Forever Knight

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Nick pushed the rewind button on the VCR. At almost the same moment, Natalie gave out with a huge sniffle. He handed her the box of tissues. "I don't see what has you so choked up." He said. "It isn't like ET is a real person. You have to remember, this is just a movie."

"I know that." Natalie sniffed again and blew her nose. "But it's still so sad. I mean, here's this poor little alien stranded on Earth hundreds of light years from his home planet. He's all alone and he's being hunted down by a group of military people and scientists. He nearly dies and he's brought back to life by a little boy's love. Now he has to leave the boy behind and return to his home planet. He knows he'll never see the boy again. He's sad and the little boy is sad. Doesn't that make you want to cry?"

After numerous botched efforts over the years, it had finally sunk in that the best thing to do at times like this was not to try to use logic. Natalie Lambert the Doctor's thought processes were very logical, structured and organized. Natalie Lambert the Woman could be easily dissolved into an emotional puddle over the simplest things. Like this movie. He had chosen ET because he thought that it would be upbeat and entertaining, but everything about the movie had sent Natalie into a crying jag. The best thing to do was simply to let her work her way through whatever mood she was in. So, Nick just handed her another tissue and smiled and pulled her to his shoulder. Besides, it gave him the perfect opportunity to hold her close and pamper her a little. ( If only I could pamper her the way I want to pamper her. )

The trial of Jay Moore was scheduled to begin soon and Nick knew that this would be an especially difficult time for Natalie, as well as for himself.

Nick had a strong suspicion that Natalie still had nightmares about what Moore had done to her, but she repeatedly denied it. In public, she was the strong, determined, modern woman, but when they were together and alone, she practically clung to him and became very emotional over seemingly unimportant things. He knew that when she was ready, she'd let it all out, but until then, all he could do was to be there for her. ( I want to be there for her forever. Oh God, I want to be with her. But I can't. It's too dangerous. I could kill her without even meaning to. )

He was due back to work tomorrow, so this would be the last evening that he and the Doctor could spend alone.

It had been a month since Mark Daley had nearly killed him. Although his wounds would have been fatal to a mortal, the fact that he was not a mortal meant that he had survived the attack. Albeit with considerable help from Natalie, LaCroix and the officers of the 96th precinct. The vampire factor in him enabled him to heal at a much faster rate than a mortal would. The blood given to him by the members of the High Council was also a significant factor in his rapid recovery as well. Except for a shiny pink circle of new flesh on his chest where he had been staked, all other physical signs of the traumatic experience were gone. This phenomenon had fascinated Major Sylvester Lethbridge-Stewart and Doctor Romana Baker from the United Nations Special Investigations Team. He lost count of the number of samples that they had taken while he recuperated.

Fortunately for everyone, Daley had pled guilty to the attempted murder of Nick and the kidnapping of Myra and Jenny Schanke at his arraignment, and was awaiting sentence. It was probable that he would be sentenced to 99 years in prison with no hope of parole. The maximum allowed under Canadian law.

So much had happened over the past few weeks. Ever since the members of the High Council had announced that they were vampires, interest in the Communities had grown almost geometrically. Vampires from all over the world were declaring themselves. Even among the mortals, numerous claims of vampirism were coming out. Goth was the in thing. Suddenly, it was fashionable to be a vampire. Or at the very least, a vampire wannabe.

He had received countless invitations from the press for interviews. There were at least a dozen requests for him to guest star on TV and radio. Not only did Playgirl want him to pose for their centerfold, but People, Time, and even Esquire wanted to do a story on him. He had even been invited to appear before Parliament. There were so many petitions for appearances, Schanke had suggested that he hire an agent to handle them. He vaguely remembered that several Hollywood agents were members of the Community. Maybe he would do just that. He made a mental note to check with Aristotle and / or Edgar Rathman to see if they had any information on vampire talent agents.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Logan Grainer paced the tiny room that he and Edmund Gloucester had called 'home' for the past three months. They had been assigned these quarters by Lady Zera and the High Council partly in retribution for their part in the revelation of vampires to the world at large. The other part of their 'sentence' was to undergo testing by the team of doctors and scientists from the United Nations Special Investigations Team.

" … And you thought the physical exam was tough. All those tests. X-Rays ... Y-Rays ... Z-Rays ... Sugar Rays … MRIs … EEGs … EKGs … CBCs … PDQs …CAT Scans ... DOG Scans ... They were all child's play." He groused to his roommate. " Just wait until they start with the mental part … What was your relationship with your mother, Logan? … My mother and I got along fine. It was my father I hated … Did you ever wet the bed, Logan? … Not since I was two … Were you jealous of your brothers and sisters, Logan? … I was an only child … Look at these pictures and tell me what you see, Logan? … Hell, all I saw were freaking blobs of ink … What are your fantasies, Logan? … You want to know what my fantasy is? … I'll tell you what my fantasy is … Right now, my &/"?(# fantasy is to sink my &?"(# fangs into that &?"(# shrink's neck … That's what my fantasy is." He sat on the bed. Hard. If it had not been constructed of tempered steel, it would have easily broken.

&&&&&&&&&&

UN Headquarters

The Chief of Protocol paced the area around the desk. "You cannot be serious, Mr. Secretary." He fumed. "You mean to tell me you actually intend to bring the matter of these … vampires before the next meeting of the UN."

"I am very serious." The Secretary General replied.

"But they have nothing in the way of an acceptable government. They don't even have a viable constitution. And no one knows where their so called headquarters is located. Or if it even exists at all. All we have is the word of the alleged High Council. They have no territorial homeland of any sort. Not even a historic claim. They come from every national, ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic background. I say they're the problem of their respective governments."

"And so were the Jews prior to the establishment of modern day Israel."

"That was different."

"How so?"

"They're just like us. They are mortals, after all. And they did have a homeland, even though it had been destroyed almost 2000 years ago."

"And the vampires aren't like us? You said yourself that they come from every possible background. According to their Lady Zera, the overwhelming majority of them were mortal at one time. Unless we investigate these peoples, we will never know if they, too might have had an ancestral home. That's why I'm opening negotiations with their High Council."

"But they drink blood." He shivered and made a face. "And they've killed people to get it."

"And so did the Toltecs of Mexico. And some African tribes still drink blood on a routine basis. As far as killing people goes …" The Secretary General only shook his head slowly. "Unfortunately, we mortals do that all too often, as well ..."

"But they … "

"No more arguments. You will put it on the agenda and issue the necessary summonses."

The Protocol chief bowed stiffly. "Yes, Your Excellency."

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

" … I agree, Your Majesty." Etrian said to the person on the other end of the phone. "I know she can be stubborn and hardheaded at times, but she is your descendent. Perhaps you can talk to her and make her see that vampires are just like everybody else. They're just sunlight challenged … Yes. I know that would mean you would have to declare yourself, but I think eventually, it would come out anyway. Besides, having royalty among the Community does give us a bit of a snob appeal, don't you think? … Yes. Of course … I know it's your decision and the Council will respect whatever you decide … Thank you, Your Majesty."

&&&&&&&&&&

" … I understand, Mr. President." Adrienne Walking-With-Moon said into the phone as she paced her office. "But it couldn't hurt to talk with the current occupant of the White House. After all, you do know the procedures much better than anyone else. … Yes, Sir … I realize that it has been quite a while, but procedures could not have changed that much, could they? … You will? … Thank you, Mr. President."

&&&&&&&&&&

"… And so, Your Highness, I think you should be the one to contact your people." Amahl T'Mutu said. "After all, you were one of the most beloved of your country's monarchs. Their acceptance of vampires would go a long way toward easing the tensions. … I realize that your country is a very small one, but it does hold a high position among the world governments … At least think it over … Yes, that would help a great deal, Your Highness … We will be in contact."

T'Mutu sighed heavily. This was the hard part of going public. Convincing the governments of the world that vampires are good citizens. That they are not all evil depraved monsters. That there are good and bad among them just as there are good and bad in any society.

