Forever Knight

Revelations

Nicholas B. Knight looked in disbelief and shock at the two men standing before him in his loft. There was no denying who they were. The expressionless faces. The uniform severe all black suits. The extremely pallid features. There was only one thing they could possibly be. Enforcers. Even thinking the word sent chills through the vampire detective's body.

But why are they here? Nick wracked his brain. As far as he could determine, he had not done anything that would warrant a visit from the Enforcers. At least not in this decade.

NATALIE?

Were they after Dr. Natalie Lambert, the beautiful female Coroner? And by association, him? After all, it was because of him that she knew of the existence of vampires in the first place. If he hadn't 'resurrected' on her examining table after the incident with the pipe bomb ... If he hadn't continued to see her ... If they hadn't been working to find a 'cure' ... If he hadn't fallen in love with her ... If … If … If … She wouldn't be so vulnerable. He knew in his heart that nothing could ever come of their relationship, though. At least not while he was still a vampire. He knew that if he even attempted to consummate his love for her, he would undoubtedly kill her. Anything more than an innocent peck on the cheek risked bringing out the vampire. So they remained friends ... just friends. Except that his supposedly dead heart broke every time he even thought of her ... and he thought of her constantly.

Also, Natalie had voluntarily performed many exceptional services for the Community. Although she knew their secret, she had never showed any signs that she would reveal what she knew. And she had more than enough opportunities to 'blow the whistle' so to speak. In fact, she had done exactly the opposite on many occasions. She had covered for a number of sloppy kills in her autopsies. She also had 'invented ' medical explanations to account for his aversion to food and sunlight.

She had also worked tirelessly to find a cure for the fatal virus that had spread through the Community several years ago, and with LaCroix's help, had found it and produced enough vaccine to inoculate everyone. While many had died from the fever, she had managed to save the majority of them.

Although vampires were immune to most diseases and most accidents, they occasionally needed the assistance of the 'Doctor To The Undead' to remove pesky bullets and stakes, treat burns from being caught in the sun, or to flush garlic or holy water from their systems. No, they couldn't be after her.

SCHANKE?

His partner was in the clear. He was positive of that. Even if Donald Schanke knew Nick's secret, he had never said the first word to anyone, including his partner. Nick felt certain he knew, though. After a shooting incident where he accidentally saw Nick flying, Nick had tried to hypnotize him into forgetting what he had seen, but it didn't work too well. Janette had tried also, and with the same results. Apparently his partner was somewhat of a resistor. Don had spent the day researching everything he knew about his partner in minute detail. Eventually he had reached the inescapable conclusion. Nick Knight, his partner, was a vampire.

Thankfully, Schanke had gone to LaCroix for corroboration of his findings. The master vampire had managed to convince the detective that his suspicions were the result of sleep deprivation, coupled with too much caffeine, an overabundance of adrenaline, and an overactive imagination.

Still, Schanke had treated him differently after that. He refrained from eating his favorite food ... garlic laced souvlaki ... in front of him. He had stopped teasing him about his 'sun allergy', his 'weirdo habits', and his 'macrobiotic liquid diet'. He no longer complained about his partner's 'arriving late and leaving early' during the summer months.

He had even volunteered to take his place to extradite a prisoner to Vancouver because the plane would arrive in the daytime. Because of a multiple car accident on the freeway to the airport, he missed the plane and their Captain, Amanda Cohen, took his place. To everyone's shock and dismay, a deranged bomber blew up the plane and Captain Cohen was killed. Both Nick and Schanke felt her loss exceedingly.

TRACY?

When Joe Reese took over as Captain of the 96th precinct, he had tried an experimental program. Three man teams. Nick and Schanke were the first test subjects (or was that victims?) His newest partner was Tracy Vetter, the Commissioner's daughter. She knew about vampires. There was no question about that. She had seen Javier Vachon at the airplane crash site when the Spanish vampire 'returned to life' in front of her. Through him, she had met Amaru the Inca, who was Vachon's vampire twin, and Screed, a Cockney Carouche who was a buddy of Vachon's. She was even in a sort of a 'relationship' with the sixteenth century Conquistador. Nick knew they cared for each other in a more-than-friends manner, but he was almost positive it had not gone any further than that. If Vachon ever tried anything, Nick would kill the Hispanic musician himself, staking him with his own guitar, and Vachon knew that.

She knew about Nick, too. Several months ago, she had been wounded when an escaped felon barricaded himself in the precinct locker room. Nick almost had him talked into surrendering when the escapee spotted the blonde detective positioned as his backup by the doorway and opened fire. Nick vamped out at the sound of the shots, and Tracy saw him. Her last words before she lost consciousness were "You could have trusted me."

She and Nick had quite a few very long private conversations about his 'secret' while she was recovering, and she agreed to keep the knowledge to herself. After all, as she told him, she already knew about Vachon and the others, and one more vampire in her life should not make that much of a difference. And it apparently hadn't. She treated him much the same as she had always done. Still, he did not know how much more of her 'perky' attitude he could take before he was driven to the point of draining her. It had been a lot easier to put up with her when she did not know about him. Or maybe he was just too caught up in keeping his secret to notice her ultra sunny disposition.

She too could have revealed what she knew on many occasions, but like Natalie, she had kept the secret.

STONETREE?

His former Captain at the 27th precinct, Joe Stonetree, was the only other mortal that might have suspected the existence of vampires. He certainly knew that there was something about Detective Nicholas B. Knight that was definitely out of the ordinary. But it had been over five years since Nick had been in daily contact with the Native American policeman. If the Enforcers were going to do anything about him, they would have done it long ago.

Then why were they here?

"Nicholas de Brabant." One of them said in a flat monotone. "Come with us."

It must be very serious. Enforcers never spoke unless it was.

They took flight as soon as they left the loft. Their course was so twisting and so fast that Nick had a hard time keeping up with them, let alone attempting to memorize their route, even with his near perfect vampire memory. The fact that it was a heavily clouded night had made reckoning by the stars impossible. All he knew for sure was that they had flown for several hours, and had doubled back and changed course numerous times.

They were no longer in the Toronto area, of that he was positive. But whether they were north, east, south or west of the sprawling city, he couldn't readily tell. He wasn't even completely positive they were still in the Province of Ontario, or even in Canada for that matter. For all he knew, they weren't even in North America.

Council Chambers

At last they touched down. To call the structure before him a mansion was like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. The Palace at Versailles was not this magnificent. The house was five stories high, not counting the attic towers. And as far as Nick could tell, it was roughly H shaped, with the wings on either side of the palatial structure. It was constructed of granite and Italian marble and must have covered almost two acres by itself. The two led him across an imposing veranda to a massive door, which was opened as they approached. Apparently, they were expected.

The door opened into a grandiose hallway, at least two stories high, paneled with what could only be real walnut. "In there." One of them said, pointing to an ornate carved mahogany door. "And don't leave."

Nicholas did as he was told. He stepped inside the room. It appeared to be an anteroom of some sort. It was large, easily 20' by 20',with light beige walls above dark oak wainscoting. On the walls was an intricate scrollwork in gold. It was sparsely furnished, with only about a dozen upholstered chairs that matched the wallpaper, and a small oak table. The table held several bottles of what Nick could sense was an excellent vintage, and numerous glasses. On the side opposite him was another ornate door, the twin of the one he had just come through.

There were already a number of vampires in the room. Some of them he recognized. There was Ben Harstein from the Columbus Community and Emil Montcorde of Montreal. Vittorio and Vincente Montini, who were twins both as mortals and as vampires, from New York were present as well. As were Thomas Paterzak from Pittsburgh and Lenny Herbert, the Elder of the Chicago region. The others, he did not know by sight, but it was almost a given that they, too were Community Elders. Before he could even get his bearings, a pair of hands wrapped around his throat and he was lifted into the air and slammed against a wall.

"What have you done this time, Nicholas?" The vampire snarled. There was only one person that the voice could belong to ... Lucien LaCroix. "How could you manage to enrage the High Council so badly that they have to bring in the Elders from every Community in Eastern Canada and Northeastern United States to hear the case?"

"I strongly suggest you put him down." A man said from the far doorway. It was uncertain whether he was an Enforcer or merely a messenger. "He is innocent of any wrongdoing. This is not a disciplinary conclave."

"Then why were we brought here?" LaCroix demanded. He lowered the Crusader back to the floor and released him.

Nicholas massaged his neck. If he were mortal, the bruises he had received from LaCroix's manhandling would have lasted for several weeks. As it was, he could barely swallow, and talking, at least for the time being, was out of the question.

"All in due time, Lucius Pletano." The man said.

"At least tell us how much longer we're going to have to wait." Ben Harstein asked. "Some of us have been here since before dawn this morning. And I've got midterms at OSU to study for. And a paper due the day after tomorrow that I haven't even started."

"What are you studying this time?" One of the other vampires, Dan Chalmers of Boston, asked the young man. "And how many degrees will this make?"

Although he looked to be about twenty years old, in truth Ben Harstein, born Avrum Ben Harsen, had been in the throng at the Sermon on the Mount only a few months before he was brought across. He still considered himself a devout Jew.

"Comparative Middle Eastern Philosophies." Harstein replied. "And I lost count of my doctorates after the first hundred and fifty or so." He added with a self satisfied smirk.

"To answer your question, Avrum Ben Harsen, there are a few more people that have to be here before this can begin." The vampire at the door said. He was distracted as someone behind the door whispered something in his ear. "Apparently they have decided not to wait." He opened the door wide. "Follow me."

The room was huge, especially when compared with the room they had just left. It was more the size of a banquet hall or a ballroom. Its walls were papered in an exquisite red and gold flocked velvet paper and the wainscoting was of highly polished cherry wood. The floor was wide tongue-in-groove oak, covered with several obviously expensive and undoubtedly antique Persian rugs. It reminded Nick of a richly furnished meeting room in an exclusive country club. At one end of the room was an ornately carved mahogany table with five large, equally ornate carved chairs along one side of it. They were upholstered in a red and gold velvet fabric that matched the wallpaper. A cloth of the same design was on the table and draped over the sides. In front of the table, set back approximately three feet from it, were three rows of only slightly smaller versions of the chairs at the table.

The messenger directed the vampires to take their places in these chairs. Naturally, Lucien LaCroix commandeered the front row center seat and motioned Nicholas to sit beside him.

After what seemed like hours, but in truth was not more than ten minutes later, a door behind the table, expertly camouflaged to blend in with the wall, opened and five extraordinarily powerful vampires, three men and two women, entered the room. They solemnly took their places at the table.

Nicholas recognized them immediately. These were the fabled members of the High Council. They were the ones who administered the Code and directed the Enforcers in their execution of it. They were also responsible in one way or another in almost every phase of vampire existence. Although he had never met any of them until now, he had heard stories about these distinguished beings for centuries.

Lady Zera, the Presider of the Council. She was probably a First One. Although she looked to be in her middle fifties, she was older than even she could calculate. According to her, alphabets and numbers hadn't even been invented at the time of her birth.

Amahl T'Mutu, a swarthy African vampire, an Ancient. He readily admitted that as a young vampire, he had been in the service of the Pharaoh Menes II in about 3150 BCE. He claimed, with no disagreement, that his sire had been one of the grandsons of Cain.

Etrian. Also an Ancient. At least 5,000 years old. According to legend, he was the vampire brother of Qa'Rah, and their sire was also a First One. It was widely believed that at one point, he had traveled with Moses in the Sinai for several years.

Chek Kai Chang was born in the second year of the emperor Xia, roughly about 1876 BCE, when China was still in its formative stage. The country consisted of only a handful of small villages, and Peking, recently renamed Beijing, had more chickens than people. He was acknowledged as the 'father' of the Chinese vampire Communities. Most Oriental vampires claimed to be descended from him. Who his sire was, even he did not remember.

Adrienne Walking-With-Moon identified herself as an Arapaho Sioux Indian in this existence. Her true tribal nationality, if indeed she ever had one, was lost in legend. She was the youngest member of the group. She claimed to be only a little over 2800 years old.

Everyone's attention was suddenly focused on the anteroom, where the sounds of screaming and screeching echoed through the chamber. The door opened and two burly Enforcers came in practically dragging another vampire between them. They stopped in front of the Council and pulled the miscreant to his feet.

"I didn't do nuffin'! I swears it! Honest I didn't!" Screed bellowed as he tried vainly to pull himself from the steel grip of the Enforcers. "I'm innercent, I tells ya'! Tell these two gorrillys to lets me go! You tell 'em Derfective Knight! Tell 'em I'm innercent as a newborn babe, I am. It was a territorial dispute, it was. 'Ow was I to know that it was 'er Ladyship's kittypuss?"

"Territorial dispute?" Lady Zera asked. "What sort of a dispute? And just where is Memakata?"

"You means that little alter-i-cation I 'ad wif' the feline kittycat ain't why I was rousted out of me comfy diggin's by these two 'ooligans, an' was bodily dragged in 'ere?"

"It wasn't initially." She nodded imperceptibly toward the two Enforcers, who released the unwilling Carouche, "However, since you are here, what happened? And ...Where ... IS ... My ... Cat?" Lady Zera's eyes turned a deep red as she glared at the Carouche.

"She ain't 'urt none. I swears. 'Cept'n maybes she's scared clean out of 'er fur. The last I saw of 'er she was 'eadin' up north on Yonge towards Aurora. She was makin' tracks like there wasn't no tomorrow, too. I'll give you she won't be botherin' tryin' to 'unt in them sewers no more neither."

"Memakata does NOT hunt in the sewers." Lady Zera said indignantly.

"Not no more she don't." Screed said with a small self satisfied smile.

"Thaddeus, what did you do to her?"

"I didn't do nuthin' to 'er, Yer Ladyship. I swears! 'Cept maybe to show 'er who's gots the biggest fangs in these 'ere parts."

"Thaddeus … ?" Ben Harstein said. "Is that your real name?"

"J. Thaddeus Screed. At yer service." Screed made a sweeping bow to the assembled vampires. " 'Course I ain't used that moniker since I was in knickers. Somehows, that name didn't 'xactly fit wif' the imagine of a upstandin' seagoin' bloke like meself. It was me mum's idear, it was. St. Jude Thaddeus is the saint of 'opeless causes and despeyraite sitcheations. I guess she thought I was about as 'opeless and despeyraite as they comes, so she named me Jude Thaddeus." He gave the group a threatening look that didn't quite come off. "But if'n any of youse blokes in 'ere even thinks about callin' me by that, I swears I'll stakes ya where ya stands." He turned to Lady Zera and took her hand. He brought it to his lips and bowed low. "You, 'owever, me Ladyship, can calls me anythin' you wants ter."

