Author: MeanRunt PM
A sequel of sorts to Home For The Holidays ... Natalie remembers the night at Le Azure ... and has her revenge. Major spoilers for Be My ValentineRated: Fiction K - English - Words: 16,973 - Reviews: 4 - Published: 08-03-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3700379
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
This is a sequel of sorts to Home For The Holidays.
MAJOR spoilers for Be My Valentine
& & & & & &
"This can't be happening. Not to me, anyway." Doctor Natalie Lambert held her head and winced. The pain was almost unbearable. "This kind of thing happens to other people, but not to me." It was a good thing that business had been slow in the Toronto Metro Coroners Office these past few days. There had only been a few routine autopsies of persons who had died from accidents or natural causes without the benefit of medical persons present. Not that any death could be called routine, but these were nothing overly traumatic.
Emil Hairston was 97 years old and had died in his sleep. He had numerous severe medical problems. Any one or all of them, combined with his advanced age, had resulted in his death.
Tammy Lighterton was 24 and had fallen down a flight of stairs at a party while 'falling down drunk' and suffered numerous broken bones. It was her broken neck that killed her, though. There were numerous witnesses, and their testimony basically agreed.
Natalie did not know if she could have dealt with it if there had been a rash of morbid murders or major traffic or fire victims.
The headaches had started the day after Valentine's Day. She and Nick had gone to the Azure and had a wonderful time there. At least that's what he told her. She didn't remember anything about the evening from shortly after she entered the restaurant until she woke up the next morning. Curiously, the week before that was somewhat of a blur as well. Come to think of it, nearly everything since the beginning of the year was kind of fuzzy. Particularly when it involved her and Nick.
She'd had hangovers before, but nothing like this. And certainly not this severe or this long. The past few days, the headaches had evolved from excruciatingly painful into the bang-your-head-on-the-wall-because-it feels-so-good-when-you-stop kind. And they were getting worse.
She reached into her desk and took out the bottle of Maximum Strength Excedrin Migraine Formula and shook two of them into her hand. She grimaced as she swallowed them with a cup of cold coffee. Not exactly the best mixture, but that was all she had on hand. Between the acetaminophen and caffeine in the pills, and the caffeine and sugar in the coffee, there was a distinct possibility that the combination could throw her brain into high speed overdrive.
A few days after the headaches began, the nightmares had started. At first, they were mild and very fleeting. More like out of focus snippets than actual images. Then they began to get more severe … and more focused ... Almost real ... Even so, the images were still disconnected ... Flowers ... Champagne ... A tall man ... Military cut blond hair ... Ice blue eyes ... Glass breaking ... Angry words.
She put her elbows on her desk and grasped her hands under her chin and waited for the Excedrin to kick in. Lately, even that only brought the pounding in her skull down to a dull thud. And for ever decreasing periods of time at that. The next step would be a prescription pain reliever. She didn't want to try anything stronger for fear of becoming addicted.
It was almost as though something inside her head was trying to break out. Every time she tried to discover what it was, the headaches and the nightmares only became more vivid and more distressing. ( Maybe I should make an appointment with my doctor. It's possible I could have a tumor or something. )
She glanced down and caught the gleam from the delicate diamond and ruby ring on the third finger of her left hand. It was exquisitely beautiful ... and very expensive. Obviously it was much more than a friendship ring. But the significance of it eluded her. She vaguely remembered that she had the ring before Valentines Day. But where she got it ... and from who ... and why ... stayed stubbornly buried in the dark corners of her subconscious and no amount of prodding could bring it to the surface. That too, brought on a rash of headaches and nightmares.
She concentrated on the ring. ( Perhaps this holds the key to everything. ) She cleared her mind as best she could and, ignoring the pain, stared into the ruby. (Remember ... Remember. ) From somewhere in the recesses of her mind came the memory of a Christmas Eve. Last Christmas to be exact. But it wasn't in Toronto. No, it was in ... Brabant? But that was just a dream. Wasn't it?
& & & & & &
It was Christmas Eve. A very special time of year. A time when special, magical things happened. Unbeknown to the other, Nick and Natalie had both made a wish. A wish to celebrate Christmas as Nick had spent it when he was mortal. That night as they slept, they were transported to Brabant in the year 1220.
They were both mortal, and they both knew that this was a dream. A shared dream, since they both were experiencing the same thing. They also knew about their future selves. They knew that soon, Nicholas would be going to the Crusades, and that when he returned, he would meet Janette and LaCroix, and would become a vampire. They also knew that in the year 1990, their future selves would meet and fall in love. They knew that at that time there would be no possibility that their love could be fulfilled without seriously endangering Natalie's life.
Here in 1220, there were no such constraints on their relationship. Here, they could be the lovers they were meant to be. Their love was far more than anything Nicholas and Natalie had ever fantasized it could be.
Nicholas had even proposed marriage. At first, Natalie was reluctant, fearing that this would somehow change history. Nicholas reassured her that since this was only a dream, it could not possibly affect reality. That when they eventually awoke, this entire episode would fade into exactly what it was. A dream. Nothing in the future would be changed in any way. Their time here in the past would survive, but only in their memories. Thus satisfied, Natalie eagerly accepted.
The ceremony was the highlight of the Christmas season in Brabant, with Nicholas's entire family, as well as the nobles from all the surrounding estates in attendance. The diamond and ruby ring was her wedding ring.
Shortly after the wedding, their shared dream ended, and both Nicholas and Natalie awoke to a glorious Christmas morning. They both remembered the dream in detail. Only one tangible thing remained of that dream. The ring. Technically, when the dream ended, it should have disappeared along with all the other trappings. How it made the transition from dream to reality, Natalie did not know.
Nick, was surprised at the ring as well, but he too was at a loss to explain it either. He repeated his words from the dream. That somehow ... some way ... the dream would come true. They were both convinced that the miracle of the ring was proof that it would happen.
Natalie kept the ring constantly on her finger. She was afraid to take it off. Afraid that if she did, it would disappear back into the never-never land of dreams.
As she concentrated on the ring, the fog in her mind seemed to disperse. Slowly, everything began to clear. One name almost shouted itself in her mind.
& & & & & &
Almost from the time that Nicholas DeBrabant Knight had been wheeled into her autopsy room ... courtesy of a pipe bomb ... Natalie had known there was something special about him. Then, when he came to life on her table, she was certain of it. He was a vampire. He no longer wanted to be a vampire. He wanted to be mortal.
Natalie agreed to help him find a cure. Professionally, of course. Over time, though, their relationship changed from doctor-patient to friends, to unrequited lovers. Because of what he was, they could not even acknowledge their feelings for each other, let alone act on them. Every time they came close to anything that even remotely resembled intimacy, Nick would pull away ... read run at breakneck speed ... in the opposite direction. Then they'd have to start all over again from square one.
Since their shared Christmas dream, that had changed considerably. Nick was much more attentive and open with his emotions. This new development was not lost on their colleagues. Generously fed by Grace Balthazar, Natalie's assistant, and Nick's partner Don Schanke, the rumor mills at both the Coroner's office and at the 96th precinct were running overtime and at maximum speed. According to the unofficial pool, the odds were 3 to 1 that they would make it official before Easter. All that was in question was the exact day and time. The payoff for the person who came closest to the day and time was reported to be well over a thousand dollars. Double if they hit it on the nose.
& & & & & &
Natalie had stopped at Nick's loft to gather some skin and blood samples. While the Litovuterine-B 'cure' had been a dismal failure, they had learned a great deal from it. This latest formula showed great promise. He was now able to eat a limited variety of bland foods and keep them down for quite a while before they came back up. Some, like boiled eggs, mashed potatoes, and oatmeal, he could actually digest. His tolerance to sacred objects was improving as well. He could hold crosses and rosaries with only minimal discomfort. He could also spend up to a maximum of a half hour in deep shade without burning. Still, both he and Natalie were very hesitant to even think the word ... cure.
LaCroix's voice came over Nick's state of the art sound system.
"Love. A blip on the monitor of involuntary human response." He cooed sadistically. "A hiccup of emotion when compared with envy ... hatred ... lust. And just who was this St. Valentine? A third century Roman bishop who got his head cut off ... ouch ... for marrying lovers against his Emperor's decree. You see, Claudius II believed that power came with the absence of love. And they say love conquers all. Well, not for you St. Valentine. Or for me. Or for any of the heart ... broken. We never learn, do we?"
"Is that LaCroix talking about love?" Natalie asked as she gently swabbed Nick's forearm with alcohol. While it was unnecessary ... Vampires could not get infections like mortals could ... it was a part of her medical training. "I can't imagine why some woman hasn't snapped him up already. What sort of insanity compels you to tune him in anyway?"
"You know, I'm not sure. Maybe he is so down, he makes me feel up." Nick said as she drew several vials of blood.
Natalie put the vials in her medical bag and took out a scalpel and two slides. "Now then." She said as she scraped some of the skin from his neck onto the slides. "I understand that the Vitamin A supplements don't seem to be having the desired effect." She changed the subject. She didn't want to go anywhere that might start an angst session. Not after all the positive results they had been having the past month. "But, since you seem to be tolerating them, why don't we double the dose?"
