"What have you got, Nat?" Nick asked after making his way upstairs into a study, followed by Schanke. In a chair a man sat slumped over the mahogany desk.
"Meet Judge Jorge Gonzales, 67. Cause of death, not apparent yet. But this may have something to do with it." Natalie indicated a small arrow protruding from Gonzales' right upper arm.
"Poisoned?" Schanke asked, eyeing the body with a frown on his face.
"Possible. I have to examine his blood to be sure. But I don't see any other injuries on first sight."
"Time of death?" Nick inquired while brushing the back of his hand across his lips.
"A while. I would estimate between 18 and 24 hours."
"Who found him?" Schanke asked.
"His cleaning lady. She's downstairs with Constable Hudson to give a statement."
"Thanks, Nat. Talk to you later." Nick followed Schanke downstairs into the kitchen where they found Constable Hudson consoling a middle-aged woman.
"Hey Sandra," Schanke greeted the constable. "Has she been able to give a statement yet?"
Constable Hudson shook her head. "Maria Cervantes. I'm afraid we may need someone who speaks Spanish."
"Hola, Maria," Nick said and joined the woman at the kitchen table. Much to Schanke's surprise, his partner engaged the woman in a fluent conversation in Spanish.
"Gracias," Nick ended the conversation and squeezed Maria's hand.
"Well?" Schanke looked at him questioningly.
"She's been in his employ for three years, comes by to clean every Thursday. According to her, he was a generous employer who always took time to talk to her in her native tongue."
"Did he live alone?"
"Widowed, no kids."
Schanke nodded. "And since when do you speak Spanish? Chinese yes, but Spanish?"
"More than 500 million people speak Spanish, Schanke. I thought it might come in handy one day."
* * * *
"Gentlemen, I don't have to tell you that the murder of a retired city judge has caught the mayor's attention. Any leads yet?"
Nick and Schanke shared a look as they stood in Cohen's office.
"It's too early, Captain," Nick stated. "Natalie is still waiting for the tox screen. There's been no apparent force of entry, but the balcony door was open, so the killer might have entered that way. Forensics are still trying to establish if anything was taken. The safe was undamaged, which probably rules out breaking and entering."
Cohen nodded. "Keep me posted."
* * * *
"Everything okay?" Nick asked when Schanke had stared at his blotter for the better part of the last five minutes.
Startled, Schanke looked up. "I knew him, Nick."
"He presided over my first case in homicide 10 years ago. As arresting officer, I had to appear in court and give a statement. I remember being more scared appearing in front of the judge than during the arrest. He had this intimidating presence."
"Well, he can't intimidate you from where he is now. That's for sure," Nick remarked lightly. His reply was cut short by the ringing phone. "Knight?" he picked up the receiver.
"Nick, it's me. There's something I need to show you – alone," he heard Natalie's hushed voice.
"Sure." He replaced the receiver and stood to don his leather coat. "Schanke, there's a brief errand I need to run. I'll swing by the morgue on the way to see if the tox screen is already done." He was out of the bullpen before Schanke could object.
"But she said it will be 24 hours before the results are back," Schanke called after him.
* * * *
"Hi, what's up?" Nick asked as he walked into the lab five minutes later.
Natalie lifted the cover from the victim's legs and indicated the right calf. "Is this what I think it is?"
Nick leaned closer and saw a set of bite marks marring the skin.
"An odd place to bite, isn't it?" Natalie remarked.
Nick scratched the back of his head. "That depends on what the vampire's intention was."
Natalie looked at him curiously. However, when no further information came, she elaborated, "The bite didn't kill him. Apparently it occurred post-mortem. There wasn't much blood taken. The distance between the fang marks is 3.5 cm, so it was a male."
"Post-mortem? That's odd," Nick remarked.
"Why would a vampire kill someone first by poison and bite afterwards?" Natalie wondered.
"Perhaps he was seeking information," Nick mused.
"By biting a leg?"
"By tasting the blood. Everything a person knows is ingrained in their blood. When we take their blood we learn everything about their life and make their knowledge our own." Nick's voice had taken on a rough edge as he talked.
"Fascinating! But why poison him first? Does this not work when the victim is still alive?"
Nick cast his eyes to the ceiling. "Oh, it works very well on live ones. However, a young vampire may be overwhelmed by the rush of information in addition to the person's sensations flooding the blood when he perceives the attack. They would not know how to discern a single thought. Killing the person first would attenuate the sensory overflow."
"Uh-huh. So we're looking for a young vampire? What kind of information may he have been after?"
"I don't know, but a judge would harbour a lot of information."
* * * *
Nick had just entered the precinct on the following night when Cohen called from her office. "Knight, Schanke, there's been a second murder. Same MO. The victim is a retired city coroner."
"Wait, not Gus Bookman?" Schanke asked in a worried voice.
"The same. You knew him?" Cohen asked.
"He was also involved in my first case. He was the ME. If I didn't know for sure that the perp is behind bars, I would think this is getting scary."
* * * *
"What was this case about that involved Gonzales and Bookman?" Nick asked while they drove to the crime scene.
"The victim was a wealthy realtor. She died of cardiac arrest. Her mother insisted on an autopsy and it was Bookman who figured out that she was poisoned. "
"With an arrow?"
