What Lies Buried
"Knight, Schanke? In my office," Cohen called from her door.
"Great, and here I thought we could call it an early night," Schanke muttered as he followed his partner into the Captain's office.
"A body has been found in an abandoned building on Yonge Street." Cohen handed Nick a paper slip with the address on.
"189? Isn't that the old movie theatre?" Nick asked.
"Yes, it's been closed down for several decades. It was recently acquired by the Ontario Heritage Foundation. They intend to restore it to its former glory. The upper storey was apparently used as a loft apartment. That's where workers found the bones."
Schanke's eyes bulged while Nick tensed perceptively. "Bones?" Schanke repeated.
"The body shows a great degree of decomposition," Cohen explained. "Forensics have yet to figure out how long it has been there."
* * * *
"Something wrong?" Schanke broke the silence that had lasted since Nick had started the Caddy's engine. Not even the stereo was on.
"Hm?" Nick realized that he had been addressed.
"You seem kind of preoccupied," Schanke observed.
"No, I was just thinking what we may find at the scene."
"Yeah, it's not every day that we have to face a murder that occurred ages ago."
"Cohen didn't say that it was murder."
"Of course it is. Obviously the body has been hidden from view all this time. But hey, you can be pretty sure that there's no blood at the scene." Schanke playfully punched Nick's arm as they walked towards the cordoned-off building. "No reason for you to be squeamish."
"Yeah," Nick muttered, ducked underneath the yellow tape and showed his badge to the officer guarding the entrance before proceeding to the side of the building.
"Where are you heading?" Schanke asked.
"The apartment access is via the stairs," Nick pointed towards winding iron stairs on the side of the building.
"He's right, Detective," the officer confirmed.
"How did you know?"
Nick shrugged. "It would seem unlikely that the tenant had to pass through the theatre every time."
After ascending the stairs they entered a loft apartment. Nick stopped a moment to take in the interior. Dust covered the wooden floor and every surface. The sparse furniture left behind indicated the eclectic taste of the former tenant. High ceilinged windows were covered with heavy drapes.
Schanke whistled. "Must have been a cool place to live. Reminds me of your place."
Nick walked towards a corner where Natalie Lambert and a team of forensics were gathered. Parts of the wooden floor had been removed to reveal a hollow space stuffed with foam, which served as insulation to drown out any sound from the theatre below. Nestled in the insulation material Nick made out a skull and skeletonised hands extending from a dark brown suit. A gun lay a short distance from the body.
Schanke covered his nose. "I guess the body's been here for a while?"
"I can give you a timeframe once I've examined the bones in the lab," Natalie stated. "From the state of decomposition I would estimate at least ten years, probably more."
"More like forty, given the style of his clothing," Nick remarked.
Natalie reached carefully into the inside pocket of the suit and fetched a worn wallet. "The deceased is William Norton, born September 5, 1898."
"Any indication of the cause of death?" Nick inquired and pointed at the gun. "Was it suicide?"
"That's about the only thing I'm certain of. I can rule out suicide. See the bone here?" Natalie indicated the neck area. "It's broken. He clearly died of a broken neck. I'm afraid you have a 40-year old murder case on your hands."
* * * *
After Schanke had copied the name of the deceased into his notebook, he looked around for his partner. Nick had wandered off to take another look around the apartment. Schanke followed him towards a desk with a typewriter on it. Reaching out to wipe the dust away, Nick aimlessly slid his fingers over the keys.
"Nick! Where are your gloves?" Schanke hissed in a mixture of surprise and annoyance. He had never seen his partner blunder that badly.
"Forgot," Nick mumbled sheepishly and pulled a pair of gloves from his pocket.
* * * *
"Gentlemen, William Norton was a police detective who went missing in 1953. The case was never solved," Captain Cohen informed them as they returned to the precinct. "I want you to find out what happened to him."
"But Captain, it's not like there are many witnesses around anymore," Schanke submitted.
"Then dig into the archives. The city of Toronto deserves to know what happened to one of its finest."
* * * *
"Man oh man oh man," Schanke groaned. "Forensics managed to lift some finger prints and the results came back. Guess what they found?"
"Just spill it, Schanke," Nick prompted.
"Yours. All over the place. Nothing but your finger prints. What were you thinking touching everything without gloves?"
"Nothing. Did you get a list of the tenants from the registration office?"
Schanke held up a folder. "Just came in." He opened the folder and scanned the contents. "Here it is. In 1953 the place was rented by a Nicholas Hammond. At least we have a suspect for Cohen."
"Sure, that's exactly what I would do. Kill someone and hide the body in my own home. I don't think so, Schanke," Nick objected.
