The family has gone off holiday shopping, leaving Buffy and Spike with a chance to snoop around Ashiana, and me with the time to post another chapter. Here it is, with a ref basilio_the_cat suggested in feedback, and another from one of my favorite authors.
(Edited to fix the chapter number.)
“Was he alive when you started squishing him?” asked Dawn, her eyes wide. “He couldn’t have been, right? I mean, besides it being really gross, your chip would have gone off.”
The small crowd gathered in the Bronze waited for Spike’s answer to this intriguing, if disgusting, question.
“Well, Bitling, technically it wasn’t my hand on the button—” Spike started to say. He gave a small jump and grit his teeth, as if he’d suddenly felt a sharp pain.
“No, Dawn,” said Buffy in a firm voice. “No way he was alive. He was killed before he was trash mashed.”
Buffy and Spike were sitting next to each other on a love seat, trying to look as if they’d both just happened to sit down in the vicinity of each other without any ulterior motive and as if they certainly had not been huddled much closer together just before the Scoobies had arrived. This effort involved a great deal of not looking at each other and not directly responding to each other’s statements.
“Do they know how?” asked Willow. “How he died, that is. Before the squishiness.”
“Why?” Dawn shrugged. “All that matters is it was different from the way all the others were killed. And I bet everything else was different too, except for working at that place. Just like all the others.”
“As far as I could tell,” Buffy confessed.
Willow nodded glumly. “Everyone had different shifts, different pay grades, different departments, different ways of getting to work. They lived in different parts of town and even out of town. And those financial forms you showed me really don’t prove anything, Buffy. Your boss could be trying to do something shady, or she could be trying to track down a bad formula in a spreadsheet.”
Spike volunteered a notion. “Maybe Eric passed on that little problem mentioned on his medical forms to someone who didn’t appreciate it.”
Xander looked doubtful. “He was clapped by the clammy hand of death due to the clap? And it didn’t have anything to do with the other deaths? That means abandoning the great conspiracy theory, and that would be un-American. Are you two sure there’s no strange weirdness going on in that place?”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Xander, there’s so much weirdness I don’t know where to start. For one thing, I still don’t know how the company makes money. I don’t even understand what the workgroup I’m in does or sells, and almost no one seems to do any work anyway, even when they’re not calling in sick. They’re always in meetings, or emailing pictures of their dogs, or trying to find someone who knows how to change the toner in the copier, or looking at porn, or saying they’ll get another job if the company installs filters so they can’t look at porn, or fighting over where the smokers are allowed to stand outside and who didn’t pay into the coffee fund.”
“Spike’s working!” Dawn announced defensively.
Buffy snorted. “Ha!”
“He must be.” Dawn seemed determined to defend her favorite vampire. “He was running that cardboard crusher, right? I bet he wasn’t doing that for fun. Besides, he seems to be the only one finding anything out about the mystery, between getting all those papers from people and then finding a body.”
Spike’s gaze seemed fixed at some point far over Buffy’s head.
Buffy’s mouth opened and closed again, lips pressed firmly together. Her eyes glinted dangerously.
Xander changed the subject by offering to buy Willow and Dawn drinks.
As the others wandered off, Buffy deigned to acknowledge the existence of the vampire seated next to her. “I still can’t believe I gave you a hand job next to a dead body,” she said in a hollow tone, still not looking at him.
“Go easy on the angst, Slayer. It’s not as if it was the first time.”
She stood up. “Spike, if Ashiana Industries had a Tactless Award, you’d beat out even Harry for it. And if the prize was a smack in the face, I’d award it myself. Come on. I need to kill something, and if you don’t want it to be you, you’d better help me find some demons to slay.”
In any other town, work might have been suspended for a time. But in Sunnydale, dead bodies were hardly worth a mention in the paper, especially when they’d died in a bizarre fashion. So the next day and the days that followed, the doors of Ashiana Industries opened to the clicks of a thousand name badges. A thousand workers trudged to their cubicles, powered up their PCs, and read chain emails and downloaded porn in between marathon gossip sessions about Eric’s death that eventually gave way to more usual topics like Stan and Rita’s apparent affair. By the second day, the usual collective amnesia set in, and even the arguments over who had put how much into the collection for a funeral wreath had been forgotten.