"No, she ingested it with the juice she had for breakfast. Something from Southeastern Asia. My partner Delehanty and I were assigned to the case. Turned out it was her husband, Andrew Morton, who wanted to inherit her money. She was already his third wife and he had killed the previous ones as well. Just nobody looked closer. He was sentenced to life by Judge Gonzales."
* * * *
"Find anything yet, Nat?" Nick asked as they arrived at the crime scene.
"It's definitely the same MO," she stated while carefully bagging the arrow she had extracted from the victim's upper arm.
"Anything else?" Nick lowered his voice.
"Don't know yet. I'll check as soon as I have him on the table and let you know. Although the time of death seems to have occurred in the early afternoon."
* * * *
"Gentlemen, I just got off the phone with the OPP in Millhaven. Andrew Morton escaped from prison last week," Cohen announced.
Schanke paled considerably. "How could that happen? Isn't that supposed to be the best guarded prison in Ontario?"
"The management is at a loss how he did it. Apparently he disappeared during a walk in the prison's courtyard. It's suspected that he had help from outside."
"Great, and now he's back in Toronto taking revenge. Everyone who was involved in getting him in prison could be a target, including Schanke." Nick concluded.
Cohen nodded. "Schanke, can you help with compiling a list of all the people who were involved in the case? We'll send units out and have them moved into safe houses. Knight, you'll keep an eye on your partner. Make sure he stays put this time."
"Sure," Nick said, non-plussed.
Schanke cast him a doubtful look. "I don't need a baby-sitter. What's wrong with a safe house?"
"It's not safe, that's what. Remember two years ago, when you were a target and decided to go after the perp on your own? This time, I won't let you out of my sight."
"Great, your place or mine?" Schanke sighed.
"Then you better make sure your fridge is stocked," Schanke returned.
* * * *
Back at his desk, Nick picked up the receiver and dialed a number. "Hi, it's me. I have to cancel tomorrow night. Something's come up. I'm sorry –– no, it cannot wait until after the performance –– yes, I'm aware that it's opening night –– I said I'm sorry, okay?" He smashed the receiver onto the cradle and glared at the phone. His voice had increased in volume with each sentence, drawing Schanke's attention.
"It's not a date. It's a social obligation."
When his phone rang, he snatched the receiver. "Can't you just accept a no –– oh, hi Nat –– no fine. Okay, we'll be over soon." After replacing the receiver, he informed Schanke, "Nat has the tox results."
"Can we drop by my place first? I want to make sure Myra and Jenny are okay."
"Sure. It might be a good idea to send them out of town until we've caught Morton," Nick suggested. "So far only those immediately involved in the arrest have been targeted, but we shouldn't take any chances."
"Very funny. I'm not going to send them to the cabin in the middle of the night and this time of year."
"Is Myra's mother not spending the winter in Florida?"
"And how am I to get them there? The next flight to Tampa departs at 10 a.m. I already checked. And who knows if there are any seats available, not to mention the cost?"
Nick made a soothing gesture with his hands. "Schanke, just call Myra and have her pack. Leave the rest to me."
While Schanke was on the phone to Myra, Nick made another call. "Hi, it's Nicholas. Can you have the plane ready in two hours at the Island Airport? I need you to take two friends of mine to Tampa. –– No, nobody is moving on. They just need to leave town for a while. –– No, they're not from the community. –– I'm sure Janette won't mind. Yes, I'll call her. –– Thanks, bye."
"It's settled. A Lear jet is waiting at the Island Airport to take Myra and Jenny to Florida," he informed Schanke.
Schanke gaped at him. "What? You just make a phone call and a private jet is ready? How is that possible?"
Nick shrugged. "I just happen to know the right people, Schanke. Nothing mysterious. Don't worry about anything. It's all taken care of."
Nick dialled another number. "Hi it's me."
"Nicolas," Janette's sultry voice breathed into his ear. "What have you done to Lacroix? He's in a foul mood and scaring away my customers."
"I had to cancel the opera tomorrow night. Schanke's life is in danger. I need to keep an eye on him."
"Oh, mon dieu, you aren't bringing him here again, non?"
"I wasn't planning to. But I need your jet. May I borrow it for a trip to Florida? Schanke's wife and daughter need to leave town until we've caught the man who's after Schanke."
"I won't be needing it this week. Let me call Claude."
"Chéri, you're taking a lot of things for granted."
"I know, and I'm grateful for your assistance." Nick ended the call and smiled at Schanke. "Let's go."
* * * *
"I've identified the toxin as antiarin, an agent isolated from the sap of the upas tree which is endemic to Southeastern Asia. It's more poisonous than curare and leads to cardiac arrest within 30 minutes," Natalie informed them.
Schanke scratched his head. "I think that's what he used last time."
"Where did he procure it?" Nick asked.
"We never found out. When we searched his home, we found a package with three vials and assumed that would be the end of it."
"Anything else, Nat?" Nick held her gaze.
She shook her head imperceptibly, indicating that she hadn't found bite marks on the second victim. "I've narrowed down the time of death between 2 and 3 p.m."
"Are you sure?" Nick asked upon which she nodded. "Would you mind dropping by for breakfast? Schanke is worried about my culinary skills."
"I don't know about your culinary skills. I'm more worried about your food supplies," Schanke corrected him.
Natalie laughed. "I'll make sure to go shopping before I come over."
