Forever Knight

New Links

Nick pulled the Caddy into the garage of the loft. It was supposed to have been a 'secret' where they spent their honeymoon. Most people assumed that it would be in some exotic location like Tahiti or Paris, but the truth was that they spent the entire two weeks at Schanke's cabin in Algonquin Park. To the happy couple, it was far better than going abroad. They reveled in the leisurely hassle free environment. The cabin was in a primitive section of the park. It had only the basic amenities. Electricity and indoor plumbing. There was also a microwave and a dishwasher. According to Myra Schanke, these were absolute necessities, too. No phones. No TV. No work. No crimes. No worries. Just the two of them. It was like two weeks in paradise. Now, though, they were just as happy to return to civilization once more.

"Well, Mrs. Knight." He said as he held the door open for her. "Ready to go home?"

"We are home, Mr. Knight." She replied.

"I mean in style." He reached under her and swept her into his arms. At the same time, he captured her mouth with his. He kept that position all the way up in the elevator to the top floor. How he managed to open the heavy steel door to the loft without breaking the kiss or dropping his wife will always remain a mystery, but he did. When he finally released her, they were both breathless.

"My! My!" Natalie said as she gasped for breath. "Mr. Knight, I like your style."

"If you liked that, Mrs. Knight, just wait until I get you into the bedroom. I'll show you style that will knock your socks off."

"Then, what are we waiting for?" She grabbed his hands and practically dragged him toward the stairs. He caught her and swept her into his arms again and flew up to the second level. Literally.

**********

They lay exhausted, sprawled on the disheveled bed. Sidney purred drowsily at their feet.

"We have to talk." Nick said softly as he twirled a lock of her hair in his fingers. "One of the first things we have to do is find a doctor."

"You are forgetting. I am a doctor."

"But you're not an obstetrician. I want to be absolutely sure that you and the baby are healthy."

"And … "

"What makes you so sure there's an 'and' ?"

I know you too well. There's always an 'and'."

"You're right. This is not what you would call a normal pregnancy by any means." He ran his hands through his hair. "What I mean is … You're mortal. I'm a vampire. What if this baby has inherited my … condition? What if he's some kind of monster? What will we do then?"

"And what if he's healthy and perfect?"

"That's just it. We have to know ... I have to know. And we can't trust just any doctor. It had to be one who would know what to look for and what to do if he found something out of the ordinary."

"That would almost take a vampire. Are there any vampire OB-GYNs around?"

"I don't know, but I'll find out." He took her into his arms. "Meanwhile, why don't you and I try a few refinements on those techniques that we just now invented?" He began feathering kisses along her forehead.

As they began working on their 'techniques', Sidney jumped off the bed and headed for the safety of the bathroom. He had learned from past experience that it could be very dangerous for a small furry creature like him to be in the immediate area while his pets were making love.

**********

"Knight! My office." Captain Joe Reese called.

"Captain. If this is about the update on the Carter case, I'll have it by the end of the shift. I promise." Nick Knight said as he came through the office door. "It's just that with everything that's been going on lately …"

"This isn't about the Carter case, although I'm going to hold you to that promise. I know you've been swamped since you got back. That's why I called you in here. I want you to meet your new partner."

"But I already have two partners … "

" … Who are both out on extended recuperative leave. This is Detective Pete Natsuko of the Tokyo Prefecture. He's been assigned here under an exchange program with the Japanese government to observe our methods. Since he said he wants to learn from the best, I've temporarily assigned him to you."

The Asian detective looked more like a teenager than a policeman. He was barely 5'5" and if he weighed 130 pounds sopping wet with a couple of very large rocks in his pockets, he was doing good. His dark irises seemed to encompass the entire eye, and Nick had the distinct feeling that he could see all the way through to his nonexistent soul. While it was not uncommon for Orientals to have little facial hair, he hardly had peach fuzz. This complemented his open, fresh scrubbed, smiling face and only added to his youthful appearance.

Nick held out his hand at the same time that Pete bowed low. Nick quickly withdrew his hand and bowed as Pete held out his hand. "This isn't going to work." Nick said. "On the count of three, why don't we both bow?"

"And on the count of six, we can both shake hands." Pete replied with a slight smile.

"And on the count of ten, how about if you both rub your tummies with your left hands and pat your heads with your right at the same time?" Reese interrupted. "This is a police station, not a class in intercultural etiquette."

"You're right, Cap. We'll figure out the formalities later." Nick said, breaking out in a wide grin. It was matched by Pete's smile.

"Good. Now why don't you take Detective Natsuko here and show him around the precinct."

"Pete. Is that short for Peter?" Nick asked as he led the detective to Don Schanke's desk. He held out his hand to the Detective and Natsuko shook it. For the briefest part of a second, a strange tingle, almost like electricity went through Nick's arm, and then it was gone. Maybe I imagined it.

"Not really. My given name is Ohamasito Natsuko. I grew up on a navy base. My father was the Liaison Officer there. The sailors had a hard time with my name, so they nicknamed me 'Pete'. It sort of stuck. Now, everybody calls me that." Pete said in nearly flawless English.

"Then I won't break the chain. Pete it is." He waited until Pete settled into the chair and then handed him a folder. "This is the case I'm working on now. Not much of a mystery, though. David Carter was killed by his partner, James Martin, in an altercation over a missing hundred thousand dollars of company funds. We have two witnesses who heard the men quarreling. According to them, Martin threatened Carter several times. That night, a janitor found Carter in his office with two bullets in his chest. Both went clean through his heart. The riflings match those fired by a gun registered to Martin. We later found it buried in the trash can at Martin's home. Martin's fingerprints were the only ones and they were all over it.

There seems to be a … excuse the pun … sizeable … question as to who is the embezzler. Martin appears to be on the run. We have an interprovincial warrant out on him and we've been able to track him to Eastern Quebec, but so far, we have been just a few steps behind him. All we have to do is find Martin and then we can find out just who took the money, and why."

Nick watched as Pete read the documents. Absently, he massaged his right arm. Something wasn't right. He concentrated on the detective. The man had an extremely slow heartbeat. Only twenty nine beats a minute instead of the usual seventy five to eighty. There weren't any of the customary vampire vibes either. He appeared to have somewhat of a tan instead of the usual pallor associated with citizens of the night, but that could be attributed to his oriental complexion. Nick wasn't sure what he was, but he was nearly positive he wasn't a vampire. Whatever he was, Nick would have to keep a very close eye on him.

**********

Javier Vachon swallowed nervously as he punched in the security codes on the loft elevator. After they had returned from their honeymoon, Nick had given him access to the loft so he could keep an eye on Natalie while he was at work, as well as Tracy. That was not why he was here tonight, though. Someone had to tell Nick about the three vampires that had been killed behind the Raven ... And the fact that they had been killed by an apparent hunter. Possibly one who knew ninja techniques as well. Miklos had nominated him to be the one.

He swallowed again as the lift started its creaky voyage up the shaft toward the top floor. Nick was there. Natalie was at work. Even though they were married, their days off still did not always correspond. Vachon was glad of that. It was bad enough facing Nick. To have to go through it with Natalie present was … It wouldn't be easy

He could feel the succinct vibes that emanated from the new Elder of the Toronto Community. He wasn't sure that Nick knew this. He had only found it out a short time earlier when he had gone to Miklos about the vampire deaths in the mistaken notion that the Greek vampire was the Elder.

This would not be easy. Nicholas de Brabant Knight disliked … no despised was a better word … the fact that he was a vampire. It was an open secret that he was actively seeking a 'cure' for his 'condition'. In the time he had known him, Nick had rarely associated with the vampire Community and then only when absolutely necessary. Since LaCroix's departure, he had not even been in the Raven on 'official' business. Now it was up to Javier to tell him that he was the leader of the Community he had turned his back on, and it was now his duty to guide and protect them. It was not a task the Spaniard was looking forward to. No way! No how!

"Why are you telling me this?" Nick asked as Javier finished his story. "You should be telling it to the Elder."

"I am telling it to the Elder. Since LaCroix left for parts unknown, you are the next oldest vampire in the Toronto area. That makes you the Elder."

"Have you been drinking curdled blood? I am not the oldest vampire in Toronto. I can't be. What about Etrian?"

"He's only here temporarily. Word is, he's getting ready to go back to wherever he came from in the very near future."

"Jeremiah should be the next in line. Why doesn't he take the reins?"

"It really has been a while since you've been in touch with the Community, hasn't it? Jeremiah died during the Fever over a year ago. Besides, he was only 750 years old."

"Martimus?"

"Moved on about six months ago. Word via the grapevine says he's happily living la vita dolce in Maples Florida."

"Miklos?"

"A baby. Only three hundred fifty. Even I'm older than him." He grinned sneakily. "Any way you look at it ... As they say on the streets … You da Man!" He waggled his head and pointed both index fingers at Nick.

Nick only rolled his eyes. Javier wasn't sure if it was a reaction to his bad imitation of a street punk or in response to the fact that he was the Elder.

He breathed a loud sigh. "Well, if I am the Elder, then I guess I had better look into the matter."

**********

"You're the WHAT?" Nat said as she sat at the table. Nick always had a simple breakfast prepared for her. Toast or cereal and tea. Several times, she had forgotten to eat before going to bed and with her pregnancy, there were most unpleasant consequences. Natalie only picked at her shredded wheat. She knew she had to eat, but she just didn't have much of an appetite. Perhaps knowing that most of it would eventually come back up … morning sickness was the worst part of being pregnant.

"The Elder." He replied as he sat a dish of Salmon Supreme in front of Sidney. The cat, unlike his female pet, hungrily wolfed down the offering. "Apparently, I'm the oldest vampire around. Ergo, I am the de facto leader." Nick sighed. "This is a turn of events that I had not counted on. If I am to lead the Community, it means that I am going to have to put my search for humanity on hold. I'll have to be at full strength to keep the Community in line. That also means I'm going to have to start drinking whole human blood again."

"For how long?"

Another sigh. "I don't know. Maybe forever."

"Does that bother you?"

"It means that I may never become mortal again. Nat, I'm scared. Now that I'm so close to having everything I've wanted for so long, it feels like it's all going to be snatched away from me. You, the baby, everything. It's all going up in smoke. I'm sorry, Nat. I can't be what you want me to be. I'm going to have to be completely the vampire. And a strong one at that. I can't be mortal. Or even the way I am now. Some would see that as weakness, and I can't show any weaknesses. Not if I am to have their respect and obedience. I know that's not what you want ... What I want. But that's the way it has to be. I can't be the husband you deserve. I'll understand if you want a divorce."

"A DIVORCE!" She shouted. As she stood, her face became red, and Nick could almost smell the fire and brimstone coming from her ears and nostrils. "You listen to me, Mister Nicholas de Brabant Knight! And you listen really good! 'Cause I'm only going to say this once! I ... AM ... YOUR ... WIFE!" She punctuated her remarks with pokes to his chest. "I married YOU! ALL of you! Man AND vampire! And you're STUCK with me! For Better Or Worse! Till Death Do Us Part! Got that?" Another series of pokes. "Okay. So one of us is going to die before the other? So WHAT? We'll have each other until that moment, and I WILL be waiting for you when you reach that door to the other side that you told me about! Does that answer your question? Divorce? HAH!" A third time, her index finger jammed into his pectoral area. "You really do deserve the name Nick The Brick!"

Although vampires did not bruise like mortals, they did bruise, and Nick was certain that there were large purple marks on his chest. He took her hands in his and kissed her deeply, passionately. She could feel the love singing along the bond they had forged since their first lovemaking. It got stronger each time they made love.

"Or you could always bring me across." She whispered when they finally separated.

"I have given that some thought." He replied. "But for now, I think there is another very pressing matter that has to be tended to." He put her hand on the bulging crotch of his jeans as he rolled his eyes lustfully.

"I think I can handle that." Nat said with a shameless smile as she gently squeezed his engorged scrotum. At the same time, her mouth covered his.

Sidney retreated to his hiding place under the couch and prayed to Bast that they took their lovemaking upstairs. He had been caught under here once before when they had 'done it' on the sofa. It was not a pleasant experience for him.

**********

Miklos looked up as Nick came into the Raven. It was rare that he came in even when his master was there. For him to come in now was beyond thinking.

Nick took LaCroix's customary seat at the end of the bar. Miklos took a sharp breath. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. No one. No one ever sat on that seat. The Master Vampire would have made the punishment long and exquisitely painful for even thinking of defiling HIS place. Even after LaCroix had departed, no one even touched it. Let alone sat in it.

"I'll have a glass of the … private vintage." Nick said.

Miklos swallowed. Although he was aware that Nick had begun drinking a 50-50 mix of human and animal blood since his marriage to the mortal doctor, for him to order a completely human vintage was extremely unusual. For him to order from LaCroix's personal stock was … He quaked even to think about that. Reluctantly, he poured the requested drink and sat it in front of the detective.

Nick gently swirled the nearly pure blood-cognac mix in the glass and then took a sip. "I must compliment my predecessor on his choice of beverages. It is quite excellent." With a half smile, Nick sat the glass down. "I think I shall keep it for my personal vintage as well."

A slow grin spread across Miklos's face as he realized what was taking place. As the new Elder, Nick was claiming his right. He gave a short laugh. And he had worried that LaCroix's son would balk and fight the mantle of authority. If he had, it would have fallen to Javier Vachon. Miklos shuddered at that thought. Anyone but Vachon.

Nick took another sip. "If I am going to be the Elder, then I had better get to work and find out who killed those vampires. To do that, I will need to know everything there is about their deaths. Vachon told me about what they had said here in the club. He said that you found the bodies the following day. Tell me everything you know."

Miklos quickly recounted how he had been taking out the night's trash after the Raven had closed for the day. Something had caught his attention behind the dumpster and when he went to investigate, he found the three vampires. Dead. With wooden throwing stars imbedded in their chests and their hearts cut out. There was a note pinned to Leopold's chest. It read 'Let this be a warning'.

"Were they drained?"

"I didn't have time to check. About that time, the sunlight started coming into the alley and I had to scramble inside before I became barbecued vampire. When I went out after sunset, the bodies were nothing but piles of ashes. I scattered them to the four winds. I still have the stars and the note, though. They weren't burned. Will that help?"

"Immensely." Nick smiled as the bartender handed him the paper and dropped a stack of wooden stars about four inches in diameter into his hand. Their edges were honed to a razor-like sharpness. They were definitely large enough to bring down a vampire if thrown correctly. The note however gave little clues. It was printed in block letters with a ballpoint pen on ordinary paper. Both were available almost anywhere. Since it had been handled numerous times, there was almost no chance to recover any usable fingerprints. Besides, how would he explain it to Forensics. I'm looking for someone who killed three creatures that technically do not even exist. "Good work, Miklos." He said as he put the 'evidence' in his pocket.

