Sloane Marina – Lake Erie – Dawn
The Council’s Jeep pulled up to the marina and the doors briskly opened as people started pouring out. Andrew was carrying a big duffle bag as he hopped from the rear hatch. On his head he wore a Florida Marlins baseball cap. He dragged his duffel bag over to where Giles was standing with Robin, both men uncharacteristically wearing blue jeans and polo shirts. Even with the relaxed clothing, they still projected an air of professionalism.
Kennedy was the last to emerge from the van, looking worriedly towards the lake visible behind Willow.
“Here Brat,” Faith called, tossing Kennedy the weapons bag. “Find out which boat is ours and stow that aboard.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy whispered. “Right. No problem.”
The brunette slayer approached Willow, who was speaking with the marina’s owner.
“Oh hey Sweetie,” Willow said, glancing at her lover. “This is Mrs. Tapman, she’s giving us the boat for the day.”
“Which one?” Kennedy asked.
“Over there,” Mrs. Tapman pointed toward the 25-foot cruiser. “She’s got everything you need for the day – bait, tackle, ice. I had one of my boys fill the cooler with enough food for you all. There’re life vests stored under the fore and aft compartments and there’s a GPS computer on board. I can get Skully to show you how it works.”
“Oh, that’s okay.” Willow smiled. “I’m sure I can figure out just about any computer. I’ve been called a wiz.”
“If ever a wiz there was,” Giles said as he passed by on his way to the boat.
Kennedy frowned as she watched Willow give Giles a ghost of a smile.
“Sure,” Mrs. Tapman replied, ignoring the exchange. “The radio connects via satellite. All the frequencies are pre-programmed, but there’s a list in the logbook next to it. The charts for the entire lake are also there. You know where you’re heading?”
Willow patted her laptop case. “I’ve got the locations of all the last known positions for the missing persons.”
“Good, good,” the woman said. “Well then, take care and if you see Harold tell him to pick up a gallon of milk on his way home.”
“Sure thing, Mrs. Tapman,” Willow said. “Thanks so much and we’ll take good care of her.”
“A-course you will,” she smiled. “She’s a good ‘un.”
Willow turned to Kennedy as Mrs. Tapman returned to the building. “I’ll go round everyone up. See you aboard.”
Kennedy picked up the weapons bag again and shuffled off towards the boat with a sigh. Willow approached the van and handed Vi the keys.
“Okay, here you go,” she said. “Try not to get in trouble while we’re gone.”
“Come on, Willow,” Vi said. “It’s only for the day. How much trouble could we get into?”
“Just keep the girls busy,” Faith said, slamming the rear hatch shut. “I left the training schedule on the bulletin board in the gym. If I find out anyone slacked off, you and Rona are gonna pay for it. Got it?”
“Yeah,” Vi said, trying not to smile. “I got it. When you guys gonna be back?”
“Tonight, so we’ll call to come get us,” Willow said emphatically. “I don’t think any of us can stand to be in that small a space with Andrew for too long.”
“Gotcha,” Vi laughed. “Have fun!” The small Slayer trotted around to the driver’s seat and a moment later the SUV pulled out of the marina.
“Ready for some fishin’, Will?” Faith asked.
“Yeah, let’s go,” Willow replied and headed for the boat.
They found Andrew and Kennedy in the stern bickering as Giles and Robin argued over which one of them was going to drive the boat. Faith and Willow looked at each other, with Faith giving a shake of her head and a small smile.
“Boys and their toys,” Willow added, nodding to Faith to follow her toward the boat.
“Zip it you guys,” Faith said, easily jumping off the dock and into the back of the boat.
Fishing Boat – Lake Erie Dock – Day
“But I called dibs on the fishing chair!” Andrew pouted.
Kennedy grabbed Andrew’s hand where it was clutching the back of the padded chair.
“Ow! Watch it! That’s my joystick hand,” Andrew pulled the appendage away and rubbed it.
“Faith said zip it,” Willow said, stepping more carefully than Faith into the boat.
“The sharks will come…and they’ll eat you,” he hissed. After a brief moment he got a smile and a far off look in his eyes.
“It’s a freshwater lake, moron,” Kennedy pointed out. “Sharks are saltwater fish.” She sighed and stormed into the small cabin. She took a seat in the small galley, looking out the window at the dock.
“Yo Red, what’s up with her?” Faith asked.
“I don’t know,” Willow said with a shrug as she watched Kennedy storm off. She had taken a step in Kennedy’s direction when she heard Giles raise his voice. She looked between Kennedy and Giles, trying to determine which way to go. Instead of speaking to Kennedy at the moment, she passed through the cabin into the bow where Giles and Robin were still arguing.