"The dosage doesn't have anything to do with the effect. I keep forgetting to take them." He said sheepishly.
"I thought as much." She went back to her bag and took out a small package wrapped in shiny red paper and tied with a large red bow. "I got you this. It's ... well, technically speaking, it's a sort of ... a Valentine ... kind of a thing."
He opened it and took out a silver pill box. "It's beautiful. Just what I need." He opened it and read the inscription on the inside of the lid ... 'Don't forget to take your vitamins. Love Nat.'
"Anything to make you feel a bit more human."
"Well, sometimes I do ... Sometimes ... At certain times ... With certain people." ( Like I feel with you. ) If Nick could blush, he would have been beet red. As it was, his skin had taken on a definite pinkish cast.
( Maybe tonight we might finally be able to take that ultimate step. ) They both thought.
Just as Nick pulled Natalie into an embrace, his phone and her beeper sounded at the same time. That could mean only one thing.
( So much for romance. )
& & & & & &
It was a particularly grisly murder. The victim, a woman in her middle twenties, had been strangled, beaten and stabbed. From the state of undress, it was apparent that she had been raped as well. It would be up to the autopsy results to determine the exact sequence.
Don Schanke came to Nick and handed him an evidence bag with a large red paper handwritten Valentine card in it. "The killer's calling card." He said. "The love letter from hell."
'For my valentine
I have gazed upon the rose's petals
The lily's stem so fine
But none can compare to your face'
Scribbled on the wall opposite them in the same handwriting was the last line of the poem. It was written in blood.
'And now you will be mine.'
Forensic analysis would determine whether it was the victim's blood or not.
"You'd think it'd take more than this to sweep a woman like her off her feet, wouldn't you?" Schanke said as he put the bag with other evidence bags for Forensics to analyze.
Natalie looked around the room. The victim's desk and several other surfaces were piled with folders, partially completed reports, and research material. It was evident that the victim had been in the middle of a big project. "I can't say I don't empathize with the irony of it. She looks like she had a very demanding career. Not much time for affairs of the heart. Sometimes it's the little things like this that sweep us ... ah ... her ... off her feet."
As Nick and Natalie left the scene of the murder, a figure watched them from the shadows.
& & & & & &
"That slimy bastard!" Natalie raged as more memories began to flood into her conscious mind. "How dare he do this to Nick and me?"
& & & & & &
A search through the RCMP files and nearby Provinces for similar cases turned up two unsolved murders from Montreal with exactly the same MO. The victims were also viciously killed in the days surrounding St. Valentines Day a year ago. The press had dubbed them the 'Valentines Day Murders'.
"I want this case wrapped up ASAP." Captain Amanda Cohen said to the two detectives. "Last week would too late. I want this cupid's wings clipped before he strikes again. You got that, gentlemen?"
Nick and Don both nodded agreement. They wanted the murderer caught as much as their Captain did.
& & & & & &
LaCroix's saccharine voice came over the speaker of Nick's Caddy. "Does love really exist in the hedonistic world of ours? Or is it only our selfish needs ... Our desires that fuel the potion. Does she love me ... or does it really matter. What hellish alchemy if it does." He paused for a long moment as he stared at the perfect white rose in his hand. Images of Fleur DeBrabant, Nicholas's sister, flowed through his mind.
The same broadcast was playing as Nick came into the morgue.
Natalie was pulling the sheet over the victim. "Forensics is still doing the handwriting workup, but it's definitely the work of the same guy from Montreal. You know, it's hard to believe that anyone would fall for something like this. But I can see it if the woman has been romantically neglected."
Nick gently took her into his arms. "This case is getting to you, isn't it?"
"It shows that much?"
"To me it does."
They stood in each other's arms for a long time. Desire was written on both of their faces. Nick slowly pulled Nat's face to his. Just as their lips were about to touch, Natalie's beeper went off.
"Got to go to the lab." She said, her voice husky from the near encounter. "Why don't you give me a call later? We should know something more by then."
As she turned to go, Nick took her hand. "If we find anything, we'll call you too. Will you be home ... later?"
"Yeah ... Home ... Later."
The man in the shadows grinned evilly.
& & & & & &
"That sorry excuse for a human being!" Natalie seethed as her brain began to clear. "Oh yes. That's right. I forgot. He's not human, is he? Come to think of it, he wouldn't even make a sorry excuse for a vampire either!"
& & & & & &
She set her packages down and rummaged in her purse for the key to her apartment. This was one of the perks of the night shift. There were several all night mega grocery stores in the area, and at 4 am they were not the least bit crowded. She was able to get her week's shopping done in record time.
She drew a sharp breath as a shadow disengaged itself from the hallway wall, and let it out again as she recognized Nick walking toward her.
"Can I give you a hand?" He asked as he picked up the bags from in front of the door and followed her inside.
"I thought you were going to phone." She said as she busied herself putting the groceries away. "What brings you here anyway?"
"Well, I was just driving and thinking and ... next thing I knew I ended up in your neck of the woods ... So I thought I'd just come by for a visit." He began nervously pacing the living area. "You're not ... Ah ... Doing anything ... Ah ... Are you?"
"Ah ... No." She sat on the couch. "I just put some dinner in the microwave. Visit all you like." She patted the seat beside her. "So ... Driving and thinking. About what?"
Nick continued to pace. "About what? ... Ah ... About nothing ... Ah ... About everything ... About me ... About you ... About us."
"What about us?"
Nick took her hands and gently pulled her to her feet. He held her close. "What are we going to do about this?" He caressed her cheek. "And about how we feel toward each other?" He took her left hand and brought the ruby and diamond ring to his lips. "I meant what I said both in the dream at Christmas and afterward. Somehow. Someway. We will be together." He gently kissed her cheek. Then her eyelids, and finally her mouth. What started out tenderly quickly grew in passion.
In the kitchen, the microwave's buzzer sounded.
"That's my Two Minute Gourmet." Nat said breathlessly. "I guess I should ... " Her words were cut off by Nick's mouth on hers.
In the street below, Lucien LaCroix glared savagely as the two shadows on the drapes became one. Nicholas and his mortal playmate were becoming much too serious. It was time to put an end to this little dalliance of his once and for all. Over the centuries, he had thwarted any other love interests Nicholas had. He would put a stop to the doctor as well.
& & & & & &
"Love is nothing but a scam invented by the masochistic mind of man to sell chocolates, flowers, and sappy cards. None of these are especially good for the human libido. They bring nothing but pain and disillusionment." There was a definite undercurrent of sarcasm in his voice as he sent his message over the radio waves. "Just say no to love. Don't ever give them your heart. A carnival cupie and an electric blanket will give you much more satisfaction."
The couple in the apartment did not hear the broadcast. They had other important things occupying their time.
& & & & & &
The following evening, there was another murder. This one was even more gruesome than the first. Blood was everywhere. On the wall was written in blood ... 'As I shall capture you' ... Obviously the last line of another macabre Valentine poem.
Nick and Natalie walked in together. Actually, Nick walked. Natalie sort of floated.
"You two partners now?" Don Schanke said as he came up behind them. "Did you synchronize your watches?" He rolled his eyes and gave them an exaggerated leer.
"Pagers." They said in unison.
( Yeah. But who's pager? His? ... Or hers? ) He handed Nick an evidence bag with another handwritten valentine in it. He pointed to a young, obviously distraught man sitting at the kitchen table. "That's her fiance. He found the body. Don't expect any clever conversation, though. It's like talking to Niagara Falls. They had a big wedding planned for next week." He started for the door. "I'm going to try and persuade the grieving intended to go outside and grab some fresh air. Maybe I'll even send him home with one of the uniforms."
Natalie knelt beside the body and began her examination
"How are you doing?" Nick asked after a while. He could see that Natalie was having difficulty keeping a rein on her emotions.
"Almost done." She said as she stood up. "Identical MO and cause of death as the other victim, but I mean that's just stating the obvious."
"I mean about us?"
"It's ah ... It's sort of unbelievable, isn't it? I mean it feels so right. Of all the crazy places to ... " She giggled softly. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Schanke approaching them. " ... Definitely strangulation." She quickly changed the subject. "Been stabbed too. Raped as well. Litmus test is positive. TOD in the last ... Oh ... Six hours or so."
Schanke couldn't help noticing the look on both the Coroner and his partner. It was the same look that his eight year old daughter Jenny had when she was caught doing something she was not supposed to do. ( Just friends my Great Aunt Fred. ) He made no effort to suppress the grin spreading across his face.
& & & & & &
Further investigation turned up numerous similarities between all of the victims, both here and in Montreal. They were all brunettes in their twenties. They all were either engaged or just married. They all had high profile jobs that required considerable research at their respective college libraries.
That's when Nick remembered something. There was a stack of library books from the University of Toronto Research Library on the second victim's desk. Schanke recalled seeing a similar stack at the first victim's apartment as well.
