"Look, LaCroix. We've been through this before." Nicholas Knight shouted. It seemed that lately, every time he and Lucien LaCroix, his vampire master, were together, their meeting always ended in an argument. This time was no different. The disagreement had started over something trivial. Nick had all but forgotten what it even was. Now, they were embroiled in a heated dissertation about Nick's choice of lifestyle.
"I cannot understand why you would choose to live this way." Lucien LaCroix said with just that slight bit of condescending sarcasm that infuriated Nick beyond rage "I could never tolerate your life."
"That's the whole point. It's MY life. You can't live it for me. You're NOT me!"
"Nicholas, Nicholas." LaCroix shook his head disdainfully at his vampire son. "As I have told you so many times before. We are one. You and I are very much alike. And we shall be for all of eternity."
"I am nothing like you. And I never shall be!" With that, Nick turned and stormed out of the room, slamming the door loudly behind him.
Nick's stomach was still churning as he pulled up to the loft. "Why does he have to do that to me?" He ranted. "Doesn't he realize that he is driving me away from him by the way he treats me? Hasn't he ever heard the old axiom that you can get more with honey than with vinegar? I wish, just for once he could see things from my perspective. I wish he could be me if only for just a little while."
The Medicine Man smiled and warmed his hands at the fire. This was going to be an interesting challenge. He had never tried this with vampires before.
LaCroix reached the door. "There is no need to bang so loudly." He said as he opened it. "I have excellent hearing." There was no one at the door. LaCroix looked around, but the hallway of his building was deserted. He was about to go inside and close the door when his left foot brushed against something. A package. He picked it up. It was a plain brown box with his name and address neatly printed on the top. Nothing else. No postmark. No return address.
He put it on the dining room table. He hadn't ordered anything that would come through the post or by private carrier. "Probably a mistake." He said. It was nearly daybreak, and there would be plenty of time to look into this little problem in the evening. A night of arguing with his headstrong son had left him mentally drained and physically exhausted.
He went into the bathroom and filled the bathtub with hot water and added a generous helping of his favorite bath salts. A long hot soak would be just what he needed to rid himself of these tensions.
As he walked through the room, absently drying his hair on a large fluffy black towel, his attention focused on the table and the mysterious package on it. Curiosity got the best of the elder vampire. "Maybe there's an address, or an invoice, or something that might tell me where this came from or where it should rightly go." He rationalized.
He opened the box. Inside, carefully wrapped in white tissue paper was a pair of exquisitely crafted, ornately decorated moccasins. Nothing else.
Had Nicholas, in a particularly prankish moment, sent his name to one of those charity organizations that deal with impoverished Indian tribes? The ones that were constantly sending him Christmas cards and return address labels? If this was any of Nicholas's doing, he would deal with him very harshly. Then again, it could have been Alma. She was known for doing ditzy things like this. If it was her, she would be dealt with too. They both knew he disliked presents of any sort, especially unexpected gifts.
With uncharacteristic reverence, he picked one of the moccasins up and examined it. They were obviously new. The perfume of fresh leather was unmistakable. From the stitching, they appeared to be hand made, not machine. They looked to be his size.
"I suppose it would not do any harm to try them on." He said, kicking his slipper off and putting the moccasin on. It fit perfectly. He put the other one on and walked slowly around the room. He had never had any pair of shoes what were this comfortable. That was exceptional, considering that they were brand new. It was almost as though they had been custom made for him.
He went into the bedroom, turned back the black satin sheets of his king sized waterbed and laid down. In a matter of moments, he was sound asleep.
Natalie Lambert bent over the microscope and examined the slide. There was nothing in this tissue sample to indicate that the donor had died of anything other than natural causes. This only confirmed what she had discovered during the autopsy. The deceased suffered an acute massive myacardial infarcation. In other words, a heart attack. After all, the deceased lived alone, was seventy nine years old, had pernicious anemia, suffered from congestive heart failure, smoked heavily, and was found in his bed by his landlady. According to the police report, nothing in his apartment was missing and nothing seemed to be disturbed. If there was anything, he died because he did not take proper care of himself. There was absolutely no evidence of foul play whatsoever. The only reason he was here in the police morgue was because there was no doctor present at the time of death. It was the law that the coroner must perform an autopsy under these circumstances.
The touch of an ice cold hand on her shoulder startled her. "Nick! How many times do I have to tell you not to ... YOU!" She immediately reached under her desk and pulled out the stake she kept hidden there. She never knew which of Nick's 'friends' might drop by, or for what reason. The last person she expected to see was the one standing before her. She raised the stake menacingly. "GET OUT! NOW! I'll use this, and you know PERFECTLY WELL that I can and I WILL."
"Natalie! Listen very carefully." He said, taking a few steps back. "I know you think you see Lucien LaCroix standing here, but it's not. It's me. It's Nick."
"Sure you're Nick. And I'm really the Duchess of York. Like I can't tell Nicholas Knight from Lucien LaCroix. After all, you're practically twins. I don't know what mind games you're trying to play, but I'm not falling for it. Now GET OUT!"
"I'm not playing games! It really is me. Nick. I can prove it."
"Do I look like I have 'sucker' written all over my face?"
"No, you look absolutely beautiful." He put his hand to her cheek.
She pulled it away roughly and slapped him soundly across the face. "Don't you EVER do that again, or I WILL stake you where you stand!"
"Nat ... ?" He said softly, holding his cheek. The slap did no damage, except to his ego.
Natalie was puzzled by his reaction. If it really was Lucien LaCroix, he would have drained her for that slap. Maybe ... just maybe ... he might be telling the truth. "Okay. If you really are Nick Knight and not Lucien LaCroix, prove it. Tell me something only Nick Knight would know."
"All right, how about ... let's see ... you like to pig out on Angelino's seven layer pizza. Extra hot peppers. Your favorite movie is any Bogart film. Especially Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. You cry at the ending of King Kong. Your favorite color is blue and you wear White Diamonds cologne. Just a dab. And only on special occasions. Is that enough to convince you?"
"Common knowledge. Or, you could have gotten it by reading Nick's mind, and don't even try to tell me you don't know how to do that. Try again."
"Give me a protein shake. If that'll convince you I'm telling the truth, I'll even drink it."
"Now I know you're not Nick. He hates those things."
"So does LaCroix ... Even more than me. Tell me, do you still have the locket I gave you for your birthday two years ago? It has room for two pictures. There's only one in it, though. Mine. I didn't have a picture of you at the time. There's an inscription. You said it looked like French, but you couldn't read it. I said that it was in Brabantese, my native dialect. I told you that learning medieval French would be a great hobby for you and that I'd be glad to be your teacher."
"Where do I keep the locket?"
"I don't know. I've only been in your bedroom a few times. Most of the time to get a blanket when you fell asleep on the couch watching movies. I have never searched through your things. I assume that's where your jewel box is. You probably keep it there. Except for that, I've only gone as far as the living room in your apartment."
A small smile came on her face. She looked closely at his face. "Nick! That is you in there, isn't it?"
"That's what I've been trying to tell you. What finally convinced you?"
"When you said you didn't know where the locket was. If you really were LaCroix, you'd have guessed and said my jewel box in the bedroom. That IS where I keep it, as most other women keep their jewelry. Instead, you told the truth." She said, putting the stake back in its hiding place. "But how ... ?" She gestured the length of his, or rather LaCroix's, body.