Schanke looked up. "Why? Just because you share the same name, you think he's innocent? Maybe he's still around. Then we could question him."
Nick stood and donned his coat. "Good luck with looking for him. I'm heading to the morgue in order to see if Natalie has found anything else."
* * * *
"Hi," Nick stuck his head into the lab, glad to find Natalie alone.
"Hey, you. I heard you contaminated the crime scene. Do you mind telling me what this is all about? Somehow I don't believe that you forgot to put on gloves."
Nick smiled. "You're right. I did it on purpose."
"Why?" Natalie eyed him curiously.
"To provide an explanation why my prints are all over the place. The place was mine, Nat. It's where I stayed while I was in Toronto in the 1950s."
Natalie's eyes widened. "And the body?"
"Detective Norton was the officer in charge of the Barrington case. Stanton had him in his pocket. After I helped Katherine and Madelyn disappear, I stayed a while in Toronto. I wanted to prove that Norton was on Stanton's payroll. Eventually I wrote an article for the local newspaper. Norton was dishonourably dismissed and I went back to England. I have no idea how his body ended up in my apartment."
Natalie regarded him solemnly. "Can this turn into a problem for you?"
Nick shrugged. "Nothing I can't take care of. Schanke is currently looking for Nicholas Hammond. I doubt he'll be successful." He winked at her and moved to the door.
"Don't underestimate his tenacity, Nick," Natalie warned.
* * * *
"Well?" Nick asked as he returned to the precinct to find Schanke engrossed in a stack of files and newspapers. "Find anything?"
"Nicholas Hammond was a reporter from London, England, who worked for the Associated Press. In 1953 he wrote an article for the Toronto Gazette in which he accused Detective Norton of corruption. This Stanton guy whom we arrested a few months ago was also involved. Hammond claimed in his article that Stanton bribed Norton to cover up the murder of Gordon Barrington. Norton's bank account corroborated that he had received money although there was no evidence that it came from Stanton. Still, it was the end of Norton's career in law enforcement. Perhaps we should go interview Stanton in his jail cell."
Nick hesitated. It was risky to trigger Stanton's memory of his former identity in his presence, but he wanted to see Stanton's reaction when he was questioned about Norton in order to confirm or rule out any involvement. Although Schanke was a perceptive detective, he just didn't have the means to assess whether a person was lying or not that Nick had. "I wouldn't count on him being able to provide any reliable information on events that happened 40 years ago," Nick stated as a precaution and followed his partner to the car park.
"You know what's funny?" Schanke asked as they drove to the prison in Millhaven.
"Nicholas Hammond doesn't just share your first name, he also shares your birthday, January 1st."
"Really? Which year was that?"
"Remarkable," Nick muttered.
* * * *
"You don't look well, Mr. Stanton," Nick remarked as the prisoner was led into the interview room. "Does the jail food not agree with you?"
Stanton shot a glare at Nick. "What do you want, Detective?"
Schanke watched the open animosity between them curiously and decided to take charge of the interrogation before whatever lay between them escalated. "Mr. Stanton, do you remember Detective William Norton who worked for Metro Police until 1953?"
"Norton?" Stanton furrowed his brows. "Yeah, we played golf together."
"When was the last time you saw him?" Schanke asked.
"Do you expect me to remember something that happened over 40 years ago? I don't know. A few weeks before he was fired from police service."
Nick observed Stanton closely. His reply seemed genuine and there had been no increase in his heart rate when Norton was mentioned.
"A shame what happened," Stanton continued. "He was a damn good policeman."
"Because he did your bidding," Nick interjected.
"Did you ever meet Nicholas Hammond, the guy who wrote the article that got Norton fired, Mr. Stanton?" Schanke continued the questioning.
"Yes, I met him at Gordon Barrington's funeral."
"Can you describe him?" Schanke asked eagerly.
Stanton became thoughtful and stared at Nick. "He was about your size, same colour of hair, but shorter, and his face ––" Stanton's eyes bulged. "It was you! The same face, just with a mustache. You tried to ruin me then and you ruined me now!" he bellowed.
Nick leaned slightly forward and caught Stanton's gaze. "It's been over 40 years ago, Mr. Stanton. I believe your memory is playing tricks on you." In a lighter tone he added, "C'mon Schanke, there's nothing that Mr. Stanton could contribute to our case."
* * * *
When Schanke remained silent for most of the drive back, Nick turned on the stereo.
"Ghosts are merely a figment of imagination, a trick of the human subconscious forcing you to deal with events long past," the Nightcrawler lectured. "But what if your ghosts from the past decide to become corporeal again? What do you fear more, the ghosts from your imagination or the skeletons that lie buried in your closet?"