"Then why is that ... Carouche ... here in the first place if it isn't to discipline him?" A vampire, who identified himself as Logan Peterson of Detroit, asked angrily as he stood up.

"What is to be discussed affects all vampires, Carouches included." Amahl replied. "And since Screed is the Elder of the Carouche Community, he is here to represent them."

"Me? An Elder?" Screed beamed. "I'm an Elder! 'Ow about that! Screed The Elder! Sounds right nice, it does!" He hooked his hands around his greasy jacket lapels and waggled his bald head.

"You may be the oldest Carouche around, but you're still a Carouche. And don't you ever forget that." Logan snarled at the Cockney. "Pah! Vermin drinkers. Disgusting!" He spat. "They all should be staked."

That drew a withering look from Chek Kai Chang. Logan lowered his head in a symbolic position of submission and resumed his seat.

"Now, if you will take your seat, Thaddeus, we shall start." Lady Zera said.

Screed positioned himself in the back row, at least three empty seats from the nearest vampire.

"Now that we are all here." Lady Zera continued. "I will outline briefly what has prompted this meeting.

As all of you know, it has become increasingly difficult to keep the existence of the Community a secret from the mortal world. What with Cellular networking, Telecommunications, the Internet, DNA testing and global tracking, information can be shared worldwide in a matter of nanoseconds. It has become almost impossible for us to move freely among the mortal population without detection.

Just last month, there were fifteen separate occasions where one or more vampires narrowly avoided being exposed by the mortal population. It was only through intense intervention from within the Community that their presence was not made public. The month before that, there were ten. Before that, eleven. The month before that ... " She sighed heavily and clasped the bridge of her nose. "I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

Although it doesn't seem like a lot, given the population of the Communities, it would only take one incident with empirical evidence and we would be in the proverbial global hot seat. If that happens ... and it will happen sooner or later ... the reaction from the mortal population could be extremely negative."

"We've heard all these things before." Logan Peterson interrupted. "The printing press. Newspapers. Photography. Fingerprints. Telegraph. Telephone. TV. They were all supposed to spell our doom. We're still here, aren't we?"

"Yes we are." Adrienne Walking-With-Moon answered. "But as Lady Zera said, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep our existence a secret."

"Then why ... "

"Be quiet and let Lady Zera continue." Chek Kai Chang admonished. The Detroit vampire sat down.

"Thank you, Chek." Lady Zera nodded to the Oriental. "As I started to say, we may be able to turn this around to our benefit."

"How ... " Another glare, this time from both Etrian and Walking-With-Moon stopped any further questions from Peterson.

"I am getting to that. The Council has given this matter considerable thought. We are proposing this to all the Elders from every region. Nothing will be decided at this time. It is merely for your enlightenment. When you have been given time to consider what we have said, we will come back for your decision." She paused for a few seconds. "What we are proposing is that vampires reveal themselves to the mortal world."

"GO PUBLIC? ARE YOU INSANE?" Peterson shouted, again on his feet. "In the past, when mortals found out about us, they hunted us down like rabid animals, and now you're telling us to paint bullseyes on our backs!"

"LOGAN GRAINER!" Lady Zera said forcefully. "Will you PLEASE be quiet and let me finish. If there is one more outburst from you, I will have you restrained. By force if necessary." She nodded toward two huge Enforcers who moved to a position behind Peterson's chair.

This outbreak also brought a very annoyed glare from Lucien LaCroix as well. Although he was not on the Council, the Toronto vampire was in a position to command respect and even fear from the other vampires. After all, he had been a General under Nero in his mortal life, and had served under numerous Emperors, Kings, and Dictators as a vampire. He still had that imposing air that military top brass in every place and every time always carried. "Yes, Mr. Peterson." He said, his calmness belying the not-so-subtle waves of anger emanating from him. "Do sit down. There are some of us who would like to hear what Lady Zera has to say before making any judgments." He smiled at the Michigander. Peterson got the distinct impression of a crocodile sizing up its dinner.

"Lucius is correct. At least hear me out before you reach a conclusion." Lady Zera said flatly. While she appreciated the Roman's efforts, she could not acknowledge them publicly. That would only undermine the position of the Council. Privately, however, was a completely different matter. "As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, The Council proposes that we go public. Of course, this will be handled in the most positive way possible. Amahl will explain further." She sat down.

"This is where you and the Elders of the other Communities come in." The African continued. "We will be meeting with representatives of the various Communities to work out a plan of action so that when we do reveal ourselves, the mortal public will be in a position to receive us favorably. As equals ... "

"Equals? But we are ... " Peterson felt LaCroix's glare even though he could not see the master vampire. He let the protest die in his throat.

"Yes, equals." Etrian countered. "It has been done with other groups, and there is no reason why it cannot be done with our group as well."

Chek Kai Chang took up the narrative. "Two hundred years ago, Orientals were looked upon by many westerners as little more than a lesser subspecies. Now we are respected and even admired as their equal counterparts. Rarely is there any overt discrimination or prejudice. The same is essentially true of Blacks. As late as the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they were subjugated as slaves to the white man." T'Mutu nodded sadly, remembering countless unpleasant incidents. "Even Native Americans were seen as uncivilized savages." He looked at Walking-With-Moon, who nodded agreement. "In the course of history, nearly every ethnic group has been subject to prejudice at one time or another.

In addition, Gays and Lesbians are starting to be accepted into the mortal community. There is no reason why we cannot be received as well. If we plan it carefully and prepare the mortals to accept the existence of vampires, then we should be able to .... I believe that the current expression, is ... come out of the closet ... is it not?"

"And just how would we prepare the mortal community to accept us?" Lenny Herbert asked. "I mean we can't just go waltzing in and say 'Ta Da. Here I am. I'm a vampire.' now can we?"

"As yet we have no concrete plan of action. That would be what we will be discussing at later meetings." Adrienne Walking-With-Moon smiled. He hears but he does not listen.

"We have several more regions to talk to before we do anything." Chek said. "When we are done, we will be contacting you and arranging another meeting to hear your input." He appeared to be staring directly at Peterson.

"I understand why the Elders were brought here." Nick said, somewhat timidly. "But why was I included in this meeting?"

Lady Zera smiled softly. When she was like this, she looked more like someone's doting grandmother and not the immortal leader of the world's vampires. "You, Nicholas are the key to all of this. You have lived among the mortals and have been intimately involved with them longer and more frequently than anyone else ..." There was a twinkle in her eyes at the last part of that statement. " ... You can provide us with ever so much insight."

Does she know about my feelings for Natalie? He wondered.

Yes, Nicholas, I do know. Her voice sounded in his head.

"I will do what I can." He replied, bowing before her and the others.

"Excellent, de Brabant. We look forward to your help. We will be in touch with all of you in the near future. Until then, you are free to go." Lady Zera said. With that, the council members stood and exited through the same hidden doorway that they had entered.

"I don't like this one bit." Logan protested as the group waited in the anteroom for the Enforcers who brought them here to come and return them to their respective Communities.

They had all been brought to the meeting in much the same roundabout way that Nick had been. While it galled them to realize that they had to be guided back to their homes, privately all of them admitted that they would not be able to find their way back without some kind of help.

"I know you don't." Emil Montcorde replied. "You made that quite clear in the meeting."

"Yes, Logan." Thomas Paterzak added. "Couldn't you at least have waited until you heard what the Council was proposing?"

"Well, I've heard what they want, and I'm still against it." Logan answered. "So what is the difference?"

"Either you're incredibly stupid, or you have a deep seated death wish." Vincente Montini said. "Confronting her like that."

"The difference is you could have ended up as some Enforcer's between meal snack." Vittorio Montini added to his brother's statement. "Or maybe even Lady Zera's."

"I don't believe this! Look at you!" Logan said. "You're supposed to be the leaders of the Communities in this area. But when Zera and her flunkies snap their fingers, you all follow along like bleating sheep."

Logan Peterson suddenly found himself dangling off the ground. And with a certain Roman General's hand roughly clutching his throat. "That's LADY Zera to you, whelp. And never forget that." Lucien LaCroix hissed. "And as far as following their directives like sheep, those five beings have accumulated more experience and more knowledge separately and collectively than all the rest of the Vampire Communities combined. You don't think they have lived as long as they have without learning a few things, do you?"

Logan could only nod numbly. "But I don't agree with ... " He wheezed, his voice at least half an octave higher than it should have been.

"No one said you had to agree with them." LaCroix continued. "But out of respect for them ... and their office, you WILL keep your opinions to yourself. There will be plenty of opportunities to express your concerns, but in that room was not one of those opportunities. I suggest you use a little more restraint in the future. That is, if you intend to see your next Conversion Day. Is that clear?"

Again, Logan nodded.

"Good." LaCroix set him down, not too gently. "I see your 'escorts' are here. Have a pleasant trip back to Detroit." Lucien LaCroix patted the headstrong vampire several times on the cheek, a gesture reminiscent of something from 'The Godfather'.

Toronto

"I don't think the Council understands what they are getting into." Nicholas said to his master after the Enforcers had dropped them ... literally ... at the Raven. "I'm afraid I have to agree with Logan on that point. This plan would be like mass suicide."

"Nicholas!" LaCroix said, just a hint of surprise in his voice. "I thought you, of all people would be rushing to embrace Lady Zera's offer. After all, aren't you the one who wants to be mortal again? Foolish as that quest may be."

"LaCroix. I cannot continue being a vampire any longer. That does not mean that I am foolish. Before you even say it. Yes, there is a cure. And I am going to find it. Despite anything you can say or do."

"But you said you would help the Council in their quest. How can you justify that?"

"The question is not whether I will help or not. The question is whether it is right for the Community to reveal themselves to the mortal world at this time or not. Personally, I don't think so."

"Yet, you have come within a hairs breadth of revealing yourself on a number of occasions. The Doctor. Your partner. To name a few."

"But they are only two individuals out of billions. And they both have sworn to keep the secret as well. It just isn't the right time to reveal ourselves to the world in general."

"And do you think there is such a thing as a right time?" LaCroix said, placing two glasses on the bar. He took two bottles and filled a glass from each of them. "Don't worry, Nicholas. It's cow." He said as he sat one of them before his son. "I wouldn't dream of giving you anything else." His words dripped sarcasm. "Although I don't know how ... "

"You don't have to say it. ... You don't know how I can drink this ... swill." He put the glass to his lips and swallowed. "Excellent vintage." He forced a smile as he drank the bland, lifeless liquid. He was not about to let the master vampire know just how awful it actually tasted. "Peaceful and serene." Just like I wish my life could be.

"Now comes the difficult part." LaCroix said. "Telling the rest of the Community what the Council proposes. And getting them to cooperate."

"I know that won't be easy. But I also know you. You'll find a way."

"Thank you so much for your vote of confidence." LaCroix held his glass as in a toast. It was difficult for Nick to determine whether his master was being sarcastic or not.

"So." Don Schanke said as the blond detective slipped into his desk. "Where were you yesterday? Reese is having kittens with wire tails. "What with whatever virus is going around, and Tracy still on light duty, we were five people short and the Dogs and the Turfmasters chose last night to pull a testosterone demonstrating contest. Ended up with four of them dead, six more shot up bad enough to be hospitalized, and two innocent bystanders killed as well. That's over and above the usual mayhem we see every night. Right now, the holding cells are filled to overflowing."

Just then the office door opened and Joe Reese's ample frame filled it. "KNIGHT!" He bellowed loud enough to rattle the windows. "IN HERE! NOW!"

"Sorry, Captain." Nick said as he took the chair that Reese pointed to. "I know I should have called in, but there was this family matter ... " How else can I explain the High Council? After all, they are my 'family' ... sort of ... "It couldn't wait." Not with the Enforcers 'accompanying' me.

"Damn straight you should have called in!" Reese said, just below a yell. "You left me in an industrial strength lurch. I heard Schanke telling you about the gang shootout, but on top of that, the Provincial Inspection Team paid a surprise visit. To see the two of you! Something about a Royal Commendation for you and Schanke for your part in cracking that international theft ring last year. To be presented by His Highness himself, no less. I had to resort to some pretty creative perjury to try to explain why my prized detective was AWOL."

"I'm sorry, Cap. I won't let it happen again."

"You got that right you won't! As of now, you are on indefinite probation. One more harebrained stunt like that, and I guarantee you'll be busted down to meter patrol. You got that straight, DETECTIVE Knight!"

"Yes sir." Nick said sheepishly.

"Good. Now get out of here before I change my mind and go ahead and bust you down anyway."

"Yes sir."

Detroit

Logan Peterson sat in the overstuffed easy chair at his mansion on the outskirts of the Motor City. As the Elder, he maintained a virtual stranglehold on the Community. No one even thought about defying him. At least not if they knew what was good for them. He wasn't the oldest vampire there, but he was unquestionably the most powerful. He had worked his way to the top the old fashioned way. Lies, deceit, terror tactics, and the occasional elimination of those in his way. Al Capone, one of his idols, would have been proud of him.

Although Detroit itself had cleaned up its act considerably in the last half century, Old Detroit, his 'territory', was still much the same as it was in the days of Prohibition. It had one of the highest crime rates of any neighborhood in the Great Lakes region. That didn't exactly bother him. In fact, it made his life that much easier. The locale was the residence, such as it was, of many of the city's homeless. In addition, drug dealers, petty criminals, pimps and other low lifes also made this area their headquarters. Of course, he saw to it that he received a generous cut from their take to cover his expenses and to keep the authorities from getting too close. Most of the vampires congregated here as well. It was the perfect sanctuary. There was little chance of discovery, and there was a ready supply of food available. It was still relatively easy to hide kills in plain sight, too. If done carefully, with the right 'persuasions', either with money or hypnosis, the victims would quickly be relegated to the unsolved files with little or no problems.

He also had a sort of reciprocal back scratching agreement with the local crime family. He supplied them with 'muscle' and 'expertise' on occasion, and they agreed not to move in on his territory.

The problem was from within. From what the Council had said earlier, there was a good chance the 'easy life' was about to come to an end.

He was engrossed in his thoughts and he didn't feel the presence until he was almost next to him. He looked up. "Who ... " The question died on his lips. He realized that he wouldn't have known the vampire was there even if he had been staring directly at him. This was one of the Enforcers that had been at the meeting last night.

"You know who I am, Logan Grainer." The Enforcer said.

Logan hadn't used his birth name since he had been brought across over two hundred fifty years ago. It brought back too many painful memories.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Colony, 1748

" ... Put your worthless back into it, you lazy good for nothing excuse for a human being." Henry Grainer shouted at his son and apprentice.