**********

San Battista Spain

Enrique again read the letter that had been delivered to him. It was from Etrian in Canada. The Ancient wanted to know if the Basque leader knew of a vampire who was sufficiently skilled to treat a vampire-mortal pregnancy. As far as Enrique knew, there was only one group who had dealt with this situation. His family. After all, he and his sons had been fathering children by a number of mortal wives for the past 450 years. A few of their children had come across spontaneously when they reached maturity. Some were brought across because they asked to be. Others remained mortal their entire lives. There was no doctor in the area, mortal or otherwise, so he and a few of his vampire children had ministered to their mortal spouses. Over the centuries, they had encountered numerous problems, and they felt that they were now experts at dealing with the problems associated with this kind of a relationship

Fortune was with them this time. Paolo, his youngest vampire son, who was only a little over a hundred, had gone to the University Of Madrid and had graduated twenty years ago as a medical doctor.

He immediately called him into his cottage and explained the situation to him. Then he wrote to Etrian telling him that Paolo was on his way to Toronto.

Only one question bothered the Basque. How did Etrian know about him and his clan? They had zealously guarded their secrets for over 500 years. Perhaps Vachon told him. No. The Conquistador was almost like a son to him. He would never betray the secret of the isolated Basque Community. The mortal woman who was with him? Somehow that thought was as ridiculous as thinking that it was Vachon.

**********

Toronto

Nick entered the bullpen and stopped short. Pete Natsuko sat at his own desk, but sitting at their desks were Tracy Vetter and Don Schanke!

"What are you two doing here?" Nick said as soon as his voice returned. Tracy and Don were officially on sick leave and weren't due back for at least another month. "I don't understand. You both are supposed to be home in bed."

"Not really, pard." Don said. "I had to get out of the house before Myra cleaned my clock, rang my chimes or did some serious damage to my karma. She said I was driving her up the ever lovin' wall. Yesterday, she brandished a meat mallet at me and said if I poked my face in her business one more time, she was going to do something to me that would require a lengthy explanation to the intern at the Emergency Room." He had a silly grin on his face. "Sheesh! All I was trying to do was to help her straighten out her Skin Pretty accounts, and this is the thanks I get." He threw his hands in a position of surrender. "You don't wanna know what she tried to do to me when I accidentally used a Brillo pad on her new Teflon skillet last Tuesday. I think I'd be safer in the middle of a gang fight than in the same house with her. I tell you, that is one little woman you do not want to piss off."

"Although I don't have a spouse to irritate, I was going stir crazy too." Tracy continued. "There's only so many reruns of The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island and The Flying Nun that you can watch before you are ready to peel the flowers off the wallpaper. I finally called my doctor and he said it would be all right to come back to work."

"Same here. Except that I'm on a light duty status for the time being." Don said with a huge grin "It's a good thing I don't need two good legs to ride a desk." He stood up, balancing himself easily with a cane. "According to my sawbones, in a few weeks though, I'll be ready to get back into harness for real."

Tracy flexed her arm several times. "I have complete use my left arm. The only sign I was ever wounded is that I have no feeling in the tip of my little finger. Other than that, I'm 100 percent. The Neurologist says my finger shouldn't hamper me in the least. He says I can start back as soon as Captain Reese gives me the okay."

"Which is right now." Reese said as he approached the group. He held out his hand. "Welcome back, Detective Vetter. And you, too, Detective Schanke. Since you will be on light duty for a few more weeks, you will be the in house liaison for this team."

"What do you mean in house liaison?" Nick asked. "What team?"

"The team that has just been organized. He will be doing the paperwork while you three do the legwork." He pretended not to see the huge scowl on the portly detective's face. "It seems that there have been an extraordinary number of unusual and unexplainable crimes in the area in recent years. Commissioner Haldermann wants to put together a special unit to investigate and handle them as well as any future ones. Since it appears that you three have dealt with many of them, you are the most logical choice for the job."

"Sort of like a Canadian X-Files?" Tracy asked.

"What? Oh that's right, the TV show. Yeah, sort of like that." Reese said. "Oh, and in order to establish the pecking order, Nick, you are promoted to Detective Sergeant First Class and Schanke, you are Sergeant Second Class. Vetter, you are now a Detective First."

"But I don't want a promotion." Nick protested. "And if it's all the same to you … "

"It's NOT all the same to me. And it's not open to negotiation. This comes straight from the top." Reese handed him a folder. "This is a synopsis of all the unsolved weird cases in the last two years. Get cracking. The Commissioner wants an update in two weeks. He expects them all to be solved by the end of the month."

"Why is Commissioner Haldermann so interested in our unsolved cases all of a sudden." Schanke asked. "I thought he had his eye on the mayor's office. Not that that pompous old …" Keep it PG rated, Donny boy. " … windbag … has a roach's chance in hell of getting it."

"You know that and I know that." Tracy replied. "Now, tell that to Haldermann. From what my father tells me, Emil Haldermann is looking for anything that he thinks will give him the edge he needs to get to City Hall. Maybe he assumes this task force is that edge."

"The only way he'll get to City Hall is if he drives himself there." Schanke said with a sarcastic grin on his face.

"What about the Carter case?" Nick asked.

"Ancient history as far as you're concerned. As of right now, all your open cases belong to Allen and Michaels. This investigation is your first and only priority." He turned and headed back to his office. "Mushi! Mushi! Daiwa! Chop! Chop!"

Don Schanke looked at Pete, who was trying desperately to suppress a snicker. "Was his Japanese that bad?"

"Worse than bad." Pete said, grinning from ear to ear.

"By the way, this is Detective Pete Natsuko of the Tokyo Police." Nick began. "And these are … "

"We've already met each other." Tracy interrupted. "We introduced ourselves while we were waiting for you."

Nick opened the folder and began to leaf through it. He caught himself just as his eyes were about to change. While Tracy and Don knew his 'secret', Pete didn't. At least he didn't think the Nipponese suspected that he was anything but what he appeared to be ... a homicide detective. And he still had too many reservations about the Tokyo Detective to reveal his true nature … just yet.

Most of the cases in the folder were ones that the mortal world would be better off not knowing about. This would be a real challenge. How to satisfy Commissioner Haldermann … and protect the Community at the same time.

**********

Nick had a name. He had made some discrete inquiries for a doctor through Miklos, and the Greek said he would find out what he could. A few days later, he had given him the name of a Spanish vampire who was a MD, and who had some experience with obstetrics, too. From what Miklos had said, or more importantly, what he had not said, the information had apparently been given to him by Tomutu, one of Etrian's bodyguards. So! Etrian has taken a personal interest in this? Intriguing!

According to Miklos, the doctor would get in touch with Nick as soon as he arrived in Toronto.

**********

Doctor Paolo Ramirez was a handsome man, lean and fit, with twinkling black eyes that fairly shone out of his olive toned face. If Natalie hadn't known in advance that he was a vampire, she never would have guessed. He looked to be about 25 or so, young even for a doctor, but of course, he was probably much older than that. Just how much older, no one except maybe another vampire could possibly tell. Nick, to her frustration, declined to even make a guess while the doctor was processing the tests he had taken.

He motioned Nick and Nat to chairs on the other side of his desk. It 'just so happened' that there was an opening at the Ostler Centre OB/GYN department, and Paolo was granted temporary status until the facility could fill the position permanently. According to the 'official' story, he was in Canada to 'research the effects of parental genetic and congenital abnormalities on fetuses and newborn infants'. Toronto was only one of the major cities he would be 'working' in. This gave him the perfect cover to treat Natalie, since Nick had a 'hereditary sunlight allergy'.

"I have good news." The Doctor said. "According to all the tests, there doesn't seem to be any indication that your baby is anything but normal and healthy." He hesitated. "There is what seems to be an unusual nucleotide in the baby's blood. Natalie, I believe you referred to it as the 'vampire virus'. However, it appears to be quite small, almost microscopic and completely dormant. In fact, if it hadn't been for the fact that Nick, here is a vampire, I probably never would have discovered it. Or even thought to look for it. I don't feel that it will present any problem with the pregnancy or delivery."

"How about later?" Nick asked.

"It's highly probable that the virus won't even make itself known until the child reaches maturity, that is if it becomes viable at all. It could just remain dormant throughout the child's entire life."

"Are you saying that you know of other cases like ours?" Nat asked. "Are there any other children with mortal and vampire parents? If so, where are they and how are they doing?"

"I have heard of a few." In my family for over 450 years. "You understand, most of what I know is only story and legend. At least to the world outside San Battista. I know this sounds rather personal." He said, quickly changing the subject. "But I have to ask you anyway. Nick, how much of Natalie's blood do you have to take in order to ... ah ... achieve orgasm?"

"Not nearly as much as I thought I would have to take. I think it goes back to when I was shot in the head last year and lost my memory. During that time, I had no knowledge that I was a vampire. I was able to make love to her as a mortal man. I came to realize that the vampire does not have to nearly drain the woman in order to have satisfaction. That it does not have to control me. I can control it. By the way, that's when she conceived.

When we first started testing the limits of my control, I had to drink almost half a glass from her, but now, I only need a mouthful or two. I don't know whether it has anything to do with it or not, but I've also gone back to drinking whole human blood in the past few weeks. Since then, my control has become even stronger. That may account for the fact that I need only a small bit of Nat's blood to ... ah ... complete the act."

"It could, but I noticed from the sample I took from you that the quantity of so called vampire virus in it is much smaller that it would be in a typical vampire."

"Could that mean that I'm becoming more human?"

"I'm not sure what it means. We will just have to keep monitoring you. Natalie can do that since she's a doctor. I also found microscopic traces of the virus in her blood as well, but it appears that it is dormant too. It could just be from the sharing of the blood that some of yours has mixed with hers, and visa versa. We'll keep an eye on that as well."

"Could that be a problem?"

"No. In fact, it might be a good thing. It's entirely possible that the trace of vampire in her blood is the reason that you two can have frequent relations without it affecting her too much. From what you tell me, she recovers from the blood loss in a matter of hours, where it should take a few days to replace even the small amount you take. For the time being, just keep on doing whatever you are doing. As far as I am concerned, this appears to be nothing more than a normal uncomplicated pregnancy."

**********

"Got a live one for you. Speaking metaphorically, that is." Reese said as he approached the Paranormal Investigations Unit. That was the name that Commissioner Haldermann had given them. To the others in the bullpen, they were known as the 'Weird Squad'. "The body is in the alley behind Birch and Gange. See the officer in charge." He handed Nick the initial report sheet.

*********

They rode to the scene in relative silence. Nick and Tracy rode in the front seat of the Caddy. Pete in the back.

The uniformed officer lifted the crime scene tape after they had shown their badges. Almost at once, the overwhelming scent of blood accosted Nick. He felt his eyes start to turn. He closed them and ordered the vampire back into the darkest corner of his being. When he opened them a split second later, they were blue again. He gave a covert glance at Pete and was mildly surprised to see that he did not seem to be affected by the gore. Now he was positive his newest partner was not a vampire. But what was he?

The victim was a male, white, about 30 to 35 years old. That was all that could be readily discerned. His head was little more than a bloody mass attached to what was left of his shoulders. It was obvious that he had been beaten to death. There were also massive amounts of blood on his shirt and trousers, his rib cage had been caved in, and his legs and arms lay at unusual angles to the rest of his body. Nick was sure that there probably wasn't an unbroken bone in his body.

"I was taking Goober here out for his morning walk." Darien Jarnezy said to Nick. He was the one who had found the body. He pointed to the aged chocolate Lab mix sitting at his left side. "He's getting up there in years and he can't hold it in like he used to. So I have to take him out at four thirty instead of six. Anyway, we was passing the alley when Goober starts barking like crazy. I looked in, but I couldn't see anything. That is until I looked down and saw ... " Jarnezy sighed heavily and pointed to the body. "I ran home as fast as I could and called the cops right off. 'Course, I ain't as spry as I used to be neither."

"John Doe." Natalie said as she stood up. Nick could see that she was green around the gills. She was still suffering the last twinges of morning sickness and he was sure that this scene wasn't doing anything to help her. "TOD within the past three to four hours. Body has only started to cool and rigueur mortis has not yet set in. Cause of death … Massive trauma and blood loss as a result of severe beating. While I can't be positive until I do the autopsy, it appears that he was repeatedly hit with a blunt object or objects. From the angle and the depth of the blows, it appears that the objects were traveling at a very high speed when they connected with him."

"You mean like they were thrown?" Tracy asked.

"Sort of." Nat hesitated. "The evidence suggests that there could have been a number of weapons used and that at least one of them was swung."

"Like a baseball bat?"

"One set of wounds seems to be made by a swung object. Another set was probably made by something on a tether. Possibly a ball."

"A ball on a rope. Not your usual murder weapon. No wonder they called us in on this one. That's really weird." Tracy said. She grimaced and managed to suppress the gag reflex as she looked at the smashed in skull of the victim.

Pete, meanwhile had been standing well back of the crime scene, acting more like an observer than an active participant.

**********

Natalie looked up from her desk as Nick came into the morgue followed by his partners.

He was positive that she looked even more greenish than she had looked at the crime scene.

"I tried to tell her that she shouldn't be doing things like thus! Not in her condition! She just about tossed her cookies at one point." Grace Balthazar, her assistant said to Nick. "But would she listen to me? No! Not our stubborn bull headed coroner. You talk to her. Maybe you can talk some sense into her. I got work to do." With that, the portly black woman stormed out the door.

Before he could say anything to her, Natalie handed him the folder. "Here's the report on your John Doe. I was right. The fatal blows were delivered by something being swung. It wasn't a bat, though. There were traces of a bamboo like wood imbedded in the chest. The tethered object wasn't a ball or anything like that either. More like some kind of a wooden cylinder. From the size and depth of the fractures, I'd estimate about twenty to twenty five centimeters long and three to four centimeters in diameter. There were nearly microscopic fragments from at least two of them embedded in several parts of his skull. They were apparently connected by a light chain. I also found bruise marks and metallic fragments as well. One thing was apparent during the autopsy. He did not die quickly.

Since he was too badly mangled to make a visual ID, I've forwarded as much of his fingerprints and dental impressions as I was able to salvage to the RCMP and the FBI, as well as Interpol."

"This gets weirder by the minute." Tracy spoke up. "From what you described, it's possible that one of the murder weapons could be something like nunchucks. Could the other one be a bamboo pole?"

"Pete?" Nick said. Turning to the third member of the crew. "You're our resident oriental expert. What do you have to say?"

"I … Ah … " Pete stammered. "It could be nunchucks, but … well, I can't recall anybody being killed by them in well over a hundred years. At least not since the Shogun warriors stopped being the official guardians of the Emperor in favor of the police. My … ah … grandfather used to be a policeman, and he used to tell me stories about them. If used correctly, nunchucks were efficient and deadly weapons. As for the bamboo pole, that could be used in a number of martial arts. While it could inflict severe damage, it was rarely used to kill anyone."