"Jeez," Schanke exclaimed and reached out to turn the stereo off. "Do you think he means what he says? This case seems to be haunting you, Nick. Everything keeps pointing back at you. Your finger prints, your first name, your birth date, even Stanton thinks you look like Hammond."
"How's that possible, Schanke? Hammond was born in 1918. Do I look like I'm seventy-six?"
"I know, I know," Schanke conceded. "Could he be a relation? You were adopted, were you not?"
"Schanke, my real father died a very long time ago. His name was not Nicholas Hammond," Nick assured him. "Stanton is just confused, that's all."
Instead of heading to the precinct Nick steered the Caddy towards the theatre on Yonge Street. "I want to take another look around the apartment," he announced.
"You better wear gloves this time," Schanke advised and followed him upstairs.
Nick stood a moment at the site where the body was found, the position still marked by numbered signs. Then he moved to the opposite side of the room and studied the walls.
"What are we looking for?" Schanke asked.
"A bullet," Nick answered. "Forensics examined the gun and found one bullet missing. If he fired the shot from the area where he was found, the bullet should be imbedded in the wall somewhere."
"Whom do you think he shot at? Hammond?"
Nick shook his head as his eyes focused on the dark back upholstery of an armchair where he noticed a small hole among the dust. Pulling the upholstery forward he found a bullet embedded in the wooden backrest. "Found it!" He pulled out an evidence bag and retrieved the bullet with a pocket knife.
"Odd that it's in the chair," Schanke wondered. "How could he miss at that short distance?"
Nick glanced at the bullet, then back at Schanke and on to the site where the body was found. "Maybe he didn't," he mumbled and moved to leave the apartment. "I'll have Natalie examine the bullet in order to confirm if it matches the gun."
Schanke hurried after him. "What do you mean he didn't miss? Then we should have two bodies here."
"Not if the other party was just grazed or injured."
"Yeah sure, the killer gets himself shot at and then manages to break Norton's neck despite being injured?"
"A rush of adrenaline can be quite empowering, Schanke," Nick suggested.
* * * *
After Nick had left for the morgue to drop off the bullet, Schanke approached the department's sketch artist. "Hey Pete, I need you to accompany me to the prison in Millhaven. One of the inmates may be able to provide a description of a suspect."
Schanke was convinced that Stanton would be able to remember Hammond's face better without Nick's presence.
* * * *
Nick looked up from his bovine breakfast as Natalie stepped from the elevator.
"Hi. I have the results from the bullet. It's a match," she announced.
Nick nodded and eyed her curiously. "And you came here to tell me in person because?"
Natalie smiled in acknowledgement of his observation. "There's more. I found DNA on the bullet."
Nick's interest was piqued. "So it did pass through someone. Did you check the database? Was there a match?"
Natalie shook her head. "It wasn't ordinary DNA. It was vampire DNA."
Nick stared at her in surprise. "Are you sure?"
"The vampire element on the EM scan was distinct," she confirmed.
Absently, Nick took a sip from his glass. "Is it possible to find out if Norton was drained before his neck was broken?"
"I'm afraid the decomposition is too far advanced for that. There wasn't any skin left to look for bite marks. Do you have anyone in mind?"
Nick shook his head. "I didn't get much involved with the community here at the time. Janette remained in London. The only one I had dealings with was the relocation expert."
"What about Lacroix?" Natalie asked.
Nick's eyes snapped towards her. "Stayed in London as far as I know."
"But you aren't sure?"
Thoughtfully, Nick took several sips from his glass. "He made some veiled comments in his show tonight about skeletons in closets. Could be a coincidence."
"Is it ever?" Natalie challenged.
Nick emptied his glass in one huge swallow. "I'll talk to Janette tonight."
* * * *
"Looks eerily like Detective Knight, if you ask me," the sketch artist commented as he handed Schanke the finished composite.
Schanke scratched his head. It didn't make sense. Nick was probably right. Stanton was too confused to provide a proper description. He would find another source to get the required information on Nicholas Hammond.
Back at the precinct, he approached the front desk. "Vera, can you get in touch with the Associated Press and have them send information on a former employee called Nicholas Hammond? He worked for them in the early 1950s."
* * * *
When Schanke arrived at his desk a few minutes before dusk, a manila envelope was waiting for him. He pulled out the contents and froze. Among several articles written by Nicholas Hammond, there was a copy of a press card. The photo on the card was clearly Nick's. Schanke also recognized the signature. How was this possible?
