How To Steal A Caddy
(In Six Easy Lessons)
All Forever Knight characters are the property of James Periott and TPTB. All other copyrighted characters are the property of their respective TPTB. We're only borrowing them for a while. We'll give them back when we're done ... Maybe. Anyone else belongs to us and can be used only with our permission.
Nick Knight gave a worried look at the sky from the safety of the doorway. He really didn't have to do that to know that the sun had already begun its trek across the Toronto sky. He had cut it way too thin. The lead he had been tracking down took more time than he thought it would and he had completely forgotten about the sunrise. He knew he was on the verge of solving the Schwaller case. If the sunrise had only been two hours later, he could have had the nephew in custody. He had motive and opportunity. Controlling interest in Schwaller Industries was reason enough to push his uncle down the stairs. Too late now. By tomorrow, he would have his tracks covered, and he could be in any one of at least a half dozen places. All of them outside the jurisdiction of the Toronto Metro Police Department. He pulled the collar of his jacket tightly around his head, for all the good it would do him, and made a dash for his Cadillac convertible parked in the alley next to the building. Thankfully, there was no one around to see him open the trunk and climb inside just as the first small tendrils of smoke curled up from his upper body.
This was one of the reasons that he had bought the 1962 car in the first place. That model Cadillac had the largest trunk space of any automobile made. More than enough room for a blond vampire homicide detective as well as a small cache of emergency supplies.
He could feel the painful blisters and the reddening where the sun had touched the bare skin on his hands and face. He felt around in the near total darkness until he found the cooler with the thermos bottle of bovine blood he kept just for this kind of situations. He opened the bottle and took several swallows. Gradually he could sense that the tasteless animal blood was having its healing effect. The pain and soreness were slowly disappearing. After a few minutes, they were gone completely. He felt around once more and found the inflatable pillow he also kept for times like this and blew it up. Although the trunk was not nearly as comfortable as his king sized waterbed, it would allow him a reasonably good day's sleep. He had done it on many occasions.
He was glad that he had declined the use of a precinct car for this mission. He would never have been able to spend the day in the tiny trunk of one of those boxy mid size crates that Metro PD provided.
96th Precinct Three Hours Earlier
"So, Knight. Are you going to take your personal vehicle this time?" Captain Amanda Cohen asked him.
"Of course I'm going to take my car. Why shouldn't I?" Nick Knight answered.
"You mean you haven't heard about the rash of car thefts lately? It's been the talk of the precinct for the past week. Then again, you probably have had more on your mind than a few stolen cars. Like this case you're working on. To refresh your memory, most of the stolen autos have been classics or high end jobs. As much as I hate to admit it, that monstrosity of yours is considered a classic. I'd feel a lot better if you left it in the police lot or at home locked in your garage until the thieves are caught. You are more than welcome to sign out an unmarked car for your personal use until then."
He had taken a lot of ribbing over the years about that car. Some of the other detectives called it an 'Eyesore', 'Juggernaut', 'Land Freighter', 'Behemoth', 'Rust Bucket', and a host of other derogatory names. He loved his auto. It had served him well through several incarnations. He would not replace the Cadillac for all the tea in China. Or the gold in Fort Knox. Or the Crown Jewels. Or anything else, for that matter.
"Thanks, but no thanks, Captain. I have to have the Caddy. Trunk space, you know."
"Yes, I know. More than any other car. Your allergies. We've all heard the story a thousand times. At least let me have Auto Theft put a homing device on it."
Nick shook his head. There were some places that he went that he did not want anyone to know about. Especially not the mortals he worked with. "Sorry, Captain. That would be the first thing a professional car thief would look for."
"Maybe you're right. Just do me a favor. Keep a close eye on it."
This is about as close an eye as I can keep on my car. He thought just before sleep overtook him.
Two men approached the car sitting in front of them. Carefully, they searched the area to make sure that they were alone and in no danger of being spotted. One man leaned seemingly nonchalantly against the front fender while the other one carefully slipped the lock picks into the door. Seconds later, he opened it and slid behind the wheel. A few more twists of the slender pieces of aluminum in his capable hands, and the motor sprang to life. At the same time, the other one got into the passenger seat. None of the other motorists on the streets paid any attention as a teal green 1962 Cadillac convertible eased its way out of the alley and into the Toronto morning rush hour traffic.
The Caddy hit a pothole, and in the trunk, Nick was jarred into consciousness. The car was moving. But that's impossible. Who in the world could be driving it? Through the muffling of the back seat, he heard what sounded like two men talking.
"We gonna take this one to Maxie's Auto?" The first man asked his partner.
"You gotta be kidding. Don't you realize what we got here? This ain't something you take to a second rate chop shop like Maxie's. He wouldn't know what to do with something like this. He'd either junk it, or have it broken down into its parts and shipped off to his brother's auto store in Saskatchewan. This car deserves better than that. It's a real beauty. This is something that Sal might want. Remember? He asked us to keep our eyes peeled for a classic car. If ever there was a classic car, this is it." The second one said as he turned the Caddy off the 401 and headed for the warehouse district. "Of course, it could stand a coat of paint. How can anyone stand to drive something painted this color?"
I … LIKE … this color!
They were stopped. It was hard to tell where.
"Can you use this one, Sal?" The first one asked.
"Use it?" A third man, obviously Sal, answered. "I got a client who would sell me his youngest daughter to get his hands on a treasure like this. I've seen the daughter. I think I just might take him up on that." He said with a leer.
"Sallie!" The second man said. "Let's keep this on a professional basis."
"All right. I was just joking. But if the Baron wants to give me the girl ... " Sal rolled his eyes. "Don't look so nasty. A guy can fantasize, can't he? 'Specially if he's an Italian Stallion like me."
"C'mon, Sal. Sly Stallone you're not." The first man said. "Danny DiVito, maybe, but not Rambo."
"Just because I ain't got a muscle man body, don't mean I ain't got it where it counts." Sal said lecherously. He patted his crotch for emphasis.
They went into the office and Sal took a roll of bills out of the strongbox that was in the top drawer of his desk. He peeled off a number of them. "Here you go. Three thou. Just like I promised." He put his arms around the two and led them to the entrance. "Now if you can find me a 1958 Edsel in good to excellent condition, I'd be willing to fork over some really big bucks. Just do me a favor. Look for it in Kitchner. The cops around here are getting pretty inquisitive."
Doctor Natalie Lambert cradled the phone to her ear as she dialed the number. This was the fourth time she had tried to reach a certain Detective. Each time all she got was his answering machine. She knew he was at the loft. He had to be there. The sun had risen hours ago. "Pick up, dammit, Nick." She almost yelled into the receiver. "I know you're there." Her response was his recorded voice telling her he was either asleep or incommunicado. And not to take it personally. The same message as the last three times ... She was taking it personally.
They had angry words earlier. She had tried to tease him into drinking her latest protein concoction. He had taken her teasing the wrong way. She had taken his reaction to the teasing the wrong way. Teasing gave way to shouts. Shouts led to accusations. Accusations escalated to ultimatums, and the episode ended with him slamming the door on his way out of the morgue. Not good. Not good at all. She knew it was as much her fault as his. She had to tell him she was sorry for the incident before it got too far out of hand. If it wasn't already too late. He had been on the edge of something for several weeks now. She was afraid he was about to do something rash. She just wasn't sure what.
They were on the move again. This time, it was only a short distance. Nick calculated that it was probably only a mile or two.
The sounds changed. Now they had a hollow ring to them. Like they were in some kind of a building, and the smells of oil and bare metals led him to believe it was some kind of a garage or machine shop. Then the smell of paint assailed his nostrils. Whoever was out there was painting the Caddy! But why? Slowly, he was able to make out sounds, and finally words.
"I gotta admit, Louie, this is a much better color than the original one."
"I agree. Sal's got a better chance of selling it this color than that he would have if he left it that tacky green."
TACKY GREEN! It's Royal Teal, not TACKY GREEN. Besides, I LIKE that color.
"It ought to be dry enough to move it out by tomorrow morning. I wonder which lot Sal's gonna put it on. Downtown or the one in Aurora."
"Here he comes now. Why don't you ask him?"
"Neither one." Sal said. "There can't be that many '62 Cadillac convertibles in the Toronto area. Even though we changed the color, it's gonna raise questions if I have one for sale the day after one is reported stolen. This one's going overseas. I have a buyer all ready to take it. And for a good price, too. We'll ship it out as soon as it's dry."
"Aren't you gonna clean out the trunk and the glove compartment?" The first one asked him.
"Why should I? The Baron has already paid for the car sight unseen. I figure whatever's inside of it belongs to him too."
They're going to ship the Caddie overseas! He waited until he could no longer hear the sounds of anyone around and attempted to raise the trunk lid. It wouldn't budge They must have taped it down to make it easier to paint it. He reached in his pocket for his cell phone. Perhaps this is the same group that Captain Cohen was talking about. He pressed the speed dial number for the precinct.
"Nick!" Schanke said as he picked up the phone. "Where in the world are you calling from? You sound like you're inside a 55 gallon drum"
"You're close, but then again, that only counts with horseshoes and hand grenades. Actually, I'm in the trunk of the car."
"What are you doing in the trunk?" A pause. "Oh yeah. That's right. Your allergy to sunlight. I suppose you want me to come get you and drive you home? Good thing you called when you did. I was just getting ready to head for the hills. Give me your location and I'll have one of the patrols drive me there. I can drop you off at the loft and take the Caddy home with me. I'll pick you up this evening and bring you in to work. Myra would like that. She's got a bunch of deliveries for Skin Pretty and she could use the extra room that you got in your car. Her little Kia just won't hold all the stuff she's got. Okay?"
He'd let MYRA drive the car? It's bad enough HE has to drive it. What next? Thank the gods Jenny isn't old enough to drive … yet. "That's not what I called about. The Caddie's been stolen."
"The Caddy's been stolen?"
"With me in the trunk."
"With you in the trunk?"
"I got caught in the sunlight."
"You got caught in the sunlight?"
"Is there an echo somewhere? Never mind, just patch me through to Auto Theft. I think it might be the same gang that's responsible for the thefts for the past few months."
Detective Joe Mooth answered the phone in the Auto Division.
"Yeah." He said after Nick had explained the situation. "Sal is Sal Randera. You know. Randera's Classic Cars. I always had a sneaking suspicion that pudgy little creep wasn't quite as up and up as he claimed to be, but so far, he's come up squeaky clean. Too squeaky clean if you get my drift. We know about Maxie, too. Maxwell Herdmer. Maxie's Auto Body over in Thornhill. We've had him under surveillance for several months now, but we can't get anything conclusive on him either. He seems to have all the bases covered too. We've suspected for a long time now that the two of them have been working together. So far it's been a case of know who. Know why. No proof. If you're willing to testify to what you heard, we can get a warrant on both of them by tonight."
"I have an even better idea. Why settle for the little fish? From what I've heard so far, Randera could be part of an international theft ring. He's planning to ship the Caddie overseas. It could be as early as tomorrow. If we work with Interpol, we might be able to get everyone involved in one big bust."
"Sounds like a winner to me. How do you plan on getting out of the car without being spotted?"
"I don't. You're going to need someone on the inside to keep you informed of what's going on. And they don't come any more inside than I am at this moment."
"Just to be on the safe side, I'm going to put out an APB on your car. At least have it tailed. It shouldn't be hard to spot that green tank."
"It's TEAL. And it isn't that color anymore. They painted it."
"What color is it now?"
"I don't know. They've got the trunk lid taped down until it dries." He heard voices coming toward him. "Gotta go now. Someone's coming." He flipped the cell phone off.
