phone. He held near to his ear as if it were a giant creepy-crawly, and waited. “She not picking up.” I was almost tempted to laugh, seeing the perplexity on his face. Almost. “Right, that’s it. I’m going to see what’s happened to her.”

As he started towards the door, Wesley scurried after him.

“Wait! Think about this for a moment Angel. If you end up wrecking this for her she’ll skin you alive over a slow fire. Or worse. She’ll blame me.”

“What if the lizards have got her?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Why would they even care about Cordelia?”

Angel favoured Wesley with a level look. “Last night. In front of a worldwide television audience of several hundred million, blood everywhere, and then that walking pair of crocodile shoes, Mr. Beatty. You were there weren’t you, or am I just imagining things?”

“A rather gnomic explanation, but I take your point.”

Angel took the list of names and held it in front of Wesley’s face, his finger highlighting one of them.

“Tyler Woodruff,” he said. “The director that Cordelia is working for.”

“Oh,” said Wesley. “Oh dear.”

**********

I tagged along. It wasn’t as if I had anything better to do.

“Hey, you can’t go in there!” I think they must vacuum pack these Californian receptionists or PA’s or whatever. Far too glossy and artificial to be real. The lizard disguises are much more convincing.

Angel turned on her. He didn’t quite do the face thing, but there was a suggestion of it. Something that speaks somewhere down on the genetic level that this is a predator and you are food.

She flinched back. “I . . . I’ll call security.”

I grabbed the phone and moved it out of her reach. “No need for that I think.”

“Where’s Cordelia?” Angel did intimidating very well. It’s something in the eyebrows I think. That or the faint hint of Gerry Adams.

“W-Who?”

“Cordelia. She was here for the audition.”

“Oh. One of those . . . girls.” She sniffs. “They’ve all gone. The audition finished hours ago. Now if you’d be so kind as to leave.”

“Where did she go?” I got the impression that Angel was having to restrain himself from picking her up and shaking her.

“I don’t know!”

“What about Mr. Woodruff,” I interrupted. “You do know where he is?”

She clammed up tight.

“We only want to talk to him.”

The brittle, insincere smile was back. “Mr. Woodruff is a very busy man. You need to make an appointment. I’m sure he’ll be able to fit you in within a month. Two at the outside . . .”

“That’s it. I’ve had enough of this.” Angel turned and barged through the double doors.

I followed, pulling one of my pistols. Behind us I could hear Wesley: “I’m sorry, I really must apologise about those two . . .”

We went through another set of double doors, onto a partially disassembled and deserted film set. It was still recognisable as a beach, although part of the backdrop had been knocked over. In the middle of the sand there was a large and extremely noticeable bloodstain, still slightly sticky.

Wesley came up behind us. “Oh crikey,” he said. “Any sign of her?”

“No.” It was several seconds before Angel responded.

“How can you tell?”

Angel just looked at him.

“Ah. Silly question. Forget I asked. Of course you’d know.”

Angel examined the blood. “It’s not quite human,” he said.

“Looks like she put up a decent fight before they took her.” This earned me a couple of matching glares.

Then Wesley suddenly became very pale. “You know that photo I showed you? The effigy they were burning . . .” He stumbled to a halt.

“Out with it Wes.” Angel sounded grim.

“Well, the photographer claimed that he saw it moving. That it screamed.”

In the periphery of my vision I’d noticed shadows start to move all around the set. We were surrounded. Oh joy.

**********

It’s funny how the mind works. The phrase “The Idol Care”, almost an anagram of “Cordelia”, kept going around in my heard. And from “Cordelia” it wasn’t a million miles to “crocodile”.

I heard our attackers before I got a good look at them. They were heavy footed, and their claws clicked on the floor. I could see that the shadows were man height. There was a snort from one of them, a sound like a bull coughing.

“Wes,” I said, “get between us.”

“Right,” said Wesley.

“Angel, take a gun.”

“I don’t do guns,” said Angel.

The first of the shadows had stepped into the light. It was a velociraptor.

I handed Wesley my Desert Eagle.

“I’ve met these before,” I said. “They’re not stupid and they might just let us back away.”

Angel had his own agenda. He ran up to the first velociraptor and punched his fist through its chest wall and into its heart. It collapsed and he shook the corpse from his arm.

That did it. The velociraptors charged en masse.

One leapt straight at Wesley. He shot at it with the Desert Eagle, blowing himself to the ground. The velociraptor crashed into a papier mache palm tree. It staggered to its feet - Wesley had missed - and a papier mache coconut hit it on the head.

Meanwhile I dived to the ground and let out a stream of Uzi fire from ankle level. I saw at least six velociraptor ankles shatter. There was a good deal of screaming and howling and the pack was thrown into confusion.

Angel broke the neck of another and leapt backwards to land next to me.

“They’re related to birds, right?” he said, never taking his eyes off them.

“How should I know?”

“Maybe they’re like homing pigeons.”

I demolished a couple more. One staggered into a thatched-roof beach bar and stood there half-dead, like an unlikely barman. I was reminded of Tom Cruise in Cocktail.

“So?”

“So don’t kill ‘em all,” said Angel. “Leave one.”

It didn’t take long. Even Wesley got lucky. Quite frankly, velociraptors are no match for modern weapons, whatever they might tell you in the movies.

Angel kicked open the fire exit door.

“Shoo,” he said.

I sniggered, but the velociraptor took the hint and skittered out of the door like a panic-stricken parrot.

“Golly,” said Wesley, wiping his brow. “Were they real, or were they, like ... changed from human?”

“Later,” said Angel.

Outside were a couple of Harley motorcycles. Angel and I moved as if one person to hot wire them. We saw each other doing exactly the same things. I smiled and Angel frowned.

I threw Wesley the limo keys.

“Do your best,” I said, stamping the motorcycle into life.

Angel sniffed the dinosaur blood on his fist and then sniffed the air. He set off without a backwards glance and I followed.

**********

It didn’t take us long to spot the velociraptor loping along of the very wide and very deserted sidewalks. Velociraptors are fast but they’re nowhere near as fast as a Harley.

It flicked its head round and fixed us with one yellow eye as it ran. Its jaws opened in a panic-stricken panting.

“Back off,” shouted Angel. He swerved and covered the side of his face as a glimpse of the setting sun appeared between the buildings.

“The blood on the floor of the film set,” I said.

“Not dinosaur.”

“It’s heading south. Wesley said this Byker Grove place was north.”

“Too far. Must have been released at the studio after being transported from somewhere nearby.”

The velociraptor ducked down a side street and kept going.

“Knew it,” said Angel, scowling into the wind.

“What?”

The velociraptor trotted across the wide avenue like an eager dog and down a ramp into an underground car park. I skidded my bike to a halt and squinted up at the building, which was a plush modern office building. The plaque outside read “Wolfram and Hart.”

Angel had turned up the collar of his coat and was looking miserable.

“Do you know this place?” I said.