“What’s going on guys?” she asked, stepping in between them as they both tugged on the key chain. “Do I have to separate you two?”
“I’m just pointing out to Robin that I should drive the boat,” he said, tugging on the key chain, but Robin refused to give it up.
“And I’m pointing out to Giles that I have more experience with boats,” Robin argued, pulling just as hard.
Willow rolled her eyes.
“Tell you what, boys…Giles, you can take us out and Robin, you can bring us back home. Sound fair?” The tone of her voice left them no choice and they silently nodded.
“Good,” Willow said, then grabbed a bottle of water from the cooler. She headed back outside as Robin and Giles climbed the ladder to the flying bridge and Giles finally started the engine. Mrs. Tapman’s dockhand untied the bow and stern ropes and waved them off as the boat slowly pulled out of the marina. Once clear, Giles opened the throttle and the craft swiftly cut through the water, heading towards the rising sun.
“Everything okay here?” Willow asked Faith, as she and Andrew fiddled with the fishing tackle.
“Five by five, boss,” Faith replied absently. Propping her cigarette in her mouth, she grabbed a pair of pliers from the toolbox and used it to attach a leader to a hook.
“Didn’t know you fished, Faith,” Willow said, sitting down on the gunwale.
“You’re not the only one around here with skills,” Faith chuckled.
Willow opened her water and took a long drink before asking, “Couldn’t have been much opportunity for you growing up. You said your mother wasn’t very well off.”
Faith snorted. “Got that right.”
Willow frowned as Faith flicked her cigarette overboard.
“My watcher in Boston,” she finally said, appearing to concentrate on her task. “When I told her I’d never even swam in the ocean, much less been on a boat, she rented one and took me out. Except for the occasional seasickness, I loved it. We spent most of that summer fishin’ or whale watchin’ off the Cape during the day. Hey Will, did you know that whales actually herd their food?”
Willow nodded. “Yeah. My mom took me whale watching up North once. Well, Northern California, that is. Don’t think we’ll see any whales up North around here. But yeah, it’s pretty cool to watch.”
Faith echoed Willow’s movement. “Sure is. Whales are smart, you know. Not all screwed up like people or demons. You think this thing is some kind of demon livin’ in the lake?”
“That’s what we’re gonna find out,” Willow said. “Andrew, once we get to the area where most of the disappearances occurred, I’d like you to try your summoning pipes. See if you can draw it out?”
“Sure Willow,” Andrew said, patting his duffle bag. “I’m all good to go, but…”
“But?” Willow prompted.
“I got a bad feeling about this,” Andrew said worriedly. “I‘m telling you my spider sense is tingling. This is gonna get hairy. I’m talkin’ weird with a beard.”
“We’ll be fine,” Willow assured.
“Hey Willow?” Robin called down from the flying bridge. “Giles wants to know where we’re going.”
“Be right there,” Willow sighed and turned back to Faith. “I’m glad your Watcher made time for you, Faith,” she said. “The old Council frowned upon personal relationships with their slayers, but that’s one policy I plan on changing. Giles proved the benefits of it with Buffy and I think it’s one of the things that helped her survive.”
“Yeah, you may be right,” Faith said. “I just hope not all watchers get as close to their slayers as you do with Ken. If so, there’ll be no slayin’ gettin’ done.”
Willow rolled her eyes again and went to get her notes. Kennedy was still sitting in the galley, staring out the window. Willow opened her mouth to ask a question when Robin bellowed Willow’s name from above again.
“Coming!” she answered and pulled a notepad from her case and climbed the ladder.
“Wow!” she marveled looking out over the water. “It’s beautiful out here.”
“Sure is,” Robin agreed.
The boat was speeding along and cutting a path through the calm waters of Lake Erie. A few cumulus clouds speckled the azure sky, but the morning was clear and chilly with a promise of a warm afternoon.
“It’s big,” Willow remarked. “Not like the Pacific, but she’s got power all the same.”
“All large bodies of water do,” Robin said companionably. “After all, they’re so old, I suppose in time they develop their own personalities and quirks.”
“And from what we’ve been researching, Lake Erie is one of the quirkiest of all of them.”
Giles was steering the boat with one hand while making a mess of a nautical chart with the other. “Willow, do you have the coordinates?” he asked.
“Right here,” Willow said. “Excuse me a moment.” She slid in beside Giles. Robin watched from the side with a small smirk on his face and his arms crossed.
Giles looked on as Willow pressed a few buttons on the device built into the console. He frowned as the machine made a few beeps and a digital compass appeared on the LCD screen.
“There,” Willow said, looking at the compass. “Turn 15 degrees north and we’ll be right on track.”
“What is that thing?” Giles asked as he made the course correction.