Sal's voice came into his range. "Speed things up, boys. This crate's going out earlier than we planned. I found out there's a shipment going to Hamburg that's leaving tonight and they've got room for the Cadillac. I've already contacted the Baron. He's made arrangements to pick it up there."
"How do you plan to get it through customs?" Someone asked.
"Same way as I always do. By the time we move it out, everything will be as legal as they come. I am a car dealer after all. I have all the necessary paperwork, and with my contacts at the Ministry of Transportation office, no one will even suspect that this car was stolen."
Suddenly, the temperature of interior of the trunk rose at least twenty degrees in just a few minutes. Heat lamps. They must be using infra red lamps to dry the car faster. He reached for the thermos bottle once more. There was only about a cupful left. He'd need more than that just to make it through the afternoon, let alone until they landed in Hamburg. He flipped on the cell phone and speed dialed the number for the Raven. While Janette couldn't do anything to get him the supplies now, she could have them waiting when he got to Germany.
"This had better be important." A sleepy voice half mumbled into the phone. It took Nick a few seconds to recognize it as Janette's.
"It is." Nick replied. "I need a case of blood."
"But mon cher. I just had your order delivered to the loft two days ago. Don't tell me you went through twenty four bottles of that … that … swill already? What are you doing with it? No, on second thought don't tell me. I don't think I want to know."
"No, I don't need anything like that. At least not for the moment. What I am calling you about is this. I want you to have a case of blood waiting for me at the cargo terminal at the Hamburg Airport."
"Hamburg? In Germany? Why on earth would you want to go to Hamburg?"
"I don't want to go to Hamburg. I don't have any choice in the matter. I cut it too close this morning and I had to seek shelter in the trunk of the Caddy. While I was in there, the car was stolen. The thieves are shipping it to Hamburg tonight. I haven't had anything to eat since I woke up yesterday evening, except for the thermos I keep in the trunk. By the time I get to Hamburg, I'm going to be very hungry, to say the least."
"Why didn't you get out when you had a chance? I'm sure there were plenty of opportunities to leave the trunk before this."
"Because we're going to use the Caddy as bait to catch the thieves. I'm going to be acting as an undercover agent of sorts. That's why I'm going to go to Hamburg in the trunk. That's why I need the blood waiting for me there."
"And that is a problem because …? " A male voice broke in.
"LaCroix!" Nick said. "How long have you been listening in on the extension?"
"Since I realized that you were the one who interrupted Janette's sleep … and mine in the process. I will ask you once more. Why is there a problem?"
"I need Janette to contact Helmut and have him deliver a case of bovine blood to the Hamburg airport by tomorrow evening."
"Nicholas. I am getting tired of repeating myself. I do not see where the problem lies. Why would you want a bottle of animal blood when there will be a plentiful supply of the good stuff available fresh from the source. There are always warehouse workers, laborers, and, if things get really difficult, you can always find a stray airline passenger or two."
"LACROIX!" He paused. "Si'l vous plais (Please), Janette. The blood?"
"Must it be Helmut?" Janette asked. "I don't like dealing with him. The last time we met, among other things, he groped me. You'd think in three hundred seventy five years, he'd have achieved some degree of panache. What I did to him was something that only a male could experience. He was very lucky I didn't castrate him then and there. Let's put it this way. When it comes to dealing with women, Helmut uses his head, and it's not necessarily the one that sits on his shoulders. Although the one between his legs probably contains more brains than there are in his skull."
"I can understand your reluctance to have anything to do with him, but I do need the blood. Je vous prie(I beg you), Janette, Mon Cherie Amour. (My love.) Is that too much to ask? Put aside your pride and do this for me?"
"For you, Nicolah, and only for you."
"Thanks. I owe you."
"And I assure you, you WILL pay, Mon Cher. Big time."
"His cell phone!" Natalie almost shouted. "He has to have it with him!" She quickly dialed the number and listened to the rapid Vreep ... Vreep ... Vreep ... of a busy signal. Three times she hit the redial key. Three times she got the same results. "Damn! He can call every one in the greater Toronto area but he can't call me." She slammed the phone forcefully onto the holder. She didn't notice that the phone had not made a good contact with the cradle. "Maybe he really doesn't want to smooth this over. I've done all I can. The next move is up to him." She said as she headed to the bathroom to begin her morning routine.
She finished drying her hair and padded into her bedroom. The hot deep water soak in the bathtub, combined with the therapeutic effects of the Stress Relief Bath Oil Beads had done much to calm her frazzled nerves. Now for some quality sack time. She slipped on her nightie and climbed into bed. Seconds later, Sydney was curled up beside her.
"At least you're one male I can count on to always be there for me no matter what." She said as she gently stroked the white triangular ruff under the loudly purring gray cat's chin.
Nick pushed the 'end call' button on the cell phone. He had tried to call Natalie three times and each time he had gotten a busy signal. He had to reach her before it was too late. He had said some vicious hurtful things to her earlier in the day at the morgue. He knew her soul had been crushed by them. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt her. Especially now. Things were just starting to work out for them. But he had. He could see it in her eyes. He had to make it right. He had to tell her he was sorry. I want to tell her I love her more than life itself, but I can't. I don't dare. It could be fatal ... for her. He noticed the 'battery low' message flashing across the bottom of the screen and the icon of a battery was almost clear. He might have enough juice for one more call.
The banging on the door was enough to wake the dead. Certainly enough to wake a certain female Medical Examiner. "Nicholas de Brabant Knight. If that's you, I'm going to stake you. Then I'm going to dismember you. Bit by little bit. Starting with that little bit that is specific to the male of any species." She mumbled as she padded to the door. She pulled the door open harder than necessary. "Nick! You've got some … " She stopped suddenly. Of course, it wasn't Nick standing in the hall. It was Don Schanke. Then she remembered. Nick was a vampire. He couldn't go out in the daylight.
"Sorry to wake you, Doc. Nick called me a little while ago. He's been trying to get a hold of you all morning but all he gets is busy signals." Don Schanke said as he entered the apartment.
"Why didn't he just keep trying? I haven't been asleep that long. He would have gotten through eventually."
"That's just it. He can't keep trying. He said his cell phone battery was dying. He only had one call left."
"And he made it to you. Isn't that special." She said sarcastically. "He could have stopped here on his way to work tonight. Or come to the morgue. He didn't have to send you clear across town to tell me that did he? By the way, just where IS Mr. High-And-Mighty-Full-Of-Himself anyway? I know he's not at the loft."
"No, he's not at the loft. And he can't stop by this evening. Or go to the morgue either. You see, the Caddy's been stolen … "
"Oh! That's the perfect excuse!" She fumed. "His CAR has been stolen! I FORGOT! That substandard piece of ... of puke green junkyard refuse is the most important thing in his life! MUCH more important than his ... friends ... OR their feelings. I suppose by now he's in the middle of a super sized industrial strength depression that will last at least a month … OR until his precious toy is returned! Whichever comes first. Well, Detective Schanke. You can deliver a message to Mr. Pompous Angst for me! You can tell him HE … AND his beloved car … can go STRAIGHT to … " Her face was red and Don could almost see the fire and brimstone welling up in her eyes.
"WHOA!" He said, putting his hands in front of his face as though to ward off any verbal blows headed his way. "Hold on a minute, Doc. Don't go busting a blood vessel. Let me finish. The Caddy was stolen all right … while he was in the trunk. Seems he got caught in the sun this morning and had to hide there. By tonight, he … and the car should be on their way to Germany. He wanted me to tell you that you shouldn't worry. That he's okay. And that he's sorry for the things he said. That he hopes you realize that he didn't mean any of them. And that he wants you to forgive him."
"Oh." Nat said as the anger drained from her. He really does care. And he's sorry. I should have known. He was reacting the same way I was. I've been making a tempest in a teapot for nothing. "Thanks Schanke. I needed to hear that. And I'm sorry about going off the deep end with you." Nat said as a small smile spread across her face. "If you get the chance to talk to him again, tell him there's nothing to forgive. On his part at least. I am the one who is to blame for the whole thing. I said a lot of things I never should have said … or even thought. I should be the one asking his forgiveness."
"Don't worry about it. You're forgiven. At least by me, anyway. If I get the chance to talk to him again, I'll tell him what you said. I'm sure he'll forgive you, too." A sly grin spread across the detective's face and he waggled his eyebrows eerily. "Now give with the juicy details. What did he say? And what did you say? And was it really that bad?"
"Donald George Schanke! Really! I don't know who is the worse busybody. You or Grace!" Nat said as she gave him a sloppy kiss on the cheek. "What we said, or didn't say, is strictly between Nick and I. I didn't tell Grace anything, and I certainly am not going to tell you." She opened the door. "Now go home and bug Myra and let me get some sleep."
She went to the phone and then noticed that it was slightly askew. "Shit!" She said as she replaced it on the holder. "No wonder he couldn't reach me."
"We're all set." Joe Mooth said to Don Schanke. "We checked and Lufthansa has a cargo flight for Germany leaving tonight. They have to move it through there. If they load any 1962 Cadillac convertibles on it, we'll tag it and notify the Interpol agency in Hamburg that it's coming their way. We've got all the other cargo terminals at Pearson covered too. Just in case. While we're at it, we'll get Knight out of the trunk. I know he said he wanted to be on the inside, but we can always put a homing device on the car. We can track it that way just the same as if he were still in there. It'll be a lot safer that way. I know he'll be happy about that."
"I think he'll be ecstatic. Can you imagine what it must be like to be cooped up in the trunk of a car all day? I know I wouldn't like it. I don't know how Nick can tolerate it. But then again, if I had as severe an allergy to sunlight as he has, I guess I could put up with just about anything. When you consider the alternative ... to be roasted like a side of beef on a barbeque spit ... spending the day in the trunk of a car all of a sudden don't sound nearly so bad." Don Schanke replied. "If it's okay with you guys, I'd like to be there. I think he's gonna need to see a friendly face when he gets out."
"No problem. You're more than welcome to come along."
The sun had set. His intrinsic vampire senses had told him this even though he could not possibly see the sky or even the outside of the building. The temperature in the trunk suddenly began to drop. They must have turned the heat lamps off. He also heard the strips of masking tape being pulled off the car. They must be getting ready to ship it out. He took out his cell phone. When he pressed the 'on' button, he only saw the dim flashing screen that signaled that he was out of power. "DAMN!" He swore in a whisper that only he could hear. He had no way to contact anyone.
In addition, he was hungry. Even though he carefully restricted how much he took, the small amount in the thermos was gone before noon. He could hear the workers moving about the shop, unaware of the danger that was only a few feet away from them. The darkness of the trunk took on a yellowish haze and he felt his elongated canines pushing against his lower lip. He swallowed. Hard. He closed his eyes and forced the beast into the furthest corner of his consciousness. He had gone much longer than this without feeding. He could do it this time as well. He concentrated on the case of supplies that Helmut would have waiting for him at the Hamburg airport. It helped. A little.
Suddenly the car lurched as though it was being lifted, possibly by a forklift of some kind. From the sounds coming from the outside, it was being put into some kind of a container. Nick guessed a trailer. There was more lurching and swaying as the container was attached to a semi tractor. He heard the truck's engine start and felt the semi pull out of the building. He was on his way.
Detectives Mooth and Schanke waited in the employee parking lot of the Lufthansa cargo complex across the tarmac from the Pearson Airport main terminal. From there, they could see everything that went in or out of the buildings. In addition, they had several undercover officers stationed inside each of the warehouses. The flight was to leave at 10:30. It was now 9:15, and nothing that even remotely resembled a Cadillac convertible had been loaded onto the plane. In fact, there were no automobiles listed on the flight manifest at all. Not even any 'farm machinery', or 'medical equipment' or any other large containers that might have camouflaged it. So far, nothing seemed even the slightest bit suspicious.