Angel sighed. There was a long pause and then he said “I hate lawyers.”

At that moment, there was a movement from the base of the building. Two security guards held the doors open, and there, walking towards us on uncertain heels, was Cordelia. She was being supported by a middle-aged man in an expensive suit.

“Angel,” cried Cordelia, somewhat throatily. Kicking off her stilettos she ran into his arms.

“OK?” said Angel.

The man in the suit picked up her shoes.

“Mr. Angelus,” he said to Angel, holding out his hand. “We meet again.”

Angel ignored the hand. “Mr. Hunter,” he said.

“And you must be the infamous Ms. Croft,” said Mr. Hunter, making as if to take my hand.

“What’s going on?” I said.

“An unfortunate mistake. By one of our corporate clients.”

“They kidnapped me,” said Cordelia. “Then they made me eat a revolting finger buffet.”

“Kidnapping!” said Mr. Hunter, bursting out into a rich laugh. He clasped his hands together as if imprisoning his mirth. “I’d say it was more a case of bad manners. You were invited to perform at a private function by someone who wasn’t gentlemen enough to take no for an answer.”

“Your client,” I said. “That’d be the government, perhaps?”

“Of course not Ms. Croft. Although I believe that some of the present administration hold unpaid honorariums.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“In this particular case the Supreme Court has ruled not,” said Mr. Hunter.

“Why the dinosaurs?”

Mr. Hunter looked embarrassed. “After one of our junior partners recognised Cordelia, for some reason that we still have to establish they decided that it might serve the interests of Wolfram and Hart if Mr. Angelus met with ... shall we say, an accident? Incredibly unprofessional.”

“Let’s go,” said Angel.

“I’d like to offer our sincerest apologies ...”

“I hope that you’ve given your junior partner a bit of a talking to?” I said.

“I understand your anger,” said Mr. Hunter.

“Do you really?”

“For what it is worth, the employee in question is upstairs at this very moment being given ‘a bit of a talking to’ by the senior management.” Mr. Hunter paused and looked up at the side of the building.

From far above there was the distant sound of splintering glass. I shielded my eyes. There was a rapidly falling shape, cartwheeling its arms and legs. There was a scream, getting louder.

A young woman in a smart suit landed at Mr. Hunter’s feet, splashing him with blood and grey matter. I leaped backwards with an oath. Cordelia hid her face in her hands.

Mr. Hunter wiped his face with a silk handkerchief, tutting. “I’ve only just got this back from the dry cleaners after the last resignation,” he said.

Angel looked at him for a moment, eyes glowing. He was taking shallow breaths. He looked as if he was going to start snarling, but he managed to get a grip on himself.

“As I said - let’s go.”

I didn’t argue.

**********

We were sitting in Angel’s office-cum-flat, eating pizza and drinking Bud like real Americans. All except Angel, who was sipping at a glass of chilled blood.

“Try,” said Cordelia, holding a slice of pizza out to him.

“Gives me indigestion,” said Angel. “Besides I like to watch my cholesterol level.”

There was a moment’s silence.

“So how does the stake through the heart thing work, then?” I said, producing a cigar from my backpack. “Does your heart actually pump blood?”

Cordelia was looking at me with undisguised horror.

“You’re not going to light that?” she said. “This is California, you know.”

“They have standards, apparently,” said Wesley.

“Christ,” I said, putting the cigar away. “It’s easier to have fun in fucking Riyadh.”

“I sympathise,” said Angel, sotto voce. He handed me another Bud. “It’s a Puritan thing. Quite frankly sometimes I wish I was back in Ireland.”

I clinked my bottle against his glass. “I’ll drink to that. Not sure about the Ireland bit though.”

Wesley stood and cleared his throat. “I’ve been thinking about it,” he said, “and I think I have a plan.”

Angel impassively sipped at his blood.

“Do you ever have ice in it?” I asked him.

He grimaced. “Do you ever have ice in ale? I tried Worcestershire sauce once, but it didn’t work.”

Wesley tapped the tabletop. “What I was thinking was - why wait until the day affter tomorrow when Bohemian Grove is crawling with acolytes? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to go and rescue ... whoever ... now?”

“Not very Cecil B. De Mille,” I said.

“Doesn’t shown much of an eye for a scene,” agreed Angel.

“All those chanting lizards, mysterious rites, torchlight ...”

“... a giant set dominated by a giant owl ...”

“... a beautiful struggling victim ...”

“Guys,” said Cordelia, turning pale.

Angel patted her on the arm. “We go after our meal,” he said.

“I’ve never been to San Francisco,” said Wesley. He grinned broadly. “How interesting.”

“I can wear ‘flowers in my hair’,” sang Cordelia.

“And I’ve borrowed just the vehicle,” said Angel, a twinkle in his eye. He produced a set of car keys. The keyring held a large peace symbol made out of plastic. “Look out of the window.”

Outside in the street was a classic Volkswagen camper van, painted with flowers.

“I thought you didn’t like hippies,” I said.

“It’s the Dream Machine,” said Cordelia, clapping her hands. “Bags be Daphne. Angel can be Fred.”

Wesley and I looked at each other.

“Damn kids,” said Wesley.

“Scooby dooby doo,” I said.

**********

We left L.A. rather late.

“I mean Sarah Michelle Gellar may be good casting for Daphne,” Cordelia was saying, “but I’d be so much better.”

“You’re not blonde,” I said.

Cordelia snorted. “Neither is she,” she said.

She was trying to match up the names on the list with a copy of the San Francisco phone book.

“Are you OK driving?” I said to Wesley.

“Piece of cake,” said Wesley with one of his manly smiles.

Angel was in the back with Cordelia. He was gazing out of the darkened windows, the curtain half pulled in order to shade his face. There was an intense melancholy about his expression, more than just the result of a face relaxed in thought. I thought I saw a tear glistening in his eye. He sighed, wiping his eye with a knuckle, and huddled down into his coat. I left him his privacy. I could relate.

The van drove onwards into the night.

**********

I guess we all dozed off, even Angel.

I awoke suddenly, snuffling and sitting up in the passenger seat with a start.

“Where are we?” I said. We were driving down the street of a small town. The rays of the dawn sun were beginning to appear over the horizon and there was a smell of the sea in the air.

Wesley cleared his throat. “Um, I think maybe we should stop for a cup of tea,” he said. “I may have taken a wrong turning back there somewhere.”

“How can anybody possible take a wrong turning driving from LA to San Francisco?” I said.

“Well I thought it best to avoid the city and when I saw a turning to Monterey ....”

“Why would you want to take a turning to Monterey?” I said.

“Cordelia said that it’s near where this Bohemian Grove place is supposed to be.”

“Monte Rio.”

“Monte Rio?”

“Yes, Monte Rio. Not Monterey. We’re supposed to be north of San Francisco, not south of it.”

“Damn,” said Wesley. “Sorry about that. I suppose my grasp of American geography isn’t as good as I thought.”

