Things That Go Bump
He started the tape. The voice going out over the airwaves was a familiar one to the Toronto Metro area.
"Good evening, my dear children of the night ... " The silky, almost hypnotic, baritone voice of The Nightcrawler began this evening's broadcast. "As you already know, I am The Nightcrawler. As always, I am here for you, my little ones."
Inside the broadcast booth, the man began. "Good evening." He intoned in the same fluid tones. "I am the Nightcrawler. You don't know me because nobody ever listens to this station. I am here but I am not necessarily all there. I am a complete asshole and I haven't got the first clue as to what I am doing."
"Tonight's subject is an appropriate one for this season ... Ghosts and Ghoulies." Several thousand radios in the Toronto area proclaimed to their audiences.
"Tonight's subject is getting laid." The person in the sound booth said into a dead microphone. "And I need to ... very desperately ... I am so ugly, when I was born, the doctor slapped my mother ... I haven't had any since my college days ... And then I had to get the hooker drunk and put a bag over my head ... My weenie is so small, I can use a rubber finger for a condom ... I wouldn't say I prematurely ejaculate, but I have to change my undershorts every time I pass by an adult bookstore ... I am so dense, I can screw up a wet dream ... " The man continued for a half hour, each segment raunchier than the preceding one. He was interrupted by the sound of the door to the booth being opened. "You're not supposed to be here." He said, his voice trembling. "Who are you?" The answer to his question was three reports from a revolver.
Nicholas Knight signed his name on the line for the investigating officer and closed the folder. One more case report completed. Only seven more to go and he would be caught up. That should please Captain Amanda Cohen no end. He looked at his partner, Don Schanke. He had finished his pile of folders and was sitting with his feet propped on his desk, munching on a Souvlaki sandwich, extra garlic and onions. As he fought a gagging sensation, Nick seriously considered momentarily distracting him and pushing his unfinished paperwork onto Schanke's desk
Just then, Captain Cohen came over. "I think you would be interested in this one." She said, putting a crime report on Nick's desk. "It's a homicide at CERK. The body was found in the studio used by the Nightcrawler."
Nick stiffened visibly and drew a loud breath. "LaCroix?"
"That's right, you do know him, don't you?" Amanda Cohen said. "If you want, I can assign it to someone else."
"It's all right, Captain. I can handle it. We are ... only acquaintances." He lied. If LaCroix was involved, it would be better for everyone concerned if he did the investigation. There could be more questions asked than could be answered.
Nick and Schanke pushed through the throng of bystanders in the outer lobby of radio station CERK to the broadcast booth. As Nick already knew, the body was not Lucien LaCroix. According to the officer who took the call, it was that of his production assistant, Wayne Margolin.
Nick smiled as Natalie Lambert came over to them. Natalie returned his smile. "Male. Caucasian. Age 41. He's been dead about an hour." She said, reading from her notes. The smile quickly disappeared, replaced by the professional mask. "The victim was shot three times at point blank range. Once to the upper thoracic region just below the chin. Twice in the forehead. Any one of them could have been the fatal shot. All three exited through the back of the occipital caranium, blowing away most of the rear of the skull and upper vertebra. Forensics dug three slugs from the soundproofing at the back of the booth. They look like they're .22 caliber. I've got a month's pay that says they're the ones. No signs of a struggle, no other wounds. From all outward appearances, the killer just walked in and blew Margolin to kingdom come."
An officer directed Nick to a very shaken up Myrle Pickery, the station coordinator. "Mr. LaCroix was occupied elsewhere, so we were running a pre-recorded tape. He was in a meeting with sponsors and officials about a possible syndication of the show. We didn't know that anything was wrong until about an hour into the broadcast when there was two minutes of dead air time." Pickery said, nervously wiping the copious sweat from his balding head with a handkerchief. "Each tape holds about an hour's worth of play time, and Margolin was supposed to switch to the second tape when the first one ran out. When he didn't, that's when I went to the booth to find out why. I was the one who discovered the body."
And no one heard the shots.?" Nick asked.
"The broadcast booth, of course, is completely soundproofed, and there was a tape playing, so nobody on the outside could hear anything that originated from inside the booth."
"And nobody saw anyone enter or leave the building?" Schanke asked.
"At this time of night, there's only a skeleton crew. Me, the sound man, and the cleaning crew. We were all on the green room having an extended break. Besides, Mr. LaCroix insists on complete and utter privacy, so everyone avoids this area as much as possible."
"Even when he's not here?"
"ESPECIALLY when he's not here." Lucien LaCroix said emphatically as he came into the hallway where the group was standing. "As Mark Twain once said, the reports of my demise are greatly exaggerated. Or something to that effect." In a whisper that only Nick could hear, he added. "Much to your dismay I assume, Nicholas"
"What can you add to this, Mr. LaCroix?" Don Schanke asked.
"Absolutely nothing, Detective ... Schanke, isn't it? As Mr. Pickery already told you, I had the night off. Personally, I don't care about these stuffy meetings, but the sponsors wanted to see the merchandise before they made a decision. So ..." He put his arms up in a position of resignation. "I heard about the murder on the nightly news, as did nearly everyone else in Toronto. I came over here to show everybody that I am very much alive. Now, if you will excuse me, I must go and assure my followers that The Nightcrawler is still on the air." He started toward the broadcast booth. The officer guarding the door put up his arm to stop him, but LaCroix only stared at him and said something in a low voice. Immediately, the officer lowered his hands.
Rome, 61 AD
Lucius Gaius Pletano stepped out into the night. He had been summoned to the city from Pompeii to receive the congratulations of the Emperor for his latest victory. The party celebrating this was still going strong, but he needed to get to his quarters. A messenger had been sent to him with the news that Seline was ill and that she wanted him with her. He would go to her, but he would also make it clear that his actions would not be dictated by a mere woman. As soon as he was certain that everything was all right, he had every intention of returning to his party.
As he passed an alleyway, several pairs of strong arms grabbed him roughly and dragged him in.
"Well, well. If it isn't the great and powerful General Lucius Pletano. The one Nero calls The Crucifier." One of the ruffians said, planting a fist into Lucius's stomach. Lucius doubled over from the blow.
"We have a real prize here, my brothers." Lucius recognized the speaker as Flavius Marcellis, a very popular and skilled gladiator. "He is the one who was in charge of the crucifixion of Peter as well as so many other of the followers."
"I came here for the report on Wayne Margolin." Nick said as he entered the morgue. He could have waited until the report was released, but this gave him an excuse to see the pretty coroner. He used every excuse he could, no matter how flimsy. "Anything more than what was apparent from the scene?"
