Tooth And Claw
leads an expedition to Loch Ness in Scotland, only to make an unexpected
Joss Whedon’s property is exactly that. In fact, in case of any legal dispute,
throw it all at Dark Star, because it was only in response to her pleas and
threats that I agreed to write anything anyway… he he he!
Tooth And Claw
morning light filtered into the kitchen as Giles filled the kettle. He hadn’t
intended to rise this early, but he hadn’t slept well during the night, his
dreams had been distressing once again, and he’d then been too wakeful to
resume his rest. A pattern seemed to be emerging that the dreams would come
when he’d almost forgotten about it, about Ella, and still sometimes about
Jenny; he’d have been busy, doing jobs, researching things, going out, watching
the whirlwind of emotions that was the relationship between Buffy and Angel,
and he’d think he was on top of it all. Then he’d close his eyes and there
she’d be and he would be back to square one, he’d wake up feeling like it had
He made the
tea, toasted some bread, rinsed a knife under the tap so he could apply butter
with it, and thought about whether or not he’d say to Buffy about washing
things up from time to time and decided that he probably wouldn’t. He sat at
the table in the empty room with just his breakfast for company. Already the
effect of the dream was fading in the thin daylight of the morning, and the tea
was reviving. He knew he had to keep busy, to keep the ball rolling; he found
himself wishing that it wasn’t so early, that Buffy or Angel would get up and
give him a little company, but, he reflected as he drank the last of the tea,
which seemed to have lasted no time at all, it wasn’t going to happen. He
mentally shelved the thought, stood up, washed his used crockery in the sink,
and then went to the study to resume his reading.
After a while
he had become quite absorbed in a book about traditional Chinese spirits that
he’d picked up in a secondhand bookshop more because it had looked interesting
than for any practical reason. He was studying an elaborate illustration of a
Chinese vampire when, suddenly and, in the silence of the study, startlingly,
the phone rang. A little disorientated for being awoken so abruptly from his
reverie, Giles allowed the phone to ring a few times while he collected
himself. Who on earth would be calling at this time of the morning? After the
fifth or six ring, he scooped up the receiver. “Hello?”
“Can I speak
to Mr. Giles, please?” said a Scottish voice.
Who else, sighed Giles internally, but a Tele-sales company. “Speaking,” he
“Mr. Giles of
the Project Paranormal?” the voice continued, hesitantly.
his interest a little. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry to
bother you, Mr. Giles, my name’s Craig Blackhall, I’m calling from Loch Ness.
Er… I know it’s early, but… well… I just saw something really weird, and I
don’t quite know who else to call.”
Gears began to
whirr in Giles’ brain as it dawned on him that this wasn’t a sales call, it was
a real call for the agency, and real work. “Loch Ness? Are we talking about the
Loch Ness monster?”
“I dunno about
that,” said Blackhall, “but it was definitely a creature, and I dunno what it was. I wouldn’t call it a
Nessie, but then I dunno what I’d call it, either. And that’s not the end of
“Last week, a
guy was found injured on the shores, a fisherman guy. The local paper said it
looked like some kinda animal attack, but they wouldn’t say what. Normally I
suppose it wouldn’t make front page stuff, but you know, this being Loch Ness
and all… kind of a fuss gets made about it, but you have to wonder.”
Giles did have
to wonder; he was wondering whether there was anything behind all this stuff
about Loch Ness, and the last thing he wanted to do was to go on a foolish wild
goose chase trying to locate a rogue Nessie. But on the other hand, he could
barely deny that he could do with a change of scenery. He told the caller that
he would see what he could do and that he would call back later, then
disconnected the call and returned to the kitchen to make another cup of tea.
He needed to think, so he needed tea; more of a tradition than a requirement.
* * * *
“We’re not looking
for the Loch Ness monster,” said Angel from the back seat of the car. Outside
the windows, the Scottish countryside rolled by silhouetted in the darkness,
all hills and fields.
agreed Giles, not taking his eyes off the road as he drove, “we’re not. Back in
the sixties, my father helped set up The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau to
investigate the existence of the creature on one of the banks, and after he was
there for about two years the Watchers’ Council eventually pulled him out of it
and found him something more useful to do.”
find anything?” guessed Buffy.
“Not a thing,”
said Giles, “and they still haven’t. Probably with good reason, I might add.