"I don't know. All I do know is that when I went to sleep this morning, I was in my loft. In my bed. In my body. When I woke up this evening, I was in LaCroix's apartment. In LaCroix's bed. In LaCroix's body."
"If you are in LaCroix's body, then ... LaCroix is ... "
"In Nicholas's body." LaCroix/Nick came into the office. "Another misguided attempt at becoming mortal gone awry, I assume?"
"No, I had nothing to do with this. I'm just as baffled as you are." Nick/LaCroix said. "I was hoping Natalie might have a few answers."
"Sorry, I haven't a clue. If you want, I can run some tests. That might turn up something." Natalie said, taking a tray of instruments out of the medicine cabinet.
"Yes, Doctor Lambert. Do run your tests. And pray they have positive results. I want my body back as soon as possible." LaCroix/Nick said.
She took a syringe and pushed up LaCroix/Nick's sleeve. "You've been through this before." She said, swabbing his forearm with an alcohol pad. "You know the drill."
"You forget. I am LaCroix. I have not been through this before. I do not know the drill. And you are not going to do what I think you are going to do with that, are you?"
"If you think I'm going to stick you with this needle, that's exactly what I'm going to do. I need a few blood and tissue samples, and since I don't have fangs like some of us here present, this is the only way to get them. This is going to sting." She pushed the needle into his arm with just a little more force than was needed.
He drew air sharply through his mouth as it went in.
"Oh come on, you're a big boy, I know you can take a little pain." She chided.
LaCroix/Nick growled something just under his breath. Natalie thought about asking him to repeat it, but decided against it.
She filled three vials, labeled them, and then withdrew the needle, again with more than a little unnecessary force.
"Next!" She said, looking at Nick/LaCroix.
He promptly bared his arm. "I know the drill."
She took three vials from him and labeled them.
She put small samples from both vampires on a slide. She put several more samples into containers and put them into a centrifuge. Others, she mixed with various chemicals, and the remaining samples were placed on petrie dishes.
"Well, you had better book me off tonight, that is unless you would like to spend the evening at the precinct being me." Nick/LaCroix said.
"Not particularly." LaCroix/Nick said haughtily.
"I thought I'd find you here, partner." Don Schanke said as he came in the door of the morgue. "Cohen sent me looking for you. And she is ready to have a cat with a wire tail. The least you could have done is show your face at the precinct before you came traipsing over here. There's been another rape and murder down at the lake front and she wants us there ten minutes ago. You too, Doc"
Nick/LaCroix started after his partner.
"Sorry, Mr. LaCroix." Schanke said. "I know you and Nick are sort of close, but this is police business. You can't come with us. Too dangerous for civilians, you understand."
LaCroix/Nick shot a hapless look at his counterpart as Schanke practically dragged him out the door.
"Well, that settles that. For better or worse, LaCroix is me. At least for tonight ..." Nick/LaCroix said, raising his arms in a gesture of resignation.
"You drive." LaCroix/Nick said as they left the building.
"You're kidding. Right?" Schanke held his hand over his heart and an exaggerated look of surprise came on his face. "Is the world going to end?" He said in mock fear. "I can't believe it! Mark this day in red on the calendar. The great and powerful Nicholas B. Knight is actually going to let poor little old Donald G. Schanke drive his beloved Caddy! And after what I did the last time. Oh! Oh!" He mock staggered backwards, still clutching his chest. "It's the big one!"
"Are you quite finished with your childish little exhibition? It's not such a big deal. We are going to use your car. My ... ah ... Caddy is in the shop. I .... took a cab here. I also do not feel quite well. I do not necessarily trust myself behind the wheel. That was why ... I ... was at Doctor Lambert's. I was hoping she could give me something for it." Although Nick was an excellent driver, LaCroix/Nick could not tell Schanke that he did not know how to drive. How can Nicholas tolerate such a buffoon for a partner? He thought as he buckled himself into the passenger seat of Schanke's car.
"Cabs are expensive. Especially from your place to the precinct. Why didn't you call me?" Schanke said as he drove out of the parking lot. "I would have stopped by and picked you up. That's what partners are for, isn't it? I hope you feel better real soon."
The Medicine Man shook his head and rubbed his hands together, "So it begins." He whispered to the night wind.
"Victim's name is Mavis Pollichek." One of the policemen at the scene said, putting his hand on LaCroix/Nick's shoulder.
LaCroix/Nick stiffened slightly. He did not like people touching him unexpectedly. Apparently it was common practice for people to touch and embrace Nicholas. He said a silent prayer to whatever gods were listening that Doctor Lambert would find a quick cure.
"A jogger found the body over there." The officer continued, pointing to a line of shrubs that edged the beach area. "As you can see, she is nearly naked and there's strong evidence that the attacker raped her before he stabbed her and slit her throat. We found her clothes in one of the other bushes. Her wallet and other valuables were still intact. Same MO as two other victims we had recently. I'm no coroner, but I'd say she's been dead less than two hours. Three at most."
LaCroix/Nick stood riveted in his footsteps as he viewed the crime scene. It was not so much the victim, as the blood that caught him. The policeman was right. She could not have been dead for very long. The smell of fresh blood was everywhere. How did Nicholas stand it? He forced himself to look at the body. Involuntarily, his fangs started to elongate and his eyes yellowed. "You are Nicholas. If Nicholas can handle this, so can you." He kept repeating to himself.
"Ah! Detective Knight. How nice of you to grace us with your presence." Captain Amanda Cohen called out. There was just a touch of irritation in her voice. "I really need your input on this one." When LaCroix/Nick did not respond, she placed her hand at his waist. "Is everything okay, Knight?" She asked.
LaCroix/Nick stiffened markedly at her touch. He swallowed hard, forcing his fangs to retract and the traces of yellow to disappear from his eyes. "Yes ... I'm all right. It's just that I haven't fed in a while ... and ... " It was true. When he discovered what had happened, he immediately went to the morgue. He figured he would find Nicholas and the Doctor there. Besides, all Nicholas had in his refrigerator was that unpalatable cow swill of his. Regardless of whose body he was in, LaCroix was not about to drink that ... stuff.
" ... And all this blood and gore is making him nauseated." Schanke finished the sentence. "He said he wasn't feeling so good on the way over here." He explained to Cohen.
"I see. In that case, why don't you wait in the car." Cohen said, her voice changing from sarcastic to solicitous. "I'm sure Detective Schanke and I can handle the details here at the scene. I'll ask Doctor Lambert to take a look at you."
"Are you all right, Nick ... ah ... LaCroix?" Natalie said as she stuck her head into Schanke's car. "You look a little green around the gills."
"No, Doctor. I am definitely not ... all right. I am trapped in Nicholas's body. I need to feed. And people are grabbing and hugging me like this was some kind of a sixties love-a-thon."
"Don't panic. As soon as I'm finished here, I'll make some excuse and take you back to the lab. I've got some outdated blood there."
"I could solve this case quickly if you will let me. All I need is a small amount of the victim's blood before it coagulates and sours."
"Why? What would that do with it?"
"Doctor, the less you know, the better off you are. Suffice it to say that I can get more from a few drops of her blood than you can with all the scientific equipment in the world. I don't know why Nicholas wastes his time doing it the mortal way when our way is much quicker and much more accurate."
"You may be right. But I doubt that it would hold up in a court of law."
"That's another thing I don't understand. Nicholas's obsession with law and justice. So many times your legal system fails and the guilty are set free. Then, of course, he always did have to do things the hardest way possible."