"Not from what I've turned up." Natalie Lambert said, handing him a manila folder. "Cause of death was massive trauma caused by three gunshot wounds to the head and upper neck, just as I stated at the scene. From the angle of the wounds, Margolin was seated and the killer was standing in front of him. Death was, of course, instantaneous. I was also right about the bullets. They had traces of the victim's blood, hair and brain tissue all over them. Without the gun, it's impossible to be absolutely positive, but it looks like they're from a Saturday Night Special.
I'll bet you didn't know the station records everything that goes on in the booth when a show is on the air. The Forensics people have the tapes from last night and if you want to, you can listen to it, Maybe it can give you some more clues."
She reached into her desk and handed Nick a package. "By the way, this is for you."
"Natalie!" Nick exclaimed as he held up a pair of green tights. "I am NOT wearing these."
"Oh yes you are. We agreed. Besides, don't tell me you've never worn tights before."
"Of course I've worn tights before. But then, everyone else was wearing them as well. I didn't stand out. I don't know about this. I've been thinking it over and I might not even go."
"You have to go. It's orders. And Captain Cohen can get very upset if you disobey orders. You, of all people should know that."
"Well, what is so important that you had to summon me this close to sunrise." A very annoyed LaCroix said as he entered Nick's loft. "Isn't it bad enough that my assistant was murdered yesterday evening?"
"This." Nick said, holding up an audio tape. "It's the one from the broadcast booth during the show. I think you would be very interested in what's on it." He put it into the tape player. "And for your information, there's still two hours to go before the sun rises."
"Good Evening. I am the Nightcrawler. You don't know me because nobody ever listens to this station. I am here but I am not necessarily all there. I am a complete asshole and I haven't got the first clue as to what I am doing." The voice on the tape began.
"After hearing this ... this mockery of me, It's a good thing he's dead, or I would have drained him myself." LaCroix said as Nick rewound the tape.
"Actually, I think he had you down cold. I especially liked the part about the stripper and the vat of cottage cheese."
"You would. How many others know about this?"
"Just the people from Forensics. I have ... arranged it ... so they will only recall that the Margolin was imitating your voice and that, except for the shots at the end, there is nothing on this tape that is of any intrinsic value to the case.
It's reasonable to assume that the killer was after you. After hearing him imitate you, he or she must have thought that Margolin was the Nightcrawler." He handed the tape to LaCroix. "The next step is to substitute a sanitized version of this tape back into the evidence folder." He put a fresh tape on the player and handed LaCroix a microphone. "Go for it."
"Why are you doing this for me?" LaCroix asked.
"Let's just say it's a favor."
LaCroix recorded his part and then he and Nick skillfully dubbed in the sound of the shots from the original tape. When they were finished, no one except an expert could have even suspected that there had been a switch.
"You have saved me great deal of embarrassment." LaCroix said.
"I didn't think you could be embarrassed." Nick said.
"Oh, but I can." LaCroix replied flatly as he exited the loft.
"Thank you, Nicholas." Nick said sarcastically to the empty air. "You're welcome, LaCroix." He answered himself.
LaCroix dumped a sack of mail on Nick's desk. "You wanted to know if anyone had a reason to harm me. These are just the ones from this week."
"Hey." Schanke said, holding up an envelope. "These are all unopened. Don't you ever read your fan mail?"
"Not unless it's something important. Screening the fan mail is ... was ... one of Margolin's duties. You may read them if you wish." He said, sweeping his hand over the letters.
Schanke carefully tore a strip off the end of the envelope and pulled the letter out. As he read, his face began to turn a deep shade of red. "Man, oh man. You need asbestos gloves for this one. I didn't think women knew that kind of language."
He, Nick and LaCroix opened and read the letters and put them into one of several piles. One stack was for favorable letters. An even larger one was for disapproving ones. A separate pile held those that made, or implied, threats. Quite a few of these were from parents of teenagers. The last pile held what Schanke had dubbed 'fire hose' letters. Most of those were from women wanting various sexual favors from The Nightcrawler. Some had revealing photos and / or explicit descriptions.
Schanke held up a photo. "I wonder how she got the camera into that position." He said, his eyes wide.
"Keep leering at that, and I'll tell Myra on you." Nick joked.
"Just doing my official duty." Schanke shot back. He put the picture on the 'fire hose' pile.
As they finished reading the letters, Captain Cohen joined them. "If it's all right with you, Mr. LaCroix, I'd like to place you in protective custody. After all, you are a public figure and it would be much easier to protect you here in the police station than out on the streets."
"It is definitely NOT all right with me. I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself." LaCroix said indignantly.
"Then at least let me assign a couple of officers as security."
"That, too, is not acceptable. Because I am a public figure, I must be able to function unhampered."
"Come to think of it, you and Detective Knight know each other. Maybe he could be your bodyguard."
"NO!" Nick and LaCroix said in unison.
"On second thought." LaCroix said, a hint of a smile spreading across his face. "Perhaps Detective Knight would be acceptable. He might even ... learn a few things ... about me."
"Then it's done." The Captain said. "Detective Knight will be your security."
"Captain, you can't be serious." Nick protested.
"I can be very serious." Cohen said, giving him that I-mean-business stare. "As of this minute, you are on detached duty as Mr. LaCroix's personal bodyguard. You will be with him twenty four hours a day until the killer is caught. You will not leave him out of your sight. Is that clear, Detective?"
"Yes, Captain." Nick mumbled something dark under his breath.
"What was that, Detective?"
"Your place or mine?" LaCroix said sardonically.
Nick sat in the green room as LaCroix began his nightly show. It had been a long day. After leaving the precinct, he and LaCroix had gone to his apartment to get a few things. Three hours, seven suitcases, two steamer trunks and a duffel bag later, they were ready to leave for Nick's loft. That did not include the large Coleman cooler full of LaCroix's 'private stock'. He regarded Nick's supply of bovine blood as 'swill' and refused to even consider drinking it.
"Do you really need all this stuff?" Nick complained as he worried one of the trunks down the narrow stairs to the back entrance. "I have been with you when we traveled with little more than the clothes on our backs."
"These are only the necessities." Was LaCroix's reply. "We can return for the rest later."
"And just why are we taking these things down the stairs? Wouldn't it be easier to bring them down in the elevator? This building has one, you know."
His answer was a cold withering stare that sent chills down Nick's back.
LaCroix commented that since none of this was his idea, he was not going to give any help. It fell to Nick to try and find space in the Caddy to accommodate all of his things. And to get them out. And to get them into the loft. And to get them upstairs to the bedroom.
Of course, LaCroix insisted on the bedroom, including the closet space, so all of Nick's belongings were hanging on broomsticks strung between the rungs of two stepladders in a corner of the living area. It had taken most of the day for Nick to rearrange everything to LaCroix's satisfaction, and although the couch was comfortable, it was not the same as his king sized bed. In all, Nick estimated he had gotten only three hours sleep. LaCroix had spent most of the time sitting on the couch directing Nick's efforts, so he was fresh and ready to go as soon as the sun set.