Lady Zera had shown great insight when she 'sentenced' Edgar Rathman to be the press liaison. The man's instincts and hunches were uncanny. It was almost like he had a sixth sense about certain things. Because of his research, they now had a virtual 'diplomatic corps' of people to call on to try and persuade the world's governments to acknowledge vampires. In addition to the former monarchs and the ex president, he had located two princes and a princess, three prime ministers, nine ambassadors, and fourteen cabinet level ministers. In addition to numerous members of the various legislatures of nearly every country. Not to mention a near legion of minor and major nobility.

( Yes. He was a good choice. Perhaps with a little refinement, he would make an excellent addition to the Community. )

&&&&&&&&&&

Edgar Rathman had been overwhelmed with the task of persuading the various influential members of the Community to talk to their respective governments. He quickly realized that no one, either vampire or mortal, took him seriously. He didn't have much going for him as far as diplomacy was concerned. While he could talk you out of your shorts and make you think it was your idea, when it came to the fine art of sensitivity, he was in over his head. His method of negotiation had all the subtlety of an out of control freight train. After all, he was only a 'mere mortal' … and an ex employee of one of the world's least respected newspapers

That's when it hit him. Since he was dealing with government officials, what would be more appropriate than to have the members of the High Council do the talking? They could work with the vampires on a more equal footing than he could. They were after all, the 'government' of the vampires, weren't they?

It was almost child's play to convince the High Council to do it. They were very receptive to the idea. He always had the gift of persuasion, and he had fine tuned it into almost an art form while he was with the Peeper. That was one thing he owed to his previous employer. Perhaps the only thing.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Jay Moore sat across the table from his lawyer.The arraignment date had been set for next week. He had talked with a public defender previously, and had told him that he intended to plead guilty to all the charges. This man was a different attorney. Malcolm Elvers was in private practice. Very expensive private practice, too. According to what he had told the detective, he had been retained and paid for by an anonymous donor.

"I still don't understand. Why would someone go to the expense of hiring one of the most prestigious criminal lawyers in the area to defend me?"

"I don't ask those questions. I believe that everybody is entitled to the best defense possible, and apparently so does our anonymous benefactor." Elvers told his client. "Now to get down to what I am paid to do. As far as I can determine, this case has enough holes in it to drain spaghetti. If these documents are correct." He held up a folder, "The police committed numerous prima facia violations of your civil rights. I believe I could get all charges dropped with no problem."

"But I don't want all the charges dropped. I did it, and I told my other lawyer I was going to plead guilty and throw myself on the mercy of the court."

"I don't really give a fat rat's ass whether you did it or not. According to the law, everyone's innocent until proven guilty. You plead guilty and you'll wind up with ten to twenty easy. Why should you have to go to prison when they made so many mistakes?"

"Because in the joint, I'll be safe and protected. If I walk, Knight's gonna come looking for me. I could hide out in the ass end of Hell and he would find me. And when he's through with me, Reese and the rest of the 96th will be more than happy to pick apart whatever's left over. No thank you. At least in prison, I have an even chance of staying in one piece."

"You don't have to worry on that account. If … no, make that when … you are acquitted, we'll get restraining orders against everyone involved. If they come within a soccer field of you, they'll be the ones going to jail."

"If you're sure you can do that, I'll change my plea. Say. Why are you doing this? You must hate vampires too."

"Not just vampires. I dislike anyone who uses power and authority for personal reasons, like Reese and the others so obviously have done in this case." ( Besides, my benefactor is paying me an obscene amount of money to defend you. While I think what you did is despicable, I can't refuse that much cash. )

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

"Well?" T'Mutu asked Edgar. "How is the 'Be Nice To Vampires Week' going? We've been doing all the work while you've been doing nothing but collecting statistics."

"You think that isn't work." Edgar replied. "Then let's switch places. I'll make the calls. You compile the profiles and crunch the numbers. That is, if you know what profiles to compile and what numbers to crunch and how to crunch them. I've been doing it for years."

T'Mutu smiled softly. "I guess you have a point there. So. What do your crunched numbers tell us?"

"You want the full report or the Readers Digest version?"

"The what?"

"The abbreviated version. You never read the Readers Digest?"

"What is that? Another tabloid? Never mind. Just give me the facts. Just the facts. And nothing but the facts." T'Mutu smiled broadly. "One of your television shows in the 50's used that phrase repeatedly."

"I believe the phrase was …Only the facts. Anyway. Here goes." He shuffled through the stack of papers in his inbox and pulled out a folder. "According to the latest stats, 'Be Kind To Vampires Week' as you call it is going very well. Thanks to my brilliant research and your tireless phone work, there are now 10 major governments willing to give full recognition and rights to vampires. Another 17 will give conditional acceptance. And 31 more are still considering it. So far, only 9 nations have flat out refused to even discuss the situation. These are mostly African and Middle Eastern dictatorships. They tend to lump Jews, Christians, foreigners, thieves, adulterers, and vampires together under the same umbrella. According to their point of view, everyone who does not wholeheartedly believe in whatever they propagate as the legitimate and only true version of Divine Revelation is in league with the devil and must be eliminated by any means possible.

All in all, not a bad place to be. That is, unless of course, your place is in one of those nine countries."

&&&&&&&&&&

UN Headquarters

"I am so glad you agreed to meet with me." The Secretary General said, extending his hand to the gray haired woman who had just been shown into his office. "I do hope that we can come to some sort of a mutual understanding, Madame … Ah … Forgive me, but how should I address you?"

"You may call me Lady Zera if you wish. It is the only name I have used for the past three thousand years." She indicated the four vampires with her. "And these are the other members of the High Council. Etrian." He nodded. "Amahl T'Mutu." With a flourish, the black vampire touched his chest, chin and head while bowing slightly in a traditional Arabic greeting. "Chek Kai Chang." The oriental pressed his hands together and nodded deeply. "And Adrienne Walking-With-Moon." The Native American also bowed her head.

"It is a pleasure to meet all of you. Most people refer to me as Mr. Secretary." ( Three thousand years? And I thought I had lived a long time at 68. ) "And these are the members of the Commission on Vampire Affairs. Joshua Ben Shimon, NeMaka Inogunru, Wong Xaikang, and Dindugelele Melegandupangala." He had deliberately chosen these UN members to represent the mortal counterparts of the members of the Vampire Council. ( When you said that one of the Council was Indian, I didn't realize that you meant American Indian. )

He pointed to a sideboard along one wall. On it were several bottles. Some held a red liquid. The others were clear. "May I offer you some refreshment? Do not worry. It has all been donated." He knew that for a fact. It was his blood. And the blood of the other UN Commissioners. From what Dr. Baker and Major Lethbridge-Stewart had told him, vampires could discern almost everything about a person from their blood. He hoped that the members of the High Council would be able to tell that they were sincere about resolving the status of the world's vampires.

Lady Zera accepted the glass and took a sip. A look of pleasant surprise came to her. "It is the blood of all those present, is it not, Mr. Secretary." She said. "And I, too hope that we can find a common ground." ( Perhaps this will not be as difficult as I had anticipated. )

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

"Doctor Natalie Lambert." The man said.

Natalie hadn't even heard him come into her office. Of course, she was so engrossed in the tissue samples that were under her microscope, she wouldn't have necessarily noticed if World War Three had begun in the hallway. They were the latest samples from Nick, and she was comparing her findings to the results of the tests that the UNSIT team had run on the vampires from the Council Headquarters, primarily on Logan Grainer and Edmund Gloucester.

"Yes." She answered.

He handed her a document.

"What's this?" She asked.

"I get paid to deliver 'em, not read 'em." He said and briskly walked out the door.

She opened the envelope. She had been expecting this. It was a court summons. The Crown vs. Jason Moore.

&&&&&&&&&&

"I see you got yours, too." Don Schanke pointed to the envelope on Nick's desk. "I can't believe the bastard plead not guilty. Still, it's going to be a pleasure seeing that sonofabitch get what's due him."