“Pull up over at that restaurant - that one called the Hog’s Breath. No harm done,” I said patting him on the arm. “I think that a pot of tea is an excellent idea whilst we consult the maps.”

Cordelia and Angel woke up as we pulled into the car park. Cordelia took in her breath sharply when she saw where we were.

“Oh. My. God,” she said, looking up at the sign for the Hog’s Breath.

“What?” said Wesley and I.

“Star struck,” said Angel, expressionlessly. “We are in Carmel, aren’t we? Why are we in Carmel, by the way?”

“Long story,” said Wesley.

“So - what about Carmel?” I said.

“This is Clint Eastwood’s restaurant -right?” said Angel. “Cordelia?”

Cordelia was shaking her head. “He’s on the list,” she said.

We were suddenly all attention. Angel sat bolt upright and scanned the car park.

“We’d better get out of here ...” said Cordelia.

Wesley was restarting the engine when there were flashing lights and the burst of a police siren. One of the police cars pulled up in front, the other behind. The policemen opened their doors and took up firing positions.

“Get out of the vehicle,” said an amplified voice. “Keep your hands in plain sight at all times.”

“You stay,” I said to Angel, who was squinting at the brightening sunlight. “We’ll go and talk to them.”

I slid back the door as Angel ducked down out of sight, and stepped out, with my arms held away from my body.

“There’s no need to panic,” Cordelia whispered. “We’ve done nothing wrong.”

“But they’re pointing damned guns at us,” Wesley hissed.

“Stop right there,” said the amplified voice.

For a moment there was nothing to hear but the wind and the cries of a distant sea bird. Then another sound became apparent - a drumming sound - and the tarmac beneath our feet began to vibrate slightly. It reminded me of an approaching herd of cows, but I had a nasty feeling that a herd of cows was the last thing that it was.

Then, from the main road three horsemen appeared. They were dressed as cowboys, with low brimmed hats, chaps, lassoes, six guns, the whole cowboy aesthetic. It would have been a perfectly quaint picture of the Olde West - well worth a tourist snapshot - except for one detail. The horses weren’t horses. They were pint size allosauruses.

I recognised the lead rider as Mr. Clintwood. He was grey and grizzled and very old, like a desiccated iguana. He gestured to one of his deputies, who lobbed something in through the open door of the camper van.

I was on the verge of diving to try and retrieve the object - a hand grenade - but I know I’d never make it in time. “Get down” I shouted and pulled Wesley and Cordelia to the floor. The van exploded in a ball of flame, the skylight from the roof flying high into the air before crashing to the tarmac a few yards away.

“Angel! cried Cordelia, struggling to get up.

I restrained her. Obviously there had been a breakdown in communication with Wolfram and Hart. Either that or they hadn’t realised that Angel was in there.

Mr. Eastwood spurred forward his allosaurus, which had been made nervous by the explosion. “Whao,” he said, pulling hard on the reins.

I stood up, brushing the dirt from my clothes.

“So how did you find us?” I said.

“Had you trailed,” said Mr. Eastwood, striking a match on his stubble and lighting up the stump of a cheroot. His eyes narrowed and a thin stream of smoke escaped from his scaly lips.

“Ever seen anything like these before?” he said, gesturing at his mount.

“Something like those,” I said, “only the ones I saw were bigger.”

“Several breeds of allosaurus. Lucaris. Fragilis. Maximus. Nasty critter the Maximus. Couple of tons of pure attitude.”

“I see.”

“This one I’m riding’s called the Ferox. Smaller than the rest. Seems to resent it.”

“A dinosaur with a Napoleon complex.”

A bright broad smile came over Mr. Eastwood’s face and he manoeuvred the cigar between his teeth as he chuckled. Then the smile faded back to an icy blankness.

“You could say that,” he said. “Now the thing about the allosaurus is that they tend to topple over. Go to your local museum and you’ll find many loads of skeletons with broken ribs - stuff like that. On top of that they don’t take to the bit too well. Hard to control, like any carnivore. Put that all together and it changes the odds in your favour.”

“You expect us to run?” I said.

Mr. Eastwood smiled in a wintry way. “Running’d be good,” he said. “Now I know what you're thinking,” he continued, leaning forward in the saddle and stroking the neck of his dinosaur. “Can we actually get these things to hunt you? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I'm kinda unsure of that myself. But being as this is a Allosaurus Ferox, one of the most powerful predators in the world, and would bite your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya punk?”

**********

Punk is dead, so I’ve been told, and I believed in people making their own luck. I was just wondering how to make some luck when there was a bang.

We all flinched. “Someone shooting at us” was my immediate reaction. A little encouragement to get us moving.

But no. The cowboy sitting next to Mr. Eastwood suddenly lost his hat. The top half of his head was still in it at the time. Not quite clean off, but close enough for government work.

His body toppled over sideways, hitting dirt with a heavy thud. Right in the middle of the three dinosaurs.

Apparently they were slightly lacking in the table manners department. One sniff of blood and they lunged at the corpse, unseating their respective riders in the process.

Not exactly elegant eaters, and much more primitive than the velociraptors we’d met earlier. Bite down hard, twist violently from side to side until a large chunk is ripped off, then swallow. No chewing. Apparently they swallow stones to aid in the grinding up department.

Beside me Cordelia bent over and threw up. And it wasn’t even as if we’d got to sample the food at Mr. Eastwood’s restaurant.

There was a burst of gunfire, this time identifiably from the two policemen. I caught a brief glimpse of Angel darting for cover with his leather coat flipped up over his head in an effort to keep the sun off him. He was smoking, though not in the way California was so fascist about.

Then I lost track of him as I acquired more pressing concerns.

That’s the trouble with people. You eat one and you just have to have another straight afterwards.

Two of the allosauruses had turned on the second of the riders and were engaged in a sort of tug of war with him as the rope. He was being shaken about so violently that he couldn’t even scream coherently. The third, feeling left out no doubt, zeroed in on old Clint who was rapidly crawling away, that cheroot still clamped stubbornly between his teeth.

Then the ‘rope’ snapped. Cordelia made a squeaky high-pitched sound. The third allosaurus’s head swung round.

A much juicier treat than Mr. Eastwood. I couldn’t fault it to be honest. Stringy looking bastard. It came forward in a clumsy looking charge.

Cordelia had developed that wide-eyed paralysed with terror look. Some people just deserve to be eaten. But nevertheless . . . I shoved her out the thing’s way, into Wesley’s arms.

Bloody hell. It had breath worse than Warren Beatty’s. “Get the fucking police car,” I growled. The two of them were still standing around sightseeing. I was desperately trying to avoid the thing’s jaws. It may have been much, much smaller than a Tyrannosaurus, but in a way that made things worse. It had a considerably tighter turning circle.

Its tail caught me as I tried to jump over it, knocking me onto my backside in the middle of the road.