"Make sure to arrive before sunset," Nick advised. He didn't want to take any chances in case the vampire they were looking for was lurking nearby.
* * * *
"Now this is worse than I thought," Schanke remarked as he stood in front of Nick's refrigerator. "Do you know that your paint thickener makes up the only contents of your fridge? It's a good thing Myra provided me with a survival package."
"I'll remove the bottles." Nick appeared next to him, gathered the five bottles into his arms and carried them upstairs. "Do you need anything else down here?" he asked as he returned with a pillow and a blanket.
Schanke sat in the armchair, legs propped up on the coffee table, a can of beer in his left hand and the TV remote in his right hand which he used to switch channels. "Nah, I'm fine." Schanke turned the television off. "You know Nick, maybe we should have stayed at my place. All victims have been killed in their homes. I could be the bait."
Nick took a seat on the couch. "And that's precisely why we're not staying at your place, Schanke. Besides, your place doesn't have appropriate shutters." He reached for another remote and pressed a button to lower the blinds against the rising sun.
"What if he breaks in here during the day?"
"I would notice an intruder. This place is equipped with burglar alarm."
Schanke nodded and let his gaze wander around the loft, taking in the various art objects on display. "I really appreciate what you did for Myra and Jenny, Nick."
"You're welcome. I know you can focus better on the case if you don't have to worry about them."
* * * *
It was about noon when Schanke gave up trying to sleep. His mind was too busy recalling everything that happened 10 years ago. And now he had come up with a plan.
He raised the shutters halfway to allow enough light into the loft in order to get dressed. After putting on his gun holster and jacket, he moved to the staircase door.
"And where do you think, you're going, Schanke?" Nick's chilly voice caused him to stop in his tracks.
Turning around, he saw Nick standing in the gloom on the gallery, dressed in his red robe.
"I was going to the precinct and ask one of the dayshift guys to accompany me to my place," Schanke stated after recovering from Nick's sudden appearance.
"It's a bad idea, Schanke, and you know it. You will only endanger another life."
"You can't hold me here. You can't even step into the sun. What help can you be when the perp attacks during the day?" Schanke took a step closer to the gallery because he had difficulty discerning Nick's figure in the shadows. He furrowed his brow as he could no longer see Nick at all.
"I do have the means to hold you here," Nick's voice spoke softly from behind him, causing him to whirl around. While the lower part of the loft was flooded in sunlight, Nick stood in front of the staircase door, the only spot that was still cast in shadows. "And you would fare better if I don't have to make use of them."
Schanke gaped at Nick. Then he turned back to the gallery. How could he have missed Nick moving down the stairs and get behind him? "How ––?" he started.
"You're tired, Don. You didn't even see me move. How would you apprehend the perp in your condition? Go back to sleep!"
Schanke nodded slowly. "Yeah, you're probably right." He moved to the couch while taking off his jacket.
"Schanke, do you mind?" Nick pointed at the windows.
Realizing that Nick indeed seemed to be trapped in the shadowy corner, Schanke reached for the remote and lowered the blinds.
"Thanks," Nick let out a sigh and walked back upstairs.
* * * *
Natalie came by in the late afternoon as promised. While Schanke was in the downstairs bathroom, they seized the opportunity to talk about the case.
"So we know a vampire is involved because we found bite marks on Gonzales. But Bookman was killed during the day. So that must have been a mortal," Natalie summarized the facts. "Are we dealing with two killers, a mortal and a vampire who work together?"
"Possibly," Nick agreed thoughtfully. "The OPP said Morton had help escaping from prison. And Millhaven is well guarded, at least against mortal force. A vampire could simply have flown him out. The question is why would a vampire help him? I'll see if I can get a list of Morton's known acquaintances. Perhaps I'll recognize a name."
"Does it happen often that vampires and mortals team up?"
"We do," Nick grinned.
"I mean for sinister purposes."
Nick's face clouded as a memory surfaced. "It happens on occasion. Usually doesn't end well for the mortal."
"You've done it?" Curiosity prompted Natalie to ask.
"I once teamed up with a mortal thief. It involved the abduction of a dauphin and a king's ransom. Didn't end well for the thief –– nor for the dauphin. Something I'd rather forget."
Natalie brushed her hand along his arm in comfort. "So how does the baby sitting go?"
"Okay so far, except for a minor incident around noon when he decided to leave for some heroics. Fortunately I caught him before he was out of the door."
Natalie busied herself in the kitchen preparing coffee and setting a pan on the stove. "I've noticed a lack of haemoglobin in your fridge. Would you like an egg?"
"No, thank you," Nick made a face. "You enjoy your breakfast; I'll be upstairs getting dressed."
* * * *
By the time Nick returned downstairs, Schanke was doing the dishes while Natalie was drying them off with a tea towel and storing them away.
The ringing phone prevented any comment on his part. "Knight?" he answered the phone.
Natalie and Schanke looked up startled from their occupation because they hadn't noticed him coming downstairs.
"That was the Captain," Nick informed them when he had ended the call. "There's been a third victim."
"I thought they wanted to get everyone into safe houses," Schanke remarked. "Who is it?"
"The crown attorney Phil Garner didn't answer the door when uniforms rang to pick him up. They found his body in the cellar. I told the Captain we would be over as soon as we can."