Personally, I shall be very surprised if there is a monster of any kind in the
water, and I should certainly like to ask it how it’s managed to avoid
submarines, sonar scans, telephoto cameras, echo sounders and hordes of
tourists for fifty years, none of whom can find anything more monstrous than
old boots and tin cans.”
“Do I detect a hint of cynicism there, Giles?”
“So what are
we doing up here?” asked Angel, quizzically. Scotland seemed like a long way to
drive for a non-existent monster.
because it’s not a Nessie doesn’t mean there isn’t something going on that we
ought to investigate,” said Giles. “Could be a demon problem, or a loose
werewolf. Apparently attacks have been taking place, and it seems to have
worried our new friend Mr. Blackhall sufficiently for him to call us.”
who we’re staying with?” said Buffy, trying to get the details straight in her
head. She was feeling a little dazed at being whisked off to Scotland at such
we’re staying with.”
Scottish air will do us good,” she said, diplomatically.
* * * *
It was four in
the morning when the Loch itself came into view. Following Blackhall’s
directions, Giles piloted the car through the sleepy, faintly lonely village
roads until he found the house they were after.
It was a few
minutes before the doorbell was answered. Eventually, the door crept open to
reveal a tired-looking Craig Blackhall. He seemed to be in his late twenties or
early thirties and was reasonably plain and normal-looking. “Mr. Giles?”
morning, Mr Blackhall,” beamed Giles. “These are my colleagues, Buffy and
Angel—” he indicated them in turn with a wave of his hand, “—and they’re going
to help our investigation. May we enter?”
house, Blackhall bustled into the kitchen to make hot drinks, while the visitors
made themselves comfortable in the living room. “You must be tired after such a
drive,” he commented loudly from the other room.
“Not too bad,
thanks,” said Giles, waving the matter aside. “I’m sorry we have to visit at
such an odd hour of the morning, but, er, our schedules are hectic.” He glanced
alright,” came Blackhall’s voice, although he was clearly still bemused as to
why the middle of the night had been necessary. “I know how it is. It’s good of
you to come at short notice.”
A few minutes
later he had returned with the teas and coffees and seated himself in the room
with them. “So what happened, Mr
Blackhall? What was the call about?” asked Buffy after a little while.
began, “I was out walking the dog near the banks of the Loch. Everything was
fine until we got close to the water, and then Cocoa – the dog – started acting
weird, you know, whimpering and hiding?” Giles nodded his understanding. “So I
started looking around for what could be upsetting him, and I couldn’t see a
thing. We were stopped by some trees and bushes, and suddenly I saw something
move, something green. I’d thought it was a plant ‘cause it had blended in, you
know? But I saw this thing, this creature, I swear to God, I didn’t know what
“What did it
look like?” said Angel, leaning forward.
“It was kinda
like a man,” said Blackhall with care, as though expecting to be told that he
was a fool. “But green, scaly, and bony. I didn’t get a good look at it. But it
was at least as tall as I am.”
Cocoa’s lead and he ran off. The green thing, it disappeared into the bushes
and I didn’t see where it went. I haven’t seen the dog since. People keep
telling me he’ll find his way home, but he won’t, he’s a young dog. I probably
won’t see him again.” He took a sip of his coffee. “I called you because I
didn’t know who else to tell,” he added.
“Yes, I can
understand that,” said Giles thoughtfully. “Well, that is very interesting.
Hmm. Buffy, you and I should try to get down there at first light and have a
* * * *
It was seven
in the morning. The Loch shimmered crisply under the morning sun; another
stretch of water might have seemed inviting under the same conditions, but to
Buffy it seemed to give off an air of mystery and menace. She found herself
wondering why she was allowing herself, after everything with which she’d seen
and dealt as a Slayer, to be impressed by a lake that almost certainly
contained about as many monsters as it did pandas; it was probably just the
reputation of the place that was niggling her, but she couldn’t quite put it
out of her mind.
the shout from Giles. “Have a look at this.”
She went over.
There in the mud on the bank, next to the kneeling, frowning Watcher, were one
or two footprints, clearly defined. They were three-toed and odd-looking. “Do
you think that’s from Blackhall’s demon?”