"I guess we had better get back to the precinct and give this to Don to write up." Tracy said. "I know he'll be thrilled with more paperwork to do. I don't know anybody who hates it more than he does. Unless it's our fearless leader, here." She pointed to Nick, who had a look of mock innocence on his face.

"Go on out and start the car. I'll be with you in a few minutes." Nick said as he handed Tracy the keys to the Caddy.

As soon as they had left the office, he turned to Nat. "You did the autopsy, didn't you?" It was not so much a question as it was a statement, or possibly an accusation.

"Yes. I did the autopsy. That's my job." She replied. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because you're pregnant."

"So I'm pregnant. I'm not an invalid. I can still function."

"I saw you at the crime scene. You were positively sick. And you still are. Grace was right. You shouldn't be permitted to do the field work in your condition."

"And you were ready to vamp out back there, too. Although it was only for a second or two, I caught it. Using that same convoluted logic, you shouldn't be allowed at any crime scenes either."

"I can control it."

"So can I. Morning sickness is a completely normal symptom of pregnancy. It's not a fatal disease. Regardless of what you and Grace think, it certainly is no excuse to shirk my duties as the Coroner. Besides, what if there is something that needs a … logical … explanation. Do you think any of the other doctors around here would be able to give one?"

"Was there … anything that needed a so called logical explanation?"

"I think so. Although it wasn't the cause of death, and I can't be absolutely positive, it seems that our guest in room C4 was at least a litre or more low. If I hadn't been there, there might have been some extremely awkward questions asked about that. At least I managed to cover it fairly well."

"There was an awful lot of blood at the scene. Wouldn't that account for the missing blood?"

Nat shook her head slowly. "Not necessarily. I took that into account. It's possible that no one would have spotted that our Johnny Doe was a quart low, but I didn't want to take that chance. That's what I mean by my unusual abilities. As the Coroner of record, I was able to … omit that from the 'official' report. And I could even say that, given the track record around here, there definitely will be many more things that need my … unique talents. That's why I have to keep working as long as I can."

"But I … "

"But I ... nothing. I am going to work as long as I can. Period. End of discussion. Adjust. Live with it." She had that Don't-You-Dare-Contradict-Me look in her eyes.

He smiled slightly. "Yes, dear." He said as he kissed her lightly on the cheek. "I guess Dr. Ramirez was right. Pregnant women can really be very bitchy at times." He made it out the door only milliseconds before the stapler slammed into it.

**********

"You've got to be kidding." He said before he realized what he was saying. "I mean … I … I didn't mean …" You've really stuck your fangs in it this time Javier Diego Philippe Dos Santos y Vachon. Great job. Pissing off an ancient. You must really have a death wish ... or is that undeath wish. He berated himself.

"I know what you meant, Javier. And I am not joking. I do not joke about things like this." Etrian said.

"All I meant was that I already have a job. I'm a musician. And a good one, too."

"But now you have the added responsibility of Tracy Vetter. Nicholas has more than enough to do since he has assumed the mantle of Elder, as well as caring for his wife and soon to be born child, as well as his mortal job. Therefore, it will be up to you to provide for Ms. Vetter's complete safety. This job will give you that opportunity. And to look out for his other mortal partners as well."

"But I … "

"There will be no further discussion on this matter. It has been decided." He handed the Spaniard a large manila envelope. "Here is all the information you will need. You will report on Monday. The authorities have been informed of your … allergies. Your training schedule has been adjusted to accommodate them." With this, the Ancient rose, and followed by his two ever present bodyguards, left the Raven.

**********

"We have an ID on our John Doe." Reese told the group in their improvised 'office', little more than a series of assorted partitions and file cabinets loosely arranged in a square around their desks. "It just came in from the States. According to the U. S. Department Of Defense, his name is Stephen Joseph Lawrence. Seems our boy was in the Army a while back. Saw action in Bosnia and the Gulf war. Assigned to the 77th SFG Ranger Battalion, better known as the Green Berets." He laid the folder on Nick's desk.

Nick picked it up and read it. "He won the Silver Star with an oak leaf cluster and the Purple Heart with two leaves, as well as a chest full of other commendations. He was an expert with a variety of weapons and held a third degree black belt in Kung Fu. Made Master Sergeant in less than eight years. From what I understand, that's practically impossible."

"Kung Fu is the oldest and the deadliest of the martial arts." Pete Natsuko told the group. "It was the discipline of choice of the Shaolin warrior priests of ancient China. It shares a common ancestry with the Jiu-jitsu of the Samurai. A well trained warrior could kill with one blow of his bare hands. Of course, Kung Fu and Jiu-jitsu involve all of the body parts as well as swords, lances and a variety of other specialized weapons."

"Like throwing stars, bamboo poles, and nunchucks?" Nick asked.

Pete only nodded.

"I thought you said that the Shogun were the Emperor's guardians." Tracy asked. "Where do the Samurai come in?"

"Shogun is the warrior caste. The Samurai were the elite among them. The best of the best. You might say they were the Green Berets of their day." Pete said with a prideful smile.

"Sort of like our boy Lawrence?"

"You could say that."

"And someone did that to him?" Don Schanke asked. "Man o man I'd hate to meet that guy in a dark alley."

"Unfortunately, that's just what we might have to do. It's our responsibility to bring Lawrence's killer to justice." Tracy replied. "After all, that's our job."

"I know. For once, I'm sort of glad I'm on desk duty. No offense, you guys."

"None taken." Nick answered. "Now the investigation moves onto your turf." He pushed the folder to Don. "There's his last known address. Get with the authorities there. See if you can find out what he was doing in Toronto and if he had any known enemies. And see if any of them were here in the last few weeks, too."

"While I'm slaving over a hot keyboard, what will you be doing?"

"Tracy and I are going to be following up on a hunch." Nick replied as he took his jacket from the back of his chair. Pete and Tracy started after him. "Maybe you had better stay here." Nick said to Pete. "Where I'm going is not the safest place for m … strangers to be."

"I may look like I'm wet behind the ears, Sergeant Knight, but I can assure you, I've been … as you occidentals say … around the block a few times." Pete straightened up to his full stature. In spite of his small size, he still looked very imposing. "I've been to places that would curl your toes and I've came out in one piece. I can hold my own very well, thank you."

"I'm sure you can. And the name is Nick. Sergeant Knight is only for Commissioner Haldermann. It's just that where we're going, the people sort of trust Tracy and me. They will probably open up more readily if there aren't any unfamiliar faces there." And you'll be less likely wind up as someone's midnight snack.

"Okay. You win. But keep me informed."

"We promise. Scouts honor." Tracy said as she followed her partner out of the bullpen. She hoped no one saw her crossed fingers behind her back.

**********

Miklos had the glass of private stock waiting as Nick took his place at the end of the bar. Tracy started to take the seat next to him, but he imperceptibly motioned her to a booth. While she was known to the 'clientele', there were those who would be somewhat reluctant to talk openly in front of a mortal. Particularly if that talk involved another vampire. Possibly a rogue. He would have better luck alone. He took a sip of the liquid. "What do you know about a man named Stephen Lawrence?" He asked Miklos.

The Greek blanched nearly bedsheet white. "Why?" He asked in a hushed tone. He looked around nervously to see if anyone was nearby who might overhear the conversation. "Is he here in Toronto?"

"What do you know about him?" Nick repeated more authoritatively.

Miklos indicated the back room. Nick followed the bartender there.

"Now." Nick said impatiently. "What has you so scared?"

"You've never heard the name?" Miklos asked, still in a half whisper.

Nick shook his head. "Should I have?"

"He's a hunter. Word from the States is that he's the most efficient and the most ruthless one that they've ever seen in this century. Responsible for over thirty kills. Rumor has it he decapitated one of his victims with his bare hands. You think he's responsible for the murder of the vampires in the alley?"

"I don't know. And we may never know for sure. You see, somebody killed him last night. Broke every bone in his body. Whoever did it may have drunk from him as well."

"Are you saying a vampire did it? And you think that's bad? Personally, I'd nominate that guy for some kind of an award. Good riddance to bad blood, if you'll pardon the pun."

"I'm not quite ready to close the case on this yet. Although Lawrence was an expert in oriental fighting techniques, whoever killed him was an expert as well. And this person could still pose a threat to the Community."

"You think this person might have been the one who killed the vampires?"

"I don't know what to think. All I know for certain is that I have three dead vampires and one dead hunter who were all killed in the same general manner." Nick started to the door. "Keep your eyes and ears open. Report to me anything you hear. No matter how insignificant you might think it is. It just could be the one piece of information that busts this case wide open."

**********

Javier looked at the building. Then he looked once more at the address on the paper that Etrian had given him. It was the right place, but this had to be wrong. There was no way he was going to do this. He thought for a brief second about simply disappearing from the face of the earth, but he knew that the Ancient had ways to find recalcitrant vampires that far exceeded LaCroix's ... and it was rumored that the Roman General could sniff out a vampire hiding in a landfill. There was no place he could get away from this. Except perhaps to walk into the morning sun. And he was too much of a coward to do that. He took a deep breath and opened the door.

**********

"Find any known enemies, he says." Don Schanke grumbled as he typed a name into the computer. "Hell, I can't even find the man. Checked out every possible variation on the name and address. Nothing. Nada. Nyet. Zip. Zero. Zilch. And he says I've got the easy job. With his connections to the … Community, I'll bet he could find him by this time tomorrow night. But n-o-o-o! Let good old Donny boy do the grunt stuff! Like I don't have nothin' else better to do with my time! R.H.I.P! Rank Has Its Privileges! And right now, in my humble opinion, Detective Sergeant First Class Nicholas de Brabant Knight is about as rank as they come!" The computer beeped and the message 'No entry for that name' appeared. He forcibly typed another entry into the computer and nearly broke the 'enter' key as he literally hit it.

"What are you mumbling about?" Tracy said as she slid into her seat.

"I was just idly commenting on how much I love doing research." Don said with a crocodile grin. "After all, it's the real meat of police work."

"And I've just been elected Prime Minister. Tell me another one. One I'll believe. Like Jack and the Beanstalk." Tracy retorted. "What have you got on our latest victim?"

"That's what I was grousing about. So far, I haven't been able to come up with a shred of information. According to what I can find, he got out of the Army and dropped off the face of the earth. The town he listed on his discharge papers doesn't have any record of him. The address he gave as his home is in the middle of a freeway. There's no drivers license or auto registration listed with the state. No job record. No passport. Nada. Not even a library card. It's almost like he doesn't exist. We know he exists though, because you guys found him lying face down in that alley with his body turned to silly putty by some Kung Fu nut case." He heaved a heavy sigh. "You got anything?"

"Not on the Lawrence case, but thanks to Nick's … connections, the SPCA was able to find the carcass of a Great Dane in the woods near Ozark Park a few days ago. According to the Veterinarian's report, the dog was rabid. Also the spacing of the fangs, according to our beloved coroner, one Doctor Natalie Lambert Knight, just happen to match the bite marks on three of our so called unsolveds. And the dog's claws match the scratches, too. Two of the so called attacks happened to occur within a three mile area of the park. That should mollify Commissioner Haldermann. Three down. Eight to go. Not counting the Lawrence case."

"Do you really think we'll ever find out who did him in?" Schanke asked.

"I certainly hope so. That is our job after all." Nick said as he came into the office.

"Hi, Nick. Didn't even hear you come in." Tracy said with a start. "I guess we're so wrapped up in this investigation, we wouldn't hear a bomb explode."

"Or a vampire approach." Nick whispered with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Or that." Tracy said with the same twinkle. It still amazed her how easily she and Schanke had come to accept Nick as a vampire. She hardly ever thought of him that way anymore. To her and Don, he was just their partner. The fact that he was an 800 year old, blood drinking creature of the night was completely incidental.

"Think about it." Schanke said after a second. "I've been doing a lot of that while I've been researching this case. Maybe we'd better go into one of the interrogation rooms. What I'm about to say isn't exactly for uninitiated ears, if you know what I mean." He said barely above a whisper and nodded imperceptibly toward Natsuko, who was studiously scrutinizing one of the many reports on his desk.

"So, what kind of a theory have you come up with?" Nick asked once they had shut the interrogation room door.

"I'm not sure whether it's a theory or just a jumble of thoughts. But ... " He took a deep breath. "One. We have four deaths on our hands, though the outside world only knows of one. Two. All four were killed in a similar manner. That is, by some kind of martial arts. The vampires with stars, Lawrence with nunchucks and a bamboo pole. There's a possibility that they were coincidences, but I doubt it. Something in the back of my head says that Lawrence might have been a hunter and that he killed the vampires. But if that's the case, who killed Lawrence?

Another thought says that the same person or persons killed both Lawrence and the vampires. If that's true, who did it, and more important, why?"

"Skank. You should have been the leader of this team. I have reached the same conclusions as you did, but I had help to do it. You did it on your own."

"Me? Leader?" Schanke said with a slight blush. "No thanks. I'm perfectly happy just being a peon. You know. You Kemo Sabe. Me Tonto. That kind of a thing."

"Still, you're right. Lawrence was a hunter. But I don't think he killed the vampires. Something doesn't quite fit with that scenario. A more feasible explanation is that they were all killed by the same person or persons." Nick said. He hesitated a few seconds. "One thing that wasn't in the reports. Lawrence was missing about a litre of blood."

"You mean to say he was offed by a vampire?" Schanke asked. "That I can understand. If he was a hunter like you said he was, they'd want him out of the way. But why use oriental fighting weapons? Why not just drain him dry? And why would a vampire kill other vampires? It doesn't make sense."

"That, my partners, is the sixty four thousand dollar question." Nick smiled as he opened the door and led his team back into the bullpen.

And nearly ran into Commissioner Haldermann.

"Commissioner!" Nick said. "What brings you down here."

"Actually, I came to congratulate you and the team on your solving the Landers, Karinsky and Peebles cases. Good work." The very generously proportioned Commissioner said. "I expect great things from you."

"Actually, it was just a stroke of dumb luck." Tracy clarified. "If the SPCA hadn't found that dead dog, we never would have cracked it."

"Whatever." Haldermann continued. "Now, for the Lawrence case, I have a few theories that I'd like to share with you." He put his arms around Tracy and Nick and led them into their office area. Don followed a step behind. "I don't want to presume to tell you how to do your job, but you do know that I was a policeman myself for many years. So here's what I think ... "

**********

"I tell you, Nat, Commissioner Haldermann is a real piece of work." Nick said to his wife later that morning. "He kept us for nearly three hours while he pontificated on how Lawrence was murdered. His theories ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd.