"Yeah." Tracy added. "Even though I didn't have that much to do with him, he always gave me the creeps. Like he was … I don't know … trying to see if I was … I don't even have the words … somebody from the wrong end of Queen Street ... I guess I'm not too good with words … " Her face was turning a bright pink / red / scarlet.

"I'd say you're doing pretty well. And you're right. He does look at every woman like she is nothing more than a possible one night stand." Nick said. "He deserves everything he's going to get."

&&&&&&&&&&

"I know you're not that stupid, Willie. To take on the whole vampire establishment. After all, the High Council has agreed to go public, and so far, the mortals have accepted them and all the others who have come out. Maybe it won't be so bad after all." Frank said.

Once more he and Willie were tempting fate by being at the Raven. This time, though they had carefully checked to be certain that Janette was not there. Or Miklos. According to the bartender, Janette was attending a concert, and it was Miklos's night off. Vachon, too was nowhere in sight. They were safe.

"And maybe Dame Edna will be the next Miss World." Willie replied. "Me, I'm not waiting around to see what happens next. I know what that will be. Sooner or later, some vampire is going to slip up and hurt or kill a mortal. And then watch and see how much they love us. It'll be stakes and garlic time. You wait and see. I got a friend who has an island in the Pacific. I'm going there as fast as I can. I'll wait it out there, if you don't mind. See you in a century or two. If you're still around, that is."

"Somehow, I don't believe that it will be that bad."

"Believe what you want. But there are a lot of us who believe as I do. Enough, in fact that we are going to start our own Community on the island. We'll be our own government. Do things our way, not the way that Lady Zera and all those other mortal kissing wimps want us to do. Just don't come crying to me when some sorry excuse for a mortal puts a stake through your heart and leaves you to barbeque in the sun."

"I thinks you don't be wanting to talkin' too much on the likes of that way, mates." Screed stage whispered to them. "It's a surely way to find your 'eads in your 'ands or maybes a few 'nother fingernails in yer bodily somewheres." He patted Willie's shoulder vigorously. Willie winced noticeably. By now, Janette's fingernail that had broken off in his shoulder had buried itself deeply into the muscle and the pain was exceptional.

"And who asked your opinion … Carouche?" Willie spat the last word. "And take your grubby paws off me." He forcibly removed the Cockney vampire's hand.

"Yeah." Frank added. "What are you doing in here anyway? You should know better than to try to associate with decent vampires."

"I associates wif 'omsoever I chooses to associates wif." Screed stuck his nose in the air and set his jaw tightly. "An' Miss Janette and Mister LaCroix don't minds me 'angin' around 'ere. Especially after I've been declared as an Elder by 'Er 'Ighness, the Lady Zera, 'erself. That makes me a just as an equals of the Gen'ral, it does. In fact, 'e and Miss Janette 'ave gainfull like employed me to take control of gettin' rid of the vermin in 'ere. And not all of 'ems is runnin' around in the basement neither. In fact, if'n you wants to talks about peoples not bein' wanted in 'ere, I seems to recall youse two bein' 'ightailed outa 'ere on quite a few times lately like. And under personals non grated circumstances, too I might add."

"Look, you grimy little slob … " Frank hissed. "You had better learn your place."

"Or what?" Screed answered. "I'll 'ave you know that me place 'ere 'as been earned as much as any other blokes 'as. When I was a mortal like man, I served wit' 'Er Majesty's Royalty Navy, I did. An' it was wit' Sir Francis of Drake agin' the Hispanical Armada, too. I was pretty foriminidable in battle too, I might brag. Even gots me a medal for me braveries, I did. 'Er Majesty pinned it on me 'erself. Still gots it in me stash. When I gots discharged out, I signed up wit a privateer, I did. That's a fancy word for pirate, yew knows. 'At's when I gots meself brunged across.

Seems we attacked this 'ere Spanish gall-i-on ship and I was wounded mortally like. One of the crew of the gall-i-on was a droog named Javier Vachon. "E was one of youse, 'e was. 'E must 'ave taken something of a likin' to me. Maybe it was because of me braveries. Anyhoo, 'e did the deed to me. Only on ship, 'ere's not that much human like blood available. 'At's when I started drinkin' aminal blood. All that there was a abundentenence of was rats, so's I started to drink ratzie blood. I didn't 'xactly do it because I wanted to, neither. I did it 'cause I 'ad to. Comed to find out I liked aminals lots better than I liked most humans. Both for the blood … and for the peoples. That even goes for some vampires I could be lookin' at."

"Look … Carouche … I could care less how and when you came across. Just leave us alone." Willie growled.

"Yeah. We don't want your kind around." Frank added sourly.

"Good. That makes it an even. I don't partik-you-laritly take a cotton to the likes of yew blokes around 'ere neither. Makes me job of cleanin' up the vermin only that much tougher. An' since I am a duly 'ired employee of this 'ere establishamenant, I guesses that means that youse is gonna 'ave to leave."

"And just who is going to make us?"

The bartender took a few steps forward, but one look from the Cockney and he returned to cleaning the glasses.

&&&&&&&&&&

"Knight ... Schanke ... Vetter." Reese called.

The three entered the Captain's office.

"Dispatch just forwarded this to me. I think you three should be the ones to handle it. A disturbance at The Raven. That's that vampire club, isn't it?"

Nick nodded. "Not exactly. Although vampires do frequent the place, it is a public establishment and it is open to everyone."

"Still. I think it would be best if you three took the call." He handed the report to Nick.

&&&&&&&&&&

"Sorry that you had to be called out." Ernie, the relief bartender, said to Nick, Don and Tracy. "True, there was a slight … altercation here, but everything is under control now."

Tracy looked around the club. Except for the chipped railing on the bar, two less tables than what she remembered, several missing bottles on the backbar, and a severely bent wrought iron light pole, there were no other signs that a fight of the proportions that were indicated in the dispatch report had taken place here.

"It seems that one of our mortal patrons saw the fight and panicked. He called 911 before anyone could stop him." Ernie continued.

"So where are the people involved in this … slight altercation?" Nick asked.

"Yers tru-e-ly be one of the altercees." Screed said as he came into the club. "I was jus' takin' care of the other altercees. Or would they be the altercers." He had a smugly proud look on his face.

"And just where are the others involved in this so called fight?" Don asked.

"Oh, 'ems. Comes wit' me, Derfectives." Screed headed for the backdoor of the Raven. "I'll show youse. Theys 'avin themselves a little restful period. Out in the alley." He pointed to the dumpster. He opened the lid and showed the detectives where Willie and Frank were lying unconscious on top of the pile. "They should be feelin' themselves right at 'ome in 'ere. Wit' the rest of the trash."

&&&&&&&&&&

UN Headquarters

"This is all going to take a lot of thought and discussion. If what you say is true, vampires have been around since the dawn of time. Unfortunately, we mortals have been aware of your existence for only a little over six months." The Secretary General said.

"That's an awful lot to absorb in such a short time." Wong Xaikang added.

"That's true." Chek Kai Chang explained. "At least as far as modern man is concerned. But as Lady Zera told you, at one time vampires and mortals coexisted peacefully for many millennia. Then, a relatively small number of vampires began to think of themselves as superior to the mortals. Some even began to think of themselves as gods. Unfortunately, they were ruthless and sadistic towards their mortal counterparts. When that happened, mortals began to fear and hunt us. They hunted not only the evil vampires, but all vampires as well. We began to shield ourselves from the general population. Over the centuries we became as myths and legends.

Until that period in history, the blood we needed to survive was freely provided by the mortal population. As Lady Zera will attest, the early vampires knew just how much and how often to take from each individual so that no one was seriously injured or killed by this."

T'Mutu took up the narration. "Unfortunately, as the mortals began to fear and hunt us, we weren't able to get our blood freely donated. Most of the younger vampires, and many of the older ones as well, resorted to forcibly taking the blood from the mortals. Unfortunately, most of the victims died as a result of this. Many of the vampires even found the killing to be as pleasurable and addictive as the blood itself. This made us even more feared and hated among the mortal population.