“I would think
so,” mused Giles. “It seems that it was heading up the bank, away from the
Loch…” He turned to look along the imaginary line on which the demon might have
been walking, but it didn’t seem to lead anywhere in particular; towards some
hills, with occasional clumps of trees – if the creature had turned a little
more to the west it might have headed for the nearby ruins of Urquhart Castle,
but there was little else for it to do on this side of the Loch. In short, the
find was interesting, but not really much of a lead. He stood, pausing
momentarily to photograph the prints with his digital camera. “We shall just
have to keep looking.”
her agreement, and they started to walk in the direction vaguely indicated by
the mudprints. “Wait!” she suddenly exclaimed, holding out a hand to motion
Giles to stop. He started to say something, but she shushed him and cocked her
head. Had she been dreaming? Then she heard it again, on the very edge of
hearing range – a high-pitched scream, not a human scream, but an animal
scream. “Did you hear that?”
answer. Obviously her Slayer senses had caught something Giles hadn’t picked up
on. Where had the sound come from? She knew instinctively that it must have
been the cry of the demon, although she’d never encountered such a thing, a
demon sound so high in pitch that normal human ears couldn’t hear it. Even she
could only just pick it out. Dog whistles,
she thought, and remembered about Blackhall’s pet.
“What is it?
Can you hear something?”
replied thoughtfully, “I can just hear it. The demon. It’s around here
somewhere.” She was listening hard, but she couldn’t hear it now, she couldn’t
hear the skin-prickling near-silent shriek that had sounded a moment ago.
passed without further incident; their search turned up nothing, and they
returned to Blackhall’s house empty-handed. The afternoon, too, passed amiably,
as Buffy took herself shopping in Drumnadrochit and bought some souvenirs,
including a cheerfully cheap and pointless Nessie lighter for Giles and a black
T-shirt for Angel which had printed on it in Glo-in-the-Dark letters the slogan
I’M THE SCARIEST THING AT LOCH NESS, both of which were items she had picked
specifically because they would almost certainly be of no use to their
recipients whatsoever, and Giles stayed in to catch a little sleep while he could,
just as Angel was waking up. The next sweep was to be late at night, on the
possibility that it was a nocturnal creature they sought, although it was
Buffy’s turn to stay in and rest, as she had been on her feet all day.
Loch Ness by
night, when it came around, was a great deal more foreboding than before. If
the Loch by the morning sun had been faintly ominous, by moonlight it was
decidedly creepy. Faint tendrils of autumn fog curled from the surface of the
water, which rippled darkly and heavily and seemed as though it could contain
to be in his element and perfectly at ease moving from shadow to shadow,
perhaps sure that there was nothing more deadly than himself afoot, but Giles
felt less at home with the atmosphere, despite being an experienced Watcher.
Something about this place gave him the heebies; he felt like he was being
watched all the time. He had to keep reminding himself that they were looking
for what was probably just an ordinary demon. It then occurred to him that he
hadn’t asked Buffy what it had sounded like, but she would of course be asleep
by now. What time was it anyway? He looked at his watch – it was just after two
in the morning. That thought immediately made him feel that he ought to be
wrapped up in bed if he had any sense.
He was so
caught up in his thoughts that he almost didn’t see what happened next. Angel
suddenly gave a shout as something leapt
from its unseen hideaway and caught him by surprise, knocking him to the floor.
Instinct kicked in, and as he hit the ground, the vampire flicked his legs
forward, throwing the demon away. He scrambled, vamp-faced and fuming, to his
feet, ready to kick its lights out; but it didn’t return. The night was still.
scene had happened in about five seconds, and Giles was sure that if he’d
blinked he would have missed it entirely. “Damn! Did you see what it was?”
growled Angel, who felt almost like the demon had scored a point over him, “it
“Where did it
about in the darkness, feeling a little apprehensive. He would have to be ready
to defend himself because another attack was surely on the cards for tonight,
but, truth be told, he was still probably a bit rusty on the self-defence
front. Right now, he was probably a target and he didn’t even have a weapon.
attack came with blinding speed, but not before another thought had crossed
Giles’ mind: I’m still a Watcher. Instinctively,
he ducked and turned as the leaping demon sailed past, its long and spindly
tail lashing the air in its wake; then Angel was jumping, too, cannoning into
the creature in mid-air. They hit the ground hard, the demon struggling to free
itself from the vampire’s tackle, but clearly lacking the strength.
said Angel with satisfaction, and thumped it, hard, in the face. The creature’s
whiplike tail snapped around and caught the vampire a stinging blow on the arm,
but it was trapped.
on his torch so he could have a look at their assailant. As far as he could see
from the bits that were visible under Angel’s large frame, it was indeed green,
tough-skinned if not scaly, and unusually bony, all ridges and lines – a
mean-looking demon and no mistake. It had a temper, too, hissing and kicking. Then,
as Giles watched, it opened its mouth wide and suddenly Angel’s hands flew to
his ears. The demon wriggled free before the vampire could stop it and vanished
into the darkness again.