"I feel a sudden urge to renew my library card." Schanke said as he and Nick headed for the door.
& & & & & &
A series of serendipitous events at the University of Toronto Library led the detectives to Stan, one of the research assistants. According to the chief librarian, he had recently moved to Toronto and had come to them with high references from the University of Montreal. She admitted to them that he was somewhat of a loner, and that no one at the library knew very much about his recent past.
When they went to question him, he ran, knocking over shelves, carts and anything else he could find to elude the two detectives. They finally caught up with him, and after a brief scuffle, he was captured.
& & & & & &
At the precinct, he confessed to the killings. Only in his mind, he had not killed four women. Only one. The same one. Over and over again. He had fantasized that she was his lover, and he had been devastated when she ... spurned ... him to marry someone else. She was his first victim.
"I ... I was the right one." His voice cracked. "Not him. She used to laugh. She ... She just forgot about us ... You know ... She quit her job ... She wasn't going to see me any more ... She was going to be with ... HIM ... I couldn't let her go." He put his head on the table in the interrogation room and his body shook with sobs.
From behind the two way mirror in the observation room, Natalie turned to Nick. "I can't help feeling that those women died because of an illusion of love. I mean ... that's all he had. An illusion. How can anyone know if it's real and not something we invented because we can't live without it?"
"Do you think that's what we have?" He held up her left hand with the ring on it. He tenderly kissed it. "Do you think this is an illusion?"
"No. Of course not. I know that what we have is real." She cuffed him softly on his shoulder. "Now. You'd better go home before the sun comes up. This is not a drill."
"Yes. Sir." He gave her a mock salute. "Keep tomorrow night open?" He said with a twinkle in his eyes.
"I don't know. I'll have to check my dance card." She said with a huge grin.
From the far corner of the bullpen, LaCroix watched angrily as Nick and Natalie exited the observation room arm in arm.
& & & & & &
"It's none of his business what Nick and I do. We're both adults over the age of consent. And in Nick's case, well over the age of consent."
& & & & & &
Natalie was just putting the finishing touches on her latest 'guest' - Mrs. Lillian Ambroski. Lillian was eighty three years old, showed signs of early Alzheimers, was profoundly deaf, and legally blind. Evidently she had wandered away from her caregivers. From what witnesses had said, she was extremely disoriented and confused. She had been struck by a delivery truck as she attempted to cross a busy downtown street against the red light.
Don Schanke came into the room carrying a large florist's box. "Hel-l-o-o-o." He said in a very bad British accent. "This is in response to our stunning performance in the recent Valentines Day murder case. These are for you, Miss Lambert. I saw the florist in the hallway and offered to deliver them to you."
Natalie opened the box and took out a dozen long stemmed white roses. She read the card that was with them "O-o-o-h. An invitation to dine." She said in an accent that was even worse than Don's.
As she put the roses in a tall beaker, Don picked up the card. "My dear Natalie." He read. "I would be thrilled if you would join me for dinner at ... Le Azure ... " He cleared his throat loudly. Le Azure was one of the most expensive restaurants in Toronto. Schanke couldn't even afford to use their washroom, let alone eat there. " ... Tomorrow evening at eight o'clock. Signed ... A gentleman from the thirteenth century." He put the card with the flowers. "Hang on to this one, Natalie. He's put you on cloud nine and it looks like he intends to keep you there."
"I have every intention of hanging on to him." Natalie said as she fingered the diamond and ruby ring on her hand. ( Especially after what happened last night, there's no way I'm ever letting him go. )
( Way to go, partner of mine. ) Don thought as he left the morgue. ( Maybe I should put some more dough in the pool. I wonder if the day after tomorrow at ... ) He looked at his watch. ( ... Six AM is already taken. )
& & & & & &
Natalie spent the day getting ready. It started with a trip to the salon for a wash, trim and set. While she was there she also indulged in an avocado beauty mask and a manicure and pedicure. (Might as well go for broke. )
The dress was next. It had to be perfect. After searching several stores, she found THE DRESS. It was a black crepe number that came to just above the knees. It accentuated all of her positives while minimizing her negatives. The blouse was cut low, but not too low. It revealed just the appropriate amount of cleavage. And it was sleeveless as well. A matching crepe chiffon shawl completed the outfit
With the dress you had to have the perfect pair of shoes. She finally found a pair of black pumps that filled that criterion. Next came the purse. A black suede handbag, of course. She thought about buying new undergarments. Then she remembered the black lace teddy that the staff had given her for her birthday several years ago. It was meant as a gag gift, but ... who knows? This was the perfect occasion to break it in. A pearl necklace and earrings made the perfect complement to the ensemble. It had cost her the better part of a weeks pay, but it was worth every penny. It would knock Nick's proverbial socks off.
As she finished the last of her preparations, she heard a car pull up outside. A few seconds later, there was a knock at her door. When she opened it, she was disappointed to find that it was not Nick standing there, but a uniformed chauffer.
He escorted her to the limousine and helped her in. As they rode to the restaurant, Natalie tried to question him about that was happening. All he kept repeating in a monotone was: "Do not concern yourself, Doctor. Everything has been taken care of." Natalie wondered if he had been 'whammied', but quickly dismissed that. ( Nick wouldn't do such a thing. Would he? )
She was surprised and mildly confused as the Maitre D' escorted her through the empty restaurant to a secluded area off the main dining room. It was almost like a greenhouse, with a glass roof and myriads of plants behind a low wall. Just inside the door was a statue of a knight in full armor. ( How appropriate. A knight for a Knight. )
The man seated at the table stood up. Natalie was taken aback. This was definitely not Nick. He was well over six feet tall, with close cropped blond hair and gray-blue eyes that held no sign of warmth. The man held his hand to her. "I am honored that you could accept my invitation, Miss Lambert ... Natalie ... if I may." His smile reminded Natalie of a crocodile.
"I'm sorry. I have no idea who you are." She stuttered.
"Oh, but you do. I'm certain that Nicholas has spoken of me at one point or another." He bowed slightly from the waist. "I am Lucien LaCroix." Noticing her reaction to his name, he continued. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I know how much Nicholas cares for you. I simply felt that it was time that we met, don't you agree?"
"Will we be dining alone?" She asked as he pulled out the chair for her to be seated.
"Yes. I hope you don't mind. I bought out the entire restaurant this evening in your honor. I thought it would be an appropriate way for us to get to know one another. Perhaps we should talk about ... love. You do ... love ... Nicholas, do you not?"
& & & & & &
Nick dialed the number he had memorized a long time ago for the seventh time. For the seventh time he got the same message from her answering machine. "Hi. This is Natalie Lambert. I'm not in right now. Leave a message. I'll get back to you as soon as possible."
Nick slammed the phone down without leaving any message. He had left six messages already. One every ten minutes for the past hour. ( Where could she be? She knew I would have something planned for tonight. I mean it is Valentines Day after all. ) He was going to make this a very special Valentines Day. He had box seats to a first touring run Broadway show, and then dinner, and dancing after that. Perhaps ending with a nightcap at either his or her place. ( And after that ... we let nature take its course. ) He smiled broadly.
Then a worried look spread across his face. ( Maybe someone didn't show up and she got called in to work. They're always doing something like that. She probably didn't have time to call and let me know. ) He grabbed his jacket and headed for the loft door. ( I know. I'll go down there and wait for her. Maybe we can at least go out for a small dinner when she gets off. )
& & & & & &
Nick came up behind Grace Balthazar, Natalie's assistant, in the hallway. He toyed with the thought of sneaking up on her as he had done so often with Natalie, and promptly discarded it. Although she was mortal, Nick did not want to think of the damage that the chocolate hued, reubenesque proportioned coroner could inflict if she were angered or frightened. After all, she held a first degree brown belt in Tai Kwan Do. And she helped teach some of the self defense classes for Metro employees.
He cleared his throat instead. ( I may be immortal, but I'm not invulnerable. ) "Is Natalie around?" He asked.
"Now what would she be doing here?" Grace asked. "This is her day off, after all. Come to think of it, what are you doing here? After those gorgeous roses you sent her, I figured the two of you would be sitting in some fancy restaurant somewhere staring googley-eyed at each other and whispering sweet nothings."
"Roses? What roses?"
"The white roses, of course. They're in the vase in her office." She said to an empty hall. (I wonder if I could still put another fifty on the pool. Maybe move my day and time up a week or two as well. )
Nick saw the roses as soon as he entered Natalie's office. He picked up the card. What little blood there was drained from his face as he read it.
( LaCroix! )
Faster that anyone could have noticed, he was out of the building and into the air.
& & & & & &
LaCroix poured another glass of champagne for Natalie. "I have always loved the ceremony connected with champagne. It is such an extraordinary beverage. It is almost always used for special occasions. Like weddings for instance. Speaking of weddings, I understand you may be planning one of your own in the near future."