The fear extended to both sides. Because the mortals hunted us at every turn, we were just as afraid of them as they were of us. We completely withdrew. We formed our own society, with our own government, in the form of the Council and the Elders. We have our own laws, called the Code, and they are strictly enforced. One of the prime laws is that no mortal can know of our existence."

"If this is one of your highest laws, then why did you reveal yourselves?" Joshua Ben Shimon asked.

"This society has been much the same for the past three thousand years." Etrian explained. "It was only in the last few decades that we realized that with instant telecommunications, global tracking and other such innovations, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep our existence a secret. Over the past several years alone, there have been numerous instances of ... what could be called close encounters. That is why we chose to reveal ourselves to you."

"We didn't plan on doing it quite the way it was done." Adrienne Walking-With-Moon continued. "A reporter, Edgar Rathman, uncovered empirical evidence concerning the existence of the vampire known as Nicholas Knight and spilled the beans, so to say. We are delighted and pleasantly surprised that the majority of the general population is taking the news very calmly. We just pray that it continues this way."

"As do we." The Secretary added. "And I can assure you that the United Nations will do everything we can to try to bring this to a safe, fair, and amicable solution for all involved." He held out his hand to the Lady Zera. "I hope we can have many more of these meetings. Open communications is one of the best ways to proceed. If it's all right with you, I'd like to schedule an informal meeting with the Security Council next. To assure them that your people present no threat to the world's security."

Etrian grinned broadly. "We haven't been a threat to the world's security for over eight thousand years, why should we start now?"

"Good point." The Secretary said as he led the party to the door. He held up a slip of paper. "Now that I know how to contact you, we shall be in touch."

Lady Zera had given him her e-mail address. It was the safest way. Telephone numbers could be traced. And a postal mail address would be a dead giveaway. Perhaps in more ways than one. Because of Internet regulations, even the Internet Provider couldn't give out any unauthorized information on any of its clients. Anyone trying to get authorization to access their files would be faced with a virtually unachievable objective. Especially since the Internet Provider in question was a network set up by Aristotle and Larry Merlin.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Natalie and the others sat in the small witness room. They had been here nearly all morning, sitting through four cases so far. Normally, they wouldn't have been here until just before the case was heard, but the subpoena said to be there at eight o'clock even though it was common knowledge that Nick was a vampire and that it would be extremely difficult for him to be here at that time. They found out when they arrived that the trial for Jay Moore had been scheduled for one o'clock, Natalie wondered if it had been deliberately done that way. The Judge who would be hearing the case was a stickler for the law. He had also had spoken out in distrust of vampires on several occasions. It was now a little after eleven thirty, and Nick was nowhere in sight. Nat was worried.

Suddenly, the door to the room opened and Nick came rushing in. He was dressed from head to foot, literally, in heavy clothing. A ski mask covered his face and he had huge, dark, almost black sunglasses covering his eyes. Still, there were small wisps of smoke coming from around his wrists and face where the gloves and glasses he wore did not completely cover him. There was also the acrid smell of burnt meat.

Natalie immediately ran to him. "How ... ? Why ... ? " She said as she helped him out of his things. "Why didn't you call someone instead of driving here by yourself? We would have been more than willing to bring you here."

"I tried to call every one of you." He replied. "But no one was home and the subpoena said noon. So I had to bundle up and drive myself."

"NOON?" Reese bellowed. "Ours said eight!"

"Something's definitely rotten in Denmark." Tracy said. "And somehow I smell my darling father in this. He and Judge Harris are golfing partners, after all. And I know there's no love lost between daddy and Nick. He proved that when he tried to have me transferred out of the 96th." Virtual smoke began to bellow out of her ears. "So help me. If I find that he's behind this, I'll ... " She let out a sound somewhere between a grunt and a growl.

"Tracy." Don said. "I know things aren't exactly great between you and your father, but you can't go around blaming him for everything that goes wrong. Maybe it was just a typo on Nick's summons. Bottom line is ... he's here now, and that's all that matters."

"And I've been nominated for a Gemini." She smiled softly. "Maybe you're right. Maybe I am being a little hard on Daddy Dearest."

Just then, the bailiff called the case.

&&&&&&&&&&

Jay Moore sat on the edge of his seat. "Are you absolutely certain this is going to work?" He asked his attorney.

"Absolutely." Malcolm Elvers replied. "And just to put the icing on the cake, I've arranged for the case to be heard by a judge that is strictly by the book. Especially when it comes to police tactics. Like I told you before. They made some pretty glaring screw ups in handling you and I intend to capitalize on that."

"Like what?"

"You'll see."

They were interrupted when the bailiff announced the Judge.

&&&&&&&&&&

" ... And so, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. The crown intends to show that Jason Moore did deliberately and maliciously make lewd, inappropriate, and sexually intimate remarks and actions against Natalie Lambert and that he had every intention of carrying those remarks and actions to their only logical conclusion. Rape." Eric Marstaad, the prosecutor concluded his opening remarks.

"I object to the prosecutor on this case." Elvers stood up.

"On what grounds?" Judge Harris asked.

"He has a long personal history with the chief prosecution witness. That is a definite conflict of interest, and therefore he cannot be impartial and objective."

The Judge thought a moment. "What do you have to say to this, Mr. Marstaad?" He asked.

"It's true that I knew Dr. Lambert before this case. ( Elvers certainly has done his homework. ) I worked with her brother Richard in the Crown Prosecutors Office before he was killed. It was only natural that we would know each other. We had dated a few times. But there was never any serious relationship between us. We were then, and still are only friends. In addition, she has been an expert witness in numerous cases that I have brought before the court. I am confident that I can be completely impartial and objective in this matter."

"Objection overruled."

"Fat lot of good that did. You knew it would be overruled, didn't you?" Jay said.

"Of course I knew. I did it to establish a point. Remember the line ... Don't think of elephants? I can guarantee that the jury will always have a nagging suspicion of Marstaad's actions. Now it's my turn to plant even more seeds of doubt." He walked to the jury box.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Jason Moore is the victim here. Not Natalie Lambert. He is a police officer. He is sworn to obey and uphold the law. Not to break it. To even think that he could have done the heinous things that the Crown claims he did is unimaginable. I will prove that he has been abused and harassed far more than Miss Lambert claims to have been. Why, you ask, would the police, who know better than that, do such a thing to one of their own?" He lowered his head and shook it. "If I knew the answer as to why they would turn on one of their fellow officers like they have ... " He trailed his voice. "That's all I have to say on the matter. The truth will be evident as the case progresses."

&&&&&&&&&&

" ... And now, Doctor Lambert, tell the court exactly what happened on the day and time in question." Eric Marstaad asked.

"I was alone in my office when Detective Moore came in. He had been drinking and he proceeded to grab me in a very suggestive manner and made numerous lewd and vulgar actions and remarks to me."

"I know this is difficult, but what kind of actions and remarks?"

"He said that I had turned him on and that I had done it deliberately. He said that he knew I was sexually frustrated and that what I needed was a real man. And that he was that man. He said that he knew that I wanted him as much as he wanted me and that he was ready to satisfy me. He grabbed me very suggestively and backed me into a corner and pressed himself against me. It was obvious that he was physically aroused." Natalie's voice broke at this point and she shuddered as she recalled the events. "When I continued to refuse him he … exposed himself to me"

"Did you do or say anything to encourage him?"

"No I did not. In fact I repeatedly and forcefully told him 'No' and that I did not want, nor did I appreciate his words or actions."

"Did he continue?"

"Yes he did. I finally had to get physical when he refused to heed my words. I kneed him in the groin as I had been taught to do in a self defense course I had taken. I also had to use other tactics that I had been taught in that class as well."

"And did that stop him?"

Natalie shook her head. "He … he kept on coming. He became even more agitated and called me a bitch and a slut and he said that he would make me pay dearly for that. I had every reason to believe that he would do just that. When he would not stop, I finally had to take a swipe at him with a scalpel, and that's when he ran out of the office. Then I called Captain Reese and told him what had happened."