"You're sure Knight said he was being sent to Germany tonight?" Mooth asked Schanke.
"Positive. I wouldn't make a mistake about something as important as that."
"So where is he? The plane's getting ready to take off, and none of our people have even found so much as an illegal paper clip on it."
Schanke thought a moment. "You know, he didn't say exactly where he was leaving from. We just assumed it would be Pearson. Maybe it was … "
"Hamilton!" They both said in unison. Detective Mooth had his cell phone out and had dialed the precinct to be patched through to the flight controller at Hamilton International. A few minutes later he hung up and sighed heavily. "Nothing. The earliest cargo to Hamburg isn't until Wednesday. It's a weekly flight and the only one to there. They do have one to Bonn tomorrow afternoon, though."
"How about Buffalo?"
Another call. "Nothing there either." Joe reported dejectedly. "Even checked with the guards at Fort Erie and Niagara. Nothing that could be hauling a car has crossed the border at either place. You're sure he said Hamburg and tonight? "
"I told you I'm positive. It definitely was Hamburg and definitely tonight. Maybe the thieves changed their plans and Nick couldn't reach us. I mean his cell phone battery was nearly dead when he called me, and I doubt there's any place to recharge it in the Caddy's trunk."
"That's a possibility."
"So where do we go from here."
"Without anything more to go on than what we have, we'd just end up spinning our wheels on a wild goose chase." He paused for a second. "Now that's a mixed metaphor if there ever was one." He put the car in gear. "The only thing we can do is go back to the precinct and wait."
"If I knew that, I'd tell you." Mooth said as he pulled out of the lot.
The semi trailer stopped. Something wasn't right. The noises outside the container weren't those that would normally be associated with an airport. There was a deep brassy bass like roar. Like a very low whistle ... Almost at the same time, Nick smelled the damp aroma peculiar to deep water. It's a ship's horn! The thought hit him like a ton of bricks. We're not at Pearson. We're at the Port Of Toronto! They're not going to fly the Caddy to Germany. It's going by freighter! When Sal said ship it out ... he meant literally. Again he cursed himself for not recharging his phone battery before he left the loft the night before.
He felt the crane lift the container off the semi and lower it into the hold. Then, he felt it being secured. After a few hours, he could discern the gentle sway as the freighter was guided by the pilot tug out from the dock. Less than a half hour later, it headed into Lake Ontario. Destination ... the Port of Hamburg Germany sometime next week. The only problem was that the authorities ... and the case of blood ... would be at the Hamburg Airport tomorrow night.
"He WHAT?" Nat screamed at the detectives.
"He didn't go out by plane." Schanke replied. "That's all we know. We were at Pearson, and when we didn't see the Caddy go out from there, we contacted Hamilton and even Buffalo. None of them had anything going to Germany tonight."
"Then he could still be in the city." Natalie blanched. "My God, Schanke ... Joe ... We have to find him. And soon. If he doesn't feed regularly, it could be disastrous."
"We don't know where he is, but we'll find out. We've got every available man working on this." Don said. "I don't think it's going to hurt him to go a day or two without eating. I mean a person can live up to a week without food and three or four days without water. I'm positive we'll find him before then."
"You don't understand. He's a … " Calm down. She cautioned herself. You almost blew it. " ... It's his special diet. He can't go more than one or two days without it. Then … " She lowered her head and shook it slowly.
"You mean he could die?" Joe asked.
"Death is a possibility." He wouldn't necessarily die, but if the vampire is in control, and it probably will be, someone else might.
"I never thought of that. I'll pass that along to the units in the field. I'll tell them to double their efforts to find the Caddie. By the way. You got any of that special diet of his handy? It might not be a bad idea for us to have some of it on hand when we do find him." Don asked.
"No, I don't have any here at the morgue, but I will get some. In fact, I'll go to the loft right now."
"Good. When you get back, drop by the precinct and leave some there so we can get it to him as fast as possible."
Nat made a mental note to put some of the bovine blood into sealed bottles for the precinct. It wouldn't do for someone to do a little 'investigating' into the makeup of his dinner. On second thought, a stop at the Raven might not be too out of the ordinary. After all, he will be very hungry. While she didn't approve of him drinking human, this time she would definitely make an exception.
If his built in reckoning was correct, it would be close to evening. That would mean that the ship should be approaching the end of the St. Lawrence Seaway sometime during the night. Cape Spear, on the eastern tip of Newfoundland would be the last opportunity that the Canadian authorities would have to stop and search the ship. Once it went into international waters, there was not much that anyone could do until it docked at Hamburg. If his calculations were correct, that wouldn't be for another three to five days. He DEFINITELY needed to feed before then! LaCroix's suggestion was beginning to sound more and more plausible. He didn't like the idea of drinking human blood at all, let alone from ... the source.
He was hungry. Very hungry. He could hear the sailors moving among the cargo containers. Their blood called to him even more strongly than the warehouse workers had. But then, he was much hungrier than he had been then. One stopped in front of the steel box that held the Cadillac. The siren song of his blood played hypnotically in Nick's mind. So close ... So close ... He could hear their heartbeats. So close ... So close ... He could mentally see the blood flowing through their veins. So close ... So close … He could almost feel his fangs piercing their soft warm flesh. So close ... So close … He swallowed the saliva welling in his mouth. So close ... So close ... In his mind he could taste the blood, hot, satisfying and sweet, as it flowed down his parched throat. So close ... So close ...
He licked his dehydrated lips. Getting out of the Caddy and the container it was in would not be a problem. I wouldn't even have to harm anyone. Just take a sip or two to tide me over ... He rationalized.
Janette hung up the phone. She looked even paler than she normally did. "That was Helmut." She said to her master. "He left the supplies at the airport just as we requested. The Lufthansa cargo plane landed and left, but no one picked them up. According to that …slimeball, there weren't any cars unloaded either. You don't suppose … " She furrowed her brow and looked worriedly at LaCroix.
"I do not suppose anything." The General said apathetically. "I can sense Nicholas quite strongly. He is hungry, but unharmed. I am going to assume that after 800 years, he does know how to feed himself. After all, it's only been a little over forty eight hours since he last fed. Now relax. If you keep furrowing your face like that, you will end up with wrinkles."
"Vampires do not get wrinkles." She admonished.
"Then what is that?" He said, pointing to her forehead. Janette did not notice the fleeting twinkle in her sire's eyes as he spoke.
In a panic, Janette nearly ran to the hall mirror. She studied the area carefully. "That ... " She said triumphantly. " ... Is a laugh line. And I've had it since before I was brought across."
"So it is." LaCroix said with a thin smile. "Mea Culpa. (Sorry.)"
They both were surprised to see Dr. Lambert come into the club. They were more than a little confused by her request for six bottles of the Raven's finest vintage. "It's for Nick." She explained. "He didn't go out on the plane to Germany last night. That could mean he's still in the Toronto area. Wherever he is though, the situation isn't good. If … no, when he's found, he's going to be very hungry, and he's going to need something decidedly more substantial than cow's blood."
"For once, I couldn't agree with you more, Doctor Lambert." Lucien LaCroix smiled at her. He reminded Natalie of a crocodile sizing up its prey. He snapped his fingers and the bartender appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, carrying a case of green bottles with the silver holographic Raven logo that signified LaCroix's private stock on them. "Take these. No Charge. Miklos will even put them in your car for you." He swept his hand in the direction of the rear door. "Just pull your auto into the alley behind the club. There's no sun there." He explained.
Natalie did as she was instructed and the Greek vampire was waiting when she pulled up to the enclosed auto port.
He slammed his fist into the side of the enclosure. Not quite hard enough to leave a dent, but forcefully enough to vent his frustration. He had tried unsuccessfully to open the trunk, but only managed to raise it a few inches. Apparently the container was just large enough for the car, with not more than a few centimeters clearance on any side. Not nearly enough space to squeeze through. His hunger was growing geometrically. Like it or not, even LaCroix's solution was out of the question if he couldn't get out of the trunk. If only I could use the cell phone, but there's no way to recharge it from back here. The recharger's in the glove compartment and there's no way to get there from here. He put his hand to his mouth. His knuckles were bleeding from the blow. He sucked on them greedily, but he could only get a small taste before the cuts healed. That was just enough to fuel his hunger all the more.
"Come on, Sal. Talk to me. Tell me what I want to hear." Detective Don Schanke said to the classic car salesman. "I know, and you know that I know, that you know more than you're letting on about this case."
He and Joe Mooth had been assigned full time to the task of finding Nick. It had been four days since the Caddy was stolen and there had been no sign of it, or the detective since then. Time was running out. In desperation, they began questioning everyone involved. Sal Randera was the sixth person they had talked to. So far, they had gotten nowhere.
"And I will tell you once more, I have no idea what you are talking about. As you can plainly see, there are no 1962 Cadillac convertibles, green or otherwise, on my lot here. Or on the one in Aurora. And as I showed you from my sales books, there haven't been any convertibles of any kind on either of my lots in the last six months. Not since the 1952 Astin Martin I sold to that motion picture company.
While I appreciate your concern for Detective ... what was his name ... there's nothing I can do to help you. I eagerly support you guys every way I can. You are aware of that, aren't you? I give a hefty donation to the Police Widows and Orphans Fund every year. And I lend some of my cars to be used at the annual police cruise in. And to be used in parades. And for chauffeuring visiting dignitaries in style." Legitimate cars, of course. He picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. "And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do."
"You wouldn't mind if we searched your facilities and talked to some of your employees, would you?" Joe asked.
"As a matter of fact, I would mind. Very much. That is, unless you happen to have a warrant with you. You do have a search warrant, don't you?" Sal said smugly.
"Come on, Don." Joe said, heading for the door. "I don't think we're going to get any more from him."
"By the way, gentlemen, if you happen to know anyone who is in the market for a gently used classic car ... " He handed them each a business card.
"That smug #$%* son of a bitch!" Don fumed as they walked back to the car. "Nick may have only hours to live, and he's trying to sell me a &*%$@*$ used car. I ought to go back in there and wring the information out of his *#^^&$% hide."
"And you'd wind up in jail for assault and battery. And there's always police brutality. You know he'd press charges in half a heartbeat. His kind always does."
"You don't understand. That's MY PARTNER we're talking about! If anything happens to him ... "
"I do understand. We'll find him, Don. I promise you. We'll find him."
"But will it be in time?"
"Is it true? Was somebody locked in the trunk of that car?" Louie asked his boss.
"How should I know?" Sal answered indifferently. "I didn't look. Did you? Besides, it's out of our hands anyway. The ship is on the high seas by now. It won't reach Hamburg until next Thursday. Even if that detective is in the trunk, he'll most likely be dead by then. Nobody can live more than five or six days without food or water.
Come to think of it, don't you have to go over that shipment of cars we got in last night?"
"Yeah, Boss, I do. But what if there is a guy in the trunk of that Cadillac? And what if he dies? We'd be guilty of murder, wouldn't we?"
"Only if they can trace it back to us. And our tracks are covered six ways from Sunday. Trust me. I'm no fool. And I know the Baron isn't one either. There's no way they can connect any of us with that. I mean, we didn't put him in the trunk, and there would have been no way we could have reasonably known he was in there."
"Then how come those two detectives were questioning you?"
"Dumb luck. They're talking to anyone who has cars of that vintage for sale. Now. The cars. And this time, do me a favor. This time check the trunks."
He attempted to roll over, but the trunk was just big enough to make that difficult. He had spent the day in the trunk many times, but never more than that. Even though the 1962 Cadillac had the largest trunk space available, it seemed very confining at this particular moment.