Natalie's beeper went off. "I guess it's my case, too," she said after recognizing the number.
* * * *
Nick stopped in his tracks as they walked up the way that led to Garner's house. "Schanke, get inside. I have a feeling we're being watched."
"Instead of going ahead, Schanke turned around and surveyed the area. "I don't see anyone. Besides, the vicinity is crowded with cops."
Nick merely pushed Schanke into the house. "Just go ahead, Schanke. I'll make a short sweep of the area."
"I'm coming with you for backup."
"Schanke, it's you they're after. I'll be quite safe," Nick assured him. "Besides, as you said, there are cops all over the place."
Reluctantly, Schanke stepped into the house. Nick walked a little distance along the side of the house and cast out his senses. He was sure that he had felt a presence earlier, but it was gone now. Frowning, he returned to the front of the house and followed Schanke into the cellar where Natalie was already giving her preliminary report. "Same MO as the others. Time of death approximately between 1 and 2 a.m."
They headed back to the precinct where they spent the remainder of the night going through the archives and rereading all documents related to Schanke's first case. They compiled a list of Morton's known acquaintances, but none of the names was familiar to Nick.
Natalie called after midnight informing Nick that she hadn't found any bite marks that hinted at a vampire's involvement. Nick suspected that only Gonzales' blood had been taken to gain information about those who were involved in Morton's case.
With no further leads to go on, they called it a night and headed back to the loft.
* * * *
The moment Nick pulled the elevator door aside, he realized that he had a visitor.
"I must say, the quality of your fridge contents has reached an all-time low." Lacroix stood in front of the refrigerator, holding up a beer can.
"I take it you don't approve of his odd diet either," Schanke remarked.
"Absolutely. It is utterly dreadful."
"You have my full support. I keep telling him that it's unhealthy to reject proper food," Schanke went on.
"Indeed, it merely makes him irritable, wouldn't you agree?" Lacroix said, highly amused.
"Would you two stop discussing my choice of diet?" Nick snapped. "It's my decision!"
"Irritable indeed," Schanke observed.
Nick glared at him. Then he retrieved a goblet from the board and handed it to Lacroix. "What you're looking for is upstairs behind the bed."
The elder merely raised an eyebrow, accepted the glass, fetched a second from the cupboard and walked upstairs. A short time later he returned, the goblets filled with a red liquid.
"Why are you here?" Nick inquired, reluctantly accepting the offered glass from Lacroix.
"You never quite explained why you had to skip tonight's appointment."
"I told you I had to work. Someone's after Schanke. That's why he's staying here until we've caught the guy."
"Not at all," Schanke chimed in. "The couch is actually quite comfortable."
Nick's eyes narrowed as he remembered the presence he had felt at tonight's crime scene. "Were you following me earlier tonight?"
"Just because you decided to skip opening night doesn't mean I have to do the same, Nicholas," Lacroix scolded. "Janette accompanied me instead. It was a delightful evening."
"What did you see?" Schanke asked.
"The opera by Mozart? Myra and I went to see it many years ago."
"You are fond of the opera, Detective?" Lacroix raised an eyebrow.
"I prefer those by Puccini, but generally yes."
Lacroix turned back to Nick. "Why did you think I might be following you? Is there something I should know?"
Nick beckoned Lacroix over to the fireplace, out of Schanke's earshot. He spoke in a low voice. "One of us is involved in the killings I'm investigating. He or she works with a mortal who wants to take revenge on Schanke."
"Are you certain that your friend Schanke is the target?"
"Of course he is. He arrested the suspect 10 years ago. What are you insinuating?"
"You said a vampire is involved. Why would a vampire have any interest in assisting a mortal in the murder of mortals? We are quite capable of killing without mortal help." Lacroix placed his empty goblet onto the kitchen counter. "As much as I have enjoyed this male bonding, I wish to be home before sunrise. Au révoir, Detective, Nicholas." He opened the elevator door and stepped inside.
Schanke stared after him as the lift descended. "Is that sun allergy thing inheritable?"
"You could say that," Nick mumbled and stepped to the sink in order to rinse their goblets.
"But I thought you were adopted."
"It's complicated, Schank."
"So you had planned to attend the opera tonight. I'm sorry that work got in the way."
"Don't worry about it. There will be plenty of future opportunities."
"Yet, he seemed genuinely miffed that you didn't join him," Schanke observed.
"He is always miffed when things don't go the way he wants," Nick stated with a little more vehemence than he intended. "It's always quid pro quo for him. Just because he did me a favour recently, he now expects me to obey his every whim."
"Nick, an invitation to the opera is hardly a whim. I wish my dad had been able to give me the opportunity to see one." After a pause he added, "I take it you don't get along very well?"
"That is the understatement of the millennium, Schanke." Nick moved towards the stairs.
"Odd, given that you listen to his show with such ardour."
Nick chose not to comment on that. "I'm heading to bed. You'll stay put today, won't you?"
"Yeah, yeah," Schanke muttered.
* * * *
During the following shift they decided to do a systematic search of Morton's previous hang-outs. They started at his former place of residence, but there had already been two succeeding tenants. When they showed a photo of Morton to the current tenant, she stated that she had never seen him.