The Grainer family had been grinding wheat, corn and other grains into flour for more generations than anyone could count. Logan was the latest of the line. In another six months, he would be of age and complete his apprenticeship. He would be a journeyman. He would have paid his debt to his father for teaching him a trade. He had every intention of leaving this accursed town ... and his father. A sharp crack of a buggy whip brought him back to reality. He strained to lift the heavy grinding wheel so his father could reposition it on the spindle. It should have taken two or even three people to move the cumbersome stone, but Henry insisted that Logan do it himself. Another whip crack stung his back and salty sweat flowed into the broken skin. Instinctively, he groaned in pain.

"I said get to work, you shiftless slacker. And quit your whining. If you weren't my flesh and blood, I'd ... " Henry took another long swallow of the contents of the brown jug in his other hand and flicked the whip at his son again. "Come to think of it, I ain't so sure you are my own. I remember there was that time I was in the jail just before you were born. Can't rightly say it wasn't her that put me there, neither. Public drunkenness. That's a laugh. She drove me to it." He spat . It landed on the tip of Logan's scuffed shoe. "Treated me like I was some kind of a common criminal, she did. Your mother always did have eyes for that musician fella ... " He laughed sinisterly. "For all I know, you could be his ... "

"You leave my mother out of this." Logan lunged at the man, fire in his eyes. In the past had held his temper in check out of consideration for his mother. Suddenly, it didn't seem to matter. He had had enough. He had heard these accusations ever since he was old enough to remember. Whether they were true or not, he no longer cared. The outcome was always the same. Either he, or his mother, or both of them would be the recipients of one of Henry's drunken thrashings. Instinctively, he lashed out and was mildly surprised as his fist solidly caught the inebriated man's jaw. Although he had a reputation as a fighter in some circles, he had never openly defied his father. Although they had halfheartedly sparred on occasion, he had always backed away from a full confrontation. Until now. Henry Grainer went down like one of the sacks of grain that lined the walls of the mill.

In a panic, Logan ran out of the shop.

Present

"What do you want with me?" Logan asked. "I thought Lady Zera said there were other Elders she had to talk to before they would get back to us." His face darkened. "Or are you here to punish me for my outbursts the other night?"

The Enforcer smiled. Very uncharacteristically. "Nothing of the sort. The Council does not even know I am here." He paused. "In fact, I think you were right in what you said. This is not the time or the place to reveal ourselves to the public. I, too think they are making a grave mistake. I cannot idly stand by and watch them throw away thousands of years of existence in one stupid move."

Logan searched the Enforcer's face. Unlike the expressionless norm, there was a definite sign of approval. "I don't understand." He stammered. "You are an Enforcer. You are sworn to carry out the will of the Council. Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I can no longer do what they want. There are others like me in the Enforcer cadre who feel the same way."

"And how do I fit into all of this?"

Toronto

"They want you to do WHAT?" Natalie Lambert stared at the vampire in surprise. "I can't believe what I'm hearing." Nick had invited her to his loft after work to break the news to her.

"It's true. Lady Zera said that the Council has decided that it was time for the Community to reveal themselves to the outside world. And I'm supposed to help them." Nick shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know what they expect me to do, but ... "

"It's suicide. That's what it is."

"I don't know about that. When they first proposed it, I was in agreement with you, but now that I've had a chance to think it over, it might not be as bad as all that. After all, you and Tracy, and most probably Schanke know about vampires and you haven't done anything rash. Maybe it will be the same with the general public."

"But we're only three people out of over two million. And that's just here in Toronto. I can just imagine what would happen if the Peeper got a hold of this. I can see the headlines now." She held her hands in a blocking fashion. " 'Vampires Overrun Our Cities. Shortage of Garlic And Holy Water Predicted'. And underneath a very bad picture of Count Dracula."

"At first, I would have agreed with you, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that it can be done. It would certainly be a huge relief for a great number of people."

"What do you mean?"

"Like the three of you … and me as well. You wouldn't have to worry about somebody discovering the secret we share. I'm sure we're not the only ones who have to watch over our shoulders all the time, either. I'd venture to say that there could be many more like us."

"I'm certain there are, too. But now the question is what do we do about it?"

"I'm not sure." Suddenly, his face became incredibly sad. "I do know that since I've accepted Lady Zera's offer, I will probably have to go back to drinking human blood. Not that there's any truth to it, but there are a few in the Community who think I am a Carouche because I have been drinking that ... swill ... as LaCroix calls it, for the last century. That doesn't give me much credibility with them. Not to mention the extra strength I'm going to need to pull this off. That means I would have to give up my search for mortality. At least temporarily." And most likely our relationship, however fragile that is.

Natalie closed her eyes. Vampires had a very different sense of time. Temporary could be for a few months or a few centuries. Six years down the drain. All that time and effort. Not to mention our feelings for one another. There was a small bright side to all of this, though. She was reluctant to even mention it. "Actually, going public might not be such a bad idea."

"You're joking. Right?"

"No. I'm serious. I agree with you about what you said. Think a minute. I'm positive there must be other vampires who aren't ecstatic with their fate. If any of them are searching for a cure, they would have to be doing it with the same secrecy that we are." Her eyes brightened and a smile caught the corners of her mouth. "It's possible one or more of them might have come upon something we haven't thought of. Maybe. Just maybe. If we could share our research, we might come up with something that might do the trick. Also, if the general public knew, we might have access to greater diagnostic tools than what we have now. Not to mention the assistance of some of the mortal think tanks."

He smiled softly. For the first time this whole thing held a glimmer of hope for them. "Maybe it could work." He said almost in a whisper. The smile grew into a mischievous grin. "Enough solemn talk. Why don't you get the popcorn ready while I put a tape in the machine." He laughed.

"And just what are we watching tonight?" She asked as she put the bag into the microwave. "Something silly, I suppose."

"No. Not this time. Since this is a serious occasion, I have some really serious stuff here for you. Some really deep drama." His face took on the little boy look that always melted her heart. "The Three Stooges Meet The Wolfman." How he managed to keep a straight face surprised even him.

She poured the popcorn into a bowl and opened a can of Coke and poured one of her protein shakes into a glass. "You're impossible." She teased as she handed him the shake. She couldn't help but beam at him. And I wonder why I love him so.

"Yeah. I know." No wonder I love her so. He said, the grin threatening to split his face. He made his usual dour face as he attempted to drink the concoction. This one didn't taste all that bad, but he wasn't about to let her know that he could possibly keep it down. "Now, let's watch the show."

"You're joking. Right?" Javier Vachon said. Almost immediately, he realized what he had done. Smart move, jackass. He admonished himself. Piss off the old demon, why don't you? You really don't want to live a long and fulfilling unlife, do you? Lucien LaCroix never joked. About anything. His lack of a sense of humor was well documented among the Community. "I mean … What I meant to say was ... " Vachon stammered.

The Raven was closed to the public and was crowded with the Community. LaCroix had summoned everyone to hear what the Council had in mind.

"I know what you meant to say." LaCroix replied, staring daggers at the Spaniard. He could not reproach the man too severely. He had only voiced what every vampire in the club was thinking. Lucien LaCroix was thinking it, too. The Council couldn't possibly be serious. It had to be some kind of a monstrous practical joke. If that is the case, I shall have someone's fangs for it. "But this is no joke. The council wants input on the best way to prepare the general public to accept the existence of vampires."

"Why should we have to get them to accept us in the first place? After all, we are superior beings, and far more powerful than they are. You don't need to get the approval of your dinner to eat it, do you?" Mitchell asked. Mitchell was one of Janette's orphan brood. He was only a little over twenty five. Still a raw fledgling. Add to that the fact that he had been brought across more or less by accident. He had learned most of what he knew 'on the streets'. It was only LaCroix's power in the Community that kept ones like him from getting out of hand.

"Because the High Council has said so." The Janette said, flashing her fangs at the fledgling.

"And if you do not like that answer, I'm sure you can be persuaded to change your mind. With a garlic wash, perhaps. Or maybe another chance to witness the sunrise? I'm certain something could be arranged." The Roman General added.

"Yes, Sir." Mitchell said in a very subdued voice. "I did not mean anything by that, Sir." He rubbed the back of his hand. Although there were no physical scars, there were emotional ones. It had taken a few singes from the morning sun, but he was learning not to contradict the Toronto Elder. At least not aloud.

"Good." He smiled his crocodile smile. "Now if no one else has any objections ... " Naturally, no one spoke. " ... let's get down to business ... "

"So, Partner. Where were you last night?" Don Schanke asked as Nick slid behind his desk.

"Didn't Reese tell you? I called in sick." He asked. He had to tell the Captain something to justify his absence to attend the meeting at the Raven. After the last time, he didn't dare just not show up. Particularly since he had every reason to believe that Reese was sincere about the parking meter detail. The flu seemed the best excuse. Especially since several of the other detectives were either off with it, or just recovering from it. Thankfully Reese bought it. Apparently, his partner did not.

"Right ... Sick ... Mr. I'm-Healthier-Than-The-Proverbial-Horse suddenly has a case of the 24 hour flu." Schanke said nodding his head skeptically. "I thought your kind wasn't supposed to get sick ... " Suddenly he realized what he said. "Oops ... " He whispered.

"My kind? What ... kind ...are you talking about?" Nick asked, although he had a good idea what 'kind' Don meant by his Freudian slip.

"I ... ah ... I ... " Schanke stammered

Nick motioned to one of the Interrogation Rooms. "In there. NOW!"

I'm dead meat. He's gonna kill me. Schanke followed his partner into the room.

"Okay, Schank. Out with it. What did you mean by ... my kind?" Knight asked.

"Nothing ... I ... You know ... you're a ... ah ... a health nut. Yeah … That's it … a health nut ... On that special diet and all ... " Schanke could feel his heart racing. He knew that Nick could tell it as well. There was no use trying to lie. "Okay. You want to know what I meant? I'll tell you what I meant. The truth is ... I know all about you." He said almost in a whisper. "I've known for quite a while."

"What do you know about me?"

"I know you're a vampire." There. He had said it. Now Knight is gonna kill me for sure. He remembered reading in one of the books that vampires killed anyone who discovered their secret. That's why he hadn't said anything until now.

"Schanke. Relax." Nick said softly, staring into his partner's eyes and concentrating on the wildly tha-thump, tha-thump of his heartbeat. He willed it to slow down. When it had returned to a normal rhythm, he spoke again. "There are no such creatures as vampires."

"It won't work, Nick. You already attempted to hypnotize me once before. You remember the time I had to waste that perp in the alley? You flew down between us and took a bullet for me. You tried to make out like it only grazed you, but I saw it hit you square in your back. Then you tried to make me believe that you didn't fly either, but I saw you with my own eyes. When that didn't work, you tried to make me forget what happened altogether. Janette and that Nightcrawler guy tried, too. Only it didn't take. It worked for awhile, but little by little it all came back. The sun allergy. The strange diet. The way you move so fast sometimes. The other times that bullets supposedly missed you. The blood in your fridge. The things that some of the perps said about you. Glowing eyes. Fangs. Freaky looking. Everything. I started putting a lot of 'two and twos' together and they all added up to vampire."

"Schanke ... I ... " Now it was Nick's turn to stammer. I was right all along. Schanke does know. "Why didn't you say anything before now?"

"What should I have said? ... Hey there, Nickey Baby. How's the vampire business? Put the bite on anybody interesting lately? ... I figured you'd get around to telling me when you were ready to. And if you didn't, that was okay, too. Besides, I read somewhere that people who know about vampires don't seem to last very long. And I didn't particularly want to die. At least not yet." He stared at Nick for a few moments. "Nobody else knows ... do they?"

Nick intently scrutinized the floor.

"Who else knows? Natalie? Of course, she has to know. I mean she's been treating you for your condition. That 'condition' … " He made quote marks. " … is being a vampire. Am I right?"

Nick nodded.

"Who else?"

"Tracy." It was barely above a whisper.

"You told Tracy and you couldn't tell me?" Don shouted. It was a good thing the Interrogation Rooms were soundproofed.

"I didn't tell her. She discovered it by accident. She already knew about others in the Community. Then when she was shot a couple of months ago, she saw me vamping out."

"Wait a minute. Others? You mean there's more of you guys? Oh yeah ... That nightclub owner … Janette. She's one of them. Isn't she? And that creepy broad Alma, or whatever her name is. The one that tried to … " He rubbed the side of his neck. "And that Nightcrawler guy … What's his name? … LaCroix? He's a vampire too. Right?"

Nick nodded slowly.

"Natalie knows. Tracy knows. Who else knows? Does everyone but me know about vampires? What did you think I'd do? Take out a full page ad in the Sun? Or maybe go on the Jerry Show? ... My Partner Really Is A Vampire!" He began pacing the floor agitatedly. "You all must have had a real field day laughing your asses off ... Everybody knows about the secret except that poor ignorant schmuck of a partner of mine ... And I thought you were my friend! How could I have been so stupid? ... And here I thought I was protecting you."

"You were protecting me, Schank. And I appreciate that. We are friends. I couldn't tell you anything. It was too dangerous. Trust me."

"TRUST YOU? You got some helluva nerve, you know that! Asking ME to trust YOU after THIS. I'm supposed to be your partner. Remember? Partners are supposed to be able to trust each other with their lives. How can I trust you when you won't trust me? You trusted Natalie with your secret! You trusted Tracy with your secret! Who knows how many others you trusted! But you couldn't trust me with your secret! I'm sorry, DETECTIVE Knight. Trust is a two way street. And only one of us is going down that street." The door nearly came off its hinges as Schanke slammed it behind him.

"Schanke ... Wait ... " Nick ran out into the bullpen after him.

Schanke stopped only momentarily at the front desk. "Vera. Book me off." He shouted to the officer sitting there. "I'm going home." He looked straight at Nick, anger blazing out of his eyes. "If anyone asks I'm ... Tell 'em I'm sick!"

Detroit

"You're sure this will work?" Logan asked Edmund, the Enforcer who was sitting across form him.

"Think about it. They want the Community to reveal themselves. That's exactly what we are going to do. Only we are going to do it first. Of course, we know the mortals aren't going to accept vampires with open arms. Like you said, they're going to hunt us down like animals. That will show the Council just how ludicrous their plan is. By then, it will be too late to do even damage control. They'll have to give it up."

"But by then the mortals will already know about vampires. They'll come after us just as they did centuries ago."

"Not necessarily. Once the secret is out, the majority of us will simply go underground. Just like we've done in the past. The only ones they'll find are the ones that are too clumsy or too stupid to protect themselves and manage to get caught. Vampires like that are better off dead anyway.

Mortals have notoriously short memories. After a couple of years, something else will come up to take their minds off us, and things will begin to return to normal. In a century or two, they will have forgotten that there ever were such creatures as vampires. We'll eventually go back to being little more than myths and legends."

"Sounds reasonable. Now. Which vampire shall we sacrifice to them as a guinea pig?"