Another complication was that the air was starting to get stale. The container must be airtight! Although he only needed to breathe a minimum of once a minute to retain consciousness, that was still … He did a quick computation. … at least 5,760 times in the four days he had been in the ship's hold. The oxygen rapidly being used up. Once that happened, he would suffocate. While he wouldn't die the true death, he would be left in a state resembling suspended animation until the situation was corrected. He had been in that situation once before. It was definitely not a pleasant experience. Judging by the smell of the air, he calculated there would probably be enough for about another day at most.
He caught his sleeve on one of the bolts that held the rear seat in place as he turned. Now he was wedged in an awkward position. He had no food. He was running out of air. And a tingling sensation in his fingers told him that his left arm was going numb. What else could go wrong?
"Detective Shank?" The man's voice on the other end of the phone said.
"SCHANKE!" Don corrected. "That's me."
"Schanke." The man replied. "You don't know me, and I'm calling from a phone booth. By the time you would trace this call and get here, I'll be long gone. You were asking questions about a green Cadillac."
"Do you know something about my partner. If you do, you had better tell me or I'll … "
"Don't start threatening me or I'll hang up now."
"Sorry." He apologized. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Don't blow it, Donny boy. This is the first real lead we've had. "Don't hang up. It's just that I'm really worried about him. He's been locked in the trunk of that Caddy for almost five days now. If we don't get to him soon, he'll die. If you know anything, tell me. I promise you. We won't do anything to you. We just want to find Nick."
"I've done a lot of things in my time, but murder ain't one of them. I can't say too much, though. I don't want to end up out in the middle of Lake Ontario wearing concrete hip waders, if you know what I mean. All I can tell you is that he's not in Toronto. In fact, he's not even in North America anymore."
"You mean he's in Europe already?"
"How'd you know it was going to Europe?"
"Never mind how we know. Just tell us where he is."
"Let's just say he's sorta nowhere right now."
"What do you mean by nowhere?"
"I gotta get back to work before anybody gets suspicious. I'm on my lunch hour." There was only the sound of the dial tone.
He had finally managed to roll over completely, but not before tearing a large hole in his jacket on the seat bolt. "DAMN BOLT! " He raged. The hunger was driving him just about insane. "BOLT!" He almost yelled. "THAT'S IT!" The seat's held on by bolts! Bolts can be removed! I remove the bolts, I can get into the front of the car. He rationalized. I get to the front, I can recharge the cell phone. "It just might work!" Frantically, he felt for the toolbox. How do I remove the bolts? "A wrench! There's got to be a wrench in the toolbox!"
"Ich horte etwas von einem dieser Behalter. Er klang wie kreischendes jemand.(I heard something from one of these containers. It sounded like somebody yelling.)"
"Haben Sie das Maschine Reinigungsmittel wieder, Gerhardt getrunken? (Have you been drinking the engine cleaner again, Gerhardt?) Es gibt nicht nichts unten hier eine Menge Kasten. (There isn't anything down here but a lot of boxes.) Moglicherweise horten Sie den Geist. Sie kennen die Geruchte, das der Maschine Raum frequentiert wird. (Maybe you heard the ghost. You know the rumors that the engine room is haunted.)"
"Aber wir Sind nicht im Maschine Raum, Wolfgang. Wir sind im Ladungeinflus. (But we aren't in the engine room, Wolfgang. We're in the cargo hold.)"
" Was ist der Unterschied? Es gibt nicht niemand hier aber Sie und mich. (What's the difference? There isn't anyone here but you and me.) Und es ist uber Abendessenzeit. (And it's just about dinner time.) Lassen Sie uns gehen erhalten etwas zu essen. (Let's go get something to eat)."
"Nowhere. Nowhere. Now where would I be if I were nowhere?" Don Schanke mused.
"What in the world are you babbling about?" Natalie said as she came to his desk.
"What brings the fair Coroner here?" Don asked. "I thought you'd be hip deep in corpses after that mess on the Gardnier earlier today."
"I was." She explained. "But with three of us working on them, it didn't take as long as I thought to clear out the backlog. I needed a break so I brought the updated reports on the Schwaller case."
She shook her head slowly. "I really screwed up royally on that one. I was 1000 percent in left field. I put the blood and broken blood vessels in his brain down to the trauma from the fall, but it was the other way around. Turns out there was no foul play involved. The lab analysis of the brain tissues showed that he had numerous abnormally thin arteries. When I saw that, I went back over my observations. Walter Schwaller died as a result of a ruptured aneurysm. A massive stroke. Death was almost instantaneous. He broke his neck in the fall all right, but he was probably already dead, or nearly so, by the time he fell on the stairs. The nephew had nothing to do with his death."
"Thanks. That's good news." Don said. " I really couldn't picture Dan Schwaller as a cold blooded killer. But that case belongs to Combest and Waggoner now. We're concentrating full time on finding Nick."
"I know. I used it as an excuse to come over here to you guys and see how things are going."
"I got a weird phone call about an hour ago. Said that Nick was nowhere. I'm trying to figure out what he meant by that." Don replied.
"Nowhere ... " Natalie repeated. "That really is weird. Sounds like something out of Alice In Wonderland or the Twilight Zone. He's got to be somewhere. I mean every place has a designation. Toronto. Buffalo. New York. Like that."
"So if he's in a place that doesn't have a designation ... " Joe Mooth mused. Suddenly his face lit up. "What if he's between places?"
"What do you mean between places?"
"Between places. What's between North America and Europe."
"The Atlantic Ocean!" The three said almost in unison.
"That could mean he went by freighter, not by plane!" Don said. "Joe! Call the Harbourmaster! Find out what ships left last week for Hamburg!"
Joe was already on the phone. A few minutes later, he hung up. "There were two ships that left for Europe that night. The Meanehhear Noaka, owned by the Kohcopunym Consortium and the Das Langsame owned by Der Kreuzfahrt-Linien. Both are scheduled to make stops in Hamburg. The Das Langsame is a passenger ship, but they also took on cargo. It'll arrive in Hamburg in three days. It has stops in Brest tomorrow for the day and then goes to Cherborg for another day and finally to Hamburg. The Meanehhear is a Russian freighter on a direct course to Hamburg. It's due to arrive tomorrow afternoon."
"Both times may be too late for Nick." Natalie choked. "It's possible he may already be beyond help."
"Maybe we can get permission from the ship owners to board the ships and rescue him while they're at sea." Joe suggested. He handed a scratch pad to Schanke with the names of the ships and their owners on it.
"I'm on the phone with the Toronto office of the Kohcop ... the Kopoc ... the company that owns the Meanehhear." Schanke said a few minutes later. "While they sympathize with us, they aren't going to help us. They say they're carrying sensitive military equipment, and they can't let anyone aboard without written permission from the Russian Ministry of Defense." He pressed the flash key. "Now for Der-whatever-that-was. Maybe we'll have better luck with them." He said as he dialed the number.
"BINGO!" He shouted. "The cruise ship people said that they would cooperate in every way with us. They say there are numerous automobiles on board. Most of them belonging to the passengers. There are several autos being shipped as cargo on the manifest, but no '62 Cadillac. According to the invoice, there is a 1926 Hupmobile, though. And guess what. The shipper is none other than our dear friend Salvatore Randera. They're talking with the Captain of the Langsame as we speak."
"I'm on the phone to North Bay Air Force Base ..." Joe relayed. " … The Flight coordinator is in contact with the American aircraft carrier USS Gordon Cooper that is in the area ... The Captain of the Cooper says they'll dispatch a helicopter to the Langsame to help in the search for Nick."
"The bolt is connected to the wing nut … The wing nut's connected to the pli-ers ... The pliers are connected to my right hand … Hear the word of the lord." Nick sang in a very squeaky voice. After nearly two and a half hours, he had managed to remove four of the eight bolts holding the back seat on. He couldn't find a wrench, but he had found a pair of pliers. They were much slower and much more awkward than a wrench. "Beggars can't be choosers. But then neither can vampires locked in car trunks. " He laughed at his joke. The effects of oxygen deprivation were starting. He could feel his mind slowly losing its grasp on reality. In a few more hours, he would slip onto a state of caftarr. It was similar to rapture of the deep that divers experience. Nothing would matter and he would slowly drift into a place where no one would be able to reach him easily. From there, it was a simple step to suffocation stasis. He shook his head to clear it. He couldn't let that happen.
Another bolt came off. Only three more to go. He maneuvered himself to the next one. "Clockwise is on. Counterclockwise is off." He reminded himself. "Or is it the other way around? Oh, well, we'll find out in a little while." He said with a silly grin on his face.
"I have to be there when they find him." Natalie argued. "He ... his … his condition. He'll need medical treatment."
"I'm afraid that's impossible." Joe replied. "It would take too long for any of us to get there. Especially since every minute counts right now. They have a complete medical facility on the Cooper. I'm sure he'll get the best possible care."
"NO! You don't understand! He needs special care. I'm the only one who can give it to him."
"Doc. Calm down. I know you've been working on a cure for him, and you probably know more than anyone else what he needs." Don said, putting his arm around her. "If you want, we'll get a hookup with the Cooper. That way, you can walk their medical staff through anything they need to do to help him."
It's not him I'm worried about. It's the staff. She thought grimly. If he's as hungry as I think he is going to be, he could be so out of control that he could have one or two of them for dinner before he even knows what he's doing. He's got to have the blood that I'm going to be carrying with me. And he'll have to have it as soon as they get him out of the trunk. If not ... She shuddered to even think about that scenario.
In the background, the radio droned on. "Will somebody please change the station?" Someone called out. "It's almost time for that Nightcrawler guy. The last thing we need in here right now is somebody like him spouting his morbid version of gloom and doom."
NIGHTCRAWLER! ... BLOOD! ... LACROIX! Her mind screamed. Maybe HE can do something. "Excuse me." Nat said as she practically ran out of the room. "I have to talk to someone."
"Tonight's topic, my children, is the Good Samaritan ... Or was he?" Lucien LaCroix whispered seductively into the microphone. "When we think that someone we care about is in jeopardy, we want to do everything we know how to do to help him." The silky voice of the Nightcrawler went out over the waves. "Even if the person does not need or want our help." He paused for effect. "The question therefore is this, Mon peu ceux (My little ones). Is what we are doing the proper thing to do?"
"Sometimes we can do more harm than good when we try and meddle into situations we have no business going into. Have you ever found that to be true, Mes Amis (My friends)? Was there ever a time in your life when someone who had no idea what you actually needed or wanted attempted to assist you?" Another pause.
"How did you feel about it? Did they only making things worse for you with their unsolicited help? Did you appreciate what they were trying to do for you, or did you want to tell them … very politely, of course … to naff off?" He noticed the phone light blinking on his control panel. Let whoever this is stew in their own juices for a while. He wasn't ready for callers yet.
"Think on this for a moment. Perhaps the next time you are ready to jump in and extricate someone from what you perceive as peril, you will remember how you felt in the same circumstances."
The light was still blinking, and it was beginning to annoy him. Why doesn't that person on the other end of this line use the brains that the gods gave to a goose and hang up? Don't they know I'm in the middle of my monologue?
"Perhaps you will let fate take its true course rather than attempt to change destiny."
The light still blinked its infuriating ultimatum.
"I will return with more thoughts on the subject right after this message from our sponsors. Do stay tuned. I would be very distressed if you made me hunt you down." He queued the commercial tape and then connected his headset to the phone jack. He was about to let loose with one of his more caustic diatribes when a familiar voice came on the line.
"LaCroix!" Natalie burst in as soon as the link was made. "It's Nick! They've found him!"
"Very good work, Doctor Lambert." Coming from him though, it sounded anything but complimentary. "But you didn't have to call me in the middle of my broadcast to tell me that, did you?"
"I thought you'd want to know." The wind rushed out of her mental sails. "That's not the only reason I called. I need your help."