* * * *
Nick entered the Raven and made his way to the bar where Janette awaited him with a smile.
"Nicolas, just in time for dinner." She was about to pour a second glass when Nick intercepted her hand.
"I'm here on business, Janette."
"Oh, you're such a spoil sport," she pouted.
"Do you remember when we were in London in the early 1950s?"
"Of course I remember and so do you. So why not skip the business talk and indulge in a well chosen vintage?"
Nick silenced her with a finger against her lips. "When I left for Toronto, did Lacroix stay in London?"
Janette thought for a moment. "He stayed for a while. Then he received a phone call that made him very angry. He wouldn't say what it was about. But he left the same night and returned shortly after you did."
"And you have no idea where he went?"
Janette shook her head. "No. What's wrong, chéri?"
Nick sighed. "A body was found in the place I stayed at in 1953. It was identified as a former police officer. He was most likely killed by a vampire. The police suspect the former tenant, but I didn't do it."
"And you think Lacroix followed you and killed him? Oh chéri, don't you think he would know better disposal methods for a body?"
"I know it seems unlikely. Still I need to talk to him."
* * * *
Nick parked the Caddy in front of the CERK studio entrance. After ascending the stairs, he waited until the "on air" sign was switched off, and stepped into the sound booth.
"Nicholas, to what do I owe the pleasure of a personal visit?" Lacroix asked in a mocking tone. "If you wished to talk, you could have simply called into the show."
"What I need to know is not fit for mortal ears," Nick informed him.
Lacroix raised his eyebrows. "Do tell."
"1953. Janette said you received a phone call and left London. I need to know your whereabouts."
Lacroix took a sip from his goblet. "You never cared about my whereabouts. Why the sudden interest in this particular year?"
"Just humour me. If you can provide an alibi for October, I won't bother you anymore."
"And why would I be in need of an alibi?"
"Because a body was found. The killer was presumably a vampire. The time of death was October 1953."
Lacroix's eyebrows rose higher. "Has the good city of Toronto run out of fresh bodies that you're now assigned to cold cases?"
"The body was found in my former apartment."
"I know I didn't do it."
"And you assume that I did?" Humour was evident in Lacroix's voice. "May I ask on what evidence your rather far-fetched deduction is based, Detective?"
Nick fidgeted with his fingers. "You have a tendency to follow me. I can only assume that you did so in 1953."
Lacroix rose from his seat and stepped around Nick. "The reason I do follow you is usually to prevent you from some foolish undertaking or to clean up after you," he breathed onto Nick's neck.
Nick tensed. "I –– didn't do anything that warranted cleaning up."
"Really? Your memory is as flawed as your obedience to the Code," Lacroix seethed.
"I didn't ––," Nick stopped in midsentence as realization hit. "Aristotle called you. Why would he do that? I thought he was my friend!"
"He called me because he is your friend," Lacroix corrected him.
"Does Aristotle break his own rules? Is that how you keep finding me?" Nick concluded heatedly.
Lacroix regarded him in exasperation. "Really, Nicholas. If I wish to find you, I do not need Aristotle for that. You know that."
Nick felt the undeniable connection thrum between them and avoided Lacroix's intense gaze.
"Aristotle's worry about Enforcers was justified," Lacroix continued. "Our relocation system is based on secrecy. Sharing its existence with mortals is quite unforgivable in addition to revealing yourself to them."
"He was just overreacting. I was never approached by them for that."
"And why do you think that is?"
Nick regarded the other cluelessly.
When Lacroix arrived at Nicholas' loft apartment, he was surprised to find a mortal waiting inside with a gun directed at him. Undisturbed, Lacroix closed the front door and faced the mortal. "Good evening. May I ask what the purpose of your visit is?"
"My name's Norton. I'm waiting for Mr. Hammond."
"Indeed. Nicholas seems to have become quite popular these days. You don't mind if I join you, do you?" He eased himself into the nearest armchair and crossed his legs.
Norton drew his eyebrows together and assessed the stranger who appeared to be utterly unimpressed by the weapon in his hand. "Are you a friend of Mr. Hammond?"
"You could say that. What is the nature of your quarrel with him?"
"He ruined me! Brought me in discredit with his article!" Norton pulled a paper from his coat pocket and tossed it on the table.
Lacroix merely glanced at the headline before catching the other's gaze. "Was it the truth?"
"Yes," Norton confessed unintentionally.
"And now you wish to kill him for that?" Lacroix chuckled. "Good luck trying that."
"Perhaps I should practise with you." Norton fired the gun.