"Did he hit you?"

"Yes. Several times."

Thank you, Doctor. No further questions."

Malcolm Elvers cockily advanced to the witness box. "Doctor Lambert. I want to take you back to an incident approximately two weeks prior to this alleged incident. You did dress in a very suggestive manner in front of Detective Moore, did you not?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"Were you not dressed in a very skimpy outfit and were you not made up in such a manner to that would indicate that you would welcome sexual advances? In other words, weren't you dressed as what could only be described as a common prostitute? Didn't several others in the bullpen beside Detective Moore make ... suggestive remarks to you?"

"Yes, but there was a … "

"Objection, your honor." Marstaad shouted. "Counsel is leading the witness."

"Question withdrawn." Elvers said.

"Now. To the night in question. Isn't it true that you totally misinterpreted his actions?"

"No way. There was no question in my mind what he intended to do."

"Isn't it true that Detective Moore has a reputation as somewhat of a flirt and a ladies man and that everyone knows that he is harmless and no one takes his actions seriously? Isn't it true that you completely misread his intentions and overacted to his playful and innocent remarks."

"They weren't playful, and there certainly was nothing innocent about his actions."

"You're positive you didn't lead him on?"

"Objection!"

"Question withdrawn."

"Tell me, Doctor Lambert. Was Detective Moore armed when he came into the office?"

"No."

"Did he strike you before you began to assault him? And even when he did strike you, didn't he do it only in self defense. Isn't it true that he hit you only in an attempt to stop your completely unprovoked aggression."

"Objection! Counsel is badgering the witness."

"Question withdrawn. No further questions."

"And just what was that little episode supposed prove?" Moore asked. "Marstaad objected to everything you asked. You didn't get one solid thing out of it."

"Yes I did. A lot of elephants." Elvers replied smugly.

&&&&&&&&&&

Lucien LaCroix snapped off the TV. According to the evening news, the trial of Jason Moore was not going well. Although he had repeatedly professed dislike for the good Doctor, he secretly admired her. In light of recent events, he grudgingly had to admit he was actually becoming rather fond of her. ( No. This kind of action would not be tolerated. Moore will pay for what he as done. One way or another. )

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick sat at the Raven's bar, nursing a rather potent bloodwhiskey. Javier Vachon was beside him. Also with a drink, but far less powerful than the Detective's. "It's not going well, is it?" He asked.

"Not well at all." Nick replied. "In fact, Elvers is tearing the Crown's case to shreds."

"That's what Tracy told me, too. I thought you guys had an airtight case against him."

"We do. But Elvers isn't going by the facts. He's using innuendo and insinuation to plant questions concerning the Crown's case in the minds of the jury.

"Isn't that illegal?"

"Not exactly. It certainly is unscrupulous. But as soon as Marstaad makes an objection, Elvers withdraws the question. But by the time that happens, it's too late. The thought is already implanted in the minds of the jurors, and no amount of objecting is going to remove it. I've seen him do this before."

"Can't you do the same things to him?"

"Unfortunately, the Crown operates under a completely different set of rules. We have to establish that Moore is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Elvers does not have to prove that Moore is innocent. Just that there is a reasonable doubt."

Javier let his fangs drop slightly. "I could solve the problem for you very easily." He said.

"You would have to get in line to do that." Janette replied. "I have had a long standing hatred of fiends like Jason Moore who prey on innocent women. And to spite what his slimy lawyer says, Natalie Lambert is innocent. If he is released, he will have to face justice sooner or later." Her jaw was set and there was more than a hint of gold in her eyes. "I intend to make it sooner."

"I ... claim the right to that piece of stercorum." Lucien LaCroix interrupted. No one had heard the master vampire come up. Then again, that was not unusual. "In the past months I have developed a great admiration for the good Doctor. Even though she is not one of us, I have come to think of her as family." His eyes became hard and there was a chill in his voice that frightened even casual bystanders. "And … No … One … Messes … With … My … Family."

&&&&&&&&&&

"Your honor. My next witness is Detective Nicholas Knight. I ask that because of his special nature that he not be required to swear on the bible." Eric Marstaad asked.

"I object." Elvers shouted. "Because of the nature of this case, it is imperative that every aspect of the law be followed to the letter. I demand that Detective Knight be sworn in following the approved procedure."

" ( Like he's following the rules? ) Marstaad, as well as nearly everyone in the courtroom thought.

"Objection sustained." Judge Roy Harris ruled. "Detective Knight will be sworn in using the Holy Bible."

"… And do you swear to tell the truth. The whole truth. And nothing but the truth?" The bailiff asked.

Nick put his hand on the bible. The heat from the religious book seared into his palm, but it was not as uncomfortable as he had supposed it would be. "I do." He replied.

"Detective." Marstaad began. "I just have a few questions for you. Did Jason Moore confess to you that he had attempted to rape Doctor Lambert?"

"Yes he did."

"Did Doctor Lambert confirm this to you?"

"Yes she did."

"No further questions."

Malcolm Elvers practically swaggered to the witness box. This was going to be like shooting ducks in a barrel. "Detective Knight. You are a confessed vampire, are you not?"

"Objection. Knight's nature has no bearing on the case."

"I might point out that Prosecution brought the subject up when he asked that Knight be exempted from swearing on the bible."

"Objection overruled."

"I repeat. Aren't you a vampire?"

Knight nodded.

"Speak up. The court stenographer cannot record a head shake."

"Yes."

"And as a vampire, would you say that your strength is considerably more than a mortal's. Say about ten times?"

"Yes."

"And didn't you dangle Jason Moore over the fourth floor staircase in his apartment building? Even though you knew that he had been severely injured by Doctor Lambert?"

"Objection."

"Question withdrawn."

"Detective. Were you assigned to the case?"

"No."

"Then how did you find out about the incident in the morgue? "

"I overheard two other officers talking about it."

"I see. And were they assigned to the case?"

"No."

"Then perhaps they were eye witnesses?"

"No. The officer assigned to the case had told one of them about it."

"Did you talk to the officer in charge, or to Doctor Lambert before you went to confront Detective Moore?"

"No, but I was not ... "

"Let me see if I have this straight. You relied on hearsay ... of hearsay ... of an unconfirmed report ... of a possible attempted sexual assault. Then with no further corroborating evidence, you took it upon yourself to use your superior strength to bully and harass a man, who was injured ... and in considerable pain I might add, into confessing to an unsubstantiated crime out of fear for his life."

"OBJECTION! Counsel is badgering the witness."

"Question withdrawn."

"Detective Knight. Isn't it true that you didn't like Detective Moore? Didn't you accuse him ... again without any corroborating evidence ... of being one of the persons that has been harassing you since you revealed yourself as a vampire?"

"OBJECTION!"

"Question withdrawn."

Elvers leaned on the rail of the witness box and stared at Nick for an uncomfortably long time.

"Did you arrest Detective Moore?" He asked softly.

"Not exactly. I detained him until the officers in charge got there."

"Didn't you handcuff him and once more dangle him over the railing ... unsupervised, I might add ... until Captain Reese and Detectives Schanke and Vetter arrived?"

"Objection!"

"Question withdrawn." Elvers practically strutted in front of the jury box. He had this case right where he wanted it.

"Did you inform Jason Moore of the specific charges against him and read him what is commonly called the Miranda Rights before you began to question him?"

"Objection! Detective Knight is not the investigating officer."

"Question withdrawn. No further questions." He had established his point.

&&&&&&&&&&

"How much longer is this going to go on?" Natalie practically sobbed as Nick escorted her into his loft.

He could see that this was getting to her in a very significant way and he wanted to be with her when, not if, she finally broke. He could tell she was almost at that point now.

