Forever Knight

Repercussions

He wiped his hands on his trousers. They weren't exactly sweaty. It was just out of habit. Vampires don't sweat much, at least not in the same way that mortals do. But when they do sweat, they sweat blood. Literally. Then he checked his watch. For the umpteenth time. It read 7:42. Two minutes later than the last time he had checked it. It had been the longest day of his life, and when you are over 800 years old, there were plenty of long days.

He finally talked Captain Reese into letting him return to the loft shortly before sunrise. Somehow he had managed to avoid the crowds that had jammed the area around the precinct, and he had arrived at the loft just as the first rays of sunrise tinged the sky. The area around the loft was also clogged with humanity. He had no choice but to go in through the skylight.

He tried to sleep, but the events of the previous nights replayed themselves over and over in his mind like some kind of bizarre film caught in a continuous loop.

Forty eight hours ago, Nicholas B. Knight's life, such as it was, was reasonably stable. He and one of his mortal partners, Don Schanke, were to be presented with a royal commendation for their part in uncovering an international theft ring. They were to be honored by the Prince himself during an awards ceremony that was to be internationally telecast … Live.

His relationship with Dr. Natalie Lambert, the Coroner for the Toronto Metro Police, and his friend and confidant ... the woman who he secretly loved ... while not where he would have wanted it to be, was looking better than it had in a long time. He finally realized that this was the woman he wanted ... he loved … more than anything. Now all he had to do was find a way to tell her. But he couldn't be sure that her feelings for him were anything like his for her. ( What if she rejects me? ) That was the stumbling point. Because of LaCroix, and the promise he had made to him about his sister Fleur, he could not openly show his love to Natalie. They had danced around their emotions for each other for so long, he wasn't sure exactly how she felt about him.

Then there was the problem of intimacy. A vampire had to take blood to complete the act. Nick knew he would not have the control needed to do that without risking killing her. He was not willing to take that risk.

Six weeks ago, Lady Zera and the High Council had proposed to the Elders of various Communities that vampires reveal themselves to the general public. At that time however, it was only some nebulous event that was to take place at some yet to be determined time in the undefined future.

Lucien LaCroix … his vampire master … and he had managed a sort of truce in their centuries old battle of wills. LaCroix wanted him to return to his 'natural state' ... read vampire ... Nick wanted more than anything to be mortal again. Despite this, Nick had agreed to aid Lady Zera in her proposal. To be able do that, he had started drinking human blood again ... donated of course. Both he and LaCroix had silently agreed that this was a viable compromise. Of course, they both would rather step into the midday sun than admit it to the other.

That was 48 hours ago.

Then Edgar Rathman, a reporter for the Peeper, had dropped the proverbial bombshell at the awards conference. He had revealed to the assembled press corps, and through them to the entire world, that Nicholas Knight … aka Nicholas de Brabant … aka Nicholas Chevalier … aka at least another dozen aliases over the centuries … was a vampire. He had undeniable empirical evidence. There were photos, documents, and testimony … all from numerous unimpeachable sources … to corroborate his claim.

Suddenly, his world, and the world of everyone he cared about, had been turned upside down and inside out. By the time he and the others had been escorted by Reese and a squad of SWAT officers from the hotel back to the 96th precinct, the area around the station was already jammed with reporters, attorneys and curiosity seekers.

He was then taken to the High Council headquarters …surreptitiously … through the air, of course … by two Enforcers. Once there, he had been instructed by the Lady Zera and the Council to acknowledge Rathman's accusations publicly.

Now, he was sitting in a room adjacent to the Sheraton Toronto Hotel ballroom, about to go on international TV and confirm that Rathman was correct. He was a vampire.

"You ready, Knight?" Edgar Rathman asked. Rathman had been summoned before the High Council for his actions as well, and in lieu of a formal punishment, he was sentenced to be the liaison between the vampire Community and the public. "Just remember what that lady ... what was her name ... Sarah, and those other guys discussed with us. Stick to that, and we can't go wrong."

In an unprecedented move, Lady Zera, Etrian, Amahl T'Mutu, Chek Kai Chang, and Adrienne Walking-With-Moon, the members of the vampire High Council, had come to Toronto. They had spent the day in Nick's loft going over the strategy for tonight's press conference.

"Her name is Lady Zera, and she is the Presider of the High Council. Those … other guys ... as you call them are the other members of the Council. They're equivalent to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet of Ministers. They're our governing body. They are also judge jury and on occasion, executioners."

Rathman looked at his watch 8:00. "It's time."

& & & &

From the door to the ballroom conference site, Nick peered at the throng gathered for the event. Sitting prominently in the front row were Lady Zera and the rest of the High Council. Beside them were Lucien LaCroix, Janette DuCharme, and Javier Vachon. Even Screed was there, although he occupied a seat in the rear of the room. Directly behind them were Natalie Lambert, Joe Reese, and Joe Stonetree, his former captain at the 27th precinct. Don Schanke and Tracy Vetter, his partners, were also in that row along with almost every off duty member of both the 27th and the 96th precincts. It gave him a great deal of relief to know that so many of the people he knew were there to at least lend him moral support.

Swallowing hard, he walked through the door to the portable stage. There was polite applause as he mounted the podium. Almost immediately, he was bombarded with questions. They came so fast that even with his enhanced hearing he had trouble distinguishing one from another. He raised his hand for silence.

"Gentlemen and ladies." He began. "I have a prepared statement. After I have read it, I will answer your questions. But I must insist that the questions refer only to what is in the statement and only to my particular situation. Any questions other than that will not be addressed. I believe that is all covered in the handouts that were given to you by Mr. Rathman." He cleared his throat and picked up the top sheet.

"Mr. Rathman is correct in his statement at the Royal awards conference yesterday. I am a vampire. I have been a vampire since 1228. My birth name is Nicholas de Brabant. I was born in 1196 ... " During the next forty five minutes, he told of the highlights of his life as a vampire. In accordance with the guidelines worked out by Lady Zera and the others, he was careful not to name any living vampire unless it was absolutely necessary. He had LaCroix's permission to use his name, Janette's too, but he was careful not to refer to them by name. Finally, he laid down the papers and gestured to the audience. "Now, you can ask your questions."

The first question definitely was not one that they had been expecting. It was from the CNN reporter.

"Mr. Knight. What is this? Some kind of a sick joke? We were expecting a legitimate news story. We all thought you were going to announce that you were suing Rathman and the Peeper for libel and defamation of character. Instead, all we got was some kind of psychobabble hogwash better suited for the benefit of the World Chronicle and the Inquisitor and all those other supermarket trash magazines." There were considerable murmurs of agreement from the other members of the press corps. "Of course, what else could we expect when your press agent is one of the Peeper's star reporters."

Edgar Rathman jumped up from his chair behind Knight. "I resent that remark. This is a legitimate news story. You will all be given copies of all the evidence I have collected at the conclusion of the conference." He stared into the gold tinged eyes of Lady Zera. "No charge, of course." Inwardly he winced as he thought of all the money he could have made. This too, was part of the penalty he had agreed to in exchange for his life. ( It's better to be poor than dead. ) He kept telling himself. ( But not by much. -)

"This is no joke." Nick continued. ( I've spent almost eight hundred years denying what I am, and when I finally come out and admit it, no one believes me! ) "I really am a vampire. I'll prove it." He levitated a few feet off the ground.

"I saw Lance Burton do that in Vegas." One of the other reporters said. "It's a simple magician's illusion."

He closed his eyes and concentrated. When he opened them, they were gold colored and his fangs had descended.

"Nice prosthetics. But you can get the same things from any reputable costume shop."

In a millisecond, Knight was beside the man. "Prosthetics, are they? Feel them." The man grabbed the fangs and pulled.

"Ouch! Be careful. They're very sensitive."

"They really are real, aren't they?" The man conceded. "And how'd you get here so fast?"

"I flew." Nick answered as he made his way back to the stage.

The questions began in earnest.

"Can you really fly?"

"Yes I can."

"How fast can you go?"

"My top speed is at just a little over seventy kilometers an hour."

"Can you turn into a bat?"

"No, I can't turn into a bat. Nor can I turn into any other creature … or into mist. That is a myth perpetrated by the grade B movies and cheap paperbacks."

"Do you sleep in a coffin?"

"Actually I have a king sized heated waterbed. Very comfortable."

"Can you see yourself in a mirror?"

"Yes, I can. And obviously I can be photographed, too. You should see my driver's license photo. A real mug shot. And I can cast a shadow, too. Although it's sometimes difficult to see at night."

"Do you kill people for their blood?"

"As I said in my statement, I have killed for sustenance in the past, but I haven't killed for food in well over a hundred years. Until recently, I subsisted on animal blood. Mostly cow. Now with blood bank rejects and other outdated supplies readily available, there is no reason to kill."

"Do the other vampires feel the same way you do?"

"As I said in my opening statement, I can only speak for myself."

"Then there are other vampires."

"I can only speak for myself."

"How many are there."

"I can only speak ... "

Rathman stood up. "I believe he has answered this line of questioning. Mr. Knight can not comment on anything but his own situation. Anything more could be considered badgering. Can we move on?"

"Why did you become a cop, of all things? Isn't that a little like the fox guarding the chickens?"

"I felt that as a policeman I could do something positive to try and atone for all the sins I have committed in the past. This way I am protecting lives, not taking them."

"How can you justify putting murderers in jail when you have just admitted that you are a murderer, too?"

Nick paused a few moments. "That is a hard one. One I have struggled with for a long time. As I said earlier, I haven't killed in over a century except in self defense. The best answer I can give is that I feel that if I can prevent more killings, perhaps I can make up in some way for those I have killed."

"Do you have a girlfriend?"

He looked at LaCroix and then at Natalie. "No." He said softly. (It's not exactly a lie. Natalie's not my girlfriend. She's so much more. She's my reason for living. I have loved her since I woke up on her table. )

The questioning continued for another hour and a half. They had covered nearly all phases of Nick's life in particular, and by inference vampires in general. Finally, the session ended. It was 10:15. Lady Zera had said that the world would know everything by 10 o'clock. She was only fifteen minutes off.

& & & &

"Well, do you think they believed you?" Natalie said as they drove back to the loft. Nick had asked her to come with him for a movie date. At least that way, there would be something in their lives that vaguely resembled normal.

Periodically, he would check the rearview mirror. No one was following them. At least not close enough to be spotted. That didn't mean they weren't tailing him. He would have bet next week's paycheck there was a procession of cars and trucks just outside his field of vision. Of course, his address was part of the public record and his phone number was in the book. Not that it would do anyone much good. The first thing he did when he arrived at the loft this morning was to disconnect the phone and the answering machine.

"It's hard to tell. Some undoubtedly did think I told the truth, but I'm sure there were those who probably thought I was some kind of a deluded kook. Only time will tell." He put his arm around her and pulled her as close as the seat belts would allow. ( If only I could hold her like I would like to. ) "In the meantime, why don't I call ahead and have some Moo Goo Gai Pan delivered to the loft. I have a feeling you didn't eat much of your dinner."

"Sounds like a winner to me." She snuggled as close as she could get, silently cursing the inventor of the three point restraint system. "You're right about the dinner. I was too anxious to do more than pick at it. Too bad we couldn't go out, but with that mob, the best I could do was the morgue break room. Even at the best of times, the food from the armless bandit is not the best. "

"Armless bandit?"

"The vending machine. It takes your money, all right. But it doesn't always give you anything for it. And trying to get a refund from the vendor is almost as hard as trying to get a refund from Revenue Canada."

& & & &

As they approached the converted warehouse that Nick called home, he could see that the parking lot in the front of the building was jammed with even more cars, trucks, trailers and vans than when he had left earlier. High powered spotlights from the TV trailers turned the area into day. The armada spilled into the street and halfway down the block. Nick quickly pulled the Caddy into a side alley before it was spotted.

"Well, it looks like I'm going to have to go in the same way I came out." He said, turning off the motor.

"What about me?" Natalie asked.

"If you want, I can take you home and come back." He said. "Or ... " Suddenly, his eyes began to twinkle. "How would you like an aerial view of Toronto instead of a movie?"

"And how would I get that without a ... O-O-H!" It dawned on her what he was suggesting. He had never taken her flying before. " … On second thought, I think I'd love it."

He opened the door and gently pulled her into his arms. Slowly, he lifted off the ground and moments later the two were lazily drifting along the lakefront about a thousand feet from the ground.

"Nick." She whispered. "This is fantastic! I can understand how you would miss it if ... no, when … you become mortal." ( And you will regain your mortality. I have no doubt about that. )

"Yes, it is one of the things I will miss, but seeing the sunrise and sunset, and being able love without fear will more than make up for it." ( Especially when the person I love is you. ) "Now, as I promised, here is the rooftop tour of the city. Up ahead is the tallest structure in the city. From there, you can decide where you would like to go next." He headed for the CN tower.

& & & &

Two hours later, they had taken the sights from numerous vantage points. He finally circled to the rear of the warehouse that held his loft. "Landing gear down." He whispered with a mischievous smile. "We're going in." He made a faultless landing on the roof, and opened the skylight. Again he picked her up and smoothly floated to the floor below.

"The Chinese!" He exclaimed as he gently set her on the floor. "I forgot to order it. I know an all night place, but I doubt if the take out guy could get through that crowd out there, so let me go and get it for you."

He levitated toward the skylight and as he started to open it, he could hear the thwup thwup thwup of a helicopter circling overhead. Apparently they had been spotted as they entered the building and now the roof was under surveillance too.

"Does that mean we're going to be trapped in here?" Natalie asked as she rummaged through the nearly bare kitchen cabinets. "I don't think a stale cheese danish, three bags of popcorn, a not quite empty jar of peanut butter, and two cans of diet Sprite are going to last very long."

"Well, Nicholas." LaCroix said as he stepped out of the shadows. No one had even noticed he was there. "Unprepared as usual. I see that you are living up to your very predictable reputation."

"LaCroix." Nick said angrily. "I don't need your sarcasm. And how did you get in here anyway. I don't see how a flea can get in without being spotted by that crowd out there."

"Nicholas ... Nicholas ... Haven't you learned by now that there are many ways to get in to ... or out of ... almost anything?" LaCroix said with a smirk. "And while you may not need my ... sarcasm, you do need my help to leave here. That is, of course, unless you and the fair Doctor plan on running the gauntlet out there. Or starving to death in here." He gently stroked her neck. "Of course, you will probably outlast her." He let the tips of his fangs show.

"LaCroix!"

"Oh very well ... Nicholas ... Doctor. Follow me." He stepped into the ancient elevator and held the door for them.

"But there are over a hundred people waiting out there." Nick said as the lift ground to a halt on the garage level.

"Do you want my help or not?"

Nick nodded and he and Natalie followed the master vampire to the back of the garage. There, LaCroix opened a door on the back wall.

"But that's nothing but a tool ... " A glare from LaCroix silenced Nicholas.

"In case you have forgotten, or then again, maybe you never knew, a branch of one of the city's ancient storm sewers runs directly alongside this building." He moved several boxes and took hold of a large metal ring imbedded in the cement floor and gave a tug. A trap door opened. "Be careful. It's a bit slippery down there." He cautioned as he executed an exaggerated bow.

"But how did you know this was here?" Nick said as he helped Natalie negotiate the rung ladder. "I examined the blueprints for this place down to the last detail before I bought it. There was no mention of an entrance to the storm sewer."

"That is because it was never on the blueprints. The sewer has been abandoned for almost a hundred years. Ever since they dug new lines around the turn of the century. It seems that during the American Prohibition, this warehouse was used as a collection and storage facility for illegal spirits to be smuggled to the States. The bootleggers added on this so called tool shed over the original manhole. They then used the sewer system to transport the whiskey to the waterfront and from there across the lake to Buffalo."

"That still doesn't explain how you knew that there was a trap door here."

"Screed."

"Figures."

The labyrinthine passageways through the drainage system were pitch black. Even with Nick's enhanced eyesight, it was difficult to see where he was going. He was just glad that they hadn't been used in over a century. Even so, the … 'odour du cesspool' … was overwhelming. Every so often, a creature whose territory they had invaded would scurry past them. Natalie, of course, was terrified and completely lost. She hung on to Nick's arm for dear life. LaCroix, on the other hand, negotiated the maze-like complex as though he had been doing it for years.

( Maybe this is how he has been getting in and out of the loft without being detected) Nick wondered as he hurried to keep up with his master. "( Nah! He wouldn't stoop to anything this low. Then again, maybe he would. )

& & & &

At last, the master vampire stopped beside another rung ladder. He effortlessly climbed it and pushed the rusty manhole cover off. Nick and Natalie followed. It took Nick a few moments to orient himself before he recognized that that they were in the alley behind the Raven.

"At least you did not mention this place in your ... confession ... to the press. Since that is the case, it is probably the only safe place in all of Greater Toronto for you and the good Doctor." LaCroix said as he opened the rear door to the tavern. "I must advise you, though. Do not go into the main room. I have a feeling that you will not be well received there. Several of the ... regulars would like nothing better than to have your headless corpse staked on the roof come sunrise." He explained as he directed them to the rooms on the second floor of the nightclub. They were elegantly, albeit eclectically, furnished with what appeared to be authentic antiques. Natalie suspected that either Janette or LaCroix used them as living quarters. ( Most likely Janette. )

"LaCroix." Natalie said hesitantly. "I have a favor to ask you."

"Anything, my dear." He took her hand and brought it to his lips. Natalie wasn't sure weather he was kissing it or sampling the merchandise.

"I haven't had anything to eat since lunch. Is there any chance I could call for some Chinese take out?"

"Chinese take out?" Janette said as she came into the room. " Absolumente non!"

"But I ... " Natalie started to protest.

Janette went to the phone and dialed a number. "Henri." She said when the call was answered. "I wish to have an order of your premium entree du jour delivered to the Raven ... Of course, complete. I leave the side dish choices up to you ... Yes ... that includes dessert. Just be sure that it's something chocolate ... You do like chocolates, do you not, Doctor?"

Natalie nodded.

" ... Be sure that it is very decadent ... And Henri. Charge it to the usual account ... And don't forget to include a 20 percent gratuity for you and the staff."

Natalie stared dumbfounded at the Raven's owner.

"Surely, you do not believe that you are the first mortal who has stayed in these accommodations." Janette smiled softly as she replaced the phone in its cradle. "I have a standing account at Le Papillion for emergencies such as this."

"Le Papillion! But that's a world class five star restaurant. And I'll venture to say one of the most expensive restaurants in the Greater Toronto area. Meals start at over $25, not including tax and tip. And that's just for the appetizer. The dinner you ordered will probably cost somewhere around $150 … Maybe more."

"And that's a problem because ... ?"

"Because I can't possibly afford that. McDonalds would have been okay with me."

"But I can afford it. And McDonalds is definitely not okay with me."

"But why would you be willing to do this for me?"