“Navigation computer,” she explained. “It gets its data from a global positioning satellite in orbit around the Earth. I told it where we want to go and it shows you how to get there on the screen. And if we maintain our current speed, we should be there in two hours.”
Giles handed her the mangled chart. “Whatever happened to the romance of a sextant and a needle compass?”
“It’s a new age, buddy,” Robin said, shrugging his shoulders.
“I’m sorry, but all I need is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,” Giles stubbornly quoted.
Willow laughed softly. “Well, for now could you just please stick to the nav-comp so we get there?”
“Bloody technology,” Giles mumbled. Robin and Willow stifled a chuckle.
Galley – Lake Erie – Moments later
Willow took a seat next to Kennedy and put her arm around the stiff slayer’s shoulder, leaning her head close to the brunette’s. Kennedy continued to stare out the window.
“Ken? Sweetie?” Willow asked. “What’s wrong? Seasick?”
Kennedy shrugged. “Nothing. I’m fine. You need anything?”
Willow gently turned Kennedy’s chin so her face was only an inch away from Willow’s own. “Honey? What’s wrong?”
“I…” Kennedy sighed as she turned away again. “I don’t like the water.”
Willow’s brow frowned. “Bad experience?” she asked.
Kennedy paused a moment, then softly confessed, “…I can’t swim.”
Willow blinked in surprise. “You can’t swim?”
Kennedy shook her head.
“But didn’t you tell me your house on Long Island had an indoor swimming pool?” Willow continued.
“Oh, sure,” Kennedy said. “The house on Long Island. The house in New Mexico. The house in California…Every house I ever lived in had a pool or was on a beach. Champion swim teams at every Catholic boarding school I went to. Plenty of opportunities to learn. Just never did.”
Willow paused a moment, sizing up Kennedy’s story. “What happened?” Willow asked softly.
“My perceptive redheaded wonder.” Kennedy smiled briefly before looking serious again. “I was around five years old, but I wandered away from the nanny one day and straight into the swimming pool. It was only luck that my little sister saw me fall in. Little creep laughed at me, but it was enough to get the nanny’s attention or else I would have drowned.”
“Yeah, lucky,” Willow agreed. “I take it even though you were little, it made a lasting impression?”
“Yeah,” Kennedy said, looking down in shame. “Kinda ironic, isn’t it? I can face down an army of uber-vamps, but get me near water and I turn into a baby.”
“Hey,” Willow said again, tilting Kennedy’s face so she could look her in the eyes. “I’m the one with the irrational frog fear here. A-and no matter how much she tried, Tara never was able to get me near a horse. We all have fears. So, no shame, okay?”
“Okay,” Kennedy said.
“Do me a favor though?” Willow asked. Kennedy raised a questioning eyebrow. “Wear a life vest?”
“Willow!” Kennedy protested. “I’m not wearing a stupid life vest. Then everyone will know.”
“So what?” Willow asked. “Faith will surely tease you about it, and Andrew’s sure to make a few dumb comments, but I think everyone will feel better if you wear one.”
“I don’t know. I’ll just stay here; it’ll be okay.”
“Ken, we’re near a Hellmouth. I spent all of my life on one. Believe me when I tell you that when it comes to Hellmouths, Murphy’s Law is in full effect. Please?”
Kennedy gave a pained smile. “Okay, but only for you.”
“Thank you,” Willow said. She leaned in and gave Kennedy a lingering kiss.
Willow walked out and motioned to Faith. “Throw me that life vest, would ya?” she asked.
“Gettin’ scared, are we?” Faith smirked.
“Kennedy just confessed she can’t swim.”
“What?” Robin asked, disbelieving what he heard. “And she came out here anyway?”
Willow just nodded, then turned to Faith and motioned for the vest. “I don’t wanna take any chances. And I don’t want anyone saying anything negative, got it?” the redhead warned.
Faith grinned, but instead of handing the vest to Willow she walked past her, carrying it to the galley.
“Faith,” Willow said in a warning voice, but that didn’t stop the brunette Slayer from finishing her journey. She paused in front of Kennedy with her smirk still firmly in place.
Kennedy looked up and sighed, reaching her hand out. “Go on. Say it. I’m a chicken.”
Faith knelt down beside her and tossed the vest in Kennedy’s lap.
“A chicken would’ve faked a stomach ache before we set sail. Being here shows you’ve got guts. But not wearing this vest shows you’re incredibly stupid,” Faith told her. “So don’t be dumb and put the vest on, Brat.”
Faith gave her a wink and quietly left. Kennedy slipped the vest on with a grin.
Stern – Lake Erie – Noon
Andrew was sitting in the fishing chair and listening to his Walkman. Faith and Robin were sitting across from each other, with Andrew between them, tossing a baseball back and forth over his head. There was no sign of the demon fish.