The best one was that a ninja hit squad hired by some Middle Eastern terrorist group killed him because Lawrence had information that they were going to blow up the CN Tower. He wanted us to round up all the Orientals and Arabs in the area and question them. Do you know how ridiculous that would be? Don't bother answering. And I told him so.

Another of his cockamamie theories was that Lawrence had discovered a clan of undercover extraterrestrials who were planning an invasion of Earth … a la War of the Worlds … and they killed him to keep it quiet. This time he wanted us to talk with all the Airport officials in the area, as well as the Canadian and American Air Force bases in a fifty mile radius of Toronto to see if there has been any suspicious activity on their radar lately."

He gave a short laugh. "I wonder what he would say if he knew that there was a scrap of truth in both of his theories. That there is a Community of aliens right here in Toronto. And that possibly one or more of them is killing both vampires and humans." He gave another quick laugh. "And he didn't even realize that he was telling his hypothesis to one of the aliens."

"And what you just said is full of holes, too. The biggest nonsense is that vampires are an alien species. They aren't, and you know it. They are people. And they … you … are just as human as anyone else is. You're just daylight challenged, that's all." She said with a slight grin.

"You know what I mean."

"Yes, I do know what you mean. And I thought you were over that bit of self bashing."

"I am ... I was. At least I thought I was. But being the Elder is just going to take some getting used to, that's all. I mean after trying for the last century to get away from the Community, now I find out that I'm its head. I'm having doubts that I can handle that and stay true to you and all the work you went through to find a cure."

"I seem to recall almost this same conversation a few weeks ago. My answer is still the same as it was then … Cure or no cure. Vampire or mortal. In darkness or in the light. I love you. Now and forever. That's the end of that. Now. Either kiss me senseless and make love to me or … " She did not get a chance to finish. Her words were smothered by her husband's mouth on hers.

**********

Nicholas took his place at the end of the bar. LaCroix had a tradition of holding 'court' every Friday evening. During these sessions, any vampire who had a problem could come and receive counseling from the Elder. Although how much good LaCroix's brand of 'counseling' did for the vampire was open to debate.

Nick saw no reason to discontinue the practice. Especially since it gave him an opportunity to help those vampires who had problems or were dissatisfied for whatever reason. As the word had spread that he was the new chief of the Toronto vampires, he was surprised that so many of them were coming to these Friday night sessions. He had thought that most of them would shun him for his beliefs, but he found that the exact opposite was true. Most of the ones that he had talked to were glad and even relieved that they now had a liberal compassionate leader who was willing to listen and even to help them whenever possible. Several had even expressed … under the promise of anonymity of course … that they, too had toyed with the idea of returning to mortality.

He had not been sitting long when Manfred, one of the vampires who worked at the Red Cross, and was responsible for procuring much of the outdated and unusable blood that was processed for use at the Raven and other area clubs, came into the bar.

"I understand you are looking for any unusual events that might have happened in the past three weeks." He said as he took the seat next to Nick.

The Elder nodded. "You know of any?"

"I'm not sure. It just may be nothing. But I know that one of our trucks that delivers to Scarborough General was five units short when it made its delivery last week. It doesn't happen very often, not with the precautions we take, but it does happen. Of course, the blood would be immediately replaced while they thoroughly investigated the incident. I really shouldn't be talking about it. You understand, this isn't the type of thing they want to be made public. In this case though, it was very serious. It was AB negative, a very rare blood type and it was needed for a critically ill patient. We didn't have any more at the Central warehouse. They found more AB negative blood in the bank at London. Another man and I were sent to get it. That's how I know about the incident."

"And you have no idea where the blood went?"

"Are you accusing me?" Manfred's face became paler and he edged to the far side of his seat. "I had nothing to do with the theft. I swear to you. Nothing."

"That was a question, not an denunciation." Nick replied. He could tell that the vampire was accustomed to being intimidated by the General. "I have no intention of condemning you. Just tell me what you know. Was there anyone asking questions or acting suspicious?"

Manfred wiped his face and sighed heavily. Nicholas is the exact opposite of his sire. I hope he stays for at least a century. "The team from the headquarters is running down a few leads, but so far, nothing has shown up. I don't know if it means anything. But the phone operator said there was a caller asking about the delivery schedules to the various hospitals around 6:30 that same evening. She said that when she put him on hold to get a supervisor, he hung up. The caller ID showed it was made from a pay phone at the Castle Frank subway station. That's only a few miles from the hospital."

"And you think it was a vampire?"

"I don't know for sure, but I'd almost be willing to bet on it. The truck didn't arrive at the hospital until after 8 PM. It was due at 6. Seems it threw a wheel bearing and the driver had to wait for a tow truck and another van from the dispatch to complete his deliveries. In two hours, anything could have happened."

"So somebody could have gotten into the truck while it was waiting?"

"It would be difficult, but not impossible. While the truck was locked and the driver never left it, it's not like it's an armored truck. There are no armed guards inside the cargo bay or anything like that. It wouldn't be all that hard for a vampire to get in and get out without being spotted."

"Have there been any other shortages lately?"

"I don't know of any offhand, but I can check."

Nick handed him his police card as well as his personal card. If this is the case, it could be why no one has seen or heard of any new vampires in town. He could be getting his supplies from other sources.

**********

Pete Natsuko was seated at his desk, pouring over some reports when Don Schanke came into the office.

"Hi, Pete." Don said to his partner. "How's things going? Find anything?"

"Nothing you guys haven't found." Pete answered, hastily shoving the papers back into their folder. "Any luck with any of the other cases?"

"Not so far." Don walked over to the coffee pot and filled his cup and Tracy's as well. "Want some?" He held up the pot.

"No, thanks. I don't drink the stuff. Coffee is an acquired taste, and I never acquired it."

"We got tea if you'd rather have that. Vera always has a pot of hot water and a box of bags. What about a donut?" He held up a chocolate eclair. "Tim Horton's. Food of the gods for a cop. Next best thing to heaven on earth."

"I appreciate the offer, but I had something just before I came in. Maybe later."

"Now you sound like my partner." Don slowly walked back to his desk, munching on the chocolate covered pastry. Too much like my partner. Nobody's ever seen him in the daytime. Claims it's because his body is still on Tokyo time … Right … After a month and he still has jet lag? Not flippin likely. Always ate just a 'little while ago'. Never takes breaks. Haven't seen him use the washroom yet, either. Could he be a … ? Don continued to stare at the Japanese detective. Then again, he didn't react when I ate that Souvlaki in front of him, and I've seen him admiring Louise Hanson's cross necklace. Lots of blood doesn't seem to affect him, either. Face it, Donny, you've been hanging around Tracy too long. You're seeing vampires behind every light pole.

"Sarge … Ah … Schanke ... Ah … Don … " Pete said. "On second thought, maybe I will have a donut and a cup of tea after all." He walked over to the break table and poured some hot water into a cup and fished a plain cruller out of the box. "Thanks for asking me." He took a bite of the donut and made a face. It was slow going but he eventually managed to eat the entire thing.

"No problemo." All that worrying for nothing. I just gotta keep remembering that not everybody has Eastern Canadian tastes.

"I guess I'm just not used to Western foods." Pete said as though he were reading Don's mind. "In Japan, the police normally snack on sushi."

"What's that? Some kind of Japanese pastry? "

"It's raw fish."

"Y-u-u-c-k!" Don made a face that rivaled Pete's. "Around here, we call that bait."

***********

Nick helped Natalie into the car. This was their first Lamaze class, and he was beginning to believe he was getting the hang of being a father-to-be. It also helped to see that the other couples were going through some of the same kinds of difficulties as he and Nat were. It made him feel just a little more human. He wondered what they would think if they knew that he was a … No. He corrected himself. Let's not start that again. After all that Nat and you have been through lately, you've got to remember that vampires and mortals are still basically the same. What did she call it? Daylight challenged? He gently nuzzled her hair as he slid into the driver's seat next to her.

"What was that for?" She asked.

"Just because you're you. And I love you."

She blushed as he put his hand on her abdomen. At five months, she was just beginning to noticeably show. She had started wearing maternity clothes a few days earlier. "He should be starting to move around, although I haven't noticed anything. Can you feel him?" She asked. "After all, your senses are a lot better than mine."

"Not really, but I can sense him through you. His engrams are present in your blood and now I can taste him as well as you every time we make love."

"And what does he taste like?"

"Snips and snails and puppy dog's tails." Nick said as he buried his head in her belly and blew a raspberry.

"You're incorrigible." She said as she playfully cuffed the back of his head.

"And you love it."

"Wait till we get home and I'll show you how much I love it."

Their mood was interrupted by Nick's cell phone ringing. It was Reese.

"I know this is your day off, and I know that you and Dr. Lambert don't get that many days together. I really hate to call you in, but we've got another weird murder. Tracy and Pete are already at the scene. I practically had to hog tie Schanke to keep him from going with them. He said that since you weren't here, he was the acting leader of the group and it was his job. He's only got another week to go on his light duty and I don't want to take any chances that he might re-injure his back.

Anyway, you and the Doc report to Woodbine Beach. The body was brought up about three hours ago. On second thought, maybe Natalie shouldn't be there. From what they tell me, it ain't a pretty sight."

"Natalie ... Dr. Lambert and I have been down that road already. I think she can handle it. We are on our way." Nick said as he fished the red strobe light from under the seat and put it on the top of the dashboard.

"What was that all about? And what road have we already been down?"

"Another murder. From what Reese says, it's messy. Are you sure you're up to this?"

The look in her eyes convinced the Detective that the wisest course of action would be to back off from any further discussion of her ability to handle a crime scene.

**********

The body had definitely been in the water for an extended time. The water bloat made it barely recognizable as a man. If he had been pure white instead of a sickly shade of greenish gray, he could have doubled for the cartoon mascot for a brand of tires. They could smell the stench as soon as Nick had parked the Caddy at the beach's edge.

"If it's all the same to you." Natalie said, reaching into her medical bag for a packet of wintergreen that she kept for occasions like this. "I think I will defer to the coroner on duty." She handed a packet to Nick. She opened another one and spread a generous amount under her nose. "I'll wait here for you."

He took the packet without argument. To his highly refined senses, the odor was almost overwhelming. "Wise choice." He said to his wife as he did the same with the contents of his packet.

He took a deep breath of the wintergreen as he approached the gurney with the body bag on it. It was a decided plus that he did not have to breathe like mortals did. Once every minute was sufficient to maintain consciousness. Still, he was beginning to feel decidedly nauseous. He closed his eyes and concentrated until the sensation passed. It would not do for him to bring up his bloody dinner in front of everyone.

Tracy and Pete were at the edge of the beach, as was everyone who did not have to be directly involved in the area where the corpse was. Tracy and a few of the other police officers looked to be quite unsettled. Pete did not appear to be as affected by the scene as some of the others were, although his skin tone seemed to be decidedly more sallow than normal.

The officer in charge of the detail, one 'Woodgram, J', according to her nametag, was standing with them as well. She was young, probably no more than a year or two out of the academy. From the look on her face, this was probably her first assignment where the body had been in the water for any time. The odor of wintergreen was very noticeable on her. "A dredge was cleaning the channel about two hundred meters off the beach when they pulled him up in the clamshell. They're the ones who called us. The foreman and the crew are over there if you want to talk to them." Officer Woodgram told Knight. "But your partners have already questioned them." She pointed to Tracy and Pete.

"In that case, I'll defer talking to them. At least for now. You can let them go."

Woodgram went to one of the group and said something to him. Within seconds, several people, probably the crew of the dredge, ran off the beach at a fast clip.

"Male. Probably Caucasian. Age undeterminable at this time. Possibly middle to late forties. No ID that we can find. Been in the water at least a week. Maybe two." Dr. McCordle, the Coroner on duty said as Nick approached him. He was wearing a surgical mask heavily coated with wintergreen.

"Could this have been an accident?" Nick asked, even though he was sure what the Doctor's answer would be. The fact that he and the other members of the 'Weird Squad' had been called in precluded that.

"Definitely not. The most convincing evidence is that cinder block that was tied to his right leg." He pointed to a hollow concrete brick that was encased in a large evidence bag. Another bag held a coil of waterlogged rope. "While the water has distorted much of the details, it could not disguise the fact that his neck was broken, too. Hard to tell whether there are any other injuries until we get him back to the morgue. The body is too fragile to do more than just a cursory exam here.

Gingerly, Nick pulled the bag open a little. There were numerous cuts and tears in the delicate skin, most likely from the time he spent on the bottom of the lake. One thing stood out to his practiced eyes, though. Although they had been carefully disguised and would probably not be noticed by anyone other than Nick or Natalie, there were two tiny, barely distinguishable holes in the man's neck just above the collarbone.

**********

"I still don't see why we were called in on this." Tracy said to her leader after they had returned to the precinct. "True, this is definitely a homicide, but I couldn't see anything supernatural or unusual about it. My guess is that it should have been turned over to the homicide team on call, not us."

Pete had booked off, saying that the scene made him too ill to continue working tonight. No one questioned him, since several other officers who were also at the beach had done the same thing.

"I'm not sure why they called us either, but I'm glad they did." Nick answered. "Did you get a chance to examine the body?"

"No I didn't. The smell was so bad I couldn't get within a meter of the area without gagging. I even threw up once. Dr. McCordle told me to get out of there before I contaminated the scene. That was good enough for me. I didn't even try to go back."

"If you had stayed, you might have noticed the two puncture marks at the base of his neck. They were disguised, but they were there just the same."

"Are you saying that this is another vampire murder?" Schanke interjected.

"Looks like it."

"Could it be our Kung Fu Vampire?" Tracy asked.

"Nothing to tie him to this one ... yet, but maybe something will turn up in the autopsy."

"I hope Natalie isn't doing it."

"I don't think so." Nick said. "When we got to the beach, she seemed perfectly content to let Dr. McCordle handle this one, although after I explained what I had found, I'm positive she'll be keeping a very close eye on the procedure ... and on his findings."

**********

He took a packet out of the refrigerator and bit into it. This was the last of the ones he had taken from the disabled Red Cross truck. He would have to replenish his cache soon. He had been watching the routes of the blood deliveries for several weeks before the incident happened in order to get some ideas. It was just dumb luck that the truck had broken down almost in front of him. The chances of that happening again were astronomical. He couldn't risk trying to steal any from either the Red Cross building or any of the hospitals. The missing blood would be fresh on their minds, and the security would be airtight for some time to come.

After the police had discovered the body that he had buried in the lake, he didn't dare attempt to take another living donor. It was only a fluke that they were dredging in the exact place he had used to dispose of the homeless man.

The Raven, and the other local sources, were out of the question, too. Especially with Knight looking for recently arrived vampires in town. Knight was even more tenacious than he had been led to believe.