"Well ... ?" LaCroix/Nick and Nick/LaCroix said in unison as Natalie studied the printouts. She had 'borrowed' the EEG monitor from the free clinic that she worked at on a part time basis. It afforded her access to equipment not normally in a coroner's office, such as the EEG machine. She had used these machines numerous times in her search for a cure for Nick. While she did not have an EEG from LaCroix, she had several from Nick.
"Well ... I've run every test I know of. And it's conclusive proof."
"Proof of what?" Nick/LaCroix asked.
"Absolutely nothing at all. This EEG shows conclusively that you ... She pointed at LaCroix/Nick. "Are Lucien LaCroix and you ... " She pointed at Nick/LaCroix. "Are Nicholas Knight. Unfortunately all the other evidence points to the exact opposite. Your minds are in each other's bodies. There is no physical or scientific explanation for what happened."
"And how long will this ... this ... mix-up ... last?" LaCroix/Nick asked.
"I have no idea. It might only be a temporary thing or it might be permanent. Either way, there's nothing modern medicine can do about it."
"Knight! In my office! NOW!" Amanda Cohen called from her office door.
LaCroix/Nick had just returned from the morgue and headed for Cohen's office without even going to his/Nick's desk. "Is something wrong, Captain?" He asked.
"Wrong? No, I don't think so." She said, throwing a folder on her desk. "Do you know what this is? This is the preliminary report on Mavis Pollichek you turned in. A first week rookie could do better. For openers, it's on the wrong form. This one's for suicides, not homicides. Secondly, there are more typos than I can count. Have you suddenly forgotten how to use your spell checker? Third ... cause of death ... victim died because her throat was slit? ... Come on! I know you can do better than that. And last ... You signed it ... Lucien LaCroix ... And on the wrong line at that.
Knight, I don't know what you are trying to pull, but if you don't shape up, and soon, you're going to find yourself doing traffic control on the QEW... at rush hour." She handed the folder to him. "Do it over again and have it on my desk in thirty minutes. And this time ... do it right."
"And what would Nicholas do in a situation like this?" LaCroix/Nick mumbled as he left Cohen's office. "Of course. I forgot how much he hates paperwork. He would give it to his partner and let him do it." He crossed to Schanke's desk. It was empty.
"Where is Detective Schanke?" He asked the officer who was standing at Schanke's desk.
"Schanke had to leave." The officer said, patting LaCroix/Nick's arm. LaCroix/Nick flinched. "Got a call from his wife. Something about their daughter was suddenly taken sick. Myra thinks it's appendicitis. They were on their way to the emergency room. He told me to tell you to cover for him. He said you could handle it with one hand tied behind your back."
"And what will you do until this ... wears off?" Natalie said to Nick/LaCroix. "You can't stay holed up here in the morgue for the rest of eternity."
"I know that. I suppose if LaCroix can be me, I can be LaCroix. Let me see, at this hour, he would probably be holding court at the Raven. I guess I'd better go there. Keep looking for a cure. And hurry! I want my body back as much as LaCroix wants his." He kissed her lightly on the cheek.
Natalie rubbed her face as he left. While she knew it was Nick, it still felt strange having LaCroix kiss her. She, too, wanted them in their own bodies. She walked over to the microscope and put one of the slides back in. Maybe there was something she had overlooked.
As Nick/LaCroix approached the Raven, the vampire doing door duty opened it and gave him what passed for a bow. He had been in the Raven many times before, but this time there was something very different. The customers, mortal and vampire alike stepped aside as he approached, as if in deference to him.
When he reached the end of the bar where LaCroix usually stayed, Miklos already had a glass waiting. Nick/LaCroix took a small sip. As much as Nick disliked drinking human blood, it was what LaCroix would do, so it was what he had to do. It was definitely from fresh stock and mixed with what appeared to be a rare and very expensive wine. While he was not an expert, he thought it tasted like a Chateau de Mer vintage. Nick/LaCroix nodded approvingly at the waiting bartender, as he had seen LaCroix do. Miklos acknowledged with a nod and a little smile and went to wait on the other customers.
"Mr. LaCroix." A young vampire was standing beside him. "I need your help."
"If I can ... "
"I am in love ... She's another vampire. We met about three years ago. At first it was purely physical, but now it is emotional as well."
So where is the problem?"
"My master does not approve. He says I have to be cold and unemotional about any relationships. According to him, sex is fine, just keep it on a physical level. I cannot do that with Jessica. I love her. I love her in the same way that I loved when I was mortal. It isn't like I'm a fledgling or anything like that. I'm almost five hundred years old, but I still remember."
Nick/LaCroix winced inwardly. He had been in the same situation several times, and he was in it now with Natalie. The only difference was Nat was mortal. "Have you talked this out with your master? Perhaps he isn't the monster you think he is."
"I ... can't. He has made his feelings well known on the subject of emotional involvement. I was hoping you could talk to him for me. He might take it better if it came from one of the elders."
"I think he would take it best if it came from his son."
"But I can't tell him. He wouldn't understand."
Nick/LaCroix put his hand on the young vampire's shoulder. It was as if an electric shock went through the entire club. The silence was almost tangible as everyone suddenly stopped and every eye both mortal and immortal, riveted on the pair. "My boy, there are times when you must do what you want to do." Nick/LaCroix said. "Not what others want you to do. Think on that and then do what you must."
Janette Du Charme stood just outside her office door watching the activity in the club. There was a good crowd, considering it was still early for most of her clientele, Many of them did not venture out until well after midnight. After all the 'respectable' people were safely in bed. Her eyes stopped at the crowd gathered at the end of the bar. "Ah! LaCroix is in fine form tonight." She mused to herself. "He really has them spellbound." She stopped and shook her head slightly as if to clear it. Something was wrong. It looked like Lucien LaCroix. It sounded like Lucien LaCroix. She extended her bond with her vampire father ... It did not feel like Lucien LaCroix. It felt more like ... Nicholah? She shook her head and concentrated harder through the bond. It was still there, stronger than before ... Nicholah ... Definitely Nicholah ... Impossible!
Nick/LaCroix saw Janette out of the corner of his eye. He then felt her attempt to reach LaCroix through their vampire bond. Suddenly he noticed her withdraw and he sensed the confusion. He excused himself and started toward her. He had to explain. Maybe she might have some suggestions as to how to reverse this ... whatever you want to call it.
"Janette. " Nick/LaCroix said as he approached her. "If I can speak to you. Privately. In your office ... "
"Of course." Janette replied, leading the way into the back room. She shut the door. "Now, what is it you want to talk to me about, LaCroix? Or should I say Nicholah?"
"That's exactly what I want to explain." Nick/LaCroix briefly reprised the evening's events. " ... And so, if you have any ideas how to put things right, I'd really like to hear them."
"How can I put it right, when I don't know what went wrong?"
She reached over and pecked him on the cheek. "Really, Nicholah. They are right. At times you can be such a brick."
"Okay, if you can't help get me back to being me, at least help me to be LaCroix. You know him and his ways far better than I do."
"If you would be around him more, perhaps you would know him better."
"Janette ... please ... let's not go into that."
She sighed loudly. "Very well ... the first thing you have to learn if you are going to be LaCroix is not to be so friendly. He is an extremely conservative and private person. No more touching like you did with that man out there. You had everyone believing you were going to harm him."
"Second? ... "
"Second, don't be so free with your advice. LaCroix usually extracts a price before he helps others. You of all people should comprehend that."
"Next ... ?"