Nick was absently listening to the broadcast over the speaker in the green room. His attention was quickly captured by the caller that The Nightcrawler was talking to.
"You are an abomination." The man said. "You are exactly what everyone says you are. An agent of the devil. You are pure evil and you must be destroyed. You cannot be allowed to continue to poison our young people with your filth. I am only sorry that the wrong man was killed the first time. Next time, you will not be so lucky."
"Are you the one who killed my assistant?" LaCroix asked.
His heard only the dial tone.
Nick was instantly in the booth. "Too bad there wasn't time to trace that call." He said.
"No need to." LaCroix said, pointing to the phone panel. "Although the station guarantees the anonymity of all callers, they did install caller ID several months ago. Just for situations like this. However, it only displays the number, not the identity of the caller."
Nick copied the number from the display pad. "I'll get this to the precinct and see if the telephone company can get a name and address."
Slowly, Lucius straightened up. His years of military training had toughened him, and the effect of the blow to his solar plexus was much less than it would've ordinarily been. There were six men that he could see. All of them were well relatively young and well muscled. Lucius guessed they were probably fellow gladiators with Flavius Marcellis. From their conversation, he also got the impression they were members of the sect that called themselves Christians.
"Well, General Lucius Crucifier, what do you have to say for yourself?" One of the ruffians spat at him.
Lucius only growled at the man. Using the body of the one that was holding him for a balance point, he drew his legs up. He planted them firmly against the spitter's chest and pushed hard. The man went tumbling backwards into his companions. The holder, momentarily off balance, released his hold on Lucius. In an instant, the General crouched and drew the dagger he kept hidden in the folds of his toga.
"Come on." Lucius hissed. "If any of you want so badly to join your master Peter in your heaven, I shall be all too happy to accommodate you."
"Well, Schanke, any luck tracing the call?" Nick said as he sat down at his desk. LaCroix sat in the chair across from him. He picked up one of the files in Nick's inbasket. Nick took it out of his hands and put it back. LaCroix picked up another one. Nick took that one also.
"We traced it, all right. To a pay phone on the corner of Dundas and King. Right in the heart of downtown Toronto. Anybody and everybody could have had access to that phone."
"So where does that leave us?" Amanda Cohen asked.
"Well, since the voice was an adult male, we can factor out the women, and anyone under the age of seventeen, we now have narrowed it down to four hundred fifty thousand suspects. Give or take." Schanke replied.
"Actually, that is four hundred forty nine thousand ninety seven. You didn't do it. I didn't do it, and neither did LaCroix." Nick said with a smile.
"Funny Nicholas." Cohen said. "Did you say you wanted to do a stint in Record Archives? I can arrange it for you, you know."
At this point, Nick thought, that would be a decidedly preferable alternative to his present assignment. He took another folder from LaCroix and replaced it in the inbasket.
The following night, there was another call from the same man. This time the call was from a pay phone at a gas station. The message was basically the same.
LaCroix stood on the rooftop watching the knot of men standing in the alley, huddled around the fire burning in a fifty five gallon drum. "Which of them shall provide tonight's entertainment?" He asked Nick, rubbing his hands together in anticipation..
"Why do you insist on doing this? After all, every one of them is someone's father, husband, son, or lover."
"They're homeless bums, Nicholas. They mean nothing to us. If there ever was anyone in their lives it's obvious there is no one there now. I'm sure that if one or more of them were to turn up missing, no one would even notice. Besides, I don't intend to kill. At least not purposely. If the prey gives me a good night's exercise, I might let him live so I can hunt him again. After all, the thrill of the hunt is in the chase."
"Why bring me along. You know how I hate this."
"You forget. You are my bodyguard. You have to go everywhere I go."
One of the men walked away from the group around the fire drum and turned onto a side street. In a split second, LaCroix was on the ground. He motioned to Nick to join him. Reluctantly, Nick left the roof.
LaCroix made a slight noise, Not enough to spook the man, but enough to let him know he was being followed. The man reacted as LaCroix had hoped. His heartbeat increased and his breathing became shallow. He glanced around nervously and then quickened his pace.
"The chase is on." LaCroix exclaimed, his voice fairly ecstatic.
"LaCroix." Nick tried one last time to dissuade him. "Why don't we just go to The Raven. Janette always has your favorite vintage on hand. You can drink all you want and no none will be harmed."
"Nicholas! Have you no sense of adventure? Why settle for a prepackaged meal when you can have it hot and fresh on the spot." He said as he started after the man. "After all, it's the fear that gives the blood that ..." He put his fingers to his lips and kissed them. " ... Extra kick."
After a few blocks, he let the man catch sight of him. As expected, the man increased his speed and moved to the outside of the street, away from the shadows. He turned and looked over his shoulder again. He changed directions and headed toward the main thorofare. LaCroix followed at a discreet distance, practically dragging Nick after him. He showed himself once more and the man broke into a half run, pausing every few steps to turn and see who, or what, was still following him. LaCroix was.
The man ducked into an alley and as he did so, he tripped over something and went sprawling to the ground. LaCroix was there in an instant. Nick could hear the man's heart beating wildly and he could smell the fear in the man's scent. He knew LaCroix could, too.
Lucius quickly glanced around him. There were several more who had joined the group and they had him effectively surrounded. "By the gods." He snarled at them. "You may be able to defeat me, but I shall see to it that as many of you as possible join me." The wall of a building was only a few steps behind him. If he could make it there, he had an excellent chance to fight them off. Slowly he retreated toward it.
Flavius Marcellis drew a sword from his belt and faced Lucius. "We are not afraid to die, General. For your information, Peter was not our master, only His servant, like we are. Our Master died for our sins and for those of all people, including you. Peter was merely a messenger of His Word. He preached peace and harmony, understanding and brotherhood, and for this you put him to death."
Out of the corner of his eye, Lucius caught the glint of the moon on at least four more swords or daggers. The wall suddenly seemed very far away.
The man looked up and saw a creature standing over him. He had red eyes and teeth like no other creature he had ever seen. He screamed. He screamed as the creature picked him up by the collar. He screamed as he had never screamed in his life. He was still screaming as the creature sank his fangs into his neck and drained the life from him.
Nick looked away in disgust. "LaCroix." He finally said. "You said you would not kill. Why?"