Andrew paused, took off the headset and said, “I could try the summoning flute again.”
“I told you,” Faith warned. “You bring out the annoying bagpipes again and I’m tossing them overboard.”
“They’re not bagpipes,” Andrew said, starting to explain. “It’s a mystical summoning device that…” Andrew trailed off when he saw the aggravated look on Faith’s face. “…will continue to stay in my duffle bag.”
“Good answer,” Faith told him.
Giles was keeping watch in the bow and Kennedy had finally ventured out from the galley and was sitting against the bulkhead in the stern, where the rocking was a little less. An orange life vest was cinched tightly around her torso.
“Willow!” Andrew cried, jumping up from the chair. The baseball, which was in transit to Robin, bounced off the back of Andrew’s head. “Ow!”
“Sorry dude,” Faith shrugged. “Didn’t mean to hit you.”
“What’s up?” Willow emerged from the galley where she had been working on her laptop.
“Look!” He pointed over the side while his other hand rubbed the back of his head.
A large shadow passed by the boat and then circled around. Giles emerged from the cabin and had to grab onto the door frame as a shudder went through the boat.
“Dear lord!” Giles exclaimed. “What was that?”
Only Kennedy stayed back as the rest looked at the shadow.
“I think it’s one of Mrs. Tapman’s catfish,” Robin said quietly.
“Holy crap…excuse me,” Andrew said with a blush at his outburst.
The whiskers were clearly visible as the large head cleared the water one last time and then disappeared into the depths.
“Hey guys…listen,” Kennedy said. She turned the volume up on the portable radio.
“…owner of the marina had been reported missing three days ago by his wife and was not heard from until this morning when he was picked up by a barge on its way to Sandusky.” Willow’s eyes grew wide as a new voice emerged from the radio.
“Yeah, was one of them giant cats,” a nasal drawl said. “Swamped the boat and left me adrift. Glad I’m home, though.”
“I’ll be! She was right. He was too ornery.” Willow smiled.
Robin laughed, “Good for you, Harold.”
“Well, then,” Giles sighed, “I think we’ve solved the mystery. No response to Andrew’s summoning, the extremely large fish we just witnessed and Mr. Tapman’s miraculous survival all clearly point to natural, rather than supernatural, phenomenon.”
“Well, this was a colossal waste of time,” Faith grumbled. “Enjoyed the sun, but could have done without the seasickness.”
“Oh!” Andrew piped up. “I have Dramamine in my bag.”
“Now you tell us?” Faith accused.
“Oops,” Andrew shrugged.
“Giles, I think it’s time we headed home,” Willow said.
“Agreed,” Giles said and turned to Robin. “I believe it’s your turn?”
Robin looked gleeful. He began to climb the ladder when a loud splash sounded nearby.
“What was that?” Kennedy asked, finally moving away from the bulkhead.
At first it appeared that the catfish had returned, but then it rolled over and they could see it had been bitten cleanly in half, dark blood coloring the water behind it. As the corpse of the fish sank below the surface, an even bigger shadow passed under the boat, tilting it to starboard and knocking nearly everyone off their feet.
“Okay, this is nice and scary,” Willow said, grabbing Kennedy’s hand to steady herself.
“That wasn’t a catfish,” Kennedy said. “Whatever ate that big fish has to be…”
“A bigger fish,” Robin finished.
Kennedy just nodded and continued to look in the water.
Andrew knelt on the side of the boat, looking overboard. He pointed at the large shape that surfaced slightly about twenty yards from them. “Did you guys see that! It’s Bessie! Oh God! We’re gonna die!”
“Funny,” Willow commented nervously. “She looked much more cute and harmless in that cartoon on that web site. A-and not so scaley,” she added.
“Oh God!” Andrew continued, “She’s gonna bite off the back of the boat and swallow Giles like he’s Orca Captain Robert Shaw!”
Giles turned to Andrew and sighed. “Ohhhh…shut up.”
“Not helping!” Willow shouted at Andrew. “Everybody! Just stay calm!” she added.
The shape surfaced again, but higher this time, and then landed back in the water with a tremendous splash. The wave kicked up from the creature headed straight towards the boat.
“We’re gonna be swamped!” Robin cried, pulling Faith away from the side.
Willow put up a hand and muttered a quick incantation as the boat began to rock. A blue wave of power flashed out and crashed against the threatening wave. Although lessened, the wave continued on, sweeping over the boat. Willow, Andrew and Giles all managed to grab handholds, but Kennedy’s grasping hands only met air and water and she was washed over the side.
“Kennedy!” Willow screamed out.
End of Act Three