"You probably know that he hasn't had the opportunity to feed in over four days now, and he's going to be very very hungry "
"So? Why do you need my help?"
"As I said, he hasn't fed in quite a while. That's the problem. When they find him, he's liable to do something rash unless he gets a hefty supply of blood as soon as he's released from the trunk."
"I thought you said they had already found him."
"Well, They sort of found him."
"Doctor." The impatience showed in his voice. "Either they have found him or they have not. Which is it?"
"They know where he is. He's aboard a ship called the Das Langsame in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The American Navy is on the way to rescue him now. They should reach him in about three hours."
"And what do you want me to do about it?"
He's going to need blood. Lots of it. There's no way I can get to him in time. I thought … I was hoping … you might be able to get there … I mean … I'm afraid he might … "
"I think I get the picture. You want me to go to him and feed him so he doesn't snack on his rescuers?"
"Yes. In a nutshell."
"Very well. I suppose I could arrange something." He sighed impassively. "Give me the coordinates and I shall see what I can do." As soon as he had the necessary information, he hung up. He had felt Nicholas's vibrations getting weaker and weaker over the past few days. He was extremely worried, but, being the Roman General that he was, he couldn't let anyone, especially the mortal Doctor know that.
He threw both arms into the air. "Y-E-S-S-S!" He half whispered, thankful that the soundproofing and the heavy drapes on the windows of the broadcast booth prevented anyone from hearing or seeing him. It would not fit into his aloof unflappable image for anyone to see him doing a modified victory dance. He put on a tape of a previously recorded session. His listeners would be confused by the change when the commercial ended, but he could care less. NICHOLAS HAS BEEN FOUND!
"You can't be serious!" Janette scolded her master. He had gone straight from CERK to the Raven to tell her the good news.
"Oh, but I am very serious. It is the only way that we can prevent what Doctor Lambert perceives as a disaster. Personally, I do not think it would be as bad as she imagines, but she does have a point that it might put Nicholas, and perhaps all of us at risk of exposure if he were to be seen sinking fangs into any of the American Naval personnel. It could be ... as the English call it ... a very sticky wicket."
"I understand that, Mon Pere. But why can't we go and get him? Why do we have to send someone else? And why HIM of all people?"
"It would take us at least eight or nine hours flying as fast as possible to reach the coordinates of the Das Langsame. The Americans will be there in three. By the time we get there, the damage could already be done. Also, it would be the middle of the afternoon when we arrive. I do not think you want to be mistaken for a flaming meteor. The other alternative would be to spend the day at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Neither scenario will do Nicholas much good."
Janette slowly shook her head. "I see what you're getting at. Surely there must be someone else who could get to him. What about Nigel? He's in Wales. That's even closer."
"Nigel is on holiday in a remote area of Scotland. No, Helmut is the closest. And he has the necessary supplies. It should only take him about an hour to reach the ship. With any luck, he'll be there and gone before the Americans reach the ship."
"But that would mean we would be in his debt. I, for one do not want to owe that ... " She growled loudly. " ... that ... " Another growl. " ... anything except a stake in his grubby little heart."
"I know, Mon Fille (My daughter). But if it will save Nicholas's life, it is a small price to pay, Non?"
"You are right. As usual." She said dejectedly. " I will make the call."
The pliers slipped and crushed his knuckles against the seat strut. Nicholas let loose with a string of expletives in an obscure Northern French dialect that had not been spoken since the beginning of the fifteenth century. There was just one more bolt left. The last one that he removed took almost as long as the first four combined. At this rate, the oxygen in the trunk would be gone long before he got the last bolt out and recharged his cell phone. He could barely breathe as it was, and his brain was beginning to shut down. That and the hunger had sapped most of his strength. A week old kitten could have bested him at this point. He'd never complete the task in time. Already there were multicolored 'fireworks' playing before his eyes.
Helmut landed on the deck of the ship. He was grateful for the near pitch black Atlantic night. The moon was only a thin crescent on the horizon. Even though it was still dark, he would have to work fast. Sunrise was only a little over two and a half hours away. As it was, he would be cutting it thin to get back home before the dawn. He could see quite well by the light of the stars, but he doubted that any of the crew could see beyond their arm's length without artificial help. He quickly located the gangway to the interior of the ship and went to the cargo hold. As he carefully slid open the door, he breathed a small sigh of relief. By some miracle, no one had seen him. Of course, he was moving so fast the majority of the time, that even if he had been spotted, it would not necessarily have registered with anyone. He concentrated. No heartbeats. Good. No mortals. He pushed his consciousness searching for that tenuous link that connects all vampires. He found it. At least he thought he had. The vibrations were so weak that he wasn't quite sure.
He had met Nicholas de Brabant once before, shortly after World War 2 ended. He searched through his memory for his vibes. As he remembered them, the Crusader's vibrations were extremely strong. Now they appeared to be almost non existent. Cautiously, he followed the fragile thread to one of the shipping containers that looked to be the right size to hold a car.
He found the locks and gently eased them open. He was careful not to damage them beyond repair. He thanked his lucky stars he had been a cat burglar in a previous incarnation. From what Lucien had told him, they had to be replaced when he was done, although for the unlife of him he couldn't understand why. Something about catching a thief.
He sighed. Whatever Lucien LaCroix wants. Lucien LaCroix gets. It was not a wise concept to piss off a master vampire. Besides, he was hoping that after this, the old demon would put in a good word with Janette for him. Have to stay on the good side of Daddy if you want to make time with Daughter.
Natalie Lambert paced a circular route around Don Schanke's and Nick's desks. She was closely followed by Don and Joe Mooth. It had been two hours! Someone should know something! Either the Navy or LaCroix had to be on the Langsame by now! She glared at the phone, willing it to ring.
"Detective Schanke ... Detective Mooth ... Doctor Lambert. " Amanda Cohen said as she came to join them. "Please ... Sit ... Down. You're making everybody nervous. Myself included. All this pacing isn't going to help to find Knight one minute sooner. The Navy said they would be there in three hours. It's only been two so far. As soon as there's anything to report, they'll call. NOW! PLEASE! Sit! Down! You're wearing a groove in the tile. Maintenance is going to blow a fuse if they have to replace the floor because of this."
Natalie smiled slightly at that thought.
"But Cap ... " Don started.
"I know, Detective Schanke. I'm just as worried as all of you are." She put her hand on his shoulder. "He's not only one of my best detectives, he's also a friend as well. But there's nothing we can do right now. Except pray."
Nick heard what sounded like the top of the shipping container being lifted off. He took a small breath. This is it. This has to be the end. I have to be hallucinating. I'm starting to hear things ... and I smell clean air. He took another, deeper breath. No! I'm not delirious. THAT IS AIR! Fresh air! But where is it coming from? How did anyone figure where to look for me? He drew in until his oxygen starved lungs nearly burst. He didn't care what. Or how. Or who. AIR! Involuntarily, his eyes became red-orange and his fangs descended. FOOD! His brain screamed. Right, wrong, or indifferent, he was past caring.
Helmut climbed inside the cramped container. He slowly eased the fabric top of the Cadillac back into its holder and stood on the back seat. He put his hand on the backrest and it nearly gave way. He could see that it was only held in place by one loose bolt. With a little effort, he rotated the seat back around the strut until there was an opening large enough to see into the trunk.
He could see and hear Nicholas. He was crouched against the rear of the trunk, like a wild animal ready to pounce on his prey. He looked positively feral, and the sounds he made matched his appearance. Helmut quickly took a bag of blood from his coat. Bags were easier to carry when flying than bottles. He tossed it into the trunk. There was no way he was going to even attempt to come near the starving vampire coiled menacingly before him.
"Nicholas. Ich bein Helmut Bleerschtadt auf Hamburg. (Nicholas. I am Helmut Bleerschtadt from Hamburg.) Sind Sie ganz recht? Gibt es alles das Sie benotigen? (Are you all right? Is there anything you need?)" His answer was for Nick to throw the now empty blood bag at him. He replaced it with a full one. And another. And another.
Five bags later, Nicholas Knight spoke his first words to another being in almost five days. "Danke (Thank you)."
"(Are you sure you're all right?)"
"(I am now. How did you find me?)" He asked as he started to crawl through the hole in the seat.
"Nein. Nicht schon. (No. Not yet.)" Helmut said. "(You have to stay where you are. You have to be rescued or the mortals will get suspicious.)"
"(Isn't that why you're here? To rescue me?)"
"(Not exactly. I'm just here to feed you. LaCroix called and told me where you were. He asked me to bring you the blood. It seems your partner had called the Canadian Air Force who called the American Navy. In about an hour, a rescue team from an American ship, the USS Cooper, should be arriving here to release you)." He handed Nick a grocery bag with empty food containers in it. "(You had food in the trunk. That's your cover story)."
"(These are Canadian food labels on these boxes and cans. How did you get them?)" Nick asked.
"(That's not important. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to put everything back the way it was. The Americans will be here in about an hour.)" He started by putting the back seat together. Forty five minutes later, unless they examined the container and it's contents extremely close, no one would have known that anything was amiss.
As Helmut took to the night sky, he heard the Thwukka ... Thwukka ... Thwukka of the American helicopter's rotor blades as it descended to the foredeck of the Langsame.
"Thank you, Commander. I'll pass it along to the others." Don said as he put the phone back on its cradle.
"That was the Ship's Doctor on the Cooper. From what he says, Nick is in reasonably good condition considering what he's been through. Would you believe that guy? I mean, he could fall in a cesspool and come out smelling like roses. From what he told the Doctor, he had gone shopping that night at the health food store and he had a trunk full of groceries. Because of his condition, most of it was protein drinks and organic macro meals and stuff like that. With careful rationing, it was enough to keep him going until the medics got to him. He wasn't starving after all. We didn't have to worry about him the way we did. How lucky can one person get?"
Luckier than he knows how to be. Natalie thought. I knew LaCroix wouldn't let anything happen to him. As much as they fight like wildcats in a pillowcase, he does love him.
"The Commander said they are going to keep him for observation until tonight. Because of his sunlight allergy, they thought it was best to keep him there until after sunset and then fly him by jet to the Naval Air Station at Norfolk Virginia. They'll keep him there until nightfall tomorrow and then fly him to North Bay. He should be back in Toronto by tomorrow midnight at the latest." Don finished.
"What about the Cadillac?" Joe asked.
"According to the Interpol office in Hamburg, it'll be flown back to Toronto as soon as they're through with it." Don explained. "Compliments of Der Kreuzfahrt-Linien. They don't think it should take more than a day or two at most. It should be waiting for him when he gets back. Oh, and just for the record, it's been painted black.
Also according to the Interpol agents, Baron Wilhelm Von Klemper is known as a collector of nearly everything of value. Cars. Art. Rare wines and liquours. Books. Jewelery. Most of it reportedly stolen. They've been waiting a long time to catch him in the act."
"That's terrific news!" Joe said. "Now all we have to do is pick up Sal and his pals and we can wrap this case up."
"Hang in there a minute, Joe." Don said. "Let's wait until Nick gets back. If I know my partner, he's going to want to be in on that arrest. In fact, I think we ought to let him make the collar. As far as I'm concerned, he's earned that right."
"No complaints from me on that. You're right. He deserves this one. I'll call Judge Bateman and arrange to have a warrant waiting when he gets here."
North Bay RCAF Base
Natalie and Don were waiting with the others at the control terminal when the American Navy's TA-4J jet taxied to the loading area with its passenger, a certain detective who only a few days earlier was trapped in the bowels of a German ship. When she saw him, Natalie's face lit up like a Times Square billboard. Although he had only been missing a few days, it had seemed like an eternity. She never wanted to be separated from him again. Ever. Complete with all the connotations that implied.