"After all that you have done for the Community, it is the least I can do for you. Besides, now that we do not necessarily have to hide our existence from the mortal world, there is no reason why we cannot at least be friends. I think I would like that."

Natalie smiled broadly. "I think I'd like that, too. I have just one question. Won't Le Papillion be closing in a few minutes?"

"To the general public, yes. But I am definitely not the general public." Janette said with an evil twinkle in her eyes.

& & & &

Natalie pushed the cart away. "That does it for me. I'm stuffed." She looked at the three vampires, who had remained in the room while she ate.

While they were waiting for the food to arrive, Natalie, Nick, and LaCroix partook of the bathroom facilities to freshen up after their safari beneath the streets of Toronto. Nick and LaCroix each had a change of clothes at the club. Unfortunately, Natalie did not. Janette had been kind enough to lend her an outfit that she referred to as 'grubbies'. The apparel would have been appropriate at any but the most formal of occasions.

As the vampires partook of their usual liquid diet, she partook of the Jarret d'Agneau au Dijonnaise (lamb medallions in a Dijon sauce) with Bouts D'asparagus de Bebe (baby asparagus tips) in a Sauce Hollandaise, and Pommes de Terre Avec de la Creme et la Ciboulette Aigres (baked potato with sour cream and chopped chives). Dessert was Le Gateau de Citron Avec Fondant au Chocolat (lemon cake with chocolate sauce). The meal was accompanied by a superb Mocha Almond Cappuccino, and topped off with a deliciously expensive Sauvignon Rose. It was all served on what appeared to Natalie to be Havilland China. Out of curiosity, she turned one of the empty dishes over. The trade mark said Havilland. She was right.

Janette caught the look of surprise as she read the signature on the plate. "What did you expect?" She said with a smile. "You did not think they would use paper plates, did you?"

"I just wish you could have tasted this. It was exquisite." Natalie said, wiping her mouth with the napkin. ( Probably Egyptian linen. )

LaCroix reached across the table and gently stroked her throat. "Perhaps there is a way that we can enjoy it with you."

A searing glare from both Nick and Janette was his answer.

"I hate to break up this little tete-a-tete." Janette reminded them. "But if the conditions at the loft are as complex as you say they are, it looks like you may have no choice but to spend the day here."

"We could always go to my place." Natalie volunteered.

"And how do you propose to get there?"

"Nick's car?"

"That land freighter?" LaCroix sneered. "I am positive that the paparazzi have spotted it by now. That dinosaur is almost as well known as the Batmobile. If anyone even attempts to drive it here, let alone to your apartment, there will be a motorcade following it that will rival the one in the movie 'Convoy'. No. That is not an option."

"What about my car?"

"Where is your car?"

"In the morgue parking lot."

"And I'll venture to say that it, too is under surveillance."

"But I have to get home. Sidney hasn't been fed since early this morning. That is, yesterday morning. If he isn't fed soon, his tail is going to be in a Gordeon knot. I hate to think what he's going to do to my drapes. Not to mention the sofa and the rug. If he hasn't done it already, that is."

"I might be able to do something about that." Janette volunteered. "Give me your house keys."

Natalie fished the keys from her purse and handed them to the Raven's owner.

Janette went to the door to the bar. "Breanne." She called. "Come here. I have an assignment for you."

Breanne, one of the waitresses, and a vampire, came to the door. She looked to be about 25 in mortal years. In vampire years, she could have been 20 or 2000. Natalie couldn't tell, although in Breanne's case she doubted it was the latter. She was thin and shapely with her sandy blonde ponytail pulled to the side of her head. "Like, you called?" Her voice was high and nasal.

Janette rolled her eyes. "Take these keys and go to this address." She scribbled the address on a notepad. "There you will find a gray and white cat. His name is Sidney." She looked at Natalie. "Where's his carrier?" She asked.

"Hall closet. On the floor. His leash is on a hook inside the door. The cat food is in the kitchen cabinet by the window and extra litter is under the sink. His litter box is just inside the bathroom door."

"Got that?"

Breanne nodded yes, but the look in her large green eyes said that she had only understood about a third of what was said.

"Never mind. I'll write it all down for you. Oh. And Breanne. Don't forget put the litter that is in the box into the trash bin before you leave the apartment." Janette took the notepad back and wrote the instructions on it. "That's under the sink as well." She looked at Natalie who nodded assent. She handed the pad back to the waitress.

"Now bring the cat and all the other things directly back here."

"But how can I possibly carry all that stuff?" Breanne looked at Janette with wide uncomprehending eyes. "Like I only have two hands." Suddenly her eyes brightened … for a second or two. "I know! I can make like several trips." She grinned excitedly at the astounding inspiration she just had.

"Take Lyle with you. He can help you with all those things. Take several boxes from the storeroom with you, too. To put all that ... stuff in."

Breanne started to the door.

"And Breanne. Be careful. Don't be seen. And don't snack on the cat."

"Like I'll be real careful. And I promise I won't bite the kitty, either. What do you think I am? A carouche? Like I think kitty cats are such cute little creatures. All soft and furry and like that. And they purr so neat. Absolutely awesome!"

Natalie half expected her to skip out the door. It would have been completely in character if she had.

"I have to tell her everything. In almost miniscule detail." Janette sighed heavily. "In Breanne's case, a mind is not necessarily a terrible thing to waste. I'm not sure how she ever managed to survive her fledgling years. I heard by the grapevine that ten years after Breanne was brought across, her master walked into the sunrise. I can't say I blame him or her."

& & & &

Windsor, Ontario

Edgar Rathman stared at the room, or more precisely the cubicle that was his office at the Peeper. It was empty. Not just unoccupied. Empty. Nothing was in it. No desk. No filing cabinets. No computer. No lamps. No reference folders. No clutter. Nothing. Only the phone, and it sat on the floor in the corner. And it was unplugged as well. Even the lone window was bare. The blind and curtains had been removed, too.

He grabbed the next person who happened to walk by. It was Theodore, the office assistant. "Where's my stuff?" He demanded.

The office boy only pointed to the window.

"Okay. Who's the practical joker who put all my things out on the ledge? I'll have his hide for that."

"It's no joke, Mr. Rathman." Theodore said. "And they aren't on the ledge. They're … " He went to the window and pointed. To the dumpster that was right below the window. There sat all of Edgar Rathman's belongings. On top of the week's trash.

"Why?"

"Because you've been fired. That's why. Mr. Cheevers said to take everything out of here. His exact words were 'Tell that &$(--) little weasel that he's pulled his last &)$ up'. Then he ordered us to throw all your things in the dumpster. Said he was going to buy all new stuff for the next person."

"Cheevers can't do that to me! I'm going to have it out with him right now." He started down the hall toward the editor's office. "I'm one of the best reporters around here and he knows it!"

"Afraid you can't do that. He left for two weeks vacation in the Bahamas this morning."

"Throw my stuff out, will they?" Edgar grumbled as he hefted the ancient computer base out of the dumpster. "This may be old and slower than molasses on a January day, but it still works. I can always use it at home." He dug through the garbage bags until he found the raggedy swivel chair. With a great deal of effort, he lifted the chair out of the trash. "Okay. So it needs a little work done on it. But I've had it since I was a copy boy." He picked up a garbage covered expando file. "And this has all my research in it. They can't do this to me!" He shouted to the air. "Who needs this two bit rag anyway? The World Chronicle made me an offer last month. If they still want me, I'm theirs. And with Knight's story as credentials, I'll lay odds even the mainstream papers will be fighting to hire me."

"Have you forgotten your agreement with Lady Zera?" A woman's voice asked.

"No I haven't forgotten about that. But I'm still going to need something to pay the bills with. Especially now that I won't have the money from the sale of Knight's papers." He climbed out of the dumpster and looked at the young lady standing before him. He nervously wiped his hands on his trousers and attempted to pick some of the bits of debris from his clothes

She couldn't have been any more than 25. Thirty at the absolute most. She was about 5' 8" with a body that positively refused to quit. Her raven black hair was in loose curls around her slightly olive features. And her eyes were the like the most iridescent black gems he had ever seen.

"Wait a minute. You know Zera?"

"That's LADY Zera to you."

"Okay. Okay. … Lady Zera .... What's the big deal anyway. The way everybody treats her, you'd think she was royalty or something. But you're not a … a … I mean you're here in the daytime. So you can't be a … a … "

"The word is vampire. No. I'm not a vampire. I'm mortal just like you. Lady Zera helped me out of a very sticky situation once. She literally saved my life. Now I work for her, too. And for your information … in vampire society Lady Zera IS royalty. She is probably one of the oldest vampires in existence."

Rathman filed that information in the back of his mind for future reference. "Who are you anyway? And why are you here?"

"My name is Andrea Moraneaux. And let's just say I'm going to be your new assistant."

& & & &

Toronto

"And just what the HELL is THIS?" Tracy Vetter slammed the papers on Commissioner Vetter's desk.

"It's a transfer to the 83rd precinct. Surely you know what that is, Button." Her father said.

"I know WHAT it is. What I want to know is WHY? And don't you dare 'Button' me. I haven't been your Little Button since I stopped wearing ponytails."

"Sorry, Tracy. It's so easy to fall into old habits. You will always be my Little Button to me. As to why I did it, isn't that obvious? I don't want you partnered with that … that … you know what. It's much too dangerous. I just don't think it's a very good situation for my little girl to be in. I did leave you in active service, though. I know how much you hate desk work."

"You call the Public Information Office an active service? I can see it now." She slipped into a high falsetto. "Hello there, boys and girls. My name is Tracy Vetter. I am a police officer. Can you say Detective? Police officers are your friends." She shook her head. "I don't think so."

She leaned her hands on the desk and put her face less than a foot from the Commissioner's. "In case it has slipped your supposed mind, Daddy Dearest, I'm a big girl now... All grown up ... No more ponytails … I can think for myself. And I THINK I'm in the best situation I can possibly be in. I LIKE the partners I have now. They're the BEST partners anyone could possibly have.

Don Schanke is an experienced cop and he's taught me a lot since I've been working with him. And as for that … You Know What ... by the way … HE … has a name ... it is Nick Knight … He's got terrific instincts and he gets the job done. He also judges me on my merits and abilities, not who my father is.

And they both treat me with the respect and dignity that I need and deserve."

"But he's a … a … a …"

"He's a vampire. So what! Big hairy fricking deal! I'm German and Irish.

I know what he is. I've known about him ever since I saw him turn into one when I was shot last year. The phrase is 'vamp out' by the way. In fact, I've known about vampires in general for quite some time now." ( I wonder how you'd react if you knew that my boyfriend is a vampire too? )

"And you didn't say anything? Why would you want to keep something like that to yourself?"

( Because at the time, it could have gotten me killed ... Or worse. That's why. ) "Because it doesn't make any difference to me. As far as I'm concerned, Nick is just the same as any other cop … And he's a damn good cop too, I might add … And he's MY partner … And MY friend … And I'M the one who has to work with him. Not you."

"As much as I sympathize with you, Sweetheart, there's nothing you can do about it. The transfer's already gone through. You are to report to the 83rd precinct Monday morning at 0800."

"I may not be able to do anything about it, but there is something YOU can do about it. I know you had to ram this thing up the chain of command in less than 24 hours, and you can ram the rescind orders up the same chain of command in the next 24 hours as well. Or I can ram these transfer papers up your ... " Sparks practically shot out of her eyes. She gritted her teeth and exhaled loudly. "DO I MAKE MYSELF CLEAR? COMMISSIONER!"

"What if I don't?" Commissioner Vetter gave a smug, sinister, half smile.

"Then I'll resign. Effective immediately. There are lots of other police departments that would be glad to have me. Both in Canada … and in the US. And I'll give you a news flash. In almost all of them, they have never even heard of Commissioner Richard Vetter. Let alone feel they have to kiss up to your arrogant, pompous ass."

"Tracy! You wouldn't do that."

"Oh wouldn't I? Try to enforce this transfer and find out." She tore the papers to shreds and threw them at his face. "Good Day. FATHER!" The room shuddered as she slammed the door behind her.

& & & &

Windsor

Edgar and Andrea drove the rented car through the streets of Windsor. Piled on the back seat were several cardboard boxes that contained the remnants of his career with the Peeper. Although he argued vehemently, most of the stuff went back into the trash bin. Including his beloved chair and the computer base. He did manage to salvage most of his files and his box of computer disks. And his baseball that had been autographed by the entire 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates team. He had caught it at the last game of the World Series. It didn't matter that it was a pop fly foul ball. When you are a 15 year old at your first World Series game, it's the most valuable thing in the whole wide world. It still was. At least to him.

"Hey!" He shouted, as Andrea turned off Tecumseh and onto Walker Rd. "This ain't the way to my place. This is the road to the airport."

"Exactly." Andrea explained. "I'm afraid you don't have a place anymore. You've been evicted. When I went by your apartment building earlier, your landlady was putting your things on the curb. Where, I must admit, they apparently belong. According to her, you're four months behind in your rent."

"That's exactly why I need this job with the World Chronicle."

"But you already have a job with Lady Zera and the High Council. There's a manila envelope in the glove box. I think it will explain everything to you."

He pulled out the envelope and took out the contents. "This is a contract!"

"Of course. Lady Zera wants to make sure everything is legal. All you have to do is sign on the proverbial dotted line."

"Not without reading it carefully, I don't." He began thumbing through the pages.

"I got a big problem with this sum." He said, pointing to the figure for the salary. "Way too small. It ain't even anywhere near poverty level. I'll still need another job. I can't possible live on that pittance for a whole year. I can make more than that flipping burgers at the Hamburger Haven."

"You didn't read far enough. That's for a month. The High Council has never needed a press liaison before. In fact, up until now they've done their best to keep the existence of vampires a secret from the mortal world. I hope that is an acceptable amount."

"A mon … mon … month?" Edgar Rathman suddenly felt faint. He did some mental calculations. He hadn't come across that many zeroes since his high school final exams.

She pulled the car to the private jet that stood on a side tarmac well away from the main terminal. "Now, Mr. Rathman, if you'll get on board, we are ready to take off."

"Take off? To where?"

"To your new job, of course."

She took his hand and guided him up the stairs. As soon as they were settled in, the plane taxied to the runway.

& & & &

Toronto

"Not now, Sid." Natalie said as the cat played with a stray strand of her hair. "It's not time to get up yet. The alarm hasn't even gone off. Now be a good little kitty and let Mommy sleep for a few more minutes." She opened one bleary eye and stared at the clock. Or rather where the alarm clock should have been. ( Where am I? How did I get here? And why? ) As the cobwebs cleared from her sleepy brain, it all started coming back. The mob at the loft. LaCroix leading them through the sewers. The Raven. Janette. The gourmet meal. Spending the 'night'. She was in Janette's bedroom.

She slowly eased herself out of the overstuffed silken duvet and got out of the king sized canopy bed. She pulled her clothes off the valet chair where they had been placed by whoever had laundered them last night, or rather earlier this morning. If she remembered correctly, the bathroom was at the end of the hall.

By the time she had bathed … the bathroom had no shower, but it did have the biggest claw foot bathtub that Natalie had ever seen … and dressed, Nick, Janette and LaCroix had gathered in the deserted main room of the club. On one of the tables were numerous silver dome covered plates. The aroma coming from them almost rivaled last night's dinner.

"Where ... ? What ...?" She asked as she sat down.

"Le Papillion also serves a most exquisite breakfast. Or so I'm told. It did not take much to persuade Henri to prepare something especially for you even though the breakfast hours have ended hours ago." Janette said as she removed the covers. "It's amazing what a few extra twenty dollar bills can do."

There was an assortment of Crepes, Eggs Benedict, hash browns prepared in a way that Natalie had never seen before, but smelled heavenly nonetheless, a huge Belgian Waffle topped with a collection of fruits and covered with chocolate whipped cream, a plate of chocolate chip pancakes smothered in apricot syrup, and a variety of breakfast meats. A carafe held a Vanilla Hazelnut Cappuccino that was pure ambrosia.

"I did not know what you would want, so I ordered one of everything. I do hope you like it. Henri will be so disappointed if you don't. Like most geniuses, he has a very fragile ego."

Again, it was with regret that she pushed herself away from the table. She had eaten until she was stuffed and there still was enough left over to feed a family of four for a week. "The next question is how are we going to get to work?"

"Simple." LaCroix replied. "I shall take you."

"Not through the sewers, I hope."

"Of course not! That is for emergency purposes only. We shall use my new automobile."

"Automobile?" Nick said with a look of astonishment. "You bought a car? I seem to recall when Janette purchased her first car. You said you would never have one of them. If I remember correctly, your exact words were … " He lapsed into an impersonation of LaCroix. " … Those … contraptions will never replace the horse. A horse is quieter, more reliable, and costs less to maintain. And when their useful life is over, horse blood does make somewhat of a tasty snack."

"Yes. I did say something like that, didn't I?" For a microsecond, a smile crossed the master vampire's face. "Well, Nicholas. We must all change and adapt to the times. Besides, it is becoming more and more difficult to find a decent specimen of horseflesh outside of a racetrack. My auto is an Astin Martin. Black, of course. James Bond seems to favor them, so they must be acceptable."

"You know James Bond?" Natalie asked.

"Don't be absurd, Doctor. James Bond is a fictional character." He said with just the slightest hint of a twinkle in his eyes. It, like the smile, was gone so quickly that Natalie wondered if it was ever there at all. "I did meet Ian Fleming once though. A very decent sort of a chap. Rather gadget crazy, I will admit."

& & & &

Council Headquarters.

The private jet touched down on the small airstrip and pulled up to the hanger. The massive doors opened and the plane taxied inside.

"Holy Jehosephat!" Rathman exclaimed as he stared at the assortment in the hanger. There were numerous other planes inside of varying sizes, from a Piper Cub to a Boeing 707. "Do all of these belong to Zer … I mean to Lady Zera?"

"No. They belong to the High Council as a group, rather than to any individual." Andrea said. "It's almost impossible for them to rely on commercial airlines. The schedules are not always compatible with their needs."

The limousine that had picked them up at the hanger pulled to the door of one of the 'H' shaped wings of the main building. Once more Rathman stared open mouthed at the structure before him. "What is this place anyway?" He asked.

"This is Council headquarters." Andrea replied. "I suspect you are tired from your journey. Why don't I show you to your quarters and let you rest. Tonight I'll give you the tour of the building."

The rooms were spacious and comfortably furnished in a neo modern style. Functional but still elegant. Andrea led him to the bedroom. "I suggest you change into something more appropriate." She opened the doors to a large walk in closet. There was a small assortment of stylish, and from what Edgar could tell, fairly expensive suits hanging there. And slacks and jackets. As well as shirts. In a veritable rainbow of subtle colors. In the dresser that was also in the closet, was an assortment of underwear. Boxers and jockeys. T-shirts and A-lines. Ankle socks as well as over the calf. On the floor beside it was a shoe rack with a dozen pairs of what looked to be Italian leather shoes. Slip ons, casual, and dress.