The three vampires were easy. They were the principle reason he had been sent here. To protect the new Elder. They had been plotting to assassinate him and reestablish the old ways. They had to be dealt with in a manner that would let the Community know that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated. They accomplished that purpose. There had been no more talk of sedition in the rank and file.

The Hunter was a bit harder. He too was after the Elder. He was almost as accomplished as he was, but he was, after all, only a mortal. Still, it took all the skills and weapons he had to bring him down. If it hadn't been for the dog, he would have been able to dispose of the body and no one would have ever suspected anything. Now the police were shaking the trees for the murderer. And he knew that Nick had heard about the vampires and had connected the two incidents to the same killer. He would be hot on his trail as well. The fact that his partners knew about vampires didn't make things any easier, either.

This was not good. Too many negative coincidences. He was supposed to be better than that. He was, after all, almost 600 years old. Hardly a fledgling. He had centuries to perfect his tactics. His superiors would not be pleased. He had been sent here with strict orders not to be discovered. That had required some high powered control on his part. So far, he had been able to pull it off, but he did not know how much longer he could keep it up. Particularly if he did not have a steady supply of nourishment available.

He took a few sips and poured the remainder of the bag into an empty soda bottle and capped it. Although he could easily have drank the entire unit, he had to make it last until he could find a replacement. Since Toronto was out, perhaps another town could supply his needs. Montreal was not that far away. Neither was Windsor. Or even Buffalo for that matter. They all had fairly large Communities. Perhaps he could score something there without arousing any suspicion.

**********

Natalie breathed a heavy sigh of relief as she read the autopsy report. As far as she could see, Dr. McCordle had noticed the bite marks on the victim's throat, but he had listed them as puncture marks and had written them up as natural causes. There was no mention of any unusual blood loss either. She had to admit. It was possible that even she might have missed these things. The numerous cuts and tears in the delicate flesh and the bloating had almost obliterated the fang marks and skin osmosis would have made an exact blood to water ratio almost impossible to calculate. Whoever disguised them was a pro.

It looked more and more like this was the work of the Kung Fu Vampire, as Schanke had named him, or the Kung Fu Killer as the others were calling him. Both the esophagus and the trachea had been crushed as if by one blow to the throat. Not only that, but the fourth cervical vertebra had been shattered and the spinal cord had been severed as well. With a little more force, it was probable that the man could have been decapitated. The crowning piece was that there was no evidence that a weapon had been used. Whoever did this apparently used his bare hands.

**********

Montreal

"You will not remember my being here." He said to the bartender at Le Club D'Abime (The Abyss Club). He had purchased two cases of the house special. That in and of itself would not cause anyone to remember him, but with Knight's persistence and the closeness and extent of communication between the various Communities, he didn't want to take any chances. While a vampire was difficult to hypnotize, he knew techniques that even those far older than he was were unaware of, let alone had mastered. "You will continue with your routine as though the past half hour never happened." He turned and quickly left the bar with his boxes.

"Not here … " The bartender repeated as he picked up a towel and began to dry the same glasses he had dried before.

**********

Toronto

Javier Vachon sat in the classroom, mentally counting the ceramic tiles on the wall in the front of the classroom for the umpteenth time. The instructor droned on, about what, the Spaniard had lost track ten minutes after she started. The instructor had a high nasally voice that sounded to him like cats fornicating

"What am I doing here? He asked himself. He had asked himself the same question every day since he started. The answer was always the same. I am here because I was ordered to be here by Etrian. This way I can protect Tracy Vetter. I want to protect her. I love her so much I can't see straight. That's why I'm here.

He glanced at the open textbook sitting on his desk. With his vampire photographic memory and his vampire total recall, he had memorized the entire course in the first week. According to the paperwork that Etrian had furnished him, he had taken several courses in 'college' and therefore did not have to take the entire nine month curriculum. He was placed as a senior student and would graduate in two months. That was two months too long for him.

He missed her. He had told her that he was going on an extended tour with an American band that needed a guitarist. For some reason, he could not bring himself to tell her the truth. Etrian had not forbidden it, but he just felt awkward. He wasn't sure whether it was because of shame, or fear that she would razz him about it. He didn't want to take a chance on the latter. He could accept anything from her except ridicule.

"Well, Mr. Vachon." The instructor asked. "What are your thoughts on the subject?"

Although he had let his mind wander, his vampire subconscious had absorbed everything that had been said. He quickly rummaged through his id until he located the last few comments. This was an easy one. The instructor had been quoting the textbook almost chapter and verse. So much for original thinking. "As I seem to recall." This was a no brainer. He too could quote chapter and verse. "This was covered very thoroughly in chapter seven. It clearly states that … "

**********

"So. Any closer to catching our elusive vampire?" Natalie asked as she and her husband lay in bed. Nick had said that he had noticed a 'bulge' and it took several sessions of their horizontally manipulating the mattress before he announced, somewhat breathlessly, that the offending lump had been eliminated. This was highly unusual, considering that they had a waterbed.

"No. Not yet." Nick said as he lazily pushed a damp stray curl off his wife's forehead. "I am pretty sure that he must be near the end of the supply of blood that he took from the Red Cross van, though. I have discretely put out inquiries to all of the surrounding Communities to be on the lookout for any strange vampires who are buying any quantities. Maybe that will give us some kind of a lead."

"I hope so." She toyed with his chest hairs. "After three months, Commissioner Haldermann must be really breathing down your necks."

"Not really. We managed to placate him by 'solving' ... " He made quotes with his fingers. " ... another case. A prisoner serving two life sentences with no hope of parole 'confessed' ... " Another quotes. " ... to the Iversom and George killings. The evidence supports his claim. He was in Toronto at the right time, and his MO is very similar to the killings. Except of course, for the two tiny holes in their necks, which, thanks to a certain ME I know and love … " He kissed her lightly on the cheek. " … were never made public. It was close enough to call them closed."

"And just how did you pull that one off?"

"I didn't. Well, not exactly. I sort of … happened to mention … the case to an old friend of mine who just happens to have connections to the Manitoba prison system. The next thing we knew, we had a confession. Signed sealed and delivered."

"Do I want to know the name of your 'old friend'?" Her turn to make the quotes. "On second thought, I don't think I do." Suddenly, she doubled over and let out a loud groan.

Instantly, Nick was out of bed and standing by her side. "What is it?" He gasped, the fear very evident in his voice. "Is something wrong with the baby?"

"I ... don't ... know ... " Natalie gasped. She slowly let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. Gradually, the pain left her face. "It's starting to go away. It felt like what the Lamaze instructor said a contraction should feel like. It could be nothing or it could be Braxton-Hicks."

"Braxton-Hicks? What's that?"

"False labor. Even if it is Braxton-Hicks, it still could be nothing, but I don't think it would be out of line to call Paolo Ramirez."

Nick was on the phone even before she stopped talking. "Doctor Ramirez says it could be Braxton-whatever-you-called-it or it could be nothing, like you said. He doesn't think it's serious, but he says to go to the Emergency Room anyway. Can you drive? Or should I call Tracy? Or maybe an ambulance would be better?"

"Nick!" Natalie said. "Will you please stop panicking? It was one small pain. It's completely gone now and I haven't had any more. We'll go to the hospital just to be safe. I definitely don't need an ambulance. I can drive while you ride in the trunk. Relax. I'm going to be okay and so is the baby."

"I'm not nervous. Why do you think I'm nervous?"

"Then why do you have your underwear over your jeans?"

He looked down. Natalie was right. He had put his pants on first. He smiled sheepishly. "Well, maybe just a little bit nervous." He kissed her and stripped down and started over.

**********

They had just finished taking Natalie's vitals and were getting her settled into one of the examining rooms when Nick heard a familiar voice in the nurse's station. He was surprised to see Dr. Ramirez talking with one of the nurses. When he was finished, he came to them.

"How did you get here?" Nick asked. "It's still daylight. I rode in the trunk while Natalie drove, but you don't have anyone to drive you, do you?"

"No I don't, but my car has heavily tinted windows and I bundled up very thoroughly." Ramirez explained. No use telling them that as a halfling, I can tolerate a fair amount of daylight. After all, no one is supposed to know about my family and me. Why don't you go out to the waiting room while I take a look at Natalie and then we can talk some more?" He disappeared behind the pale green curtain that had been pulled around the bed.

An hour of Nick's nervously pacing the floor in front of the ER door later, Paolo came out. Nick was on him almost as fast as he could without drawing attention to the fact that he was not mortal. "How is she? Is it anything serious? Is the baby all right? When can I see her?"

"Relax." Paolo said. "You're acting like a first time father."

"That's because I am a first time father."

"She's fine and so is the baby. Whatever it was, it was apparently a one time thing, probably nothing more than an abdominal cramp. More than likely, something she ate may have given her some gas pains. Regardless, it did not appear to have caused any problems for either mother or child. I'm still waiting on the results of some test I had run, just as a precaution. They should be finished in about another hour, which will put it right around sunset. Then you can take your wife home and spoil her rotten for the next week. That's what I'm prescribing. A few days bed rest and taking it easy and she should be good as new. I'll give you a list of things she and you should and shouldn't do from now on. Don't look so worried. It's nothing I wouldn't prescribe for any of my mortal patients." Especially if they were carrying a vampire's child.

"Thank you." Nick said, taking both of the doctor's hands in his. "Thank you. Thank you."

"I am going to have her transferred to one of the outpatient recovery rooms until it's time to leave. That way, it won't be as hectic and frenzied as it is in here." A wide grin spread across the Basque's face. "Besides, we need these beds for sick people."

**********

Grace Balthazar was standing, arms folded sternly across her chest, at the door to the garage when Nick pulled up. "What do you think you're doing, girl?" She almost shouted at Natalie as Nick helped her out of the car. "I've been telling you you were overdoing it for the past three weeks. Now you've gone and got yourself, not to mention my honorary godson, in distress." She grabbed Natalie's hospital bag before either Nat or Nick had a chance to reach for it. "No more. Auntie Grace is here now. I will make it my personal project to see that you take it easy until that beautiful baby is born." As soon as Nick had keyed in the security code, Grace was at the lift.

"Grace." Natalie asked as they rode up to the loft. "How did you know about this episode? I heard Nick specifically tell Jillian that this was not to be spread around the office."

"You really think you can keep any secrets from me, girl? Don't you know I know everything?"

Everything but the most important one. Nat thought. Nick's secret.

"I was in Jillian's office when Nick called you off for the next week. Even though she shooed me out, I heard your name mentioned. That was all I needed to hear. Later I snuck back. The caller ID number told me that it came from the hospital. I placed a call to my second cousin's next door neighbor's daughter who happens to be dating an orderly who sometimes works in the ER. She filled me in on all the details. To think I had to hear about it from an almost complete stranger." She pointed her head upward in mock indignation. "Me. Who regularly assists you in autopsying Fried Chickens, Bowls of potato salad, Bratwurst, Tubs of Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey, and other such complicated procedures! Have you forgotten all about them?" She sniffed loudly and rolled her eyes in a mock hurt look.

"Thanks for coming, Grace." Nick said as they went into the loft. "But I think Natalie should rest for a while."

"You are so right about that." She took Nat by the arm and started for the stairs. "I'll see that she gets settled in. You go do …" She waggled her hand at him with an air of dismissal. " … whatever it is that you do. Go read last week's Police Special or something."

Nick sat on the couch and extended his hearing to the bedroom. He could hear Natalie protesting, albeit not too strongly, as Grace helped her undress and get into bed.

Sidney made himself comfortable on Nick's lap. If this one wasn't going to get involved with the large dark skinned female upstairs with his other pet, then neither was he.

**********

Nick had just gotten to sleep when the security buzzer sounded. It was probably Grace, prepared to take over day duty. He had booked off a few days in order to be sure that Nat followed doctor's orders to the letter. He was due back to work this evening. Surprisingly, she had not protested the regimen as much as he had expected. Of course, the fact that Grace had been with them two days running had a lot to do with that. Nick found that the Assistant Coroner could be every bit as obstinate as her boss. And the realization that she weighed almost a hundred pounds more than his wife was a very significant factor too.

It was not Grace's face in the security camera. It was his partner Tracy's.

"Tracy? … What? … " He asked as she exited the elevator.

"Grace couldn't make it today so she asked me if I'd come over instead. Something about she had to take her car to the shop. Don't worry. She gave me a list of everything that needs to be done." She opened her purse and took out a folded sheet of tablet paper. He could see that there was writing on both sides.

"I appreciate your coming, but really, there isn't that much to do. Sidney's been fed. The litter box has been cleaned. Nat's asleep, and I was about to join her."

"She said you'd probably give me an argument, too. What about the laundry? And the shopping? And according to this list, the carpet in the living room needs a good scrubbing, too." She headed to the kitchen and surveyed the sink full of dishes. Nick had planned to do them when he woke later in the afternoon. "How do you intend to do all that and be rested enough to go back to work tonight. You do remember you're due back, don't you?" She began filling the sink with steaming water.

"What about you? When are you going to sleep?"

"This is my day off. You are really becoming more and more forgetful since Nat got pregnant." She motioned toward the stairs. "Just leave the shopping list on the table and I'll do the rest. Now. Go upstairs before I force you up." She held up a wooden mixing spoon threateningly. "This isn't very sharp, you know. Therefore it should hurt a hell of a lot more as it goes in."

Nick did as he was told. Although Tracy may have forgotten, Nick could tell that she was nearing her time of month. Nick would rather face a squad of Enforcers than go up against a woman with PMS ... And a badge … And a gun … And a wooden spoon!

Over the next few weeks, a steady stream of his and Nat's friends 'just happened' to be in the neighborhood and dropped in for an extended visit. In addition to Grace and Tracy, Jillian, Vera, Louise Hanson, Mrs. Tremont from Nat's old apartment building, and several women that he knew by sight but didn't know by name, showed up at his door on a regular basis. They all gave him tons of advice … along with helping with the housework.

He looked at Sidney who was sitting at his feet. "Well?" He asked the cat. "Aren't you going to put your two cents worth in about how I should handle Natalie's … condition? Everyone else has."

The gray feline looked up at him with a look that said. 'Female business. I'm a male'. Then he promptly proceeded to give himself a bath. Starting with the area between his hind legs.

Nick suspected that Grace was behind the parade of caregivers. Nat is very lucky to have a wonderful person like Grace for a friend. He thought with satisfaction. So am I.

**********

He took his usual place at the end of the bar. Between his accumulated leave time and Don Schanke and Tracy covering for him, Nick Knight was able to continue his Friday night sessions almost without interruption. In fact, he was beginning to enjoy them. He had found that Natalie was right. Vampires were not the evil, amoral, monstrous creatures he had always believed they ... and he as well ... were. Of course, there were those who reveled in their dark depraved side, but this certainly was not true of the Community as a whole. Like their mortal counterparts, the majority of the vampires were kind, compassionate and giving persons.