As it lunged at me I lashed out, connecting with both feet to the tip of its snout. It’s a technique that works well against sharks - providing you’re accurate - and apparently that holds true for allosauruses too. The thing drew back, snorted, inhaled a cloud of dust from the road and sneezed, drenching me in snot.

On the plus side it gave me just enough time to roll out from under it before one of those very nasty feet could pin me to the ground. I grabbed hold of the saddle it was still wearing and flipped myself onto its back as it tried to turn again.

Wes and Cordelia had made it as far as the police car. I heard the engine start so the keys must have still been in the ignition. Angel meanwhile had disappeared into the shade between two buildings with the cops still in hot pursuit. There was more gunfire, followed a short time later by some growling.

As I struggled to stay on the ally I briefly wondered if silver bullets would be any more effective. Just in case the need arose.

The allosaurus tried to twist its head round to bite me.

I’ve had my share of difficult mounts in the past. Show them who’s boss and they soon come round I always find. I pulled back on the bridle and dug my heels firmly into its flanks.

It tried to bite me again. Its neck muscles were much stronger than any horse’s, and its taste of blood seemed to have rendered it temporarily impervious to persuasion. Spurs and a riding crop might have taught it better manners. We ended up engaged in a sort of dance that must have resembled a dog chasing its tail as the allosaurus went round in circles trying to get its jaws on me.

A bullet flew past my head, so close I could feel the draft. Old Clint had made it to his feet and was pointing his .44 magnum, or whatever the hell it was, at us.

“Charlene giving you trouble there, Lara?” His skin had taken on a slightly blotchy look, like he could do with some blood.

As he shot again I pulled back hard on the reins. ‘Charlene’ reared with an angry croak-cum-cough.

Instead of hitting me the bullet scored a bloody line down the allosaurus’s neck. Suddenly it gave up on trying to get to me and charged at the new irritant. My arms were nearly yanked out of their sockets as I struggled to cling on.

After another bullet had had no discernible effect on the maddened dinosaur Mr Eastwood sensibly dove behind a battered pickup parked at the roadside. Charlene collided with it head first at speed.

I twisted as I flew through the air, managing to roll as I hit the tarmac and spring to my feet.

The door of the pick-up was staved in, and Charlene was staggering around like a drunk, periodically shaking her toothsome head and bellowing.

The police car squealed to a halt beside me, the front door flying open. I got into the front passenger seat beside Wesley.

Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something dark moving towards us at high speed. The back door came open and Angel dove in across Cordelia’s lap, smoke still rising from him.

Then we were off, swerving round the two allosauruses, which where in the process of cleaning up the last remaining scraps of meat. I could smell something very much like a juicy rare-cooked steak and I felt my mouth starting to water.

Angel, I realised. I hadn’t eaten breakfast yet and my stomach was rumbling. A gun fell from his grasp into the foot well. The Desert Eagle I’d leant Wes earlier. It seemed Angel would do guns when the need arose.

A glance in the rear-view mirror showed Mr. Eastwood standing in the middle of the road, about fifty yards behind and dwindling fast. He was aiming his gun at us . . .

Before he could shoot, Charlene lunged into frame. She bit his right arm off at the elbow, swallowing it, revolver and all.

**********

“Steal cars often do you?” said Cordelia.

I ignored her, opening up the back of the white van that I had acquired.

Angel, a blanket covering his head and shoulders, made the quick dash from the back of the now wrecked police cruiser. Across the street I noticed an Afro-American transvestite wearing black PVC and a bright orange wig watching us disinterestedly. He paused occasionally to inspect his reflection in his long silver polished nails.

“You know I think I preferred Buffy,” Cordelia was saying sotto voce to Wesley. “I mean the hordes of vampires were a bit of a drag, but at least you didn’t get eaten by flesh eating dinosaurs.”

“Although when you think about it, it is quite fascinating how . . .”

“And another thing, she’s got to be the rudest, most self-centred, and entirely objectionable person I have ever met.”

Cordelia didn’t seem to have mastered the one key thing about whispering. Namely that it should be done quietly. “And those are just my good points.” She jumped slightly as I spoke. “Now are you two going to going to get in, or would you prefer to stand around here gossiping until someone decides to come along and arrest us?”

“See what I mean?” She rolled her eyes in Wesley’s direction. But she did at least deign to get in the back of the van.

“You know Ms. Croft, you could at least make an effort to be friendly. It would make the time we spend together much more pleasant.”

“Well look on the bright side, Wesley.” I smiled at him. “In a few hours time all this is going to be over and I’m either going to be flying back to England with the artefact or we’re all going to be lizard food.” I flipped the spare set of keys I’d found to him. “Want to drive?”

I’d been quite impressed by his driving earlier on. He’d given the Carmel Sheriff’s Department a thorough run-around, leaving three of their cruisers in a tangled wreck behind us. Very Dukes of Hazzard - and all the time with that manly clench-jawed expression and the sunlight sparkling on his glasses.

I looked back at Angel. He’d taken on this streaky bacon appearance with broad strips of skin burnt to a shade of lobster and starting to peel off. In fact he could almost pass himself off as a typical British tourist.

“Would sun block help?”

“They don’t do a factor high enough.” The brief flicker of humour was quickly gone though, and his expression closed over again. It was the first time in the past few hours he’d responded to anything with more than a monosyllabic grunt.

It couldn’t be easy having the fact that even the sun is your enemy - that you can never stand beneath its rays and know its touch as anything but unbearable pain -thrust down your throat. I sympathised, a little.

“Okay then Wesley,” I said. “Next stop Sonoma County and the Lair of the Giant Blood Drinking Lizards.”

**********

We waited until dusk before we went in.

It was an odd setting. Picturesque forested hills, replete with a faux alpine lodge about the size of my own mansion. Somewhere, out of sight but no more than a couple of miles away, was the grove with its giant owl edifice.

For a large part of the afternoon we’d watched limos periodically being driven up to Bohemian Lodge’s main gates - the great and the . . . scaly, gathering ready for tomorrow night’s ceremony. Otherwise it might have been difficult to believe that this could possibly be the right place.

It all just seemed too ordinary.

Angel had gone over the perimeter fence first. One advantage of being a vampire that I’d have quite appreciated myself - you don’t show up in security cameras. The rest of us followed once he’d twisted the camera around.

I’d have been happier leaving Wes and Cordelia back at the van, but Angel had been insistent.

So there we were, trudging through the woods in near total darkness, Angel leading the way.

“. . . The sacrifice. It has to be a virgin, right Wes?” I heard Cordelia saying somewhere behind me.

“Er, well it is traditional. But it’s hardly a set in stone requirement. In this day and age you’d never get any proper sacrificing done if you had to find a virgin . . .”

“So that’s a yes then. Exactly what I thought.”

“Er, Cordelia . . .”

She went on, oblivious. “You see, what I’m thinking is that I never saw Britney’s name on that list. And if you were looking for a well-known virgin you’d pick her right? I know I would. Well obviously she’s not a real virgin, but symbolically speaking . . .”