Nick descended the ladder from the cockpit and stepped on the tarmac. Then, he dropped to his knees and kissed the asphalt. It had never felt so good to be back on Canadian soil. He looked up. The first face he saw was Nat's, beaming like a searchlight. Suddenly, there was no one else in the whole world. He wanted to run to her and hold her in his arms. Forever if he had to.
Then he saw LaCroix standing at the edge of the building, out of sight of the welcoming committee, but in plain sight of Nick. Slowly, it began to figuratively rain on his parade. You are a vampire. She is a mortal. To spite what he felt for her, there could never be anything between them. They were 'just friends'. That was all they could ever be. Especially if he wanted her to live out her life as she had a right to. As a mortal. With a husband. And children. He couldn't give her those things. All he could give her was eternal darkness and damnation. And my love. You will always have my love. He took a deep breath and slowly waved to the small crowd that had come to welcome him home.
Natalie started toward him as he walked toward the terminal. For a brief second, he seemed to be overjoyed to see her, but then a mask of detached indifference seemed to overtake his expression. The smile on her face slowly disappeared. As he started toward the control tower, he did not even look in her direction. Let alone at her.
Don Schanke was the first one to meet him. "Hey, buddy, old pal, partner mine. You know you really gave us a helluva scare." He said, throwing his arms around him and pulling him into a bear hug. "If you ever pull anything like this again, I'll sic my mother in law on you." He joked. "And you don't want me to do that. Believe me, my mother in law can be a real mother when she wants to be."
Within seconds, the rest of the group was on him, hugging and pummeling him and telling him how much they were glad he was back. Quickly, they ushered him into the lobby of the control building. He glanced over his shoulder. Natalie was standing alone on the walkway, looking very much like she had just lost her last friend. In a way, she had.
So had he.
Sal Randera sized up the blond man who got out of the nondescript mid sized car. He watched with a little more than professional interest as the man looked over a few of the cars on the lot, and he saw that his attention was piqued by a burgundy 1968 Lincoln Mark II sedan. Louie started out the door to work the customer. Sal blocked him. They say there's one born every minute. This one looks like he could make up for a whole half a day. "This patsy's mine." He told his salesman / mechanic. "Got a fifty says I can unload that '58 Belvedere on him."
"But that bomb has been on the lot practically since cars were invented." Louie reminded him. "We can't even give it away."
"It won't be here much longer." Sal said as he started out the door. "Take notes. There will be a pop quiz later."
"Hello, there. I'm Sal Randera." He held out his pudgy hand to the customer and plastered on his best 'I'm-your-best-friend' smile.
"Hi, Sal, I'm Nicholas Knight." Nick replied, shaking the proffered hand. He had the vague impression of a shark swimming around its prey. LaCroix and this guy would get along famously ... If LaCroix didn't drain him at first sight.
"I see you're interested in classic luxury cars, Mr. Knight." He put his arm around the man's shoulder and slowly nudged him toward the Belvedere. "I got one I think you'll really love. I just got this beauty in a little while ago. Like about two years. A real steal." Literally!
"I was wondering. Have you sold any vintage Cadillac convertibles lately?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." Sal tried to swallow as his voice went up about half an octave.
"I think you do. You see, I was trapped in the trunk of a teal green 1962 Cadillac convertible about a week ago. It was stolen while I was still in it, and … "
"So, you're the detective those two policemen were asking about. I'm so glad to see that you are all right." Sal interjected.
"No thanks to you. As I started to say, I heard everything that was said by you and your cohorts while you were preparing the car to be shipped overseas, and I intend to testify to that at your trial. You never even bothered to check to see what, if anything was inside the car, or you would have found me in the trunk. As it was, I spent five days locked in there. I would have died if my friends hadn't figured out what you did with my auto in time. It took the American Navy to get me out. All because of you."
"I think I want to talk to my lawyer." He took a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the sweat from his balding head.
"I think you had better. You see, the detectives of the Auto Theft Division managed to locate your contacts at the Ministry of Transportation. They have been extremely cooperative." Nick took several warrants and a set of handcuffs out of his pocket. "Salvatore Bonifacio Randera. I am arresting you on multiple counts of accepting and selling stolen properties." He handed one of the documents to the car dealer. "On multiple counts of falsification of government documents." Another warrant went on top of the first. "On multiple counts of customs violations." A third paper encased in a blue cover went on the stack. "And finally, for one count of attempted neglectful manslaughter. Mine." He put the last of the summons in Sal's hands. He was locking the cuffs on Sal's wrists as Don and Joe got out of the car parked at the curb.
"You have the right to remain silent." Joe intoned as he led Sal back to the car. "If you give up that right … "
"Well, Partner." Don Schanke said as he practically swaggered into the precinct. "We pulled it off. I'm talking about the collar of the century. Sal Randera is at this very moment singing his head off to the Crown Prosecutor. Telling all. Names. Dates. The whole nine yards." He slapped his partner on the back. "And we owe it all to you and the sun."
"How does the sun fit into this?" Nick asked.
"If you didn't have this crazy allergy of yours, and you didn't get caught in the sunlight, you wouldn't have been sleeping in the trunk when your car was stolen. If you hadn't been in the trunk, we never would have caught Sal or his gang."
"There's more. When Interpol searched Baron Von Klemper's place and they found more stuff than you can imagine. According to them, Klemper is the head of an international theft ring that they've been trying to crack for years. I hear the German government is thinking about giving everyone involved a Commendation."
"Terrific." Nick said absently.
"Hey, Pard. What's wrong. You look like you've lost your last friend."
You don't know how true that is.
Nick pulled the Caddy up to the edge of the beach. He looked over to the passenger seat. Natalie should have been sitting there, her head nestled against his shoulder as they watched the moon on the waters. Ever since he had returned, he had been afraid to call her on anything except business. He couldn't trust himself to control the beast around her. Then again, the events of the night before he was abducted constantly replayed in his mind and in his dreams, or rather, in his nightmares. The horrible things she had said to him echoed over and over. The trouble was, they were all true. She was right. He was everything she had said he was and more. How could she possibly want to see him again, let alone try to help him find a cure. No, as much as he hated the thought, he had to let her go.
Natalie sat at the window of her apartment watching the thin clouds play across the moon. It was her day off. Normally, it would have been spent at the loft watching a corny movie. Her head cuddled in his arm. Or perhaps taking in some cultural exhibit. Or riding in the Caddy, snuggled against Nick's chest. Apparently those days were over.
It had been nearly a week since Nick had returned from the Langsame and he hadn't called or tried to see her except for one time. That was to discuss a case. He had brought Don Schanke with him so she couldn't talk too freely. As soon as she gave him her thoughts on the subject, he was out the door. Apparently, he hadn't meant what he said to his partner that first day, or he had thought it over and decided that it was better to call off whatever modest relationship they had managed to form.
She couldn't blame him for that. There was a great deal of truth in the things they had said to each other. That was why they had hurt so much. She could see his point of view, and that made it all the more painful. He was right, of course. He had been trying for over 100 years to find a cure. Who was she to presume that she could do it in just a few years? She didn't understand his feelings. She couldn't. They were worlds apart. He was a vampire and she was only a mortal.
There was only one course of action open. As much as she hated the thought, she had to let him go.
" ... And don't bother me with your petty charity collections!" He shouted. "I'm not the Bank Of Canada!"
Vera Marshall nearly collided with Don Schanke as she hastily exited the bullpen. "What's with that partner of yours?" She asked the detective. "He's really been living up to his name these past few weeks ... The Knightmare. All I did was give him a brochure about the United Charities Fund drive, and he nearly bit my head off. Literally."
"I know." Don replied. "Ever since he got back from that ship, he's been worse than a grizzly bear with the shizzelin drits. Why do you think I spend so much time down in Records? I guarantee you, it ain't because I got that much research to do.
I think it has something to do with him and the Doctor. From what Grace tells me, the atmosphere over at the morgue is ten degrees colder than the Arctic Circle. According to her, the Doc is in even worse shape than our boy there. Everybody's afraid to even go near her office for fear they'll end up as the next guest in the cold room. The way I hear it, she reamed Gabe Collier a new bunghole the other day just because he was whistling and doing a little dance in the hallway. She said that was a morgue, not Jilly's, and that he had better straighten up and fly right or he'd be out of a job toot sweet. I mean, for gods sake, the guy's just back from his honeymoon. He's got a right to be a little giddy.
Nick hasn't been over there in a coon's age. He always finds some excuse to send me. Come to think of it, Dr. Lambert hasn't been over here either. Grace has been delivering the reports, or they've been faxed or delivered by messenger."
"We gotta do something about that. And soon." Vera said. "Some of the other detectives around here are already talking about drawing straws to see who is going to get the honor of locking him back up in that shipping container. This time they say they're gonna send him to Cape Kennedy to be included in the next shuttle trip to the Space Station. Can't you talk to him?"
"If I could have pounded some sense in him, I would have done it a week ago. But all he says is that it's none of my business and to leave him alone. Then he threatens to rearrange my body parts ... or even worse ... if I don't get out of his face."
"C'mon, honey." Grace Balthazar pleaded. She put the box of Wor Su Gai in front of her boss. "It's your favorite. You gotta eat something. Brooding like you've been doing for the past two weeks ain't gonna do you ...or that blond detective ... "
"This has NOTHING to do with HIM!" Natalie exploded as she shoved the carton to the edge of the desk. "I just have a little stomach problem and I've sort of lost my appetite. Why can't everybody just LEAVE ME ALONE!"
I think it has everything to do with HIM. And you don't have a stomach problem. I'd say it's more like a heart problem. A BIG heart problem. My best guess is a broken heart. And I'll give a week's pay that Detective Knight is the cause. "Okay, girl. Calm down. Don't go off the deep end. At least try to eat. Just a little. For Auntie Grace. Please?" Grace managed to duck just as the container of Chinese slammed into the wall at approximately the same height that her head would have been at.
"There is a phrase in a popular song that says 'Words are like weapons. They wound sometime.' " The Nightcrawler whispered into the microphone. "Sometimes they can kill as well. I don't mean physically. Although there are instances where the proper words spoken at the proper time can lead to suicide ... or even murder. No, gentle listeners. I am talking about the death of the spirit.
Words, particularly those said in anger or hostility can damage even the hardiest of spirits. In a fragile emotional setting, they can even be fatal. Unless the situation is remedied ... and very quickly, the hurtful words can fester like an emotional cancer, and eat at the spirit until it is irreparably damaged." He paused. He knew that Nicholas listened to his broadcast every night. He hoped he had made the connection. He knew through his bond that Nicholas had a falling out with his mortal plaything. While he didn't necessarily approve of his association with the Doctor, he was willing to tolerate it if it would improve his son's attitude. Lately, Nicholas had been positively intolerable at best.
"So, Mes Enfants. Think carefully before you say something to another in the heat of an argument. If you have already committed that sin, I urge you to make amends as soon as possible. Before the damage becomes so extensive that it cannot be corrected."
Nick turned off the radio in the Caddy. It's too late for that. He brooded. The damage has already been done. She apparently doesn't want it undone and maybe neither do I. "Maybe you are right. Maybe I am asking for trouble by wanting to be mortal. So far, it's brought me nothing but heartache." He said to the silent radio. "Maybe I'll just do as you have always wanted me to do and accept my fate as a vampire." He turned at the next corner and headed for the Raven.
"Nicolah! Will you PLEASE do me a favor and take your sulking somewhere else." Janette said as she refilled her grumpy sibling's glass for the umpteenth time.
"I am NOT sulking. I am only trying to be what our master wants me to be." He growled. "I am being a good little vampire."