Lacroix felt a minor irritation as the bullet passed through his chest. Immediately he was behind Norton and grabbed him, bending the head aside. "I do not take kindly to being shot," he hissed, bared his fangs and sank them into Norton's neck. After draining him, he snapped his neck with a satisfying crack. While he was busy obliterating the fang marks with a knife, another vampire entered the apartment. He was a lean young man with lank brownish hair. Lacroix estimated that he had hardly lived half a century on top of his mortal years.
"Are you the Enforcer I'm supposed to meet here?" the man asked.
Lacroix's eyes flashed red as he flew across the room. The next instant he lifted the man by the neck and pressed him against the wall, his feet dangling half a meter above the floor. "I am far more unpleasant than a mere Enforcer," he hissed before tossing the man into an armchair. In a deceptively calm voice that belied his earlier fury, he continued. "You must be Edgar, Aristotle's assistant, I assume?"
The man nodded and rubbed his neck where Lacroix had gripped him.
"Aristotle mentioned that you might drop by. Tell me Edgar, what is the reason of your appointment with Enforcers?"
Edgar swallowed. "There's been a breach in the Code. One of us used our relocation system for mortals and he revealed himself to them. It was my duty to report him. I'm sure, as an elder of our community you will approve."
"I approve a great many things. The attempt to threaten my son is not one of them." Lacroix bent closer, causing Edgar to shrink into the seat. "On the contrary," he continued in a dangerous low voice. "It's unforgivable." He pulled a stake from his coat pocket and slammed it into Edgar's heart.
He moved the body to the window where the sun would take care of it. Then he considered what he should do about Norton's body. From the lack of personal trinkets and the bare shelves of the refrigerator he concluded that Nicholas had already left for good. Yet, leaving a body in the open that had, according to the newspaper article, an obvious connection to Nicholas could turn unpleasant when the Enforcers arrived. Lacroix decided to hide the body underneath the wooden floor. He ripped out several planks until the cavity was large enough for the body to fit in. After replacing the planks, he reached for the newspaper Norton had brought along, settled into the armchair and waited.
A faint displacement of air heralded the approach of two Enforcers.
"Good evening, gentlemen," Lacroix greeted them smoothly and folded the paper. "I'm afraid you have been summoned in vain. The situation has been taken care of." Lacroix indicated Edgar's body with a flick of his hand.
"Lucius, we didn't know that you were involved. We received a report that Nicholas had a hand in helping mortals disappear through our relocation system. Where is he?"
Lacroix rose from his seat. "I'm always involved where my Nicholas is concerned. You have been misinformed. Nicholas acted with my consent."
"The mortal was a former nurse whose services had proven beneficial for the community. When her life was threatened in Toronto it seemed only logical to assist in her relocation."
Nick was perplexed. "They bought that?"
Lacroix raised an eyebrow at Nick's obvious doubts. "They seemed satisfied and left."
"Are you telling me you lied to Enforcers? Katherine never provided any services to the community when she was a nurse in London."
"Oh but she did. The friendship she and her husband forged with you seemed to lift some of the gloom from your disposition. You were actually quite tolerable for a while. Janette and I appreciated that."
"But they were mortals." Nick couldn't remember when Lacroix had not disapproved of his connection to mortals.
"Mortals who did not inflict harm on you unlike your annoying doctor friend."
"Nat does not ––" Nick broke off, realizing the futility of this argument, especially after the lidovuterine disaster. "So you killed Norton," he stated instead.
"After he shot me. With a bullet that was obviously meant for you. Are you going to arrest me, Detective?" Lacroix asked mockingly.
"Why did you leave the body?"
Lacroix shrugged. "I had assumed the incineration of Edgar's body would take care of the rest."
"The building houses a public theatre. To reduce the fire hazard, the wooden floor has fire protective coating. It's why I chose that apartment in the first place."
Lacroix raised an eyebrow and looked impressed.
"Yes, sometimes I do listen to you," Nick smiled shyly before turning serious again. "How do I know you told me the truth?"
"Look for Edgar's ashes underneath the window."
"I take it that Aristotele wasn't too thrilled to lose his assistant?"
"He was a poor choice. Aristotele was already aware that he would have to hire a replacement by the time he picked up the receiver to call me."
Nick held Lacroix's gaze for a moment. Then he turned on his heels and left.
"Ungrateful brat!" he heard Lacroix mutter before he took off.
* * * *
Nick entered the apartment and bent down near the window. Brushing his hands through the dust, he could indeed discern a layer of ash. The case was solved, but he had no killer to arrest.
His mind was so preoccupied with what he would put into the report that he noticed the mortal heartbeat only when he stepped from the lift into his loft. Surprised, he found Schanke seated at the kitchen table, which was covered with several documents. "Schank? What are you doing here?" Although he had given Schanke the alarm code, he didn't expect him to just drop by when he wasn't home.