“Cordelia, what on earth are you blathering about?”

“If it is her we don’t have to rescue her do we? We can just steal the artefact and let the lizards do their thing, and leave happy in the knowledge that we’ve made the world a better place. Right?”

“Cordelia!”

“Shh!” I froze. There’d been a distinct stealthy rustling noise from somewhere over to the left. A very familiar stealthy rustling.

“More raptors,” I said quietly. Cordelia and Wesley blanched. I saw out the corner of my eye that Angel was already aware, and felt the change come over him. The hairs on the back of my neck lifted.

“Run?” Wesley mouthed.

I shook my head. A human cannot outrun a raptor, especially over long distances through thick undergrowth. Besides, they’re cunning bastards. “It’s trying to spook us. There’ll be at least two more in that direction.”

Angel gave a curt nod. Without warning he charged right at the spot the sound had originated from. There was a sudden uproar of snarls and growls and violently rustling foliage.

Another rustling sound came from roughly the direction I’d indicated that the others would be. Something heading straight at us, fast. I started pumping bullets in its direction in a tightly concentrated pattern.

Something shrieked. It kept on coming. I jumped back . . .

The raptor collapsed in a heap at my feet. I heard its breath rattle one last time then stop. There was another flash of movement.

The expected missile of teeth and claws never materialised. After several seconds I let out a long breath. Raptors were just predators, I reminded myself. They wouldn’t try to tackle prey once it became apparent the risk of getting hurt was too high.

Angel had finished with his too. I saw him wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. He hadn’t come through totally unscathed though. There was a bloody gash down his side.

Suddenly, all around us electric lights came on, dazzlingly bright. There was the sound of applause.

“Oh, well done Ms. Croft. Well done.” The speaker had a slightly Germanic accent. I squinted to try and see against the glare. “And Angelus. Quite superb. It is truly a privilege to watch you in action.”

Angel shielded his eyes. “The name is Angel,” he said, “and if its action you’re after, step a little closer.”

The speaker was an elderly looking gentleman with a face like half-melted candle-wax wearing horn-rimmed spectacles. He looked naggingly familiar, although it took me a moment or two before I could put a name to the face.

“Now, now. No need to be uncivilised Angelus.”

Ah yes, Henry Kissinger. Someone who figures very prominently in David Icke’s literature.

The two flanking him were much more instantly recognisable. On the left was the well-known spokesman for the NRA, Mr. Charlton Heston. And on the right; the wrap-around sunglasses; the pecs; the cured leather tan; even the sodding Uzi 9mm. Arnie himself.

Behind them was an entire battalion of heavies, toting tasers, nets, MP5 submachine guns and even crossbows. I guess the quarrels also function pretty well as stakes. Despite the odds Angel still looked more than willing to take them head on.

“We’ve been expecting your arrival for some time now,” Mr. Kissinger went on is his basso profundo voice. “Don’t worry, we mean you no harm. We just want to have a nice friendly chat. To clear the air between us.”

Cordelia suddenly bent double, clutching her head in her hands. She let out a hoarse gasping scream.

Arnie was grinning broadly at me. I suspect that if he wasn’t wearing sunglasses I’d have seen him wink.

**********

If I’d known Cordelia at all I’d have assumed that she was having one of her flashes of precognition. Apparently seeing into the future is a painful business.

Wesley bent to touch her on the arm, ignoring our captors.

“Cordelia - are you all right?”

Cordelia was making a snarling noise.

”My Lord,” said Wesley. “What have you done to her, you fiends?”

”It is like Persephone in the underworld,” rumbled Mr. Kissinger. “She was warned not to eat anything, but she could not resist a bite from the bloody red pomegranate.”

“Wulfram and Hart,” said Angel, pulling a piece of peeling skin from his nose.” I should have known that those guys never kidnap anybody by accident.”

“Now, as Persephone belonged to Hades, Cordelia belongs to us.”

Cordelia had straightened. Her skin had become slightly mottled and she blinked like a frog. She licked her lips with a long thin tongue and hissed a breathy laugh.

“Time to breed again?" said Angel, to Mr. Kissinger.

"What?" said Wesley.

"How do you know?" I asked.

Angel curled his lip in a contemptuous sneer. "I can smell it on them."

"Breeding?" said Wesley.

"It's probably not survivable."

"What?" Wesley was aghast.

"How many women were on that list?" said Angel.

Mr. Kissinger laughed. "You have the reputation of being a bright fellow," he said. "I can see why."

"Whilst we are into exposition," I said, "what is this artefact that Mr. Icke insists that you possess?"

"Always with the eye on the ball, as I believe they say in England," said Mr. Kissinger. "It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance at last, Miss Croft."

"Well?"

"Hardly an artefact." Mr. Kissinger laughed in a thunderous way. "More like a living relic. Bring them."

**********

I'd seen the stage at Bohemian Grove from a grainy movie downloaded from the Net and I'd seen the statue of the Giant Owl, or at least I thought I had. I suppose that it only really looks like an owl from a distance. Either that or they wheel out a fake owl statue for the public ceremonies.

"There has always been a war between the reptiles and the mammals for the control of the planet," Mr. Kissinger was saying. "When the small mammals first appeared, we thought that we were doomed to extinction. We had to adapt."

We were approaching a giant shape in the dim light of the forest. Armed guards stood all around. They were hooded, a little like the KKK, and they were alert. Whatever they were guarding, it was the Fort Knox of Lizardworld.

I could smell formic acid and there was the sound of breathing from the thing. It appeared to be hooked up to a good deal of medical apparatus, and a thin spray of liquid was constantly playing onto it from a sophisticated sprinkler system. There was a loud thud - Wesley jumped - and on an oscilloscope next to the gargantuan patient the trace of a heartbeat appeared momentarily.

"We weren't that interested in ruling the world," said Mr. Kissinger, "and we weren't very interested to advancing modern science and medicine, but as the Old One here became sicker we realised we needed it all. In a year or two we will be safe, when cloning has been successfully perfected, but right now ... let us say that it is an anxious time for us all."

The Old One looked a bit like an owl in a certain way. Unlike other dinosaurs it had two eyes on the front on its skull instead of one on each side - stereooptic vision like that of a bird of prey. It also had grimy giant feathers. It was obviously evolution's attempt to keep up with the changing times after the Cretaceous period, when the Antarctic comet had flooded the planet and plunged it into a vicious ice age. Feathers for warmth combined with better vision for hunting smaller, quicker prey than brontosauruses.

There was another thud, and the electrocardiogram gave a flash of green.

"Why a virgin?" I asked.

Mr. Kissinger smiled. "It sounds melodramatic, doesn't it? A sort of remnant from a superstitious Judeo-Christian world where sex and evil are inextricably linked."

"Pure blood," said Angel.