Buffy was trapped in a maze of emails, conference calls and conflicting instructions. As she drew pictures of flowers and monsters along the border of her legal pad during a marathon meeting and listened to lengthy debates over the color scheme for Melandra’s PowerPoint, she began to understand why what had at one point seemed like a simple job was going to take her so long. She was spending so much time listening to other people discussing what her job was that she had no time to do any work.
After a while, she stopped listening to a debate about the Shimmer versus the Ripple formats in PowerPoint and started making a list of victims and what she remembered about each one. It was a pitiful reconstruction when compared with the Access database Willow had already made to analyze the same information, but Buffy felt as if the alternative was to go batshit insane. If she had to hear any more about the importance of aligning bullet points and always writing out the word “percent,” she was going to grab Melandra’s flipchart and start beating the other meeting participants over the head with it.
A woman from Packaging had been found poisoned by her own chili. Bad mushrooms had been suspected, but later analysis showed cyanide, not something likely to be picked up on a nature trail or accidentally dropped in the pot instead of oregano. She used to arrive at work in the early morning, driving herself from her home on the other side of Sunnydale.
A manager from a department with the piratical name of Business Capture had drowned at home, and that had also been considered an accident until they noticed the bruises on his shoulders where someone had held him down. He arrived every day at 9 sharp, carpooling with some of his office mates. He worked approximately a quarter mile from the other victim and probably made five times her salary.
The evisceration victim had held Spike’s job, a half-dozen employees in the past. (There was a lot of turnover in Facilities.) He’d been found a few miles from work, during hours he was supposed to be on the job. Since he was rarely to be found during working hours, this surprised no one—
“Buffy!” Melandra’s voice cut through Buffy’s musings.
“Did you get all that?”
“Uh, sure.” Buffy jotted down the notes from the flip chart, hoped she hadn’t missed anything else, but was pretty sure she wouldn’t have understood it anyway, and slipped out of the room.
Apparently, she hadn’t gotten it right. At quitting time, Melandra was standing over Buffy’s desk, choosing as usual to deliver criticisms where the entire section could hear them instead of in the privacy of her office. In fact, she made a point of informing Buffy that if their section wasn’t promoted to a Department it would be All Buffy’s Fault.
“For not lining up bullet points?” was the only thing Buffy said in her defense.
This set off another rant. “This isn’t just about bullet points, and you know it you mindless little dropout! Why HR forces one stupid blonde after another on me, I’ll never know. I made it clear I needed someone who could transfer data from Excel, not play with it until my spreadsheets were so scrambled my pie chart looks like a donut!”
Her litany of complaints continued as the other employees packed up and left for the day. Buffy was stupid, useless, and lazy.
Buffy sat listening meekly to this rant until a low growl made her raise her head. She looked up and stared in horror over Melandra’s shoulder.
“Well, I’m glad you’re finally starting to realize how serious this is,” said Melandra.
Buffy’s gaze was fixed on Spike’s vampire face. She frowned, and shook her head angrily.
“Don’t give me that look! You screwed up, Buffy. And you can just stay here until you fix it.” She turned and stalked back to her office, fortunately not sparing a glance for Spike.
Buffy grabbed his arm and shook him until he returned to human face with a grunt. “What’s the matter with you? I told you I wanted her to make me stay late tonight. I got her mad on purpose.”
“No one treats my girl like that.”
“This is not the moment to turn into Lestat!”
“That wanker! I never!”
“Never mind! And there is never a good moment for eating people!”
“I wasn’t going to eat her, just kill her. That would be worth a headache, if anything ever was. She was attacking you. I thought it was okay to kill people if they’re about to attack someone you love.”
“Verbal assaults don’t count. You can’t kill my boss!”
He met her gaze, golden-flecked blue eyes glaring at stormy green. “You killed your last boss!”
“That was different!”