"Use big words."
"Haven't you figured out by now that Lucien LaCroix never says one word if seven will convey the same message. And one more thing. Get rid of the shoes. LaCroix would not be caught ... pardon the pun ... dead ... in those."
Nick/LaCroix looked at his feet. He was still wearing the moccasins. "He was wearing them when I woke up. I never gave them a second thought. They really are very comfortable, you know."
"Comfortable or not, they're not something he would wear. At least not in public."
Natalie Lambert and Grace Balthazar parted at the door to the morgue and she watched as Grace disappeared down the hall to her own office. Her longtime assistant had promised her a dinner and she chose tonight to keep that promise. Although Natalie would have preferred to keep working and just grab a quick sandwich out of the vending machines in the break room, she had to admit she needed the break. All of the microorganisms on the slides she was studying were beginning to look alike.
LaCroix/Nick was waiting for her in her office. He seemed very agitated.
"If you're here to see how far I've come to a solution, all I can tell you is .. " She shook her head slowly. "I'm no farther along than I was when I started."
"That, too. But ... I've got a more pressing dilemma. I know who the killer is. That is, I know who he is, I just do not know ... WHO ... he is. Don't ask any questions. Mavis Pollichek saw her killer and I was able to extract that information from her."
"LaCroix! You didn't ... " She placed two fingers against her teeth for emphasis
"Of course not! I merely ... borrowed ... a small sample from one of the vials you took during the autopsy. I told you it was more accurate and faster that your methods. Of course, it would have been far more precise if I had fresher samples, but you would not allow me that privilege. I had to make do with what I could get. Even so, I have a fairly detailed description of the killer. That's my dilemma. I have the information, but I cannot use it. At least not as Nicholas."
"If you could make a sketch of the man, you could say that an anonymous tipster gave it to you."
"Excellent idea, Doctor. There's only one small problem. While I do inhabit Nicholas's body, I lack his artistic skills. I have difficulty drawing a straight line, even with a ruler for a guide."
"How about the police artist?"
"And just how do you propose I give him the information? 'Excuse me, sir, but the information came from a sample of the deceased's blood'. Remember, it is supposed to have come from an anonymous tip."
"Yeah. We do have a problem there. If only Nick were here, he could draw the picture."
"Doctor Lambert! You do come up with an intelligent thought every once in a while!"
"Thanks, LaCroix. I think ... "
"LaCroix. You didn't ... " Nick/LaCroix said when LaCroix/Nick explained what had happened.
"Why is everybody so concerned with details and legalities? We, or rather I, know who the killer is. It will save a great deal of investigative time if ... I ... you ... can use that information to pinpoint the murderer."
"But it was not done by the book."
"And you have always followed regulations to the letter, haven't you, Nicholas." LaCroix/Nick taunted. "Come, now. If you had this information, which, in a sense you do, wouldn't you find some way to bend the regulations so you could use it?"
"He's got you there, Nick." Natalie pointed out.
Nick/LaCroix shook his head slowly. "All right. I'll do it." He said, picking up a pencil and a sheet of paper from Natalie's desk and attaching it to a clipboard.
"He was about six feet tall ... long angular face ... a little wider through the cheekbones ... with dark straggly hair ... "
At last the picture was finished to LaCroix/Nick's satisfaction. He had insisted on much more detail than was necessary, such as the printing on the man's T-shirt and the detail on the earring he wore in his left ear.
"I am also convinced that Mavis Pollichek knew her attacker. Unfortunately, the blood sample had degraded to the point that I could not get a name. Perhaps he was an acquaintance or a co-worker of hers. It is quite possible that the other victims knew him as well. Would it be possible to search their common friends for this man?"
"LaCroix, you might just make a good cop after all." Nick/LaCroix said. "I'll ...that is, you ... contact Sergeant Farley in the records bureau and have his people run an ID check on all three victims. The usual things. Friends. Past arrests. Driver's licenses. Employment records. Anything. Then give the sketch to Cohen so she can get a APB on him. This just may be the thread that ties these cases together. "
"And I found it." LaCroix/Nick boasted, more than a little self satisfied.
"Aren't you supposed to be doing the Nightcrawler show about now?" Natalie asked Nick/LaCroix.
"I took a page out of my own book and called in sick. The manager agreed to run a pre-recorded show tonight. Hopefully, by tomorrow, this whole mess will be straightened out."
"Good thinking." LaCroix/Nick said. "But those tapes are to be used only in extreme cases."
"I think this qualifies as an extreme case, wouldn't you agree?"
"Perhaps you are right. In that case I'll overlook it. This time."
The phone rang. Natalie answered. "Yes, he's here ... I'll tell him ... you want me to come along too? ... We're leaving now." She hung up.
"That was Dispatch. There's a sniper incident on 401 at the Caldonia overpass. Apparently he started spraying the parkway with bullets from an assault rifle a few minutes ago." She said as she headed toward the parking lot with the two vampires right behind her. "According to Dispatch, he's already killed at least one person and possibly wounded eight more. They can't get an exact count because every time somebody tries to get near the roadway, the sniper opens fire. They have closed the parkway and a several block area surrounding the overpass. The Commissioner has ordered every available officer to the scene."
The sniper crouched behind a makeshift fortress of steel plates and sandbags on the overpass. He had a three hundred sixty degree view of the area, and from this vantage point he could easily defend his position from every attempt to take him. Periodically, he sprayed the parkway below him to emphasize this fact. Although traffic had been rerouted and this particular section of highway closed, there were still several targets available. A dozen cars were still trapped in the line of fire, and, as Natalie had said, every attempt to rescue the occupants was met with a hail of bullets.
Captain Cohen, as well as several SWAT leaders and the Captains of the surrounding precincts, huddled behind one of the many police vehicles parked at the north end of the overpass. A small army of police, RCMP and Royal Marines were assembled on the south end.
LaCroix/Nick, Natalie Lambert and Nick/LaCroix came beside Cohen. "Things are at a standoff." She said. "He's heavily fortified out there. He's used at least six assault rifles and three Uzis that we could count. He must have at least several boxloads of ammo for each of them. We tried an overhead assault with a chopper, trying to drop tear gas, but he sprayed it and wounded one officer. It wouldn't have done any good though, the pilot reported that he's got a gas mask and protective clothing as well. Apparently this one thought of everything."
"What does he want?" Natalie asked.
"We don't know." Cohen replied. "We tried to talk to him through police negotiators, but he refuses to talk."
"Perhaps I can get him to open up." Nick/LaCroix said.
"You? I can't take the risk. You're a civilian. How'd you get in here anyway? If anything happens to you ... "
"I'll take that risk." Nick/LaCroix said, holding her eyes with his and homing in on the Captain's heartbeat. "He won't talk to the police. Perhaps he'll talk to the Nightcrawler. After all, he ... I ...am well known for listening to people's problems."
"It's worth a try, Captain." LaCroix/Nick said. "After all, more people will listen to radio talk show hosts than will listen to a policeman."
"Well ... It's against my better judgment, but we've tried everything else. Just don't go doing anything foolish like standing up or ... "
It was too late. Nick/LaCroix was already standing in full view of the sniper. He raised his hands high above his head and reached out mentally for the sniper's heartbeat. It was strong and steady. seventy three beats a minute. Perfectly normal. That was not good. It meant that the sniper was showing no reaction. A man who was not even a little fearful in a situation like this was a loose cannon. From past experience, he knew that people like this were not afraid of death or afraid of killing others. He took a deep breath to calm his own fears.