“What on earth
happened?” exclaimed Giles.
in my face,” muttered Angel, picking himself up off the ground. “Like nails on
a chalkboard. Set my teeth on edge.”
“I didn’t hear
a thing,” said Giles, thinking, interesting,
the Slayer and the vampire can hear it but I can’t. Angel didn’t answer.
for another twenty minutes with no further ambushes; perhaps the demon was
keeping its distance, and possibly with good reason, because it had clearly got
on Angel’s nerves. Before too long,
they came within sight of the ruined Urquhart Castle, a looming and alien set
of structures in the darkness.
“Are we going
to check out that old castle?” asked Angel.
probably a good idea,” agreed the Watcher, thinking that the castle ruins would
offer a good base so that he could stop for a rest for a few minutes. After
all, he had been on his feet all day and had had very little sleep.
* * * *
The laptop lit
up and came to life as Buffy pressed the power button. It made her feel tired,
just by looking more bright and alert than she did.
After Angel had
left in the early hours of the morning, her sleep had been restless, and after
she had woken for the fourth or fifth time, she’d given up. She sat in front of
the portable computer and wondered how he was getting on, whether he was in
danger, whether he was bored and cold, whether he was lonely.
came Blackhall’s voice from another room.
“Did I wake
you up?” called Buffy. She hadn’t thought anything of stomping about and
switching on the lights.
entered the room. “A bit of late-night computing, right?”
said Buffy, “nerd girl extraordinaire. No, I couldn’t sleep, so I figured I’d
have a look at some of the files and notes we’ve put on here about the demon so
She hadn’t been
allowing for the fact that not everybody in the world knew about the existence
of demons as well as she did. “Maybe. We’ll find out, but it’s no big deal.”
Her fingers moved on the touchpad as she found the photograph that Giles had
snapped earlier of the footprints in the mud.
footprint you found?” frowned Blackhall.
although we didn’t find much else.”
something out of Jurassic Park.”
She looked at
it. Funnily enough, it kind of did. Now that he mentioned it, it did look like
a dinosaur print. “But what you saw wasn’t a dinosaur, right?”
“Oh, come on,”
he said, bemused. “It wasn’t no Tyrannosaurus.”
“It wasn’t a
dinosaur,” she repeated.
like any dinosaur I ever heard of,” he shrugged. “Like I said, it looked kinda
like a man, a scaly man.”
Of course he
hadn’t seen a dinosaur. Of course there wasn’t a Triceratops thundering around
Loch Ness. The idea made no sense. But something about it was nagging her,
something she had seen or thought earlier…
“What are you
thinking?” he asked.
She pushed the
idea around in her head, trying to catch the other part of it, like trying to
scoop up a slippery peach half with a spoon. She looked at the photograph again
and frowned. It was clearly a dinosaur-like print, but then, the creature at
large was very obviously not a dinosaur. What would a dinosaur be doing at Loch
suddenly hit her and fizzled in her brain. She had it! She dived to grab the
telephone and dialled.
After a few
rings, Giles answered. “Buffy?”
got an idea,” she said, grateful that the Watcher had allowed himself to be
talked into carrying a cell phone. “The Loch Ness monster – wasn’t there a
theory that it was a dinosaur?”
of,” said Giles. “It has been noticed by some that the monster as it appears in
the dubious photographs seems remarkably similar to the prehistoric animal, the
plesiosaur. But the plesiosaur isn’t a dinosaur as such.”
pressed Buffy, “but the point is that the Loch has been associated with
prehistoric animals, yeah?”
“Well, yes.” A
pause. “Why… what are you thinking?”
“I think the
demon could actually be a dinosaur.”
