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Monico Episode Five: Shot in the Dark

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  • Monico Episode Five: Shot in the Dark

    Episode Five:
    Shot in the Dark

    Disclaimer: Oz does not belong to me, but everyone else does. I am making no profit from this, and am writing purely for my own amusement.
    Mostly fluff.
    Feedback: By all means, bring it on.

    Previously, in Tales from the Monico:

    David: "You don't want a job, do you?"
    Oz (shrugs): "Okay."

    Oz: "You do know that the theatre is haunted, right?"
    Emma: "You're actually serious, aren't you?"

    Oz, David and Emma conduct their DIY exorcism.

    Elli: "You banished a shade? I'm so impressed? as far as I can tell, whatever was here is gone as banished. So you can pat yourself on the back for a job well done."

    Elli: "Oh, look out: here come the M&Ms. Again."
    David: "Who?"
    Elli: "M and M: Mike and Mat. Ergo, the M&Ms. Honestly, I don't know how they ever get any work done. They're always in here."

    Linda: "Are you Oz? ? The old man said you might be able to help, and I didn't know what else to do? The antique guy ? he's got a shop next door."

    Oz: "Could really use a Slayer for a job like this."
    Elli: "We don't have one any handy, I'm afraid? What harm could there be in going to take a look?"
    Oz: "Potentially quite a lot, actually."

    Elli (looking at the deserted school): "Perfect place for a vampire hideout."

    Emma (looks around curiously): "They should be around here somewhere."
    David (pointing to the old school): "Why on earth would they be in there?"

    Elli: "There are vampires nesting here. We came to find out how many."

    (Emma screams loudly as a vampire goes to bite her?At the last second, her attacker suddenly flies backward as though propelled by an invisible force. Her breath coming in short, sharp pants as she battles both fear and shock, Emma half-turns and to her amazement sees Charlie standing in the doorway, a large wooden cross around her neck.)

    (After killing all the vampires, the five of them stand looking at one another in shock.)

    Oz: "I'll go first. My name is Daniel Osbourne, and I'm a werewolf."
    Elli: "My name is Eleris Talvalin, and? I don't actually come from this world at all."
    Charlie: "Charlie Stafford ? I'm mostly just a perfectly normal person. Except that I can do, well, this." (She floats a table in the air.)

    Oz: "They didn't kick us out on the spot, anyway."
    Elli: "They're good people. Friends. Sooner or later ? I hope ? they'll realise that nothing's changed. Not really. I'm still the same person that I was this morning, and so are you. So's Charlie."

    Elli shows Oz a newspaper report about a werewolf running loose in town.
    Oz: "It wasn't me."
    Elli: "I know that, idiot. I just thought you'd want to know."


    *****

    Prologue
    :

    *****

    Learning about sword fighting was kind of like learning to dance. Not that Oz had ever put that much effort into learning to dance, but as far as he could tell the principle was about the same. It was all about footwork and timing, only you held onto a sword instead of a girl.

    His reflections were rudely interrupted when Elli, with a flick of her wrist, twisted his sword right out of his hand and sent it clattering to the floor. If this had been a real fight, he guessed he'd be dead around about now.

    "You know," she cheerfully told him. "If you actually cared about learning to fight, you could be pretty good at this."

    Since he'd just been disarmed so comprehensively, Oz was unclear how exactly she'd reached this conclusion, and gave her a quizzical look.

    "Well, you've got good balance," she explained. "And a low centre of gravity. Plus, you're observant, which is a huge help. In the thick of the fighting, being fully aware of what your opponent is doing as well as concentrating on your own moves is half the battle won."

    Elli had moments when she sounded Englisher than Charlie, Oz noted. And this was one of them, the Australian twang that usually edged her voice slipping slightly as she talked sword-fighting techniques, a skill learned in her pre-Australia days. Exactly why she felt the need to keep up her training, and how much direct combat experience she had was something he had yet to find out. She tended to play her cards very close to her chest, and never gave a straight answer to any direct questions about her past.

    "Well, I don't think I'll ever make Zorro," he remarked, bending to pick his sword up again.

    "You shouldn't ever need to," Elli told him. "This is for me, for which, of course, I thank you profusely once again."