"We took the liberty of furnishing you with a selection of clothes." Andrea explained. "We had to guess at the sizes, but if they don't fit, we do have a tailor and a shoemaker on call. Your present clothes look like they came from the late Mr. Kolchak's estate sale. They are definitely not acceptable."

"As a matter of fact, they did come from his estate. Say, did you know Kolchak?"

"No, he was before my time. But there are those in the Community who remember him … very well."

"What are you going to do with the clothes I'm wearing? Have them cleaned?"

"No. Have them burned."

& & & &

Toronto

LaCroix helped Natalie out of the auto and she and Nick started for the stairs. The crowd around the entrance to the precinct was smaller than yesterday's but they seemed to be much more vocal. This time they were joined by several persons in course brown monk's robes. Nick doubted that they were members of any recognized religious order. Some were carrying signs telling the people to repent and seek God's forgiveness. Others brandished signs graphically telling him where to go and what he could do when he got there.

As before, several of the TV reporters tried to shove microphones into Nick and Natalie's face. One menacing look from Nick, and they backed away.

"Not so many of them tonight." Mace said. "Seems like you're becoming yesterday's news real fast. Big story now is that the Deputy Prime Minister's personal assistant is a gay transvestite." He and three other SWAT officers formed a shield in front of them. Mace held up the canister. Immediately, the throng parted to let the group through.

"You didn't use … " Natalie asked, pointing to the canister and flexing her finger as if she were spraying.

"Naw." Mace replied. "But all I have to do is make them think I'm going to use this and they all start behaving themselves right now."

Once inside, Nick escorted Natalie to his desk.

"Now all we have to do is get you from here to the morgue." Nick said. Natalie could almost feel the worry in his voice. "I don't think Mace can provide a guard corridor all the way there."

"Maybe I can help y'all. Sugar."

Nick turned to see a statuesque redhead with much more than adequate …assets. Her dress and her demeanor showed that she knew how to use what she had to the best possible advantage.

"Monica De Fontaine." Nick said. "What brings you to our establishment?"

"Just paying my regular respects. I still don't understand why your boys in Vice insist on showing up at my place like clockwork every month. It's bad for business. And after all, I am a legitimate businesswoman." She batted her heavily mascarad eyelashes at the three detectives standing at the booking desk. "Myself and my … assistants ..." She pointed to the group of scantily clad ladies with them. " … Are all professionals."

"Yeah." A voice from the back of the bullpen said. "The world's oldest profession."

Monica went to the detective. "Why Jay, baby." She said as she sensually stroked his chin. "You didn't think that when you came to see me the last time."

Jay Moore turned a beet red.

"Now back to your little problem, Detective Knight. I can get her out of here and to the morgue without any problem."

"Knight?" One of the ladies said. "That wouldn't be Nick Knight, would it? Isn't he that vampire guy we saw on television the other night? He's even cuter in person." She put her arms around his waist and batted her eyes at him. " You can bite me anytime you want, Babycakes." She leaned her neck to him. "I'm just your type. A Positive."

Although it was tempting, Nick wasn't interested. There was only one 'type' he longed for. And that was the 'type' that flowed through the Coroner's veins. ( NO! ) He reprimanded himself. ( We are not going to go there. ) He closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath, pushing the beast deep inside him.

"Desiree. How many times do I have to tell you? No free samples. If he wants anything, he has to pay for it like everybody else." Monica scolded.

Desiree stuck out her tongue. "Party pooper." She grumbled as she released her hold on the detective.

"And how do you propose to get Natalie out of here without being noticed?" Nick asked the Madam.

"Simple." Monica replied. "As one of my … girls." There was a definite twinkle in her eyes.

"Oh no … Definitely no …I'm not going to … I can't do … I mean … I … " Now it was Natalie's face that was turning red. "No way … "

"Sure you can do it, Precious. It would just be play acting for a little while." Monica walked around the Coroner, studying her carefully. "Although I gotta admit, sweetie. You got the right stuff. All you need is a little … Enhancement." She motioned to one of her 'girls'. "Jasmine, honey. Come here. You and the Doctor are just about the same size. Go into the washroom and change clothes with her."

"You expect me to wear THAT?" Natalie said, her eyes as big as toonies as she stared at the skimpy outfit Jasmine was wearing. "No way!"

"Well, you could wear that, or you could take your chances with those hungry piranhas swimming around out there." Monica pointed to the door.

Natalie took Jasmine's arm and started to the Ladies Room.

"Charmayne. You got your makeup kit with you?"

Charmayne nodded. "Don't I always, Miss Monica?"

"Go with them and work your magic. I don't even want her mama to be able to recognize her, let alone those rattlesnakes slithering around the door."

Ten minutes later, Natalie and the two other women emerged. Natalie's hair had been piled on top of her head and her face and eyes had been heavily made up. Jasmine's clothes fit perfectly. And they did show off her attributes … to the max. Monica was right. Even her mother wouldn't have recognized her. They were greeted with a chorus of whistles and catcalls.

"Hey, Doc. If I'd known you looked like that under those scrubs, I'd have transferred to morgue detail long ago." Detective Jay Moore leered at Natalie. "I could really get into playing Doctor with you." He pursed his lips and smacked them loudly several times. "You can give me physical exams all night long."

Immediately he felt Nick's fingers digging into the soft tissue around his collarbone. A small circle of yellow ringed his eyes.

"Just kidding, man." Moore said feebly. "Chill out. I didn't mean anything by it. Jeech! You'd think she was your woman or something."

( If only she was. ) "Be glad I only did this to you for those remarks." He cautioned. He tightened his grip on the detective. "Remember. Doctor Lambert is a fine lady. Not some cheap tramp. Next time you even think anything like that about her, I'll … " He let his fangs drop slightly and hissed menacingly.

"NICK!" Natalie shouted.

Nick reluctantly released his hold on the officer.

"All right, ladies. Showtime." Monica said as she started to the door. "Just remember, Doctor. Shake your moneymaker like you got it." She patted Natalie's backside. "And honey, you sure got it." She reached into her bustier and took out an engraved card. "If you ever get tired of doing that Coroner gig, don't hesitate to look me up." She slipped it into Natalie's cleavage.

"How can I thank you for what you're doing?" Nick asked.

"Oh, Sweetcheeks." Monica batted her eyes and pinched his rear. "I'm sure I can think of something." She took out another card and very sensually put it in his breast pocket. Then she slowly stroked it several times. "If you ever need anything … " She kissed his cheek. A very long, lingering, erotic kiss. This drew even more catcalls and whistles from the assembled detectives. Including the female ones.

She waved to the bullpen. "It's been a business doing pleasure with you, Detectives." She batted her eyes at them as she went out the door after the rest of her troupe, including Natalie. "See y'all again next time."

No one even recognized the Coroner as they made their way to Monica's SUV and drove off.

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Rathman stared open mouthed at the office in another of the 'H' wings. It, like his quarters, was furnished in a light modern motif. Radically different from the tiny eclectic cubicle that he had at the Peeper. That had been definitely outfitted in early flea market and Salvation Army rejects.

Andrea had brought him there after dinner. It never occurred to him that the vampire headquarters would have its own dining room, but it did. Not only did it have dining facilities, the food was extraordinary. It compared very favorably with the very limited number of world class restaurants that he had eaten in. Actually, only two. There were a number of people eating there. Apparently Lady Zera and the Council had quite a few mortals on their payroll.

"I hope that this meets with your approval." Andrea said. "If there's anything you need, don't hesitate to ask. We want you to be comfortable here."

Edgar looked around. There seemed to be every state of the art communications device necessary. His files had been cleaned and were neatly arranged in a glass fronted cabinet and his computer disks were in a plastic and wood storage box right beside the ultra slim CPU unit that was attached to the 17 inch LCD monitor screen. His baseball, cleaned and sealed in a vacuum dome, sat beside the computer. Next to it was a multi-line speakerphone with all the bells and whistles on it. A brass and wood nameplate sat prominently in the middle front of the desk. It read ' Edgar Rathman Publicity Director.' On a separate cart was a laser color printer and a fax machine / scanner / copier. Several expensive looking paintings hung on the wall. If they weren't originals, they were extremely good copies. ( Yeah. I could get very used to this setup. It definitely meets with my approval. And then some. )

"So. What's my first assignment?" He asked as he sat down and started to put his feet on the desk. Suddenly he stopped. ( A cherry wood desktop is no place for your shoes. Even if they are brand new. ) He chastised himself. (You're the Publicity Director now. You got to look and act the part. ) He put his feet on the floor and pulled the overstuffed charcoal gray leather chair to the desk.

Andrea took a stack of thick folders from a sideboard and laid them on his desk. "You can start by reviewing these."

The pile nearly obscured his view. "And just what are these?"

"These are the profiles of just a few of the Vampire Communities."

"A few? There must be fifty reports here. Out of curiosity, how many Vampire Communities are there?"

"World wide ... 938."

"And are all the folders this thick?" He held up one of the bulging packets.

"Oh no. Most of them are much larger than these."

& & & &

Toronto

"GIRL!" Grace Balthazar stammered. "What in the hell's bells you think you're doing in that outfit?" Her eyes were big as saucers as the Coroner gingerly walked into her office on four inch stiletto heels. "I know it ain't Halloween yet. And don't tell me you got a second job as a streetwalker. Or maybe you've gone overboard trying to impress a certain vampire detective we both know."

"Long story, Grace." Natalie said as she eased herself into her chair as gracefully as her ultra mini black leather skirt would let her. "I'll tell you all about it as soon as I get out of this … this … and into some scrubs. Especially these heels." She undid the thin straps and kicked the shoes off. Then she carefully padded toward the washroom. "Those things hurt like hell. I don't see how anyone can possibly walk in them. It's a miracle I didn't break my ankles."

Fifteen minutes later, she came out dressed in the standard medical green top and bottoms. Her face was a bright pink where she had scrubbed the makeup off and her hair was pulled once more into a scrunchi. She had on her usual once-white-now-dirty-brownish-gray leather sneakers. "There!" She sighed as she plopped back into her chair. "That's a lot more comfortable."

Grace held up a broken fortune cookie. "Where did this come from?" She asked.

"Miss Monica and her 'ladies' were passing them out to all the guys. I stuck that one in my purse and I guess I forgot it was there. Why do you ask?"

"Miss Monica? Ladies? Who are they?"

"They're the ones who helped me get out of the precinct without being mobbed by the crowd outside the door."

"Did you read what's in these cookies by any chance?" Grace's chocolate brown face showed definite red overtones as she handed the slip of paper from the cookie to Natalie.

Natalie's face turned even redder than it already was as she read the contents. "O-O-O-H … my goodness!"

Grace eagerly pulled a chair across the desk from her. "Now you have to tell me all about it. Give me all the juicy details. And don't leave out even one teensy weensy little fragment." She put her elbows on the desk and cupped her face in her hands.

& & & &

" … And I say we give Knight, or de Brabant, or whatever his real name is, a little present. Show him he's not wanted around here." Detective Mark Daley said to the two men and the woman seated at the table in the break room. " I mean the way he embarrassed Jay back there in the bullpen, he deserves it."

"He didn't embarrass you." Edna 'Eddie' Pfeiffer reminded Jay. "It was that prostitute. And it was your own fault. You had no business going to her … establishment in the first place. And you know how territorial Knight is about the good doctor. It's a wonder he didn't tear your throat out."

"But if Knight and that Coroner hadn't been in the bullpen, it would never have come out that I'd ever been to Miss Monica's House of Ill Repute. Besides, I know that Knight hasn't done anything about the Coroner. She's one tempting broad and she deserves better than him." Detective Jay Moore said. He massaged his shoulder. Although Nick had not broken the skin, there were several ugly bruises starting to form. "I know if I had a delicious piece like she is, I certainly would let her know in no uncertain terms what I thought of her."

"Oh yeah." Eddie mused. "I forgot. You think you're God's gift to womankind."

"You didn't seem to mind that, as I recall."

"Are you kidding? You think I really enjoyed being treated like a piece of meat in a butcher's case? As far as you're concerned, every woman you meet is just another potential notch on your bedpost. That's why I dumped you like last week's trash."

"At least I'm not a bloodsucking fiend like Knight is." Jay retorted.

"Maybe a bloodsucking fiend might be preferable to an oversexed lecher like you."

"What do you have in mind, Mark?" Officer George Gresham asked. He had to change the subject before Jay and Edna went at each other.

"Just a little something to remind him just who he is and that his kind ain't welcome around here."

"But you heard Reese at the briefing today. We're not to treat him any different than we have in the past." Eddie spoke up.

"It's not like he's really one of us." Daley answered. "I mean, all theses years, he's been pretending to be human when he really is some kind of an evil perverted monster. He even admitted he killed for food. What if one of the people he killed was one of your relatives? How would you feel then? Would you still defend him so strongly, Eddie? How sick can you get?"

"I'm not defending him." Edna replied. "I agree with you guys. He doesn't belong with decent God fearing people. I just don't want to lose my job because of him."

"Never did like him from the start. Now I know why." Jay spoke up. "Always the first on the scene. Always so cool in the line of fire. It's because he's a vampire. He doesn't have to worry about getting hurt like the rest of us. He can afford to take the chances we can't. That's what got him all those awards and commendations. Like he really was some big hero or something. He must have had a ball laughing at us poor slobs laying our lives on the line every day. I say we take him out to the roof and stake him there. We'd be doing the whole world a favor "

"Let's not be too hasty." Gresham said. "First, let's see if he'll take the hint and go crawl back into whatever hole he crawled out of on his own."

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Edmund Gloucester sat dejected in the chair in his quarters. Quarters he shared with Logan Peterson. Their residence, such as it was, was in the basement of the mansion, and as expected, there were no windows. The bare walls were solid cement and the only egress was through the heavy wooden door. The room was only as large as it had to be, and was sparsely furnished. A simple wooden bed, a straight backed chair, and a small dresser were provided for each of them. They shared a small plain wooden table. A ceiling lamp provided the only light, and there was a small area rug beside each bed. Naturally, there were no pictures or other decorations there. A prison cell could have conceivably been more homelike.

They had been 'confined' here as punishment for their part in the revelation that Nick Knight was a vampire. "It just rakes me that we are sentenced to this dismal hole while that little mortal weasel Rathman is living like a king." Logan griped. "Back in Detroit, I had linen closets bigger than this room."

"Not only that, but De Brabant is getting all kinds of favorable publicity from it." Edmund griped. "Instead of being hated and feared, it's almost like he's some kind of a hero. Did you see the Times yesterday? They plan to do a series of articles on vampires, probably set up by our ratfaced friend, and the World Chronicle has an article that says Knight's going to be the Playgirl August centerfold. It's enough to make me barf."

He got up and opened the door to the hall. It wasn't locked. There was no need to lock it. There was no way they could leave without being spotted.

"I need some exercise." He said to the Enforcer sitting at the end of the hallway. The Enforcer nodded and followed Edmund about five paces behind. Another Enforcer, Logan's 'companion', sat at the other end of the corridor. Neither he nor Logan were permitted to move freely about the complex.

Edmund knew from personal experience that the Enforcers had standing instructions. He had pulled this same kind of detail many times in his career as an Enforcer. If either of them even thought about escaping, it was likely that the punishment for both of them would be immediate, prolonged, and exquisitely painful. If they were lucky enough to live long enough to be punished, that is.

"How long are they going to keep us here?" Edmund asked. The Enforcer didn't answer. He wouldn't. Their orders were to watch Edmund and Logan. Not to talk to them. Edmund knew this. While they were provided with the daily newspapers, except for Logan, he had not spoken to anyone in all the time he had been here at the headquarters.

He tried to turn the corner that led to the stairs to the upper floors. Immediately, the Enforcer was in front of him. The look in the man's eyes was proof enough that this was the boundary of their wanderings. Any attempt to go father would be dealt with. Painfully. Permanently if necessary.

& & & &

Toronto

Every night for the past week, the crowd had diminished until tonight there were only a handful of die hard reporters and protesters waiting outside the precinct when LaCroix dropped them off. Fortunately, after the first night, he had agreed to take Natalie to the Coroner's building. Unless something drastic happened, she could probably use her own car to go back to the Raven and most likely return to her own apartment. The same was true for Nick.

Nick went to his locker and opened it. Taped to the inside of the door was a note, printed in large childish block letters that read 'Blood Sucking Monster'.

"What's going on here?" Schanke asked as he came into the room.

"Nothing." Nick said as he hastily shut he locker door.

"Nothing my hairy white ass!" Don said angrily. "I saw what was taped in your locker. That's harassment pure and simple. Reese should know about it."

"Just let it drop." Nick answered. "If we ignore them, they'll eventually stop. If we react, it'll just make things worse. This is something I can live with."

"That's what they said about Hitler and the Concentration Camps."

"Schank. It's just somebody letting off a little steam, that's all. Promise me you won't make a big deal out of it. It's not like I haven't been harassed before."

"Okay." Schanke reluctantly agreed. "I'll let it slide. But only because you insist. And only this one time. If it happens again … " He headed for the bullpen. "C'mon. Let's get to work."

From the back of the locker room, Mark Daley turned to Gresham. "Well, it looks like that didn't work. Now to try something a bit stronger."

"Like what?"

"You'll see."

& & & &

Council Headquarters

"I got a way for us to get out of here." Logan said.

"And how do we do that?" Edmund asked. "In case you haven't noticed lately, there are two Enforcers sitting out there in the hall who follow us everywhere. They're big. They're mean. And they know their job thoroughly. They won't hesitate to kill us for the slightest reason. I ought to know. I recruited one of them and I trained them both."

"I don't mean escape."

"Then what do you mean?"

"Lady Zera wants more vampires to come out. From what I've heard via the grapevine, she's been talking to quite a few of the Elders to urge members of their Communities to declare."

"And just where is this so called grapevine of yours. No one will even talk to us, let alone confide in us."

"To you, maybe. Maybe it's because you used to be an Enforcer, but they don't seem to see me as the threat they see you as. Anyway Minerva, that's the girl who brings us our blood and stuff, keeps me informed on everything that goes on."

"I've never seen you talking to her."

"There's other ways to communicate besides talking. If you remember, she always gives me the paper first. Sometimes she hides notes inside the comic section."

"And here I thought you always went there first because you had the hots for Lucy Van Pelt. I don't see how the fact that Lady Zera's looking for more vampires to declare themselves is going to get us out of here."

"Simple. We volunteer to come out. That'll show her that we've reformed and that we can be trusted."

"You sure you didn't get a hold of a bottle of contaminated blood? That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard."

"No. Your idea to force Nicholas de Brabant into going public was much more idiotic than this could ever be."

"And how do you intend to accomplish this preposterous idea?"

"Simple." Logan went to the door. "Hey, Chuckles." He called to the vampire who was supposed to guard him. "I need a favor. I want you to find someone to take a message to Lady Zera for me, since I obviously can't seem to be able leave this area."