"I know just who to target. He has been a thorn in my side for almost five hundred years. According to the High Council, he can do no wrong. He's perfect." Edmund smiled sinisterly at the Vampire sitting across from him. Yes. It was a stroke of pure genius. He is the perfect patsy. He wants to live in the mortal community so badly. Why not let the mortals know exactly who, or rather what, is in their midst.

Stratford-On-Avon England, 1605

"That's not quite right, Will." Edmund said. "I think that passage would be better read as 'Then shall you go no further. It is the cowish terror of his spirit that dares not undertake. He'll not feel the wrongs which tie him to an answer. Our wishes on the way may prove effects.' " (King Lear: Act IV, Scene II)

"Very good, Edmund." The writer nodded his head and scribbled out the lines he had written. "That does sound much better than what I had in mind. What made you think of that?"

"Because that is what was actually said ... at least as far as I was able to ascertain." He hastily added. "After all we are writing this as a biography of King Lear, are we not?"

"Yes, we are. And I am ever so glad that you decided to collaborate with me on this. It is very fortuitous that you are a historian of that period. Interesting too, that your name is also Edmund."

"Yes. I do rather favor that century." After all, that's when I was born. And my name is Edmund because I AM Edmund of Gloucester. And what you do not realize, fool, is that this is MY story, not that idiot, Lear's.

Toronto, Present

"Knight! My office. NOW!" Reese bellowed from his doorway. He didn't even wait for the detective to shut the door. "And what was THAT all about? I could hear you and Schanke yelling clear in here. "

If the Captain heard him and Schanke fighting, then probably half the bullpen did, too. That couldn't be good. "Actually, Captain, we were just having a small difference of opinion ... "

"Small difference of opinion, my Great Aunt Fannie! It sounded more like World War Three. Even through the Interrogation Room door. Although I couldn't tell what the two of you were arguing about, DETECTIVE, you're in enough hot water from your little disappearing act last week. Do I have to add this to your list of infractions?"

He didn't hear anything specific. That's a relief! Nick said a quick mental prayer of thanks to whatever deities watched over idiots and vampires. Right now, Nick felt that he fit in both categories. "Actually it was …"

"I really don't care what it was about. What I do care about is that two of my best people were acting like preadolescent schoolboys. Do I have to go through the 'That's What Partners Are For' speech again. By now the two, or should I make that the three of you should know it by heart." He began to pace the office. "I swear. Vetter gets in as much trouble as the two of you combined."

"Yes sir. I mean no sir. You don't have to remind me." Nick said, summoning up as much sincerity as he could.

"Good. Now, since there's not that much going on here right now, why don't you book off and go and find Detective Schanke and make nicey-nicey with him. Because, so help me Hannah's Ghost, if you two aren't the best of friends by this time tomorrow night, both of you will be handing out parking citations for the rest of your natural lives. Am I clear on that?"

And that could be a VERY long time. For me at least. "Okay, Cap. I'll see what I can do." Nick left the office and booked out. He was planning on doing something like that anyway.

Camden, New Jersey Colony, 1748

Logan Grainer sat in the tavern nursing his ale. Logan had left the grain mill and had ridden as fast as he could to Camden. It had been nearly three hours since he and his father had their fight, and the elder Grainer had not come looking for him. Not that he would have been in any condition to look for his son. As drunk as he was, it was doubtful he could have staggered across the street, let alone the five miles across the river to New Jersey.

Logan ordered another tankard and debated what his next move should be. His future as a journeyman miller was definitely gone. The punch he had given his father killed any chance of that. Maybe it was time he moved on, too. If he returned home, he would definitely be beaten severely. But then again, if he didn't, his mother would be on the receiving end of the blows. There was only one course of action. As much as he hated a beating, he could not let his mother be punished for something he had done. Even though it was in self defense and the old man deserved it. He finished his drink and headed for the street. "There's no better time than the present." He said gloomily. He was only mildly surprised to see that the sun had set.

He did not notice the figure that separated itself from the shadows and followed him to the stables.

Detroit, Present

Nicholas de Brabant and Lucius Gaius Pletano had been a thorn in the side of the Enforcers for longer than Edmund cared to recall. He had heard stories of their escapades from other Enforcers for centuries. Although he had no proof, he always suspected that Lady Zera had a soft spot in her heart for the arrogant Roman General and his wayward son. How else could they get away with as much as they did?

Edmund grinned broadly. It has been nearly five centuries, but de Brabant will finally get what is coming to him. And I won't even have to lift a finger. Technically, that is. "Now all we have to do is get some unsuspecting mortal to do the dirty deed for us."

Logan Peterson grinned broadly. "I know just the smarmy little creature."

Seattle

"Bigfoot! Playing for the Seahawks? Where'd you hear that bunch of hooey from?" Moose Washnecki, said. His teammate, Tank Trucker, stared at the small reporter in front of him. "You tabloid reporters must be mainlining the white-out again."

"But I got it from an unimpeachable source." Edgar Rathman replied.

"Well, your source was wrong." Washnecki said with a deadpan face. "In order to even be considered for the pro football draft, a candidate has to have attended college for at least three years."

"And as far as we know, Bigfoot only graduated from high school." Trucker added with a sarcastic grin.

"Although you might want to check out Ohio State. I hear their freshman offensive line this year is pretty huge. He might be one of them." Moose finished with a look that oozed innocence and sincerity.

"At least let me into the locker room and let me have a look around." Rathman attempted to maneuver past the two huge backs that were blocking his way.

"Sorry." Moose said, placing his hand firmly on the little man's shoulder. "Nobody but players beyond this point."

"But I'm with the Peeper." He held up his press card. "That means I … "

"That means you get the bum's rush. " Tank took the other shoulder. "Moose said nobody gets in there. That means you. As far as I'm concerned, you're as much of a nobody as they come." The two of them hoisted the reporter into the air and carried him, kicking and screaming loudly, to the gate.

"You have to the count of three to get out of here." Moose said. "One …" They began swinging Rathman like a pendulum. "Two …" They swung him in a higher arc. "Three …" They released him and the small man went sailing through the air and landed forcefully against the side of his car.

"You won't get away with this!" Rathman shouted as he slowly got up off the ground. "Assault and battery! Whiplash! I'll sue!"

"Why?" Moose said with an angelic look. "We didn't do nothing, did we, Tank?"

"Of course not, Moose. He tripped and fell against the car all by himself." Tank put his arm around his teammate's shoulder. "Clumsy, ain't he? That's our story and we're sticking to it."

"Bigfoot! Playing football! Jeez, whatta moron!" Moose said as the two of them walked back toward the dressing rooms. "Everybody knows, as tall as he is, he'd go out for basketball."

Toronto

"You're crazy!" Tracy Vetter paced the loft of the abandoned church. "You know that? Nuts. Coo-coo. Demented. Addled." She tapped her index finger against her temple. "Your trolley's gone round the bend. Your elevator definitely does not go to the top floor. You're not playing with a full deck. In fact, I don't even think you even have a complete Euchre deck. How can you even think of doing such a thing?"

"Tracy." Javier Vachon said softly as he tightened the new string on his guitar to the proper pitch. "I keep telling you, it's not my idea. Lady Zera and the High Council are the ones who are proposing to do this. Me, I'm perfectly happy being your anonymous friendly neighborhood bloodsucking creature of the night." He plucked the string a few times. "Does that sound like a 'D' to you?"

"Javier Diego Philippe Dos Santos y Vachon!" Tracy seethed between clenched teeth. "How can you act so calmly? This could mean the end of civilization as we know it. Both for your people and for mine. And you're sitting there restringing your guitar!"

"Tracy. Relax. It isn't like you to get so hyper. Whatever happened to that bubbly personality I know?" And love so much. "The world isn't going to come to an end just because we go public." He plucked the string again. " Does this sound better? "

Tracy just rolled her eyes.

"What do you want me to do?" He put down the guitar and stood and gently embraced her. The scent of Callia lilies and apricots surrounded him. I know what I'd like to do right now, but Knight would defang me the hard way for even thinking about it. "Actually, there's nothing anyone can do at this point. Nobody's made any specific plans. So far, it's just a proposal. It may never happen. If and when it does, we'll deal with it then."

"Maybe you're right, Javier. Maybe I am taking this too serious. But somebody has to, don't they?" She luxuriated in the feel of his cool body next to hers. I just wish I could feel it without the intervention of all these clothes.

"Yes, Quierida. Eventually someone will have to deal with it. But it won't be you and me. After all, that's what kings, presidents, prime ministers, and the High Council are for." He picked up his guitar again. "Now. Come and sit here beside me while I play this little piece I wrote especially for you. I think you'll like it."

Windsor, Ontario

Edgar Rathman thumbed through the folders. The Peeper went to press in a few days and he didn't have a story. His editor was still furious with him about the last mess. The one about the exploding toilet seat murder in Toronto. He could have sworn there was a first class Peeper Scooper story there, but after talking with a certain Detective Nicholas B. Knight, he had left the scene convinced that there was nothing worth writing about. The mainstream papers were all over the story. It made headlines for weeks. Even in the States. To say that his boss was angry was an understatement. The editor told him that if he didn't come up with a front page story in six months, he wouldn't necessarily be fired. He'd still be with the paper. But he'd be delivering them, not writing for them. That was five months ago.

He picked up a folder. This one just might do it. It was a story about a two headed man who was running against himself for Lord High Mayor in some town in England. He shook his head and threw it on the pile with the other discarded stories. No story there. They both had lost the election by a wide margin. To a dog.

Toronto

"Is Don home? I have to talk to him." Nick Knight said to Myra. He had more or less followed his partner home from the precinct.

" Nick … I … I don't think that would be a good idea. He's awfully mad at you. He wouldn't give me any details … " The petite brunette stammered. "Something about trust and betrayal."

In the background, Nick could hear a door slam and Don Schanke clomping down the stairs. "I'll take it from here, Myra. Why don't you go upstairs and make sure that Jenny is okay? You know she's been having a bad time of it. What with the flu and all." He said, giving his wife a quick kiss on the forehead. "Please, honey?"

As soon as she had disappeared up the steps, he turned to Nick. "We have nothing to talk about, DETECTIVE Knight. You said it all at the station. Since you can't trust me, I've decided to put in for a transfer to another precinct first thing tomorrow night. Then you won't have to worry about blabber mouthed Don Schanke giving you away." Nick could see he was still fuming. "Maybe my new partner will trust me."

"Schank. WE … have to talk about this. Please?" He pointed to the Caddy. "Privately."

"What? You want me to go with you? So you can kill me? No thanks ... PARTNER." He spat the last word as though it was an epithet.

"Schanke. If I had wanted to kill you, you would have been dead a long time ago." He motioned again toward the car. Reluctantly, his partner followed him. And not because you knew about my secret either.

"Schank. How long have we known each other?" Nick asked as he pulled the Caddy away from the curb.

"Seven years. Why?" Don said. He was sitting on the far side of the passenger seat, as close to the door as he could get without being a part of it.

"And in those seven years, have I ever given you any reason not to trust me?"

Schanke was silent for a few minutes. "No … As a matter of fact, there was that time when you let me stay with you when Myra and I split up. That took trust. On both our parts. Come to think of it, you were the one who convinced me to go back and kiss and make up with her. Best advice I ever got, too. I don't think I could live without Myra. And I owe it all to you."

He thought a few more minutes. "Then there was that stripper that killed people for the thrill of it. If I hadn't trusted you implicitly … " He rubbed his neck where Nick had pretended to strangle him. "And that gal who got her jollies hunting people for the sport of it … You really saved my bacon on that one. I mean you literally risked your life to get me out of that chair I was tied to before the bomb went off … And then there was the time that Macavoy blew that motel up. If you hadn't pulled me out of there ... "

Nick could almost see the light bulbs going on in his partner's head.

"I think I understand what you're saying. You've bailed me out on more times than I care to think about. On some of them, you could have just walked away and nobody would have been the wiser. Yeah. I guess I do trust you. Now that I know just how much you risked. And I know you trust me. Trusted me to keep your secret. Why else would you have let me live knowing what I know about you?" Don looked at Nick, shame written all over his face. "Jeez, Nick. You must have thought I … I mean … Back at the precinct … I … "

Nick smiled broadly. "It's okay, Schank. I understand. I can't say I would have reacted any different if the roles had been reversed. It's not that I wanted to keep my secret from you. I thought about telling you any number of times. But I couldn't say anything to you. It really was too dangerous. There's a group of vampires who have the responsibility to keep our existence secret from the mortal world. By any means possible. And I do mean … any means. They're called Enforcers."

"You mean they would … " He drew his index finger across his throat. "... k-k-k-e-t-t?"

"Or worse. Stakes. Decapitation. Fire. Whatever it takes. And it would not necessarily be quick … or painless either. In fact, it would probably be just the opposite. They'd come after you. And me. And everyone else that they even suspected might be involved. Vampire or mortal. Whether it was true or not. It wouldn't matter to them."

"Oh man-o-man. What kind of a can of worms have I opened now?" The color drained from his face. "My mother always told me my curiosity would be the death of me. I guess she was right."

"Don't worry. Things are changing for us. Everything might just work out soon." I hope.

"What do you mean by that?"

"I can't say anything more. I've probably have said too much already."

"Hey, partner. Where's that trust we've just been talking about."

Nick took a deep breath. In for a penny. In for a pound. "Okay, here goes. Remember when I went AWOL a week ago? … "

The first rays of daylight were beginning to creep over the eastern edge of the city when Schanke finally returned home.

Stratford-On-Avon, 1605

"What is the meaning of this?" Edmund demanded, throwing the playbill in front of Shakespeare.

"Just what it says. Our play, King Lear is going to be presented at the Globe Theatre September next. Aren't you happy?"

"Yes. But it says here that you wrote it. There is no mention of me at all."

The Bard took a deep breath and hung his head. "I know, and I am truly sorry about that. The financiers thought it would be better received if my name were the only one on it. After all, every one seems to know the name of William Shakespeare. No one has ever heard of Edmund Glass."

"But … " His eyes flecked yellow for a second or two. "I guess you are right. At least I can have the satisfaction of playing the lead. I am playing the king, aren't I?"

Will lowered his head again. "I'm afraid not. The king is an elderly man. You are much too young for that part."

"Then I must be playing Edmund." After all, he is my namesake. I made sure the part was written for me because I AM Edmund.

The Bard sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. There is this young actor who joined the company a few years ago. He was overwhelmingly received as Claudius in Hamlet last year. He is a brilliant actor, and he plays villains superbly. I am quite convinced that he will be perfect as Edmund."

"And just who is this mesmerizing thespian?" I'll have him for my supper tonight.