He had also found that he was beginning to receive a small measure of approval from the Community as a whole. And this was being built on respect, not fear … or the fact that he was LaCroix's son. He liked it. He was not at all certain he liked that feeling, though.

"I understand you are looking for information on anyone making a large purchase at any of the surrounding Communities." The vampire sitting next to him said.

"Do you have any information?"

"It may not mean anything, but I was in Montreal last week and I happened to be in the Abyss Club when this guy bought two cases of the house special. Of course, there's nothing unusual about that. But then he sort of … well … At least I think … he did … I wouldn't exactly swear to it …"

"He … What?"

"I think he hypnotized the bartender into forgetting he was there. I was sitting close enough to hear a lot of what was being said, and it sure sounded that way. Then again, I know that we are hard to hypnotize. He wasn't a local. I asked around. I was sort of suspicious, so I followed him outside. He got into a car with Ontario plates on it."

"What did he look like?" Finally! We may be getting somewhere!

"He was short. Maybe about five feet or so. Dark complexion."

"A black midget?"

"Sort of, only taller than a midget, and not as dark as a black man. Kinda olive complexioned, but not quite."

As soon as the bartender was available, he pulled Miklos aside. "I know you were listening. Does that description match anyone you know of?"

"Not really, although I just heard a rumor that there might be a new vampire who moved into the Carlisle Apartments over on Gurnwald a few months back. Nobody has ever actually seen him, mind you, and I haven't seen any strange vampires here. I don't know how accurate the information is, though. Norton, over there was the one who told me about it."

Norton sat at the table, obviously shaken by the attention that the Elder was paying to him. Norton was minimally retarded, even with the vampire influence. It was said that his master was not too bright either. Norton lived on the streets and spent his days in one of the maintenance sheds in the subway tunnels. Many of the others treated him in much the same manner as a Carouche.

"I really don't know nothin'." Norton said softly. "I didn't want to say anythin' to you since I ain't got no proof. All I really saw was some blood packs in this guy's trash. They was real sweet blood, too. At least what I drained from them was. I mean, he coulda been one of them hemo … heemi … you know, one of them guys who bleeds a lot. That could be why he has a lot of blood around."

"Hemopheliacs."

"Yeah. One of them. I mean I didn't want to get him in any trouble if he wasn't one of you ... I mean one of us. And if he was sick, I didn't want him bein' anyone's breakfast, neither. You know what I mean? I did the right thing, didn't I?"

"Yes. I do understand. You did the right thing, Norton." Nick instructed Miklos to give him drinks on the house for the rest of the evening. Norton walked to the bar thanking Nick, his family, Miklos, the gods, and anyone else he could think of.

At last they might have a solid lead. Gurnwald Avenue was on his way to the precinct from the loft. He could check it out tomorrow evening on his way to work.

**********

What's wrong?" Nat said to her husband. Nick had practically dragged himself into the loft and had not said more than three words to her all morning. "You look like you just lost your last friend."

"Maybe I have. Or maybe I will."

"Want to talk about it? You know I'm a good listener."

Nick put his head on the table and laced his hands behind his neck. He took a deep breath through his nose and slowly raised his head. "I'm not sure how to say this. I realized something tonight that completely shook me." He said without looking at his wife. There was a long pause. "You know that for several centuries, I have been increasingly dissatisfied with my life as a vampire. For the last hundred years or so, I have been actively searching for a cure. A way to return to mortality. Since I woke up on your autopsy table, I have had the feeling that the answer was right there within my grasp." Another long pause.

"And now ... ?" Nat prompted.

"And now, I'm beginning to have doubts. Not that there is a cure. I'm still convinced that the cure is somewhere out there. I'm just not too sure that I still want to become mortal anymore. Since I became the Elder, I am beginning to see the Community in a whole new light. I've come to realize that the image of the vampire as a soulless depraved killing machine that LaCroix fostered in me is not a true image. That what you said is true. That there is goodness and evil in every culture and that vampires are no exception. I am beginning to see that what I have been searching for isn't necessarily mortality, but redemption. I know you've told me that a hundred times, but it finally sunk in tonight. I now believe that I still have a soul, tainted and corrupted as it is, but a soul nonetheless, and that I can find salvation as a vampire much the same as I could if I were a mortal."

"So you want me to discontinue my efforts to find a cure?"

"Oh, Nat." He put his arms around her and held her tight for a moment. "I know how much time and effort you've put into this. I know how much faith and hope you ... we ... have that I will be cured and we can live a normal happy life together. I feel like I'm betraying you." A pinkish tear rolled down his cheek.

She looked at him and a small smile spread across her face. "Oh God. No, Nick." She took his head in her hands and gently pulled him to her. "Don't ever think anything like that. You aren't betraying me. You could never do that in a million years. In fact, you have just taken a great weight off my shoulders. After the failure of Lidovuterine B, and some of the other so called cures, and all of the setbacks we have had, I have come to the almost the same conclusion you have. The cure is there, it's just that we don't have the technology or the knowledge to find it at this time. I didn't want to say anything to you because I knew how much you were counting on becoming mortal." She kissed him lightly on the cheek. "As for the other, I could see that little by little you were accepting your position in the Community. I also suspected that your perception of vampires was changing as well. You're right, you know. You can find salvation as a vampire. Perhaps easier than some mortals can find it. I mean, you have been performing penance for the last hundred years. That should go a long way toward erasing your supposed sins."

"Then you're not angry with me?"

"Angry? No. The only way I could be angry is if you had let this fester until it became a full blown angst attack. Don't you see? The very fact that we are able to talk this out shows how far you ... how far we ... have come. I love you Nicholas de Brabant Knight. I always will. Remember that. Always."

"And I love you, Natalie Ann Lambert de Brabant Knight. I always will. Remember that. Always."

If there had been a mirror in the immediate area, it would have definitely fogged over from their passionate kisses.

**********

Nick drove slowly by the Carlisle apartments. He extended his senses to the maximum searching for any tell tale signs of a vampire nearby. There did not appear to be any. However, there were strange vibrations coming from the building. He parked at the end of the street. From there, he could see the entrance, but he could not be seen.

After about fifteen minutes, he was surprised to see Pete Natsuko come out and head for the parking lot. Nick glanced at his watch. It was seven thirty. This was the time that Pete would be leaving to go to work. He concentrated for a moment, trying to remember what address the detective had given for his home. It dawned on him that he had never mentioned where he lived. Nick and the others had assumed that it was in Chinatown. He waited until Pete left and went into the lobby. According to the mailbox an 'O. Natsuko' lived in apartment 721.

Even though he knew that Pete had gone, he listened at the door. Just in case. No sound. He slipped on a pair of surgical gloves that he had for crime scenes and carefully opened the locked door. He scanned the apartment. There did not seem to be anything unusual. He conducted a careful search of all the rooms, closets, even the cabinets and refrigerator. Nothing. Clearly, Pete was not the vampire. Although he knew that his new partner was not all that he seemed to be, he still had no idea what he actually was, and his apartment provided no clues.

He rode the elevator to the top floor and proceeded to make an extrasensory search of every apartment. Nothing. Norton must have been mistaken. Or maybe there was a hemophiliac in the complex. There certainly were no vampires.

**********

Nick took his customary seat at the end of the bar. Although it wasn't Friday, he was there on 'official' business. Another kill had been discovered. This one though bore no signs of the 'Vampire Killer'. It was a straight out and out sloppy feeding. He had to squash this quickly. Not only would it undermine his authority with the Community, it would attract even more attention from the mortal community as well.

Almost as soon a he sat down, Norton was at his side. Since the Elder had befriended him, Norton had changed drastically. For the better. He was bathing and shaving on a regular basis. He now wore clean, though obviously Salvation Army, clothes. He had gotten a job of sorts. Miklos had hired him to help clean the Raven after hours. The Greek had also let him have one of the rooms on the lower level during the day. "I hear you're looking for the vampire that left his dinner in plain sight." Norton said. "I think you should talk to those two at the end of the bar. While I was sweeping up, I heard them bragging about how easy pickings there was here since you took over as Elder. How they had hunted and left their kill in plain sight, and that you didn't have the fangs to do anything about it."

"Thanks for the tip, Norton. Tell Miklos you're on the cuff."

"I'm what?"

"Free drinks for the rest of the evening."

"I appreciate that, Sir." He took several bills out of his pocket. "But you see, I got my own money now and I can pay for my drinks myself. This is something I gotta do on my own. If I keep mooching drinks from you and everyone else, I'll never get any respect from the Community. Thanks anyway. If you want to, I can go with you when you talk to them guys."

"I appreciate your offer to help, Norton. But this is something that I have to do on my own. If I don't, I'll never get the respect I deserve either. You can do something for me, though."

"Name it."

"Stay right here. Just in case there is any trouble, it will be good to know that you are covering my back."

"Yes Sir." Norton seemed to grow a little taller, he looked a little more dignified and proud, and he seemed to be just a little more intelligent as he took the seat at the bar.

"I understand that you have a problem with me." Nick asked the two at the end of the bar. Both vampires jumped. Neither of them had heard, or even suspected, that the Elder was there.

"We ain't got no problems." The first one spat on the floor. It landed a few inched from Nick's shoe. "Everybody in a hundred kilos of here knows you ain't nothing but a weak kneed sniveling coward. The only thing that has kept you from being fragged so far is that you are LaCroix's spawn. If he were still the Elder, he wouldn't have condoned one tenth of the things you let happen."

"And as far as you being the Elder, you wouldn't make a good boil on an Elder's ass." The second sneered.

"Why don't we take this conversation outside?" He said softly. He smiled as he placed his hands on the vampires' shoulders. To the casual observer, it would seem like a friendly gesture. However both men could feel the exquisite pain as the Elder's thumbs dug into the spot where the brachial nerve exited their necks on its way to the arm. Everyone in the place watched with baited breath as Nick appeared to nonchalantly guide the two to the rear of the club.

As soon as the outer door closed, Nick shifted his hands to their necks and effortlessly lifted them into the air. He then slammed them into the brick wall. Hard. "I have only one thing to say to you." He said as his fangs descended and his eyes became a fiery orange. He had learned the lessons of intimidation from the grand master ... LaCroix. It was time to put them to practical use. "I … AM ... THE …ELDER … HERE!" He was surprised at how much he sounded like his master. " I … say what happens! I ... make the rules. You ... obey them. I do not care if you like that or not. You … WILL … accept it! If you cannot accept it, then you can leave Toronto ... immediately ... and never ... come ... back." He emphasized his remarks by pushing them even more firmly into the wall. He could tell that his message was getting across. Both vampires were squirming and he could almost taste the fear emanating from them. "If you do not accept that ... and you do not leave, and I hear of even ... ONE ... tiny ... infraction from EITHER of you ..." He paused and lowered his barriers to let the full force of his power wash over them. Beads of bloody sweat began to form on both of their foreheads. The fear factor increased geometrically. "I WILL deal with you. Both of you … PERSONALLY! ... PERMANENTLY! DO … I … MAKE … MYSELF … CLEAR? !!!" He growled sinisterly.

Both vampires nodded as much as they were able with Knight's fingers wrapped around their throats.

"Good. Now say it. Say you accept me as the Elder of the Toronto Community and that you will obey me."

"I will." The first croaked.

"Not good enough." He squeezed slightly and the man gasped for air. "Say the entire thing!"

"I … accept you as the … Elder of the Toronto … Community. And … I will obey you." He wheezed.

Nick concentrated on the other one. "Your turn."

"IacceptyouastheElderoftheTorontoCommunityandIwillobeyyou."

"Good." He lowered the two to the asphalt and motioned to the door. "Now go back inside and behave." As the started in, Nick swatted each of them on the behind. "Like good little boys." He followed them to be sure that they did as they were told.

You could hear a pin drop as the three entered the main portion of the bar. Nick knew that everyone there had strained their senses to the maximum to ascertain what went on in the alley. Although no one said or did anything, he could feel that the atmosphere in the Community had changed in the past hour. He could feel an outpouring of admiration and loyalty where prior to this, there had only been a restrained acceptance of his position.

The two vampires meekly took their seats at the end of the bar. Nick resumed his usual seat. Miklos put a glass of his private vintage in front of him and sat one in front of Norton as well. Norton laid a bill on the bar and Miklos pushed it back to him. "My treat." The bartender said with a smile. Norton nodded and placed the bill back in his pocket. Slowly the Raven returned to its noisy normal existence.

**********

The speaker droned on. He was even worse that the one instructor Javier had. At least her voice was jarring enough to keep him awake. This man had a low voice that was the perfect pitch for drifting off to dreamland.

" … And now I will introduce our graduating class."

Javier was immediately awake. This was the culmination of the course.

" … Adams, Harold."

Harry Adams stood up and walked to the stage area.

" … Anderson, Laurel."

Laurie Anderson took her place beside Adams.

"Baker, Samuel." The speaker droned on, each person taking their place in the line as their name was called. Why did I have to have the name Vachon? I know I'll be the last to be called. Sure enough, " ... Vachon, Javier." was the last. The speaker had even pronounced the hard 'J'. He took his place at the end of the line.

"I will now introduce His Excellency, Judge Thomas Bateman, who will administer the oath."

Judge Bateman came to the podium. "Raise your right hand." He instructed the candidates. They did as instructed. Repeat after me. "I … solemnly swear, to the Almighty, to Her Majesty, the Queen, and to those here present, that I will faithfully perform my duties as an officer of the law. I will uphold and enforce the laws of the City of Toronto, the County of York, the Province of Ontario and the Sovereign Nation of Canada. I further swear that I will protect and defend its inhabitants from all criminal activities and injustices with my life if necessary. So help me God."

Each of the newly sworn police officers was given their certificates and had their badges pinned on their crisp new uniforms.

**********

He clicked 'send' and E-mailed the report to his superiors. Hopefully, this would be the last one. If his information was correct, the new Elder was perfectly capable of governing the Community without outside assistance. He was ready to move on to his next assignment.

This was one of the most difficult jobs he had undertaken in his five hundred seventy five years as an Elite Enforcer. Not the assignment itself. But Knight's persistence had almost gotten him in jeopardy on a number of occasions. It was only because of his training, and quite a bit of luck, that he had made it through without being discovered. All that was left was to wrap up a few looses ends and he would be gone.

**********

Tomutu's face was the one at the security camera when Nicholas turned it on. This was highly unusual. He couldn't remember the last time an Enforcer had sought entrance to the loft through the garage. In fact, he couldn't remember any time that they had come in that way. Ever. A few times they had entered through the skylight. Usually, they were just there. How they got in without being detected, he did not know. And he was not certain he wanted to know either.