"I just want to talk." He said in his best imitation of the Nightcrawler's liquid tones. "I am the Nightcrawler. You know me. You trust me. I am here to help you." He took a hesitant step forward. He could sense the man was watching him but there was no response. At least he wasn't shooting. If he could just make eye contact, he could talk him into surrendering. "Is it all right if I come closer?" He asked, slowly walking toward the man. "It would be difficult for us to have an intimate chat if we have to shout, wouldn't it?" No answer. His heartbeat was still strong and steady.
Behind the protection of the police car, LaCroix/Nick kept a steady bead on the sniper with Nick's 9mm service automatic.
"You know how to use that thing?" Natalie asked in almost a whisper.
"My dear." LaCroix/Nick whispered back. "I have not had the need to discharge a firearm since the Crimean. However, it's like riding a bicycle. Once you learn, you never forget."
"Can you ride a bicycle?"
"No." He refocused on the sniper. "All I need is one clean shot."
Nick/LaCroix took another step closer to the man. Just look at me for half a second. He thought, trying to get inside the man's head, but without eye contact, that was nearly impossible for him to do so. The sniper kept his eyes riveted on the parkway below them. "You do trust me, don't you?" Another step. Closer ... Closer ... "You know I would not harm you." He was now within three feet of the man. "I have only your best interests in mind." Another few steps. That's all he needed. "Won't you at least tell me your name?"
"Greg." He said through the mask he still wore.
There was a communal gasp from the assembled throng. It was the first time the sniper had spoken.
"Well Greg, I am called Lucien. Now that we have the introductions out of the way, why don't you tell me what you are doing out here?" Nick/LaCroix said. Look at me! Look at me. He concentrated, trying again to project his thoughts into the man's mind. He wished LaCroix had taught him that secret.
In one motion, the sniper leveled an automatic rifle at Nick/LaCroix and opened fire. With vampiric speed, Nick/LaCroix dove for the pavement.
The sniper's head was above the barricade for only a fraction of a second, but it was the opening LaCroix/Nick was looking for. He squeezed the trigger several times with lightening speed. There was a muffled scream from behind the steel plates and then silence.
Slowly, a squad of SWAT troopers advanced on the fortress. Cautiously, they took up positions around the plates. Finally, one of them looked inside. He motioned for Doctor Lambert.
Natalie approached the mock fortress. The sniper was resting motionless against the side of one of the barriers. Guardedly, the SWAT trooper placed his hand on the man's shoulder, He did not move. Carefully, Dr. Lambert removed the gas mask from the man's face. LaCroix/Nick's bullets had found their target. There were three wounds on the side of the man's skull directly above the ear. The other side of the man's head was splattered against the inside of the gas mask. She turned away quickly and forced her stomach back into its rightful place. She felt for a pulse, but she did not expect to find one. She was right. There was none. "He's dead." She called.
A collective sigh of relief went up from the crowd.
LaCroix/Nick was at Nick/LaCroix's side in an instant. "Whatever possessed you to attempt such a foolhardy stunt as that?" He hissed.
"I had to try something. No harm done." Nick/LaCroix said, getting to his feet.
"No harm? What do you call this?" LaCroix/Nick put his finger through a hole in the jacket. "I'll have you know this suit was custom made for me by an elderly mortal tailor in the Soho section of London. The tailor is dead ... and no, I didn't do it. He died of old age ... consequently, the suit cannot be replaced or retailored. It was one of my favorites, too."
"Good work, Knight." Cohen said, patting LaCroix/Nick on the back. He did not flinch as much as the first time she touched him. "I'm sure IA won't have any trouble with this shooting. We've got at least thirty witnesses that Mr. LaCroix, here, was in danger and that you fired to protect him."
She looked directly at Nick/LaCroix. "Mr. LaCroix, however, is another story. If you EVER even THINK about pulling another hare brained stunt like that, I guarantee you I will PERSONALLY have you manacled and arrested for obstructing justice. DO I MAKE MYSELF PERFECTLY CLEAR? You could have been killed. Do you realize how much paperwork is involved when a civilian is killed in this way? I don't know either, and I DON'T want to find out. Is that clearly understood!"
Nick/LaCroix merely nodded.
The ancient Indian gave a satisfied nod. The experiment was going better than he had expected. He put another log on the fire.
"I do not see what you are making such a fuss about." LaCroix/Nick said as they rode back to the precinct. "If today was any indication, your job is child's play."
"You didn't have to kill him. I could have talked him into surrendering." Nick/LaCroix said angrily.
"Of course you could. That's why he sprayed you with bullets and ruined my good suit. Even your Captain Cohen said I ... you ... did the right thing. He was only a mortal after all. And a dangerous criminal at that!"
"We don't know that. We don't know why he did what he did. He may have been mentally ill, or depressed, or strung out, or something like that. We might have been able to help him. Now we'll never know."
"What difference does it make. He's dead now."
Nick/LaCroix drew a deep breath and held it a few seconds. He could feel his anger rising. "LaCroix. It doesn't matter whose bodies we're in. We're still in each other's faces. Let's just let the matter drop."
"No, Nicholas. I cannot let it drop. Why can't you just admit for once that I am right. Vampires have no business interacting with mortals. I see that more clearly than ever now that I have had a chance to view things from your perspective. As long as you insist on pursuing your petty quest for mortality, there can be no understanding between us."
"You may be in my body, but you are still thinking with your mind, not mine. You've only seen for one day. I have seen for seven hundred years. There is a huge difference. Try to focus on that thought for a while. Maybe things will look different."
"Talk about the pot calling the kettle black. You are supposed to be me, but you've spent the entire night here at the precinct in YOUR familiar surroundings. You haven't even tried to see things from my point."
"YOUR point?" Nick/LaCroix fumed. "And just what exactly IS your point? You are nothing but a disagreeable curmudgeon. You seek only to dominate and control everyone connected with you. The only reason that anyone associates with you at all is out of fear, not friendship. Maybe if you would start treating people decently, you wouldn't be so irritating. Maybe if you showed some concern for them, some love and compassion, things would be different ... "
"LOVE and COMPASSION!" LaCroix/Nick spat back. "You think I don't CARE about others? Do you think it's just a matter of emotion? I was a GENERAL in the ROMAN LEGION. I had NO CHOICE but to be cold hearted. I had to send men to their death in battle on a regular basis. They would never have obeyed me if they thought I was weak and passive. I HAD to be cold and domineering. Do you think I could have done that if I had allowed myself to care about them and became emotionally involved with them and their lives?"
"That was two thousand years ago. You're not a Roman General now. Maybe it's time you took off the armor and let yourself be a man for once."
"I don't have to defend myself to anyone." LaCroix/Nick said angrily.
"That's right. You don't. So, how does it feel to have the shoe on the other foot? It's not pleasant is it? Remember what it feels like the next time you tear into me about my choices of life."
"Tear into you? Do you think I enjoy that? I do it hoping to get some sort of positive response from you. The only reaction you give me is to knuckle under or to run away from your problems. Either that, or you allow yourself to wallow in your self-made pigsty of guilt, doubt and anxiety. Don't you realize that if you would only stand up to me like you did just now, perhaps I could give you the respect that you so desperately want."
Nick/LaCroix had heard this particular lecture many times before, but somehow, coming from his own lips, it sounded different.
The ancient Indian allowed himself a small smile. This was not working out quite the way he expected, but they both were learning. At least they were opening up to each other.