"The connoisseur speaks. As Angel knows from his own taste buds, virgins have different blood. When humans have sex, they exchange DNA in their fluids - man to woman, woman to man. The well pool is contaminated by even the most trivial encounter. Many an American girl has been saved by the national addiction to oral sex. Thanks to this process even now our greatest weapon, the AIDS virus, is tipping the balance of power on the planet away from the warm blooded."

"You're pure bloody evil!" said Wesley.

"Good and evil are concepts created to protect prey," said Mr. Kissinger smoothly, adjusting his cufflinks. "It's ironic that it was a snake that gave Eve the forbidden fruit because in reality more snakes wouldn't have been that bothered one way or another."

I wasn't sure why I was trying to buy time, but I did anyway. "So who's your virgin? It isn't me, despite what my PR firm would have the public believe, and Cordelia here looks as if she's been defiled already."

Cordelia's eyes flashed and she bared sharp little viper canines at me.

Mr Kissinger smiled. "But you have a virgin with you in your party."

Wesley was turning red. "I'm not a virgin," he protested. "I was nearly married once."

It was The Wicker Man all over again.

**********

I'm no scientist so I can't tell you how it was supposed to work, but it involved taking something from Wesley, something from the Old One and using Cordelia as the incubator.

Wesley was strapped down to a table - there was little that Angel and I could do.

"They'll slip up," whispered Angel.

"Eyes peeled," I whispered back.

There was the sound of chanting - getting nearer - and I could see a procession of torches approaching. There was also the sound of heavy footfalls that made the ground tremble.

"We just have to wait for the guest of honour," explained Mr. Kissinger. "This is almost like a religious ceremony for us."

"It looks more like a bunch of school boys playing soggy biscuit to me," I said.

Mr. Kissinger laughed. "Ah the English and their crude humour. An apt joke, nonetheless. Reproduction and group bonding woven together."

The procession of torch-bearing lizard fans has come into sight. Behind them - well, even I had to gasp.

"What on earth is that?" said Angel, with a look of disbelief. Nearby a marine band struck up "Hail to the Chief."

The heavy footfalls were very characteristic - two Tyrannosauruses, heavily manacled and bridled. They were hitched up to a sort of high tech chariot with a perspex dome, a sort of prehistoric Pope Mobile. On each side secret service men were scanning the treetop and talking into their sleeves.

Seated in the chariot and dressed in an immaculate suit was the President, looking like a slightly less reptilian version of his dad. He smiled affably and acknowledged the polite applause of the congregation with a relaxed wave. Tyrannosaurus Rex indeed.

"Well I didn't vote for him," said Angel.

"Can vampires vote?" I said.

The chariot ground to a halt, and the President stood, with his hand pressed to his jacket as they all sang "My country tis of thee" or whatever that ridiculous colonial version of the National Anthem is called.

Whilst the President was addressing the audience with a few chosen words about Mom, apple pie and the historical imperative of preserving the genetic purity of the Master Race, Mr. Kissinger came over to us.

"We need to drain all of his blood," he said, conversationally. "Angelus - since you are one of our guests of honour I thought you might be interested in helping."

Angel said nothing, but the muscles in his cheek twitched as he clenched his teeth. Mr. Kissinger smiled and gestured, and two of our guards - one on each side - knocked Angel to his knees with electric tasers.

An acolyte stepped forward and handed Mr. Kissinger a goblet and a bottle.

"Freshly tapped a few minutes ago," he said, pouring the blood into the goblet, " and spiced up with a secret ingredient to make you more - what is the word?"

"Keep that away from me," hissed Angel.

I cast around for some sort of advantage. If I was going to act it had to be now whilst everybody was distracted.

"Hold his nose," said Mr. Kissinger. He poured the blood into Angel's mouth. Then he held Angel's mouth shut - he had such huge hands.

Angel's face changed, and I could see echoes of the transformation in the faces of everybody around me.

"Welcome, brother," said Mr. Kissinger in a deep leathery whisper. "You and I are the same under the skin."

Angel staggered to his face. He was smiling and it definitely wasn't him. I felt the goose-pimples start up on my skin.

"Fie fi fo fum," he said, licking the gore from his lips. "I smell the blood of an Englishwoman."

**********

“I suppose it would be clichéd of me to ask you to fight it?” I said, trying to keep my voice level.

Angel turned towards me slowly.

Something inside me quailed. I felt suddenly like prey. Lions, tigers; even raptors. They may well decide to eat you, but that’s just because you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’re not their preferred diet. This was entirely different - coming face to face with something you’re a very definite step lower than on the food chain.

“And now then why would I want to fight it?” His voice was conversational, containing a hint of mocking humour. His Irish lilt seemed to have come back.

“So you’re just going to sit back and be their lapdog then?” I said.

Angel laughed. Behind him Mr. Kissinger bore the expression of an entertained theatregoer. I could definitely see the scales now. By the sound of it the President was still in full flow, torturing the English language in that way he seemed to have perfected.

“Oh get on with you with your lapdog! Two centuries, and I’ve spent most of that time as that boring little shite, Angel. The guilt. The whining. The desperately seeking to atone. Even living on damnéd pig’s blood, by God. Have you any idea how unpalatable that is?” He spread his hands, taking several steps toward me. None of the lizards made any move to intervene. “After putting up with all that bloody nonsense don’t you think I earned a little fun?”

I sniffed, looking round pointedly. “If this is your idea of fun.”

“Aye, it is.” He stepped close, grasping my jaw and tilting my head back, forcing me to look into his eyes. “You’d make a sterling vampire, don’t you think?”

“Personally I’d rather not spend the rest of my existence sucking.”

Angel chuckled. “Ah, that dry English wit.” His face twisted, but he managed to hold back a burst of anger. His finger came up to my lips as I started to reply. “Ah-Ah. No talking now. I’ve had my life’s fill of uppity English women like you. But in all honesty Lara, you’re halfway to being a vampire already. I’ve seen the darkness in your very soul.”

“You’ve got a bloody awful Oirish accent,” I said. “Who writes your dialogue? Leprechauns?”

He tightened his grip on my jaw until it felt that the bones where going to crack. “What did I say about talking? You know I’m right. Even if you won’t admit it to yourself.” His voice had dropped to a whisper, as if he didn’t want the lizards to hear. His eyes reflected red in the torchlight. “You’re a predator. A killer. You were meant to be one of us.”

“With a complexion like yours?” I said. “I don’t really fancy spending eternity as Spotty Muldoon.”

“Well guess what darlin’, you don’t really have a choice in the matter.” He yanked my head back even further and leant forward. I could feel his teeth brushing against the skin of my throat - felt myself trembling. For once no brilliant last-ditch plan came to mind. “You’ll thank me a day from now, when you rise. Forget this senile gang of reptiles ...we’ll paint the night red together, forever.” He gave me a quick nip, almost playful. I tried to struggle but he was a hell of a lot stronger than I was. His teeth sank in further.

**********

My vision had become wavering. I couldn’t remember if he could turn me just by feeding, or if I was supposed to feed on him in return.