"That's not something Nick and I have really thought about. I mean, obviously I know what Nick is. That's how we met after all. There are a lot of problems we have to overcome before we can even think about anything like that. ( And you are one of the biggest problems. ) "I'm confident we can work them out, though." ( Is it me, or is the room becoming way too hot and stuffy? )
"That's a very good attitude. There's nothing more captivating than meeting one's opposite. Unfortunately, that is a luxury neither Nicholas nor I can afford. We may mix minds with mortals, but anything more than that could be quite ... hazardous to your health. On a lighter note, though, they say the food here is sublime. How did you enjoy your meal? The chef recommended The Pave De Boeuf Au Poivre very highly."
"Must be ... frustrating for you ... Your intolerance to food." She was having a difficult time thinking clearly. "Eating is after all ... one of the pleasures of life." ( A few glasses of champagne shouldn't be affecting me this much. )
There are so many ... mortal pleasures we cannot experience."
"Nick and I are ... working ... to ... to ... to correct that." She slurred.
He stood up and walked behind her. Gently, he ran his fingers through her hair. "Have you ever considered that Nicholas's so called ... condition is the very thing that attracts you to him? It is not uncommon, the attraction you feel." He removed her stole and gently massaged her shoulders. "A force of nature as immutable as the stars. Did it surprise you when Nicholas expressed his love for you?" He whispered as he sensuously unclasped her necklace and let it fall to the floor.
"Yesh. Shlurprished ... And ... Schkared, to-o-o." Her tongue refused to form the words properly. Her eyes started to display a definite glassy cast.
"Ah-h-h! How wonderful. I ... am ... so ... happy." His eyes had become yellow and his fangs had dropped. He bent for her neck.
At that moment there was a crash, and slivers of glass rained down on them as Nicholas came hurtling through the glass roof of the atrium. In one motion, he pulled LaCroix off Natalie and sent him flying across the room.
"WHAT FEEBLE EXCUSE DO YOU HAVE FOR BACKING DOWN ON OUR AGREEMENT?" He bellowed. His eyes glowed yellow green and his fangs were descended.
"I AM NOT BACKING DOWN ON OUR AGREEMENT!" LaCroix ranted as he returned to Natalie's side. "I am merely claiming what is rightfully mine. I WILL have the retribution that you promised me." He slowly circled Nicholas. His eyes were green gold and his fangs too were down. "I will either deprive you of this mortal that you love or I will deprive her of you. Either way, your promise to me will be fulfilled. I shall take great pleasure watching the torment take you over. This same torture that I have lived with every moment since you forced me to leave your sister behind. " LaCroix lunged for him.
"FORCED YOU? You gave her up willingly." Nicholas sidestepped and as he did, he karate chopped his master across the throat.
LaCroix growled in pain and anger, and then backhanded him fiercely, sending Nicholas reeling into the garden area.
"You know as well as I do that if you had brought Fleur across like you intended to do that night in 1229, you would have destroyed her innocence." Nicholas argued as he regained his balance and started for LaCroix once more. "You would have made her what we were ... What we still are ... Monsters ... Killers. Her innocence was the very thing you loved about her. It is the thing you would have destroyed if you had brought her across. So you let her live out her life as she was destined to live it out. As a mortal." The two vampires circled each other, looking for advantage.
"Her eventual fate is immaterial. What is important is that I had to give her up, thanks to your interference. WE had an agreement. A love for a love." LaCroix hissed as he again tried to capture Natalie's neck. Nicholas roughly pulled him off her. All this time, Natalie had been sitting quietly in her chair. It was questionable whether she was even aware of what was happening around her.
"What makes you think I'm in love with this woman?" Nick countered. "You think our relationship is about love? She knows what I am and she's working to find a cure. If she just happens to be infatuated with me, is it not in my best interests to humor her?"
"HAH! Hypocrisy from you is even more sickening than I expected. I have seen the two of you with my own eyes."
"I am only indulging her fantasies so she will continue to look for a cure. I repeat. I do not love this woman." Nicholas lied. He wanted to shout it from the rooftops that he loved her and she loved him. ( Please God. ) He prayed to the Deity that he had abandoned many centuries before. ( Let him believe me. Not for my sake but for hers. )
"Then bring ... her ... across." From the coldness and the evil in his voice, Nicholas knew that this was not a request. He had two choices. He could bring her across, or he could kill her. Neither choice was acceptable to him. Nicholas also knew that if he didn't do something, LaCroix would.
Gently, Nicholas guided Natalie from her seat and held her with her back to him. Her scent called to him, and to the vampire as well. Slowly, erotically, he kissed the length of her face from her temple to the nape of her neck. The vampire in him, already aroused, fairly screamed in delight with the expectation of what was to come. "At least she is one that will improve our kind's reputation." He said huskily as the vampire took over. His eyes were orange-red and his fangs were fully extended. He brought his mouth to her neck.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, LaCroix pulled Nicholas from her. "NO!" He shouted.
"WHY NOT?" The vampire growled irately. The man had been satisfied earlier in the week. Now the vampire demanded its due.
"I know you too well." LaCroix enlightened. "You revere all that is mortal. All that is human. If you really did love her, you would never take that from her. You would rather see her die. I ... WILL NOT ... trade Fleur for that. Your heart is still untouched. It has never quickened with such passion as I had for Fleur. Never ached with such sorrow as I have had since I had to leave her behind. But some day it will, Nicholas. SOME ... DAY ... IT ... WILL!" With that, LaCroix flew through the gaping hole in the ceiling and into the night sky.
( If only you knew, LaCroix. If only you knew. ) Nick stood for a long while holding Natalie tightly to him and forcing the vampire back into the farthest recesses of his being. The vampire was not happy. It had come so close to getting what it wanted, and it struggled fiercely against Nick's efforts. At long last though, the beast was safely tucked away in a part of Nick's being where it could not hurt her.
Nick began dusting butterfly kisses on every available part of Natalie's face and shoulders. ( Oh God, You know how much I love this woman. Forgive me for betraying the only decent thing that has happened to me in 800 years. ) Blood tears streaked his cheeks as he buried his face into her mass of auburn curls. "I swear I shall love you for all of eternity but we can never act on that love. It will destroy us both. He will never let me go, never free me from this debt, and I will not make you the price of my freedom." He whispered softly.
It was obvious that Natalie was heavily drugged. Nick had no doubts she would remember very little, if anything, of what had happened tonight. If she did ... and LaCroix found out about it ... he didn't even want to think about that. She was a resister, but in her present state, Nick was sure he could countermand that.
"Everything I said to LaCroix is a lie. I love you more than life itself." He whispered. He took her left hand and kissed the diamond and ruby ring on it. "Although you will not remember it, this ring represents the true way we feel about each other. This is the only reality we need to have. I meant it then, and I mean it now. Someway. Somehow. We WILL be together. I swear."
He leaned close to her ear. It wasn't what he wanted to tell her, but it was what he had to tell her. "This is what you will remember about tonight." He whispered, matching his words to her heartbeat. "And about the past few months as well ... "
& & & & & &
Natalie swept into the bullpen with a stack of folders in her arms.
"Hi, Nick." She said happily as she dropped several of them on Nick's desk. "Ah ... About last night ... I ... I didn't ... do anything ... or say anything ... ah ... "
"You don't remember?" Nick asked. Obviously his 'suggestions' had the desired effect.
"All right. I don't remember anything from the time I got to the restaurant until you took me home. I can usually hold my liquor a lot better than that."
"We had a good time." He lied.
"We did?" She said smiling. "Well I guess it's good to let your hair down every once in a while with your friends. Good." She blushed slightly. "Oh my God. I've been so burned out lately, I can't remember much of anything from the past week either. I mean even everything from before Christmas is sort of a fuzzy blur too." Her tone became serious. "We really had a good time?"
"A really great time."
"That's ... great. I ... Ah ... I gotta go. You know, we really ought to do this again some time."
Nick's heart broke as he watched her walk away. He took the silver pillbox out of his jacket pocket and stared at it lovingly. Although Natalie would not remember anything about the past few months, with his perfect vampire memory, he would recall every moment in detail for all of eternity.
& & & & & &
She fingered the ruby and diamond ring. " ... This is the only reality we need to have. I meant it then, and I mean it now. Someway. Somehow. We WILL be together. I swear ... " Sounded from somewhere in her subconscious.
"That slimy Bastard!" Natalie bristled as the last memories of that night cleared. "He has the cajones of a shark. And the morals of one, too! Somebody ought to have a little stake to heart talk with him." An evil smile crossed her face. "And I know just the person to do it."
She grabbed her purse and her 'vampire bag' from her desk drawer and her coat from the rack.
"Grace." She called to her assistant as she headed to the door. "I'm going out for a while. I have something to do." She paused as she grabbed the door handle. "On second thought. Maybe you'd better book me off. I don't think I'll be back tonight." ( Then again, if this does not go well, I may not ever be coming back. )
& & & & & &
"WHERE IS HE?" In an instant, everything stopped. Even without enhanced hearing, you could have heard a pin drop. All eyes, mortal and otherwise, riveted on the petite auburn haired woman standing at the entrance to the Raven.