'Chuckles' came to the door. For a long moment he just stood there staring at Logan and Edmund. "I'll see what I can do." He finally growled. Then he practically slammed the door in their faces.

& & & &

Toronto

Nick stared in horror at his beloved Caddy. Until now, the harassment had been low key and relatively harmless. Notes taped to his locker. Obscenities scrawled across his desk pad in marking pen. Someone had even spread a concoction known as 'Slime' on his file cabinet. Hate mail had been delivered through the interoffice mail. All of it was done anonymously, of course. No one had actually confronted him on a one to one basis, and if the past were any indication, no one ever would.

Schanke had made good on his promise, and with each incident, Captain Reese's lectures to the officers had become more and more harsh.

But this went far beyond harassment. While he was in the precinct, someone had poured at least a gallon of blood all over the seats of the car. On top of that, rotting vegetables and fruit were dumped in the back seat. Then they had splattered black paint all around the outside. The words ' GO TO HELL DEMON ' were spray painted in neon orange across the trunk. In addition, all four tires had been slashed and the cloth roof was in tatters.

"What the hell is going on here?" Reese shouted as he stomped into the bullpen. He went to the window that looked out on the parking lot and pointed to Nick's car. "What's the meaning of this?"

Naturally, no one answered.

"I know every one in here knows better than to stoop to something as low as this." He chastised them. "That's malicious vandalism, pure and simple. Whoever did that could be facing some serious jail time.

Three weeks ago you all stood up in this very room and swore you'd stand by him. Now you resort to something like this? How many times has Knight pulled your butts out of the fire? How many times has he gone the extra mile for you? Not to mention outright jeopardizing his career for you? How many times has he gone out of his way to help you? Not just on the job, but in your personal lives as well?

Olivetti. He lent you the mortgage money when you were threatened with foreclosure last year. Didn't he?"

Olivetti hung his head.

"Jenkins. How many times has he swapped days off with you so you could be with your kids?"

Jenkins studied the paper in his hands intently.

"And how many Christmases, Hanukahs, and Easters has he volunteered to work for the rest of you?"

No one answered.

"Tarker. Who stayed here nearly round the clock a few weeks ago running down the leads on the Belcher case?"

Tarker turned away.

"Starmes. Didn't he tackle that suspect just as he was about to gun you down? Saved your life. And you know he most likely took at least one bullet for you as well. Probably more."

"Well, yeah." Starmes mumbled. "But he's a … "

"But he's a …what? We now know that he can't die from being shot, but he knew that you could die. That's why he did it. Even though he's immortal, he isn't invulnerable. I can guarantee that those slugs must have hurt like hell. But he took them anyway.

How many others has he helped that we don't even know about? How many? And this is the way you repay him?" He slammed his fist on the windowsill. " I know all of you didn't do that to his car, but by dammit horse pucks, you all stood by and let someone else do it without doing or saying anything. That's almost the same thing as doing it yourself. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves. I know I sure as hell am ashamed of you. All of you. You make me ashamed that I'm carrying the same badge as you."

"Captain." Nick spoke up. "There's no reason to make a big fuss about this. I've gone through this same thing countless times … "

"Yes there is every reason." Reese's veins on his forehead stood out prominently. "I don't care how many times you've been persecuted in the past because of what you are. This is here. This is now. And I'm not going to stand for it. You're a good cop, Knight. I don't intend to have one of my best people treated this way." He turned to the assembled group. "I'll give the person or persons responsible for this twenty minutes to come see me anonymously in Interrogation Room one. Then I'm going to make it official."

"What are you going to do now?" Edna Pfeiffer whispered to Mark Daley

"Nothing. Yet."

"Well, I for one don't like the way this is going. It's getting too ugly for me. I'm going to go see the Captain."

Daley grabbed the female detective roughly by the arm. "No, you're not. You say anything about this to anyone and you're dead meat. Even if you don't end up being drummed off the force, your life won't be worth a Mexican centavo. You forget my brother's roommate is supposed to be a hit man for the Mob. One word from me and there won't be anyplace on earth you can hide."

"You wouldn't dare." Edna blanched.

"Just try me." Daley said grim faced.

"And what about what about Reese said about making it official?" Edna replied. "I told you before. I worked too hard to get this far in my career. I don't intend to lose my job, let alone my freedom over this."

"Don't worry, Eddie. Nobody's going to lose their jobs. Except maybe Knight. And nobody's going to jail either."

"I don't know about this." George Gresham spoke up. "I was willing to go along with it when it was just some harmless harassment. But I agree with Eddie. This has gone far beyond that. If you keep this up, somebody could get hurt. Maybe even dead. This has become a personal vendetta with you and Moore, hasn't it? And I, for one, want to know why. Personally, I think you all are coming on too strong for my blood. I don't want anything more to do with this. I'm through. Finished. Kaput. Outta here."

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Lady Zera glared at the two vampires standing before her. Even though no one had said anything to them since they had made their statement about coming out, Edmund and Logan felt as though her glance alone had thoroughly chastised them for what they had asked. They felt certain the answer would be a resounding 'No'.

"Are you sure this is what you want to do?" The Presider finally asked.

Logan nodded. "Yes My Lady. We have talked it over and we agree that it is for the best if we declare to the public that we are vampires."

"I agree with Logan. It isn't right that de Brabant should have to go through this alone." Edmund added. "Especially since we are responsible." He prayed that his Enforcer training had given him enough ability to hide his true feelings from the Ancient. "We both agree that what we did was wrong, and we hope that by standing by his side we can make up in some way for the …humiliation and embarrassment that we have put him through." He hoped he wasn't laying it on too thick.

"That is very noble of you Gloucester. You, too Grainer. I shall take your request under careful consideration. I will notify you when I have made a decision." She motioned to the two Enforcers who were standing a few feet behind their charges. "You may return to your quarters now."

As soon as they had left the room, Etrian and the others entered through the hidden doorway.

"You don't believe them, My Lady. Do you?" Adrianne Walking-With-Moon asked.

"Not in a million years." Lady Zera replied. There was a small smile on her lips and a slight twinkle in her eyes. "I am going to grant their request, though."

"But why?" Chek Kai Chang asked. "You must know that they were not sincere."

"Of course I know they were lying through their fangs. Especially Edmund. He thought his training could hide his thoughts from me, but he seems to forget just who it was that discovered those abilities in the first place. I know they only volunteered because they thought that by doing this, I would forgive them their transgressions. They hoped that I would release them from their confinement and allow them to return to their former places in our society. Edmund of Gloucester should have known better. Oh. I will let them go public all right. But not in the manner they thought I would."

"What do you mean by that?" Amahl T'Mutu asked.

Lady Zera's smile got bigger and her expression took on a wickedly mischievous look. "You'll find out soon enough."

& & & &

Toronto

"You want to know why I hate Knight?" Jay Moore said. "I'll tell you why. He makes a mockery out of the police force. My father was a cop. And his father before him. I have two uncles who are cops and a niece who graduates the academy next month. My cousin Sam was killed in the line of fire. Now this ... this ... monster tries to make out like he is a cop, too. Makes everything my family has worked and sacrificed for these three generations seem ugly and dirty. Nobody should have to feel that way. We should be hunting him down, not coddling his evil ass." He pounded the table for emphasis. "Violence is the only thing his kind understands."

"There's got to be something more we can do without resorting to bloodshed." George said.

"What do you suggest?" Mark Daley asked. "We've tried the subtle and even the not-so-subtle things. That didn't work. We've even messed up his car. Obviously the only thing left is to do like Jay says. Get physical."

& & & &

LaCroix poured another glass of bloodwhiskey for his son. " … And you did NOTHING?" He asked angrily. "You let them trash you car and you did NOTHING?"

"What was I supposed to do?" Nick replied dejectedly. " It was a lose - lose situation. If I had tried to do anything, I would have only validated what they accused me of being. A monster. An evil fiend. Besides, there was no real harm done. My repair man says he can have the car back as good as new by the end of next week. The only thing I could do was to ignore it and let mortal justice take care of the problem."

"Do you really think they are going to do anything about it? It was one of … them that did it. They aren't going to take your side against one of their own. We have been in this situation before. And you know how it turned out then. Or have you forgotten the Inquisition. Or Salem."

"This is different. Mankind has come a long way since the Dark Ages."

"Oh? How far have they come, Nicholas? If mankind is so enlightened, how do you explain the Russian Pogroms? Or the Nazi death camps? What about the ethnic wars going on at this very moment in Serbia and Croatia? Or Somalia? Are you really that much of an optimist to think it can't happen again?"

"I thought you were on my side in this."

"I am on your side. The way I see it, you have three choices. You can run. But to where? You can fight back. Or you can put on your best suit, lie down in the afternoon sun, and drive a stake through your heart. Because unless you stand up for yourself, they are going to kill you. Either literally or figuratively. One way or another you'll be dead. Have no doubts about that."

& & & &

"In a sense, I can understand how Jay feels. I suppose I feel a little the same way. What about you, Mark? You've been sort of the ringleader for this activity. What have you got against Knight?" Eddie asked.

"Jay's reasons are pretty solid. Mine, however are strictly personal." Mark looked Eddie in the eyes. "Do you remember when I asked you what you would do if it was one of your relatives that Knight had killed for their blood? I know what I'd do. I know from firsthand experience. It happened to me. My uncle Earl died to provide a late night snack for one of those bastards."

"And you're sure it was Knight that killed him." Edna asked.

"What difference does it make? They're all alike. If he didn't kill Earl, someone else did. He always took a late night stroll before going to bed. Said the night air relaxed him. He had gone out for his usual walk that night. He never came back. They found his body hidden in a culvert near the 404 three nights later. That was almost three kilos from his house. Everybody said it was a wild animal that attacked Uncle Earl, but I know different. It was one of them." His eyes burned with anger.

"You're sure it was a vampire?"

"What else could it be? His throat was torn out and there wasn't hardly any blood left in him or in the area. It was a vampire, all right. They gotta pay. All of them. Starting with Knight."

& & & &

Council Headquarters

"You can't be serious." Amahl T'Mutu said to the Presider in the living room of her quarters. "It's suicide."

"I'm completely serious." Lady Zera replied. "Edmund said something that started me thinking. He was right, but not the way he thought he was. It isn't fair that Nicholas should have to go through this ordeal alone. And I have no right to ask anyone to do something that I am not willing to do myself."

"But why you?" Etrian said. "Can't someone else do this?"

"No. I must do this. As much for myself as for de Brabant. You are all welcome to join me if you wish."

"You're right as usual." Chek Kai Chang said as he stood up. "I for one will stand with you."

Adrianne Walking-With-Moon also stood. T'Mutu was right behind her.

"I guess I should make it unanimous." Etrian got to his feet.

Lady Zera picked up the phone and dialed a number. "Rathman. I want you to schedule a news conference … Total media coverage. … Yes. It will be big. … This will be a major event … I leave the place and time up to you."

& & & &

Toronto

"He wants what?" Natalie asked.

"He wants me to fight back. To let the beast loose. To show them exactly what they're dealing with." Nick had stopped by the Morgue on his way to work.

Mace had been right. For all practical purposes, he was yesterday's news. Even the vandalism of the Caddy only rated a small blurb in the middle of the Metro section. By now, there were only two reporters and the ever present robed marchers stationed at the precinct door. At the loft, the media had all but given up and moved on to the next news story.

"That would negate everything we've been working so long and so hard for."

"I know that. You know that. LaCroix doesn't know that."

"So. What are you going to do?"

"That I don't know." He held her close. ( I know what I'd like to do right now. ) He inhaled the scent that was uniquely Natalie Lambert. Roses and cinnamon. He could feel himself reacting to it. As a man ... And as a vampire. ( NOT NOW! ) He admonished himself. ( WHEN? ) The beast argued back.

& & & &

New York City

"Are you absolutely certain you want to go through with this?" Edgar Rathman asked the Ancients sitting in the dressing room of the Hayes Theatre. He had arranged for the conference that Lady Zera requested to be held there. He was lucky. A play had just closed four nights earlier and the next one wasn't scheduled to go into rehearsals for another six weeks. The manager was delighted to rent it out for a one time event.

"We are." T'Mutu answered. "As Lady Zera has said, we cannot ask others to do something that we are not willing to do ourselves."

"Perhaps by doing this, we can show that vampires are no different from other beings." Etrian added. "At least not in the ways that have any meaning."

"Also by coming out, we can show that vampires, far from being the evil berserk unthinking bloodsucking monsters that the media and fiction have portrayed us, do have a definite and structured Community and a governing hierarchy." Walking-With-Moon continued.

"And that our government, if that is what you want to call it, has existed continuously, and in relative peace for over three thousand years." Chang bragged. "There are no mortal governments that can make that claim."

"Well, if you're positive." Rathman said, opening the door to the stage. "Then let's get this show on the road." It was an unbelievably bad Ed Sullivan imitation.

& & & &

Council Headquarters

"You and your cockamamie bright ideas!" Edmund scolded Logan. "If what your precious Minerva says is true, at this very moment Lady Zera and the entire Council are revealing themselves to the world. Without us." He threw the note that he had retrieved from the comic section at him. "I guess we have our answer. So much for getting out of this fur lined rat trap."

"Well ... " Logan said hesitantly. "They still might let us out."

"And I'll be the next pope. Remind me the next time I listen to one of your half baked ideas to just drain you on the spot. At least that way I'll get a meal for my efforts. Then again, you might just give me heartburn if your blood is as unstable as your mind."

& & & &

Toronto

" ... I still say we stake him." The vampire said as he put his glass on the Raven's bar. He motioned for Miklos to refill it. "Not only has he gone public with his secret, he's involved all of us in it, too."

"How do you figure that, Willie?" His friend asked. "Don't you remember? The Council said that it was strictly voluntary, and no one who does come out can involve another of us without their express permission. So how does de Brabant's going public affect the rest of us?"

"I can see you haven't been out in public lately." Willie said. "If you had, you'd know that the mortal community is beginning to react the way they always have to us. They're seeing vampires under every tree and bush. In a coupla months, they're gonna start carrying crosses and wearing strings of garlic around their necks. It won't be long after that they'll start sharpening stakes."

"Aren't you being a bit paranoid? So far, the press has only been curious about us. It's almost like they can't get enough of Nicholas Knight. Nothing that I've read so far even hints at anything remotely resembling large scale paranoia or panic."

"Been there done that. Don't intend to go through it again. How old are you, Frank? 150 years old? You haven't lived long enough to be caught up in a full scale persecution. Believe me, you don't want to be either. The only solution is to nip this in the bud, as they say. We get rid of de Brabant and in a few years this will all die down. Literally."

Miklos sat the drink in front of the Willie. "I don't think you want to be saying any of this where Miss DuCharme or Mr. LaCroix might hear you. You remember what happened the last time you made disparaging remarks about Mr. Knight, don't you?" He placed his hand on the vampire's shoulder and pressed down.

"Yeah." Willie said massaging his collarbone where Janette had dug her fingers into it the last time he had been at the Raven. " That's another thing I owe de Brabant for. It still hurts. I think her fingernail is still embedded in there."

"Then I suggest you leave now. Unless you want a repeat of that incident." Miklos said. "Here she comes now." He pointed to the rear door that led to the offices and living quarters as Janette DuCharme entered the Raven. He looked back at the now empty seats where the two vampires had been sitting only a scant millisecond before. There were two twenties on the bar. ( You were right, Miss Janette. ) He picked the bills up and deposited them in his trouser pocket. ( They are good tippers. )

& & & &

New York City

"Ladies and gentlemen of the press." Lady Zera began. She sat at a banquet style table on the stage with Etrian and T'Mutu seated on one side of her, and Chang, and Walking-With-Moon on the other. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. What I am about to reveal to you will more than make up for any inconvenience. I know you are all aware that a man identified as Nicholas Knight of Toronto is in actuality Nicholas de Brabant. A vampire. What I want to tell you tonight is that he is not the only vampire. I too am a vampire, as well as the people sitting here with me. We will each give a short statement and then we will take questions from you.

My name is Lady Zera. Zera is an abbreviation for my true name. It has 26 syllables and only four vowels. Some sounds do not even have a character for them in any known alphabet.

There are some who say that I am one of the first of my people. I do not dispute that. I do not remember being brought across, as they call it. I have been a vampire for as long as I can remember. And that is an extremely long time. I believe I am between ten and twelve thousand years old. I cannot say exactly because during the period of my earliest memories, language was in its infancy. It was little more than grunts and screeches. Such things as alphabets and numbers had not even been thought of, let alone mathematics and / or the complex calculations necessary to compute the calendar. Time was reckoned as the space between two events that occurred with the same regularity. What we now know as a year could be as long as twenty two months one cycle or as short as eight the next.

I have seen the rise and fall of many cultures and civilizations during my life ... or unlife as it is commonly called nowadays. I have been privileged to see how, bit by bit, mankind has emerged from cave dwelling early humanoids to the sophisticated complex societies that exists today.

My position within the vampire Community, as one of its oldest members, is that of Presider of the High Council. It is the equivalent of Prime Minister, or President, or perhaps even Queen. I am responsible for the governing of the world's vampires. These people with me are the senior members of the High Council. They too have agreed to declare themselves publicly."

Etrian was next. "My name is Etrian. I was born in the village of Priminia in Chaldea, about a day's journey from Ur. By today's reckoning, it would be approximately 5000 years ago. In my mortal life, I was a wealthy merchant and held vast resources throughout the known world at that time. I frequently traveled to these places. On one of these journeys, my caravan was attacked by a band of robbers and most of the people were killed. Those that survived were either taken prisoner to be later sold into slavery, or had run off. I was left for dead.

I was found by a man named Ne'Hala, a vampire who saved my life the only way he knew how. He made me what he was. I spent many years with him and my vampire brothers learning about the ways of the vampire.

I decided to use my talents to help mankind. I was thoroughly familiar with the region known today as the Sinai. I determined that the best way I could help was to offer my services to those crossing this vast wasteland. Since the temperatures in the daytime made the crossing very difficult, most travelers journeyed at night. This was perfect for my 'condition'. I guided people through the desert for centuries, including the Hebrews as they fled the persecution of the Egyptians.

Eventually, as more lands were discovered, I expanded my excursions to include them. I have since traveled the world numerous times over. Over the millennia, I have learned how to take what I need for sustenance without killing or even seriously harming the donor. I have passed this knowledge to countless others."

"I am Amahl T'Mutu. My people were nomads who wandered the land that currently comprises much of northern Africa along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. At the time of my birth, about 4200 years ago, the desert was only starting to encroach on the area. My people followed the vast herds of antelope and wildebeest, eking out a living. It was a harsh life, but a good one.