Janette smiled as she watched the two vampires walk across the floor of the club. She was not completely certain which one was which, but it did not make a difference. At least they were together and not tearing each other's throat out. At least not literally, although from the vibrations reaching her through her link to her vampire father and her brother, they had done that verbally earlier tonight.
"Can I be of any help?" She asked as they sat at the end of the bar, LaCroix's usual spot. She rechecked the mental emanations from each of them. Yes, they were still in the other's bodies. This could be interesting, to say the least.
"Only if you can get us out of this ... " LaCroix/Nick said, running his hand down the front of his torso. "If you can't, then bring us a bottle of the house special."
"Shouldn't you be at the police station pretending to be a cop?" She asked LaCroix/Nick.
"After the shooting on the overpass, Nicholas has been given administrative leave until the Internal Affairs has had an opportunity to review the incident. Captain Cohen thinks it will be only a formality, since there were so many witnesses. She believes it should be resolved by tomorrow evening." LaCroix/Nick said.
"I know. I saw the while thing on TV. It was terrible."
"Mr. LaCroix." It was the same young vampire that had been there earlier.
"Yes." Nick/LaCroix and LaCroix/Nick answered in unison.
"I took your advice." The young vampire said excitedly, apparently not noticing the slip. "I went to see my master. We talked it out and you were right. He isn't the ogre I imagined. He agreed with you that I had to do what I believed was right. How can I ever thank you."
"By trusting your own instincts." Nick/LaCroix said. "You knew what was the right thing to do all along. You do not need anyone's approval. Not your master's. Especially not mine."
Take your own advice, Nicholah. Janette projected.
... Your own advice Echoed through Nick/LaCroix's mind. Where did that come from? He wondered.
"And just what advice did you ... I ... give him?" LaCroix/Nick asked after the vampire had left.
"Just to follow his heart." Nick/LaCroix answered. "Come to think of it, that's not such a bad piece of advice. Maybe I should start doing that myself."
"I don't think so, Nicholas." LaCroix/Nick said. "You will only do what I want you to do. You are my creation and I am your master. Have you forgotten that?"
"After the ride over here and after what he said, I think it's about time you found out just who I am and just what I am." Nick/LaCroix said. There was an edge of determination in his voice that LaCroix/Nick had never heard, and his eyes were flecked with gold.
Inwardly, the elder vampire smiled. Yes. He thought. Nicholas is learning from this. Perhaps my wish will come true after all. He raised his glass to Nick/LaCroix. "To hearts." He said as he drained it.
"I hope that's cow." Nick/LaCroix said.
"Not in a thousand years. If nothing else, this ... mix-up ... will give me an opportunity to purge your system of its impurities and put it back on a healthy diet." He ordered another glass. "And I will stake you in the desert sun you if you put anything but the Raven's finest into my body."
"And unless you two want to spend the day here, I suggest you leave now. The sun will be up in about forty five minutes." Janette said to them. "Of course, if you'd rather spend the day here, I wouldn't mind accommodating you." With a twinkle in her eye, she ran her index finger along LaCroix/Nick's jaw line and then along Nick/LaCroix's jaw. "This way, no matter which one I am with, I am with the both of you." She fluttered her eyes at them and indicated the rear of the club where her private quarters were located.
Nick/LaCroix sat on his bed in the loft. They had agreed that each would spend the day in familiar surroundings. Since they were in their own beds when it happened, perhaps if they were in their own beds again, whatever caused the transfer of their minds would straighten them out. Carefully, he took off LaCroix's clothes and put on his own pajamas. He made a mental note to take the jacket to several tailors he knew to see if there was any chance of repairing the damage. Finally, he slipped out of the moccasins and climbed into the bed.
LaCroix/Nick sat on his bed. He shook his head as he thought over the day's events. Although he had wished many times that Nicholas could see things his way, now that it actually was happening, it was not all that he expected it to be. Maybe it would be over by tomorrow night and he could get back to being himself. In his own body.
He removed Nicholas's clothes and headed for the bathroom. When he returned, he turned back the covers and crawled in. Although Nicholas preferred the feel of his silk pajamas when he slept, LaCroix preferred the feel of nothing at all between him and his black silk designer sheets.
The Medicine man gave a sleepy grin as he poked at the dying embers of his campfire. "So much for day one." He said, yawning. "Now for day two."
Natalie peered at the petrie dish. It only confirmed what all the other tests showed. There was nothing amiss in the samples taken from the two vampires. Nick and LaCroix were perfectly normal. For vampires, that is. Except that their minds were in each other's bodies, She shook her head and stretched. It had been a long night. Maybe things would be back to normal by tomorrow. If not, maybe something would turn up in one of the samples to explain the phenomenon. She made a few notes in the journal she had been keeping, the same one she used for her notes on the progress toward a cure. She put everything away in the bottom drawer of her desk and locked it. No use letting unwanted eyes see what she was doing. She picked up her coat and turned out the lights.
Nick/LaCroix opened one eye. Slowly. He was still in the loft. That was not a good sign. Then, of course, the transfer could have taken place no matter where he was. He slowly picked up a corner of the sheet and carefully peered underneath. He knew that LaCroix liked to sleep in the buff. If the transfer had taken place, he presumed that he would be au natural. He was still in his black silk pajamas. Another bad sign. Finally, he got up and, with his eyes closed, he walked the familiar fourteen paces from the bed to the dresser. Again he opened one eye. The face looking back at him in the mirror was that of Lucien LaCroix. Definitely not good.
He let the hot water from the shower flow over him. Gently he soaped up. He knew this body ... well. After all, you cannot spend almost eight hundred years with a person and not know every inch of him.
He padded to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. There, lined up on the shelf, was a dozen bottles of Raven Private Label. His bottles were nowhere in sight. He had no choice. He opened one of the bottles and poured himself a glass. He discovered that it did not repulse him nearly as much as he had expected. Maybe it was the fact that LaCroix was used to drinking that, and his taste buds were accustomed to it.
After he finished, he went into the bedroom and dressed. Without thinking, he put on the moccasins. He had to. He didn't have any of LaCroix's shoes here, and his own feet were two sizes smaller than his master's.
In his apartment, LaCroix/Nick lifted the covers of his bed sheets. "No doubt about it." He mumbled. "That is definitely Nicholas's body." He marveled again at how excellently Nicholas took care of himself. His body was lean and muscular and very well proportioned. In every aspect. "Oh well, at least I'm not wearing those hideous pajamas of his."
He went to the refrigerator and took out a bottle. He poured a glass and took a sip. Something did not taste quite right. He would have to talk with Janette about getting a fresher supply.
Natalie Lambert unlocked the drawer where she had put the samples that she had taken from Nick and LaCroix the night before. Although she was not on duty for another two hours, this would give her an opportunity to do some undisturbed testing on the samples. She opened the petrie dishes and carefully scraped a sample from each onto microscope slides. She placed the slides on a side-by side microscope. Then she peered in. She gasped.
The slide of Nick/LaCroix showed that the abnormal nucleotides, the vampire virus, as she called it, had increased. Not a significant amount, but an increase just the same. Similarly, the slide from LaCroix/Nick had a corresponding decrease. She shuddered at the implication. She did a DNA scan. While the samples of Nick/LaCroix's DNA were essentially the same as a control she had taken some months ago, there were a few strands that weren't on the control. She placed a sample of the DNA from LaCroix/Nick. It showed strands that she recognized as Nick's. Their genetic makeup was changing. If this continued, in all probability, Nick would become LaCroix and LaCroix would become Nick! She didn't even want to think how this would affect their minds. She made a note to get another EEG at the first possible chance.