Giles’ reply, when it came, didn’t sound impressed. “Y…es… er… well, the truth
is, we’ve seen rather a lot of the creature so far, and it certainly doesn’t
look anything like a dinosaur.” He seemed to think about it. “I suppose the
footprint looked a little dinosaurian, but we really mustn’t—”
“No, no, no,”
said Buffy. “Let me explain. I knew there was something strange about the lake
when we arrived, and—” She was interrupted by a sudden shout of surprise from
Giles, and a scuffle of noise. “What was that? What happened? Where are you?”
Castle,” said Giles. He didn’t sound happy. “Buffy, I’d better go.”
“He went to
scout the immediate area for our quarry while I sat down here, but it looks
like it’s found me. I have to go. Tell me later.” He hung up.
* * * *
disconnected the call and switched off the mobile. He didn’t want it to ring
again and draw further attention to his position – in fact it was probably the
first ring that had brought the creature in his direction in the first place.
Angel had been gone for five or ten minutes, and probably wouldn’t be back for
some time. The Watcher was on his own for the time being, and there was
definitely something out there.
creature was, the first thing he had to do was to try to deter it from
approaching. He remembered the awful Nessie lighter that Buffy had given him
and fished it out of his jacket pocket. Fire would be ideal. Using the electric
torch to guide him, he located a nearby bush and broke off some of its
branches. Then he climbed the hill again, returning to the castle ruins with
his armful of wood. At the derelict castle wall, at the top of the slope, he
set down a pile of the sticks and let the tacky souvenir do its work. Within
minutes the wood was hugely aflame.
creatures, although possibly not demons, were afraid of fire. His enemy in
particular seemed to prefer hiding in the shadows and pouncing as its mode of
attack, so maybe a well-lit area would keep it at bay. If nothing else, he
would see it coming.
After a few
minutes, the incessant crackling sound of the fire started to make him feel a
little self-conscious, as it was the only sound in a silent landscape. What if
the fire were to simply draw the creature to him? He told himself that it was
against all logic, but the little worms of doubt were burrowing. He was too old
for this, he was too obvious, he was out of practice…
A breeze blew
across the hills, whipping at the fire. Giles shivered and found that he was
glad that he had a fire at which he could sit. He just wished that he’d brought
a weapon; he would have felt so much happier with a good, solid crossbow at his
disposal. Fists against claws and teeth didn’t seem such a great idea. And
then, as the fire danced in the wind, the light that played on the nearby
environment changed and, momentarily, he caught sight of the creature.
Up until now
it had been hard to get a good look at it – either it had been pouncing in a
blur of motion, or it had been a struggling, bony shape on the floor. This was
the first time he had seen it just standing upright, and he had to admit, the
way that it held itself was a little
dinosaurian; its back was bent into a slight crouch, its arms were tucked into
its body, its legs seemed to have a vague birdlike quality to them. Now that
he’d seen the similarities, he couldn’t shake the notion that he was being
hunted by a prehistoric animal, despite the fact that as far as he knew it was
nothing like any dinosaur known to palaeontology. The creature didn’t seem to
immediately realise that the light had changed and that the Watcher could see
it; then after a few minutes, it took a step back and vanished into the
dropped. Giles stood. He knew where the ‘dinosaur’ was, and he was ready for
watched,” came Angel’s voice. The darkness obviously held less surprises for
the vampire’s eyes.
“I know,” said
Giles, a little relieved to have company.
“Pick up the
flashlight.” The Watcher fumbled on the ground and found the torch. “Now point
it at him.”
the torch beam directly at the dinosaur, who reacted instantly. It had
obviously been caught off guard, and it seemed to freeze on the spot, unsure
what to do; and in that moment, Angel was standing behind it, his hands
reaching for the creature’s head, twisting it. Crack. Giles winced, and the animal was dead. Angel lowered its
limp body to the ground and laid it out carefully.
They stared at
it in silence for some time. Eventually Giles said, “Buffy said she thought it
was something to do with a dinosaur.”
shrugged Angel, “it didn’t smell like a demon.”
* * * *
corpse was laid out on Craig Blackhall’s coffee table as its audience of four
mused over it. “Wow, he’s an ugly brute,” commented Blackhall.