"Why?" LaCroix laughed. "Why did I kill him? Why not! Because I felt like it. That's why! He deserved to die. He was a pathetic little creature who had no character and not a shred of courage. Did you know he wet his pants right before he died?" Now, let's clean up this mess before someone discovers him." LaCroix picked up the body. He secured a cinder block from a nearby construction site to his neck with the man's belt and flew out over the lake. When he was sure there were no boats or planes in the area, he dropped him into a deep chasm of Lake Ontario and watched as he sank to the bottom. "Now, let's go home. I, for one am tired, and the amount of alcohol that was in tonight's dinner is making me slightly lightheaded." He headed for
" ... And I promise YOU ... All you GOD FEARING men and women ...This ... BLIGHT ... This MALIGNANCY ... on our society ... WILL BE ... Eliminated!" TV Evangelist Boyd Dundee shouted out to his electronic flock. "This IMMORAL Satanist ... This ... CREATURE ... This DEVIL'S AGENT ... who calls himself ... THE NIGHTCRAWLER ... Will be ... WIPED OFF the face of the earth." He pounded his fist on the well worn Bible in his other hand as he strode determinedly back and forth in front of the cameras. "GOD has said ... He shall PAY for his sins ... And he WILL pay, brothers and sisters! I GUARANTEE you! He WILL pay!"
The frenzied faithful assembled in the auditorium responded with roaring. "AMEN!"
Nick shut the TV off.
"Why did you do that?" LaCroix asked. "I do so enjoy a good comedy. It is laughable to see him work himself into such a sweat over me."
"Unfortunately, he doesn't think it's funny. He may have had something to do with the murder of your assistant and the threats on your life, either directly or indirectly. If that's the case, he is a definite suspect
"Let him threaten all he likes. He can't harm me in any way. I shall be here long after he and others of his pathetic kind have returned to the dust from whence they came."
"He doesn't know that." Nick picked up the phone and dialed the precinct number.
Schanke answered. "Yeah. Boyd Dundee has several letters in the unfavorable pile. Unfortunately, all they say is that he wants the Nightcrawler to stop spreading his 'blasphemy' and 'heresy', as the good Reverend calls it. He also says he will pray for The Nightcrawler's soul. At the time, we didn't think he was any threat, but after hearing some of his diatribes on the tube, Cohen thought we should check him out.
He has an airtight alibi for both the shooting and the threatening calls. On the night Margolin was killed, he was conducting a faith healing service at Toronto University Auditorium in front of twenty five thousand witnesses.
For the first call, he was at a birthday party for his niece at his brother's house. At least twenty people swear that he was there the entire night.
When the second call came into CERK, he was at an interfaith conference on morality at St. Mike's College. It was attended by nearly all of the most respected religious leaders in the Greater Toronto area. At the actual time of the call, he was expounding his theories on the disciplining of children to none other than the Archbishop himself. Besides that, his voiceprint doesn't match the caller's.
I know what you're going to say. How did a charlatan like Dundee get invited with all those genuine servants of God? Who knows?
He does have a pretty powerful say with the general populace. There are even some nut cases out there that think he is the greatest leader since Moses. I know that for a fact. My Great Aunt Magda is one of them."
"How about someone in his congregation, then?" Nick asked. "He manages to whip them up into a frenzy. Maybe someone took him literally."
"Thought about that, too. We finally got in touch with someone at the All Holiness Cathedral Of The Faith. Had the devil of a time doing that, too. Excuse the pun. The number that's given out over the air is only a telephone answering machine. You know the kind ... Press 1 to have your sins forgiven. Press 2 to hear a message from God ... Press 3 to be saved ... Et cetera ... Et Cetera. The actual church number's unlisted and we had to lean hard on the Telephone Company to release it. When we talked to one of his ... Deacons ... he told us that the list of the registered churchgoers was a confidential matter and if we wanted to see it, we would have to have a court order. He did say, though, that it numbered in the thousands. Even if we were to get at it, do you realize how many man hours it would take just to check out that many people? And that doesn't even take into account the so-called faithful that are watching him out there in TV land."
When they reached CERK for the night's broadcast, there was a circle of people carrying signs waiting for LaCroix and Nick. Many of them were hand lettered. For the most part, they mimicked what Boyd Dundee had said in his TV sermons. Several of the men spat at LaCroix as he crossed the sidewalk to the door.
"You don't have to do this, you know." Nick said as they walked to the studio.
"And if I didn't, I would consider myself a coward. I am a Roman General. I have been victorious in more battles than I care to think of. I have survived the Inquisition. I am not gong to sit cowering in some corner simply because some demented, self appointed ... savior calls me a few unflattering names and some other crackpot tries to make his predictions of doom come true. No, Nicholas. It will be business as usual. The only reason I agreed to allow you to guard me is because my refusal would have raised more questions than I was ready to answer."
"Then at least tell Captain Cohen you won't do the Halloween party."
"I gave my word. The Nightcrawler does not go back on his word. As much as you would think me an evil heartless creature, the Children's Fund is a very worthy cause and I AM going to be the Master of Ceremonies. After all, you wouldn't want the general public that paid good money to attend this party to be disappointed. Would you? Now if you will excuse me, I have a radio show to do."
Lucius quickly turned and swung his dagger at the man on his left. He left a wet, red line across the man's tunic corresponding to the gash across his chest. He felt the minuscule breeze and ducked as another of the band swung a broadsword at his head from the rear. In one move he lunged backward and drove his elbow into the man's midsection before he could bring his sword arm to the guard position. He had seen Flavius perform that maneuver with rival gladiators in the Coliseum many times with great success. It worked with this man too. With a groan, he went down. Now that his left and rear flanks were open, Lucius made another attempt to put the wall at his back.
He did not see the missing stone in the paving. His right foot found it though, and it remained stationary, wedged in the depression. He lurched wildly, trying to regain his balance. He failed. The sound of muscles and ligaments tearing was very audible. A searing hot pain traveling up his calf and thigh told Lucius that the leg was severely injured, if not broken.
At the same moment he felt the cold sensation of the knife blade as it was thrust into his left side. He looked and saw blood pouring from a wound just a finger's length below his rib cage. A wave of pain and nausea overcame him. He fell backward to the ground. Barely conscious and unable to move, he growled a curse to several of the gods of underworld and waited for the final blow.
Natalie slid the door to the loft open. She thought it a bit strange that Nick was not at the door to greet her. Carefully, she surveyed the darkened loft for any signs of life, or more appropriately, unlife.
That's when she spotted him. Nick was laying on his back along a wide ledge under a window near the upper portion of the loft wall. What the ledge was originally used for was not readily apparent, but Nick was using it as an improvised bed.. His eyes were closed and he appeared to be sound asleep He had been reading, but the book now lay across his chest. That was all there was on his body. A towel that had probably covered the more intimate parts of him lay on the floor two stories beneath him. As a doctor and a coroner, Natalie had seen hundreds of naked bodies before. She had never seen Nick's naked body before. The moonlight streaming through the window bathed his already pale skin with a translucent glow. He looked almost like a porcelain statue. A very well proportioned porcelain statue at that.
In her mind's eye, Nick was no longer on the ledge, but laying next to her in the king sized bed in the bedroom on the upper level of the loft. He was tracing butterfly kisses down her bare torso ... She was exploring his cool body with her warm hands ... In her fantasy, she could feel the excitement growing with each moment. Mentally, she ran her fingers through his blond curls as he gently caressed her hips ... His mouth met hers in a hungry passionate kiss ... She gasped. Aloud.