    Oz sat down on one of the worktops that had been pushed to the side of her art studio to allow them room for the sparring session. "You never did explain why," he observed quizzically, knowing full well that she had no intention of doing so.

    "No," said Elli raising an eyebrow and looking amused. "I didn't, did I?"

    "And you're not going to, either."

    Elli smiled, leaning against the table he was sitting on. "D'you want to call it a day now," she asked, changing the subject completely. "Or ??"

    "What on earth are you two up to now?" David's voice interrupted her.

    Startled, both of them turned to the door to see that David had come in unnoticed and was gazing at them in confusion.

    "David," said Elli.

    Bewilderment written all over his face, David came across and peered curiously at the sword in Oz's hand. "Are those things real?" he asked, bemused.

    Oz lifted the sword slightly to let him get a better look, only for David to take a quick, nervous step backward away from both it and him. Oz sighed at the unconscious gesture of mistrust. Things still weren't quite right between them, and he was starting to wonder if they ever would be.

    "Just when I think I've got you guys totally sussed out," David sighed.

    "Oz is just helping me train," Elli told him calmly.

    "Train for what?" David asked.

    Elli shrugged. "For whatever," she replied, evasively.

    Relaxing slightly, David came back over to the table and this time took the sword when Oz held it out to him. Feeling the weight, he hefted it like a child with a new toy, and Oz quickly ducked away from his inexpert wielding of it.

    "Careful," Elli warned. "That isn't a toy."

    "It's sharp," David realised.

    "Well, yes," she said. "Obviously."

    "Where'd you get them from?" he asked, still examining the sword in wonder. It was probably the first time he'd ever held anything like it, Oz realised.

    "That one I picked up in Australia," Elli explained. "It was Stephen's."

    "You can get swords in Australia?" said David, surprised.

    "You can get hold of most things in most places, if you know where to look," she told him, lightly.

    "What about the other one?"

    Elli hesitated slightly before answering that question, which brought them into those murkier waters that both David and Emma were still struggling to come to terms with. "I brought it with me" she said. "From home."

    "Home?" David was suddenly uneasy at this turn in the conversation. "Other world home?"

    "That's the one," Elli confirmed, trying to sound casual.

    David gave the sword back to Oz, and went over to take a closer look at Elli's. She let him look, but kept a firm hold on it.

    "It's, uh, prettier, I guess, than the other one," David observed.

    "You aren't supposed to describe swords as 'pretty'," Elli told him, amused. "But yes, it is. Older, too."

    "Is it magic?" he asked, suddenly full of enthusiasm at the thought of a magical sword.

    Elli rolled her eyes. "No," she said, firmly. "It's just a sword. But it is special to me because it belonged to my grandfather."

    David sighed. "You guys are unbelievable. Absolutely crazy."

    Turning to Oz, he became awkward once more. "So, uh, how's the, um, the, uh, werewolf search coming on?"

    "It isn't," Oz admitted with a big sigh.


    *****


  • #2
    *****

    Part One

    *****

    Elli was pottering around in her apartment the following morning when Oz came over looking troubled.

    "Need a break?" she asked lightly as she let him in.

    He nodded and mooched around the apartment for a while, throwing himself down on the sofa without a word. Elli looked at him, and then went over to her kitchen unit and started clattering around with kettle and mugs, likewise saying nothing.

    Talking to Oz could be like pulling teeth when he was in this mood, but Elli had developed a coping strategy that involved playing him at his own game: keep quiet and sooner or later he'd feel compelled to fill the silence himself. In theory. Sometimes a certain degree of prompting helped, too.

    "If I can't even find a man who lives next door," Oz eventually said. "How am I supposed to find a werewolf that could be anywhere?"

    "He does seem kind of elusive," Elli agreed, making them a drink each. "The antique man next door, that is. I've never spoken to him, only ever seen him in passing and, not recently either."

    But the reclusive antique dealer was not what was bothering him most, of course. She went over to join him on the sofa, placing a couple of mugs on the coffee table.

    "You know I'll help in any way I can to find it."

    Oz nodded. "I know." He gave her one of his half-smiles, but his eyes were troubled still. "Thanks."