“You know what
I think?” said Buffy, thoughtfully. “I think I figured it out. I think the
reason people think they’ve seen a prehistoric creature in the Loch, but nobody
ever finds anything, is because the Loch is a weak point in the dimensions. It
walls have certainly been thin lately anyway,” agreed Giles. “But this—” he
indicated the dead animal on the table “—doesn’t appear to be any sort of
been thinking about that, too,” she said. “I wondered about it, because
dimension rifts and portals are just links between different planes, and they
don’t have anything to do with time-travel. You know what I think? What if
there’s another dimension where the dinosaurs didn’t die? What if there’s a
universe where they continued to evolve for millions of years?”
“One pops over
into our world, and someone makes it extinct,” commented Angel. The observation
seemed to amuse him.
on,” interjected Blackhall. “Are you saying that another one of these could pop in from another dimension sometime?”
chances against it happening once must have been astronomical, let alone
twice,” explained Giles, reassuringly. “There must be an almost infinite number
of parallel dimensions, and the chances of the conditions being right to drop
another one of these—” he indicated
the corpse “—through the gap are
almost certainly nothing to worry about. I should be very surprised to find
that this event was anything more than a freak of probability.” He checked his
watch. “I’d better soon go and start packing our things.”
said Angel, before the Watcher left the room. “You know what this means, right?
You do realise you’ve discovered a new species of dinosaur?”
discovered it,” Giles pointed out.
“But you took
the footprint pics. You got the first evidence,” Angel persisted.
Buffy. “That means you get a species of dinosaur named after you, right Angel?”
thought maybe Hamenosaurus Gilesi,”
suggested the vampire. “‘Giles’ lost lizard.’” It seemed an apt name for a
creature so far from home.
“Nice try, and
I appreciate the thought,” smiled Giles, translating the Greek in his head,
“but I think you’ll find you’ve actually christened it ‘Loser lizard.’” He
bustled off to attend to the luggage.
Angel exchanged glances.
“I’m having trouble
getting my head around the fact that there’s a dead dinosaur on my coffee
table,” said Blackhall to break the silence, and poked the corpse’s mouth with
Buffy. “We’d better do something with that …”
* * * *
into the driver’s seat of his car and waited, thoughtfully, for Buffy and Angel
to finish loading their stuff into the boot. It was odd to think that his
father had been here for two years and hadn’t known about any of this, the
dimensional insecurities of the area, the possibility that the various monster
sightings and stories may after all have contained some truths. He yawned and
thought that he had rather enjoyed his outing to Scotland. He felt like he had
done something that wasn’t reading, something useful, and he was glad that he’d
stretched his legs. Not to mention being secretly tickled about having a
dinosaur named after him, even badly so.
And as the car
pulled away and began its long journey away through the Scottish countryside,
the Loch rippled heavily; and maybe, just maybe, the dimension walls rippled in
of the layout of the Loch and its surrounding towns and landmarks is foggy at
best. I based my depiction loosely on the excellent virtual tour and satellite
images located at http://www.loch-ness.org/
The idea for
the Hamenosaurus came to me based on
something I saw years ago at the Dinosaur Museum in Dorchester. There, they had
a sculpture they called the Dinosaurid,
and it was meant to be an expert’s guess as to what a dinosaur might look like
today if it had continued to evolve for the whole sixty-five million years. It
was basically a green humanoid, and it looked sort of X-Files; I took that idea and pretty much combined it with Aliens, which is a great critter film,
to create the basic concept for my animal. There’s a photo of the Dinosaurid model on the Dinosaur Museum website (scroll down for the
pic). I should point out, though, that my understanding of Greek is extraordinarily basic, so I apologise to
any readers who, as a result of being fluent in said language, are appalled at
my sad and more than likely incorrect attempt at linguistic humour.
I spent hours
poring over this website when trying to come up with a name
for the dinosaur, although I didn’t actually use very much from it in the end.
But it was a great help nonetheless.
The Loch Ness
Investigation Bureau was a real organisation, and I didn’t make them up. Of
course, they weren’t anything to do with Giles’ father. Since the 1980s, responsibility
for Loch-watching has been passed onto the Loch Ness Project, which still
operates today. http://www.lochnessproject.org/
Thanks to Dark
Star and the ever-vigilant Jo for answering my (seemingly endless) stupid
questions and for beta-ing (is that a word?) my drafts.
No thanks to
my big mouth, for getting me into this mess.