Nick heard the sound and quickly crouched into a fetal position, the book was now covering his groin area. "Na ... Nat ... How ... How long have you been here?" He stammered. If it was at all possible for a vampire to blush, Nick was doing so. Deeply. So was Natalie. Deeply.
"Long enough. What were you doing up there anyway?"
"Getting a moontan. You see, the full moon on a cloudless night like this has the same effect on us as a perfect summer day has on you."
"And where are your clothes?"
"In the washer. Even the damned need clean underwear from time to time. I thought there would be enough time to ... that is .... I ... " He pointed to the floor. "Nat ... the towel ... Please?"
She picked it up. "You'll have to come down here. I can't reach that high."
"If you don't mind ... " He said, making small circles with his index finger.
"Oh, yes." She said, turning to face the opposite wall. "I forgot about your thirteenth century perceptions of morality."
She heard the 'whoosh' as he dropped to the living room floor. A few seconds later, he stood in front of her, a pair of cutoff jeans covering the necessary parts.
"You're early. I wasn't expecting you for another two hours." He said.
"That's obvious. I brought your costume." She held up a large bag. "You forgot it the other night at the morgue." She held up a second bag. "And I brought mine as well. I thought we could change here and all go together. Speaking of togetherness, where is LaCroix?"
"In the bathroom. I took my shower first and decided to catch a few rays while I waited for him. If I don't get mine first, he hogs all the hot water. His showers can last up to an hour."
"While we're waiting, here's something else for you." She held out a Styrofoam container.
"Do I get three guesses what this is?"
"Only if the guesses are protein shake, protein shake, and protein shake. I tried something different this time. I mixed some dietary iron in with it. Maybe it will help get you off the blood. And in honor of the season, I added some orange food coloring."
Nick made a face. "Must I?"
"Oh, yes, Nicholas you really must." LaCroix said from the balcony. He was wearing only a black silk dressing gown and rubbing his wet hair with a towel. "Do drink it up, my dear boy. Your face turns the most interesting shade of bilious green when you ingest those ... things."
"He's right. Drink up." Natalie said. "If you want to have any hope of becoming mortal, you have to get away from drinking blood. These shakes are the best way to do that." She looked at LaCroix. "Would you like one, too? I brought extras."
"No, thank you, Doctor. I am quite satisfied with what I am. Nicholas should be satisfied as well. I do not know why he keeps pursuing this folly. After all, there is no cure."
As you keep telling me He thought. Nick took a deep breath and held it. He emptied the cup in three large swallows.
"That wasn't so bad. Was it?" Nat said, taking the empty cup from him.
Nick had to admit that it was better than some of her previous attempts, but it was still only barely potable. Now the question would be ho long could he keep it down.
"Now that's done, I'm going into the bathroom and change into my costume. Nick, why don't you change too?" Natalie said, heading up the stairs.
Almost as soon as Natalie disappeared into the upstairs bath, Nick headed to the downstairs one. There was the muffled sound of retching. A few minutes later, Nick came out of the room He was now wearing a green shirt under a tan suede, fringed, hip length tunic. His leggings were the green tights. On his head he wore a green felt hat with a red feather in it. Over his shoulder, he had slung a quiver of arrows and a bow. Natalie came out of the bathroom wearing a long, full skirted, multicolored pastel brocade dress and a pointed cap with a matching sheer pastel veil trailing from the point.
LaCroix bowed low to the two of them. "Robin Hood and the fair Maid Marian, I presume. How quaint. Nice legs, Nicholas. I forgot how handsome you look in tights."
"I can do without the sarcasm if you don't mind. It's bad enough that I agreed to go like this."
"And just whose idea was this costume, may I ask?"
"Don't tell me you're henpecked by this mortal."
"And how about you." Natalie asked. "What are you going to the party as? Shouldn't you be getting into your costume?"
"My dear, I AM in my costume." LaCroix said. He was dressed in a black turtle neck shirt and black slacks. A silver sword pin was fastened to the shirt collar. "I, of course, am going as a vampire. This is the one night when our kind can go out as themselves and not be questioned."
"Shouldn't you have tie and tails and an opera cape?"
"You have seen too many Bela Lugosi movies, my dear. I am a thoroughly modern vampire. But if you insist ... " In a flash he was upstairs and just as swiftly returned to the living room. This time he was wearing a black cape with a red satin lining. "Is this more to your liking?" He asked sarcastically.
They stopped at CERK. LaCroix pointed to several large boxes sitting in the lobby. "Nicholas, dear boy. Be a good fellow and put them in the trunk of the car."
Nick gave LaCroix a nasty look, his eyes starting to fleck "Why can't your assistant do this? I'm your bodyguard, not your slave."
"My assistant is dead. Or have you forgotten that little fact. Captain Cohen said you were to protect me. If I were to injure myself moving these, she would be very upset. You wouldn't want to upset her, would you?"
"You can't injure yourself that way. We both know that."
"Ah, yes. But the good Captain doesn't know that. And we wouldn't want to tell her our nasty little secrets, would we? Now, be very careful. This is very delicate electronic equipment."
"I'd like to put them where the moon never shines." Nick grumbled darkly in a Middle French dialect as he wrestled the boxes into the trunk. Thankfully, he was well out of LaCroix's hearing range.
"No, Nicholas. The speakers go on either side of the room." As usual, LaCroix stood on the stage of the party room, giving directions to Nick as he lugged the sound equipment from the parking lot into the building.
Nick mumbled something.
"My high school French isn't all that good, but I do believe that what you suggested is anatomically impossible." Natalie whispered as Nick passed her on yet another trip to the parking lot.
"Don't start, Natalie Ann Lambert." Nick hissed, a plastic smile on his face. Natalie could see that his canines were considerably longer than the rest of his teeth. His blue eyes sported a thin rim of gold.
As he maneuvered the last piece of equipment into place, Amanda Cohen came in. She wore a black sateen lycra exercise suit with white stitching. A matching hood with pointed ears covered her head. Black whiskers spirit glued to her upper lip completed her costume. Natalie recognized that the Captain was dressed as Catwoman from the Batman movies.
"Well, Mr. LaCroix." She said. "After the threats on your life, I really didn't expect you to show up tonight and I wouldn't have held it against you if you had declined. I didn't think you would want to go out in public."
"My dear Captain." LaCroix said, coming off the stage and taking her hand in his. "I gave my word to you and I always keep my promises. I would not dream of disappointing you and the children that this party will benefit. Nicholas, here, has been most diligent in his guarding of me, and I know he will continue to do so until the assassin is apprehended. Also, how much danger can I be in, when I am surrounded by nearly every off duty police officer in Toronto?" He said in the Nightcrawler's satiny voice. He stared deeply into Cohen's eyes. "Captain Cohen sounds so ... official. May I call you Amanda?" He brought her hand to his lips and gently brushed them along the fingertips.