"Elvers is making us and everyone else involved look like we're all a bunch of incompetent, lying nincompoops." He could see the tears starting to well behind her eyes. "I know what Moore tried to do to me. I know what I had to do to stop him. That ... That ... " She started shaking. "He's trying to make the jury think that I wanted Moore to ... " Her voice broke and she buried her head in his shoulder. "Oh, Nick. How can he do this? How can he be so cruel? Doesn't he know what it's like to have to go through this horrible thing in the first place, let alone tell the whole world what he did to me? And then to be practically accused of wanting it to happen ... " Her shoulders shook as the tears she had been holding back escaped in a flood.

Nick tenderly folded her into his arms and started rocking her slowly as one would a small anguished child. Gently, he guided her to the couch. His heart ached to see her like this. ( I WILL see that he pays for what he did to you. By whatever means necessary. I swear it on my love for you. )

After what seemed like an eternity, Natalie's cries slowed to sobs and after another eternity, finally stopped altogether. They were replaced with a gentle breathing. According to her heartbeat, she had cried herself to sleep. Nick had no thoughts that it would be a pleasant, restful, sleep. He started to gather her into his arms to take her up to the bedroom, but the minute he tried to move her, she clung even more tightly to him, as though she were drowning and he was her only salvation.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Adrian Walking-With-Moon practically threw the remote at the TV. "How dare he do this!" She shouted.

The trial of Jason Moore in Toronto, because Nick Knight, a known vampire was involved, had been given almost global coverage. The High Council had been following it with more than casual curiosity. It could have far reaching consequences for the entire Community. If Knight were treated unfairly because of what he was, and the mortal community did nothing about it, the chances for acceptance could be severely jeopardized.

"That sorry excuse of a perverted human being should be drained and staked to an anthill. Right alongside that slimy snake of a lawyer of his. " She said to no one in particular.

"I hope you are just hyper venting, Adrienne." Etrian asked. "You wouldn't actually do anything like that, would you?"

Something in the Native American's eyes said that she wasn't exactly joking.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Joe Reese paced the small room where he and Eric Marstaad were waiting for the case to begin again. "He's killing us, isn't he?"

Marstaad nodded. "That's his job. We have to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Moore tried to rape Natalie. All he has to do is raise doubts. And Elvers is a past master at doing that."

"Can't you do something to have all of his remarks stricken from the record?"

"Not really. You see, when he withdraws a question, it's as if it was never asked. Legally, it no longer exists."

"But the jury ... "

"There's the rub. You can take it out of the official court records, but you can't take it out of the juror's minds."

"Well, he won't get away with it when you put me on the stand. I've taken apart trash like him and thrown away the pieces." The Police Captain's veins stood prominently on his forehead.

"I don't know about that. I've gone over the tapes of the interrogation of Detective Moore. While what you did was acceptable department policy, some areas skirted the limits of strict legality. For instance, he requested a lawyer, but you continued to question him without one present. Then, although playing Good Cop - Bad Cop is done all the time, it could be interpreted as badgering, and I know as sure as I am standing here that Elvers will pounce on these points like a starving dog with a T-bone steak."

"So, what are you saying? That you aren't going to put Detective Schanke and me on the stand?"

"I'll put you on the stand, but I'm going to try a different tack with you than I have with the other witnesses."

&&&&&&&&&&

"Tell me, Captain Reese. Did you or one of the other officers who made the arrest of Jason Moore inform him of the charges and read him his rights when he was taken into custody?"

"Yes. I read them to him myself."

"Did he indicate that he understood them?"

"He did."

"So, Captain Reese." Eric Marstaad continued. "Detective Moore is familiar with established procedures for questioning a suspect, is he not?"

"Yes. He has been a participant in numerous interrogations during his tenure as a police officer."

"Was he treated any differently than any other suspect during the interrogation?"

"No, he wasn't"

"Then he knew when he requested a lawyer, that you would continue questioning him."

"Yes he did. He also knew that he didn't have to say anything until a lawyer was present."

"Was he familiar with the procedure called Good Cop - Bad Cop?"

"Yes he was."

"When Detective Schanke requested that he cooperate with you, did he do so freely and willingly?"

"He did."

"Did he admit that he had attempted to rape Doctor Lambert?"

"Yes he did."

"No further questions."

Elvers stood defiantly in front of the Captain. "You realize that you have just admitted to breaking the law, don't you?"

"OBJECTION!"

"Withdrawn."

Elvers took a 3x5 card from his pocket. "I know you recognize this, Captain. It is issued to every police officer on the North American continent. It reads in part ... 'You have the right to remain silent. If you give up that right, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.' ... " He held the card to the jury. "... And this is the part I want to emphasize ... 'You have the right to a lawyer and to have that lawyer present during any questioning' ... Is this correct?"

"Yes."

"And yet you questioned him without a lawyer present even after he had repeatedly requested one. In DIRECT violation of his civil rights. Is that correct?"

"Objection!"

"Question withdrawn."

Elvers stood directly in front of the bench. "You honor. At this time, I would like to request that all charges against my client be dismissed. The Crown has failed to produce any shred of evidence that my client did willfully and knowingly attempt to rape Natalie Lambert. In fact, the evidence only proves the allegations that I made in my opening statement. That my client has been falsely accused. That he has been the victim of police brutality and that his civil rights have been repeatedly and knowingly denied. Because of this, I ask that all testimony of the crown's witnesses be stricken from the record." Malcolm Elvers practically took a bow.

"Your honor." Eric Marstaad rebutted. "All the defense has proved is that he has the ability to twist the truth by suggestion and insinuation into anything he wants to. The Crown has proved that Jason Moore did deliberately and intentionally make unsolicited and unwanted sexual advances to Doctor Lambert, and that he admitted the same to several people. Therefore I submit that this case should be allowed to continue."

&&&&&&&&&&

"Well ... " Nick asked as he and the others paced in the prosecutor's office waiting for the Judge to make his ruling.

"It can go either way." Eric replied. " Judge Harris is a strict by the book man. That could mean he's going to rule against us. Or it could mean that because of Elvers actions, he could rule against him. We'll just have to wait and see how he flops."

Just then, one of the court officers poked his head in the room. "Judge Harris has reached a decision."

&&&&&&&&&&

"DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!" Joe Reese slammed his fist into the desk in his office. "How could that bleeding heart Judge do this? We had Moore nailed six ways from Sunday and he lets him go! And to rub salt in the wounds, he reinstates him with full honors and back pay! And ordered that all mention of this incident be expunged from his record!"

"Not only that, but now Moore has a restraining order against all of us." Schanke added. "And I hear he's filing a civil suit as well. Harassment, false arrest and civil rights violations. From what my friend in the clerk of courts office tells me, he's asking for a million dollars."

"Talk about crime doesn't pay!" Tracy fumed. "Wait until I see my father again. I'll have a few four letter words to say to him."

"I just want to get my hands on that shyster lawyer of his, Malcolm Elvers." Reese bristled. " If I had my way, I'd rip out his pecker through his nose. I'll bet a month's pay that he put Moore up to this. Until he came on the scene, Moore was ready to plead guilty and take his lumps."

&&&&&&&&&&

"Well. Well. Well. If it isn't my favorite Coroner." Jay Moore crowed as he practically swaggered into the morgue. "And her faithful guard dog, Gracie." He looked directly at Grace, who was fingering one of the retractors and glaring holes through him. "What's the matter, Sugar. Afraid your little friend here will lose your cool and beat me up again?" He fingered the remains of a scar above his left eye.

"Natalie didn't lose it the first time, you snake. And I'm not a guard dog. For your information, I'm a &/"?(# pit bull." Grace said angrily.

"GRACE!" Natalie said. "I didn't know you knew such language."

"Girl. You'd be surprised at what I know. I've known those words since Kindergarten. In the neighborhood where I grew up, a child's first word was 'mother' but his second word wasn't necessarily 'father'."

She faced Moore squarely, her fists planted threateningly on her hips. "You tried to rape her, you bastard, and you know it. I'm here to make sure nothing like that happens again. By the way. How come you have the cajones to even show your face here?"