Captain Cohen was waiting for him when LaCroix/Nick arrived at the station. "Good news. IA has completely cleared you of any wrongdoing in last night's shooting. In fact, Commissioner Vetter has recommended you for a commendation. Let me be the first to congratulate you, Detective Knight." She said, patting him on the back. LaCroix/Nick did not flinch this time. It seemed like this was the natural thing to do.
"We've circulated that sketch from your snitch to Mavis Pollichek's friends and co-worker, as well as Louise Martelli's and Doreen Pesnofsky's." She continued. "We got an ID. His name is Brent Bates. At one time he was a live-in boyfriend to each of them. Why don't you and Schanke go and have a little talk with him. Here's his address. And, Knight, before you go, you might want to have a talk with Sgt. Farley in records. It seems our suspect also had a rap sheet."
"Hi, Schanke." LaCroix/Nick said as he sat at his desk. "How's your daughter doing. He racked his brain to try to remember if Nick had ever mentioned his partner's daughter's name. He thought it was Jane, or maybe Joanne.
"Jenny's just fine." Schanke said. "We thought it was appendicitis. I mean she had pain in her abdomen, a high fever and was throwing up and all that. Man-oh-man she had Myra scared. Me, too. Not to mention how terrified Jenny was. The doctors in the emergency room ran some tests and found she had a bad case of stomach flu, that's all. They gave her a shot and some antacids and she's fine now."
"I'm glad to hear that." LaCroix/Nick opened the folder he had gotten from Sgt. Farley. It showed that Brent Bates had been arrested on several occasions for drunken brawls and twice for assault and battery. One of the women he had battered was Louise Martelli, the first victim. It also showed that the police had been called to Mavis Pollichek's place by a neighbor who had heard what seemed to be fighting. According to the report, Bates and Pollichek managed to convince the officers that it was nothing more than a loud argument. He had also been a suspect in a date rape case, but the charges had been dropped before it came to trial. In addition, there were notations of several incidents of threats and resistance against several officers who had stopped him for traffic violations.
He handed the folder to Schanke who read it. "A real sweetheart, this one. If Jenny ever dated one like this ... " His voice trailed off. "Let's go have a talk with him and see just where he was on the nights of February 18, March 22, and last night at about 9:30"
"First let's talk with the friends and neighbors of the murdered women. Who knows what other interesting things we might turn up about our friend Mister Bates."
"Great idea. It's good to see you thinking like yourself again."
LaCroix/Nick coughed loudly. Strangely, though, he took that as a compliment. "We still have to use your car. The repairs on mine will take a little longer than expected." He said as the walked to the parking lot.
"Why don't you trade that battleship in for something newer and more reliable?"
"Schanke ... " He was sure that Nick and his partner had discussed Nick's taste in automobiles before.
"Yeah ... I know ... Trunk space." Schanke said, opening the door for LaCroix/Nick.
Brent Bates's apartment was in a much less than desirable part of town. Definitely a skid row neighborhood. As it was, Schanke and LaCroix/Nick had to step over several drunks and homeless sleeping in the hallway and fend off offers from a few prostitutes to reach Bates's door. A peephole opened in response to their knock. It shut just a quickly. Schanke put his hand on his gun. LaCroix/Nick did the same. The door opened a crack and Schanke held his badge to the opening. At the same time, he stuck his foot, as well as his pistol, into the doorway. Reluctantly, Bates opened the door. He was the exact duplicate of the man in the sketch. Right down to the earring in his ear.
"I knew you'd be around. When I heard that Mavis was dead, I knew you'd be coming to question me." He said angrily. His breath reeked from old whiskey. He was dirty and unshaven. "Just because I got into a little trouble with a dame once, you boys think I did every sex crime from here to Saskatchewan. Okay. Start your grilling, but I didn't have nothing to do with it. I wouldn't go near that little slut for all the money the world. Not after she threw me out. She said I was drunk all the time and I was harassing her. All I wanted was a little piece. I mean, it wasn't like she was a virgin or something. And it wasn't like it was the first time we done it. All I wanted was what was rightfully mine."
LaCroix/Nick could feel the vampire trying to surface. Although LaCroix had no particular love for mortals, the thought of what this man had done sickened him. And the fact that he seemed to show no remorse only made it worse.
" ... and so, I'm between jobs right now and that's why I'm living here" Bates concluded.
"According to your record with the Provincial Employment Bureau, you haven't held a steady job for the past three years." Schanke said. "Mind telling me how you've survived?"
"I done a lot of odd jobs and other things. I'm very resourceful."
"I bet." LaCroix/Nick added. "Like living off your girlfriends. We've talked with Mavis Pollichek's neighbors as well as Louise Martelli's and Doreen Pesnofsky's. They all say the same thing. You lived with them until the women threw you out for abusing them. According to their neighbors, you didn't have a job and you sponged off the women."
"The neighbors are lying. True, I was out of work a lot, but that was because I have a police record, thanks to you bastards. Do you know how many doors were slammed in my face because of that? The girls understood and were glad to help me out in return for my ... favors ... if you get the drift."
LaCroix/Nick mentally argued with the vampire inside him not to drain Bates where he stood.
"And you never hit them?" Schanke said.
"Never. Oh, I might have slapped them around a little when they got out of hand, but I never beat them or anything like that. Look. I told you I didn't do nothing. So, get off my case and quit trying to pin something on me."
"What would you say if I told you there was a witness to the Mavis Pollichek murder. Someone who saw the murderer clearly." LaCroix/Nick said, taking a copy of the sketch out of his pocket and handing it to Bates. At the same time, he focused on the man's heartbeat. It was rapid and erratic. Bates was definitely hiding something. You will tell us everything. He projected.
"Your witness is lying." Bates said loudly. "No one was around when she bought it ... No one could have seen me ... Besides, she deserved it. She was acting like she didn't want it ... She started screaming. I had to shut her up. Just like the others ..." Bates suddenly became very quiet.
Schanke pulled a very well worn card from his pocket. "You do not have to make any statements." He read. "However, anything you do say can be used against you ... "
Natalie studied the readouts from the EEG's again. She had called the two vampires in and ran another battery of tests on them. The EEG's only confirmed what she had seen in the samples from the petrie dish and the DNA scans. There were minor variations in the brain waves from both of them.
"I'm not sure whether it's good or bad. From these and other test, it looks like the two of you are evolving. You each show minute but increasing evidence of each other's DNA in your genetic makeup. There's also small, but identifiable, engrams from Nick in LaCroix's brain wave patterns and similarly, there's LaCroix's engrams in Nick's"
"And just what does that mean, Doctor?" LaCroix/Nick said. "In layman's terms if you don't mind."
"It means that even if you do not transfer back to your original bodies, won't make any difference. In time, You ... " She pointed to LaCroix/Nick. "... Will be Nick. And you ... " She pointed to Nick/LaCroix. "Will become LaCroix. Both physically and mentally. Either way, you will eventually be the way you are supposed to be."
Nick/LaCroix sat in LaCroix's office at CERK and stared at the blank computer screen in front of him. He had called up the word processor program, but he had written nothing on it. The Nightcrawler was due to go on the air in a little over an hour and he couldn't think of anything to say. He couldn't feign illness this time. Too many people had seen him enter the building. He had to go through with it. He wondered if LaCroix ever had mental blocks this big.