"You are being un douleur dans le ane (a pain in the ass), that's what you're being. I can do without your agonizing all over my club very nicely, thank you. You are driving my customers away with your gloomy way of thinking. Both mortal and otherwise. You have been here every night for the past week now and your disposition hasn't improved one iota. Why don't you seek the company of your Doctor friend? Perhaps she could cheer you up." Suddenly, a light went on in her head. "Of course! Why couldn't I see it before? You have all the symptoms! Now it makes sense. She is the reason for your foul mood. What happened? Did the two of you have a lover's quarrel, Mon Frere?"
"Leave Natalie out of this. She has nothing to do with me ... or my so called disposition." He grumbled, all too quickly and all too loudly. He downed his glass of 'house special' almost in one gulp. His expression told her that she had found the source of her brother's problem
"Very well." She said. "I shall leave you and your ... disposition alone. But if I hear one more word about your haranguing any of my other customers ... " She left the rest of the statement unsaid. Already a plan of sorts was forming in the back of her mind.
Lucien LaCroix was positive that Nicholas had heard his broadcast the week before, but as far as he could tell, he hadn't acted on it. So much for subtlety. He mused as he approached Nicholas's booth at the Raven. According to his Captain, Nicholas had called and asked for indefinite sick time, claiming 'post traumatic stress syndrome'. Captain Cohen gladly granted his request, much to the relief of the other officers in the bullpen. He had spent the entire time ensconced in a booth in the far corner of the club.
Now for the direct approach. "We have to talk." He said as he seated himself on the other side of the table.
"We have nothing to say to each other."
"We have a lot to say to each other. Starting with your frame of mind."
"Since when have you ever cared about how I feel? I am doing what you have wanted me to do practically since the day you brought me across. I am eradicating the last of my mortality. That should make you deliriously happy." He gulped the remains of the glass of bloodwhiskey in front of him and poured another glass full.
"Nicholas. Seeing you like this does not make me happy. I want you to accept your way of life willingly, not like this."
"Is that why you have hounded and abused me all these centuries? To make me accept my plight cheerfully? Well, it worked. I accept." He spat bitterly. "Why can't you just leave me alone? Why can't everybody leave me alone?"
LaCroix thought for a moment. "I only did what I thought was best. Now, however, there is no need for me to torment you. You are doing a magnificent job of that all by yourself. I know you have some problems with the Doctor, and I thought ... "
"Well, you thought wrong. THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH NATAL ... Dr. Lambert." He shouted angrily. "There IS no Natalie. There is no WE! Whatever there was is over. Dead. Finished. Why can't anyone but me see that?" He poured another glass. "I thought this time it would be different, but she's just like all the other mortals I've ever tried to get close to. All she sees is the vampire. Not the man. She made that abundantly clear the night the Caddy was stolen. Well, we won't have to worry about that any more. From now on, there won't be any man. Just the vampire."
"Nicholas. How many glasses of bloodscotch have you had?"
"I don't know. I stopped counting."
LaCroix made a quick scan of the table. There were two empty bottles and the one in front of the Detective was over half empty. "I think you've had enough."
"And I think you can go to hell."
"I'll reserve a spot there for you." He left the booth. Obviously, Nicholas was not in a mood for talk.
She had just stepped put of the shower when she heard the buzzer. If that's another of those so-called college students selling magazine subscriptions, I'll ... Natalie said as she pulled a sweatshirt and pants on. "Don't bust a gusset. I'm coming." She shouted as she hopped on one foot while trying to put her shoe on the other. Fortunately, by the time she got to the door, she was fully dressed. Well, at least she wasn't naked. She opened the door to find Janette standing in the in the hallway, impeccably attired ... as usual.
"I hope I haven't come at an inconvenient time." The female vampire said. "I did not call because I was not certain you would consent to see me. I know we haven't been exactly the best of friends, but we do have to talk."
"I ... ah ... " Natalie stammered. It was true. She and Janette had first met at Nick's loft under embarrassing circumstances at best. But then again, Janette had taken her under her wing, so to speak, during the asteroid scare. And Natalie had treated her for the bullet wounds she received from Celeste Morgan. While they weren't exactly friends, they weren't exactly enemies either.
"I ... I'm so sorry. Where are my manners?" Natalie stepped aside. "You don't have to stand out here in the hall. Please come in." It was a good thing she was working the swing shift tonight. Ordinarily, she would have been long gone to work by this time. "I'm sorry, but I don't have anything to offer you. I did have that blood that LaCroix gave me when Nick was ... ah ... kidnapped. But it went bad, so I had to throw it out."
"That is quite all right." Janette said. She held up an elegant woven tapestry briefcase. She opened it and inside were two bottles." I wasn't certain what you might have, so I brought something for both of us." She handed Natalie a bottle. "For you."
"Chateau De Mer '64." Nat said. "That's a premium vintage. It must have cost a small fortune."
Janette smiled. "I have my ... sources." She took out another bottle. "And this is for me. This is as excellent a vintage of my ... beverage as yours is." She took out a small can. "I also brought something for your cat. Stanley, isn't it?" She handed the can to Nat.
"Sidney." Janette corrected.
"Coho Salmon? Even I don't eat this good. 9 Lives would have been good enough for him."
"I haven't had much experience with domestic animals. And practically none with cats. I know they like fish, so I stopped at the store. I do not remember seeing the brand you mentioned in the gourmet canned meat section, so I bought this."
"It wouldn't be in the gourmet foods section. It's cat food."
"Cat food?" Janette made a face. "Ugh!"
"Sidney is a cat, after all."
"Oh! In that case, I do hope Sidney likes the salmon."
"Like it? He'll probably be spoiled rotten for the next three weeks." Nat opened the can. "He'll be expecting it every day." As soon as he heard the can opener, the feline began winding his body alternately around Natalie's and Janette's legs. She spooned it into Sid's dish and put the dish on the floor. As soon as she did that, Sidney began wolfing it down like he hadn't eaten since the last time.
She showed Janette to the table and brought two glasses with her. "Now that Sidney has been taken care of, what do you want to talk about?"
"It concerns a mutual friend of ours. Nicolah. For the past two weeks, he has been moping around like a cross between a beaten puppy and a crocodile on the hunt. One minute he is very subdued. The next moment he is picking a fight for no reason at all. Have the two of you had a falling out lately, perhaps? He often gets this way when he has ... problemes du coeur ... problems of the heart. I believe you understand what I am saying."
Natalie shook her head and sighed. "I'm glad you understand him. I don't think I'll ever figure out what goes on inside his head."
"Understand him? Ah non aimable! Au contraire! (Oh gracious no! On the contrary!) I have not understood Nicolah in 800 years. And if I live another thousand, I do not think I will ever understand him."
"I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in that. But to get back to your question. Yes. We did have an argument just before the incident with the Caddy. I guess you could say it was a major quarrel. We both said a lot of things that never should have been said. Unfortunately, I couldn't reach him to apologize for my part in the incident. He sent word through his partner that he was sorry for the way he acted. I told Schanke to tell him I was sorry too, and to ask him to forgive me, but apparently he must have had second thoughts about our relationship. Such as it is ... or was. I have only seen him once since then and he was very cold and distant."
"In the excitement of his return, I suspect that his partner may have forgotten to relay the message to him." Janette explained. "Nicolah firmly believes that you do not ever want to see him again. That is why he has stayed away. Please, Natalie. Go to him. Talk to him. Tell him what you have told me."
"I don't know, Janette. It may be too late for that. You know Nick. Once he makes up his mind about something, nothing on, under, or over the earth can change it."
"Yes. I agree. He can be quite un tete d'mulet ... mule headed ... when he wants to be. When he gets like that, he hears only what he wants to hear, and sees only what he wants to see." She thought for a moment. "There is one way you could reach him that he could not ignore. Your blood."
Natalie's expression told her that the Doctor did not understand.
"He has not told you about the blood, I see. A person's whole essence is present in their blood. We can tell the person's history and their thoughts and their emotions when we taste their blood. If he were to drink your blood, then he would know how you feel."
"You mean let him bite me?"
"Nicolah would never agree to that. Especially not in the state he is in now. If you could manage to provide a small sample ... a cup or two would be sufficient ... I shall do the rest. You can call me when you are ready or you can bring it to the Raven."
Natalie headed to the bedroom and a few moments later came back with her medical bag. "We can do it right now, if you want. I have all the necessary equipment here." She took out a collection bag and a transfusion needle. She rolled up her left sleeve and tied a rubber strap around her bicep. Then she swabbed the crook of her arm with a cotton pad soaked in alcohol. Finally, she attached the needle to the bag's tubing and carefully eased it into the vein at her elbow.
Janette winced and turned away. "How can you stand to do that to yourself?"
Natalie laughed as her blood started to flow into the apparatus. "Now I think I've seen everything. A vampire who's squeamish at the sight of blood."
"It is not the sight of the blood that distresses me, Natalie." She grimaced and held her hands about a foot apart. "It is ... the needle."
Natalie lightly taped a gauze pad over the site. "Is that better?"
"Much better." The fear rapidly left from her eyes. "Now concentrate very hard on your feelings for Nicolah. Focus on how you feel about him. Tell him you are sorry for what was said and that you want to make it up to him. That will all be reflected in your blood."
Nicholas was still sitting where she left him when Janette returned to the Raven. "Don't you have someplace to go?" She asked. "Someone to protect and defend?"
"You're too late. Our ... beloved ... master has already tried that spiel on me. It didn't work for him, and it won't work for you." He upended the bottle of bloodscotch in front of him and poured the last trickle into his glass. "I told him and I'm telling you. Leave me alone! Better yet, why don't you do something useful and get me another bottle."
Janette smiled broadly. This was just the opportunity she was looking for. A few minutes later, she returned with a glass of dark red liquid. "This is a special vintage. I think you will like it." She said as she sat the goblet in front of him. She said a mental prayer to whatever deity was listening that he was not too drunk to recognize what was in the glass.
"Janette! I asked for a bottle, not a glass."
"Do not push it away so soon. Try it. I need your input." She pleaded. "And please. Sip it. Slowly."
As soon as he put the glass to his lips, he knew. He had never tasted her, but he KNEW! "NATALIE!" He shouted as he shoved the glass back to her. "This is her blood! What have you done to her! If you've ... "
"Calm down, Mon Frere. She is all right. She willingly agreed to do this. Please. Take another sip. Concentrate on what the blood is telling you. You will understand everything. Si'l vous plais!" She held the glass to him once more.
He took a small sip and held it in his mouth for a few seconds. It was so incredibly sweet! So unbelievably delicate! Apples and Cinnamon. Just as he had always dreamed. He didn't want to swallow it, but eventually, he let it slide down his throat. He put his head in his hands. "Oh no-o. " He moaned. "What have I done? ... She doesn't hate me ... in fact ... She loves me ... She thinks I hate her ... Doesn't she know that I love her more than anything in this world? ... That I would give everything I have to live that night over again? ... She forgives me for what I said and did ... And she's begging me to forgive her ... " He wiped a tear from his cheek. "Do you think the damage can be undone? Am I too late?"
"There's only one way to find out, Mon Cher. Go to her and tell her what you told me." Janette put her arm around his shoulder. "Take some chocolates and perfume. Flowers wouldn't be bad either. Most women can't resist that. For this case, I recommend Godiva chocolates, White Diamonds, and a dozen of anything at the florists."
It had been a more or less routine autopsy. The victim died of a cardiac arrest complicated by chronic Emphysema. The only reason Chester Morgan's body had been brought to the morgue was because he had died in his room at a rundown boarding house, and it had been at least two days before the manager happened to discover his body. One of the other tenants had complained about the loud television playing all night long. Another told him about the foul odor. Otherwise it might have been weeks before he was found. He had no known family, rarely went out, and had never had any visitors. He was only forty five. "I hope I don't go like that." She said to no one in particular. "With no one to know or care." She sighed heavily as she left the cold room and headed down the hall. There is no one who would care. Except maybe Sidney. And he's a cat.