"WHERE IS HE?" She called again. If they looked hard enough, they could almost see the fire shooting out from the Coroner's eyes, and clouds of brimstone curling from her ears. There was even a distinct psychic underscent of sulfur in the air. Several of the more timid male patrons dove under the nearest table.
Janette left her place at the bar and came toward her. "If you are looking for Nicholah, he is not here. What did he do this time that has you so upset, Cherie? Did he move on and not tell you? He has moved on a number of times and not even told me. Or perhaps he has gone off on one of his angst attacks and is in hiding. He has a habit of doing that too, you know."
"I'm not looking for Nick. I know where he is. He's at work. It's that manipulative, underhanded, conniving, scheming, two faced, double dealing, low down pond scum you laughingly refer to as your master that I want." Each phrase was spoken with increasing vehemence.
( Oh my. This is far worse than I thought. ) Janette led Natalie to one of the empty tables. "What has LaCroix done to get you in this state?" She sat her down and motioned for Miklos to bring a white wine and a glass of her special blend to the table. "Perhaps you can tell me what this is about and I can talk to him for you. I am certain we can come to some sort of an acceptable solution."
"The only solution I will accept is a stake through his black heart. I repeat. WHERE ... IS ... HE?"
"LaCroix is in my quarters. Resting. He has to begin his radio show in a few hours, and the past few days have been extremely difficult for him. He asked me if he could use my apartment to unwind before he goes on the air. He is probably sleeping."
"Just let me at him. I'll show him exactly what difficult is." Natalie picked up her 'vampire bag' and headed for the door to the back rooms.
Janette placed her hand on Natalie's shoulder and gently but firmly restrained her. "Natalie. It would not be in your best interests to disturb him in the condition you are in at this moment. In fact, it could be unquestionably fatal. Sit here for a while and have some wine. I have been told that in its pure form it does wonders for the nervous system as well as the digestive tract. I would not know anything about that firsthand, though." She took a small sip of her 'wine'. "I rarely drink the stuff in its natural state."
( Janette is right. In the condition I'm in now, LaCroix will drain me without even thinking about it. ) Reluctantly, she returned to her seat and slowly sipped her drink. Eventually, she felt herself calming. She still hung on to the anger with all her might. She would need that to get her through what she needed to do.
After a few minutes, she felt composed enough to go to him in a 'civilized' way ... more or less. She concentrated on keeping her heartbeat at a stable level and her breathing slow and steady. She started for the door again. Janette started toward her, but she gently brushed her aside. "I'm okay now, Janette. I don't want to kill him outright anymore like I wanted to do before." ( Now I want it to be long, slow and hurt a lot. ) "I just want to talk to him." ( In a pig's eye! )
Apparently it worked, because the raven haired vampire smiled slightly and escorted her to the door to the private quarters. "I will be in the main room. If you need me for anything, do not hesitate to call." Janette returned to her customary place at the end of the bar.
& & & & & &
Janette's apartment was on the second floor of the club. At the top of the stairs was a rather plain looking door that must lead to her residence. As quietly as she could, Natalie opened it.
The living area was furnished in an eclectic mix of antique, primitive, and modern pieces, ranging from a state of the art entertainment center to a set of huge, glass topped Pre-Columbian clay pots that served as end tables on either side of an nineteenth century settee. Ancient manuscripts and First Editions were ensconced next to Harlequin Romances in a chrome and glass bookcase. A Monet shared wall space with a Salvadore Dali and an eleventh century tapestry. Everything fit together in a very seamless pleasant way that was very much Janette DuCharme. Natalie was certain that most, if not all of the older pieces were originals.
A kitchenette to the back of the living room was furnished in gleaming black enamel and brushed stainless steel. Knowing that this was a vampire's residence, Natalie was sure that except for the refrigerator, everything else was purely for show.
In the wall across from her was another door, far more ornate than the one from the stairs. This door no doubt led to the bedroom.
As soundless as possible, she turned the handle. LaCroix was sleeping on a huge four poster canopy bed that looked like it came right out of the fifteenth century. It probably did. Like Nick, LaCroix lay on top of the covers on his back with his hands folded across his chest. Unlike Nick though, LaCroix was clad in only what he had come into the world with some two thousand years earlier.
Natalie took a few moments to examine ancient Roman. He was apparently in the middle of an erotic dream, and his body was responding accordingly. ( Not bad. Not bad at all. At least I know that he's fully functional. ) She mused as she checked out his ... attributes. ( Let's not go there, Lambert. Don't forget what you came to do. ) She cautioned herself. ( On second thought, why not have a little fun while I'm at it? )
First, she unpacked a few essential things from her bag, then she gently ran just the tips of her fingers along the outside of his ear. "Lucien." She called as softly as she could. She knew that with his enhanced hearing he could hear her.
"Welht vejou wamnt mow Nicherlash?" He mumbled and turned slightly into her hand.
"Lucien." She whispered again and this time she glided her fingers along the side of his cheek to his jawbone.
He grabbed her face and pulled it to him and planted a very wet, very passionate kiss on her lips. He pulled away as suddenly as he had grabbed her. "YOU'RE NOT NICHOLAS!" He growled huskily.
She jammed the tip of her stake against his chest. Fourth rib on the left. Three centimeters from the midline. Directly above the heart. "Damn straight I'm not Nicholas." She pushed the stake. The tip broke skin and the blood pooled around it.
"Doctor." He said, pulling his iron mask into place. Hi eyes were still yellow and his fangs were down. "You should know better than to wake a sleeping vampire. Hasn't Nicholas taught you better than that?" He attempted to swat the stake away, but Natalie only pushed harder. She felt it tear into the pectoral muscle.
"May I inquire what this is all about?" He asked noncommittally. Slowly, his eyes returned to their ice blue and his fangs retracted.
"How about a little game of word association. Valentines Day. White roses. Le Azure. Ring any bells?" She pushed the stake again. ( A few more centimeters and the problem will be solved. )
"I see that Nicholas's hypnotic prowess is sadly lacking. I shall have to remedy that at the earliest opportunity." He winced as the stake tore through his lung and came to rest directly above his heart. "If you remember that night ... and obviously you do ... It should be Nicholas you are angry with, not me. It was he who confessed ... that he did not love you. That he was only ... using you to find a so called cure." He attempted to pull the doctor's hands from the stake but she only held on that much tighter.
"I know what he said, and I know why. It was because of some stupid agreement concerning his sister you forced him into eight hundred years ago."
" I ... forced HIM? You have that all wrong, Doctor. HE forced me to give up Fleur. She was the only person I have ever loved. I had every right to demand a price."
"He did not force you to do anything. You gave her up willingly. Nick was right and you knew it. You would have destroyed her innocence and her love for you the minute your fangs left her neck. She probably wouldn't have turned away from the light either. As far as your agreement goes, haven't you collected on it any number of times already? Alyssa? Alexandra? Sylvaine? Alyce Hunter? And who knows how many others?"
"They all died by his hand, not mine." LaCroix attempted one more time to pull Natalie from the stake, but he found that his movements were much slower than could be explained simply by the stake in his chest.
"Just as a point of information. I decided to level the field a bit. I dipped the stake in a solution of curare diluted with holy water before I came here. Not enough to paralyze you, but enough to incapacitate you. It should wear off about an hour after I leave here. Until then, you are as weak as any ... mere mortal."
"And what makes you think I won't come after you then and have my revenge?" He hissed.
"Because you are afraid of me."
"AFRAID? ME? Of YOU? I am afraid of nothing! I am a Roman General. I have faced the armies of some of the most powerful barbaric tribes on earth. I am a two thousand year old vampire. One does not reach that age by being a coward. I certainly do not fear you! A mere ... mortal." He tried to laugh, but the stake in his lung only brought about a fit of bloody tinged coughing. ( If I can't frighten her, maybe I can create a false sense of security and rapport with her. When she has let her guard down, I can show her just who will win and who will lose. It has worked before. )
For a split second, she saw something in the ancient vampire's face before the unemotional mask slammed into place again. In that millisecond, she knew she was right. To lose Nicholas would be the worst thing that could possibly happen to him. In that microsecond, her fear and anger with him disappeared. In that nanosecond, she saw him for what he actually was. A lonely old man who tried to hold those close to him with the only tactic he knew. Fear.
(Get that thought out of your head, Lambert. ) She scolded herself. ( Remember who you're dealing with. Lucien LaCroix is a master at manipulation. He's had two thousand years of practice. He can make you think and feel anything he wants you to feel. And right now he wants you to feel sorry for him. ) Once more the anger came flooding back into her mind. ( That's it. That's what you must feel for him. That's all you must feel for him. Anything else, and he will have won this battle, if not the war. And this is definitely war. )
( That didn't work. Now to try a different tact. ) "I am not alone. I will never be alone. I have the Community with me at all times. And even if by some strange stretch of the imagination Nicholas does care for you, which he does not, I will still have him by my side when you end your pathetic existence." LaCroix smiled inwardly. Doubt was the thing that always worked both on mortals and immortals as well. "He said so at Le Azure. You remember. He admitted that he was only using you to find a cure for him. He might be able to make you believe he loves you and that he lied to me, but I know better. In eight hundred years, he has never been able to lie to me. As they say, blood will always tell. And his blood tells me that he was telling the truth. He does not love you." LaCroix had not taken Nicholas's blood since the incident, or for some time before that, but the good doctor need not know that.