"His name is NicholasBrandant. You'll like him. You two have much in common. He shares your aversion to the daytime, you know. And your strange liquid diet."

A vampire? Already Edmund hated him. "Well then, what part am I playing? It must be Edgar." How ironic that I should portray my legitimate half brother.

Shakespeare shook his head slowly.

"Cornwall?"

Another shake.

"Who, then?"

"Goneril."

"But that's a girl's part. It's for a young boy to play. In addition, she's a vain, arrogant, scheming, self-centered snob."

Just like you. "I know, but I have every confidence you can do it justice."

William Shakespeare's carotid artery stood out prominently to Edmund. It was all he could do not to drain the playwright where he sat.

Windsor, Ontario, Present

Edgar Rathman stared at the article on his computer screen. Oh come on. He scolded himself. A high school sophomore could write a better story than this piece of drivel. It really stinks, even for you. Stories about a female space alien pregnant with Elvis's love child have been done to death. He had gotten the story off the 'Extraterrestrials In Our Midst' website. They had even less credibility than the Peeper. He shook his head and hit the 'delete' key.

"Edgar Rathman?"

He had not heard the man come in. But then again, he was so engrossed in trying to write a piece for the next edition, he would not necessarily have noticed if a herd of elephants had entered his cubicle. "Yes. I'm Edgar Rathman. Who are you?" Something about his visitor made the hairs on the little man's neck bristle. He got the mental image of pure unbridled evil.

"My name is of no importance. I understand you are seeking a front page story. I believe you call it a 'Peeper Scooper' ?"

Immediately, Edgar's beady eyes glistened. "And I suppose you've got just the story?"

"I don't know about that. What I am after is just some information about a certain person. For reasons that are unimportant, I can't use the usual sources, and I was told that you were one of the best in the business. If there is a story here, I don't see any reason why you couldn't write it as well as the next person."

Now, Rathman's interest was piqued. A story? An exclusive? "What kind of information do you need?"

"Are you acquainted with a man known as Nicholas Knight?"

Camden, New Jersey Colony, 1748

Logan Grainer woke slowly. How long had he been out? His head felt as if a team of stagecoach horses was running through it. I didn't have that much ale, did I? He struggled to his feet and clumsily brushed the straw from his clothes. He sluggishly made his way to the door of the stable. He could see the last rays of the setting sun disappear beneath the horizon. It had been night when he entered. That meant he had to have been unconscious for at least a day. No one had ever incapacitated him that long before.

Gradually, the previous night came back to him. He remembered that it had all started when someone grabbing him from behind and pulled him into one of the stalls at the back of the stable. Whoever he was, he was the strongest man Logan had ever encountered. He had somewhat of a reputation as a skilled boxer. Very few could stand for long against him in a fair fight. After all, working with the two hundred pound grinding stones in the mill on a daily basis had left him with a fairly well developed set of muscles, and dodging his father's thrashings had made him quick on his feet.

He fought as he had never fought before. As though his very life depended on it, which in this case, it did. This time though, all of his previous experience as a pugilist was to no avail. This man had beaten him like he was a ten year old stripling. Not even his father in his most drunken state had ever trounced him that thoroughly. Within a few minutes, he was bloodied and nearly senseless. The last thing that Logan remembered clearly was the man grabbing him from behind. Then there was a sharp pain. Almost like his attacker was biting him on the neck. He felt his neck. The area around the collarbone was tender, but there didn't seem to be any broken skin. He must have imagined it.

The floor seemed to wobble and his legs felt like rubber. He staggered outside to the watering trough to wash his face and gasped as he saw his reflection in the water. Although there was only the light from the moon and a small street lamp a few feet away, he could see himself clearly. Almost like day. Pale skin. Hollow sunken eyes. He felt, rather than saw, that his eye teeth were longer than the others. If he did not know better, he would have sworn that some unearthly creature was staring back at him. He looked almost like ... a vampire.

He took only a few more steps before the pain hit him in his stomach. It was unlike anything he had ever felt in his life. More like a gnawing, all consuming hunger that precluded everything else. A hunger that demanded to be satisfied. Almost instinctively he knew what would quench that hunger. If he really was what he thought he was, only one thing would appease him. A wicked gleam shone through the orange glow in his eyes. He knew just how to provide that satisfaction. He quickly saddled his horse and headed for Philadelphia.

No one will ever get the better of me. Ever again. He vowed as he crossed the bridge over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

Detroit, Present

" ... And he agreed?" Logan Peterson said. "How did you manage that?"

"Actually, it was easy." Edmund replied, a self satisfied smile on his face. "I appealed to his instincts. For fame. For importance. These work so much better than money with people like him. Of course, I did line his pockets with an exorbitant enticement for his efforts. Rathman impressed me as the type who will follow this to its inevitable conclusion. He needs a blockbuster story to cement his position with the paper and he's convinced himself that this is just the one to do that."

"Of course he doesn't know all of the implications yet." Logan agreed. "Do you think he'll go with it once he realizes just what he's got"

"Even more so. He wants The Big One ... " He made quotes. " ... so bad he'll go through the fires of hell to get it. You were right. He's just the person we need."

Council Chambers

Lady Zera frowned. This was not good. The word from the Enforcer enclave was that one of the Enforcers, Edmund Gloucester, was missing. He was not on any assignment. He had not been killed. He had simply left without reporting where he was going. This was highly unusual. Because of the nature of their calling, Enforcers were trained from the beginning to report their whereabouts at all times. Edmund had been sort of a stubborn individualist almost from the start of his training. In a sense, that made him an ideal candidate. But it also made him a bit of a loose cannon.

Edmund had been one of the more outspoken members of the opposition when the Council had first brought up the proposal of revealing themselves. As a whole, Enforcers were usually reluctant to accept radical change. Probably since their job was to enforce the Code. Which was set up to guard the status quo. Edmund was apparently the worst of the lot. He had said that he would fight it with everything he had. They had some very strong words. She had hoped that given time, Edmund would see the necessity of the plan. Apparently she had been wrong.

She hoped that he was not going to do anything rash. Right now, the last thing they needed was a vengeful Enforcer loose on the mortal populace. Especially one as coldhearted as she knew Edmund could be. Even if nothing came of it, which she doubted, as the Presider of the Council, she was responsible for the actions of the Enforcers to the rest of the Council as well as to the Vampire Communities at large.

She picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Wilton." She said when the Enforcer leader answered. "I need to see you immediately concerning Edmund Gloucester."

Windsor, Ontario

Rathman looked at the folder he had been collecting on Nicholas Knight. Funny, his patron, if that's what you wanted to call his mysterious visitor, had said that all he wanted the reporter to do was to get some background information on the Detective. Routine stuff. Early life. Parents. Schools. Jobs. Things like that. The guy said there probably wasn't a story there. He just wanted the stuff for use in a presentation on the ... what did he call it again ... life of a typical cop?

He didn't really want to take the story. It was just something to fill the time until THE BIG ONE came along. Besides, the money wasn't all that bad. His visitor had given him a large retainer and had promised even more when he had gotten all the information. That really stirred Rathman's curiosity. Why would someone shell out that kind of dough for a routine background check?

He had turned in the story about the two headed political candidate. While his editor was not too happy with it, it did buy him another month of regular employment.

The only thing about this assignment was, according to what he had been able to find, Nicholas Knight was anything but typical. He wasn't entirely sure of what he had, but he knew a story when he saw it. He smiled broadly. Yes. There definitely was a 'Peeper Scooper' here. Rathman was doing this for personal reasons as well. After all, he had a bone to pick with the Detective over a certain toilet seat.

Detroit

Logan Peterson smiled sinisterly. Everything was going as he and Edmund had planned. Edgar Rathman had done just as they expected he would. They watched carefully as he 'discovered' all the neatly arranged clues and tidbits they had planted concerning Nicholas Knight's 'life'. And the best part. The beady eyed nincompoop had no idea he was being used.

The next phase was ready to unfold. Now they had to make sure that 'Ratface' as they found the reporter was called behind his back, put the pieces together and came to the desired conclusion. This would take some doing, but it was not difficult. Rathman was so eager for a story, they could have almost put the information in neon lights and he would not have guessed he was being duped.

Windsor, Ontario

" … And you are sure about that?" Rathman said to the person on the other end of the phone line. " … Thanks. That's exactly what I needed … I know. I owe you one. Big time."

It was all that the ferret faced reporter could do not to do a victory dance. He had talked with an 'informant' in Chicago, the city where Nicholas B. Knight was supposedly born. Although there was a birth certificate, driver's license, bank accounts, and school and tax records available, as far as the informant could find, nobody could remember ever meeting anyone named Nicholas Knight. No neighbors. No teachers. No classmates. Nothing except an elaborate paper trail. The same held true for his assumed stint with the Chicago police department. Records galore, but no one on the force remembered the elusive officer.

Armed with this information, Rathman dug even further. He went to Chicago himself. According to the Chicago police department archives, there had been a 'Nicholas McKnight' on the force, but he was from Edinburgh Scotland, and was 32 when he joined in 1959. From the ID photo in his file, the resemblance to the current Nicholas Knight was uncanny. When he left the force in 1965, as far as Rathman could find, Nicholas McKnight simply 'disappeared' until a 25 year old 'Nicholas Knight' showed up in their records some twenty years later.

In Washington, he also found records of a Nicholas Callahan, a highly decorated Red Cross medic during the Vietnam War. And a Captain Nicholas Knight, a civil war doctor. The further he dug, the more he found in various places. He found a Nicholas Forrester, who was the assistant curator of the New York Metropolitan Museum. Nicholas Girard was a professor of Archeology at Columbia who was fired in disgrace after the McCarthy Committee had investigated him. The most damning evidence that they had found was a supply of animal blood in his house. In other references, he also found Brother Nicholas, Nicholas Chevalier, Nicholas Hammond, Nick Parker, Nick Thomas, and Nick Corrigan. All of them bore an eerie resemblance to Nicholas Knight. As with the Chicago incidents, there did not seem to be any past or future mention of any of the personas other than the original reference.

The most damning evidence he found was on a tapestry in the Royal Ontario Museum. It showed a portrait of the de Brabant family of France, now part of Belgium. It was dated from the early 13th century. There, standing in the middle of the group was a young Knight Crusader, identified as Nicholas de Brabant. There was no doubt. He was the exact duplicate of Nicholas Knight.

A search of the Toronto PD files disclosed an inventory of Knight's apartment, made during a murder investigation. Among the things that were found was a considerable supply of blood in his refrigerator, just as there had been in Girard's house. Heavy metal shields were on his windows, attributed to a severe 'sun allergy'. There were also numerous antiques and other artifacts, some dating to about the year 1220, the same period as the ROM tapestry. The inventory also noted the absence of any religious articles.

This combined with the testimony of several of the criminals that Knight had apprehended, describing him as 'a monster', 'unearthly', 'inhuman', 'evil', and other labels, led Rathman to only one conclusion. He grinned. Here was definitely more than a 'Peeper Scooper'! There could even be a Pulitzer Prize!

The only question was where and how to present the evidence. He discarded the idea of putting it in the Peeper. Although his editor would be furious with him for that, the truth was that a tabloid like the Peeper did not carry much weight in the journalistic world. No, a mainline news media would be the best vehicle for a story this big.

An article in the Toronto Times caught his eye. Yes. Here was the perfect setting for his story. The newspaper gods must be looking out for me. He smiled as he put the folder into his briefcase. Next stop … Toronto and fame.

Council Chambers

Lady Zera smiled broadly as she refolded the paper. This was the kind of positive story they would need when they were ready to announce their presence to the world. The thought of front page pictures of Nicholas Knight receiving a royal commendation would go a long way toward countering any negative images the mortal world might still hold concerning vampires. In addition to Detective Knight's crime fighting contributions, there was an article on Marian Verducelli's substance addiction outreach program from the Sacramento Union newspaper. There was also a story in National Geographic on the work of Radar Rescue, a group of vampires who have taken on the job of finding people lost in the caves of Colorado and Arizona. Of course, no one outside the Community had the slightest inkling that these people were so-called blood sucking creatures of the night. To them, they were heroes, and deservedly so.

There were several dozen more conclusive examples of vampires interacting positively with mortals that the Council had collected. Businessmen, political leaders, public figures, people from just about every walk of life. These would go a long way toward showing the world at large that vampires do have much to contribute to the world as a whole. Add to that, the not-exactly-a-rumor that there were at least one former president, a king, several princes and princesses, one of the Egyptian Pharaohs, a Russian czarovich, as well as many legendary celebrities and entertainers among the various Communities, and you have an impressive lineup.

Yes. Coming out might not be so difficult after all.

Toronto

"I don't understand why I have to wear this monkey suit in the first place." Nick Knight groused as he tried for the tenth time to get the tie straight. "The last time I wore a tuxedo was to the Captain's table aboard the Titanic."

"Because it's a formal dinner." Natalie Lambert replied. She took the ends of the tie from his hands. "Here. Let me do that. I've never met a man yet who could get a bow tie on properly." In three moves she had it expertly tied.

"NAT! … That's too tight … " He wheezed. "I can't breathe … "

"Really?" She said with a wickedly broad smile. "I thought you didn't need to breathe at all. But if you insist …" She loosened it a little. "That any better?"

"Much better. I still don't see why they can't just put the awards in an envelope and put them on our desks. Why does the Prince have to come all the way here just to give them to us?"

"Because it's a ROYAL commendation, you doofus. You really are a brick, aren't you? Besides. He didn't come all the way here just to give you and Schanke a commendation. He's here to promote the Prince's Trust Charities fundraiser and this is part of that. WE have to attend. At least YOU have to attend. After all, YOU'RE the one getting the award." She said. "Then again, I didn't blow 500 bucks on this dress and another 200 for a makeover at the spa just to sit here and watch sappy old movies. I … am going to the awards dinner. And you … are taking me. So there. Case closed. Not negotiable." She stuck her nose in the air in mock indignation.

"In that case, you might want to wear this." He handed her a long velvet box. Inside was a diamond and emerald necklace. It matched the earrings that were also in the box, and they both beautifully complemented her off the shoulder gown of dark hunter green satin and lace with a lighter green velour top.

"Nick!" I can't ... You shouldn't ... " She stammered. "They're way too expensive."

"You can and I should have. I haven't been showing you how much I … I appreciate all you've done for me. Let's just say that this is to make up in some small way for that. Besides, I can't take them back. They were custom made especially for you. As for the money, what's the use of being filthy rich if you can't give presents to those you ... you care about." He said as he took the necklace and expertly fastened it. I want to say 'love' with my whole being. For I do love this woman. But it can never be ...

He almost said the 'L' word. She thought. A momentary pang of sorrow crossed her heart, and a tear threatened to form. Can't he see how much I love him? It's so obvious the way he feels about me. When will he ever get around to admitting out loud how he feels?