He turned away at that, raising his hands in frustration. “You really like making rules, don’t you, Slayer? Half the time I can’t figure them out.”
The Slayer who was famous for breaking rules regarded him with irritation. “You’re lucky I’m in a good mood right now, or you wouldn’t have to worry about figuring anything out ever again.” She sat down at her computer.
The door to Melandra’s office opened and there was a clatter of keys as she locked up. A moment later, she was striding away towards the door to the nearest parking lot.
“Good. Now we can start looking for clues,” said Buffy.
Spike was still sulking over being denied a chance to commit mayhem. “Don’t you have to finish your little assignment first?”
Buffy smiled. “Already done.”
“Done wrong, according to that bleeding cow.”
Buffy was positively smirking now. “Done wrong, and done right. Or rather, done right and done wrong.”
“And that little bit of cryptic dialogue means—”
“I got Willow to do the job the right way last night, and this morning I saved the file on my hard drive. Then I messed it up and saved it on the shared drive for Melandra to find.”
“Personally, I like to share my hard—”
“Shut up, Spike. It’s my turn to be clever right now. So all I have to do is replace the bad file with the good one—” She was moving the mouse around to suit her actions to her words— “and I have the whole evening to engage in stealthy investigation.”
“You are the clever one,” he admitted, leaning over the back of her chair and watching her happy expression rather than the activity on the monitor. He bent down to kiss the nape of her neck.
“I read it in a book,” she confessed.* “But it was still pretty smart of me to remember the idea.”
“Buffy Summers, genius girl detective,” he agreed. “Now, let’s go commit some crimes. A whole afternoon spent in moderately useful activity has made me restless.” He looked around. “What do I steal first?”
“Melandra is our top suspect,” said Buffy. A slow smile grew and became an outright grin. “And it is my sacred duty as the Slayer to paw through everything in her office and find out just what that nasty bitch is up to.”
It turned out that Spike had a key that opened all the offices in the building, which made breaking in less dramatic than Buffy had hoped. But once inside, she lost no time into slipping into Melandra’s big executive office chair and powering up her PC.
Spike watched her cynically. “And how are you going to break in there without the hacker witch’s help?”
“I may not have Willow’s hacker skills, but I’m not so stupid I can’t access an email account. Anyway, I saw Melandra’s password this morning. She keeps it on a sticky note under this vase.” Buffy picked up the ornament and peered at the yellow paper on its underside.
“What is it?”
“This month it’s ‘obscene.’”
“Bit mealy-mouthed all of a sudden, Slayer. Whatever it is, you can say those kinds of words to me. Even when we’re not—”
“No, Spike. The word ‘obscene’ is the password. She’s got the old ones on here, too, crossed out. Last month it was ‘skeevy,’ and before that it was ‘perverse.’”
Spike was going through the contents of the bookcase that sat across from the desk. “You know, if I didn’t already want to kill her, I could almost like this bitch. Do you think she really reads Tony Robbins? Here’s another one. The Seven Habits of Very Successful Buggers. She must have that one down by heart. Who Moved My Cheese?”
“Spike, stop making those up and concentrate on what we’re doing,” said Buffy. She looked up to see Spike holding a book. “Oh. That cheese one is for real. I wonder if it has anything to do with that woman with the lunchbox fetish.”
“You’re becoming obsessed with the lunchbox lady. What the devil is a Phish Philosophy? And this one has to be her Bible.”
Buffy stared at the cover of Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done and started to giggle involuntarily.
“Or yours,” continued Spike.
Buffy stopped snickering and glared at him for a moment before returning her gaze to the computer screen. “She certainly sends a lot of emails to this ‘Twisted’ person.”
“How do you know he’s twisted?” Spike was reluctantly plowing through the remaining contents of the bookcase.
“Because that’s his email ID. Oliver Twisted.”
For the next few minutes Buffy read through emails, her eyes growing wider, her skin glowing warmer, and her undies getting wetter. Finally, she had to tear her eyes away. She looked up to see what her companion was up to—uh, what Spike was doing.
He was muttering irritably as he worked his way through the non-electronic media strewn about the small room. Buffy had taken Melandra’ seat behind the desk, so he was using the office’s “guest chair.”