For a fleeting moment, doubt filled her mind. She loosened her grip on the stake, and as she did so, her fingers on her right hand brushed the ring on her left hand. In that instant, she knew the truth. The only truth that mattered. Nicholas did truly love her.
( You're not going to let him get away with this little charade, are you? ) She argued with herself. ( He changes his stories as often as he changes his underwear. That is, if he even wears any underwear. ) After all, he was lying naked in front of her and not showing any embarrassment about it. Then again, neither was she.
Suddenly, a Plan B popped into her head. ( If this is going to work, you have to convince him that you believe him. Just like Nick did. He's such a smug conceited bastard, it just might work. ) She allowed the doubts to return. If he thought for a moment she was lying ... She pushed her true feelings into the farthest reaches of her subconscious. She suspected he could read her like an open book. She prayed that he would not think to probe too deeply.
"I ... I don't know. I'm so confused about that night ... I don't know ... know what to believe anymore." She said timidly. "Tell me what to do, LaCroix." She played her role perfectly. " I mean ... I'm sorry I accused you ... I guess I really should be angry at Nick after all ... I mean ... If he really doesn't love me like he said that night, then you would have no reason to take your revenge out on Nick and me, would you? You will let this ... this relationship ... whatever relationship we might have ... between Nick and me play itself out, Won't you?" She added just the right amount of hesitancy and fear to her voice ... and to her thoughts.
LaCroix's mind jumped with glee. Dr. Lambert was one of the toughest mortals he ever had to deal with, but he ... was ... dealing with her. For a fraction of a second, he thought the doubt maneuver was not going to work, but then he watched as her resolve melted. He could feel her determination waning. She believed him, and nothing Nicholas could ever say or do would change that. He knew from past experience that once the seeds of uncertainty were planted, nothing could stop them from growing.
"Of course, my dear. Since I am certain that you are not his true love, there is no need for me to fulfill the agreement with you. You and Nicholas are free to pursue your association as far as it will go. I will not interfere. You have my word." He smiled as graciously as he could. ( I won't have to do a thing. I have seen it many times before. Your type will run, not walk in the opposite direction now that you believe that he has betrayed you. It is immaterial whether he really does love you or not. If you believe he does not, and he believes that I believe he does not, he will not do anything to risk the status quo for fear of my reprisal. The result will be the same. A lifetime of suffering and denial. That is all I want. That's all I have ever wanted. For him to suffer as I have suffered. )
"Thank you LaCroix. You have made me feel ... ever so much better. You will tell Nick that you will not enforce your agreement, won't you? I know you will keep your word." She barely smiled, but inside, she was jumping with joy. "At least that way Nick and I can still be friends."
"I will." He coughed and bloody froth dribbled down the side of his chin. "Now. If you will be so kind ... " He pointed to the stake sticking out of his chest.
"Gladly. Now that I know that you are no longer a threat to me." She yanked several times at the stake, each time a little harder than necessary. Actually, it was quite a bit harder than necessary. She was rewarded with a gut wrenching cry of agony each time. Eventually the stake pulled free. LaCroix was writhing in pain and his face was covered in blood sweat. Unemotionally, Natalie walked to the bottom of the bed and took a wool throw that was on the cedar chest there. She threw it over his naked bleeding body and calmly walked out the door.
& & & & & &
Janette was waiting at the end of the bar as Natalie came out. "Congratulations, Mon Cherie. It is very rare that anyone ... let alone one of your kind ... can put one over on the General." She smiled.
"You know what happened?"
"But of course. As soon as you left here, I went to the apartment door and listened. Even without the link between LaCroix and me, I could either hear everything that went on in the room. What I couldn't hear, I could imagine."
"And you did nothing to help him? You didn't go to him when you knew he was in agony? Why did you let him suffer like that?"
"Yes, I knew he was in a great deal of pain. But I also knew that he was not in any immediate ... if you will forgive the pun ...mortal danger. If he had been, I would have reacted instantly. As to why I did not go quickly to his aid ... " She sighed heavily and took a sip of the "wine" before her. " ... While he is my master, he has never been known to be a loving, kind or forgiving master.
I realize that Nicholah has taken the brunt of the abuse from him, but I have been on the receiving end of quite a few of his temper tantrums as well. I just thought he might appreciate knowing how it feels. At least physically. I will let him ... as you say ... stew in his own juices ... for a few more minutes. Long enough for you to get safely away, and then I shall go to him." She reached over and kissed Natalie gently on the cheek. "Go quickly. And be happy with Nicholah."
As Natalie started for the door, Janette called softly to her. "And I shall see to it that he keeps his word about Fleur."
"Thank you, Janette." Natalie answered as she shut the door to the Raven.
"De rein, cherie. C'est mon plaisir." (You're welcome, cherie. It's my pleasure.)
She heard it through her link as well as from the hallway. "JANETTE!" She braced herself. He was not a happy vampire.
& & & & & &
If despair had a name, it would be Detective Nicholas B. Knight. In the days following Valentines Day, he had gone from uncommunicative to hostile to downright surly. He was really living up to his nickname 'Knightmare'. Everyone in the precinct tread on eggshells around him for fear of having their head bitten off and handed to them. Almost literally. A few of his fellow officers had even said they imagined they had seen glowing eyes and fangs. Captain Cohen, not known to back down from anything, was avoiding him was whenever possible. Even his partner Don Schanke was giving him a wide berth. Bets were being taken as to when he would start growing horns and a tail.
"You going to the morgue for the Langley report?" Don Schanke asked his partner.
His reply was a growl.
"Speaking of morgues, how are you and the lovely Doctor Lambert doing?"
"None of your godam business." Nick growled. "And I'll thank you to keep your meddling nose out of it."
"Nick. Look. I'm only trying to be a friend. If ever there were two people who ... "
"I said ... BUTT OUT!"
"Are we being a wee bit testy?" Schanke said.
"I strongly suggest that you spend more time doing the job that the City of Toronto pays you to do, and less time trying to play amateur psychiatrist." He glared at the knot of police officers hovering just outside his desk area. " ... And that includes the rest of you as well!" Suddenly, there was a flurry of keyboard sounds, telephone calls being made and papers being shuffled.
"I take it that means you're not going to the morgue?" He ducked just as a stapler sailed through the air where his head had been. "A simple no would have sufficed." He mumbled as he left the bullpen.
& & & & & &
"Hey there sweetness and light." Don Schanke said cheerily as he gave Grace Balthazar a bear hug from behind. "How's my favorite Assistant Coroner today?"
"Keep that up, Detective Schanke, and I'm going to have to tell Myra about the affair we're having behind her back." Grace replied, laughing and returning Don's hug.
Don grasped his chest and feinted back. "Oh! No! Not that!" He said in mock horror. "I can't afford a mistress. On my salary, I can barely afford a wife. Why do you think she's selling Skin Pretty products?"
"Speaking of Skin Pretty, have her come around sometime in the next few days. I've got several orders for her." She pulled a folder from the stack on her desk. "I take it you're here for the Langley report?"
"In a nutshell ... Suicide. I found excessive amounts of Darvoset and Nembutal in his system, as well as two slugs from a .9mm. in his chest. His wrists had been cut with the exacto knife that was found on the end table. The drugs matched the ones in the prescription bottles on his dresser, and the gun in his hand and was registered to him. The angle of the wounds and the powder marks are consistent with self inflicted wounds. The bullets were also a perfect match. One way or another, he was going to make sure he died."
"That pretty much goes along with what the family says." Don agreed. "In a little over two months, he had lost his job, his house, totaled his car, his wife ran off with his best friend and cleaned out their bank account while she was at it, and his only son declared he was gay. According to everyone that I talked to, he wouldn't even consider counseling. He just wanted to end it all."
He put the folder under his arm and started for the door. "I really don't want to go back to the station. Mr. Sweetness-And-Light is driving everyone nucking futz. Especially yours truly."
"I know what you mean. The few times he's been here lately ... It's get in ... Get what he needs ... And get out as quickly as possible. If he and Natalie say more than ten words to each other, it's strictly in the line of duty." Grace sighed deeply. "Two weeks ago, they were so happy and loving. After the flowers he sent and the dinner at Le Azure on Valentines Day, I thought we were definitely going to hear wedding bells in the near future. I even had my bridesmaid's dress all picked out.
Now that I think about it though, when I mentioned the flowers to him on Valentine's night, he acted as though he didn't know what I was talking about. He left here so fast, you'd think he flew. You don't think ... "
" ... That someone else may have sent her the flowers?" Don Schanke finished her sentence. "That could explain a lot of things. After all, Nick has been known to get a tad jealous when any other male shows too much interest in the good Coroner."
"A TAD? You mean full blown tyrannical, don't you? I mean, sometimes he acts like she's his personal private property. I just wish the two of them would admit to each other what everyone else has known for the past five years."