"Temper, temper, Doctor Balthazar. I'm here on official business. You do know that I have been reinstated with full privileges at the 43rd precinct, don't you? I came here after the preliminary report on the Wangler case."

"Yeah. I know about your reinstatement. It doesn't mean I have to like it, and I'll bet no one over there likes it either. Natalie ... Dr. Lambert has lots of friends everywhere in Metro. I don't think you'll get an enthusiastic welcome anywhere you go. Especially not here."

"Nobody has to like it. The judge ordered the reinstatement, and unless they want to be in contempt of court, there's nothing they can do about it."

"I, for one, have got nothing but contempt for you." Grace practically threw the Wangler file at the detective. "You got what you came for. Now get out of here."

&&&&&&&&&&

"Javier! Stop that! We need to talk." Tracy Vetter said. She was sitting on the dilapidated couch in the abandoned church that the Spanish vampire called home.

"But Querida. You need to relax. You're wound tighter than my guitar strings." Vachon began massaging the base of her neck.

"But I don't ... M-m-m-m ... that feels good." She half closed her eyes and leaned into his hands. Suddenly she pulled away. "No. This is serious."

"I know." Vachon continued massaging. "If these muscles get any tighter, you could wind up in serious pain. Now. Just relax and let Uncle Javier's magic fingers do their walking on your deltoids."

"Vachon! You're not helping ... A little lower and to the left ... " She closed her eyes and started to relax slightly as Vachon's ministrations eased the tensions. "Seriously, though. Things are getting ominous at the precinct, and I'm afraid that Nick, Don and I could be in big trouble." She winced slightly as he hit a particularly painful spot.

"Querida. Don't worry about Nick. He's a big vampire. He can take care of himself and I know he'll take care of the two of you in the process." He never missed a beat with the kneading on her shoulders. Suddenly he jumped up and stood in front of her. "I know what you need! You need a holiday. Screed found an envelope full of money while he was foraging behind one of the dumpsters over at the Raven a couple months ago. He said it looked like it had been there for a long time. Maybe months. No ID's, nothing to indicate what it was for or who it belonged to. He turned it in to the police, and since no one claimed it after ninety days, it's his. According to him, there's over two thousand dollars in it. And right now it's burning a big fat hole in his pocket. He's invited me to go to Las Vegas with him for two weeks. Why don't you come, too? I know that you've got tons of holiday time coming. What do you say?"

"Well, I ... "

"You've got a passport. Right?"

"Yes, but … "

"Good. It's settled. You're coming with us. We leave Thursday evening on United Airlines flight 629. It leaves Pearson at 9:29. Throw a change of clothes in a bag and meet me here about an hour before takeoff."

"But ... what about Nick and Don?"

"They'll have to make their own arrangements for Vegas."

"Javier! You're impossible! What am I going to do with you?"

He looked at her, his brown eyes twinkling mischievously. "Love me?"

He went to the bathroom and returned a few minutes later with a bottle of body lotion. "Now, why don't you take off your clothes and let me give you a proper full body massage. I promise. No hanky panky."

"But what if I should happen to want a little hanky panky?" Tracy said as she unbuttoned her blouse.

Javier grinned wickedly and his eyes danced evilly in their sockets. "Well. Maybe that could be arranged, too. Just a little hanky panky, mind you." ( Otherwise, Knight will pull out my fangs through my ass. )

Tracy burst into a giggle fit as Vachon's hands purposely concentrated on a particularly sensitive spot on her sides just below the rib cage.

&&&&&&&&&&

Tracy Vetter, Don Schanke and Nick Knight stood in Joe Reese's office. The Captain looked exceptionally grim faced. He held a folder in front of the three detectives. "I'm not sure how to break this to you, but this is a notice of an impending IA investigation into the arrest and interrogation of Jay Moore. Also, until this investigation is complete, Knight, Schanke, and I have been suspended. Without pay. Effective immediately. As of 1600 tomorrow evening, Ben Holworth from downtown will be the acting Captain."

"That wimp? In charge here?" Schanke practically shouted. "He runs around with his nose so far up the Commission's asses, it's a wonder he can breathe. He'll run this place into the ground in two weeks flat."

"I don't like it either, but orders are orders." Reese threw the folder on the desk. "Now that I have said that ... This is my personal opinion of all of the whole mess ... IT SUCKS!" He pounded the desk ... hard. "When Daley, Moore and company were making life a living hell for Knight, I requested an IA hearing into the incident. I had documented proof that Knight was being harassed. Nothing came of it."

"You mean they didn't find any harassment? I can't believe that." Don Schanke said.

"I mean they didn't even investigate. Somehow my request got pushed into the cracks and covered up with so many layers of bureaucratic red tape, it virtually disappeared. This, however is against Knight ... and against us. Based on some vague hints in that smarmy lawyer's remarks, the boys upstairs are all over it like ugly on an ape. And believe me, this could get very ugly."

"I'll bet a week's pay that my father had a hand in this." Tracy said, her eyes suddenly hard.

"And you'd lose." Reese answered. "Judge Roy Harris signed the order."

"Same thing. They're in each others pockets."

"Tracy. Don't do anything stupid." Nick cautioned. "Maybe the best thing you could do is to use this time to get away and forget about things for a while. I happen to know that Vachon and Screed have invited you to go to Las Vegas with them. It wouldn't be a bad idea if you did just that."

"And just how do you know about Las Vegas? Javier ... I mean Vachon ... only asked me last night."

"Vachon asked me if I thought you'd accept. I said that it would be up to you. And since you're not directly involved in the investigation, I think it's an excellent idea."

"Yeah, Tracy." Don chimed in. "Go while you can. And place a bet or two for Myra and me while you're at it."

"You don't have to gang up on me like this." She held up a sheet of paper. "It's my request for two weeks leave. I just finished filling it out when the Captain called us in here."

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Nick paced the hallway outside Lady Zera's private office. When he had returned to the loft from the precinct, there were two Enforcers waiting for him. They escorted him to the headquarters by the same circuitous route that he had been taken the first time he had been summoned. He was only mildly surprised when a few moments later, Lucien LaCroix was ushered into the same hallway.

"Do you have any idea why we have been summoned here?" Lucien asked his son.

"None. I was hoping you might know something."

All I know for certain is that those two gentlemen ... " he pointed to the Enforcers standing at the end of the hall. " ... were waiting for me when I went to go to the broadcast booth for my nightly show. I fear CERK will have to air a rerun. And I had such a good monologue tonight. All about loyalty and faithfulness." He shrugged his shoulders. "I assume this has something to do with what occurred in your Captain's office earlier tonight. You, Detective Schanke, and your Captain were placed on suspension while those in high places ... as the phrase goes ... hold a kangaroo court to decide your fate."

"How did you know about that? It only happened a few minutes before I left and came home. And it is not a kangaroo court. The IA is conducting an official investigation. And it's completely legal."

"Nicholas. When will you learn? The people behind this so called investigation are not members of the Friends-Of-Vampires society. They would like nothing better than to see the entire Community staked and laid out in a neat row on one of the secondary runways at Pearson International at the earliest possible sunrise. As to how I knew what happened, there is very little that happens that concerns the Community that I do not know about. Especially when it involves a member of my family. And if I know about it, you can rest assured that Lady Zera and the Council know about it as well."

"That we do, Lucius." Lady Zera said as she came into the hallway. "And we will be following it extremely close. We will do what is needed if push comes to shove. But that is not why I summoned the two of you here. She opened the door to the office. "If you will come in, I will explain."

She pointed to two overstuffed leather chairs opposite her desk. "It has come to our attention that certain critical aspects of Nicholas's training were omitted when he was a fledgling. Because of this, he has suffered severe bouts of anxiety and guilt over the centuries."

"I omitted NOTHING in Nicholas's training." Lucian practically shouted. "He knows all that he has to know in order to function within the vampire community. And angst and guilt have nothing to do with what he was taught or not taught. They are part and parcel of Nicholas's personality. He has been this way from the first day he was brought across."