Buffy watched Spike as he skimmed the books and papers piled up before him. Every so often, he would raise an eyebrow at something he read and toss a paper onto the pile that Buffy was saving for further investigation. For someone who pretended to be a borderline illiterate, he was having no trouble at all assimilating the contents of each document before tossing it aside. Buffy forgot about the steamy emails on the PC as she concentrated on Spike’s hands, watching the quick movement of his fingers as the papers were rustled and sorted with ruthless accuracy.
Spike had pushed the chair into the corner between the locked filing cabinet and the huge whiteboard while he rifled through the contents of the shred box. He tossed the box aside with a grunt of dissatisfaction and looked up at Buffy. “Nothing there to show she’s in league with any menace of the paranormal variety. Nothing much there at all except marked up copies of that damn report you’ve been working on and a couple of notes about budgeting from some outfit called Wolfram and Hart. What now, love? Do you want me to start picking locks?”
Silently, Buffy rose from the chair by the computer and stared at him with a hungry expression on her face.
“Balls!” Spike yelled in astonishment as the Slayer leapt astride him, her weight shoving the armless chair toward the filing cabinet. “Are you trying to smash my brains out?”
Just before his head struck metal, Buffy reached up behind him and grabbed the handle of one of the drawers on the cabinet, pushing just hard enough to keep the chair underneath them from rolling across the room or tipping over. Still, the chair rocked from side to side on its shaky wheels as Buffy’s other hand yanked up her skirt and started fumbling for Spike’s zipper. He had gotten hard the moment she jumped him, and there was no need to ask if she were ready.
Spike stopped complaining and braced his feet on the floor as best he could with all the frenetic activity that was suddenly occurring at waist level. Buffy had just barely managed to get her knees on the chair on either side of him, and he offered what support he could to her efforts by slipping his hands behind her back and trying to keep her from toppling over or sliding off the chair and his lap. A moment later, his cock was inside her and she was moaning with pleasure.
By this time, that rickety excuse for a chair was bucking back and forth like an electric bull in a bad ’80s cowboy movie. Her hips swiveled slightly from side to side against his. The chair’s wheels kept sliding on the industrial carpeting, only to be yanked back by the pull of Buffy’s hand, which was still grasping the file drawer. Any effort on Spike’s part to thrust would have been redundant, so he concentrated on not letting the chair tip over and on enjoying himself. The fear that his head was about to be bashed against an ugly piece of office equipment added a certain frisson to the experience. He’d always wondered what it would be like to be in a rodeo, although he hadn’t quite envisioned himself in the role of the bucking bronco.
They were enjoying themselves immensely when one of Buffy’s knees slipped off the chair seat, and she tipped forward, her body slamming into Spike’s and pushing the two of them and the chair closer to the filing cabinet. She gripped the drawer handle tighter, simultaneously shoving hard, like someone pushing a ship away from a dock. They rolled away from the filing cabinet as quickly as they had plunged towards it. Suddenly, there was an inhuman shrieking sound. Spike recognized the wail of metal giving way as the file drawer twisted and warped from Buffy’s abuse of it. She lost her grip on the handle as the mutilated drawer screamed its way open, ejaculating white papers into the air. No longer anchored to the filing cabinet, Spike’s chair ricocheted in the opposite direction and smashed into the whiteboard. Slayer and vampire were thrown off the chair and onto the floor. As Buffy landed on her back, the full weight of Spike’s body crashed into hers. One more thing spiraled out of control, and she screamed as he came inside her. A flurry of papers floated to the floor, covering their bodies.
Spike raised his head and looked into wild green eyes. “All right, Slayer?”
He couldn’t believe it. She was smiling. “Wow! I’m getting one of these chairs for your crypt!” she announced.
*Buffy got the idea of handing in unacceptable work as an excuse to stay late and snoop around from Dorothy L. Sayers’ “Strong Poison.” The character who thought up the trick was Miss Murchison.
Chapter Seven: strange discoveries regarding the Coffee Fund
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/28130.html