    *****

    "Nectarines are so annoying," said Emma. "They go from unripe to a mushy mess without ever passing through the edible stage."

    Tossing a couple of dead nectarines into the bin, she turned back to David, chewing at her lip. "Actual honest to goodness swords?"

    "Uh-huh," David confirmed, slouching across an armchair in their private quarters, upstairs at the Monico. "'Training', she says. Training for what on earth?"

    "I don't think I'm ever going to understand either of them," Emma sighed, continuing to tidy the fruit basket.

    "Me either," David admitted.

    "And they still can't find this other werewolf?"

    "Evidently not." It was worrying.

    "The one that apparently is dangerous," Emma continued. "Even though they keep telling us that Oz isn't."

    David nodded. "That's the one."

    Emma shivered slightly. "It's really creepy."

    "He's still Oz," said David, determined to hold onto that fact, no matter what. "Same guy he always was. And Elli is still Elli."

    "And Charlie is still Charlie," Emma nodded. "I know that. And it's still creepy. All these secrets, and all this?this stuff. I thought having a ghost was as bad as it could get. And when we got rid of that, I thought we'd never have to face anything like it again. But now we can't seem to get away from it. Werewolves and vampires, and other worlds, and goodness knows what else!"

    "I know, I know," David said soothingly, standing up and giving her a kiss. "It'll be okay."

    Emma kissed him back, calming down once more. "Yeah," she agreed. "It will. And in the meantime, getting ready for your big night is a much better thing to be worrying about."

    "We can get ready for my big night tomorrow," David told her. "Right now I'll settle for getting ready for dinner." He gave her his most seductive smile. "Hurry up, Mrs Gibson."


    *****

    With David and Emma out to dinner, Elli was keeping Oz company at the counter when Charlie came in and wandered across to join them.

    "No David and Emma today?" she asked, looking around.

    "Scoping out the competition," Oz told her.

    "They what?"

    "They've gone out for dinner," Elli clarified.

    "Oh." Charlie hesitated slightly before asking, "How are they?"

    Oz looked at Elli, and shrugged. "Hard to tell for sure," he admitted. "I think they're coming to terms with the weird. A little."

    He couldn't blame David and Emma for feeling the way they did no matter how much it hurt to see the wariness in their eyes. They'd had this bombshell dropped on them from a great height, and most people couldn't deal with the reality of the supernatural underworld even at arm's length, never mind in the midst of a close circle of friends like this. That was why so much effort was invested into believing it didn't exist. But, for better or for worse, David and Emma were in too deep and knew too much for that kind of denial to be possible now. And they really were trying.

    "They seem okay, mostly," Elli nodded. She brightened as she added, "David agreed to display some of my stuff in the caf?, so he can't be too worried about my, um, unusual origins. And I think they appreciated that we were honest about the other werewolf, even if it is a worrying thing."

    The discovery of another werewolf in San Francisco was definitely a worrying thing, as if his life wasn't complicated enough already. And it seemed clear that this other werewolf either didn't know or didn't care to keep itself safely under lock and key at the full moon.

    Oz usually preferred to deal with problems of this nature, or any nature, in fact, by himself. But Elli had insisted that he tell their other friends all about it, arguing that honesty was vital right now. She had a point, Oz had to admit, but admitting the problem had not been easy, especially when the Gibsons had only just discovered that he was a werewolf himself and were just barely beginning to come to terms with the idea. He was still trying to fully convince them that he wasn't a danger to them, which they seemed to now accept with wary reservations and the pretence of normality, so having to explain that the other werewolf was dangerous had not been easy.

    He had no idea who or where the other werewolf was, and it was keeping him decidedly on edge, since he didn't have good experiences in general with fellow lycanthropes. He knew that if he came in contact with it he would probably be able to sense it and therefore had to remain alert. Elli was also keeping her eyes open, since if she came across the werewolf she would know it at once, just as she had with Oz. But beyond that, there was little they could do until the next full moon brought it out to prowl.

    "And we still don't know where that is, or who it is?" Charlie queried, echoing his thoughts.

    Oz shook his head. "No clues." It was so frustrating. "It's like?it's like shooting in the dark. Complete mystery."

    Charlie nodded sympathetically. "It could be anywhere in the city, couldn't it?"