"May I also say that milady does everything for that dress. And you didn't have to go to the spa, you know. You're beautiful enough just as you are." He kissed her gently on the shoulder. Her unique scent of apples and cinnamon filled his senses. Oh God, how I wish it could be on the lips. And just about everywhere else, too. And if you want a makeover, I'll be glad to make over you any time you want. He plastered a smile on his face and crooked his arm to her. "Shall we go and let you bedazzle all the men at the dinner?"

She quickly regrouped her emotions. "How will you possibly know if I'm bedazzling anyone? You'll be too busy beating off the ladies with a stick. I dare say, you'll definitely outshine His Highness." She put her arm in his.

"And now that this meeting of the Lambert - Knight mutual admiration society is adjourned … " He opened the door to the lift and executed a low bow. " … Shall we go?"

The Prince's Trust Charities fundraiser was a huge social event. Everyone who was Anyone, and quite a few wanabe Anyone's, were there. Everyone looked as though they were having a good time, even if they weren't. Except for His Highness. He looked miserably jaded. He was polite and courteous, of course, but it was obvious that he was absolutely bored out of his skull. After all, when you've attended umpteen zillion black tie dinners in umpteen zillion cities, in umpteen zillion days, how much enthusiasm can you really have for any one of them? At last it was over and it was time to give out the awards.

With the same eagerness he had shown all through dinner, His Highness went to the podium. In addition to Nick and Schanke, there were several other officers from nearby municipalities, the mayors of a dozen communities, members of various city councils, and more than a few prominent citizens, who were being honored for their contributions as well.

Afterward, there was to be a press conference and photo op for His Highness and the awardees. What made this even better was that it was being televised live. This was what Edgar Rathman was waiting for. He had managed to do some high powered string pulling, and had called in, and had promised, more than a few favors to get the credentials to attend.

As with all the reporters, Rathman had to submit the questions he planned to ask in written form in advance of the conference. This was supposedly to give the Prince and the others a chance to formulate their answers. He had submitted some ridiculously unimaginative questions concerning the theft ring that was the basis for Knight's and Schanke's award. Of course, he had no intention of asking those questions when his turn came.

Edgar waited anxiously as the question and answer session began. As expected, most of the questions asked merely paraphrased the information that was on the fact sheets that every attendee received. Those that were not, were sterile non confrontational queries. If it weren't for the information he had in the manila folder he had managed to smuggle into the hall, the Peeper reporter would have run, not walked, out the door after the first three minutes.

Finally, it was his turn. "Detective Knight." He began. So far nothing deviated from his written syllabus. His first question was supposed to be for Nick Knight. It was supposed to be 'How did you know that Baron Von Klemper was the head of the ring?' Instead, he asked. "Why were you locked in the trunk of your car in the first place?" That, too was one of the questions he had written down. He was only using it as a lead in to the real questioning.

"I wasn't exactly locked in the trunk." Was Detective Knight's answer. "I have an allergy to sunlight. I was caught in the open after sunrise and had to seek refuge in the trunk of my car. When I discovered that the car had been stolen, I volunteered to remain there in an attempt to apprehend the gang of car thieves." This was exactly according to the 'official' story line that he, Natalie, and Schanke had worked out. This, too was in the fact sheet as well.

"Then you weren't in there because you are a vampire?" Rathman countered.

"A vampire? Where did you ever come up with that ridiculous notion?" Nick replied. Outwardly, he appeared calm, but inwardly, he was beginning to sweat. That is, if vampires could sweat. "Mr. Rathman. Everyone knows there are no such creatures as vampires." He tried to capture the reporter's eyes, but Rathman made a point of looking everywhere but at him. He KNOWS!

"Then how do you explain the fact that you have numerous bottles of blood in your refrigerator?" Rathman pulled out the police inventory list. "Or the fact no one seems to remember you from your supposed days as a policeman in Chicago?" He produced a report that his 'informant' had prepared. "Or that a Professor Nicholas Girard who taught at Columbia University in 1953 is a carbon copy of you?" He held up another photo. "What about Nicholas Hammond who flew with the RAF during World War 2? He looks like you, too." Another photo. "Do you know that there is an uncanny resemblance between you and a certain 13th century French knight named Nicholas de Brabant?" He held up a photo of the tapestry.

"MR. RATHMAN!" The master of ceremonies shouted over the din of voices of the other reporters, who were bombarding Knight and Rathman with questions. "These questions are out of line. If you persist, I shall have you removed. Forcibly if necessary."

"No further questions." Rathman said as he sat down. There was no need to ask anything more. The other reporters had taken up the questioning where Rathman left off. Almost immediately, the conference was cancelled. By then it was too late. The die was cast. It was a case of 'do not think of elephants'. By morning, the story would be on every wire service and on the TV news world wide.

Stratford-On-Avon, 1605

Edmund watched from the sidelines as Nicholas Brandant took his bows. It was obvious that the theater goers loved him. It was hard to hear over the shouts and acclamations of the patrons. The stage was festooned with flowers, coins and other trinkets. Even Edmund had to admit, albeit grudgingly ... the man ... the vampire ... had considerable talent, not to mention charisma.

Then it was time for Edmund and the two teenage boys who had protrayed Regan and Cordella to take their bows. There was only polite applause. Edmond's heart sank and his displeasure with both William Shakespeare and Nicholas Brandant grew in geometric proportions. Someday, Nicholas de Brabant, you will get your comeuppance. And I pray I am the one to give it to you. His eyes grew yellow and he felt his fangs start to itch.

As he left the theater, two men ... vampires ... Enforcers ... were suddenly at his side

"Edmund of Gloucester." One of them said. "Come with us. Our superior has been watching you for some time. He wishes to talk with you. He thinks your talents can be put to good use."

Detroit, Present

Edmund and Logan watched the events of the press conference with unrestrained glee. Rathman played his role even better than they had hoped he would. The other reporters jumped on the information like a pack of sharks on a feeding frenzy. This was sure to bring on the desired result. Pandemonium. And Nicholas de Brabant Knight was about to take the brunt of the hostilities. Everything was going exactly to plan.

"Have I told you what a brilliant idea that was to intercept our pigeon's calls to his informant in Chicago?" Edmund said, grinning.

"I thought it was pretty good myself. I mean we had to be absolutely certain that he got the 'correct information' ..." He made quotes. " … Didn't we? Besides, I've been wanting to test the loyalties of my … associates … at the phone company for some time now. They came through beautifully. Indebtedness does have its perks." He smiled complacently.

Council Chambers

Lady Zera turned off the giant screen TV in her apartment at Council headquarters. This can't be happening. Not now. We're not nearly ready for this. But it was happening. Now. Ready or not. The Council's worst fears were being played out in front of a world wide audience. The little reporter had empirical evidence. From the size of the folder he was brandishing, considerable empirical evidence.

She picked up the phone. "I want de Brabant and that reporter … what's his name … Rathman … brought here ASAP." She told the person on the other end of the line. "And I want as many members of the Council as possible to assemble in chambers immediately."

Toronto

Schanke, Tracy and Captain Reese hustled Nick and Natalie through the kitchen area of the hotel. Reese had at least a dozen cruisers blocking the dock area and Nick was secluded in the middle of a hastily formed squad of SWAT and RCMP officers, and escorted to one of the cars. The others in the party followed in another vehicle.

"Don't take it so serious." Reese told his detective as they sped toward the precinct. "Just the same, I think I'd better put you under protective custody until the furor dies down. Wouldn't want my prize detective accidentally staked by some hotheaded nutcase who thinks you really are a vampire."

"Then you don't believe him?" Nick asked.

"Are you serious? Of course I don't believe him. I mean we're talking the Peeper after all. This guy's the same one who wrote the story about the two headed politician. And the one about the nutcase in Vancouver hacking off people's heads with a sword. Claimed he's immortal. And the one about a Bigfoot's love child with a Manitoba school teacher."

Nick smiled thinly. This time, Rathman has empirical evidence. Sooner or later, people are going to start believing him. Then what? Will you still be willing to protect me? "I'd rather go to my place. The loft is very secure. You know I have the latest state of the art security system installed. No one can get in or out unless I want them to.

"But the precinct is even more secure. And I'll feel a lot better with you there. Right now that's a request, but if you give me a hard row to hoe, I could make it an order."

Nick took a deep breath. "Okay. But I want to stay at my desk. No cells. They all have windows. That way I can get some work done." Before I'm fired … or staked.

Edgar Rathman settled into the hotel suite. He propped his feet on the glass and mahogany coffee table and lay back against the damask sofa. YES! This is ever so much more comfortable than the Notell Motel. They can bring my things to me in the morning. The police and hotel security had decided that it was too dangerous for the reporter to be traveling the city unescorted. After the Royal Marines had hustled His Highness and the other celebrities out of the conference room, Rathman had taken the podium for an impromptu press conference. Despite efforts from the authorities to clear the room, he had answered the questions of the other reporters for almost an hour and had promised copies of all his findings. For a price that the others were eagerly willing to pay. Of course with the additional proviso that anything published include his name either as a byline or as the principal source. Pulitzer Prize, hell. I'm going after the Nobel Prize for journalism.

Now, the sound of the copy machine that he had requested be installed in the suite was just as pretty as the sound of a cash register to him. Each ca-chunk, ca-chunk as it churned out another copy of his findings was an additional ten thousand in the bank

The patrol car pulled up to the door of the precinct. Immediately, it was inundated by a mass of humanity.

"Detective Knight!" One of the reporters shouted, shoving a microphone in his face. "Is it true what Edgar Rathman said. Are you really a vampire?"

"NO COMMENT!" Reese yelled at the reporter, grabbing the mike out of his hand and heaving it back into the crowd. "And turn off those damn cameras."

"Mr. Knight." Another of the throng thrust a business card at him. "Eli Sharkley. Attorney at Law. If you want to sue … "

Nick angrily pushed the arm aside as Sergeant Jed 'Mace' Terrance, the leader of the SWAT team and a squad of burly SWAT officers cleared a path for the party to make their way into the building.

Several of the others threw cards at the group, all yelling their services.

"Do me a favor." Reese said to the SWAT leader over the shouts. "Keep them away from the building. I don't want any problems. Do what you have to do, but no lethal force. After all, these are supposed to be upstanding law abiding citizens."

"No problem, boss." Mace said tossing a canister back and forth in his hands. "If they start getting ugly, it'll give me a chance to try out my new toy, here." He held up the cylinder.

"What's that?"

"The mother of all stink bombs." Mace deadpanned.

"Nick! Will you PLEASE calm down! That's the fifth pencil you've broken in the last ten minutes. And they're all automatics." Tracy admonished her partner. "Keep it up and we'll go way over budget on writing materials." She tried to lighten her partner's somber mood. She, Don and Natalie as well as Myrna and Jenny were at the precinct. Reese had decided that it would be easier to protect all of them if they were all in one place. Myra and Jenny had finally sacked out in one of the interrogation rooms after one of the officers had brought mattresses, blankets and pillows from the holding cells. Tracy and Don had declined. Tracy really needed to talk with Vachon, but there was no way she was going to get out of the station. Not with all the security that surrounded the building and the throng of reporters, ambulance chasing barristers, and just plain curiosity seekers waiting outside every entrance.

"I suppose I am a little on edge." Nick answered softly. "Can you blame me? I mean Rathman put my secret out on world wide television. I know that Lady Zera and the Council must have heard it. If the Enforcers don't get me, that mob outside will. Talk about a rock and a hard place."

"Tracy's right, you know." Natalie added. "Working yourself into a frenzy isn't going to do anyone any good. Especially you. Why don't you take a break and go back into the supply room and get more … pencils." She leaned into his ear as though she was giving him a peck on the cheek. "By the way, when was the last time you fed?" She whispered.

"Before the banquet." He whispered back. He reached into his jacket and pulled a silver flask out just far enough that she could see it. "I think maybe I will get some more … pencils." He said aloud.

He stopped just inside the supply room and pulled out the flask. Just as he opened it, he felt the tingling in the back of his neck that signaled the presence of another vampire. Two vampires. These vibrations were different from the normal vampire's. Much more powerful. He had felt them before. A little over a month ago. Enforcers!

"I know why you are here." He said calmly, desperately suppressing the panic that was building inside him. "I will come peacefully." He couldn't do anything else, given the circumstances. To offer any resistance would not only be futile, it would be fatal. He held up the flask. "Is it all right if I finish my meal?" My last meal.

One of the beings nodded ever so slightly. Nicholas practically drained the container in one gulp. As soon as he had replaced it in his pocket, the Enforcers took hold of his arms. Almost immediately, they were airborne high over Toronto. Nick had no idea how they managed to exit the police station without being discovered.

Rathman exited his suite. Although the hotel had stocked the refrigerator and the liquor cabinet, they had neglected to supply enough ice. There's no way you can make a proper Martini without ice. Fortunately, the ice machine was just down the hall. He nodded to the policeman seated at the elevator. Captain Reese had provided him with police protection as a 'precaution'. In a way he was glad that he did that. After all, he wouldn't want anyone sneaking onto the floor and stealing his portfolio. If anyone wants what I got, they'll have to pay for it. Through the nose, too. He grinned as he thought of his bank account getting fatter and fatter.

He returned and closed and locked the suite door and sat the container on the wet bar. Slowly he turned around. To face two of the largest, most frightening beings he had ever seen. They were dressed all in black. Neither of them had the least hint of an expression on their chalk white faces. They looked like something out of a grade B horror movie. 'Night Of The Living Dead' immediately came to his mind. Chills ran down his spine. "Hey!" He tried to shout, but all that came out was a small high pitched squeak. "You guys ain't supposed to be in here. I'm calling the guard and having you arrested for trespassing and breaking and entering."

"Edgar Rathman." One of the men asked as they grabbed him under the arms and hoisted him into the air.

Edgar could only nod.

Seconds later, the trio was high above Toronto.

"You can't do this to me!" Rathman protested. "There are laws against things like this! Put me down! Now! I demand that you ..." Edgar looked down to see the city at least a mile below him. "Oh! Shit ...u-u-r-r-p … " He managed to whine just before he emptied his stomach. He felt a warm liquid running down his leg. Then, mercifully, he passed out.

On the ground below them, one of the people walking along the sidewalk cursed the 'bird' that had done its business on his head.

Council Chambers

Slowly he began to function again. Man. This is the weirdest dream I ever had. I was flying over Toronto with these two ghouls. No more chug-a-lugging Margaritas for me. Rathman thought. Gradually he became aware that he was not in his bed at the hotel. In fact, he wasn't in a bed at all. He was sitting in ... correction … tied to ... a chair. He opened his eyes a slit. Across from him, Detective Nicholas Knight also sat in a chair. Only he wasn't tied. He was just sitting there, looking for all intents and purposes like his world was coming to an end. What's Knight doing in my DT's? This dream just gets weirder and weirder, I swear.