“I’ve never given blood before,” I mumbled. “I hope you’re going to offer me a cup of tea and a digestive afterwards.”

“Angelus!”

After a slight pause Angel pulled back from me and looked round at Kissinger. My breath was coming in ragged gasps. I could feel myself shaking. My blood stained his teeth.

“We didn’t restore you so you can indulge in games. You’re welcome to do whatever you like to Ms. Croft. After we’ve taken care of the matter in hand.” Mr. Kissinger sounded a little impatient.

I could see Wesley struggling against his restraints between the group of lizards surrounding him. By way of contrast Cordelia was relaxed, smiling a saurian smile. I think I preferred her when she was an idiot. The President was still droning on, though I thought I detected a hint that he was desperately trying to spin things out a bit to cover up the delay. There were even more verbal tics than usual.

Angel smiled. “Henry? Do you mind if I call you Henry?”

“Not at all Angelus.” If you were a bit a nearer you could probably have heard Mr. Kissinger’s teeth grinding.

“It’s just that, Henry - now that sounded awful like an order. Would it have been an order Henry?”

“Angelus, I apologise,” said Mr. Kissinger, spreading his hands in a diplomatic gesture. “But we are on something of a schedule here.”

The President’s nervousness seemed to have transmitted itself to the rest of the lizards. There was a palpable sense of tension. The Old One made an unhealthy rasping sound that cut through the night like a buzzsaw. One of the Tyrannosauruses snorted in sympathy.

“Yes, how thoughtless of me.” Angel sauntered over to the table Wesley was bound to. “So, to get this straight, all I have to do is drain his blood? Just so I’m clear.”

“All you have to do.” Mr. Kissinger smiled. It was an odd expression on a face that was now almost totally reptile and rather lacking in lips.

“Angel, please.” Wesley’s face was still bright red. His words tripped over themselves in the rush to get out. “You don’t have to do this. You still have your soul. You might think you’re the demon but you're not. This will fade if you don't give in to it . . .”

“Wesley.”

“. . . I know there’s part of you that still hears me; part of you that still cares. Please just . . .”

“Wesley!” Even I jolted.

Wesley stammered to a halt. The red turned rather quickly to bone white.

“That’s better. Now there’s just one small thing I’ve got to know before I kill you.”

“Yes? What is it?” Stiff upper-lip in the face of certain death and all that.

“Do you not realise, honestly, just what a tedious, dull, dreary little fellow you are? Even Angel thought so, and be Jesus! - coming from a fucking bore like that ... you really have a problem, my lad. No wonder you’re still virgin. Saving yourself for marriage? Saints preserve us! Any young colleen would be rendered comatose within five minutes of submitting to your lucklustre ‘charms’.” Angel laughed at his own joke, slapping his thighs.

“Just shut up and get it over with, you Irish windbag,” said Wesley.

Smiling, Angel bent over Wesley. I saw his fangs sink into the Englishman’s neck.

The President had reached the end of his ‘inspiring’ speech and now chanting rose in a crescendo from the throat of every single lizard in the grove, all eyes focused on the scene at its centre. Near my ear I could hear Mr. Heston’s voice, rasping and off-key, intoning words in a language that I’d never heard before. There was something surreal about a lizard who had acted in a film like “Planet of the Apes”.

For a moment nobody seemed to be paying me much attention. Even the lizard nominally guarding me had his attention directed elsewhere.

No time like the present as they say.

I forget the name of the judo throw I used - crouching rabbit, sleeping poodle, or something. The end result was a lizard sprawled on his back in front of me. I quickly relieved him of his crossbow, stamped on his throat, then put a crossbow quarrel through the chest of the next nearest to me.

That one had a gun. I took it and levelled it at Mr. Heston, who’d only managed to blink a couple of times in the meantime. Maybe coldbloodness was a recessive trait.

I grinned at him. “It’s not guns that kill people,” I said.

Sometimes I should keep my big mouth shut. As I pulled the trigger at least three lizards tasered me.

Still, I got to see Mr. Heston’s head explode before every single one of my muscles simultaneously spasmed out of control and I collapsed face first like a felled tree.

**********

As it turned out my little kerfuffle managed to pass almost unnoticed.

Without warning Angel tipped the table with Wesley on, flinging him so that he landed at the feet of the comatose Old One. Through my daze I could see that Wesley was still alive, moving feebly.

“Begorrah, he even tastes dull,” said Angel.

Everything went abruptly and shockingly quiet. The chanting stopped. Nobody moved. All eyes were focused on Angel. The lizards that had rushed to surround me even forgot to shoot me or kick me to death, or anything like that.

No professionalism anywhere anymore. Shocking.

All I could hear was the Old One’s laboured breathing

“Angelus?” Mr. Kissinger sounded tentative. Apparently he’d just realised he was standing next to an extremely bad tempered vampire and no one was going to be able to come to his aid in time - should the worst come to the worst.

“Henry.” It still wasn’t Angel. It was Angelus - the demon or reptile or whatever he really was. I could see it in the posture - hear it in his enunciation. The brief flare of hope I’d just experienced died.

“What are you doing Angelus?” A number of lizards were trying to move surreptitiously to flank Angel. They weren’t doing a particularly good job of it.

“Well now Henry, I’ve been thinking, and I’ve come to the conclusion that that was an order you gave me earlier after all. I’m not really an orders type of fellow. Call it my Celtic heritage if you like.”

“Angelus, we shouldn’t be arguing. This is a new beginning for our kind. It should be a celebration.”

My limbs had just about ceased with the uncontrollable shaking. Beside the Old One I could see Wesley on his hands and knees, crawling.

“See, there’s where I have a problem Henry. That word ‘our’. I much prefer ‘my’. And when it when it comes right down to it, I’m not sure how just much we really do have in common. I mean - just take a look around you. Lacks a certain style, don’t you agree? All a bit ‘seventies’. All a bit ‘Church of Satan’. Not - as they say nowdays - ‘cool’.”

“You disappoint me, Angelus.” Mr. Kissinger made a gesture. “Wolfram and Hart had led me to believe you would display a more . . . enlightened attitude. We shall just have to manage without you.”

A scrum of lizards pounced on Angel. Or they attempted to at least. By the time they landed they found their target wasn’t there.

Pity he couldn’t have done that before.

One of the lizards gave an abruptly curtailed cry, its throat ripped out. Any semblance of order vanished. One of the guards who’d tasered me now trod on me as he rushed to join in.

I struggled back to my feet. The excess electricity still travelling through my nervous system was having a similar effect on my limbs as a few too many shots of single malt.

I managed to make it as far as Cordelia - still strapped to her table, mottled in the face and swearing in that foreign language - without anyone bothering to stop me.

“Get away from me, human,” she hissed. “This is sacrilege.”

“Oh belt up, Cordelia,” I said, knocking her unconscious. “You’ve done nothing but moan from day one.”

Unfortunately a moment later someone knocked me unconscious as well.