    "And it's a big city to search for one werewolf," Elli agreed. "Especially when you don't know where to begin." She looked at Oz. "We might have to wait for full moon and try hunting for it then, while it's out and about, and active."

    Since he'd already reached that conclusion himself, Oz nodded, resigned.

    "And hopefully things will have settled down around here by then," said Charlie. "There's only so much tension I can take."


    *****

    "How's that?" David asked from his perch atop a chair in the Monico Coffee Bar the next day.

    Oz regarded his employer's handiwork critically. "A little more to the left."

    Since David had agreed to display some of Elli's artwork in the caf?, they'd learned that this involved not only finding a suitable spot for said work, but also fixing labels beside them detailing the name of the piece, the artist, and the price. According to Elli, it was the best way for an artist to begin to make sales and therefore establish a reputation. David had loved the idea, since it would provide him with artwork he wouldn't actually have to pay for, but since he was a perfectionist where the caf? was concerned, as far as Oz could see it also involved a lot of work for people other than Elli. But the air of normality about installing it all was soothing.

    David adjusted the plaque carefully. "Now?"

    Oz tilted his head slightly to regard it once again, and then nodded. It would have to do, since he was getting bored of this now. "Perfect."

    David hopped down and squinted up at the plaque, looking unconvinced, but before he could climb back up and adjust it again, the phone rang.

    Relieved, Oz left David to answer the phone and made himself busy getting the caf? ready to open, but his peace was shattered just moments later when David came rushing out to the kitchen looking for him, in absolute despair.

    "They cancelled!" he wailed.

    "Who?"

    "The band! What am I going to do?" David was in despair, and Oz could quite see why. David had been planning his musical promotion evening for the caf? for weeks now, with a up-and-coming local band booked to play live, and for the band to cancel on the very day of the performance?Well, suffice it to say that David's despair was well-founded.

    "My publicity says tonight," David moaned. "I've got people coming, and they're expecting a live band?I'm ruined!"

    "No, no," Oz reassured him. "We'll think of something."

    "Like what?"

    "Well, I don't know yet," Oz admitted. "But we will."


    *****

    Thrashing about for ideas did not prove helpful. Replacements were not easy to find at such short notice.

    "Okay," said Oz into the phone. "Thanks anyway, man. Yeah." Hanging up, he turned back to David.

    "Well?" David asked, anxiously.

    Oz shook his head. "Devon says next time. Dingoes are already booked out for tonight."

    "Damn."

    "Sorry, man."

    "I knew it," David sighed. "No one's going to be available now, not at this short notice. How could they do this to me? The day of the gig! How could they just cancel like that? I mean?"

    He suddenly stopped short and gave Oz an appraising look. Wondering what he was thinking about now, Oz became slightly nervous and frowned, taking a step back.

    "Hey, maybe we could play?" David suggested, eyeing him eagerly.

    "Us?" said Oz, feeling alarmed now.

    "Yeah, why not?" David enthused, warming to the idea. "We've both played in bands before. We've jammed together. It's perfect."

    Like Oz, David had been in a band all through high school, and college too, and the two had jammed together a few times before Oz broke his wrist. But Oz had barely touched his guitar in weeks, the cast only having come off a few days previously, and even if they had had the opportunity for more practice together, the two of them on their own were hardly a replacement for a real band.

    "There hasn't been much jamming," he reminded David, indicating his arm.

    "Only because you broke your wrist." David was not going to be dissuaded now. "And that's better now. We could practice this afternoon, and?damn."

    "That's right." Oz nodded, seeing reality dawn in his eyes.

    "No, no," David protested, clearly not willing to give up on the idea and desperate enough to try anything to save his promotional night, determined to find someone to help them form a makeshift band to provide the live music promised on all the advertising. "We can still work it. I've got music, and songs, and everything. We just need to find us a front man. We can make it work. We have to. Just for this one night."

    "Emma! Can you sing?" he shot at his wife as she wandered downstairs on her way to the boutique where she worked part-time.

    "You know I can't." She looked at him askance. "Why?"

    "The band cancelled," he wailed.

    Emma was appalled. "Oh my God, they can't do that."

    "Apparently they can," he told her, depressed again.