"So they brought you here, too." Knight said dejectedly. "I'm sorry. I never should have … " his voice trailed off.

"Should have what?" Edgar asked. "Excuse me if I seem a little confused. But I've never had a dream like this before. Usually they're about Las Vegas showgirls and a vat of … Well, never mind what's in the vat. I've never dreamt of flying zombies before." He shook his head to clear it. "Wait a minute. Something tells me this isn't a dream. Don't tell me this isn't a dream.?"

Knight shook his head dismally. "No. This isn't a dream. This is real. And they're called Enforcers, not zombies"

"I told you not to tell me, didn't I? ... You mean I really did fly? And I … " He put his hand to his mouth and puffed out his cheeks. " … All over Toronto? … And then I … " He looked at the wet mark on his trousers. "Oh jeez ... " His face took on a decidedly grayish cast. "If this is reality, then where are we? And why are we wherever we are?"

"As far as the geographic location goes, I don't know where we are. As to the why … " Nick seemed to pale even more. "We are here to face the High Council for breaking the Code."

"What Code? I didn't break no Codes."

"It's the vampire Code. It says in part that no mortal can learn of the existence of vampires. We broke that Code when you revealed that I was a vampire on live television, and we must be punished for it. The punishment is death."

"Then its true? You really are a vampire?"

Knight nodded.

"But I didn't know about any Codes. Let alone know I was breaking them. This High Council of yours, they can't execute me for something I didn't even know about. Wait a minute. You said we were going to … face … the High Council. You mean like in a trial?"

"No. There will be no trial. We've already been judged and sentenced. That's why the Enforcers brought us here in the first place. The only thing left is to determine who will be put to death first. And how."

"You're joking … Right … They can't do that to us … Can they? … Oh no … They can … Can't they?"

Just then one of the Enforcers came into the room. "De Brabant. Follow me." He said solemnly.

Toronto

"Have you seen Knight lately?" Reese asked the trio seated around Nick's desk.

"He went to the supply room a little while ago. Why?" Tracy told the Captain. "Come to think about it, that was almost an hour ago. He should have been back before now. Why don't I go and find him?" She got up and started toward the door.

"I think you better. In fact, I think I'll quietly do a search of the entire building."

"Why don't you let us look first?" Schanke volunteered. "No use alerting everyone that there could be a problem. There's too much tension around here already. What with that screaming mass of humanity right outside the door."

"Sounds good to me." Reese agreed. "You have an hour. Then I send in the cavalry."

"I'll take the lower level." Schanke said. "Tracy. Take the offices on the second floor and the attic. Natalie. You have this floor. We'll meet back here in an hour."

"Why don't we just stay here in case Nick comes back? With the whole precinct looking for him, the chances are much better he'll be found." Tracy asked after Reese had left.

"Exactly why I volunteered us to find him." Schanke replied. "If Nick ain't back yet, he could be in big trouble. I think you know what kind of trouble I'm talking about." He put the first two fingers of his right hand to his teeth. "If that's the case, one of us had better find him first, if you know what I mean."

"You're right. I didn't think of that. If someone else comes on him … " She let the rest of the thought unspoken as she headed for the stairway. "See you in an hour."

Council Chambers

They were seated at the same table that they had been at the last time Nick had been in this room. One chair, that of Chek Kai Chang, was vacant. It did not matter. Four Council Members were more than enough to pass sentence. In this case, even one Member was more than enough to pass sentence. Especially since the sentence had already been passed. It was obvious that he was to be executed first. Then the bloodbath would begin. And it is my fault.

"Nicholas de Brabant." Lady Zera said to the crestfallen vampire standing before her. His head was bowed and he stared intently at the floor. "You know why you are here." It wasn't a question.

"Yes, My Lady." He spoke barely above a whisper. "I freely admit my part in this incident. I only ask that the Council find it in their hearts to spare my friends. They are innocent of any wrongdoing. They wouldn't be in this mess if it weren't for me. You, yourself said that this was bound to happen sooner or later. I'm just sorry it happened before you were adequately prepared. If it weren't for my ..."

"De Brabant … " Lady Zera began.

"... And I beg of you My Lady, do not be too harsh with Edgar Rathman either. He is merely a reporter. He was only doing his job. Although it is no excuse, he is ignorant of our ways. He did not know of the Code. And he did not know he was violating it, or that … "

"Brabant …" Lady Zera said, more firmly.

" I do not ask for mercy for myself. I will accept whatever punishment the Council decrees for me. I only ask that it be quick and relatively painless."

"Brabant!" She was practically shouting.

"Yes, My Lady."

"There will be no mercy. And your punishment will not be swift … or painless."

Nick hung his head and covered his face with his hands. "I understand, My Lady. I deserve whatever punishment I am given. But please. I beg of you. Find it in your heart to be merciful to the others. They had no part … "

"BRABANT !!! " She was shouting. "Will you PLEASE let me speak one coherent sentence with interruption!"

"Yes, My Lady … "

Toronto

Natalie stared at the empty supply room. She thought for certain that Nick would be in here. There was really nowhere else he could have gone. Unless ... No. He wouldn't be that foolish. But then again, we're talking about Nick. She took out her cell phone.

" … And I think they should take Knight out and stake him in the morning sun." One of the patrons said, downing his fourth bloodwhiskey in one gulp. "He's put us all in real jeopardy this time." He signaled for Miklos to bring him another drink

"So, what's new about that?" His companion asked. He too signaled for a refill. "Knight has been in hot water ever since I've been in Toronto. If it weren't for the fact that he's LaCroix's son, the Enforcers would have been on him centuries ago."

"But now, he's dragging everyone else down with him." The first one answered. "That makes him a danger to the whole Community. And I, for one, don't intend to let him get away with it.".

"I think you have had enough to drink." The dark haired owner of the Raven told the vampires.

"Or maybe not enough. I need something to take the taste of that cow drinking moron out of my craw." The first one said disdainfully.

Janette's fingernails dug into the man's shoulder deep enough to draw blood. Her eyes turned yellow-orange and her fangs dropped. Slowly, she lifted the vampire off the stool and held him by her fingertips a good six inched off the floor. "Are you trying to tell me that you have some kind of a problem with Nicholah?" She asked, her posture indicating that the answer had better be negative.

"No." The vampire said in a small voice.

"No … What?" She dug her nails even further into the sensitive skin at his collarbone.

"No, Ma'am." He whined.

She turned to the other vampire. "And what about you?"

"No problem … Ma'am." He downed his drink and practically flew out of the club. But not before depositing two twenty dollar bills on the counter.

"And I suggest you follow your partner out the door." She released the first one and he dropped to the floor with a thud. "And don't come back."

He left even faster than his companion. And he left a fifty behind.

She turned to the patrons in general. "Does anyone else have any opinions they would care to express?"

You could hear a pin drop.

Janette scooped up the bills and stuffed them into the top of her black form fitting gown. Good tippers, aren't they? She examined her fingers. "MERDE! I broke a nail!" She grumbled. "And I just had them done, too!"

Just then the phone rang.

"Raven." The bartender answered.

"Is Nick there?" The voice on the other phone said.

"No he isn't." Miklos answered.

"Is Janette there?" Natalie asked. When there was only silence, she added. "This is Dr. Lambert."

Several long seconds later, a female voice answered. "How nice to hear from you, Doctor. How may I help you?"

"I suppose you've heard the news?"

"Who hasn't? But I have the distinct feeling that is not why you called."

"No, it isn't. Is Nick there? He was at the precinct earlier, but now nobody can find him."

"No, Doctor. Nicholah is not here. And I don't expect he will be coming here either. Not if he knows what's good for him. The Community is in a state of near panic, and it's possible he could find a stake waiting for him if he even thinks about showing his face. It's all I can do to keep a lid on things as it is. Have you tried the loft?'

"I tried his phone at the loft and all I got was the answering machine. He isn't answering his cell phone or his pager either."

"That is what I was afraid of."

"Is he in any danger?"

"To be honest, Doctor, I do not know."

"What about us? Are we in any danger?"

"Not as long as you do not come within five miles of the Raven. You, Doctor, are under the protection of the Council for your help. Tracy Vetter is under Vachon's care. Detective Schanke, however ...

"I get the picture."

"I like Detective Schanke. I will let everyone know that if he is harmed in any way, the assailant will answer to me."

"You would do that?"

"I just said I would, didn't I?" There was a touch of anger in her voice. "I am not in the habit of making idle statements."

"Thank you, Janette. That means a lot."

"Now, as to Nicholah. If he is not at the precinct, and he is not here, and he is not at his loft, I do have an idea where he could be."

"Where?"

"I will let you know if I find anything."

There was a click and all Natalie heard was the dial tone.

Detroit

Logan and Edmund sat in the library of Logan's mansion. Several TV's were on, tuned to different channels. They all were broadcasting the same theme, though. Although it had only been a few hours since Edgar Rathman dropped his bombshell, the news had already spread worldwide. All the American networks, as well as Canadian and cable services were hastily putting together specials. The Windsor station even announced that The Jerry Show planned an update on their broadcast of the 'My Boyfriend Is A Vampire' show from several years ago. At this particular moment, a news commentator was interviewing a psychic who claimed that several of her clients were vampires. Another station was running a 'Dracula Marathon'.

"This is more than we could have hoped for." Logan chortled.

"Not exactly. No one is taking the news seriously enough. They're treating it like a three ring circus." Edmund said. "So far, there haven't been any outcries for Brabant's blood. The consensus seems to be that Knight should sue The Peeper for defamation of character."

"Trust me. We know that Rathman has the proof. We practically gave it to him. Once the news media gets their hands on it, the mood will change ... Radically."

"What makes you think Rathman will share what he has with the other reporters?"

"Like you said. He's greedy for fame and recognition. He'll give them what they want as long as the price is right and his name is prominently mentioned."

Council Chambers

The door to the chambers burst open and an Enforcer escorted a raven haired beauty into the chambers. "Excuse the interruption, My Lady." The Enforcer said, bowing before the Ancient. "She was emphatic that she had to speak with you immediately."

"My lady Zera." The woman said, dropping to her knees in front of the Presider. "I beg you be merciful to him."

"Who are you?" Amahl T'Mutu asked. "And how did you come here?"

"Excuse me, honored Sirs." She said, keeping her eyes to the floor. "I am Janette DuCharme. And I followed Nicholah's vibrations. They led me here. We are connected. What he feels, I feel as well. You do know that we are brother and sister, after all. LaCroix brought us both across. If anyone is responsible for what happened, it is I. I was the one who made it possible for Nicholah to be brought across. Blame me, not him."

"That is quite admirable, Ms. DuCharme." Adrienne Walking-With-Moon replied. "But ... "

"He did not want to be a vampire in the first place. Even so, he has done his best to ... "

"MS. DUCHARME!" Lady Zera interrupted. "As I started to say to Mr. De Brabant ... "

"You will do nothing to him!" The door practically burst open and a very angry former Roman General strode forcefully into the room. The Enforcer at the door merely raised his arms in a mock surrender and shook his head.

"He is MY son! If anyone punishes him for his crimes, it shall be ME!"

"Lucius Pletano ... " Etrian started.

"I claim that right as the Toronto Elder ... AND as his master."

"Lucius ... " Lady Zera cut in. Are all members of this family so stubborn and bullheaded?

"You cannot deny me that right. I … "

"LUCIUS!" Lady Zera, Amahl, And Etrian said almost in unison.

There was silence.

"Good. Now, as I started to say a half hour ago ... " Lady Zera began again. "The Council has decided there will be no punishment for De Brabant."

At this the three vampires stood open mouthed.

"As you pointed out, Nicholas. This incident was bound to happen sooner or later. We have discussed it at length prior to your arrival here, and we believe that we can turn it to our advantage. It is fortunate that Mr. Rathman picked you as his subject. You are a hero to the mortal world many times over. That will make the job that much easier. Mind you, it will not be easy by any means. But it can be done."

"What must I do?" Nicholas asked in a soft voice. He was still in shock. I'm not going to be executed!

No, Nicholas. You are not going to be executed. Lady Zera sent telepathically. "You were brought here to help us, not to be punished. I must apologize for the confusion. As for what will happen, that will be discussed shortly. For now, will the three of you please step into chambers while we deal with Mr. Rathman."

"Please. Remember he is ... " Nicholas said as he was led through the hidden door.

"Ignorant of our ways." T'Mutu finished the sentence. "Yes, we know. And we will take his ignorance into consideration." How could we not? It is so obvious.

Toronto

Tracy Vetter pushed open the fire door into the stairwell. The search of the upper floors of the precinct hadn't turned up anything more than a few rat trails, a raccoon's nest, and unmistakable signs of several other 'critters' that were currently inhabiting the largely unused attic of the old building. Screed should have been the one looking up here. He would have had a veritable smorgasbord.

She pulled out her cell phone and dialed the number for the abandoned church that Javier Vachon used as his residence. If I can't see him, at least I can call him. Maybe he knows something.

"Come on, Javier." She urged as the phone continued to ring. "I know you know you have a phone in that mess you laughingly call your home because I was with you when you had it installed. Now answer it, damn your hide." After a dozen or more rings, she hung up. Maybe he's at the Raven. She dialed that number.

"Raven."

"Miklos. This is Tracy Vetter. Is Javier Vachon there?"

"No, he isn't."

"Do you know where he is?"

What am I? Vampire Information Central? "No, Miss Vetter, I don't know where Javier is. Maybe his ... friend ... Screed does." He said.

Tracy dialed another number.

"It's yer nickel, matey." Screed answered. "Talks nicely-nice ta me."

"Screed. This is Tracy Vetter."

"Well 'allo there Baby Jane. What makes yer pretty little fingers go to dialin' me 'umble telephoney number?"

"I'm looking for Vachon. Have you seen him lately?"

"And 'ere I was thinkin' that it was me sparklin' personality like you was a-missin'. Breakin' me sensitive little 'eart, you are. To answers your question. No. I 'aven't seen the V-Man lately like. Didn't 'e tells you? 'E 'as a gig in Buffalo all this week. 'E's been there in the good ol' Hew Hess of Hay since Thursday, 'e 'as. And 'e'll keep 'imself there permanent like if'n 'e knows what's good for 'is sorry Spanish arse. Or maybe 'e'll go to one of them South of the Borderline countries like maybe Brazil or H'Argentina. Fit right in there, 'e would. 'Course, V-Man never could be counted on to do what 'e's 'upposed ter do, so's I suspects 'e'll be back in town sometimes around the endin' of the week."