He buzzed the door open and a few minutes later, Tomutu stepped off the lift. As well as Ibraham and Etrian! For the Ancient to come up in the elevator was ... there weren't any words that could describe the shock at that!

"Nicholas." The Ancient said with a half smile. "Do not stand there with your mouth open like that. What is the saying ... You could catch flies?"

Nick closed his mouth but continued to stare at the three in front of him.

"Relax, Nicholas." The Ancient continued. "This is not an official visit. Although I am quite pleased at the changes you have instituted in the Community. I think they will have a very positive effect."

"Thank you, My Lord." Nicholas said as he bent down to kiss the ring on Etrian's hand.

"However, that is not why I am here. It has come to my attention that there were some very fundamental things that your master neglected to teach you. I am here to rectify that oversight.

First and foremost, is blocking and sending. I know that Lucien LaCroix is able to read you like an open book. As can I. As can many of the older vampires." He shook his head slowly. "It will never do for the Elder to be that vulnerable." He paused for a moment. "We will start with that lesson. This is what I want you to do ... "

**********

Cairo, Egypt

Lucien LaCroix read the E-mail. "NO!" He shouted as he threw the laptop across the room. It crashed to the floor in a dozen or more pieces. It was ruined, but that was unimportant to the master vampire. He could easily afford another one. The message, on the other hand, was very important. "This is NOT the outcome I desired!"

According to the mail, Nicolas was handling his job as the Elder with ease. The 'protector' he had requested had dealt with the three vampires and the hunter that the General had also covertly arranged for. This was as he had planned. That was supposed to intimidate the new Elder. To show him that he couldn't handle the responsibility. It apparently did not have the effect he had anticipated. If anything, it had only sparked his son's efforts to show the Community that he was a competent leader. This he had done most handily. Nicholas had dealt with the latest pair of agitators that the former Elder had sent, all by himself. And according to the writer of the e-mail, he had been very decisive and forceful as well. He had also instituted several reforms that had endeared him to the Community. He had built a solid cadre of loyal and eager followers. In addition, according to the missive, he had returned to drinking whole human blood. To be precise, the General's personal stock. HIS STOCK! He had the NERVE to drink HIS Private Stock! The printer joined its companion on the floor in several pieces. This was totally unacceptable. Because of this, his powers were increasing daily. He was rapidly becoming a vampire to be reckoned with. Rumor had it that he might even be able to best the old Roman himself. Even Etrian was extremely pleased with Nicholas's progress.

This was not in LaCroix's plans! Nicholas was not supposed to take over HIS position. Nicholas was, after all, only what LaCroix had made him, and the master vampire never intended him to be anything but a cowering lackey. His dependent child for eternity. He was supposed to fail miserably to control the Community. That would give LaCroix the perfect excuse to abrogate the agreement he had made with his son to allow him and Natalie lead their own lives and not to interfere with them. After his son had bungled the job, he had intended to return to Toronto in triumph to undo the chaos that his son would have caused, and restore order. His ruthless brand of order, that is. That would have cemented his position as the unchallenged ruler of the Toronto Community. Even Etrian would not be able to dispute his authority then. He could have then 'punished' Nicholas for his ineptness and regained control over that situation as well. Perhaps even bringing the good doctor across in the bargain. That might have repaid his son for Fleur.

The old demon smiled malevolently. He knew his son. Nicholas could not keep this pretense up for very long. In the nearly 800 years since he brought the Crusader across, Nicholas had never exhibited much of a backbone. All he had to do was wait. Sooner or later, something would happen and Nicholas would revert to type. Then he would make his move.

In the meantime, there were the several exquisite ladies that he had been carefully grooming. Prime examples of Egyptian femininity. Which one would it be tonight? Fatayah? Samirat? Or perhaps Asminde? He smiled ... more like a leer. There is always Cleophah! Now there is a real beauty! He rubbed his hands together and his eyes flecked with gold at the prospect.

**********

Toronto

"Excellent!" Etrian beamed as Nicholas stepped out of the shadows of the upstairs balcony. "I had no idea that you were there. I couldn't sense you at all, let alone read you. I thought you were in the corner by the mantle. If you can even prevent me from entering your mind, you can block anyone."

Nick bowed his head in appreciation of the Ancient's praise. Actually, it had been easy once Etrian had explained what he had to do.

"Now for the sending. I want you to concentrate on your fledgling."

"But I don't have a fledgling. I haven't been very successful in bringing anyone across. I'm afraid that's another thing that LaCroix conveniently 'forgot' to teach me. The only one I brought across that survived my efforts hates my guts. If I tried to send to Serena, she'd probably come after me with a stake coated in garlic and holy water."

"I beg to differ with you. You do have another fledgling. I saw him in your subconscious. He is nearby. Here in Toronto, in fact. Find the thread that connects the two of you. Follow it and summon him to you."

"But I ... "

"Do it."

He ventured deep within his consciousness. Yes. There it was. The faint vibration that linked him to another vampire. He had felt it before, but he had dismissed it as a residual of the connection he always had with LaCroix.

"Good." Etrian said from inside his mind. "Follow it. Summon your child."

Nick concentrated on the vibration. Come to me! He mentally commanded. Come to your master. It would be interesting to see who answered his call.

**********

Javier Vachon sat at a table in the Raven, nursing a Bloody Mary ... made with real blood. After graduation he and the other cadets had been given a week's leave before they had to report to duty. He had come to the club and persuaded Tully, the leader of the group playing tonight, to let him sit in. He figured this way he could still truthfully tell Tracy that he was back from his gig in the States. With a little bit of luck, she'd never find out he was now Officer Javier Vachon, Toronto Metro Police Department. What she didn't know couldn't hurt him.

He sat upright with a start. A voice. In his head. Calling him.

"Who? What?" He answered almost aloud.

The voice only got louder. Come to me. Come to your master.

This is ridiculous. The Angel, his master, had walked into the sunrise the day after she had brought him and the Inca across. That was almost 500 years ago.

The voice inside his head got louder and more insistent until almost in a trance, he headed to the door.

**********

"What's going on here?" Vachon said as he exited the lift. "One minute I'm sitting at the Raven minding my own business, and the next thing I know I'm heading across town with no idea where I'm going."

"You are here because your master summoned you." Etrian said. "Excellent work, Nicholas."

"But he's not my master." "But I'm not his master." They both said in unison.

"But you are master and fledgling just the same."

"That's impossible. I know who brought me across." The Conquistador said. "And it wasn't him. My master walked into the sun right after she brought me across."

"He's telling the truth. I can't be his master. We didn't even meet until three years ago." Nick added.

"And you've never exchanged a large amount of blood?"

"Of course not!" Javier said huffily. "I'm not THAT kind of a vampire!"

"Wait a minute. Yes we did." Nick said. "You probably don't remember when LaCroix, Schanke and I dug you out of the grave where Tracy had buried you. She thought you were dead after Divia got through with you and you impaled yourself on the stake. You weren't dead though. LaCroix sensed you and that's when we dug you up. You were almost drained and half out of your mind from the ordeal. You were much too weak to survive on your own. I gave you my blood. You were so hungry you nearly drained me. If it hadn't been for the blood that I had in the trunk and what LaCroix was able to give me, I'd have been in real trouble."

Etrian nodded. "And that's when it must have happened. It was essentially the same situation as when you were first brought across. Only this time it was Nicholas's blood that revived you after you had apparently died, and by that process he became your master. By the same token, you became his fledgling."

"But I am almost 500 years old. I'm too old to be a fledgling." The Spaniard protested.

"And I don't want a fledgling. I hereby release you from the bond."

"You cannot do that. The bond is forever." Etrian reminded them. "The only way it can be broken is if one of you dies."

"Not me!" Javier declared. "I'm not ready to die ... not yet."

"Or me." Nick stated firmly.

"You both have been vampires for a number of centuries, and you are both competent in the routines and disciplines of the vampire world. I doubt that anything worthwhile could be gained for either of you from the traditional master - fledgling relationship. I feel that the only lasting thing to come of this will be the eternal link that the two of you now share."

"I can live with that." Nick said he held his hand to Javier. He did not even know all the subtleties himself, let alone try to teach them to anyone else. That's why Etrian was in his loft in the first place.

"Me, too." The Spaniard said as he took Nick's hand in his. He had been without a master for too long. He didn't need one now.

"Now that we've got that straightened out, is it okay if I go back to the Raven?"

Both Nick and Etrian nodded.

Javier went into the lift and started toward the street. "Thanks ... Pop!"

"And don't call me Pop!"

**********

Javier Vachon looked at the sheet of paper for the hundredth time. This can't be right. Etrian wouldn't do this to me. Besides, he knew from his experience with Nick and Tracy that things didn't happen this fast. He was only out of the Academy a week and already he was a Detective who had been on the force for the past three years. According to his paperwork, he had spent the time doing undercover work at the 83rd precinct under Captain Lentler. That would explain his occupation as a musician. Aristotle and Larry Merlin must have done some high powered industrial strength hacking to get this on his record so fast. Presently, Reese came out of his office. Vachon handed him the orders.

Reese smiled broadly and extended his hand. "Welcome to the 96th, Detective Vachon." He said. "Vachon ... Vachon ... That name is familiar. Have we ever met before?"

"I don't think so." Vachon said, racking his brain. So far he couldn't find any instances where he and the Captain had ever met face to face. Perhaps Tracy had mentioned him. That had to be it. "I'm a friend of Tracy's ... Detective Vetter. Maybe she mentioned me to you."

"Right. That has to be it. Well, since you and Vetter are friends, I can't think of anyplace better to start you off than in the Paranormal Investigations Unit with her."

"But ... But ... " That's the LAST place I want to be! Vachon wished with all his might that he would suddenly shrink to less than a millimeter and crawl under the nearest filing cabinet. "Isn't there some kind of a rule about friends working together?"

"Not that I know of. There is one about married couples, though ... You two aren't married, are you?"

Vachon swallowed. Don't I wish ... "No, sir."

"Good. Let's go over there and I'll introduce you."

**********

Vachon was luckier than he knew he had a right to be. Although he could tell that Tracy, as well as Schanke and Nick, was surprised and confused when 'Detective Vachon' was introduced to them as a transfer from the 83rd precinct, no one had given him away. As soon as Captain Reese had left, Tracy practically dragged him into one of the interrogation rooms.

"What the hell is going on?" She yelled at him as soon as the door was shut. "You? … Detective? … Undercover cop? … Since when? … And at the 83rd? … Gig in the states? … What do you think I have? … Oatmeal for brains?" She stammered as she backed him into a corner.

"I ... Ah ... " He stared at her, dumbfounded. This was what he was dreading. She didn't understand. And he couldn't put it in plain words. He couldn't put it into any kind of words. Plain or complex "It's like ... like ... "

"Like what?" She had her hands on her hips and was right in his face. "I'm waiting."

He didn't have an explanation. At least not one she would accept. He had carefully rehearsed this scenario in at least a dozen different ways. All of them were completely rational and logical at the time. But at the moment, he couldn't remember even one. Telling her the truth was not an option, either. How could he tell her that Etrian had ordered him to protect her? He knew that she had a fierce independent streak and that she did not feel that she needed protection. If he told her that, she'd probably stake him AND Etrian as well. With the same stake! At the same time! One after the other. Like a vampire shish-ka-bob! He didn't think she needed any protecting either. But then again, one does not disobey an Ancient. Talk about the rock and the hard spot. He did the only thing he could do, given the circumstances. He kissed her. It may have started out light and platonic, but it certainly did not end that way.

When their lips parted, it was obvious that they both had been affected by the situation. He could tell that she was as aroused as he was. His was a little more obvious, though. She was dazed and more than a little confused by his sudden action. He knew she was a resistor, but given her current state of mind and emotions, there was a slim chance ... It just might work ... He bent close to her ear. "Tracy." He whispered. "You do not have any problems with me being assigned to the 96th." He paced his words to coincide with the intervals between the rapid beats of her heart. "This does not come as a complete surprise to you. You sort of suspected that I was an undercover cop all along."

"No ... problem." She repeated. " ... Undercover cop."

Since I might never have the chance again, I might as well go for broke. "In fact, you are delighted that I am joining you here. It means we will be seeing much more of each other. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"I'd like that." She agreed.

"Good." There were some other things he wanted to say. Like how much she really meant to him. But he decided against it. He also decided that this would not be a good time to tell her about Etrian's part in all of this. He could tell her later. Like maybe in 40 or 50 years. Better not push my luck. "Now that everything's okay between us, we'd better get back to work." He said in a normal voice.

He knew he was going to get the third degree from Nick and Schanke as well, but he had no problem with them knowing the truth. He didn't care if they teased him or made fun of him. After all, he wasn't in love with either of them. He wasn't that kind of a vampire. When he had explained what had happened with Etrian, they understood, and they agreed to keep the true story from Tracy, although Nick didn't entirely agree. His 'partner' felt that deception was not the best way to have a relationship. Vachon had no difficulty with this in theory, but his feelings for Tracy were definitely not theoretical.

"You know, Javier." Tracy said as she returned from her lunch later that day. "I always suspected that you were something more than an ordinary musician. I just didn't know it was a cop. I'll bet you've got some great tales to tell about your undercover work. I didn't think there were any other vampires besides Nick on the force. Have you and Nick ever worked on any cases together?"

"Well, Querida." He put his arm loosely around her shoulder. "There are some things that are best kept secret." He'd have to work on coming up with some plausible stories. Later. He hesitated a moment. "How about if I come over to your place after work and we can watch some videos?"

"Sounds good to me." She said.

Detective Third Class Javier Diego Philippe Dos Santos y Vachon spent the rest of the night in a beautiful apricot and Calla Lily fog.

**********

Javier Vachon was a vampire too! This complicated the situation considerably. With Knight, he could maintain control, but he was not sure he could handle two at a time. Sooner or later, one or both of them would discover him. Especially since he could sense that Knight was Vachon's master.

Now he had no choice. He had to leave as soon as possible. He logged on and pulled up his E-mail program. Permission or no, he was letting his superiors know that he was leaving before either Knight or Vachon found him out.

When he was finished, he pulled up the Bargain Basement Tickets web page.

**********

Two days later

Joe Reese came into the 'Weird Squad' office. "You know, it's a good thing you came on board when you did, Vachon." He said to the Spaniard. "I just got this on my E-mail. It's from Detective Natsuko. You didn't meet him the other day. He was off. Anyway. He's been recalled to Tokyo. He leaves this evening."

"Pete? Leaving?" Nick said.

"So suddenly?" Tracy added.

"And we didn't even get the chance to give him a going away party." Schanke concluded. His face brightened. "Why don't we do it now? Nick, you said you know where he lives. We can stop at a Dominion on the way to his place and get everything we need." He was headed to the door before he had stopped talking.