    "But we've advertised," she protested, instantly solicitous. "What are you going to do? Can we find a replacement by tonight?"

    "No, we can't," he scowled. "But if you could sing we could try and put a band together ourselves."

    "We'll think of something," Emma told him firmly, heading for the phone. "I'll just call the boutique and tell them I can't come in today. Who else do we know that can sing?"


    *****

    "Well, this is getting us nowhere fast," said David, depressed. "It's a disaster. I'm ruined."

    The three of them were still brainstorming to no avail when a knocking at the caf? door provided a distraction. It was Charlie, peering in looking puzzled as to why they hadn't opened yet.

    "Dammit, look at the time," David cursed, appalled at himself. "We forgot to open up! I really am ruined. Can you sing?" he fired at Charlie as he opened the door.

    "No, why?" was the puzzled response.

    "Damn."

    "What's up?" Charlie looked around at their glum faces with curiosity.

    "The band cancelled," Emma told her, mournfully. "You know ? for our musical Monico promotional evening."

    "Oh," said Charlie. "I'm sorry."

    "And we can't find a replacement band at this short notice," David continued the tale of woe. "So we wondered if we could put something together ourselves, 'cause we promised live music in all the adverts."

    "I play the drums," Charlie offered, half-heartedly. "But that's not much good to you."

    "No, it is." David seized upon the offer immediately. "We just need to find a front man and get some practice in before tonight."

    "Tonight?" Charlie looked horrified. Oz gave her a sympathetic half-smile, since he was feeling pretty much the same way about it all. One afternoon's practice was hardly sufficient to form an act. But David could be extremely persuasive, and his desperation made it impossible to say no.

    "Ooh, by the way," Charlie turned to Oz as if she'd just remembered something. "I just saw Mr Mainwaring."

    Completely nonplussed by this statement, Oz had no reply to offer.

    "You know," Charlie continued. "That old man of yours."

    "What old man of mine?" Oz head was still full of the logistics of getting something in place for the promotion.

    "The old fella next door," Charlie reminded him. "The one you've been looking for."

    Oz had been trying to track the old man down for nearly a week now, ever since the old antique dealer had sent a young girl with a vampire problem to him to deal with. He wanted to know why, but the old man had eluded him at every turn. Hearing that Charlie had just seen him, he rushed to the door, barely aware of her calling after him.

    "He was on his way out."

    Hurrying out into the street, Oz found the antique store next door closed up as usual. He looked up and down the street but there was no sign of the old man, or any indication of which way he had gone. Sighing at another missed opportunity, he headed back into the caf?, where Charlie gave him a sympathetic smile.

    He had another reason for wanting to track the old man down, beyond asking what he thought he was doing sending people with vampire problems over as if he thought Oz could do anything about it. If this old man was, as it seemed, the person to ask about supernatural problems in San Francisco, Oz hoped he might be able to help with the werewolf tracking ? if he could find him.

    "So, do you know him?" he asked Charlie as he sat back down.

    "Who?"

    "The old guy. You said his name."

    Charlie nodded. "Mr Mainwaring."

    "Is that his name?" Emma put in. Both she and David knew him only as 'that old guy next door'.

    "It's written over the door," Charlie pointed out, looking surprised that they hadn't noticed. "Piers Mainwaring. Also, he's a local authority on all things mystical."

    "So you know him?" Oz pressed.

    "Our paths have crossed once or twice," she admitted, cagily. "Other than that, no. But I'm keeping an eye out, 'cause I know you want to talk to him."

    "Getting back to this band issue," Emma interrupted, looking at Charlie. "I'm having trouble picturing you as a drummer. What's that all about?"

    Charlie grinned mischievously. "Well, I started mostly so I could annoy the aunt I was living with at the time," she confessed. "And then I kept it up 'cause, to be honest, I enjoy it. I like making noise."

    "And I'm very glad," David told her, running through his phone book searching for someone, anyone, he could rope in. "But I'd be gladder still if I could find someone else to help out. Preferably, someone who can sing."

    Although she wasn't due to work until that evening, the Monico's only other regular staff member, Shanei, came into the caf? at that moment. "Left my purse here last night," she complained. "Don't suppose anyone's seen it?"