**********

Mr. Kissinger was standing over me. There was still just about enough of the human form left to recognise who it was.

“I told you she belonged to us.” Then he tried to kick me.

I caught his leg. I got the distinct impression that this was someone more used to having others doing the kicking on his behalf. A quick twist had him sprawled face down on the ground beside me.

Fortunately at that moment someone brought a large rock down hard on the back of Mr. Kissinger’s skull. There was a rather loud crunching sound. It was Wesley.

“What an unpleasant old gentleman,” he said, wiping blood off his hands. “I’m surprised they have anything to do with him, given his Zionist connections.”

I didn’t follow up on that remark. Wesley belonged - or used to belong - to some organisation called the Watchers. I wondered whether they ever shared their Christmas office parties with the Masons.

Abruptly a lizard head sailed through the air past us, drenching us both with blood and breaking my chain of thought. Angel was still going strong. Wesley ducked down, and ran - crablike - to the side of the Old One.

Cordelia had come round. Picking up the blood-drenched stone used to stave Mr. Kissinger’s head in, she started laying into me with a vengeance.

Just then the Old One made a sound rather like a turkey gobbling. While we’d been mucking about Wesley had been disconnecting the medical equipment it was attached to. It seemed like he’d just unplugged something important.

The Old One eyed Wesley like Mr. Brown eyeing Squirrel Nutkin. With a certain turn of speed it lunged and snapped Wesley up in its beak. Stretching back its head it swallowed him whole - a Wesley-sized lump moved down its throat.

It was time for me to perform a miracle. I kicked Cordelia’s legs from under her - she stunned herself with her own rock - and grabbed up a fallen MP5.

The two T-Rexes hitched to the Popemobile were thrashing about and straining against their manacles hard enough to draw blood. The President had fallen from his perch and was lost from view amid the masses. I took aim, and with four or five shots shattered the iron fastenings that held the Tyrannosaurs.

You’ve seen Jurassic Park. The Tyrannosaurs obviously didn’t like the look of the Old One. They attacked. The One Old started shrieking like a boiling kettle. All around us, lizards were clapping their hands to their ears.

The Tyrannosaurs ripped a hole in the Old One and Wesley fell out like a giant foetus. He slithered out of the way through a pool of guts and blood, blindly inching along on his elbows and knees.

I fired a burst of bullets into the Old One’s giant eyes. A few seconds later the shrieking noise cut off. The Old One spasmed a few times, then fell still. Liquid continued to be sprayed across its bulk as the Tyrannosaurs feasted.

Around us all the lizards appeared to have gone into some kind of shock. Some had collapsed writhing on the ground; others were just standing around looking stunned. A good opportunity to get the hell out of there.

I was sure Mr. Icke would understand the inconvenience of lugging several tons of mouldering owl flesh out of there. Sons of God are supposed to be known for their tolerance after all. Not quite what he’d in mind as the ‘artefact’ anyway, I’m sure.

I grabbed Cordelia, almost getting clouted for my trouble. She was beginning to look confused, however, as if something was wearing off. She sat down abruptly on the ground.

Turning, I came face to face with Angel.

By the look of him he was still very much under the influence.

**********

Angel smiled at me. “Leaving so soon, my sweet Kathleen? The night is still young and so are we. Well, you at least.”

By way of reply I shot his legs out. There’s only so much Celtic blather I can stand and I had a horrible vision of him launching into “Oh Danny boy”.

“Bullets can’t kill me Lara. You know that, surely?” His face was twisted in a grimace as he struggled to his feet.

“I’m not trying to kill you,” I said mildly. As he levered himself upright I shot him again, this time putting bullets in his stomach and chest as well as his legs. Again he dropped.

“You know Lara, you’re starting to hurt my feelings. I meant my earlier offer. Let me turn you. It’s not an offer I make to every girl I eat.”

“So I can live forever?” I’d like to say that there was a flicker of temptation, but there wasn’t. “I think I’ve already outstayed my welcome.”

He grinned despite the obvious pain. “More than ‘live’. So much more than ‘live’.”

“Sorry. Not interested.” I shot him a third time, laying him out on his back. I tied him up using the restraints that had been used to secure Wesley. Cordelia watched me for a moment and then joined in. She avoided my glance.

Wesley joined us as we were finishing. He resembled a Tandoori chicken, but he managed to stay on his feet.

We left before the lizards could recover enough to stop us.

**********

Carrying Angel was a struggle even with three of us. It could have been worse though. He was oddly passive, and I could feel his eyes boring into me the whole time. Irrationally it felt like I was committing an act of betrayal.

We’d made it a short way into the woods surrounding the grove when we met the President. Cordelia yelped, dropping the limb she was carrying.

The President looked rather the worse for wear. Half of his face was sheathed in blood. He was a lot more alert than his friends back in the grove though. As were the pair of lizards flanking him.

For a time we just stared at each other.

“A small set back, folks. Nothing more,” he said, wiping his neck with a silk handkerchief. “We can still make use of the Old One’s DNA.”

I didn’t say anything - simply kept the gun aimed at his head.

“It was pleasure to meet you, young lady,” he said to Cordelia, attempting to kiss her hand and pouring on the homey Texan charm. “We’ll keep a room ready for you at the ranch if you ever change your mind.”

Cordelia smiled weakly but, for once, she didn’t say a word. She’d achieved her dream of potential fame and status but, a bit like Marilyn, she’d discovered that it wasn’t quite the thing that she’d hoped.

“May I ask you a question?” I said.

“Certainly,” said the President, “provided that it’s off the record.”

“Why all this interest in power?”

The President smiled. “Somebody has to protect the planet from humanity,” he said. “There are worse things than being a lizard.”

“Don’t you regret all the resources that you and people like you are squandering, trying to make the planet conform to your view of life? The arms spending, the environment ...”

The President laughed. “What - global warming? Best idea we ever had. Washington has always been hot and steamy enough for our thin blood, but imagine being able to bask on a rock in Siberia.”

“So basically - no second thoughts, no regrets. No thought for the suffering of humanity?”

The President kept his smile - a toothy reptilian smile under cold reptilian eyes. “I could pretend I cared,” he said. “but surely that would be nothing more than hypocrisy?”

Angel was looking at me. “I think you found your soulmate, Lara,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was Angel or Angelus.

I frowned. “Why do you think I got involved with this in the first place?”

“Money?” suggested the President.

“Cheap thrills?” said Angel.

I handed the MP5 to Wesley and began to walk away.

“But ... where are you going?” Wesley called after me.

I wanted to make sure that nobody could misinterpret my tears.

**********

The End

NOTICE: This story is a work of fiction. Lara Croft, her likeness, and the Tomb Raider games are all © and ™ of Core Design and EIDOS Interactive. Angel, Cordelia and Wesley are all © and ™ of Mutant Enemy television company. There is no challenge to these copyrights intended by this story, as it is a non-sanctioned, unofficial work of our own. Any resemblence to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.




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