One day when I was about 20 cycles of seasons, I was stalking a herd of antelope. What I did not know was that a pride of lions was also stalking that same herd. I was so intent on bringing food for my people that I did not see them until it was too late. I fought valiantly, but one lone human was no match for three hungry lionesses. Then something, or more precisely someone, fought them off.

Like Etrian, the only thing the man could do for me was to bring me across. He said his name was Aleheb. That he was the fifth son of Jemoth, who was the eighth son of Cain. There are those who say that vampirism is the mark of Cain. That it was God's punishment to him and his descendents for the murder of Abel. I do not know whether this is true or not. All I know for certain was that Aleheb saved my life that day. I have spent my life attempting to pay him back for the favor.

I served under many of the Pharaohs, beginning with Menes IV and ending with Cleopatra. One of them was Ramesses II. While I wasn't one of the charioteers that followed the Hebrews into the Red Sea, I was a taskmaster. Unlike the other masters though, I tried to treat them with mercy and compassion. Unfortunately, in payment for my kindness to them, I was 'killed' by the Pharaoh's other guards. I had to abandon that life and move on, since it would have been difficult to explain how I was still alive after being beaten and run through by six lances. Several decades later, after anyone who might have known me had passed on, I returned and continued my service to the Pharaohs.

Over the centuries, I too have roamed the world. I have been on the High Council for the past eight hundred thirteen years. And to answer your unasked question. No, I never met Etrian until I came to the Council."

& & & &

Toronto

"Miss Janette." Miklos tapped her gently on the shoulder. He knew better than to startle the club owner. That mistake usually was fatal. "I think you had better see this." He pointed at the television set sitting in a niche at the corner of the backbar. Normally, it was soundless. Merely a convenience for those patrons who did not want to miss their favorite hockey game. Now the sound was high enough to be heard throughout the club.

"We interrupt this program to bring you a breaking story." The voiceover said. On the screen was a picture, apparently live, of the High Council members on the stage at the Hayes Theater. "We join the press conference in progress."

There was utter silence as everyone crowded around the set.

& & & &

New York

Chang folded his hands and bowed to the audience. "I am Chang. I am here to help you." He said with a broad smile and a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. "I saw that on a television show and I've wanted an opportunity to do it ever since."

"Unlike the others here, I was not always one of the good guys. I was born in what is now Shandong province in China in the second year of the reign of the Emperor Xia, roughly about 1876 BCE. In my mortal life I was a thief. My brothers were thieves. My father was a thief. And his father before him was a thief. As were their fathers for many generations. You might say I was merely carrying on the family tradition. I traveled for many years with a band of thieves and cutthroats. We robbed, killed, and maimed without consideration or guilt. Money and pleasure were our only gods.

One night, we attacked a traveler on the road to the village of Peking. He was an easy victim. Alone and apparently unarmed. That was a fatal mistake. Within a very short time, my companions were dead, drained of their life's blood. I was near dead. I finally awoke the following night … or maybe it was two, or three … I don't know how long I lay by the road. Fortunately, I had fallen behind a large bolder that shielded me from the daytime sun. I was as I am now, although at the time I had never even heard of vampires. Without anyone to guide or teach me, it took me several decades of trial and error to discover the extent of my newfound strengths and weaknesses.

I reveled in my newly acquired powers. I could now pursue my desires without fear. And I did. With a vengeance.

After several centuries, I grew tired of that life. I offered my services to the Emperor Zhou as one of his generals. In this position, I was ruthless in persecuting his enemies. Again, I killed and maimed without mercy. During this time I deliberately, and in some cases accidentally, created many more of my kind.

At one point, I even briefly mounted the golden throne. But I soon realized that I enjoyed being the power behind the throne much more than sitting on it. So I abdicated. After nearly a century had passed, I resumed my position as the Emperor's senior general.

It wasn't until the coming of foreign influence in about 848 BCE that I learned exactly what I was. I desired to learn more about the outside world and I traveled with them for many centuries. Through my contact with them and with others of my kind I began to see that the vampire was not essentially a killing machine. I also began to see of the beauty and goodness in the mortal societies that we visited. I took this philosophy back to my people in China and over the centuries we began to find our place in mortal society.

It has been only in the last millennium that I have mellowed. Or perhaps I have been infused with a case of magnanimity. I no longer view mortals as food for the taking. Especially now, with the abundance of blood readily available from other sources.

I have served on the High Council for over five centuries although not always in harmony with them. On numerous occasions, I have been the dissenting vote among my peers."

Adrianne stood up next. "I am more or less the baby of the group. I was brought across only about 2800 of your years ago. My people had no name. We were only The People. The lands west of the great river, the Father Of Waters, you call it the Mississippi, were ours to enjoy. We hunted the immense herds and fished the bountiful rivers for our livelihood. It was a good life and the Great Spirit showered many blessings on us.

Unfortunately, this was not so with some of the other peoples that inhabited the land. During a raid by one of these tribes, I was taken captive and brought to their village to be sacrificed to their god. As it turned out, their so called god was a vampire. He called himself Heh'un'chia, which roughly translates as He Who Must Be Obeyed. He became infatuated with me, and so instead of sacrificing me to his desires, he made me his companion for all of eternity.

At first, I was thrilled to be the consort of a god. I reveled in the adoration and adulation I received from his subjects. Over the years, the fascination began to wear off. I began to see that he was despotic and vengeful and he kept his people in virtual slavery. I realized that instead of worshiping him, they feared and hated him. This was totally foreign to the ways of my people. They were a gentle people and lived in harmony with the land. These people were cruel, and stole and killed to get what they needed. I tried to change him … and them, but to no avail.

He eventually extended his cruelty to me. He began to mistreatment me. He knew I could not die, so he would beat and molest me unmercifully. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Especially when I questioned his actions in any way. During one of these bouts of abuse, something broke inside me. I grabbed the first thing I could use for a weapon and used it on him. It was a ceremonial dagger. I knew this would not kill him, but it did incapacitate him long enough for me to drag him out to the sacrificial altar. I staked him there and left him for the sunrise.

Over the centuries, I, like Etrian, have learned how to take what I need for sustenance without seriously harming my victims. I have never killed in anger except for Heh'un'chia. And that could even be argued as self defense. I believe the term today is 'battered spouse syndrome'. This was not the way of my people and it is not my way either."

& & & &

Toronto

"What the hell … ?" Mark Daley exclaimed to the others as he sat glued to the small TV in the break room. "Now there's vampires coming out of the woodwork. I thought we could solve the problem by convincing Knight, or whatever his name is, to go away. Now it looks like we gotta make an example of him. Maybe you were right, Jay." He said to Detective Moore. "Maybe we should have staked him right at the start."

"Mark!" Eddie Pfeiffer said. "Don't talk like that. That's murder."

"No it isn't murder." Mark replied. "Remember. It's murder only if you do it to another human being. Knight's not human. He's no better than some rabid dog. We'd just be ridding society of some depraved animal. When the right persons realize what we've done for them, we might even get a medal for it. We gotta let those kind of creatures know that we ain't gonna put up with them in our society any more. You yourself said he don't belong with God fearing people."

"That's right. But if we do what you are suggesting, then we're no better than he is. I just want to get out before this goes any deeper than it already is."

"Okay then. Get out. Who needs a sniveling wimp like you anyway?" Mark said angrily. "Just remember. The first word to anybody and you're toast."

"Don't worry. I won't say anything. If I did, I'd have to incriminate myself and I'm not crazy enough to do that. I just don't want to be a part of this anymore."

& & & &

Nick Knight pushed his way through the throng around the door to the precinct. After the High Council had gone public two days ago, the horde of media reporters, paparazzi, and curiosity seekers had returned with a vengeance. This time, Nick made no pretense of trying to avoid them. While he was not in a position to give any interviews, he realized that he couldn't hide from them forever. ( Well, technically, I could, but it wouldn't be worth it. )

"Knight." Reese called from the doorway. "In my office."

"What is it, Captain?" Nick asked as he entered. With the Captain was a man in a British Army uniform and an attractive young woman in civilian clothes

"This is Brevet Major Sir Sylvester Lethbridge-Stewart of the 433rd Royal Medical Research Brigade. He's on temporary duty with the United Nations Special Investigations Team." He pointed to the young woman with the Major. "And this is Doctor Romana Baker. She's with UNSIT as well. They'd like to talk with you."

"Detective." Lethbridge-Stewart said, extending his hand to Nick, who took it. "I don't mean this to sound quite the way it's going to come out. We really don't want to talk with you. I mean we wouldn't mind talking to you. But we actually want to talk with your superiors in the vampire community. Principally Lady Zera and the other members of the High Council. Dr. Baker and I have been assigned to lead a group that has been charged with examining your … ah … society more closely. By orders of the United Nations."

"Fro the record, UNSIT is not a military agency. We're a part of the World Health Organization. Strictly peacetime." Dr. Baker added. "You needn't worry, Detective. I can assure you UNSIT has no intention of cutting anybody up into little pieces and stuffing them into jars on a shelf in some laboratory. We just want some information about you and your people." She smiled softly. "Of course, we aren't going to rule out running hundreds of tests."

"We saw them on the telly the other day. Unfortunately, The members of the High Council did not reveal the location of their headquarters. They said it was for security purposes. I can understand that." Major Lethbridge-Stewart continued. "The only vampire we have any means to contact is you. All we want is for you to pass on to this Lady Zera that we wish to speak with her and the Council. Can you do that for us?"

Nick nodded. It wouldn't be hard to notify Lady Zera and the others that the representatives from the United Nations wanted to talk with them. It would be their decision whether to grant the Major's request.

"Of course, while we're here, would you mind if we took some samples from you?" Romana asked.

"Perhaps I can do better than that." Nick replied. "I have a … friend who has been doing some research on the vampire … condition. Her name is Natalie Lambert. She's the coroner here in Toronto. The Council knows of her work and has, in essence, given her their blessing. Let me talk to her and to Lady Zera. If everybody is in agreement, perhaps she could share her findings with you. That would save a lot of duplication."

"That would be excellent." Dr. Baker replied. She took out a pen and pad and wrote an address on it. "Here is where we are staying. Please call us as soon as you know anything."

The three of them shook hands and Knight and Mace escorted the Major and the Doctor through the crowd waiting at the door.

"By the way, how did you get in here without having those news hungry sharks all over you?" Nick asked as he helped Dr. Baker into the passenger seat of their car.

"Simple, my boy." Lethbridge-Stewart replied. " They weren't looking for us. They were waiting for you. Besides, it never hurts to be wearing a uniform with a few pips on your shoulder. Or to be a bit of nobility, either." He said with a slight smile.

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Lady Zera beamed as she read the note from Nicholas. This was perfect. While it was not exactly what she envisioned for the two insubordinate vampires in the basement, it was far better than what she had in mind. She picked up the phone.

"Wilton." She said when her call was answered. "Have Edmund Gloucester and Logan Grainer brought to my office."

& & & &

Toronto

"Over there!" The man in the entranceway called to the cameraman behind him. "This must be the place that the informant told us about. He said that vampires hung out at The Raven." He pointed to a group of Goth looking dancers in the middle of the floor. "Those look like vampires if I ever saw any."

"And just how many vampires have you seen up close and personal, Jake?" The cameraman asked as he panned the video camera across the crowd. "Outside of the ones on TV, I mean."

"Who cares, Mickey?" Jake replied. "All the people at Extreme Videos care about is the story. It doesn't necessarily have to be true. Just so it has shock value. And you gotta admit. This place definitely has shock value." He pointed to two black leather clad, purple haired, whitefaced people on the dance floor. At first glance, and even at second or third glance, it was extremely difficult to determine if they were men … or women … or one of each. It was also impossible to tell whether they were vampire or mortal.

"I don't know about shock value." Mickey pointed at the raven haired beauty crossing the floor to them. "But if she's a vampire, she can bite me anytime she wants."

"What do the two of you think you are doing in my club?" Janette asked as she approached the reporter and his assistant. "Turn that … thing off!" She demanded, pointing at the camera.

Jake thrust the microphone in her face. "Jake Elliott. Investigative Reporter for Extreme Videos. This is Mickey Ingersoll, my assistant." He handed her a card. "Are you one of them?"

"One of who?" Janette replied.

"One of the vampires, of course. You know. The blood sucking creatures of the night." Without waiting for an answer, he continued. "How many of the people in here are vampires? Will any of the mortals with them be their dinners tonight? How many have you killed over the years?"

"I strongly suggest you leave. Now. While you still can." Janette said, minute flecks of gold dancing in her eyes. The tips of her fangs barely showed beneath her ruby lips. Behind her, a small crowd of patrons, both vampire and mortal had gathered. The group was growing rapidly.

"Or you'll what?" Jake said firmly. "We do have the right of the press, you know."

"You also have the right to get your faces rearranged." Javier hissed at the duo. He was sitting at the bar directly in behind the group " You heard the lady. I think you should do what she says." He picked Jake up and held him about three or four inches from the floor. "I think you should leave now."

"Be sure to get this all on tape." Jake told the cameraman in a higher than normal voice. "Confrontation between the vampires and the press. Assault and battery. This could even make the evening news. Details at eleven."

Janette homed in on the now sweating cameraman. "You really do not want to do what your partner suggests." She said in time with his heartbeat. "You know this is not appropriate behavior. You know it can lead to trouble. You want to erase the tape and start all over again, don't you?"

"Erase … Start over … " Mickey said as he pushed the delete button.

"Hey!" Jake yelled. "What'd you do that for?"

"Because it was the right thing to do." Miklos replied from behind his employer. "He knows that and you had better learn it."

"Without any evidence, it will be your word against mine … And that of my attorneys." Janette said. "Believe me. If you even ATTEMPT to follow up on this story, I WILL sue … And that's just for openers." She hissed menacingly. "Javier. Put the nice man down."

"But I'm not doing anything to him ... " Vachon replied. " … Yet … And he's anything but nice."

"Put … him … down … Vachon." Miklos ordered the Spanish vampire.

Growling softly, Javier dropped the reporter with a thud. "I never get to have any fun." He grumbled.

"Now why don't you go out and shoot some footage of some boy scouts helping little old ladies across the street." Miklos said. His words matched Jake's heartbeat.

"Come on, Mickey." Jake said dully as he picked himself up and wiped the dust from his trousers. "There's no story here. Let's go and see if we can find a troop of boy scouts."

The two headed to the door, shadowed by Brutus, the bouncer at the Raven.

In the background, Janette, Vachon, and Miklos gave each other discreet high fives.

& & & &

Council Headquarters.

"But My Lady." Logan said. "This isn't what we had in mind when we said we wanted to go public. We assumed that we would be released and be permitted to return to the outside world."

"I know that this is not what you wanted. But it IS what I want. You WILL be in the public eye. Just as you requested. Your names will be published in several medical journals and most likely broadcast over the media. You will be going public. Just not in the way you thought you would. I have made my decision."

Edmund thought he caught a hint of sarcastic smugness on the Presider's face. "And if we refuse to go along with this?"

"Then I could always impose a more traditional punishment for disobedience of a Council ruling. I am confident that … 'Chuckles' as you call him… would be eager to carry out the sentence."

'Chuckles' smiled sinisterly, showing his fangs, and made several downward slashes with his arm, as if he had a stake in it.

& & & &

Toronto

" … And so, Doctor. I can assure you that your research into vampires will be kept strictly confidential. Nothing will be released to anyone without your specific approval." Major Lethbridge-Stewart pledged to Natalie Lambert.

Lady Zera had eagerly given Natalie permission to release any of her notes that the team needed in order to pursue their research.

"I'm still not completely convinced." Natalie replied. "For the past seven years, I have been working in absolute secrecy to try and understand the vampire physiology. Until a few weeks ago, my research could have gotten me killed if anyone found out about it. Mortal or vampire.

Most of my findings have been by trial and error … and I've only been working with one vampire so far. Nick. Maybe with outside help and a broader investigative base, I, or maybe we, can finally get down to some real research."

"Of course we'll cooperate with you in any way that we can. I can understand your reluctance." Dr, Baker added. "I'm afraid that too many people have seen too many B grade movies about the government's handling of so called alien species. They think all we want to do is to imprison them and dissect them. That couldn't be farther from the truth. All we want to do is understand and help them."

"While it will be a pleasure to work in the open and with an organization like UNSIT. However I will reserve judgment until later, just the same." Natalie replied.

Lucien LaCroix eased the microphone switch on the console to the open position.

"Good evening my children of the night." He cooed seductively. "It is time once more for a lesson from the Nightcrawler. It is a lesson that all of you should pay particular attention to. It concerns knowledge."

He paused and searched the area with his enhanced senses. ( Yes. ) The one that this broadcast was aimed especially for was nearby. He knew from experience that he would be tuned in tonight. As he had been nearly every night since the Nightcrawler had come on the air.

"It is said that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Therefore how much more of a danger is there in a lot of knowledge? Especially in the wrong hands.

Why do you think that nearly everybody who has any kind of information at their disposal goes to vast lengths to keep that knowledge from falling into the hands of those who would use it for the wrong purposes?

It is not by accident that the Judeo Christian God forbade the eating from the tree of knowledge. He knew what would happen if the insights that were gained by this act were to be used by those not competent or experienced enough to handle them. He was correct, as gods usually are. Because Adam and Eve were unprepared for the consequences when they ate of the forbidden fruit, they were driven out of the Garden of Eden. Because of their foolishness, they condemned themselves and their offspring for all of eternity to a life of pain, suffering, and hardship. A legacy we still have with us, even to this day."

He took a sip of the thick ruby liquid in the goblet in front of him. ( Nicholas was listening. ) He could feel it in the mental thread between master and child.

"There is a story. A true story, by the way.

It is about a so called primitive tribe that lived on a remote and isolated island in the Pacific Ocean. They were at peace and harmony with each other and with nature. They did not know of the world outside their small island and the outside world did not know of them. They had lived in this manner for more centuries than anyone could count. It was in every aspect a paradise on earth.

Eventually, some of the younger members of the tribe began to suspect that there might be more to existence than coconuts, passion fruit, and mahi-mahi. So they set out to find what they had been missing. They fashioned a boat that would allow them to sail the uncharted oceans beyond their horizon. After a long time at sea, they came in contact with other peoples. Through crude drawings and pantomime, they told of their homeland to whoever would listen.

Within weeks, the island was overrun with scientists, anthropologists, teachers, clerics, and plain curiosity seekers. Most of these people were intent on examining these primitive people, and instructing them in the ways of the modern world. Still others were more interested in exploiting them and their environment.

Not ten years later, the islanders were thoroughly civilized, in the accepted sense of the word. They could read. And write. And count. And wear real clothes instead of loincloths. That was not all they had learned from their so called teachers, either. Crime, almost unheard of in their previous society, was running rampant. Disease, pollution, and contamination were reaching epidemic proportions. Lying, cheating and stealing were commonplace. Depravity was the norm."

He paused for a few moments.

"Was this the result of their being exposed to today's knowledge? Were these islanders any better off than when they were little more than what outsiders had referred to as ignorant savages?"