"Speaking of Natalie, how's she doing?"
"Not good at all. She has constant headaches and combined with her lack of sleep, she looks like Rocky Raccoon."
"Lack of sleep?"
"Yeah. She won't talk about it, but she has been having nightmares ever since Valentines Day. She's even had a few of them here at work when she's fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion. Again, she won't talk about them, but from the way she reacts, they must be real beauts.
What she doesn't know ... " Grace got right up to his face and waggled her finger at him. " ... and you breathe a word of this to her, and I will personally sit on your face and do something vulgar ... is that the rest of the staff have been siphoning off the grisly cases. We've only given her the easy stuff. In the state she's in, if she wound up with one of the more gruesome ones, she'd probably break into little bitty pieces."
"I got a toonie that says that 99.44 percent of the good doctor's problems are because of a certain blond detective, and that 99 percent of that same fore mentioned detective's woes have to do with an auburn haired medical examiner." Don said, putting a silver and copper coin on Grace's desk. "If they'd just hash it out, I know they'd be okay. Not to mention three quarters of the 96th precinct."
"The morgue would be a lot better place too. But how do we get them to talk when they won't say two words to each other that aren't official business?"
"Maybe we oughta lock them in the cold room until they thrash their problems out. It should work. Either they'll kiss and make up, and come out all lovey-dovey again, or there'll be two more corpses to autopsy by morning. Either way, the problem will be solved. Personally, I'm betting on the first option."
"Donald G. Schanke. You are one devious, conniving, son of a mother." Grace's eyes sparkled conspiratorially. "When do we start?"
& & & & & &
Nick Knight sat at his desk with his head propped in his hands. Not surprisingly, there was no one within a ten foot area of the 'Knightmare'. He was aware of him only seconds before he felt him standing behind him.
"Let us go somewhere private and talk." Lucien LaCroix whispered to his 'son'. He followed Nick to Interrogation Room 2. "And this will be a secure site?" He waited while Nick locked the door, and turned off all the cameras and microphones.
"Now." Nick glared at his master. "What is so important that you had to come all the way over here? We said everything we had to say at Le Azure."
"My. My, Nicholas. The rumors are correct. You are a bit bad-tempered tonight."
"If you've come to gloat, forget it. The last thing I need now is for you to be rubbing my face in your attitude. I've had enough of that for the past eight hundred years. Now say what you have to say and leave. I have a lot of work to do."
"I have had a visit from your pet toy." He began. He put his hand on his chest. Although the wound had healed almost as soon as the curare had worn off, the emotional pain still lingered. ( To have been bested in this manner by a mere mortal ... But then, who ever accused the Good Doctor of being 'mere' ... ) "The Doctor remembers what happened at Le Azure."
The world suddenly stopped and Nick's heart dropped into his shoes.
"There is no need for concern." LaCroix continued smugly. "Apparently she believes that you do not in fact love her. That you are using her as a means to an end." He heaved a very self satisfied sigh. "I know the Good Doctor. She is a strong minded, determined, independent woman. If she thought for one minute you were not telling the truth, it would have showed in her actions toward me. She believes you were telling the truth, and that is good enough for me. I have given her my word that I will not pursue our agreement with her." He put his hand on his son's shoulder. "Enjoy her to your heart's content, Nicholas. Just remember. One of these days there WILL be an opportunity to collect on our agreement." A second later, he was gone.
Nick breathed once more. ( At least Natalie is in no danger. She believes what I said that night. And so does LaCroix. But I know the truth. I know that I love her with my whole heart and what little soul I have. And I always will. )
He returned to his desk and picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Aristotle. I need to make an appointment." He said when the phone was answered. This would be the best for all concerned. Even though LaCroix had released him from his agreement where Natalie was concerned, he knew that he could never have any sort of a relationship with her. Not even friendship. Every time he saw her, he would be reminded of Le Azure. So would she. No. It was better for everyone if he just disappeared.
"On second thought, never mind." He hung up the phone. ( I understand the sunrises on Prince Edward Island are nothing short of spectacular. Perhaps I'll go there and see for myself. ) It would take about a week or two to get everything in order. Then he would get in the Caddy and head east.
& & & & & &
"Are you sure this will work?" Grace Balthazar asked Don Schanke as she handed him the Ebertz autopsy reports.
"It almost has to." Schanke answered. "We've tried everything else to get those two together. I know Nick has been in a world of hurt lately. So has Natalie. I think it's all because of whatever happened on Valentine's Day. What kind of friends would we be if we let them continue like this? Now you know what you have to do."
"We've been over it three times already."
"Good. It's Nick's day off. In fact, Cohen gave him an extra long weekend to get his act together after he threatened to rearrange Officer Langley's body parts. Langley made a comment about how cute Natalie looked in her undies. He was talking about his three year old daughter who had just been potty trained, but Nick didn't know that.
I'm going over to the loft and see about getting Nick in here. Give me a call when everything is set up here, and I'll bring him in."
"Natalie's off this weekend, too. It's the first one she's had since before all this started. And I had to practically force her to take that. I almost hate to do this to her, but if you're sure ... "
"I'm sure." Don said as he headed for the door.
& & & & & &
Schanke looked slack jawed at the scene before him. The TV was on and a soundless line of credits were rolling off the screen. The place was littered with green bottles, and a few brown ones as well. In addition, there were a dozen or so beer cans in and around the trash can. Most of them were empty. Nick lay sprawled partly on the recliner, partly on the floor. He clutched a half empty bottle in his hand.
Carefully, Schanke approached his partner. He grabbed at the bottle out of Nick's hand just as it was about to drop.
"GIVE THAT BACK!" Nick snarled as he made a half hearted swipe for the bottle. Even if he wanted to, he was in no condition for his eyes to change or his fangs to elongate.
Schanke took a sniff of the bottle. It was obvious that it contained whiskey. From the smell, a very cheap whiskey. He could tell there were some other ingredients he couldn't quite identify as well. "Whew!" He said, curling his nose at the odor. "How many of these have you had?"
"Not nearly enough." After several tries, Nick managed to pull himself into something vaguely resembling a sitting position. "Now, give it back." He scowled.
"And I think you've had a few too many." Schanke took the bottle into the kitchen and poured the remains into the sink.
"You're playing with fire, Schanke." He growled. With a great effort, he managed to stand, weaving very noticeably. He reached for the arm of the chair for support.
"And you're not playing with a full deck." Don put his index finger on his partner's chest and gave a slight push. Nick slumped back into the chair. "In the shape you're in right now, even Jenny could get the best of you."
Nick snarled and made a sort of wobbly lunge for the detective. Schanke easily sidestepped and Nick landed on the floor with a loud thud.
Shaking his head, Schanke reached under his partner's shoulders and attempted to lift him, but his partner was passed out cold. After several futile efforts, Schanke returned the figure to the floor ( 186 pounds of dead weight is way too much for me. ).
"C'mon. Nicky boy. Snap out of it." Don said as he attempted to roll Knight onto his back. After a few tries, he succeeded, only to have Nick curl up into the fetal position. Finally, Don sighed and gave up. "If that's the way you want it, that's the way you're gonna get it." He said as he began to pick up the mess and clean the area. He had to step over the sprawled out vampire several times to do it.
A half hour later, Nick was still out.
"They say it's supposed to work, and it better work for him." He mumbled as he went into the kitchen and looked through the cabinets for a large enough container. In one of the bottom cupboards he found a dirty old iced tea pitcher. He washed it out and held it under the cold water until it was full. Then he took the pitcher and slowly poured it over the prone figure on the floor. He quickly took several steps back as Nick began to stir.
"Wha' happened? Did anybody get the ... num ... number of that ... train?" Nick groaned, holding his head. His fangs still refused to drop.
"You really tied one on, partner. You're definitely three sheets to the wind."
"Inebriated. Pickled. Potted. Planted. Stoned. Drunk as a skunk, however drunk a skunk can get. In other words, you're hung over."
"Is that what thish ish?" He mumbled. His tongue felt as though it was crazy glued to the roof of his mouth. No wonder he felt so bad. He had been drinking human blood generously laced with cheap whiskey. With just a drop or two of curare for added impact. And following that with a beer chaser. He made no effort to get up, just continued to hold his head.
"C'mon, pal." Schanke made another attempt to rouse the drunken vampire. "Give me a little help here."
"What do jeyou wanpt me to do-o-o." Nick said as he alternately helped / fought his partner's efforts to put him on his feet.
"I think the first thing we ought to do is get you into a cold shower." He said as he not too successfully guided his weaving partner toward the guest bathroom. There was no way he was even going to try to get him upstairs to the master bath.
"You know ... Sch-h-h-ank ... Don-ney Baby ... you're the ... besht ... part-in-her I effver had." Nick slurred as he laid his head on Don's shoulder. "Je vraiment ... vraiment vous aime. Vous me comprenez. (I really ... really like you. You understand me.)" He patted the detective's cheek tenderly.