**********

Ohamasito Natsuko put the last of his few belongings into the suitcase. In a few hours, he would be on his way back to his home base. It couldn't be too soon for him. The door buzzer rang from the lobby. That must be the cab. He pressed the button. "Come up to apartment 721." He said.

He was totally surprised to see Nick, Schanke, Tracy and another man, obviously Javier Vachon, standing in the hall. Don had four grocery bags on his arms and Tracy had several more.

"What is going on?" He asked as they filed into his apartment.

"We heard you were leaving us." Don said. "We can't let you go. Not without giving you one helluva rip roaring send off party." He began unloading several cartons of cheese, macaroni salad and something green that said Avocado Dip from his bag. Meanwhile Tracy was setting the table with plastic silverware. She also took out several bottles and plastic cups. Nick was dumping a bag of potato chips into a large bowl.

"But I ... " Pete protested. "My taxi is due here any minute."

"Send him away." Don said. "Better yet. Invite him up. Don't worry. You got plenty of time. I checked. The next flight to Tokyo doesn't leave for another six hours. We'll see that you are on it. Hell, we'll even arrange an escort. Sirens and lights and all. Now dig in." He handed the Oriental a piece of fried chicken.

"I don't think that's a good idea, Don." Javier said. Suddenly, he grabbed Pete and held him tightly. At the same time his eyes yellowed and his fangs dropped.

"What do you think you're doing?" Nick asked his new partner.

"Nick. Can't you feel him? He feels sort of like a vampire. Maybe he's a hunter."

"A Hunter? Are you sure?"

"No. Not a hunter." Pete said. He stared at the floor for a few moments. When he looked up, his eyes were also yellow and he was sporting nearly inch long fangs.

"You're a vampire! But that's impossible." Nick said in a shocked manner. "You can't be a vampire. I suspected something wasn't quite normal about you when I first met you. I checked you out. You had a heartbeat. True, it wasn't very fast, but it was a beat."

"And I saw you eating donuts and drinking tea." Don said. "And I ate Souvlaki right in front of you and you didn't even react to it. Even Nick nearly barfed every time I did that in front of him."

"And you were handling Louise's crucifix without any sign of trouble." Tracy added.

"I guess I had better start at the beginning. I was born in your year 1502 and I was brought across, as you call it, in 1520. I was of the Shogun caste and I was the son of a Samurai sensei. My father and his fathers before him had been the Emperor's protectors since time immemorial. I had been trained almost from the moment of my birth in the ways of the Samurai."

"But you said you grew up on a U.S. Navy base." Don said.

"Not exactly. I only said it was a naval base. You assumed it was a U.S. Base. Actually, it was a base founded by Francisco Magellan on his circumnavigation of the world. The rest of it is true, though. My father was the Emperor's delegate to them. They did have a problem with my name, too. Only the sailors called me 'Pedro' not Pete. I thought it sounded neat, so I kept it. I just change the pronunciation as necessary."

"How were you brought across and what are you doing here in Toronto?" Tracy asked.

"I was brought across by a member of the Elite Enforcers. They are what could be called the aristocracy of the Enforcers. And yes, Nicholas. I did fully understand what was happening and why. Because I had such intensive training in the Samurai ways, my master thought I would make an excellent addition to their ranks. He was right. I have never regretted making that decision.

"But I don't understand. The heartbeat. The food. The cross. I know a few Master vampires and even an Ancient, and they can't do all of that." Javier said.

"But I am not your run of the mill vampire. Not even an ordinary Enforcer. I have been taught methods, both as a mortal and as a vampire, that most of you don't even know exist. Projecting a heartbeat. Handling religious objects. And eating solid food. I can even go out in direct sunlight if I absolutely have to, although not for any length of time."

"But I thoroughly searched your apartment. I couldn't find anything to indicate you were a vampire." Nick said.

"And I sensed you coming from three miles away. I had plenty of time to get rid of all the evidence."

"That still doesn't explain why you are here in Toronto, or why you went to such lengths to hide your presence even from me. You must have known that I am the Elder here." Nick questioned.

"That was exactly the reason I did what I did. I could not say anything. I was under orders not to reveal myself. My superiors were worried that my presence might undermine your confidence as Elder. I was here to shield and protect you until you could establish yourself as the leader of the Community here."

"But I don't need protecting."

"My superiors did not know that in the beginning. They do now. That is why I am leaving."

"I have the suspicion that you are the Kung Fu Vampire. You are the one behind the killings of the three vampires at the Raven several months back, aren't you." Nick asked.

Natsuko nodded. There was just a hint of pride on his face.

"And you killed Stephen Lawrence too. He was a hunter. Right?" Don asked.

Another nod.

"And the homeless man that was dredged up on Woodbine Beach?" Tracy asked.

"He was one of my meals. He was not supposed to be discovered. It was a fluke that he was."

"So, Nick." Tracy said. "What do we do now?"

"Nothing." He replied. "There's nothing we can do. Pete ... Pedro ... Ohamasito ... was only doing his job. I can't fault him for that. And we can't exactly arrest him, either. Not without jeopardizing him and the Community as well. I'm afraid that the case of the Kung Fu Killer will have to be relegated to the unsolved files. I know that's going to gall Commissioner Haldermann no end, but that's too bad. He'll just have to live with the fact that some cases just can't be solved "

"Maybe it doesn't have to be like that." Pete said with a gleam in his eyes. "I have an idea. Are there some people that you can trust … implicitly? Preferably vampires?"

"Some of the regulars at the Raven. Why?" Nick answered.

"Okay. Here's what we do. First, let me make some phone calls and change my plans a little. Then we … "

**********

"Any unit in the vicinity ... Any unit in the vicinity … 2181 Queen St. … Assault in progress." The police dispatched called over the Caddy's radio.

Nick picked up the microphone. "81 Kilo approaching the 1990 block on Queen ... Responding."

"Roger, 81 Kilo. 63 Ocean also in route."

"Okay, everybody." He said to the three police detectives waiting with him in the alley a few blocks away from the 'scene'. "That's our cue." He put the car in gear and pulled out onto Queen. "It's show time."

**********

"Let's go through this one more time." Nat pointed to the black vinyl sack on the gurney. "You're saying that Pete Natsuko is the Kung Fu Killer ... And that he is a vampire ... And that he is in that body bag ... Is that correct?"

"Uh huh." Nick answered as though it was the most logical thing in the world. "We had it all worked out. Norton 'pretended' to be the next victim of the killer. The 'attack' took place at an abandoned gas station in front of several witnesses, also from the Raven, but no one knew that except us. They 'reported' the crime, and we, Tracy, Don, Javier and I, answered the call."

"When the 'Kung Fu Killer' resisted arrest, we had no choice but to blow him way." Tracy added.

"But practically everybody on the force knows Pete by sight. Didn't anybody recognize him?"

"Well … You see, during the gun battle that followed, the 'Killer' took refuge behind one of the pumps." Don Schanke continued the narration. "A stray bullet just 'happened' to hit the pump, and … Boom. The body was burned beyond recognition. A doctor, one Paolo Ramirez, who just 'happened' to be in the neighborhood at the time, examined the body and pronounced him dead at the scene."

Nick held up a death certificate. "Everything is as legal as it can possibly be."

"Since there was a medical expert at the scene, and there were numerous eye witnesses, including the officers from 63 Ocean … they weren't in on this by the way … who are at this moment giving their sworn depositions to the Crown Prosecutor, there will be no further investigation. Even IA is satisfied. End of story. Case closed." Tracy concluded. "Even the Enforcers are content with the outcome."

"Since our 'Kung Fu Killer' is technically a John Doe, I'll see to it that the 'remains' are cremated and the 'ashes' are interred in the Potter's Field section of the cemetery." Nat volunteered. "That will be my contribution to this little drama."

"Now, I think that it's time to let our Killer out of the bag." Javier said as he pulled the zipper down.

Immediately, Pete sat up. Except for a few pink patches on his face and arms where new skin had grown back, he was whole and reasonably 'healthy'.

"Wait a minute." Natalie said. "Fire is supposed to be one of the things that can kill vampires. How come you're still alive?"

"And under ordinary circumstances it would have killed me." Pete replied with a smile. "If I hadn't been wearing this fire retardant body suit. He pointed to the heavy kevlar coveralls under his tattered and charred outer clothing. "As it was, only my face and arms were badly burned, and as you can see, they're healing quite nicely. It also stopped the bullets. All except one …" He pointed to his collarbone, where a small hole still oozed slightly. "Could you … ?"

"You're the second vampire to do that." Natalie said as she took a tray out of the instrument cabinet "Sit up on my table, that is. The first time nearly blew my mind. This time there wasn't the same shock factor. This time I was more or less prepared." She gently inserted a probe into the wound. Tracy blanched and turned away at the sight. Seconds later the Coroner had extracted the bullet fragment and less than a minute later, the lesion had been replaced with pink skin.

"Oh?" Pete said. "Who was the first?"

"Nick."

**********

"Japan Airlines flight 346 for Tokyo with connections in Detroit, and stops in Honolulu, Tahiti, and Manila is now boarding at gate 37." The voice on the speaker announced.

"Well, that's my flight." Pete smiled.

"I just have one question." Tracy said. "I always understood that Enforcers were nothing more than cold blooded heartless killers. That their only mission was to punish those who broke the Code. By whatever means necessary. By that token, you should have drained us, especially Don and me, the minute we discovered you. Why didn't you? Why did you help us put the Kung Fu Killer to rest?"

"Fifty years ago, I would have done as you said. Maybe even five years. But things are different now. The world of the vampires is changing, in part thanks to Nicholas, and the Enforcers are changing, too. Our job is slowly evolving from enforcing the strictest letter of the law to protecting the spirit of the law. As long as there is no threat to the Community, we more or less leave well enough alone. When I came here, this was just another job. Just like the hundreds of assignments I've had over the centuries. But, as I got to know you, it became more than that. You became my friends as well.

I'm going to miss all of you. Tracy." He hugged her. "Don." He held out his hand, but the Detective swept him into a bear hug. He shook Javier's hand. "I don't know you all that well, but if you're with these guys, you are okay in my book as well." He turned to the Elder. "I'm especially going to miss you, Nicholas. I predict you are going to be a superb Elder, and I foresee more great things in store for you. Give your wife a kiss for me. And that little one on the way, too." He took out a business card and wrote something on the back. He handed it to Nick. "If you ever need anything, or you're ever in Japan, give me a call." He picked up his bag and headed down the concourse toward the plane.

**********

Two months later

Natalie Lambert Knight propped herself on her elbow and idly brushed a stray curl from her husband's forehead. He barely moved. He looked so angelic in his sleep. Hopefully, our son will take after his father in that way. She smiled broadly and patted her enormously distended abdomen. "Our son." She whispered. She liked the way that sounded. Apparently the baby did, too, because he gave a kick. Not just any kick, but one that indicated that he was practicing to be the future place kicker for the Argonauts. At eight and a half months, she was more than ready to get this over with. She felt as though she had been pregnant forever. And there was still another two weeks to a month to go! First babies were notoriously late! "Do you still love me now that I look like a beached whale?" She whispered almost inaudibly.

"Of course I do." Nick whispered back. She had not realized that he was awake. "I love you even more now than I did the day I married you. And my love for you will double every day of our lives. I meant what I said. 'Till Death do us part.' And even beyond."

Suddenly she pulled her knees up and let out a loud groan.

Nick was instantly on his feet. "What's the matter? Another false labor?"

"No. I don't think this is Braxton-Hicks, but you might want to get dressed. And, do it right this time. Shorts first. Then the trousers."

"Yes. Ma'am!" Nick gave a mock salute. "Should I call Paolo, too?"

Natalie grimaced. "I think that would be a very good thing to do." She hissed as another contraction washed over her. "I think I'm in labor. The real thing this time."

"But the baby isn't due for another two weeks."

"Tell that to him! My water just broke."

**********

"Take it easy, Natalie." Paolo Ramirez said. "Just a little bit more. I know it's not easy, but you're doing a great job."

She had been in labor over ten hours and it was obvious that the ordeal had taken nearly everything out of her. Everything except the baby, that is. According to the latest examination, she was only eight centimeters dilated. She would have to be over ten centimeters before he could pass through the birth canal.

"And how would you know what it's like? How many babies have YOU given birth to?" She yelled. "I feel like I'm trying to push a basketball through a soda straw!" She screamed as another contraction started. They were less than three minutes apart. That was a good sign at least.

"Come on, honey." Nick said as he wiped her forehead with a damp washrag. "All we have to do is breathe like we did in the Lamaze class." He took a few deep breaths. "In ... Out ... In ... Out ... "

"WE! What's with the WE bit? Just WHO is having this baby anyway? When YOU get pregnant, YOU can breathe all YOU want! In the meantime ... JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!" Another contraction. It had been only two and a half minutes.

Paolo checked again. Nine centimeters. "Almost there." He said. "A few more contractions and this baby should be ready to be born."

"A few more contractions and I'M going to be ready to KILL! ... VAMPIRES! ... ONE blond haired blue eyed vampire in particular! ... E-E-E-A-H-H-H!" Another contraction hit. This one was the worst of them all.

"That's it!" Paolo said excitedly. "That does it! Ten centimeters. You're now ready to deliver this baby."

"What the HELL do you think I've been TRYING to do for the last ten hours? Play Tiddley-Winks?"

"Nobody said it would be easy." Nick said as he placed a chip of ice on her lips. "But just keep remembering that it's a very natural part of pregnancy."

"OH? It is, is it? In that case, YOU have the next one!"

"Push, Nat. Push hard. I can see the head." Paolo called. Minutes later, the birthing suite resounded with the cries of a newborn baby boy.

"You know something." Natalie said as the Doctor laid her son on her chest. "We never did decide on a name for him."

"I have a thought. What about John Richard."

"John?"

"The masculine for Jan ... or Janette? And Richard after your brother. That is, if it's all right with you."

"No. It doesn't sound quite right."

"How about if we give it the French pronunciation? Jean-Richard"

"Jean-Richard Knight. Yes. That's it. I like it." She looked at the infant. Although there was some disagreement whether newly born infants could focus or not, Natalie could have sworn that he was staring at her. His tiny mouth curled into a lopsided smile, just like his father's. There were some that would have argued that this was just gas. "I think he likes it too."

Nick bent to his son's face. "Then it's settled." He looked at the tiny baby resting at his mother's breast. MY SON! "Welcome to the world. Jean-Richard Knight." He cooed.

Jean-Richard de Brabant Knight reached up and curled his tiny hand around his father's finger.

**********

Jean-Richard Knight

Date of Birth: July 8

Time: 11:53 PM

Weight: 7 lbs 5 oz

Height: 18.5 in

Parents: Nicholas & Natalie Knight

**********

The end?

Not with a new baby!