    "Oh, I found that," Emma told her, bouncing to her feet. "I'll just get it for you now."

    While Emma went out back in search of the lost purse, David seized on the waitress.

    "Shanei! Can you sing?"

    "Why?" She gave him a sceptical look.

    "Now that was the answer I've been waiting for," David told her, delighted.

    "Excuse me?" Shanei glared at him, still none the wiser.

    "You didn't say no!"

    "We're a band down for David's promotion," Oz explained.

    "And me being able to sing is important because??" Shanei wanted to know.

    "Well, I can play keyboard or bass," David explained. "Oz is a guitarist and Charlie plays drums, but we need a front man to make a band. You know, a lead vocalist."

    Oz resisted the temptation to laugh on seeing the look on Shanei's face at the idea of being considered as a 'front man'. It was not a description calculated to win her heart.

    "You can't find anyone else?" She looked dubious.

    David shook his head. "Not enough time. I'm desperate."

    "Desperation can work," Oz put in.

    "I can get someone to cover the caf? while we practise this afternoon," David wheedled. "It's only for tonight."


    *****

    Comment


    • #3
      *****

      Part Two

      *****

      It said a lot for David's powers of persuasion that within half an hour Oz and Charlie were back at the Monico having collected Charlie's drum kit, while Shanei had agreed to stand in as lead vocalist and was helping David put together some kind of programme for their one-off performance.

      As they carried the drum kit through to the back, Emma was attempting to enlist Elli's help in the caf? for the day.

      "This is happening tonight?" Elli looked mildly surprised.

      "How could you not know it was tonight?" Emma asked in amazement. "He's been talking about nothing else for weeks."

      "I tuned out," Elli admitted. "I knew it was coming up, just not when. You're serious about this?"

      "Please," it was Emma's turn to wheedle now. " I need someone to help me while they're all practising. How bad could it be?"

      Elli eyed the cash register with something approaching suspicion. "You actually expect me to use this thing?"

      Emma's face was a picture. "You could fly a space-time machine, but you can't work a cash register?"

      Elli scowled. "I can learn how to make things work if I have to, and when I was travelling with the Doctor I felt much safer knowing I could make the Tardis go if necessary. Doesn't mean I understand how they work."

      "I can show you," Emma told her firmly. "Please. Don't leave me here on my own while these mad fools play at being musicians."

      "Okay, fine," Elli gave in. "Whatever. But just this once. Get more staff!"

      "We're working on it," Emma assured her.


      *****

      Emma had told Oz in confidence that music had been David's major at college, but he had never got either the breaks or the funding to make a career out of it. Oz already knew from jamming together a few times that his friend was a talented musician, and now discovered that David had numerous songs and instrumental pieces stashed away that he'd written over the years and never had the chance to perform. Oz began to understand David's excitement about the evening ? it could be his last chance to relive those dreams ? and for his sake hoped that it would go well despite the very last minute, makeshift arrangements.

      Oz helped Charlie get her drum kit set up, with David and Shanei still working out the programme. Then, seeing them still hard at work, he looked across at Charlie and raised an eyebrow. It looked like it was going to be a long day.

      "I'll get us some drinks while we wait," he suggested.


      *****

      "So, where we going for lunch, then?" Mat?as Cordoba wanted to know, as he slung himself into the passenger seat of the patrol car.

      "The Monico," his partner, Mike Hanson, told him firmly.

      "Again?" Mat protested. "Not that I don't like the place, but still?"

      "What?"

      "We go there all the time these days," Mat sighed. "Can't we try someplace different?"

      "No, we really can't."

      Mat rolled his eyes. "Why not?"

      "Well for one, I'm driving," Mike gave his partner a mischievous smirk, before becoming serious again. "Therefore, my choice. Plus, I just?I want to keep an eye on the place."

      "Can you say paranoia?" Mat shook his head in mock dismay.

      "Well, you explain it then. All the weird stuff that happens around that place."

      "It isn't so weird."

      "Oh no?" Mike raised his eyebrows. "All those complaints about sabotage, the absentee staff? Went on for weeks. No sign of any reasonable explanation. And then poof! Nothing. As if there was never a problem in the first place."

      "So the problem went away?"