When they returned to the Caddy, Nick's ears picked up a whizzing sound. On instinct he pushed Schanke to the ground. At the same time he felt a small projectile imbedding in his shoulder. Sitting up, his senses alert, he heard running footsteps. He wanted to take up pursuit, but he also didn't want to leave Schanke unprotected, considering that there were most likely two of them.
"What was that?" Schanke asked, recovering from his ungentle hit with the floor.
"That was the killer's attempt to poison you, Schanke," Nick informed him. "But I think it's safe to come up. He's gone."
Schanke stood and brushed the dirt from his pants. His eyes widened as he noticed the small arrow protruding from Nick's shoulder. "You've been hit?"
Nick pulled the arrow from his shoulder and examined it. The phial was empty as the contents had obviously entered his system. He didn't feel any effect though.
"Quick, get in the seat. I'm driving you to the ER. Hope they have an antidote," Schanke urged him on.
"I'm fine, Schanke. It didn't enter the bloodstream."
"How do you know? You should have it checked out asap."
"There's no need, Schanke. I'm immune."
"This is not a disease, Nick. It's a very lethal poison that has already killed three people! You will have a cardiac arrest within thirty minutes!"
"Schanke, trust me. I know what I'm doing. But I'll have Natalie check me out if that calms you." He took the driver's seat and started the engine. "Dying of cardiac arrest would require a beating heart in the first place," he muttered under his breath.
* * * *
"I don't see any entrance wound," Natalie said as she stood in front of Nick who sat with his chest bare on the examination table. "Maybe it didn't go through."
"There's blood on his shirt and the phial was empty. It hit him," Schanke insisted while he stared at his partner's perfectly white chest that was only marred by a large scar on the right side. Schanke wondered what kind of battle his partner had gotten into that would leave a scar which looked like it was from a sword.
"I told you there's no reason to worry. If it's anything like curare, I may feel tired in a few hours. That's all," Nick said.
"In any case, I'll give you something to protect the cardiovascular system," Natalie drew up a syringe.
"What is it?" Nick asked suspiciously.
"Nothing, just a saline solution for Schanke's benefit," Natalie whispered. She injected the fluid into the crook of Nick's elbow. "Maybe you should call it a night."
"And I won't leave him out of my sight," Schanke announced.
* * * *
Back at the loft Nick had retreated upstairs immediately. He grabbed a bottle from the case he had stored behind the bed and drained half of its contents. Leaving it on the nightstand, he changed into his black pyjamas and stretched out on the bed.
When Nick didn't return downstairs, Schanke became worried and decided to check on him. He climbed the stairs and peeked cautiously into the bedroom. Nick lay stretched out on the bed, his hands on his chest covering his heart. It was exactly the way Schanke had seen people lying in coffins, which gave him the creeps. What he found most disturbing though was the utter lack of motion. Neither did Nick's chest show any signs of breathing nor did he see a pulse beating on the neck.
With an ill foreboding Schanke drew closer. He touched the side of Nick's neck to feel for a pulse and almost gasped at the coldness of the skin. "Damn you, I told you, you would go into cardiac arrest!" he cursed and started to press his hands onto Nick's chest to apply a cardiac massage.
A deep growl from Nick alerted Schanke that his attempt to revive him seemed to have been successful. However, the next instant he found himself flung on his back, an iron grip around his throat, facing red eyes and fangs. Schanke was paralyzed in shock. A moment later he was released and the face vanished.
Schanke scrambled into a sitting position and stared at his partner who sat with his back to him on the edge of the bed, upending a green bottle, which Schanke recognized as one of those containing paint-thickener. Giving Nick a wide berth, Schanke walked around the bed until he faced him. He saw blue eyes and an expression of guilt mixed with worry.
"What was that?" Schanke gasped.
Nick placed the empty bottle on the nightstand. "That was me when awakened in the middle of the day. Generally not a good idea."
"What on earth are you?"
"The only thing that can protect you, Schanke. I think you already know. You've figured it out a couple of weeks ago."
"Huh?" Schanke's gaze fell on the bottle on the nightstand, the one containing blood, which Nick claimed he used as paint thickener and which he had just seen him guzzling down like a starving man. He took in the pallor of his skin and the need to stay out of the sun. And then that horrible face he had just witnessed. He remembered having put together the clues before but having been convinced by Lacroix that what he had come up with was merely a figment of his imagination, resulting from tremendous stress. He was also under stress now, but what he saw before him appeared to be real. "You're really a vampire?" he finally asked. "They exist?"
Nick nodded, trying to assess Schanke's state of mind. Was he going to bolt or would he be able to tolerate his presence? "We exist. In secrecy. Nobody is supposed to know."
"I guess that explains a little bit of your weirdness."
"The fact that you never eat any food. That gave me the creeps."
"That gave you the creeps? What about the rest? Is what I am giving you the creeps?"
"I don't know. Should it?"
"It should. But I'm glad if it doesn't. It wouldn't do any good if you feared me more than the perp who's after you."
Schanke suppressed a shudder as he remembered all those exclamations from suspects Nick had arrested, screaming in terror about a monster. Had they seen what he had just witnessed? And was Nick's vampire face just a display to scare or was he really dangerous? He had come to know Nick as a gentle and caring man. He had never felt threatened, except that one time when he had wrecked the caddy. Sometimes, however, Nick had his hair on the back of his neck stand on edge, like two nights ago, when he had suddenly appeared behind him to make him stay at the loft.