He paused and took another sip from the goblet. He hoped that his wayward son would comprehend the significance of his story. ( Of course, with Nicholas, that was not a certainty. )

"I leave you to draw your own conclusions, my little ones. Often we are so eager to share what we know with others that we do not stop to consider the consequences.

Just remember. Be content with what you are. And with where you are. Be content with what you know. Do not covet that which is unknown. Know that the Nightcrawler is here for you always. That is all you need to know.

Good night. Sleep well, my children. Do not be afraid. I am watching out for you. You are mine. I will always provide you with what you need. For I am the Nightcrawler. And the Nightcrawler always takes care of his own."

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Edmund flopped onto the bed.

" Blood sample, Edmund ... Hair sample, Edmund ... Skin sample, Edmund ... Saliva sample, Edmund ... " He groused. "Fill the bottle, Edmund. What do you mean you can't fill it? Why not, Edmund? We had better run some tests to determine why you haven't been able to pee in five centuries … Stool sample, Edmund. You can't do that either? We'll have to schedule a full colo-rectal exam to find out why, Edmund … Read the X-rated magazine and do it in the cup, Edmund ... You are fully functional in that respect, aren't you, Edmund? … I swear if I live long enough, maybe I'll run out of samples." He pulled the covers over his head and turned to the wall.

"You'll never run out of samples. And you will live long enough." Logan said. "You're immortal, remember?"

"Don't be so goddam smug. You're next."

& & & &

Toronto

Captain Joe Reese paced before the group of detectives and officers assembled in the conference room. "I understand that some of you haven't been taking my previous little … chats concerning Detective Knight to heart. Or maybe some of you should make an appointment to have your hearing checked, since you don't seem to be listening to what I say. Just so there's no misunderstanding, I'm going to say it one more time. I'll even use little words. LEAVE … DETECTIVE … KNIGHT … ALONE!"

He held up a blond haired Ken doll with several toothpicks imbedded in his chest.

"I found this on Detective Knight's desk this evening. I WILL NOT tolerate any of you harassing him any more. IS THAT CLEAR? That means NO more stuff like this. That means NO more vulgar notes on his locker. NO writing offensive things on his desk pad. NO slimeing his files. NO obscene mail. NO vandalism of his personal property … like what you did to his car. Got that? NO!… NADA! … NYET! … NOTHING! Period. End of sentence.

If … NO … WHEN … I find out who is doing this … and I WILL find you, make no mistake about that … I GUARANTEE that the person or persons responsible WILL SPEND the rest of his / her / their last day on the force explaining himself / herself / themselves to the bureaucratic food chain. STARTING WITH ME!"

& & & &

"Detective Daley." Mark Daley answered his phone.

"Barg. Dis idz Chay." Jay Moore replied in a falsetto.

"Who?"

"Chay Boore."

"Jay? Where are you?"

"Dorondo Cheneral."

"Toronto General Hospital? What the hell happened to you?" Mark Daley asked. "You sound like you ran into a freight train."

"Doe fraip traim. Nabalie Wamberp."

& & & &

Several hours earlier

Natalie hunched over the toxicology report. The samples were positive. Schanke was right. There was no possibility that this death was accidental. Not with that much Ephedrine in the bloodstream. There was no way anyone could have accidentally taken that many illegal diet pills at one time. Now the only question was, was it suicide or murder?

Slowly, she became aware that someone was standing behind her. She knew almost instinctively that it wasn't Nick. Too much noise. "I'll be right there, Schank." She said, not looking up. "I just got the tox on Bellesari." She stood up and ran into Detective Jay Moore. Literally.

"Detective Moore. What are you doing here?" Natalie replied, trying to break from the bear hug that the detective had put on her. "Let me go."

Jay smiled sinisterly. Natalie could tell he had been drinking. Considerably. "I don't think so, sweet thing. I saw you the other day in that skimpy little outfit. You know you turned me on. You did it deliberately, didn't you? You want me as much as I want you. You're a gorgeous woman and I know you have needs like any other woman." He backed her to the wall and held her tightly. She could feel his hardened manhood pressing into her thigh.

"You're drunk, Moore. I think you had better leave now. Before you say or do anything you'll regret."

"I've had a few, but I'm not drunk." Jay said tightening his grip on her. "Believe me, Natalie baby, I won't regret it one bit and neither will you. I guarantee it. I just want to show you what it is like to be loved by a real man." He pulled her head to him and kissed her roughly.

"Stop it, Moore." Natalie said as she managed to push his face away from hers. The smell of alcohol on his breath was nearly gagging her. "Or you WILL regret it. I guarantee that."

"Tell me you didn't like that." He said as he fumbled with his belt buckle with one hand while holding her with the other. "Tell me you don't want more."

"I DIDN'T like it and I DON'T want more. Now back off." She shouted.

"I know you don't mean that. I know you aren't getting anything from Knight. Let me satisfy you." He started to unzip his fly. "I can do things with you that you can't even begin to imagine."

"Since you don't seem to understand words, maybe you'll understand this." Natalie grabbed his arm that held her with both hands. She twisted it. Hard. One hand going clockwise, the other counterclockwise. The pain forced him to break his grip. Then she pulled him around into a hammerlock. Now he was against the wall and she was pressing him. "Now get out of here. Before I get really mad."

"Playing hard to get, are you? I love it when a woman shows some spirit. Now I know you'll really enjoy it." He pulled away from the wall enough so that his pants slid to the floor.

"Oh. I'll enjoy this all right." She brought her knee forcefully into his crotch. "And that's just for openers." As he screamed in pain and doubled over from the blow, she quickly brought her forearm upward and solidly connected with the bridge of his nose. She could hear the bones crack. That forced his head into an upright position. "And now for the piece de resistance." The knuckles of her right hand connected with the corner of his left cheekbone. She heard the smack and felt it give as well.

Jay Moore slumped to the floor.

& & & &

"And then she started kicking and punching me. I never knew tennis shoes could hurt that much. She even took a couple of swipes at me with a scalpel as I was running out of the room." Jay concluded. "I don't know how I managed to get out of there in one piece. Had to leave my pants behind. Talk about embarrassing … "

"Stay put. I'll be over in a few minutes. We'll think of something to cover this." Mark said. "Maybe there's some way we can blame this on Knight."

"No way. I'm through with this madness. I should have pulled out with Eddie and Gresham. As soon as they have me patched and stitched up, I'm heading home. My ass is gonna be out of this town as fast as I can pack."

"But you can't just quit." Daley thought for a moment. "I know. We'll make it look like she came on to you. We can beat this. Trust me."

"WE? Whadda you mean we? You weren't the one she went after. I know Lambert has already reported what happened. I ain't gonna be anywhere near Toronto when Knight hears about this! Or Reese! You're on your own!" There was only a dial tone.

& & & &

" … I tell you, it's true." Officer John Christopher said to Jerry Borking in the locker room. "I was talking to Walt Kerry over in Domestics when the call came in. Can you imagine? Jay Moore of all people. Trying to force himself on the Coroner!"

"Has he been cuffed and stuffed yet? I knew he had the morals of a cesspool, but to try anything with Dr. Lambert? She's such a lady. Wouldn't hurt a fly. She doesn't deserve anything like that. I want ten minutes with him as soon as they bring him in."

"You'll have to get in line. Three quarters of the precinct has called dibs on him already. That's after Reese and Knight get through with him. He's still at Toronto General. They just dispatched a couple of uniforms over to get him as soon as he's released. That may be a while, though.

I don't know about hurting a fly, but from what Walt told me, the good Doctor did a real number on our Mister Cesspool. Starting at the top. Concussion. Broken nose. Broken cheek. Dislocated shoulder. Three cracked ribs. And I can I guarantee you his little soldier won't be coming to attention anytime in the near future. In fact, he's lucky his Little Jason didn't wind up suspended in a jar of formaldehyde in the Doctor's specimen cabinet. He's also got more cuts and scratches than Bad Bad Leroy Brown had at the end of his song. Walt said Moore even had some teeth marks on him."

"Teeth marks? Were they Knight's?"

"Nope. Hers."

"In a way, I almost pity him when they bring him back here." Borking said. "I served with Reese at Castle Frank. He hates dirty cops. Particularly those who mess with women. You heard him in the briefing tonight. He'll ream Moore two, maybe three new bungholes. Before he turns him over to IA."

"I hate to think what Knight's gonna do when he finds out about this. If you thought he was a loose cannon before, can you imagine what he'll do now that he doesn't have to hide what he is?"

"Just curious. What religion is Moore?"

"I think he's an atheist. Why?"

At that, there was a whooshing sound through the locker room. Christopher and Borking looked to the place where it had started. Nicholas Knight's locker door was swinging back and forth. Knight was nowhere in sight.

"Oh God." Borking's face turned three shades whiter. "I didn't know Knight was in here. Do you think he overheard us?"

"With his vampire hearing, he could hear a whisper on the other side of town. Especially when it refers to Doctor Lambert." Christopher replied. His face was almost as white as Borking's. Which wasn't an easy thing to do, considering that Christopher was a black man. "If Moore is an atheist, when Knight gets through with him I have a feeling he will believe that there IS a God. And that Knight is His left hand."

& & & &

Jay Moore pulled the things from his dresser and threw them in the suitcase. He had been lucky so far. True to his word, he had left the hospital as soon as the intern had put in the last of the stitches. He didn't even wait to be bandaged. He stole a pair of scrub pants from the nearest locker room and took off. It was a good thing he did, too. He had just driven his car into the street when he spotted the cruiser pulling into the hospital parking lot. If he was correct, he had maybe another hour or so before the APB hit the air. After that, every cop on every street in the county would be looking for him. That would give him barely enough time to get to St. John's Church. Maybe he could talk Father Rochefort into letting him spend the night there. Or maybe he could just hide in one of the confessionals until morning. He could conceal his car behind the parish garage. No one ever went back there. Knight wouldn't dare come into a church. Just to be sure, he had stopped and bought a good sized crucifix from one of the religious supplies stores on Yonge. He felt his pocket. It was securely there. As soon as the sun was up, he had every intention of driving to Hamilton and catching the first plane out. For wherever it was headed. Or maybe even driving to Buffalo and catching a plane from there. He doubted if they had an international APB out on him yet. Most likely just city and county wide so far.

He scribbled a note to the building manager telling her that she could do whatever she wanted with his things. He didn't need them anymore. He wouldn't be coming back. He picked up everything and went to the door. He carefully looked up and down the hall. No one in sight. He put the suitcase down and taped the note to the door and pulled it securely shut. He would drop the keys in the manager's mailbox on his way out of the building. He turned around.

And literally ran into a golden eyed Nick Knight.

"Going somewhere, Moore?" Nick asked, his voice more like a growl.

"Knight … I … " He reached into his pocket and pulled out the cross. "In the name of all that's holy. Don't come any closer, Demon." He brandished the cross at Nick.

Knight batted it away. "That only works if you believe. And I happen to know you're an atheist. Let's talk about what you did to Natalie Lambert." Knight grabbed him roughly and pulled him into the stairwell. "In private." He picked the terrified detective up and held him over the railing, one hand grasping the front of his shirt.

"I didn't do anything to her. She came on to me." He knew that Knight wasn't about to believe him, but it was worth a try. "When I refused her, the little bitch took after me with a vengeance."

"You're lying." Knight's voice became huskier and his eyes changed from yellow to orange.

"Okay." Moore said, his voice escalating even higher than it already was. "I admit. I started it. Just put me down."

Knight slowly began to release his grip on Moore. "As you wish." He opened one finger.

Jay grabbed onto Nick's wrist with both hands and desperately hung on.

"Alright. So I came on to her. Can you blame me? I mean she's one hot chick."

Nick growled louder and his eyes began to be tinged with red. He opened another finger.

"Okay. Okay. Bad choice of words. Maybe I went a little too far. I swear it'll never happen again. I'm on my way out of town right now. And when I settle down somewhere, I promise I'll even check into a monastery."

"Names." Nick growled.

"Names?"

"I have every reason to believe you are one of the people who has been harassing me at the precinct. I know you aren't alone in it, either. You're not that bright. Or that stupid. Now I want the names of your accomplices."

"I … I can't. He'll kill me."

He brought Moore's face almost next to his and let his fangs drop. "And what do you think I will do to you if you don't tell me?" He hissed

"Daley. It was Mark Daley. He's the ringleader." Jay whined. "There were others, but they pulled out when things started getting really hairy. Daley's the one you want. He hates your guts because he believes that some vampire killed his uncle. He's vowed to make you pay for that." Moore was sobbing and there was a wet spot on his trousers beginning at his crotch and extending down the length of his right leg. On the first floor landing, there was the sound of a stream of liquid hitting the floor. "Please. Put me back on the landing." He pleaded. "Please."

"As you wish." Still holding him by three fingers, Nick pulled the detective back onto the landing. "Jay Moore. You are under arrest for attempted rape, and assault and battery of Doctor Natalie Lambert." He reached into his pocket and took out his handcuffs and put them on his wrists. After he had threaded them through the railing.

He took out his cell phone and dialed Reese's private number. "Captain. This is Nick Knight. I understand you've got an APB on Jay Moore? … You can find him in the fourth floor stairwell of his apartment building ... I'll be in to fill out a report later. Right now, I want to get to Natalie's as soon as possible." He snapped the phone off.

He picked Jay up and eased the simpering detective back into the stairwell. "Hang in there." He said evilly, patting Moore on the head. "Someone will be coming by here in a few minutes for you."

& & & &

Mark Daley threw several of his more prized possessions into a grocery bag. There wouldn't be time to clean out his desk. Word had spread like wildfire through the precinct that Knight had caught Moore, and that Reese, Schanke and Vetter were bringing him in personally. That did not give Mark much time. After the way Moore talked on the phone, it was almost a sure bet that he would be singing like a canary at the first possible moment. If he wasn't doing so already.

( This is one more thing I owe you for, Knight. ) He thought as he threw the bag in the back of his car. He couldn't use this one much longer. Within an hour or so, every cop in Toronto and probably York County, would be looking for his dark blue Chevy. That was no problem. There were always several cars for the taking on any given block in the city. You just had to know how to find them and what to do. And he knew. The three years he has spent in Auto Theft were about to pay off.

& & & &

Nick stopped outside Natalie's apartment door. Natalie was here. He could hear her distinctive heartbeat. It was loud and strong. She was okay. He said a silent prayer of thanks to any heavenly entity that might be willing to listen to a vampire praying. Perhaps the entity might even be willing to pass it on to God. Then he heard it. A second heartbeat. ( Could there be someone else threatening her? ) His eyes momentarily turned a golden yellow. ( No. ) Natalie's heart was too calm and steady for her to be in any immediate stress.

( If there is someone else with her, maybe it would be better if I didn't go in. I just might upset her. She's calm and settled now. ) He turned and started back toward the stairs. ( NO. I have to know for sure. ) He went back to the door and concentrated on what was happening inside. He could hear the conversation as clearly as if he was in the room. He recognized the other voice. ( Grace. )

& & & &

"Come on, Honey." Grace Balthazar said holding the cup in front of her boss … and friend. "You gotta drink something."

"I don't want anything." ( Except Nick. ) Natalie replied. "Are you sure Nick hasn't called?"

"Natalie. I brought you here straight from the Emergency Room. I know the phone's been ringing off the hook, but you know as well as I do that none of them were from Nick. Don't worry. He'll call or he'll come over as soon as he can. If I know that man, nothing short of the end of the world could keep him away. And maybe not even that."

"We've already been through the end of the world." Natalie smiled softly. "Remember the meteor scare? You're right. It didn't stop him then and this probably won't stop him now."

"It's good to see you smile." Grace held the cup out again. "Now. Drink your tea like a good girl."

"Yes, mother." Natalie took the cup.

In the hall, Nick started to go once more. ( She's all right. I can come back later. )

Suddenly the door opened and Grace's more than ample frame filled the opening. "Natalie." She took his arm and almost pulled the detective into the room. "Look what the Guardian Angels dropped on your doorstep. Speak of the devil." It dawned on her what she had said. "No offense, Knight."

Natalie immediately ran to Nick and wrapped her arms around him tightly. If he had been mortal, he would have had a difficult time breathing.

"It's all right." He soothed her. "Moore won't hurt you or anyone ever again. I made sure of that."

"You didn't … " Grace asked, putting her two fingers to her teeth, as Natalie had done on many previous occasions, to indicate the vampire..

"No, I didn't. But I wanted to. I did scare the piss out of him, though. Literally." He smiled at the thought of Moore wetting himself in the stairwell. "Trust me, he is alive. Reese probably has him in custody right about now."

'Thank goodness." Grace said. She started to say something else, but she saw how Nick and Natalie were clinging to each other for dear life. ( Just friends. Tell it to the Marines. )

"One question, Grace." Nick asked, without taking his eyes or arms off Natalie. "How did you know I was in the hall?"

"I just had a hunch somebody was there. Call it intuition. A sixth sense. Maybe it was Guardian Angels. I don't know." She picked up her purse. "Regardless, I can see I'm not needed here anymore. I got to go anyway. There's still a room full of guests waiting to be sliced and diced down at the morgue." She put her hand on Nick's shoulder. "Take extra good care of her, Knight. 'Cause if you don't, you're liable to be the next patient I autopsy ... While you're still breathing."

Nick had the distinct impression she was not joking.

He gently led Natalie to the couch. "What was Grace saying about the Emergency room? Are you all right? Moore didn't do anything to you, did he? If he hurt you in any way, I'll … " His eyes flecked gold.

"Physically, no." Natalie answered. "But Reese wanted me checked out just the same. For evidence purposes, since this is an attempted rape case." She put her hand on his cheek. "I do have a few minor bruises where he tried to fight back, but the doctor says they'll be okay by this time tomorrow. I'm just glad that Grace, Myra, and I took that self defense class at the Y after the Roger Jamison case. Otherwise … " She sighed deeply. "Nick." Her voice began to shudder. "I was so scared." As if a dam had burst within her, Natalie began to sob uncontrollably.

He held her gently as she sobbed into his shoulder. "Sh-h-h-h." He whispered, tenderly stroking her hair. He went to the couch and sat down, still holding her, and rocked her gently as one would a small child. He could feel her hurt, pain, and anger over what had happened earlier. He tried to calm her fears, while at the same time allowing her the much needed release of her pent up emotions. Some twenty five minutes later Nat's tears had slowed to an infrequent sob.

Almost instinctively, he began placing soft kisses on her hair. Without thinking about it, he sought her forehead. He licked the salty tears as he planted butterfly kisses on her eyelids. He gently nuzzled the tip of her nose. Before he realized what was happening, his lips were on hers. It felt right. It felt good.

He could feel himself reacting. Strongly. He could tell that she was reacting as well. He slowly, sensually worked his way to her throat. He felt his fangs starting to emerge, and he knew that his eyes were a golden yellow. "NO!" He shouted. ( YES! ) The vampire retorted. In the space of a thought, he was on the other side of the room.