"I need to talk to you." Schanke shoved the documents into a pile.
"And this couldn't wait until we meet at the precinct? What's up?" Nick cast a longing glance at the refrigerator. The conversation with Lacroix had worn him out. He was hungry. Instead he removed his coat and tossed it onto the rack. Then he removed his holster and joined Schanke at the table.
"There's something odd," Schanke began. "I took Pete to Millhaven and had him do a composite of Nicholas Hammond. This is the result." He pulled the drawing from the pile.
"I thought we had already established that Stanton is senile and no help," Nick replied. "Why did you bother to drive out there again?"
"I thought he might be less confused when you weren't there. It's obvious that there's some quarrel between you."
"Obviously he was still confused," Nick pointed out.
"That's what I thought, too. So I contacted the AP for information on Hammond. They sent this." Schanke placed the copy of Nick's former press card in front of him. "This is you. The same marks on the forehead. How is this possible?"
Nick slowly raised his gaze until he met Schanke's. His friend looked at him in a mixture of curiosity and disbelief. Nick wondered when it would turn into fear. "Anything else?" he asked calmly.
"Yeah. The house on Yonge Street, before it was sold to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, it was owned by the deBrabant Foundation. They have exactly one other property in town. This warehouse."
"Yeah, and get this, the CEO of that foundation calls himself Nicholas de Brabant. Nobody ever saw him and there're no photos. But I remember the name popping up in the bank accounts of Maison duChamps you were so secretive about. Obviously he's been their client for the last 40 years."
"So? Why is it that the name Nicholas turns up several times and all are connected to you? And don't tell me it's a coincidence. That photo on the press card is hard evidence. I just don't get how you could be around 40 years ago and look exactly as you do now."
Nick gazed at the photo and brushed his fingertips across it. "It's a curse," he whispered.
"A curse?" Schanke questioned. "Nick, this is the 20th century. There are no such things as curses."
"Mine is a little older than that. I'm immortal, Schanke." When Schanke merely stared at him, Nick reached for his gun holster. In a fluent motion he unlocked the safety catch and shot himself in the chest.
"Jeez!" Schanke jumped up, upending his chair in the process. He stumbled to the phone, intent on calling 911. But he froze when Nick appeared next to him and disconnected the call.
"I don't need an ambulance. I'm fine," he assured him.
Schanke gaped at the bullet hole in his shirt. He noticed a matching one on his back when Nick turned and walked briskly to the refrigerator. Nick removed one of the bottles and poured the dark red fluid into a black mug. Then he drank hastily and refilled the mug. After a while the tension left his body.
"Then you are Nicholas Hammond?" When Nick merely nodded, Schanke asked, "Did you kill Norton?"
"No," Nick shook his head. "But I know who did."
"Why don't you bring him in?"
"Nicholas, what are you trying to accomplish here?" a smooth voice asked wearily.
Schanke's head shifted in the direction where Nick had set up his painting equipment and he recognized Lacroix emerging from behind the easel.
"I thought you might drop by," Nick said, almost relieved.
"An irritation such as this is hard to ignore," Lacroix turned his attention to Schanke. "Did you do that to him?" he demanded sternly.
"No," Schanke shook his head.
"I shot myself," Nick explained.
"And why would you do such a foolish thing?" Lacroix inquired.
"It is foolish, isn't it?" Schanke agreed.
"I thought it would get your attention. I could use your help," Nick admitted.
"Indeed?" Lacroix raised his eyebrows. "Such a dramatic display. A simple phone call would have sufficed. How may I be of assistance?"
"Again?" Lacroix turned to Schanke. "He seems rather clueless to me."
"I know what?" Schanke asked. "And what do you mean with again?"
"Can you make him forget?" Nick implored, ignoring Schanke.
"So once again you need me to clean up after you. Why don't you do it yourself?"
Nick looked to the floor. "I'm not sure I can make it stick."
"Oh Nicholas, I haven't been such a poor teacher, have I? I'm certain you would have the ability if you committed yourself fully to the task –– and if you partook of a proper diet."
Schanke suddenly remembered what it was that Nick kept in his refrigerator and what he was obviously consuming right now. "Wait a minute. That bottle contained your paint thickener. You're actually drinking that? Jeez, what are you?"
"Dreadful, isn't it?" Lacroix purred compassionately.
"Lacroix, please," Nick begged.
"And what is the point if you continue to reveal yourself every few months?"