Nick nearly gagged. LaCroix could be exceedingly charming when he wanted to be, and he was really laying it on thick with Captain Cohen. Cohen apparently was falling for it hook line and sinker.
A heavy set figure walked over to Nick. He was dressed in a tight fitting white sequined jumpsuit with a wide gold leather belt and stand-up collar. His black hair, obviously a wig, was pompadoured and he wore heavy sideburns, also fake. Around his neck he had draped a white silk scarf. This was all topped by mirrored aviator style sunglasses. "The King is in the building." He said with a swaggering of his head.
"Hi, Schanke." Nick replied.
"Aw, Nick." Schanke said, taking off the glasses. "How'd ya know it was me."
"Schanke in an Elvis costume. It goes together like ham and eggs. Or in your case like Souvlaki and donuts."
"Neat costume you've got, too. You make a great Peter Pan. What did the good Doctor Lambert come as, Tinker Bell?"
"She came as Maid Marian and I, for your information, am Robin Hood." Nick answered, a slight touch of irritation in his voice. "Who's this?" He pointed at Myra. "One of your groupies?"
Myra Schanke wore a pink skirt with a large felt poodle on the side, and a white blouse with a fuzzy pink angora sweater. She had white bobby socks and brown saddle shoes. Her hair was pulled back into a high ponytail and secured with a long pink ribbon. She was chewing on a large wad of gum.
"See. I told you this was a crazy idea, Donny." She said, slapping him across the shoulder. "But no. You said. Nobody will recognize us. You said. Just remember. I wanted us to go as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum."
Schanke as Elvis was bad enough, but the thought of Schanke as Tweedle Dee was almost too much for Nick to bear. Barely holding back a grin, he hastily excused himself and sought out Natalie.
She was talking with her assistant, Grace Balthazar, who was dressed in a blue and white long, full skirted gown with a sheer overskirt. A pair of tiny wings were attached to the blue cape around her shoulders. The pointed hat and the sequin studded wand she carried left little doubt she was Cinderella's fairy godmother. The costume was somehow appropriate. Grace had been trying not-so-subtly to get her boss and Nick together since they had first met. Grace's eyes lit up as she spotted Nick approaching. He couldn't catch what she whispered to Natalie before she hurried away, but Nat was trying very hard to suppress a giggle.
"What was that all about?" Nick asked.
"Girl talk." Nat said, the blush still on her cheeks.
The hall was filling rapidly as the police officers and their mates, friends, and significant others, as well as the public, came in. Nearly everyone was in costume. Some of them were spectacular. There was a smoke breathing dragon, (courtesy of a small CO2 fire extinguisher concealed in the head) which Nick strongly suspected was Peter Caine from the 101st. Commissioner Vetter was there, too, appropriately dressed as King Arthur. Numerous clowns and hobos populated the room. There was also the requisite number of ballerinas and princesses. No Halloween party would be complete without ghosts, monsters and of course, vampires, all of whom were abundantly represented. A few of them, he suspected, were the real thing..
Finally, the appointed time arrived. "Good evening my children." LaCroix announced from the stage. "I am The Nightcrawler and I am here to make this evening as pleasant as you want it to be ..." He said in the voice everyone associated with his character. " ... Or as scary." He laughed menacingly. A cheer went up from the assembled partygoers as the first music selection, Monster Mash, boomed out over the loudspeakers.
Natalie lay her head on Nick's chest during one of the slow numbers. Her hat, along with his bow and arrows and his jacket were occupying one of the chairs that lined the walls. With the party well underway, most of the guests had shed the more cumbersome parts of their apparel. She had almost forgotten what a good dancer Nick was and how nice it felt to have him hold her this way.
"As soon as this case is over, we are going to have to get down to some serious cuddling." Nick said as he rested his head on hers. The smell of her shampoo and her cologne melded with her body scents to make a most heady combination. It was almost irresistible. "That is, if I am not in a rubber room by then. LaCroix is driving me slowly but surely bonkers."
"It can't be all that bad, can it?"
"Can't it? He expects me to wait on him hand and foot. He plays Wagnerian operas all day long while he sleeps. I disliked Wagner when he was alive. Now I know why. He watches the Jerry Tate Show and thinks it's the best thing on TV, outside of Public Television, that is. He cracks his knuckles. He even irons his socks. And to top it all off, he squeezes the toothpaste from the middle! I know he does it deliberately just to get my goat. If The killer isn't caught by next week, I'm going to dismember him myself and spread his body parts over the five continents."
"Nick, there are seven continents, not five."
"I know that, but two of them don't have deserts."
"Nicholas." LaCroix called just under the level of the music. Unless someone else was listening intently, only Nick could hear it. "Come here. I need your assistance."
"I may not wait a week." Nick grumbled as he headed for the stage.
"Well, Sir Robin." Natalie said as the last of the guests left the hall. "According to the song, the party's over. While you and LaCroix pack everything up, I am going to the powder room. After all, a Fair Maiden's gotta do what a Fair Maiden's gotta do." She pecked him lightly on the cheek. "Be back in a minute."
"Our great and mighty General Lucius doesn't look so great and mighty any more, does he?" One of the band announced as he thrust his foot into Lucius's rib cage. Lucius heard several bones snap and another wave of pain engulfed his chest. He groaned loudly.
"What shall we do with him?" The kicker asked.
"Crucify him!" Another answered. "Since he is so eager to crucify Christians, let him see how it feels to have his life slowly ebb away."
No Piago!" Flavius said. "He is, after all, a Roman Citizen. Crucifixion is for slaves and foreigners. Besides, Our Lord died that way and so did Peter. Would you defile their memory by killing him in the same manner?"
"Since he is a Roman, then let him die like a Roman." Piago raised his sword over Lucius's throat. "Why don't we send Nero the head of his newest general on a platter, like they did with the Baptizer to Herod?"
Natalie rubbed her hands under the dryer. "Whatever happened to paper towels? " She said half aloud. While the doctor in her knew that dryers were more sanitary than towels, it was extremely difficult to wipe gravy stains off one's dress with a stream of hot air.
She thought she heard someone else in the restroom. "Hello? Is there someone in here?" She called out. Yes. There it was again. A slight sniffle, as though someone had been crying. "Who is here?" The answer was only silence, but Natalie could hear someone breathing heavily. She grabbed her purse and held it ready to swing. "You can't stay in here forever."
"Yes, I can." A foot wearing a white stocking encased in a patent leather Mary Jane descended to the floor of the far stall. It was eventually joined by the other foot.
"What are you doing in here?"
"Who are you? Come on out. No one will hurt you."