"Nick?" Natalie sobbed, "What's wrong? Don't you want to … "

In the interval of a heartbeat, he was beside her again. "That's the problem, Nat. I do want to." ( More than you'll ever realize. ) "But now is not the time. Or the place." He cupped her face in his hands. "Natalie. You were almost raped tonight. You are much too vulnerable. I can't take advantage of you. Not while you're in that susceptible a state." ( I may be a monster, but I'm not a cad. ) "Even if I were mortal, it wouldn't be right." ( And I'm definitely not mortal. I could kill you by making love to you. )

"I should have known. My knight in shining armor." She smiled softly.

"More like very tarnished armor." He kissed her hair gently. On the cheek. ( It would be so very easy to pick up where I left off. ) "Anyway. It wasn't all for naught. At least I got you smiling. That's a step in the right direction."

"Nick." She pleaded. "Stay with me today. We don't have to … Just hold me."

This time it was Nick's turn to smile. "I'd like that. First, I have to make a few phone calls."

& & & &

"Vetter." Tracy answered the phone.

"It's Nick. I need a favor. Book me off tonight. Tell Reese I'll file the report on Moore first thing tomorrow."

"No problem, Nick. Reese, Don and I just finished booking Moore. Right now, the Captain and Schanke have him in Interrogation Room 2 playing bad cop, worse cop. And every once in a while, I pop in and play cop with PMS."

"And I'm not there to see it." There was a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

"Don't worry. We're taping the whole episode from a hidden camera for the Crown Prosecutor. I'll see to it you get a copy. If it's any good, we might even release it on DVD."

"Put me down for one of those, too."

"Gladly. Now you just take good care of Dr. Lambert."

"How did you know I was at Natal … Dr. Lambert's?"

"Where else would you be?" ( Besides, Don't you remember that the phones here have caller ID. )

& & & &

He replaced the phone and folded her into his arms. Within minutes, they were both sound asleep. She, secure in his embrace. He, secure in her trust.

& & & &

The beads of sweat ran down Reese's face as he stared into Jay Moore's. "You are the slimiest thing that ever crawled out from under any rock. You make me sick. The worst part of it is that you're a cop. A dirty cop! I HATE dirty cops! I can understand you going to Monica De Fontaine's to satisfy your twisted pleasures. And yes, I did check with the good Madam. Some of the things she said you have her ladies do …" He turned away. Even the thought was nauseating. " … Oh gawd. How could you even think of doing anything like that to Doctor Lambert?"

"My name is Jason Earl Moore. I respectfully decline to answer any of your questions without legal counsel."

"Damn you!" Reese pounded his fist on the table. "I know you and some of the other cops are behind Nick's harassment. Just tell me their names."

"My name is Jason Earl Moore. I respectfully decline to answer any of your questions without legal counsel."

"Why don't you just do as the Captain says?" Don Schanke interrupted. "You know it'll go a lot easier on you if you cooperate.'

"Oh, yes. That's right. You two are playing good cop, bad cop." Jay said with a smug look. "You must be the good cop."

"Wrong." Don said with a half smile. "The Captain is the good cop. He'll let you live long enough to regret it. Me, I'm not that generous. Natalie Lambert is a friend of mine and I take it personally when my friends suffer. Particularly at the hands of scum like you. If you don't start talking in the next … " He looked at his watch. " … five minutes, Tracy Vetter's coming in here to relieve me. Incidentally, it's her time of month. Have you ever seen a woman with PMS, a .9MM automatic, and a badge? It ain't a pretty sight, believe me. When she gets through with you, then it's Nick Knight's turn."

Reese took over. "Come to think of it, Knight's the one who caught you and then left you dangling over the stair railing, isn't he? Well, maybe we could give you to Natalie Lambert." He patted Moore's badly swollen nose. Not too gently, either. Moore grimaced at the pain. "Oh, that's right. She's already done her thing with you, hasn't she?"

"Then of course, there's always Grace Balthazar and the nice folks over at the morgue." Don Schanke continued. "I shudder to think what they'll do to you. They've got lots of experience with ripping people's guts out. Of course, the people they usually work with are dead … before they begin. Aren't they?" He smiled grimly. "Well, I guess that only leaves the Crown Prosecutor. Eric Marstaad. You do remember him, don't you? He was Richard Lambert's partner. You know, Natalie Lambert's brother? If I remember correctly, he was also a classmate of Natalie's at university. I think they might have even dated some."

"With a little bit of luck, you might wind up as the newest girlfriend of somebody named 'Tiny' in cell block G." Reese concluded. "Seems to me, you put quite a few of the residents in the slammer to begin with. They will probably be very delighted to see you again."

"You … you wouldn't." Jay stammered. He was beginning to sweat, and even through the discoloration from the bruises and cuts, you could see the color draining from his face.

"Oh wouldn't I?" Reese replied. An evil glint lit up his eyes, and the white teeth of his cold smile glistened against his mahogany complexion. "Start talking."

& & & &

Mark Daley switched the police radio off. It was a good thing he had the foresight to transfer it into the car he had stolen. Dispatch had just broadcast the APB for him. Moore must have sung his heart out. He had hoped he would have more time to put his plan for revenge against Knight into action. At least so far, they had not discovered this car. That would buy him a little more time, but not much. Time was rapidly running out.

He pulled away from the curb. He had spotted Nick's Cadillac parked two spaces down. That killed that idea. There was no way he was going to get to Lambert. Now for plan B. As soon as he thought of a plan B, that is.

An evil smile crossed his face. ( It could still work! ) He had planned to use Natalie Lambert to draw Knight into a trap. All he had to do was use someone else that Knight cared about. But who?

( Knight's partners? Tracy? No. Vetter had already proved on several occasions that she could take care of herself. Schanke? No way. Don Schanke was a seasoned cop and like Vetter, he could more than take care of himself. )

Knight had no family to speak of. He admitted in one of the interviews that his parents and only sister had died over 700 years ago. Suddenly, the light went on. ( Family. Of course. ) That was the answer!

& & & &

Council Headquarters

Edgar Rathman hit the send key on his computer. He had just finished another press release highlighting the good that vampires had done, and in many cases were still doing.

This one concerned a vampire in Cincinnati who headed a halfway house for homeless people. Most of the employees were mortal, although there were several vampires involved as well. Their success rate was over double what the so called mainstream charities had. And, contrary to popular belief, very few of their 'clients' disappeared under suspicious circumstances, and none of those had ever turned up dead with two holes in their necks. It was true though, that the vampires did require that each of their 'clients' donate a unit of blood on a regular basis in exchange for their services.

( So this is what it feels like to be legit. ) It was legal. He was paid an exorbitant salary. The stories he put out were all true. And well documented. And most of all, no one hounded him about them. He cursed all the time he had wasted scrounging and groveling for that slimy rag, the Peeper.

Lady Zera encouraged her employees to further their education. He had started taking night classes at the local community college. In journalism. Something he should have done years ago.

Even his non existent love life had improved. Andrea and he were having dinner on a regular basis. As well as movies and other social events. It was difficult for him to imagine what a classy lady like her could see in someone like him, but apparently Andrea saw something that she liked. She helped him with his school lessons. She helped him improve his social skills. She helped him by just being there. Besides, he recently discovered that she could vacuum his tonsils in more ways than he could ever have imagined.

Only one thing bothered him. He didn't know where the hell he was. The nearest town, Slanberg, while not very large, was not listed on any maps that he had found. Either the paper ones or on the Internet. It was possible that it had been inadvertently overlooked when the maps were drawn, but with GPS and satellite imaging, that seemed very unlikely. A more plausible explanation was that one or more of the employees at the International Geographic Agency were on Lady Zera's payroll as well.

Besides, Andrea and Lady Zera had both assured him that he could leave at any time. All he had to do was let them know, and one of the pilots would fly him wherever he wanted to go. ( But then, why would anyone want to leave here anyway? ) There was nothing outside of this area that enticed Edgar in the least.

He picked up another folder. This was interesting. A group of vampires in California had just signed a contract with a local bottling company to supply the Community there with blood in cans.

& & & &

Nick massaged his neck as he hung up the phone. Sleeping sitting up on the couch in Natalie's apartment was not the most comfortable thing to do. Natalie had finally fallen asleep somewhere around noon, and he did not have the heart to move her to her bedroom. Then there was Sidney. He decided that the only way to sleep was to squeeze himself between Nick's body and Natalie's.

"That was Tracy." Nick said to Natalie. "Moore has been transferred to County jail awaiting trial. According to her, the judge denied bail."

"Good. Then this is a closed incident."

"Not exactly. I told you Moore implicated Daley. Daley has disappeared. He left early last night and never returned to the station. He hasn't been to his house either. Reese has a stakeout keeping watch there. According to Tracy, they found his car not far from the scene of a stolen car report. They have every reason to believe he stole that one. They have an APB out on him but nothing so far. I've got to go in and make a report."

"So go."

"I don't want to leave you alone. I'd feel a lot better if there was someone with you while I'm gone." He thought for a moment. "You and Janette got along pretty good while you were staying at the Raven. If it's all right with you, I'm going to ask her if she'll come over here for a while."

"I think I'd like that. We've discovered we have a lot in common while I was there. I'll enjoy seeing her again."

& & & &

Mark Daley walked up the path to the house. He had spent the day at a rundown motel down by the waterfront after ditching the car he stole as he left the station. He knew that the motel owner wouldn't ask questions as long as you had the money.

He was now driving a car he had taken from the airport parking lot. With any luck, it belonged to someone who had flown out of Pearson. If that were the case, it probably wouldn't be reported missing for several days or more. By that time, he'd have finished his revenge on Knight and be long gone. He had waited here for over an hour before the detective left. Then another hour to be sure that his story would be believed. He rang the doorbell.

"Mrs. Schanke." He said when the petite brunette answered. "I work with your husband." He pulled out his badge. "Would you and your daughter please come with me?"

"Donny? Has anything happened to him?" Myra asked. The color drained from her, and there was fear in her voice. She had always been terrified that there would be a time like this. The thought that Don was injured … or dead … came welling up in her mind. "He's not … " She choked back a sob. ( Please, Dear Lord. Don't let him be dead. )

"Please. Just get your daughter and come with me. You'll understand everything in a little while."

& & & &

Nick watched as the two women he loved embraced and hugged like long lost sisters. While he loved Natalie with every fiber in him, there would always be a very large part of him that loved Janette as well. If he ever had to choose … he hoped it would never come to that point.

"So. What would you like to do first, Natalie?" Janette asked.

"I don't know." Natalie answered. "I thought we could just have a long chat while Nick's gone. You know. We can pick up where we left off before I came back home."

"I'd like that, too." Janette replied.

"Left off? And just what WERE you talking about at the Raven?" Nick asked.

"None of your business." They both said as one.

"Nosey, isn't he?" Natalie said with a mischievous twinkle in her eyes.

"It's about me, isn't it?"

"Typical male ego." Janette retorted. She had the same look in her eyes.

"It wasn't going to be about you." Natalie replied. "But now that you mention it … " She looked at Janette conspiratorially.

"Can I stay and listen? I promise I'll be quiet as a little mouse."

"NO!" It came in stereo.

"Okay, okay." He raised his hands in mock surrender. "I know when I'm not wanted." He headed for the door. "Janette. Just be sure she eats something."

"You haven't eaten yet?" Janette asked.

Natalie shook her head. "I haven't felt like it."

"That is not acceptable." Janette said as she went to the kitchen. She opened several of the cupboards. "And neither is any of this." She went to the refrigerator. "How can you possibly live on this … " She made a face as she held up a frozen Two Minute Gourmet package. She went to the phone and dialed a number.

"Henri. This is Janette DuCharme … "

& & & &

"Knight." Nick answered the phone.

"Knight. I have someone here with me that you might be interested in talking to." The voice on the other end said. Nick recognized it immediately as Mark Daley's. He switched the phone to speaker mode and almost immediately the entire section gathered around his desk.

Nick's blood ran cold. "If you've done anything to Natalie or … "

"Don't worry. Your precious women are still alive. Well, at lease one of them is alive. The other one is like you, isn't she?" Daley spat. The anger in his voice was almost physical.

"Then who …"

"Nick." Myra's voice came over the speaker. He could tell that she was frightened, but her voice was strong and clear.

"MYRA!" Don yelled loudly. "You BASTARD! If you touch one hair on my wife's head, I'll hunt you down to the doors of hell!"

"Temper. Temper. Detective Schanke. If Knight does what I tell him to do … and if he knows what's good for him, he will … Nothing will happen to your precious wife and your bratty little kid."

"What do you want?" Nick asked.

"You know the Alverco warehouse on Pier 26. Be there in a half hour. Come alone. If I even think that someone is with you, these two are gonna be dead.

I know you're on the speakerphone. Just so everybody knows, my business is with Knight. No one else. Creatures like him have to be eliminated from the face of the earth. That's what I'm going to do. If you know what's good for you … and for mankind … you won't interfere."

"UNCLE NICK!" It was Jenny. "Tell that son of a #$ to go #$ himself."

"You little snot!" Daley said. "For such a little girl, where'd you learn language like that?" There was the sound of a slap.

"You think you're so tough. Hitting little kids when they can't hit back." Jenny shouted. Nick could hear the fear in her voice. Also the anger as well. She was definitely her father's daughter.

"YOU'RE DEAD MEAT, DALEY!" Schanke yelled as he lunged for the phone. Two officers held him back.

"One half hour, Knight." There was nothing but the sound of the dial tone.

"Did you get a trace on the number?" Don asked, frantically.

Tracy held her head and nodded slowly. "Yes." She practically whispered. "It's a cell phone. He could be anywhere in a hundred mile radius."

"My guess he's somewhere in or around pier 26. I'll have patrols blanketing the entire area." Reese said as he picked up the phone.

Schanke put his hand on the Captain's. "No way. He's got my wife and my daughter. You heard Daley. If he even smells a cop, he'll kill Myra and Jenny."

"What do you have to say, Knight?" Reese asked. "Knight?"

Nick Knight was nowhere to be seen.

& & & &

Mark Daley had planned this out almost to the last detail. He originally intended to kidnap Dr. Lambert and hold her here as bait for Knight. But Moore had screwed that plan up royally when he couldn't keep his pants zipped. Between Knight and that female vampire from that nightclub … and Reese's men, Lambert was almost as well guarded as the Crown Jewels.

Then he remembered that Knight had once mentioned that the Schankes were almost like family to him. An eye for an eye. A vampire had taken his family and now he would take a vampire's family. As well as the vampire.

The Alverco warehouse was more like a fortress than a storage facility. That was no accident. When it was in business, Alverco had routinely imported and exported many valuable and priceless antiques as well as very high end and one of a kind merchandise from around the world. Consequently, the warehouse was virtually impregnable. The walls were foot thick reinforced concrete. The few windows were double sided bulletproof glass. The roof was one inch steel plated. Any vents had forty gage case hardened steel wire welded on. The three doors to the outside were all in view of each other and were also one inch thick steel. The owners had installed a state of the art security system. Fort Knox wasn't this well protected.

While the alarms had been deactivated when Alverco had abandoned the warehouse five years ago, they were still in place. It wasn't difficult to reactivate them. He merely showed the superintendent of the security company his badge and a phony court order, and he turned them on without question.

Now all he had to do was wait for Knight to show up. And figure out a way to get that brat, Jenny to stay still. While her mother had put up a fight when she found out what Daley had in store, she was fairly easy to subdue. Especially after he threatened the kid. The kid, on the other hand, was a little spitfire. On the way here, she had scratched him and even bit him. Even handcuffed to a support pillar like her mother, she was still constantly harassing him and spitting at him every time he came near her. His shins were black and blue from several of her kicks. Myra too, had gotten in a few licks as well. He wished he had thought to bring a couple of sets of ankle cuffs. He could have used them on these two.

( The kid's going to be the first one. ) He smiled evilly.

& & & &

"Where do you think you are going?" Joe Reese asked as Don Schanke and Tracy Vetter strapped on their holsters.

"I'm going to get my wife and daughter before that piece of scum hurts them." Don replied. From the look in his eyes, Reese knew that it was useless to try to talk the detective out of it.

"And what about you, Vetter?"

"Nick and Don are my partners. Nick's walking into a trap and I'm not about to let him do this alone." She had the same determined look. "And I'm not about to let anything happen to Myra and Jenny either."

"But Daley said that if Nick came alone, he wouldn't hurt Myra and Jenny." Reese tried to sway them.

"And you believe him?" Tracy asked. "You know as well as I do that this is a suicide stand for him. He's not going to leave any witnesses. As soon as Nick walks through the door, Myra and Jenny are as good as dead. We're not going to sit idly by and let that happen."

"Okay. But don't do anything foolish like getting yourselves killed." Reese half yelled at their retreating figures.

As soon as they were out of the building, Reese turned to the bullpen. "I could use a few volunteers."

& & & &

"And you're positive?" Nick asked. On a hunch, he had made a quick detour to the abandoned utility maintenance tunnel that Screed called home. Nick hypothesized that if there was one uncharted tunnel beside his loft, there could be many more throughout the city. And if anyone knew the underground layout of Toronto, it was Screed.

"Are you doubting me word? And 'ere I've been tryin' me best to live up to the distinctshining that 'Er Ladyship gaved me. Stayin' out of trouble and all that there good stuff. Bein' a good little vampire, I 'ave. And 'ere you are callin' me a liar." Screed placed his grimy hand on his heart and staggered around the wide spot in the tunnel that he called a living room. " I'm 'urt to the quick, I am."

"Screed!" Nick admonished. "Enough theatrics. I don't have much time. Is there an unknown way into the Alverco warehouse or not."

"I jes' told yer there was." Screed repeated. "It was the main collectshening place for the booter's durin' the pro-he-bet-shin time in the Hew Hes of Americas durin' the nineteen an' twenties. Only theys gots themselves caught. The coppers sealed the entrance off. But it shouldn't be nothin' for us to open it up again."

"Us? What makes you think you're going with me? I told you Daley wants me to come alone."

"It's like this, Derfective. There's miles and miles of abandoned tunnels an' sewers down 'ere what nobody but yours truly knows anyfin' about. If'n you was to try to find the right one to the Alverco place all by your lonelysome, you'd end up getting yourself as lost as a virgin in a 'orehouse, you would. Then I'd have to come find your sorry arse an' native guide you outta there. That's gonna be wastin' even more of your precious time. So, I figures I'll save meself and you a lots of trouble and go along wit' youse."

"Well, then. What are we doing sitting around here?"

& & & &

Lucien LaCroix stiffened. ( Something is wrong. Very wrong. )

Ever since Nicholas had agreed to help Lady Zera and began drinking human blood again, the vibrations from his bond with his son had been more and more relaxed and calm. Even when he was thinking about the good Doctor, which his wayward son was doing more and more lately, there was not the sense of guilt and panic that there had been. The vibes he was sensing now were different. Troubled. Anxious. Even a touch of fear. He opened his link to Nicholas. This would definitely bear close monitoring.