Natalie opened the door to her office and stopped. Every available space was filled with basket and vases of flowers of every description. Dozens of Roses. Carnations. Orchids. Exotic flowers galore. And at least fifteen floral varieties that she couldn't even begin to name.
"I think that blond detective is trying to tell you he's ready to kiss and make up." Grace said as she brought in another florist's box. "They started arriving about two hours ago and haven't stopped since." She handed Natalie a handful of cards. They were all written in a very familiar flowing script. They all had the same message.
There was no signature. There didn't have to be.
She picked up the phone and called the number she had started to dial at least a thousand times in the past two weeks.
He had suggested that she come to the loft after work, since it would be close to sunrise by the time her shift ended. He said they had a lot to talk over and he wanted to be sure that he didn't get caught in the sun any more. Not after the last time.
She should have guessed. When she got home to change clothes, there were more flowers. Everywhere. Of every variety. From the looks of her apartment and her office, she doubted there could be any flowers left in the entire Eastern part of Ontario Province. Or any chocolates, either. Along with the flowers were boxes and boxes of chocolates. Anthony Thomas. Harry London. Godiva. Purdy's. Ferrero Rocher. Louis's Belgian. And many more. If she ate all of those, she would definitely be as big as a battleship in no time flat. She made a mental note to deliver them to the battered women's shelter first thing tomorrow. She went to the bedroom, and sure enough, there, lined up on her dresser were more bottles of perfume than she could count. White Diamonds. Gucci. Cartier. Guinness. Quelques Flores. Chanel. Valentino. None of them under a hundred dollars an ounce. She could easily open up her own parfum shoppe. He always did have a tendency to go overboard. She thought as she headed for the shower.
The lift stopped and before she could do anything, the door opened. Nick was standing on the other side, dressed in a black Armani suit and a pale blue silk shirt that complemented his eyes perfectly. She felt somehow undressed in her simple sweater and slacks.
He bowed low as she exited the elevator. The loft was decorated in even more flowers than her apartment, if that were possible. Hundreds of candles gave an ambiance that made it seem to be straight out of a Harlequin novel. He took her arm and led her to the table, which was set with fine linen and genuine silverware. On the table were numerous plates covered with steel warming lids. The aroma coming from them was absolutely exotic.
"I ... I ... " She stammered. "How did you ... ?"
"I ordered from L'Azure." He said. "I hope you don't mind."
"But L'Azure doesn't do take out. You didn't ... You know ...ah ... " She wiggled her fingers in front of her eyes.
"Whammy them? No. And you're right. They don't usually deliver. But if you cross the proper palms with enough silver ... " He smiled mischievously. "I hope I got the right foods. I didn't know what you wanted, so I ordered all of the things that I've seen you eat before." He removed the covers and the table looked like a smorgasbord of every gourmet food she had ever eaten ... or ever wanted to eat.
"I don't know what to say." She said as she spooned a sample of everything onto her plate "Flowers. Candy. Perfume. Food. I've never been this pampered in my life. You are spoiling me rotten."
"You deserve to be pampered. I just wanted to put you in the proper mood. I ... ah ... " He ran his hands through his hair and then smoothed it down again. "I know I've been a Class A, one hundred percent, all wool, textbook jerk the past few weeks, and I wanted to make it up to you. I ... ah ... I'm so very sorry for the things I said the night before the Caddy incident. I should have known that you knew that they were said in the heat of argument and weren't the way I truly feel. I ... ah ... "
"I see that whatever Janette had in mind must have worked." She interrupted. "I understood that you didn't mean the things you said almost as soon as you stormed out of the office. We both said some pretty awful things. It was as much my fault as yours. I tried to tell Schanke to tell you I was sorry and that I forgave you for your part in it, but apparently he forgot."
"Don't blame him. There was so much to do after I got back, it probably just slipped his mind."
"I don't hold him responsible. It was just one of those things that got out of hand." She smiled at him and his smile to her made time stand still. She was the one to finally break the mood. "Now, will you quit babbling and let me finish my meal before it gets cold." She jokingly reproached him.
"I must congratulate you, Janette. " Lucien LaCroix smiled coldly. "Your little scheme has worked perfectly. The vibrations I am getting from Nicholas are definitely more positive than they have been in the past few weeks." He held his glass to her.
"I feel them too. He is definitely more at peace." She touched the rim of her goblet to his. "And I am not through yet. "Before I am done, those vibes will be positively singing with happiness."
"And what do you have in mind?"
"Let's just say it is something good."
"Not too good, I hope. While I am willing to tolerate these changes, I do not intend to let this infatuation with the good Doctor go much farther. I do not like the messages I am getting from him concerning her. Perhaps it is time to call in our little agreement concerning his sister."
"You are not thinking of doing anything rash, are you? Remember. He has felt these kinds of feelings for many women over the centuries."
"And I have managed to crush every one of them. And I will continue to do so at every opportunity." His eyes became hard and his face chiseled in pain ... not from the body, but from the soul. "He will remember that day for the rest of eternity. As I do. I will see to that."
Janette shivered at the sound of her master's words. And from the vibrations she was receiving from him. "Be patient, Mon Pere (Father). I am sure these feelings will pass. After all, she is only mortal. We are eternal."
They had spent the day talking. About everything. And nothing. Their feelings for each other. The past. The present. The future. Humphery Bogart. Bart Simpson. Jeannie versus Samantha versus Uncle Martin.
Now, it was time to decide what the next move would be. Time for them both to decide.
"Before we make that kind of a decision, there's a few things that have to be done." Nat said as she got up from the couch. They had spent the last hour sitting there with the shutters partially opened. Watching the sunset. Safely out of the path of any stray sunbeams.
"What kind of things?"
"Sidney, for one. He's been alone all day and if I don't get home and feed him soon, I will find my new drapes shredded as well as the couch. I shudder to think what I'll find on the bedspread. Also, I have to be at work in three hours."
"Then perhaps you'd better go." He took her hand. "I'll walk you to your car. Just do me a favor. Promise me you'll come back here when you're shift is done. We still have a lot of talking to do."
"Wild horses couldn't keep me away."
The lift ground to a halt at the garage level. Nick stepped out. And froze in his tracks. It can't be! The Caddy! It was gone! He ran to the door and flung it open with one motion. And froze again.
There in the courtyard was an ornately gilded carriage, drawn by four magnificent matched Percherons. The driver was in full nineteenth century military livery. It looked like something straight out of Cinderella.
What the ...?" Nick asked, bewildered.
"Are you Nicholas Knight?" The driver asked.
The driver handed Nick an envelope. "I was told to give you this. It will explain everything."
Nick immediately recognized the handwriting.
Do not fret. Mon Coeur. I have your Cadillac, as well as Natalie's auto. They will be returned before morning. If my plan worked, and from the vibrations I have been receiving all day it has, you two will find this to be a much more enjoyable means of transportation. There are reservations at the Relais Elegance in your name if you choose to use them.
I have also taken the liberty of calling Natalie's supervisor and requesting the night off for her. He was more than happy to oblige. I have also dispatched someone to care for Sidney.)
Nick took Natalie's hand. "Since this seems to be the only means of transportation available ... " He bowed low to her. " ... Shall we?" He opened the door.
Natalie curtsied. "By all means, Milord." She said as she stepped into the coach.
The evening had been spent enjoying the night. After dinner at Relais Elegance, (Dinner and gratuity already prepaid.) they had taken a long drive along the lakefront and through some of the more sparsely populated areas of York County. Then he had instructed the driver to take them to the woods about an hour's drive to the north of the city. He directed him to a particularly isolated hill that was one of his favorite places of solitude. He and Natalie had just sat cuddled together beneath a huge oak and watched the stars for hours. No words were spoken. No words needed to be.
The sky was just beginning to lighten when the carriage pulled into the courtyard. True to Janette's word, both Natalie's Taurus and the Caddie was sitting at the entrance to the garage. And it was now teal green once more. A note was pasted to the windshield. It too was in Janette's elegant handwriting.
I hope you do not mind that I had your auto repainted. I know how much you like this color, although I have no clue why. Consider it a welcome home present.
He watched from the window as Natalie pulled away. He had wanted Natalie to stay. He wanted her to stay ... Bad. But he knew that now was not the time for that. Perhaps soon …
He noticed that the tiny light mounted near his desk was flashing. That meant that there was a message on a phone that was reserved for only the most important of calls.
As Monsieur De Brabant, he was the head of the De Brabant Foundation, one of the world's largest philanthropic organizations. Everyone there believed he was a reclusive hermit. No one at the Foundation had ever seen him, and he only communicated with the top level executives over this private secure unlisted line. Only three or four people knew this number, and they were sworn to secrecy. In that manner, he was able to head the organization for the last fifty years without arousing any unnecessary questions. As far as anyone knew, the present day Monsieur De Brabant was the grandson of the founder. It also sheltered his identity as Nick Knight, Metro police.
He dialed the number on the caller ID from his near perfect memory.
"Monsieur De Brabant." The voice of Allene Montforte, who ran the De Brabant foundation in his absence, answered. "I have some exciting news. The Foundation was contacted by Interpol agents early last evening. It seem that one of the pieces recovered from an international theft ring has been traced to the thirteenth century. It appears that it came from a Province in what was then France, called Brabant. They wanted to know if we might have any information on it. I told them I would contact you. After all, it is too much of a coincidence. I will send all the information that they gave me to you as soon as this call is over. Is that all right?"
"Of course it is all right. I will check it out and get back to you. Thank you for calling." M. De Brabant hung up.
Nick could hardly contain his excitement as he watched the papers coming out of the fax machine. Something from home. My home. My time.
He stared at the last sheet. It was a picture of an ornately filigreed gold woman's ring. It was set with a diamond that by today's standards would be about a carat and a half. Around that were three stones. Two sapphires and a ruby. They were each about a half carat.
Indeed! He did know the piece. It was a mother's ring. To be more precise, it was his mother's ring. The center stone represented his parents, Girard and Catherine. The two sapphires were for his brother Jacques and himself. Jacques had died in infancy. He was two years younger than Nicholas. The ruby was Fleur. His mother had worn it every day of her life. When she died, it had gone to Fleur, but he had lost track of it after that.
He redialed the number.
"Tell the Interpol agents that I am sending someone to claim the ring for me." He told Allene. "His name is Nicholas Knight and he will be in Paris the evening after tomorrow."
"That smarmy little ... " Nat fumed. "He better have a good excuse for standing me up." She had waited for over two hours. They were supposed to have a date of sorts to see the opening of the latest Gary Bennett play but he never showed. Come to think of it, he hasn't been around for the last three days. Maybe he's gotten himself trapped in the trunk again and shipped off overseas ... NAH!
She turned and nearly ran into the vampire in question. "Where ... where have you been?"
"Germany." Nick replied.
" You didn't ... You weren't ... "
"Kidnapped? Oh, no. This was some De Brabant Foundation business." He took the antique maroon velvet box out of his pocket and opened it, revealing the ring.
"Oh Nick! It's exquisite!"
"It was among the things Interpol recovered from Baron Klemoer's cache. It belonged to my mother. She always said it should go to the woman I love. That's you. I do love you, Natalie. With all my heart. And someday, when I'm able, I'll show you just how deep that love is. In the meantime, take this as the outward symbol of that love."
"But I can't ... "
"Yes you can. I want you to have it. As a token of our newfound relationship." He kissed her tenderly as he slipped it on her finger. "Happy Valentine's day, Natalie."
You must be joking!
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