The stall door opened and a slightly built woman emerged. She was dressed in a pale blue frock with an enormous white apron over it. Her blonde hair, Natalie wasn't sure whether it was a wig or not, was finger curled and held in place with a large blue bow. She held her head bowed and averted her eyes from Natalie. "I'm Officer Tracy Vetter." She said in a small voice.
"Tracy Vetter. You're Commissioner Vetter's daughter."
"Yes. COMMISSIONER VETTER'S daughter." She said, this time loudly and with definite anger in her voice. "I'm 27 years old. I graduated the Academy at the top of my class. I've got a degree Cum Laude in Criminology from Toronto University, with a 3.97 grade average to boot. I was class Salutatorian. But none of that counts for squat because I'm COMMISSIONER VETTER'S daughter. All that gets me is the opportunity to hang traffic tickets on illegally parked cars because I'm COMMISSIONER VETTER'S daughter and God forbid I should be given an assignment that had any more danger to it than an occasional paper cut." She tried to stop it, but a tear escaped. She sniffled softly.
Natalie fished a handkerchief out of her purse and handed it to Tracy.
"I wanted to come as Madonna or even Cher, but Daddy had a purple fit." Tracy continued after blowing her nose. "So I ended up as Alice in Wonderland." She took off the wig and shook her own blonde hair into its page boy style. "He picked out the costume. He even picked out my date. His name is Melvin Goodley. He's one of dad's law librarians. He looks like his name. He's here as the White Rabbit. Daddy even picked that costume out too. Now you understand why I've been in here all night."
"I think I do." She remembered living with her grandmother after her mother died. Nana was a good, but very strong willed and dominating, person. "I'm Doctor Natalie Lambert. Is there anything I can do to help?"
"You can see if my father has gone home and then call me a cab."
"Nicholas!" LaCroix shouted. "I told you. That is delicate equipment. Be extremely careful with it. You nearly dropped that sound board."
Nick looked at LaCroix. His eyes were yellowing and his fangs were starting to elongate. He started to say something to the elder vampire but only shook his head.
"Allow me." A man said from behind Nick. He was dressed as a hobo. He took the other end of the board and between the two of them, they managed to get it out the door and into the trunk.
"I don't recognize you." Nick said as they returned to the stage. "What precinct are you from, or are you one of the other guests? If so, the party is over and you shouldn't be here now."
"I'm not with the police department." The man said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small snub nosed pistol. A Saturday Night Special as they were commonly called. "I'm with a much higher power than that." He pointed the gun at LaCroix and fired three shots. There was a look of surprise on his face as LaCroix clutched his chest and slowly sank to the floor of the stage.
Nick sprang at the gunman and the man fired at him. Suddenly, he went down as his right leg crumpled underneath him. He looked down and saw blood pouring from just above the knee. "Damn!" He swore. The bullet must still be in the leg. He tried to get up, but the leg would not support his weight. Probably broke the bone. He thought. "You're the one who's been threatening The Nightcrawler." Nick said aloud. He reached for his gun. That's when he remembered. His gun was in his jacket. On the chair. On the other side of the room. He swore again. How could I be so stupid!
"Reverend Boyd was right." The man said. "Evil such as this must be destroyed. No one else has the courage to wipe it out, so I have to do it myself." His eyes were glazed. "Reverend Boyd told me to do it. He said it was God's will."
Nick looked in LaCroix's direction. Something was very wrong. The elder vampire should have recovered long ago, but he lay unmoving on the stage floor. A pool of crimson was spreading over his black shirt. One or more of the bullets must still be in him, too. Nick thought.
He looked at the gunman and tried to focus on his heartbeat. It was wild and erratic. He stared intently at him. "Give me the gun." He said softly. "You have completed your mission." He held out his hand. "You do not want to kill any more. The rest of the world is safe now. You have assured their safety. You do not want to harm anyone else. It is time to sleep."
"Kill no more ... World safe ... " Slowly, the gunman extended his gun arm toward Nick. " ... Sleep."
The door to the hall opened and Amanda Cohen came in. "Sorry." She said. "I forgot my hood and I ... " Her eyes grew wide as the realization of what was taking place hit her. Before she could react, the gunman wheeled in her direction and fired. She grabbed at her shoulder as she was thrown to the floor by the force of the hit.
The gunman's eyes grew wide at the sight of Captain Cohen on the floor. "All of you must die! He shouted frantically. "You're all in this together! You're all agents of Satan. Reverend Boyd said all of them must die. Reverend Boyd said ..." He waved his gun wildly.
In the ladies room, Natalie and Tracy stiffened as they heard several loud popping sounds that they both knew could only be gunshots. Tracy pushed Nat to the floor and cautiously opened the bathroom door a crack. She could see the gunman and she could see that Nick had been wounded. She fished in her purse and drew her gun.
"Where'd you get that?" Natalie whispered.
"A good police officer always carries her weapon." Tracy whispered back. "That's one of the first things they teach you at the Academy." She opened the door a slight bit more. The gunman was not looking her way. Slowly, carefully, she crawled on her belly into the room. Natalie started after her, but she waved her back into the restroom. She saw Captain Cohen come in and heard the shot as she went down. Carefully, she took aim and squeezed the trigger twice.
The gunman reeled backward as the shells hit home. He fired his final round wildly as he fell to the floor. In an instant, Tracy was next to him, her gun still pointed at his heart. She kicked the gun from his hand and it went skittering across the floor.
Natalie was right behind her. She felt for a pulse. There was none. The position of the two holes in the gunman's chest indicated to her practiced eye that Tracy had hit the man squarely in the heart. "He's dead." She said.
"Dead ... DEAD? You mean ... like in ... I killed him?" Tracy said. "I've never fired at anything except a target, let alone at a person. And I've never killed anyone before." Her eyes rolled into her head and she slumped beside the body.
Natalie went to Nick. He had managed to drag himself to the edge of the stage and had torn a strip from the hem of his shirt and wrapped it around the leg for a tourniquet
"Tend to LaCroix first." He said. "He isn't responding properly."
Natalie could see where three bullets had struck LaCroix. Carefully, she turned him. Two nearly healed exit marks were in his back. That meant the third bullet was still in his body. "One wound is still bleeding." She said to herself. It was her habit to talk aloud as she examined her patients. "From the position, I'd say it was near the heart."
"In ... It's in ... the heart." LaCroix whispered hoarsely.
Nick had managed to pull himself onto the stage and crawled to LaCroix's side. "If that's the case, when was your last heartbeat?" He asked.
"Just ... before I ... was ... shot." LaCroix replied grimacing painfully.
He looked at his watch. "In that case we have six minutes to get the bullet out. You know a vampire's heart beats only once every ten minutes. Also, the wound will not close if the bullet is not removed. While only wood to the heart will kill him outright, if the wound is still open when his heart beats, there will be a massive hemorrhage. It would have the same effect as draining him. He could die from loss of blood."