& & & &

"Okay. Here's the deal." Reese told the small knot of officers who had followed him to the rear of the precinct. "We'll stop two blocks from the end of the pier and wait. No hotshotting. Maintain complete radio silence. Most likely Daley has his police radio with him. If you must communicate, use your cell phones. All messages will be relayed through Vera on the front desk. I've contacted Schanke and Vetter. They know what we're gonna do. They'll be waiting at the pier for us. Everyone know the plan?"

Eight heads nodded yes.

"Good. Let's go get us a dirty cop."

& & & &

"Well, Derfective. There it is. The 'idden entrance to the Alverco warehouse. Just likes I said it was." Screed said, pointing to a manhole cover. "Comes up in the middle of their loo closet, it does."

"And how would you know that?" Nick asked the Carouche. "You said that the entrance had been sealed over seventy years ago."

"It 'ad. But that don't mean it stayed sealed." He rubbed his fingertips across the shoulder of his greasy leather jacket. "It weren't nothin' for me to knock away the bolts what 'eld the cover to the floor. Even to put 'em back when I was done, so's no one would know that I was there in the first place. Been in and out of 'ere 'undreds of times. Copped me the biggest squeakers on the wharf in 'ere."

"Then why did you insist on coming with me in the first place? You could have just drawn me a map."

"Maybe I'm getting a little soft spotted in me olden age. I can't stand noncherlauntenly by while the friends of one of the few friends I gots in this 'ole wide world gets themselves 'urt or maybe even killed. 'Specially when they's a women like and a little girl like. I 'ave to do whatever I can to 'elp."

" Thanks, Screed. And you have been a very big help." Nick said as he started up the ladder to the warehouse washroom. "The best thing you can do now is to go back to your place and wait."

"In a 'ippo's patootie." Screed started up behind the Detective.

& & & &

Mark Daley checked his watch. Five minutes left. He laid out his arsenal. Four hawthorn stakes. A vial of holy water. Three crucifixes. He checked his gun. It took some doing to find hollow point wood bullets, but with enough cash and threats, you could get anything. Then he had filled them with a paste of garlic powder and holy water. He put the items back into the oversized pockets of his cargo jacket.

He peered out of the loading dock window. From here, he had a clear view of the entire pier. There was no sign of Knight. Fortunately, there was no sign of anyone else, either. He had monitored the police channels and there was nothing but business as usual. Apparently they had taken his advice and left Knight to him. ( To spite what they say, they must hate him as much as I do. They know I'm doing the right thing. ) He went to where Myra was handcuffed.

"Well, it looks like I was right. Knight doesn't give a damn about you or the kid. Apparently nobody else does either."

"That means you're going to kill us. Right?" Myra Schanke said. It wasn't a question.

"Right, sweet thing. But first. From the way your husband talks about you, I expected you to be a combination of Marilyn Monroe, Wonder Woman, and June Cleaver. Now that I finally see you, you got to have something else going for you. Could be you're really hot under the covers. Maybe I'll just find just what you do have." He stroked her chin suggestively.

"Try anything and you WILL find out." Myra spat at him. She was aching to try out the self defense lessons from the Y. The only reason she acquiesced to his demands up to this point was because he had threatened Jenny. Now, though she had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

"Why don't you just let them go?" Nick Knight said from the rear of the warehouse. "Your quarrel isn't with them. It's me you want."

Daley spun around to face his nemesis. "How'd you get in here without being seen? An ant can't get in here without tripping the alarms."

Nick put his index fingers at the outer edges of his eyes and pulled them toward the hairline. "Ancient Chinese secret." He said, grinning.

"Try this secret, Demon." Mark emptied the gun into Nick as he advanced on him. As he expected, the vampire doubled over in pain as the bullets sliced through his torso. He put his foot on the writhing detective's chest. "I know those won't kill you, but they will keep you down long enough for me to do this." He emptied the holy water vial on Nick's head. "That's for my Uncle Earl." He gloated.

Nick screamed as the blessed water burned into his cheeks and eyes. He was now functionally blind. He felt for Daley's foot and found it. He twisted. Hard. He felt Daley go off balance, but before he could follow through, Daley had managed to right himself.

"Why you … " Daley hissed. He reached into his pocket and took out one of the crosses and shoved it onto Nick's burned cheek. It felt like a white hot poker as it sizzled into the vampire's skin.

Drawing strength from the depths of his existence, Nick managed to get up. And with amazing speed, considering how badly he was hurt. Through blurred, burning eyes, he caught the vague outline of the stake as Daley lunged at him. He barely managed to turn as it caught him in the chest just above the heart. His eyes were red gold and his fangs were fully extended. He grabbed Daley by the belt. Again with speed and strength he didn't know he had, he flew to a catwalk at the top of the warehouse floor.

& & & &

From the back room where he had been hiding, Screed heard the shots. Quickly, he made his way into the main floor of the warehouse just in time to see Knight fly to the upper level. Then he spotted Myra and Jenny handcuffed to the poles. ( They's in a bad spot there. They could get themselves killed, they could. ) In a second he was beside them. ( Derfective Knight looks as if'n he gots things under control there, so's I'd better get 'em released. )

"Don't fear me none." He told a frightened Myra. "I'm one of the goody guys." It didn't take much strength to snap the cuffs from her and Jenny.

"Who are you?" Jenny asked as the Carouche led them into a safe corner.

"Me name ain't important none. Let's jus' say I'm your average like concerned cit-eye-zen. 'Ere to do me good deed fer the day."

"You saved our lives." Jenny added, reaching up and planting a wet kiss on Screed's cheek. "You're a very brave man."

Screed turned and hid his face in his hands. If he could, he would have been blushing fifty shades of red. "I guess maybe I is. But don't you go tellin' nobody. It'll ruin me rep-i-tay-shun, it will. I doesn't wants any credit or honors. If'n anybody finds out what I did this, they'd try to make me out some kind of a 'ero. That means I'd 'ave to take baths on a reg'lar time. And move out of me comfy diggin's and into a real 'ouse. And get me a 'onest job to boot. Make me into a respectable bloke, they would. I don't wants to give up me freedoms like that."

He reached over and kissed Myra gently on the back of her hand. Then he looked deeply into Myra's eyes and concentrated on her heartbeat. "I was never 'ere. One of the coppers let you loose. You don't know which one."

"One of the officers freed me … " Myra said blankly. "I don't remember which one … "

He went to Jenny. He took her hand and kissed it as well. "You never seed me 'ere neither." He said softly.

"Never saw you." Jenny replied.

With a whoosh of air, Screed was back in the tunnel.

"In a pig's eye I didn't see you." Jenny said in a half whisper as she stared at her hand.

& & & &

From the shadows, LaCroix watched as the scene unfolded before him. He had felt the pain from the bullets and had followed his wounded son's vibrations like a beacon to this place. Each successive wound only strengthened the bond … And LaCroix's anxiety over the safety of his son.

& & & &

Inch by inch, foot by foot, Reese and the others had cautiously made their way down the pier toward the Alverco warehouse. On the way over there, he had called the security company and one of their representatives was with them. He had told them that Daley had the alarms turned on. As they neared the building, they heard repeated gunshots. Reese took off at a dead run to the loading door

"Get this door open. NOW!" Reese shouted to the security man. After what seemed like hours, in fact less than a minute, the security officer had entered the codes and opened the door.

Almost immediately everyone stopped in their tracks. On the walkway high above the main floor, Nick Knight held Mark Daley against the rickety railing. A foot long stake protruded from the detective's chest and his face was covered with burns and blisters. Blood also flowed from several other wounds in his chest and abdomen. His eyes were deep crimson and his fangs protruded from beneath the gruesome sneer on his lips. His face was mere inches from the rogue detective's throat.

"KNIGHT!" Reese shouted. "Move Daley back from the railing and step away."

In reply, Nick only snarled loudly at his captain.

"You're a cop." Reese called to him. The creature on the catwalk frightened him. Although he had read in fiction novels about what vampires were capable of, he had never seen Nick in full vampire mode before. "You took an oath to obey the law. Let him go. Let us take care of him."

"Captain." Tracy Vetter said. While she had seen Vachon and a few of the other vampires in 'vamp mode' as they called it, she had never seen Nick, or any other vampire that she knew in this state either. "I don't think you're talking to Nicholas Knight right now. I think the vampire has taken over. Nick's in no condition to follow orders. Let me try to get through to him." Without waiting for approval, she slowly started to the stairs.

"Nick. It's me. Tracy. Your partner." She said softly as she started to climb. " I know you're hurt pretty bad. I know you want to see Daley punished. So do I. This isn't the way to do it, Nick. You know that as well as I do. Please. Bring him away from the railing. Let mortal justice take care of him. You've been trying to square yourself with humanity since you came to Toronto. And long before that, too. Don't throw away everything you've accomplished so far because of this stinking piece of rotting sewage. Let me take him into custody."

Throughout all of this, Nick was growling softly.

"She's right, Nick." Don Schanke said from the floor. Myra and Jenny were clinging tightly to him. "He's not worth your effort. If you bite him, you'd probably end up with an upset stomach. Or worse. I mean his blood can't be all that good, can it? Think about it, partner. Then too, think of all the paperwork involved if that rail gives way and you drop him." ( It worked once before, maybe it'll work again. )

Nick looked through reddened eyes at the blurred shapes of the group assembled below him. ( They're friends. They're here to help me. I can't let them down. ) He argued with himself. ( But they're only mortals. Daley tried to kill you. He deserves to die. ) The vampire in him cajoled. ( It's your right. You are a vampire. You are not bound by mortal law. You need his blood to heal. Do it! TAKE HIM! … NOW! )

( NO! )

With considerably more effort than it took to hold him against the railing, Nick pulled Daley to the other side of the walk. Letting out something between a growl and a hiss, he roughly pushed him at Tracy. Immediately, Tracy and two other policemen were with him.

"Mark Daley." Tracy intoned as one of the officers handcuffed him. "You are under arrest for the attempted murder of Nicholas Knight and the kidnapping of Myra Schanke and Jenny Schanke. You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right … "

Nick barely heard the words his partner was saying as reality began to ebb and flow and turn a greenish black.

In a nanosecond, Lucien LaCroix was beside his son. He caught him as the detective slumped to the floor. In another nanosecond, he was on the ground floor.

"Where in hell did you come from?" Reese asked. "You weren't here a minute ago."

"I have been here all along." LaCroix replied. " If I do not wish anyone to see me, I cannot be seen. And I did not wish to be seen. I sensed that my son was in danger and I came to help him."

"Your son? You're Knight's father?"

"In a manner of speaking. That is not important right now. What is important is that Nicholas needs medical attention. I sincerely doubt if a mortal hospital can do much for him. Notify Doctor Lambert that I am taking Nicholas to his loft. She will know what to do." He stared coldly at the captain. "And Captain … Reese, isn't it? Be certain that your justice system takes care of HIM." He indicated Daley. "If you do not. I WILL!" In the next moment, Lucien LaCroix and Nicholas Knight were nowhere in sight.

& & & &

In the living area of the loft, a small cadre of officers from the 96th precinct, led by Reese, paced fitfully. They had followed Vetter, Schanke, and the Captain to the loft after they had taken Daley to the precinct to be booked.

Reese didn't particularly want to do that. But he had to. He was, after all, a Police Captain. He had taken an oath to uphold the law. What the man really wanted to do was to take the outlaw detective to one of the wooded areas of Don River Park and beat him to a bloody pulp. Of course, he would've probably had to get in line behind Schanke … And Vetter … And most of the other officers in the precinct ... Not to mention that LaCroix guy. ( Now there is one creepy bastard. ) Reese thought.

Upstairs in the bedroom, Natalie, Janette, and LaCroix had just finished stabilizing Nick. With their assistance, Natalie had removed the stake and the bullets, and bandaged his wounds. They had carefully washed the remains of the holy water from his face and smeared large amounts of burn cream on the blackened area where the crucifix had seared his cheek. Natalie could not see any optic nerve damage, but she had put ophthalmic ointment in his eyes and lightly bandaged them anyway. They each had given him as much blood as they could spare, and it had taken all of the blood that Nick had available in the loft, just to bring him this far. Since he was still unconscious, Natalie had to set up an IV. After all of this, he was looking only marginally better.

"He still needs more blood. I am going to call the Raven and have someone bring a case. Or maybe two." LaCroix said as he took out his cell phone.

"And I'm going to inform the people downstairs of his progress." Natalie said.

"I'll stay here and watch over him." Janette said.

& & & &

" … And he's stable and holding his own. Although he needs a lot more blood than what we have on hand here." Natalie told the group. "LaCroix has made arrangements to get more."

"That might not be necessary." Don Schanke said, pointing to a Red Cross cooler sitting on the floor. "We thought he might be a quart or two low after what Daley did to him. So we all went over to Toronto General before we came here." He opened the cooler. It was packed with bags of blood. He took out one of the units. "This one is mine."

& & & &

As the dawn approached, LaCroix and Janette left for the day. They both promised that they would be back as soon as the last rays of sun disappeared.

Downstairs, only Tracy and the Schankes remained. The others had left, one by one, as Nick's condition continued to improve. Myra and Jenny had joined their husband and father as soon as they had been released from the emergency room where Don had insisted that they go to be checked out. Other than a few minor cuts and bruises, they were okay. Don, Myra and Jenny were asleep on the couch, cuddled in each other's arms, while Tracy dozed in the oversized lounge chair.

Above, a gray haired woman surveyed the area from the skylight. Being over 10,000 years old did have its advantages. One of them was that Lady Zera could tolerate early morning and late afternoon sunlight far better than the average vampire could. She had flown by jet to Toronto as soon as she had heard of the attack on Nicholas.

Carefully, so as not to awaken the sleepers, she opened the skylight and eased herself to the floor. ( Nicholas is so very lucky to have such good friends as these. ) Silently, she made her way to the stairs and up to Nicholas's bedroom. Soundlessly she opened the door.

Nicholas lay nearly lost in the huge bed. He looked almost his full 800 years. The pads that had covered his eyes had been removed. There was an ugly red welt in the shape if the crucifix on his cheek. There were also numerous reddened patches that marked the nearly healed blisters from the holy water. A bandage still covered the stake wound in his chest, but there was every indication that it was healing nicely. Five red circles on his bare chest and abdomen marked where the bullets had struck. His breathing was slow and regular. The ancient vampire could tell that he was asleep rather than unconscious.

Beside him, Natalie Lambert lay, also asleep, on the bed. On top of the covers. Her arm lightly rested on his chest, carefully avoiding any of the injured sites. Lady Zera smiled. ( Yes. I was right. Nicholas is a very lucky man. )

Lady Zera took the green bottle from beneath the folds of her cloak and set it on the night table. This was a special bottle. It contained blood given by the members of the High Council. With it, Nicholas should make a complete recovery in record time.

She went to the pair. Gently, she kissed Nicholas on the forehead. He moved slightly but quickly settled back. "Love her. Take care of her." She whispered to the sleeping man.

Then she went to Natalie and kissed her on the cheek. She, too moved a little. "Love him. Take care of him. " She whispered to Natalie. As quietly as she had arrived, the Ancient vampire left.

& & & &

Roses and Cinnamon. It was the scent that he was aware of first. The scent that was distinctively Natalie's. He lay there for some time, not moving, letting her deliciously tantalizing aroma fill him. Eventually, he opened his eyes. She was lying beside him in his bed. ( Did I … ? ) He panicked. She was fully clothed and laying on top of the covers. He listened for a moment. Her heartbeat was strong and her breathing was soft and relaxed. She was asleep. ( I didn't … ) He relaxed slightly. I couldn't have, or she wouldn't be this strong. )

He moved to put his arm across her. Then was when he became aware of the pain in his left chest. Tender. Throbbing. Not life threatening, but definitely there. Slowly the events came back. Daley had shot him, burned him with holy water and a crucifix, and then staked him. He only vaguely remembered LaCroix carrying him out of the warehouse. After that, everything was a blank.

Ignoring the pain, he gently brushed a stray curl from her forehead. ( I could get used to waking up like this very quickly. )

Natalie stirred and opened her eyes. "Hi." She mumbled sleepily. "Welcome back to the land of the living. You look a lot better than you did last night."

He never took his eyes off her. ( And you're pretty good to look at, yourself. ) "How long have I been out?"

She looked at the clock. It read 8:25 PM "LaCroix brought you in here at about 11 last night. I'd say at least twenty one hours."

"I nearly killed him." He said grimly after a long silence.

"But you didn't kill him."

"But I wanted to. It wasn't just the beast that wanted him dead. I wanted him dead as well. I haven't killed in anger in over 50 years. And that was in wartime."

"And that is a perfectly normal human feeling."

"How can you say that? There's nothing normal or human about wanting to drain every drop of blood from him and leave his lifeless husk for the scavengers to pick over."

"Nick. He hurt you. Hell, he damn near killed you. If you had been mortal, he would have. I'd be worried if you didn't feel this way. You weren't in charge in the warehouse. The vampire was. But somehow, Tracy found you wherever you were hiding inside yourself and the man that is Nick Knight prevailed over the vampire. You let Tracy and the police arrest him. That's a thousand points in your favor. Maybe even a hundred thousand points."

Nick smiled softly at that. "A hundred thousand points? How about only fifty."

"That's more like it. Did you know you're absolutely gorgeous when you smile?" She teased.

He started to say something when a gray ball of fur jumped on the bed. And walked right up to Nick's face. "MEOWERRR!" Sidney demanded. He again squeezed himself between Nick and Natalie. "MEOWERRR!" He repeated indignantly as he settled his head against Natalie's stomach. ( This is MY pet. Not yours.

"What's he doing here?" Nick asked, stroking the feline's head. Sidney responded by planting a rash of sandpaper kisses on his bare chest. ( I'll think about forgiving you if you keep rubbing my head like that. Perhaps we can work out some kind of an arrangement.

"When LaCroix called me at the apartment and told me how badly you were hurt, I knew I wouldn't be able to get back there for a while. So, I brought him with me. You don't mind, do you?"

"No. I don't mind." ( As long as he doesn't make a habit of getting between the two of us. )

"You don't have to stay here, Nat. I'll be all right." ( I'll understand if you want to go. But please say you'll stay. I need you here. Today … and forever. )

"But I want to stay here. You stayed with me when I needed you and now it's my turn to repay that. We don't have to do anything. Just lie here and enjoy each other's presence." She snuggled into his arm. ( What I'd really like to do is to enjoy something far more enjoyable than just your presence. )

"I think I'd like that very much." He reached over and kissed her gently on the forehead. ( What I'd really like to do is to enjoy something far more enjoyable than just your presence. )

& & & &

The End?

As Screed would say,

"In a rat's crammy!"