      "And then that barman of theirs, Oz, the one who got attacked. Never did find out what was behind that."

      "He got mugged," Mat reminded him. "It happens. We can't solve them all."

      "Huh," Mike snorted. "We're supposed to try. Plus, I'm sure there was more to it than that. They all knew more than they were telling us."

      "It's just a caf?," Mat insisted. "A normal caf? full of normal people. And okay, some strange stuff happened there. Strange stuff happens in a lot of places. Doesn't have to mean anything."

      "Didn't say it did," Mike grumbled. "I just said I want to keep an eye on the place. Just in case."

      "Crazy," Mat sighed. "But I know the real reason you want to go there again."

      "Oh really?" Mike shot him a sideways glance. "And what would that be?"

      Mat grinned. "You're just hoping Shanei will be working today?"


      *****

      "Am I supposed to make you pay for those?" Elli asked Oz when he wandered into the caf? and helped himself to four sodas. After a moment's consideration, she shrugged and thought better of it. "Since I haven't got the hang of the till yet, it might be better not to even try. How's it going back there?"

      "It isn't, yet," Oz told her. "We'll see."

      Looking past her shoulder, he nodded towards the door. "You've got customers," he noted, and headed for the back rooms once more.

      With a sigh, Elli turned her attention to the newly arrived M&Ms, Emma swiftly joining her.

      "Haven't seen that guy stand still since he left hospital," Mat observed, watching Oz's retreating back, while Mike gave Elli and Emma a puzzled frown.

      "Unusual staffing arrangements here today," he remarked.

      "Crisis control," Emma told him, casually.

      "Mike was hoping to see Shanei," Mat explained, cheerfully teasing his partner.

      "No, I wasn't," Mike instantly protested.

      "I'll tell her that, shall I?" Emma suggested, amused.

      Mike looked horrified at the mere thought, and started to babble a protest, while Mat chuckled with glee.

      "It's okay," Emma laughed. "Your secret is safe with me. She's out back right now, but if you come back later tonight there'll be a real treat for you."

      "Sounds intriguing," Mat remarked.

      "Well, that depends how it turns out," said Elli, ever the realist.

      "Oh ye of little faith," Emma scolded. "It's going to be absolutely fantastic. Turning back to Mike and Mat, she continued, "Debut performance of a brand new band, live and exclusive at the Monico, tonight." For Mike's benefit, she enticingly added, "Shanei's going to be singing."

      "Shanei?" Mike was instantly hooked.

      "We'll be here," said Mat with a broad grin. "Wild horses couldn't keep him away."


      *****

      With business booming, Emma and Elli were run off their feet looking after the caf?, both a little frazzled but coping with the custom,

      "Am I getting paid for this?" Elli had only now thought to ask, turning to serve yet another customer.

      Meanwhile, the makeshift band spent the afternoon frantically practising. Mistakes were made, and tempers became a little frayed, but as the hours went by so the sound they produced steadily improved, and they even began to feel ever so slightly optimistic. They might just be able to pull this off after all.


      *****

      "Oh my God," Emma laughed when she saw Mike and Mat arriving to listen to the band perform.

      "What?" Mat gave her a puzzled look.

      "Plain clothes," she observed.

      "Didn't you think we owned any?" asked Mike with a grin.

      "I was starting to wonder," she cheerfully admitted. "I've never seen either of you out of uniform before."

      "We're just full of surprises," Mat grinned.


      *****

      One afternoon of practice really wasn't enough time to put a proper act together, and as they set up on the gallery all four newly formed band members were horribly nervous to see how many people had turned out for the event, David's publicity having apparently paid off.

      "I think I might be sick," Charlie told Oz, quietly, looking down at the number of people in the caf?.

      "You might want to wait till tomorrow," he told her. "David would never forgive you."

      "Have you seen how many people there are?" she moaned.

      "I've played bigger crowds," Oz observed, aiming for the nonchalant approach.

      "Lucky you," said Charlie. "Have you played bigger crowds cold like this? With only one afternoon to create a whole new band from scratch?"

      "No," he had to admit.

      "I hope they've all bought something," remarked David, coming over to look at the crowd

      "Is that all you're worried about?" Charlie complained.