"I didn't. He figured out by himself that I'm different when he saw my photo of 40 years ago. And all this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't left the body in my place!"
"Blaming me is not a clever approach if you expect me to do you a favour, Nicholas."
"Wait a minute, you killed Norton?" Schanke concluded. "And you knew this, Nick?"
"I learned it only tonight."
"Well, then what are you waiting for?" Schanke pulled out his handcuffs and approached Lacroix. "You're under arrest. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney ––"
"See the problem?" Nick whispered in Lacroix's direction.
"I do." Lacroix turned his attention to Schanke. "Detective Schanke, I want you to listen very carefully to what I have to say." When Schanke stood entranced, Lacroix turned expectantly to Nick.
"I don't know," Nick mouthed.
Rolling his eyes, Lacroix turned his attention back on Schanke. "Detective Schanke, you have exhausted all possible leads. Neither Nicholas nor myself were in Toronto at the time of the murder. The resemblance to Nicholas is merely a coincidence. You will not pursue this any further. Your murder case will remain unsolved."
"Unsolved," Schanke repeated. "Cohen will insist that we pursue this further because the victim was a police officer."
"The evidence suggests that Detective Norton was killed in self-defence. He was a corrupt officer. I believe he got what was coming to him, don't you agree?"
"Yeah," Schanke nodded slowly.
Meanwhile Nick was busy committing the incriminating files from the kitchen table into the flames of the fireplace.
"You merely came here tonight to inform Nicholas that the case will go into the unsolved files and that he is to write the report," Lacroix concluded.
Nick turned from the fireplace and glared at him. Lacroix stepped behind Schanke and vanished from view. Schanke blinked slightly confused and stared at the handcuffs in his hands.
"You won't be needing those. I will write the report this time. Promise," Nick smiled and led Schanke to the elevator. "Thanks for dropping by."
Schanke still looked slightly confused. "Sure. I'll see you tonight." Then he stepped into the lift.
Nick let out a long breath of relief and looked up at the gallery where Lacroix stood and watched him. "Thanks," he mumbled.
Lacroix inclined his head in acknowledgement. Then he lifted easily over the railing and joined Nick downstairs. "It's past sunrise. I sincerely hope you have something less dreadful to offer during the day."
Nick belatedly realized the inevitable. He was stuck with Lacroix for the day. To avoid a day-long argument, he walked to the refrigerator and produced a labelled bottle from the very back. He reached for a glass, filled it and passed it to Lacroix. After a moment's hesitation he refilled his own mug from the same bottle. "You never mentioned what happened in Toronto," he said thoughtfully. "When I returned to London and you weren't there, Janette said you were on a business trip."
"What was the point? I managed not to lose you by the hands of the Enforcers. Reproaching you for your behaviour would merely have driven you away. I didn't wish to lose you that way either."
"And yet you did." Nick held Lacroix's gaze a moment. Then he rinsed his mug and headed upstairs. "Feel free to take the couch," he said before vanishing into his bedroom.
"How generous," Lacroix scoffed.
* * * *
When Nick woke in the afternoon, he found himself lying next to Lacroix, his head resting in the crook of Lacroix's elbow.
"Good evening, Nicholas," the elder breathed.
"What's wrong with the couch?" Nick sat up and glared at the other.
"You have far too many mortal visitors dropping by unannounced. What would they say if they found me asleep on your couch?"
"Better than finding you in my bed." Nick moved and donned his red robe before heading downstairs. He opened another labelled bottle and poured two goblets.
A short time later Lacroix joined him at the kitchen table. "I hear the old theatre is being restored?" he remarked conversationally.
"Yes, I sold the property to the Ontario Heritage Foundation. It's a beautiful venue. It just needs major renovations. And they want to build a second smaller theatre upstairs into the space of the apartment."
Lacroix nodded in approval. "A commendable plan. When it's accomplished, I expect you to accompany me to the opening. It's the least you can do after the favours I have bestowed on you."
Nick shifted in his seat. He had always enjoyed attending performances with Lacroix, but he didn't like to be ordered to do so. Still he was very well aware that he owed Lacroix. "Maybe I will. If you ask really nicely."
"Are you expecting me to ask you on a date?" Lacroix raised his eyebrow.
When Nick burst out laughing the lift door opened and Natalie stepped into the loft. The last she had expected was to find Nick and Lacroix seated amicably at the kitchen table, sharing a bottle of what was obviously human blood.
"Am I interrupting something?" she asked, slightly irritated at the cordial display. Nick looked appropriately guilty while Lacroix glared at her.
"Not at all, my dear. You're just in time for dessert." Lacroix rose from his chair and made a step in her direction.