"Why don't we have some sport with him before we send his head to Nero." One of them said. "We could tie him to four chariot horses and run them down the Appian Way."
"Or feed him to the lions as many of our brethren were. They should really appreciate a taste of good Roman meat." Another interjected.
"Listen to yourselves!' The man entering the alley exclaimed. "Have you forgotten EVERYTHING Peter taught you?"
Flavius and the others hung their heads at the stranger's words.
"You call yourselves followers of the Christ. It is actions like this that only serve to justify their persecution of us! Remember His words. 'Forgive thine enemies seventy times seven.' If He could forgive those who crucified Him, can you not forgive him?" He pointed to Lucius.
"I do not need your forgiveness." Lucius growled.
"You may not want their forgiveness, but they need to forgive you." He turned to the group. "Now. Go home and beg the Father in heaven for His mercy and His forgiveness for your actions tonight"
Slowly, shamefully, they left the alley.
"I'll get my bag from the Caddy." Natalie said.
She returned to the hall minutes later. Amanda Cohen was on the edge of consciousness. Natalie reached into her bag and took out a bottle and a syringe. She filled the syringe and shot the contents into the Captain's uninjured arm. She did the same to the still unconscious Tracy Vetter.
"Succinylcholine. Its a powerful anesthetic. I gave them both a very mild dose." She explained as she unpacked the surgical kit. "It wouldn't do to have either of them wake up in the middle of our surgery."
"Four minutes to go." Nick said.
"I don't know if I can do it." Natalie said. "I've taken bullets out of dead hearts, but never out of a live one."
"You've taken them out of me."
"That's different. Your wounds usually aren't life threatening."
"Nicholas ... can do ... it ... If he so ... desires ..." LaCroix swallowed and pain washed over his face. "This would be ... the perfect situation ... You could just let me ... die and no one ... would be ... the wiser."
Nick?" Natalie said.
"He didn't tell ... you that he ... used to be ... a surgeon?" LaCroix whispered haltingly. "Did he."
She held the probe toward him. Nick hesitated a few seconds and took it. Gently, he inserted it into the hole. LaCroix gasped and closed his eyes tightly. He cautiously moved the probe until he located the projectile and he inserted a long thin tweezers along it. Carefully, he grasped the bullet and slowly removed it.
"Hurry, Nicholas." LaCroix hissed between tightly clenched teeth. "There's less ... than a minute ... to go."
He dropped the slug on the floor and slowly withdrew the probe. LaCroix's wound closed as he did so. As he brought the instrument through the skin, he heard the massive sound of a heartbeat. He wiped the sweat from his brow and handed the probe to Natalie. "That was slicing it a bit thin. Here. Do the honors on my leg."
By the time She had finished cleaning the injury to Nick's leg, LaCroix was sitting up. He still looked much too pale and he wavered slightly. Natalie went to the cooler in the back of the stage and took several bottles of blood. She handed one to LaCroix, who drank heartily. She put a bandage around his chest. "This is for show. Officer Vetter and Captain Cohen saw that both of you were wounded." She said as she taped a gauze pad to Nick's 'wound'. She handed the other bottle to him. He, too downed it gustily. "I also took the liberty of calling 911." She continued. "They should be here any minute to take care of the Captain. She has a flesh wound in the upper chest, but it did not appear to have punctured the lung. I don't think it's anywhere near life threatening."
As she said that, the medics came rushing into the hall.
The stranger knelt beside Lucius. Gently, he probed the gash in his side with his hand. "You are far luckier than you should be. It is not severe. You do have two broken ribs, though." He took a small knapsack from his back and took out several packets, a flask and a small bowl. "I am a physician." He said as he mixed the contents of the packets and the flask in the bowl. He spread the mixture over the wound. Almost immediately, the pain began to lessen. Taking a roll of linen, he bound Lucius's side and ribs tightly. Then he gently felt along the leg. "Another good fortune. It is not broken, although I doubt that you will be doing much walking on it for a while." He took one of the swords and with another strip of cloth, bound it to the leg as a brace.
"Why are you doing this for me?" Lucius asked. "I do not understand you Christians. You heard the others. I am the one who ordered the death of many of your kind. By all rights, you should leave me here to die."
"It is because I AM a Christian that I am doing this. Our Lord taught us that we must love everyone, even those who persecute us. Perhaps if you knew more about us you would understand. You might even wish to join us."
"I doubt that. My gods are sufficient for me."
"At least let me help you to your home." He said, gently helping Lucius to his feet. Lucius took a faltering step. The physician put his arm around Lucius's waist to steady him, being careful to stay away from the area of the wound.
"You've saved my life and I do not even know your name."
"I am called Luke." He said as the two of them started slowly toward the street.
The medics finished strapping Amanda Cohen to the gurney as Commissioner Richard Vetter came running into the hall.
"Where is she?" He shouted. He spotted Tracy sitting on the floor and one of the medics standing over her. "If she's been hurt in any way, there will be a full scale investigation." He shouted at Cohen.
"Relax, Commissioner." Amanda Cohen said. "She's all right. She passed out after the situation was over. I take it this was her first live combat experience. They're just reviving her. You can be very proud of her. She's the one who dropped the killer. She kept her head and acted in a thoroughly professional manner. When she passes her detective's test, I want her in my precinct."
Natalie went to the stage where Nick and LaCroix were seated. The medics had wanted to examine them, but Nat had convinced them that their injuries were very superficial and that she had already taken care of them.
"According to the identification in his wallet, the gunman's name was Monroe Haroldson." One of the officers told them. "Must not have had any close family either. His next of kin is listed as Boyd Dundee. He was a member of The Holiness Cathedral. Had pamphlets and prayer cards in every pocket. Apparently he was one of the ones who took Boyd Dundee's words at face value."
As they went outside, Natalie was aware that there were large tension knots on the back of her neck and a headache was spreading rapidly across the bridge of her nose. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm going to leave the details to others. Since I'm not the coroner on call tonight, I don't have anything else to do except give my statement. Which I already have. I'm heading home for a well deserved rest. I'm pooped."
"I am going to the loft." LaCroix announced. "There I will change clothes and then head for the Raven. Janette throws one hell of a Halloween party, and I, for one don't want to miss it. Come, Nicholas."
"No. Captain Cohen said I had to guard you until the killer was caught." He pointed to the body bagged figure on the stretcher that the technicians were putting into the Coroner's van. "He's been caught, so my assignment is done. I expect you to have your things out of my loft by tomorrow night at the latest."
"Very well. I will send for my things in the morning." With a rush of air, LaCroix was gone.
"Can I drive you home, fair Maid?" Nick said opening the passenger door of the Caddy. He bowed and kissed her hand.
"A true knight if there ever was one." Natalie replied as she stepped into the car.
"Someone has to protect mankind from things that go bump in the night."
Not by a long shot!