      "No," he told her. "But it is the whole point of the evening. Publicity and promotion: getting people in spending money. That's phase one a big success. Now we just have to tackle phase two."

      "Which is?" she asked.

      David looked anxious now. "Sending them home happy and satisfied with the music," he admitted. "And wanting to come back again for more."

      Charlie looked out at all the people again. "That's the bit that's worrying me."


      *****

      All too soon it was time for the performance.

      Apparently, frantic last minute rehearsal and desperation really were all it took to make a band. David, as Oz had already realised, was an excellent musician, Charlie certainly knew her stuff on the drums, and Shanei turned out to have a lovely voice, perfect for the material. And Oz himself managed not to miss any chords, despite his relatively lengthy lack of practice. As a band they weren't perfect, but to his surprise, they went down a storm, the audience apparently not caring that it was a different band to that advertised.

      The evening was a great success. As the impromptu musicians finished their last piece and began to pack up, Mike appeared on the gallery and pulled Shanei to one side to talk, while several customers came across to congratulate them and to find out more about their 'band'.

      "Dudes ? that was great," one man told them, admiringly. "Can't believe I hadn't heard of your band before. So what's it called again?"

      "Not really a band," Oz felt compelled to point out.

      "What would you call yourselves, then?" another newly won fan wanted to know.

      "A total shot in the dark," Charlie joked.

      "Shot In The Dark!" David exclaimed. "That's perfect."

      "Cool name," the first man agreed.

      "We really aren't a band," Charlie grumbled resignedly, but she was smiling, clearly pleased with how the night had gone.

      Oz shrugged. "Apparently we are now."


      *****

      The excitement and adrenaline rush of the day over at last, Oz, David, Emma, Elli and Charlie all sat around the caf? in various attitudes of relaxation, slowly winding down ? and listening to David's latest proposal.

      "You think I'm completely insane, don't you?" he said.

      "Not completely insane," Charlie assured him. "Just?half way there."

      "No, but I'm serious," he insisted, looking back and fore between Oz and Charlie. "We were a hit. We have to do it again. Maybe even on a regular basis. Semi-regular? Come on, guys. Work with me here!"

      "You said this was just a one off," Charlie pointed out.

      "It was," he agreed. "But it's too good an opportunity to miss. We were a hit. We sounded great. We all meshed so perfectly."

      "I don't know," Charlie muttered, indecisively.

      "Oz, help me out here, man."

      "Shanei isn't here to ask," Oz pointed out. The young waitress had disappeared off somewhere with Mike after the show, to Mat's obvious amusement.

      "She won't say no." David dismissed the problem. "She's a natural performer. You saw her out there tonight. She loved it. Got the look, got the sound?"

      "Got the policeman groupie going on already," Emma added with a grin.

      "Come on, guys," David wheedled. "What d'you say?"


      *****

      "I can't believe we agreed to do this," said Charlie, later that night.

      She and Oz had come over to Elli's apartment to escape from David and Emma's enthusiasm for the newly born band, the two girls flopping onto the sofa while Oz pulled a chair across, reversed and straddled it.

      "David can be very persuasive when he wants to be," Elli agreed, amused. "I've noticed that before."

      "We must be mad," Charlie decided.

      "You sounded great," Elli assured them. "Honestly."

      "Thanks," Charlie sighed.

      "And it isn't that regular of a commitment," Elli continued, with the maddeningly cheerful calm of someone who wasn't involved. "Just every now and then, David said, see how you get on."

      "If you believe that," Charlie told her. "You'll believe anything. No, he's got us now."

      "Should be fun," Oz put in, far too cheerfully.

      Charlie grinned suddenly. "Yeah. You know what? I think it will be. But I also think we must be mad."

      With that decided, Oz straightened up and glanced at his watch. "Well, I think we're about done for the day."

      Charlie looked at him, deciding that she was still far too hyped to go home to bed just yet. "Did you just say 'let's blow this joint and go sink a bucket of margaritas'?"

      Oz considered the suggestion for a moment. "I think I did."

      Charlie and Elli exchanged a look, and nodded in agreement.

      "I'm up for that," said Charlie.

      "Me too," said Elli. "Let's go."



      ~fin~



      ? J. Browning, October 2004; January 2005

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