He had came to the studio from the Raven. As it had been the night before, everyone there had been polite to him, but no one acted friendly. They all seemed to be afraid of him. He stood a lonely vigil at LaCroix's usual spot at the end of the bar, but except for Janette, no one even approached him. He wasn't sure whether Natalie was right, that he was beginning to have LaCroix's memories or what, but he was aware that in the nearly two thousand years he had been on this earth, LaCroix had never had an open loving relationship.
As a child, his father had never shown the boy any affection. Neither had his mother, probably out of fear of her husband. In the military, he lived in constant fear of his superiors. They used beatings and torture to insure discipline. When he reached a position of power, he continued that practice. Even his relationship with Seline, his wife, was mostly physical. No great love there, either. No wonder he was the way he was.
From everything that had happened the past two days, perhaps he had misjudged LaCroix's actions and motives. It was possible that instead of acting out of dominance and control, he was acting out of loneliness and fear. Fear of losing Nick. Maybe, now that he was seeing things through LaCroix's eyes, he was learning something about his master. He just hoped that LaCroix was learning the same lesson. Absently, he looked at the floor.
"That's it!" He yelled. It was a good thing the office was soundproofed. He started typing furiously.
Don Schanke leaned back in his chair and propped his feet on the edge of his desk. "Well, Pard. You must be on some kind of a roll or something. Up for two commendations in two days. The DA credits you with breaking this case wide open. According to him, Bates sang like a canary once they got him into the interrogation room. Confessed to everything. Even a few cases that he wasn't even a suspect in. Nice work."
"Thank you. I appreciate that more than you know." LaCroix/Nick smiled. It was genuine. For whatever reason, he did appreciate what Schanke said about him. Maybe Dr. Lambert was right. Maybe he was slowly becoming Nicholas. He did know that the past two days had given him a greater understanding of his son's life.
The ancient medicine man rubbed his hands together. There would be no need for another day.
LaCroix/Nick opened the door to the morgue. Natalie was sitting at her desk with a slightly puzzled look on her face.
"I hope that look does not mean that there has been another enigma in our predicament "
"Not hardly. It's Nick."
LaCroix/Nick look at the sheet draped body lying on the autopsy table.
"No, that's not him. That one belongs to Silvers and Moore. Domestic abuse case. Open and shut. At least a half dozen witnesses saw the murder."
LaCroix/Nick let out an audible sigh. "Why can't I ... Nicholas ... get the simple ones like that?" He murmured.
"Nick called me a few minutes ago and said that I should get you here and that we both should listen to the Nightcrawler's monologue." She turned the small radio on her desk to CERK.
" ... Gentle listeners. How many times have we judged the actions of those around us. How many times have we said 'I could never do something like that in a thousand years.' or 'How can he or she do something like that?' or 'Why can't you do it my way?'
Are we being fair in our judgment of the other person? I think not, my children. We see things from our own perspective, not from the other person's point of view. While we may have been in similar situations, they are just that. Similar. Not exact.
No two people have had the exact same life, so no two people will react in exactly the same manner given the same set of circumstances. Everything one does, everything one says or thinks is colored by their experiences. By their fears, their prejudices, their teachings, and a thousand other factors that are unique only to themselves.
Each of us has our own set of rules and standards. Each of us has our own hopes and aspirations. Yet, how many times do we expect others, especially loved ones, to conform to our standards and our aspirations? How many times do we judge another's actions by our rules, not theirs. How many times do we condemn another for violating those self imposed rules. How many times?
There is an ancient Indian proverb that says 'Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.' Perhaps everyone should be required to walk in another's moccasins from time to time. Perhaps if we did, there would be far less antagonism and much more understanding.
Think on that, my children. Do not be surprised if you occasionally find someone else's moccasins on your feet. It's possible they could even be mine.
Until next we meet ... Remember ... I am the Nightcrawler. I will always be with you."
With a satisfied smile, LaCroix/Nick turned off the radio. "Two days ago, I would have punished him severely for daring to say the things he just said." He said to Doctor Lambert. "Now, I understand things about Nicholas that I never even thought about before. I never could understand why he did not embrace the gift I gave him with the same enthusiasm that I and others did. Now I do.
Our pasts, our perceptions are diametrically opposed. He was brought up in an environment of love and security. An environment where faith, morals and responsibility were stressed and cherished."
There was a long pause before he continued.
" I ... was not.
I think I can understand some of his actions better now that I have had a chance to see things from his point. While I cannot guarantee that I will change my tactics ... after all, that is part of my being, I will make an effort to understand my son better."
Natalie put her hand on LaCroix/Nick's cheek. "Well, maybe this whole thing hasn't been the horrible catastrophe that you two thought it would. "
"Perhaps not." He said, placing his hand over hers. "But I still would be much more comfortable in my own body."
"Amen to that." Nick/LaCroix said as he came into the office. "And the sooner the better."
LaCroix yawned and stretched. Even before he opened his eyes, he knew. Things were different. Slowly he opened his eyes He was no longer in his apartment, but in Nicholas's loft. Cautiously. he lifted the sheet. Even dressed in Nicholas's pajamas, which ended several inches above his ankles, he knew it was truly his body. He threw off the covers and sat up. Just then. Nicholas came through the bedroom door. He, too was in his rightful body.
"Great, isn't it?" He asked, handing his vampire father a glass of bloodwine. "Everything's back to normal."
LaCroix stared at the glass for several seconds.
"Don't worry, it's the real thing. I took your request about the type of nourishment for your body seriously. Nothing but the best." He held up another glass. "This is the real thing, too. Nat's going to be furious with me, I know, but I think this calls for some kind of a celebration, don't you?" He raised the glass. "To us, and the things that make us unique."
"Hear! Hear!" LaCroix said as he drained his glass.
He placed a garment bag with clothing on the bed. "I brought these, too. Now that you're back to yourself, none of my clothes are going to fit you. He held up the jacket. It was the same one from the shooting. The hole had been expertly rewoven and was invisible to all but the most expert of eyes. "I had the same tailor that takes care of my clothes take a look at it. By the way, what do you want me to do with these?" Nick held up the moccasins.
"Burn them!" LaCroix replied. He took the moccasins to the living room and threw them into the fireplace and lit it. With a deafening roar, the moccasins erupted into a ball of fire and smoke.
The Medicine Man stirred the last of the fire and poured water over the remaining coals. His assignment here was over. For better or worse, these two were on their own. He picked up an ornate pair of moccasins from the ground near the fire and put them in his backpack.
Nick kissed Natalie's ear as she hunched over her desk. She had been so absorbed in her work, she did not hear him enter. It was his nature that if he did not want to be heard, no one could. Immediately she knew it was really him.
"So, everything is back to normal between you and LaCroix?"
"Oh, I hope not. We had a very long talk tonight and I think that each of us learned something from the other during this time."
"Good. Maybe you two will remember this and not be so quick to judge or condemn each other."
"No guarantees. but we certainly are going to try."
He nuzzled her ear again. It felt good. It felt right. "Hypothetical question. If you could change places with someone for a few days, who would it be?"
Natalie leaned back in her chair and stroked her chin. "That's a tough one. I'd have to give it some thought." She said.
Maybe with you, Nick Maybe I could find out just what your intentions are toward me and why you've been resisting my attempts to devise a cure for you. The voice in the back of her mind declared.
The Indian smiled.