The ringing phone broke into the tension. Nick was out of the bedroom in an instant. By the time Schanke had followed him onto the gallery, Nick was already downstairs talking on the phone. How did he get down there so quickly?
"That was the Captain," Nick informed him. "Dayshift continued the search of Morton's former hang-outs. When they searched a garden plot, Andrew Morton's body was found in a shed."
"He's dead?" Schanke asked, astonished.
"Apparently so," Nick nodded.
"So, it's over? I can go back home?"
"I'm not so sure. I have a feeling that he wasn't working alone. Remember, the Captain said he had help escaping from prison."
* * * *
Neither Nick nor Schanke had been prepared for the sight that awaited them in the garden shed. Morton's body lay in a heap on the floor, his face contorted in a mask of terror. A gash at the side of his neck, the bite marks hardly concealed, indicated the way he had died.
Nick stumbled backwards as the remnants of blood on Morton's neck assaulted his nostrils. He quickly stepped from the shed and took a few cleansing breaths.
Schanke followed him immediately. "Is that what I think it is?" he asked, clearly upset.
"Yes, he was killed by a vampire," Nick confirmed.
"Was it you?" Schanke asked cautiously.
A flicker of pain crossed Nick's feature at the accusation. "I stopped killing a hundred years ago, Schanke."
Schanke's eyes widened at the implication. "You mean you have actually killed before? Like this?" he indicated the shed.
"Can we talk about this later?"Nick requested and stepped back into the shed where Natalie was crouched next to the body.
"Are you okay?" she asked, having seen his reaction to the body.
"Schanke knows," Nick whispered. "He asked if it was me."
"Oh my God," Natalie exclaimed. "How did he find out?"
"I had a bad reaction when he woke me today."
"I don't know. He seemed okay with it at first. Until he saw the body and realized that vampires actually do kill. He's pretty freaked out now. What are you going to state as the cause of death?"
"Major blood loss apparently caused by slashing the carotid with a knife or something similar. The bite marks are just enough obliterated by the slash to not be apparent to normal persons, but very apparent to those in the know."
"Which includes Schanke now," Nick stated.
Resuming her normal voice, Natalie added, "The lack of blood at the scene indicates that the body was dropped here."
"Thanks, Nat." Nick rose from his crouched position and faced Schanke who had also stepped back into the shed. "Let's head back to the precinct and sort this out."
* * * *
"If you have questions, now would be a good time to ask them," Nick invited while they were driving to the precinct. Schanke had been silent so far, obviously completely pre-occupied.
"You've killed people?" he asked again in disbelief.
Nick took a deep breath. "Bottled blood is a very recent convenience. It was not always available. I did what I had to do to survive until I started hating myself for what I've done. Since then I've been trying to atone and give back what I've taken from society."
"How long has this been going on?"
"How long I've been around? 800 years."
Schanke gasped. "And you said you had stopped killing one hundred years ago? That means you killed for 700 years?"
Nick grabbed the steering wheel tighter, an uncomfortable silence lasting between them until they reached the precinct.
* * * *
Schanke found a thick envelope on his desk. Upon opening it he found a sharpened wooden stake and a note.
"Hello, Detective. I have been watching you. By your reaction tonight I gather that you have seen the true nature of your partner. This time, his indiscretions will not be tolerated. I thought I might do you a favour by removing the threat that lasted on you while demonstrating what your partner is capable of. In return, I'm providing you with the means to rid the world of a ruthless serial killer. – A concerned citizen."
"What is it, Schanke?" Nick asked.
Silently, Schanke handed the note across the desk.
"Damn," Nick muttered. "Lacroix was right. This isn't about you. You're no longer safe at my place, Schanke. This killer is using you in order to get to me."
"Then you know who it is?"
Nick shook his head. "I have no idea. The hint at repeated indiscretions indicates that he knows me. I suppose though it's someone fairly young who doesn't know who I really am or they wouldn't try to go against me like this."
"I told you, mortals are not supposed to know about us. There're those who enforce the maintenance of our secret. But they would act, not send out messages. This is someone else. Someone who knows I had run-ins with the Enforcers and wiggled my way out."
"And how often has this happened?"
"Twice. During the American Civil War and two years ago." Nick paused as he recalled the more recent incident. "Do you remember Tawny Teller?"
"The reporter from Cop Watch? Sure. What about her?"
"She found out what I am. I was shot when the perp fired at us and she caught it on tape. She showed it to the night custodian of the studio who happened to be a vampire. Danny, I think was his name. He called the Enforcers. Before they could act I managed to hand over the tape and made Tawny forget. I advised him to leave town. Perhaps I wasn't convincing enough."
"So, you think this Danny is behind this? What's his connection to Morton?"
"I don't know yet. I have to find out more about Danny. But that's something I need to do on my own."
"What about this?" Schanke held up the stake.
"Unless you plan to kill me with it, I suggest handing it over to forensics for prints."
"I'm not planning to kill you, Nick," Schanke emphasized.
"Good. And you won't mind staying at a place I'm taking you now?"
Nick shook his head. "No, The Raven is a popular hang-out for our kind. Danny might turn up there. I never thought I'd say this, but right now, I can think of only one place where you're safe."