"I take it you haven't seen Nick either."

"No, I ain't, Sweet Fruit. Only place I seen the derfective's ugly puss lately was on the Telly when that smarmy little reporter fella gived away 'is private secret to the whole wide world, 'e did. If'n I was Derfective Knight, I'd disappear, too. An' quick line, too. In fact, I'm thinkin' of 'eadin' to this 'ere remote like island I knows about and stayin' there until this 'ole mess blows away. Like maybe for a coupla centuries or two."

Council Chambers

The somber faced Enforcer untied Edgar Rathman and not-too-gently took him by the shoulder and practically dragged him into the Council chambers.

Edgar dropped to his knees as soon as he was released.

"Honored Sirs and Ladies." He pleaded, almost crying. "I beg you. Be merciful. I was only doing my job. Ask Knight. He'll tell you. I didn't know."

"De Brabant has already been dealt with." T'Mutu said. "Now it is your turn."

"You have broken our laws." Etrian intoned solemnly. "For that you must be dealt with."

"I didn't know I was breaking any of your laws, your Majesty." He looked directly into Lady Zera's eyes. His voice quavered. " I swear. If I had known, I never would have done anything. Please, your Excellency. Don't kill me. I'm too young to die."

"Ignorance is no excuse." Walking-With-Moon admonished.

Tears started streaming down his face. "Please your Highnesses!" He begged. "I'll do anything you want." He fell to the floor sobbing uncontrollably. "Please! Just don't kill me."

"Cooperate with us and we might be inclined to be merciful." Lady Zera said.

"Anything you want. I'll issue a retraction. I'll tell them it was a big joke. I'll do anything ... " He got to his feet rather unsteadily.

"We know you couldn't have figured this out by yourself." T'Mutu said. Especially with your limited mentality and temperament. "Who helped you?"

Is that all they want? The names of my informants? Privileged information be damned. Not when my life is at stake. "I don't know his full name. I swear, your Eminences." He said, his voice trembling. "He said his name was Edmund and he was big and scary looking and ... " Sweat practically poured from the ferret faced little man. " … And …and then there was my informant. Said his name was Logan something or other. I think he said he was from Chicago or Detroit or somewhere. He gave me the information that got me started."

Edmund Gloucester. And Logan Grainer. Zera's mind was racing. Yes, this sounded like something the hotheaded Enforcer and the obstinate Elder might conspire to do.

Lady Zera looked at the other Council members. Has he suffered enough? She sent to the others. Etrian nodded once, almost imperceptibly. T'Mutu and Adrienne did the same. "If you will wait in there ... " She pointed to another hidden door beside the one that led to the private chambers. This one opened to reveal a closet.

As soon as Rathman and his ever present escort went inside, Lady Zera motioned to one of the Enforcers guarding the door. "I want Gloucester and Grainer brought here immediately." She said. The look in her eyes left no doubt to the consequences of disobedience. On their part or on the part of the other vampires.

Edmund and Logan stood before the council. Although the Enforcers that were sent to retrieve them had said nothing, both the vampires knew why they were summoned. When Edgar Rathman was brought from his improvised room, they knew for certain. This was definitely not good.

"He's the one!" Rathman said, pointing to Edmund. "He's the one who had me investigate Knight! It's all his fault, not mine!"

Lady Zera starred at the two vampires. "Gloucester. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"I have nothing to say, My lady. I have done nothing wrong. I was merely obeying the wishes of the Council. You said that you wanted vampires to reveal themselves, so I was only carrying out your orders." His voice was calm and his eyes steely. "That is my job as an Enforcer. To carry out the orders of the High Council."

"That was only a proposal, not a mandate." Etrian said. "And you knew only too well that there would be many months of serious discussion and planning with the entire Communities before even the first steps would be taken to implement those proposals."

"You acted totally without the knowledge, let alone the permission of the Council or your superiors in this matter." T'Mutu added. "That in itself is a serious breach of the code."

"The consequences of you actions are most serious. You realize that." Walking-With Moon concluded.

I'm not going down alone. "I wasn't by myself in this deed." The Enforcer replied. "Logan Grainer was in it as much as I was. He's to blame, too."

"Oh, no, you don't, Edmund Gloucester. You were the brains behind this whole thing. You came to me. I didn't go to you. It was your idea from the start. I just helped you out of fear for my life. After all, you are an Enforcer."

Not for long. Etrian decided.

"Don't give me that …out of fear … excuse, Grainer." Edmund scolded. "You acted willingly and enthusiastically throughout this whole episode."

"Gentlemen!" Lady Zera said loudly. And I use the term in its most generic form. "It's not important at this point who is at fault. That will be established later. What is important is that the damage has been done. Now we have to determine what can be done to minimize the threat and to turn it to a positive thing."

"Yes, My Lady." Edmund said, bowing low. "I will do all that I can to see that your wishes are carried out. And that de Brabant takes the brunt of the embarrassment.

"We have a plan already in the formative stages." Etrian said. "We were not going to put it into action until much later. Unfortunately, circumstances force us to implement it now, rather than later. That, Mr. Rathman is where you come in."

"I'll do anything I can to set things right." Rathman reiterated.

"That you will." Lady Zera said. "From this point on, you will be our liaison with the press. It will be your job to paint vampires in the best possible light."

"But I don't ... "

" … Or we could think of an alternative option." T'Mutu let his fangs drop and his eyes turn gold.

"On second thought, I can do that." Rathman swallowed loudly.

"You will share all the information you have with the other members of the press." Etrian said.

"I was going to do that anyway."

"Free of charge."

"FREE? ... OF CHARGE? ... " The small man blanched. "But that's ... "

"Free." Adrianne let her fangs drop.

Rathman swallowed. "No charge." He whined.

"What about us?" Logan said in a small voice.

"You two ... " Lady Zera said harshly. " … Will be dealt with later." She turned to one of the guards. "Take them to a safe place ... And keep them there."

As soon as they were led from the chambers, she turned to the hidden door. "I trust these arrangements are satisfactory to you?" She said as the door opened and Nicholas de Brabant, Janette DuCharme, and Lucien LaCroix came into the room.

"But ... But ... " Rathman sputtered. "He's alive! Knight is alive! You said he had been dealt with!"

"And so he has. We never said he had been killed, did we? We merely said he had been dealt with." Lady Zera said with a twinkle in her eye. "And now, if you will all follow me into my chambers, we have many things to discuss."

Toronto

Tracy, Don and Natalie sat around Nick's desk. It had been almost five hours since the detective had disappeared. They had searched the entire building. Then Reese and the other detectives had repeated the search. There wasn't a nook, cranny, or niche that hadn't been thoroughly explored. Nothing.

"You don't think the … You know who … Have him, do you?" Tracy said softly.

"At this point I don't know what to think." Natalie replied. "They could have him, or he could have decided to take off and never come back." Oh, God, I hope that's not the case. He promised he'd find a way to say goodbye.

"You mean like he moved on?" Schanke asked. "He told me that's what they do when they've been discovered, isn't it? Leave one place and one life and start over somewhere else with a different identity? Sort of like a vampire witness protection program."

"No, Schank. I haven't moved on."

Three heads practically whiplashed as they turned to face the figure standing beside them.

"NICK! Where have you been?" Natalie shouted, hugging him tightly.

"Reese has been popping antacids like they were candy for the last four hours." Tracy added.

"I was summoned to the High Council chambers again." Nick said, returning the Doctor's embrace. "I'm sorry about leaving you in a lurch, but I didn't have time to tell anyone where I was going. Not with Enforcers escorting me."

"KNIGHT!" Captain Reese bellowed from the doorway. "IN HERE!" He shook two pills from their container into his hand and tried to get a cupful of water from the cooler. With no results. "Do you know how awful these things taste when they're chewed?" He asked no one in particular as he popped the pills into his mouth. "YUECK!!!"

Nick Knight stood before his supervisor's desk.

"Knight." Reese began. "I'm going to assume you have an explanation, reasonable or otherwise, for your whereabouts for the last five hours. Because you certainly weren't here. I know that for a fact. I've had the entire precinct turning the place upside down and inside out looking for you. Tell me, Detective Knight. How am I supposed to protect you when you aren't even here to protect?"

Nick took out his badge and gun and laid them on the desk.

"And what's that supposed to mean?" Reese asked his detective.

"It means when you hear my explanation, you won't want me around."

"Don't tell me what I want or don't want." The veins on his forehead stood out noticeably. "Okay. Go ahead. Tell me. I'm listening."

"Rathman is right. I am a vampire."

"Ratface is a certified nutzoid." Reese paced agitatedly behind his desk. "We're talking about the fish wrapper that printed the story about the little boy who claimed he was stranded on an uncharted island with a neon orange talking dragon and a kooky old witch. Personally, I think the boy found some interesting mushrooms on that island, too."

"Except that in this case he is right. Perhaps you had better sit down. This could take a while. It's true. I am a vampire. My birth name is Nicholas de Brabant. I was born in Brabant France in 1196 and brought across, that is, made a vampire, in 1228 ... "

"And I'm the next Playgirl centerfold." Reese said as Nick finished. "That's the best piece of fiction I've ever heard. Could be right out of an Emily Weiss novel. Are you sure you weren't somewhere out there nipping on lighter fluid?"

Nick closed his eyes and concentrated. When he felt his canines elongate and his eyes change, he opened them. Then he levitated a few inches off the floor.

"Holy Jeeze." Reese blanched almost white. "You aren't kidding, are you? You really are a vampire."

Nick nodded imperceptibly. "That's right. I'm an eight hundred year old blood sucking creature of the night. Only I don't kill anymore. And I've been drinking animal blood for the last century." He concentrated on making himself normal once again.

"Holy shit." Reese whispered as what his detective said began to sink in.

"And that's why I knew you'd want these." He pushed the badge case and gun toward the Captain. "I'll have my desk cleaned out and be out of here in ten minutes."

"I just have one question. Do you really want to do this? Do you really want to resign?"

"No I don't. But do I have a choice?"

"Yes you do." He handed Nick his badge and gun. "You can take these and put them away, and I'll pretend this conversation never happened. I don't care if you're a vampire, a pointy eared space alien, or a garden gnome. You're one of the best detectives, and by the way, one of the best people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. And until I get orders otherwise from somebody very, very high up on the food chain, like maybe the Prime Minister or the Pope, you are still one of my officers. Is that clear, DETECTIVE Knight?"

"Yes, Captain." Nick said as he put his badge in his pocket and his gun in his holster. "And thank you, Captain. You don't know how much this means to me."

"Yes, I do know, Knight. When I joined the force in the early sixties, I was the only black in my division. Racial prejudice was still very prevalent back then. I took a lot of heat because I was different. I was ready to resign, too. My Captain told me almost the same thing that I just told you. He meant it then. I mean it now. Now get out of here and get back to work."

"Yes, Captain."

"Oh, and Knight ... "

"Yes, Captain?'

" ... You're still on probation."

"Yes, Captain."

Schanke and the others were waiting as he came out of the office. "Well?"

"I told Reese. And apparently it doesn't make any difference to him."

"I told you." Natalie said as she gave him a hug. "Now there are at least four of us that are on your side."

"Make that five." Detective McGarrett stood up. "I don't care what you are, either. I'm proud to stand with you. Especially after you dragged my butt out of the line of fire after I was wounded in that shootout last year. I'd surely have been killed if it weren't for you."

"Make it six people." Sergeant Kline said. "You talked that wacko on the bridge into surrendering in that hostage situation three years ago. If you hadn't, he'd have taken me and two innocent bystanders with him. We'd all be feeding the fishes in the Don if you hadn't come to the rescue."

"Seven." Officer Hartman stood up. "After the way you worked with my son to get him clean and keep him off drugs, you think I'm gonna abandon you? Not a chance."

"... Eight ... Ten ... Twenty three." In a few minutes, all but a small handful of the officers in the bullpen were on their feet. Each one giving testimony to Detective Nicholas B. Knight's contributions in their lives.

"Thanks everyone. I needed that." Nick said, grinning from ear to ear. "The next part is the acid test." He picked up the telephone. "Rathman." He said. "Schedule the press conference for tomorrow night."

"Rathman? Press conference?" Tracy said.

"Edgar Rathman has agreed ... rather reluctantly, by the way ... to be the press liaison for the Council. And the conference is to confirm the story that I am a vampire."

"Are you crazy?" Schanke said. "It's one thing to admit it here among your friends. It's another to tell the whole wide world. The press is gonna eat you alive. If that's not enough, the scientists will lock you up in a loony bin and throw away the key. Just to see what makes you tick."

"Maybe. Maybe not. We'll just have to play it by ear."

"Just remember. We're all behind you, no matter what."

The phone rang and Nick picked it up. After a few minutes, he hung up. "We'll know tomorrow night at 10 o'clock." He said softly.

"Change." The Nightcrawler purred into the microphone at CERK. "Tonight, my dear children, let us talk about change. I do not mean the type of change that is part and parcel with the myriad of things that are forever variables in our lives. No, Mes Petites, I am talking about the big changes. The life altering changes. The ones that have the potential to set us on an entirely different course of existence.

There is a line from a folk song that was popular way back when folk songs were popular that says 'The times, they are a-changin … ', and assumes that we must change with them. There is also a popular pseudo proverb that says 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it '. Which is correct? Do we eagerly accept change? Or do we stubbornly cling to the status quo?"

Lucien LaCroix took a sip of the dark thick crimson liquid in the glass.

"What will change bring?" He continued. "Will it be for the best? Or will it bring with it catastrophe? Will it usher in Utopia or Apocalypse? A Golden Age or another Dark Age? Glory or disgrace?

A very wise man once said that the only thing that remains constant in the universe is that nothing remains constant. Everything changes. Some changes are relatively swift and cataclysmic. Others are so gradual, that unless we examine them closely over a long period of time, it seems that they are not changing at all.

What is the change in your life, Mes Amis? How will it affect your future, Will it be for the better or for the worse? Will you be able to accept the changes and adapt to them? Or will you be one of the unfortunates that get left behind?

The Nightcrawler has no answers, my dear ones. That is something that only you can decide. Perhaps there is no right answer … or no wrong answer. Perhaps there are no answers at all."

He took another sip of his drink.

"The Nightcrawler only knows this, my children." He whispered seductively. "And this will never change. You are mine. You always were mine. You always will be mine. The Nightcrawler takes care of his own. I am always here for you. I always have been. I always will be. Constantly. Always. Forever. No matter what changes, I will remain. I am, after all, The Nightcrawler."

Yes. He thought as he queued the music. The next few weeks will certainly be full of change. For everyone. He downed the remainder of the drink. Mortal and vampire alike.

The End?

Not by a long shot!