Natalie instinctively backed up against the elevator door.
Lacroix chuckled in response and turned back to Nick. "That's what I was referring to earlier."
"Leave her alone," Nick demanded. "Her well-being is a prerequisite for the date you're so keen about."
"Is it?" Lacroix lifted his eyebrows. "Very well, although you're in no position to dictate terms to me right now."
"I know." Nick cast down his eyes. "And thank you."
Lacroix nodded and departed through the skylight.
Natalie relaxed and approached the table. "What was that all about?"
Nick hastily emptied his glass and stood to return the bottle to the refrigerator. "You were right about Schanke. He found out too much. I needed Lacroix's help to fix it."
"At what price? To give up on cow's blood?"
Nick shook his head. "No, it wasn't like that. He had to stay the day. It was easier to join him on this bottle than to argue all day." He held up the bottle before returning it into the fridge.
"I really don't like the influence he has on you. His mere presence is enough to cause you to go backsliding."
Nick closed the refrigerator door with more force than he intended. "I owe him, Nat. Not only for his help with Schanke, but also for what happened 40 years ago."
Natalie looked at him curiously. "You found out who killed Norton?"
Nick nodded. "Lacroix did. He came to Toronto to prevent Enforcers from killing me. Norton was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
"And in 40 years he simply forgot that he left a corpse rotting at your place?"
"He said it was unintentional. He had expected the place to go up in flames."
"And that makes it okay?" Natalie exclaimed, upset. "Has he ever done anything that was not intentional?"
Nick regarded her squarely. "Nat, what are you insinuating?"
"What if he had planned this 40 years ago? To put you in a position where you owe him?"
Nick shook his head. "I think you're giving him too much credit, Nat. He couldn't have known that I would choose to settle in Toronto any time in the future."
Natalie crossed her arms before her chest. "Are you sure? What made you choose Toronto?"
Nick froze and stared at her. "Janette," he mumbled. He had chosen Toronto because Janette had already been here. It had taken him several years to eventually seek her out, but she had been the reason for him moving here. Now the question was what had caused Janette to decide on Toronto?
* * * *
Nick walked into the Raven and surveyed the club. He didn't see Janette at the bar, but the vibration told him that she was nearby. He made his way across the club and entered her private quarters.
She met him at the door from her boudoir, fixing her earrings. "Nicolas, what a pleasant surprise," she greeted him. "Another business visit or did you come to see me this time?"
Slightly unsettled by her veiled rebuff, Nick fidgeted with his fingers. "I wanted to ask you something. It's not business."
Janette smiled and drew him to the couch. "That was the correct answer, chéri."
Nick took her hand and drew small circles with his thumb on its back. "You've been here for how many years now? Twenty?"
"Almost. Are you suggesting I should move on?"
"No," Nick shook his head immediately. "I would miss you. Why did you choose Toronto?"
Janette thought for a moment. "It was a matter of convenience. I was looking for a place to open a club. I knew Don Constantine was here and I needed him to get the licenses required by mortal law. Why?"
Nick relaxed. "Just curious. I thought that maybe Lacroix had something to do with your choice."
"Oh, he was the one who suggested the idea of a club catering to our kind in the first place. Once I had warmed up to the idea, he mentioned that Don Constantine could be of assistance."
"Damn," Nick frowned.
"What's wrong, chéri?"
"He did it again. He used you to lure me here, just as he did when I was mortal. He knew when I moved here that sooner or later Norton's body would come up and he could extract that debt from me for saving me from the Enforcers."
Janette digested what he had said. "Oh Nicolas, you should consider playing more chess with him. Then he would not need to play it against you in real life. What does he demand this time?"
"That I accompany him to the theatre."
Janette looked surprised. "That's not so bad. You've always enjoyed that."
"Yes, and that is exactly the problem," Nick admitted. A part of him did not want to enjoy himself in Lacroix's company. Yet another part of him yearned for the relationship they once had. Today had shown him that this part was growing stronger. Before Nat arrived he hadn't minded the company and he hadn't slept so well in years. But he knew too well that he couldn't have an amicable relationship with Lacroix as long as he tried to become mortal again. Lacroix would always coax him into 'proper feeding habits'. He was so tired of fighting both the hunger and his growing desire for Lacroix. Still, he wasn't prepared to give up yet.
* * * *
"The curious thing about things you believed buried is that they tend to come back to the surface once in a while. This goes especially for the feelings and desires buried within. The Nightcrawler knows what lies buried within you –– and he knows that you know. It is unhealthy to suppress those desires any longer once they burst to the surface. The Nightcrawler will be waiting for you –– always..."