* * * *
"Have you completely lost your mind, Nicholas?" Lacroix wondered as Nick entered his townhouse with Schanke in tow.
"It's common knowledge that we don't get along," Nick argued. "What better place for Schanke to hide? Nobody would expect that I would leave him here."
"And, pray tell mon fils, what makes you so sure that he is safe here?" The unveiled menace didn't escape Schanke's notice.
Instead of reacting to the threat, a broad smile played around Nick's lips as he answered. "I know how you value our occasional outings. If any harm comes to Schanke, that would be the end of any socializing among us. No more opera, no ballet, no theatre, no chess. You will not risk that."
The clenching of Lacroix's hands hanging at his sides was the only indication that Nick's extortion didn't bode well. "There is one condition. I will not accept work as an excuse to skip a date. I have bestowed you with ways to wiggle out of such dreadful obligations."
Nick thought about that for a while. "If something important comes up at work, I promise to join you at the next available opportunity."
"Very well. As long as you do not bring your work along again."
"Agreed," Nick grinned.
* * * *
Schanke eyed the man sitting opposite from him warily. On the drive from the precinct Nick had confirmed that Lacroix was the vampire who had turned him. The piercing gaze that rested on him, made Schanke slightly uncomfortable. In an attempt to avoid it, Schanke let his eyes wander around the room that featured a mixture of antiques and modern art objects. The head of a marble bust resembling Lacroix's features was prominently displayed on the mantle, in the artwork above Schanke recognized Nick's style. A short sword on a side board caught his attention.
"Roman, first century," Lacroix provided.
"Tell me, Detective, now that you know the truth about Nicholas, does it change your perception of him?"
Schanke took his time to answer. "I don't think it matters. I do believe him when he says he doesn't kill anymore. I mean he saved my life on several occasions."
"Your loyalty is truly endearing. I hope you will display this same loyalty when it comes to keeping Nicholas' secret?"
"Of course," Schanke was quick to assure him. "Although it will be difficult to keep anything from Myra. But I'll keep my mouth shut for Jenny's sake. I don't think the existence of vampires is something an eight year-old should be confronted with."
Lacroix seemed oddly distracted by his statement. "I quite agree," he stated eventually. "Knowledge such as this is bound to turn into disaster for an eight year-old."
* * * *
Nick entered the TV studio and showed his badge to the security man at the front desk. "Nick Knight, Metro Homicide. I need information about a former employee."
He was directed to the human resources department on the second floor with the advice to come back during daytime office hours and with a warrant.
Nick thanked the man and slipped unnoticed past the desk towards the staircase. A moment later he stood in front of the human resources office. The door was locked, but yielded when he turned the knob with a little force. After closing the door behind him, Nick booted one of the computers and searched the files of former employees. He found an entry of a Daniel Starks who had quit on the day after the Enforcers had visited this place. Nick took note of the address that was listed, turned off the computer and left.
* * * *
Schanke took a nervous sip from the glass of tap water in front of him, the only beverage Lacroix had to offer that did not contain haemoglobin. Himself he had provided with a crystal goblet filled with blood.
"By the way, detective, I would appreciate it if you continued to criticize Nicholas for his poor taste of food."
"The blood?" Schanke had no clue what Lacroix was getting at since he consumed it himself.
"The cow's blood. It is a poor substitute for what he really needs. It makes him weak and uncontrolled. In fact, you would be safer around him if he partook of his proper nourishment."
"You know, after 800 years, I would assume that Nick knows what he's doing. I've seen him dealing with sunlight and reacting to garlic, but I've never seen any slips in control."
Lacroix regarded him with a condescending smile. "But until tonight you didn't know what Nicholas is and may have overlooked certain signs. I'm sure now that you know what to look for you will be more perceptive and then you will remember my advice."
* * * *
Nick parked the car in front of the two-story house that had been Danny Stark's former place of residence. The house appeared to be uninhabited. Nick gained entry through the front door. A search of the upper floors showed no traces of recent residence. However, as he walked down the stairs into the cellar, he came upon a hooked up refrigerator that contained several bottles of blood. He noticed a cot in the corner and several boxes and duffel bags.
On a dusty table Nick found a folder containing a compilation of the victims in addition to data on Schanke. Nick smiled grimly as he was certain now that he had found his quarry. In one of the bags Nick found papers that identified Danny as a warden in Millhaven. That's how he came to know Andrew Morton, Nick concluded.
Nick left the house and returned to his car. As he drove back to Lacroix's townhouse, the smile on his face intensified as he noticed the faint presence that followed him.
* * * *
"Well, Don, let's chat a little about Puccini, shall we? Since that seems to be a topic you have some knowledge about?" Lacroix invited.
Schanke was saved from answering when Nick returned. "I've found his hiding place," he announced.
"Where is it?" Schanke asked eagerly.
"If you would drive me there after sunrise while I'm in the trunk, I could attack him during daytime when he doesn't expect it," Nick explained without revealing the address.
"You will do no such thing," Lacroix objected. "You would need to expose yourself to the sun in order to get from the trunk into the house."
"It's merely a short dash. It's the only way to surprise him."
"A short dash can become quite uncomfortable and leave you weakened for the fight. I will not allow it."
The door bell cut off Nick's response.
"That must be the pizza I ordered," Schanke interrupted their argument and stood to walk to the door.