"I don't know what you just said, but if you try to kiss me, I'm gonna drop kick your sorry arse from here to Halifax." Don said as he finally wrestled the wobbly vampire through the door.
He eventually gave up trying to get Nick out of his clothes and just guided him fully clothed into the shower stall. He sat him on the floor and turned on the water and let it run over the intoxicated figure. He stepped outside the bathroom door and waited. Several moments later, there was the sound of retching as Nick emptied his stomach of the blood boilermakers he had been guzzling. Fortunately, the running water swept any signs of the red liquid down the drain almost immediately. With the offending fluids out of his system, sobriety was not that far away.
"You gonna be all right for a few minutes while I get you some clean decent clothes?" Schanke asked after the vomiting stopped.
"Uh huh." Came the weak reply.
& & & & & &
Minutes later, the two were sitting at the kitchen table.
"Better?" Schanke asked.
Nick nodded. The eighteen wheeler should be backing off his sinuses any minute now. And taking the little guy with the jack hammer who was trying to knock a hole through the back of his head with him.
"Good. Now we can talk. I don't know what brought this on. On second thought I think I do. Ever since you and Nat did whatever you did on Valentines Day that split you two up, you've been acting like you're about to bite the head off the whole world. Literally. As your friend, I'm gonna give you a piece of advice, and I hope you take it. Either you get back with her or you get over it. Personally, I hope you get it on with her."
"I wish it were that easy." He buried his face in his hands. "Nat has written me out of her life, and I can't blame her. I betrayed her in the cruelest way possible. She couldn't possibly forgive me for what I did and said. I'll never be able to forgive myself for what I did, so how can I hope that she'll ever forgive me?"
"So, you apologize. You grovel a little. Or maybe you grovel a lot. You promise it will never ever happen again. And you mean it. You do whatever it takes. You send her two dozen roses and a big box of Godiva chocolates. A bottle of White Diamonds - the perfume, not the cologne - wouldn't hurt either. That always does the job with Myra."
"I wish I could do something to make it all right. I tried to apologize the other day. She wouldn't even look at me. I asked her to call me. She hasn't called. What am I going to do, Schanke? I love her so much. I can't go on without her."
Just then, the phone rang. And just as suddenly, Schanke remembered his and Grace's covert mission.
"Hi. This is Nick Knight." The answering machine kicked in. "I'm either asleep or incommunicado. Leave a message. I'll get back to you."
"Detective Knight. This is Grace Balthazar. I know you're not on duty, but I need you at the morgue right away. It's urgent." There was the dial tone just as Nick picked up the phone.
"I wonder what that was about." Nick said as he grabbed his watch and holster from the table .
"I don't know, but Dr. Balthazar sounded serious. We had better get to the morgue PDQ." Schanke said as he grabbed his coat from the back of the chair where he had deposited it earlier that evening. Obviously, Grace had done her part.
& & & & & &
"Okay, Grace." Natalie said as she entered her office. "What's the big emergency that you had to call me in from that weekend you bamboozled me into taking. I was just about to get seriously involved with Adrian Paul when you called."
"Adrian Paul, who's he? A new boyfriend?" ( Oh lord, I hope not. )
"Grace! What rock have you been hiding under for the past three years? Adrian Paul is the star of The Highlander. It's only the hottest show on TV."
( A TV show! Thank goodness. )
"Now, what's this big emergency?"
"In there." Grace said, pointing to the cold room.
"Well, bring the body out."
Grace held up her right arm. It was encased in a fake cast. "I can't do it by myself. You're going to have to help me."
"What happened to you?"
"I tripped over a loose rug and broke it this morning. The doctor says it's only a chip fracture in my wrist, but it hurts like hell." She struggled to open the door with her left hand.
"Here. Let me do that." Nat said. She opened the door and stepped inside.
Immediately, Grace shoved the door shut. "I'm sorry, Honey." Grace said over the intercom. "I felt a little dizzy and guess I must have backed against the door. Probably the result of that painkiller that they gave me in the ER. Hang in there. I'm going to get someone to get you out."
She had just finished pulling the cast off her wrist when Schanke came through the lab door.
"Where's Nick?" Grace asked.
"Parking that lake freighter of his." He replied. "His usual spot in front of the fire hydrant was taken."
"Pigeon number one is on ice." She pointed to the cold room.
"And here comes pigeon number two." Schanke whispered as Nick came through the door.
"Now. What is so urgent that you had to call me in?" Nick asked. "You must have heard I'm on administrative leave. I thought that the Ebertz case was finished, and there haven't been any more murders in the past two days, have there?"
"In there." Grace said. "See for yourself."
As soon as Nick opened the door, Schanke and Grace pushed him in and slammed the door shut.
"Schanke! Grace! What's going on out there! Let me out! NOW!" Nick shouted as he pounded on the heavy steel door. His answer was the click as the lock slid into place.
"That's what I've been trying to do for the past ten minutes." Natalie said from behind him. "They aren't listening."
He had not sensed that there was anyone else in the cold room. Of course, he didn't have the time to. "What are you doing in here?"
"I don't know. Grace called and said there was an emergency. She broke her wrist and she needed someone to help her get a body to the autopsy room. The next thing I know. I'm locked in here."
"Grace didn't have a broken wrist when I saw her."
"Why that little phony ... " Natalie fumed. "When I get my hands on her, she just might end up with more than a broken wrist. Like every bone in her conniving body."
He pushed on the intercom button. "Grace. Schank. Let us out. Now. Natalie's freezing to death."
"It's not that cold in there." Grace's voice came over the speaker. "It's only fifty six degrees. Same as outside. Just be glad we didn't put you in one of the drawers. They're at thirty eight degrees. We'll let you two out when you two have kissed and made up. The cold should give you some incentive to make that as soon as possible. In the meantime, Don and I are going down the hall to get some hot coffee from the cafeteria. It's freezing in here."
"You can't do this to us!" Nick yelled. "Schank! I'm going to get you for this when we get out." He heard the office door slam.
Nat rubbed her arms to ward off the cold. She had been in there several minutes before Nick arrived and her lips were beginning to show slight traces of a blue tinge.
Nick took off his jacket and wrapped it around her. "Better?"
Nat nodded. "A little." She pulled the coat tightly around her. "So, what do we do now?" She asked.
"We wait. They can't be so hard hearted to leave us in here for very long." He moved to the opposite side of the room from where Natalie was standing. "I know you don't want to be in here with me any longer that you have to."
"Nick I ... " "Nat I ... " They said in unison.
"You go first." "You go first."
"Okay." Nick said softly. "LaCroix came to see me the other day. He said that you remember everything that went on at the restaurant on Valentines Day." He hung his head. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you like that. That's why I tried to erase your memories. I thought it would make things easier for both of us. Please understand and try to forgive me if that's at all possible. As soon as this is over, I promise I will get out of your life for good."
"What will you do?"
"Perhaps I'll move on. Perhaps I'll ... " He sighed heavily. "Regardless, you won't ever have to see me again."
She shook inwardly. That was the last thing she wanted. She could not imagine her life without him.
"No, Nick. I won't forgive you. You see, there's nothing to forgive. Yes, I remember everything that happened at Le Azure. Everything. Including what happened after LaCroix left." She held up her left hand with the diamond and ruby ring on it. "I remember this. And what you said.
And I quote ... 'Everything I said to LaCroix is a lie. I love you more than life itself. Although you will not remember it, this ring represents the true way we feel about each other. This is the only reality we need to have. I meant it then, and I mean it now. Someway. Somehow. We WILL be together. I swear' ... End quote.
That's what I believe. That's what I know."
"But LaCroix ... "
"Believes what I wanted him to believe. That I think you do not love me. And I didn't lie to him ... not exactly. I just sort of slanted the truth to his point of view. I haven't been around vampires for six years without learning a few tricks."
"You know he'll be out for revenge when he figures out he's been had. And believe me, he ... "
"Won't do a thing. He gave me his word not to interfere with our relationship, and he said he'd tell you the same thing. He is, after all, a Roman General. His word is sacred to him above everything. Besides, think of the humiliation it would cause if the Community ever found out that he'd been outdone ... and by a mortal ... and a woman at that. No, he'll keep his word, if for no other reason than to save face."
"You may be right about that. I have seen him go to great lengths rather than break a promise."
"Then we have nothing to worry about, do we?"
"If that's the case, what are we doing in here, my love?"
"This." She drew him to her and kissed him fervently. "And that's just for openers."
"I meant what I said. I love you, Natalie Lambert. More than life itself." Nick pushed the intercom button. "I think you can let us out now." He said. "We've reached an agreement. Incidentally, you two could give lessons to a yenta in matchmaking."
"Nick. Did you just say you loved me?"
"Yes. I love you. I Love You ! I LOVE YOU !!!"
"Don't just say it, show it."
& & & & & &
Don opened the door. He smiled at Grace as he picked up the four dollars lying on her desk and slid them into his pocket. "I think we had better get them out of there before they thaw out everything in sight."
Nat and Nick were entwined in a passionate kiss.
& & & & & &
Not on your (or their)