Nick beat him to it, yet when he opened the front door, no one was to be seen. "Schanke, stay back," Nick warned and cast out his senses. The next instant a body collided with him, pushing him on his back. Nick rolled backwards and came back to stand on his feet, facing the intruder.
Schanke watched on in horror as Nick and Danny circled each other, both displaying their fangs and hissing at each other. There was a sudden blur of movement behind Danny. The next instant his body sank to the floor while his severed head landed in front of Schanke's feet.
"My apologies for this anticlimactic ending, but I would hate to have my furniture trashed in a fight," Lacroix stated aloofly, holding the sword in his hand that Schanke had admired earlier.
"Are you alright?" Nick asked concerned, when Schanke kept staring at him although his features had reverted back to normal.
"Oh sure, fighting vampires and decapitated corpses is not something that can gobsmack Teflon Don," he replied with a touch of hysterics in his voice. "I mean, is there even a report form that covers all this?" He spread his hands to indicate the remains on the floor.
"Schanke," Nick said in a soothing voice. "It's over. You're safe. You can go back home and have Myra and Jenny come back." When Schanke nodded slowly, Nick continued, "As for this, it will not go into any report. I will leave the remains on the roof for the sun to turn them to ashes."
"That actually works?"
"I wouldn't call it working, Detective," Lacroix commented. "It's a rather painful experience."
Ignoring him, Nick continued, "Then I'll talk to Nat and see what can be done about Morton. Maybe she can put in her report that she found the poison in his blood. If we can declare his death as suicide, we can close this case properly and everybody can return to their normal lives."
"Why would Nat write any false data in her report?" Schanke asked suspiciously.
"She knows what I am and has covered for me on several occasions," Nick explained.
Schanke's eyes widened. "She knows? And yet she spends so much time with you? She doesn't mind?"
Nick felt slightly hurt by Schanke's questions, which indicated clearly that he still didn't handle the truth about him well.
"She's an amazing woman who isn't easily rattled. But we're just friends" he emphasized, gazing at Lacroix. "Anything else won't work."
The elder acknowledged the statement with a raised eyebrow. Then he turned and stalked from the hall.
* * * *
After disposing of Danny's body on the roof, Nick had driven Schanke home. Then he had talked to Natalie before returning to Lacroix's townhouse.
"It's all taken care of," Nick announced as he joined Lacroix in the parlour.
"Is it?" Lacroix raised an eyebrow.
"Natalie agreed to state the poison as the cause of Morton's death. When he felt the effect of the poison, he inflicted the knife wound on the neck himself in order to release the poison from his blood stream."
Lacroix's eyebrow rose higher. "And the lack of blood?"
"His heart stopped instantly after he applied the wound, which explains the lack of blood on the scene. Only Natalie knows about the lack of blood in his body."
"Sounds awfully fabricated to me," Lacroix shrugged. "Are you sure it will satisfy the authorities?"
"It will work," Nick said confidently.
"As well as luring young Daniel here? Really Nicholas, what were you thinking?"
"I knew you wouldn't let me attack him during the day and I wanted to end this before he killed anyone else."
"Indeed? I would advise choosing a battle ground next time that does not jeopardize my inventory."
Nick grinned. "I knew I could count on you when it comes to protecting your property. Schanke might not have handled it well if he had seen me killing Danny."
Lacroix frowned. "So your case is closed. What about your friend Schanke?"
"He's not taking this well at all. Can you take care of him? You know what to do. I don't think I can."
* * * *
Schanke had just fetched himself a second bottle of beer from the fridge when he found a visitor in his living-room. "Don't you guys need to be invited before entering a house?"
"That's a myth, Detective," Lacroix informed him. "Do you know why I am here?"
Schanke swallowed. "To kill me?"
Lacroix laughed softly. "Hardly. Nicholas would never forgive me that. Au contraire, Detective, he sent me to alter your memory. To make you forget about the existence of vampires. He's incapable of doing it himself. Improper nourishment and all that."
Schanke's eyes widened and he took a step back. "You can do that? Meddle with my mind? Wait, you've done that before, haven't you? When I found out the last time."
"Yes, and it all came back when Nicholas blundered badly and revealed himself to you. So, do you wish me to make you forget again?"
"No! I don't want anyone messing with my mind!" Schanke exclaimed and turned slowly in order to stay level with Lacroix who had started to circle him.
"That's what I thought. And I must say that I agree. It would last a few months until Nicholas makes another mistake. Tell me, Detective, if I allowed you to keep your memories, would you be able to resume your friendship with Nicholas without letting him know that you still know?"
"Of course," Schanke was quick to assure.
"Very well," Lacroix smiled a chilly smile. "Of course I expect a small service in return."
Schanke's face fell. "What's that?" he asked with an ill foreboding.
"Nicholas' relationship with Dr. Lambert. As a father I am concerned that they are more than friends. It would be a pity if Dr. Lambert came to any harm because Nicholas decided to act on his feelings. I would appreciate any reports about the true nature of their relationship."
"That's all?" Schanke asked, clearly relieved.
"For now," Lacroix breathed. "Do we have a deal?"
"Deal," Schanke nodded and used his sleeve to wipe sweat droplets from his brow. When his eyes refocused on the spot where Lacroix had been standing before, he was gone.