"While he may know all that a vampire ... needs to know, he does not know many things that every vampire ... should know. With the proper training, many of his problems in that area could have been eliminated or would not have occurred in the first place."

"Are you accusing me of being derelict in my duties regarding Nicholas?" Lucien was on his feet. " Because if you are ... "

"Sit ... Down ... Lucius." Lady Zera's eyes were rimmed in gold, and the tips of her fangs were showing beneath her upper lip. Lucien LaCroix resumed his seat. The Master vampire and the Ancient were locked in an uncomfortable staring contest for several minutes

Eventually a small smile spread across Lady Zera's face and she broke the contact. Her eyes returned to a soft hazel and her fangs receded. "Of course! I should have realized it! You are correct, Lucius. You did not omit anything from Nicholas's training. You DID teach him everything YOU knew about being a vampire. The problem is, that you did not know all there was to know about being a vampire."

"I have been a vampire for almost two thousand years. Surely I know what it means to be a vampire." This time, Lucien's eyes were gold. "And I have passed that knowledge to my son."

"And I have been a vampire for over ten thousand years. I believe I know much more about being a vampire than you will ever know." Once more the gold lined her eyes. "If you will allow, I will teach Nicholas what he needs to know."

"I will NOT allow! Nicholas is MY responsibility, not yours. He has survived this long with what he knows and he will survive another eight hundred years without any further training. You may be the Presider of the Council, but … I … am Nicholas's master. I … have the final say."

"Excuse me, you two. Would you mind not talking about me as if I were not here?" Nicholas spoke up angrily. "I do have some say about my future, don't I?"

"Shut up, Nicholas." LaCroix growled.

"Shut up, Lucius." Lady Zera growled even louder. "Nicholas is right. We have been ignoring his wishes in this matter."

"HIS wishes are of no matter. I … will decide what he needs to know. And he knows all he has to know." LaCroix hissed. He lowered his barriers and let his power wash over the Ancient Presider.

"And I just might decide to end this discussion … permanently." Lady Zera hissed back. ( Two can play this little game. ) Her eyes glowed red and her fangs became fully extended. Her power flowed over the former Roman General in almost unbearable waves.

The pain was obvious as Lucien LaCroix considered the implications of that remark. Intimidation was his usual way of ending a … difference of opinion. Unfortunately, he had forgotten just … WHO … he was intimidating. Lady Zera intimidated back. And as an Ancient ... and the Council Presider ... she intimidated much more forcibly than he could. Finally, he nodded almost imperceptibly in submission.

"Be glad you hold a … special place in the vampire Community, Lucius. I would not tolerate this behavior from anyone else." Lady Zera continued. Her eyes returned to their natural color. "Now then. We were … discussing Nicholas's training deficiencies."

LaCroix started to say something, but thought better of it.

"If you will let me finish. You did not know every thing you needed to teach him about being a vampire because you were never taught these things either. Divia, your master, was herself little more than a fledgling when she brought you across. She did not know what was needed, so she could not teach you. And you, in turn could not teach Nicholas. If you wish, you may … sit in ... on his training sessions with me to insure that I do not miss anything. Is THAT satisfactory?" The look in her eyes said that it had better be satisfactory.

"What things will I have to learn?" Nicholas asked.

"Actually, it's very basic. How to take from a living being without harming them. How to control the hunger in a relatively painless way. Dealing with religious objects in a normal manner. Blocking. Sending. Tolerating small amounts of direct sunlight. Eating and enjoying mortal foods. Things like this."

"I will not kill."

"No one said you have to kill. To be truthful, it was never necessary to kill to survive. Unfortunately, the knowledge required to feed without killing has been forgotten over the millennia. We will gladly teach you that skill. You do have a mortal … girlfriend, Natalie Lambert is her name, I believe. From what I gather, you have not been intimate with her because you are afraid that you might kill her in the act. If you knew how to take without harming her, wouldn't it be easier to express your feelings to her?"

( Make love to Nat? I want that with all my heart and all of whatever soul I have left in me. ) Nicholas did not answer. At least not verbally, however, his shorts were becoming painfully tight in his groin area, and noticeably so even through his trousers.

"I will take that as a yes."

His shorts became even tighter as he noticed where Lady Zera was looking.

"We will begin at sundown tomorrow. While you are training, I think it would be better if you stayed here. I have taken the liberty of having rooms prepared for you. I have also taken the liberty of having an assortment of your clothes and other personal effects brought here." She motioned to one of the ever present Enforcers in the room. "Jorge will see you to your quarters."

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Janette threw the newspaper to the floor. The headline screamed 'Vampire Cop Investigated'. Under it was ' Captain And Partners Also Implicated'. A third header proclaimed 'Coroner Involved As Well'.

"Damn that fils d'une chienne Moore and his batard imbecile abruti of a lawyer! DAMN! DAMN! DAMN!" She yelled. Fortunately, there was no one in the Raven office, and the area leading to the main part of the club was soundproofed. "He can't do this to Nicholah and the others! They were just doing their jobs! This investigation makes them seem like THEY were breaking the law, not him!"

"Miklos! Where's LaCroix?" She said as she stomped into the bar area. There was almost literally fire in her eyes.

The Greek vampire shrugged his shoulders. "I have no idea, Miss Janette. He hasn't been in all evening. Have you tried his home?"

" ... And his office at CERK ... And his cell phone ... And Nicholah's loft ... And HIS cell phone as well. There's no answer anywhere." She sat on the end stool and Miklos brought a glass of the special vintage reserved for her. "Frankly, I am worried. Have you seen the headlines? This could mean trouble for the Community, and now with LaCroix and Nicholah missing, I am afraid it could be serious. Perhaps I should contact Screed. As much as I dislike consulting a Carouche, he is, after all, an Elder."

"I'm afraid you can't do that either." The bartender replied. "He, Vachon, and Miss Tracy left for two weeks in Las Vegas right after sunset."

"Well then. Who is left?"

"Just you and I, Miss Janette." Miklos said softly.

"Merde." Janette mumbled as she downed her drink in one gulp.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Amahl T'Mutu practically broke the remote as he shut off the television set. Most of the news was filled with the story of the investigation in Toronto. It disturbed the Councilman that none of the so called defendants were permitted to be present at the investigation while Moore and his attorney were privy to the entire proceedings.

And most of the news was not good. The commentator was portraying Jay Moore as the poor innocent victim of the big bad vampire, Nick Knight. Interviews with the supposed general public seemed to show that the majority of the people were of the same opinion. T'Mutu suspected that the interviewees were carefully selected to further this.

"I want to have about a half hour with Moore and his mouthpiece. I wouldn't need that long, but I want it to be long, slow and hurt very much." He seethed.

"You wouldn't do anything like that." Chek Kai Chang said as he took a seat on the overstuffed couch in the main room of the living quarters that the Council shared. "Would you?"

"I have watched Nicholas de Brabant for several centuries." T'Mutu said. "While I have not always agreed with his actions on many occasions, I have to admire his strength and courage in staying true to his principles. We both know what bravery and fortitude it took to come out in the first place. Now these people are trying to undermine everything he and all the others who have revealed themselves have worked for. I cannot allow this to happen."

"I know. We both have survived many persecutions for what we are." Chek replied. "I don't want that to happen again, either. I don't know if killing Moore and Elvers is the answer. I doubt that it is, but I can certainly empathize with you. I wouldn't mind seeing them dead as well for what they have done and are doing to the Community."

"Unfortunately, the damage has already been done, and killing them will not undo it. Although it would give me great moral satisfaction to drain that sleazy cop and his slimy no good lawyer." T'Mutu smiled menacingly and licked his lips.

&&&&&&&&&&

Las Vegas

Vachon pounded on the bathroom door. "C'mon, Trace. Don't take all night in there."

"I'll be finished in a minute."

"That's what you said fifteen minutes ago. If we don't leave soon we'll miss the show at the Mirage. Screed managed to get fifth row center section tickets for all of us. Seems he knows one of the managers real well."

"I'm going as fast as I can, but a girl's gotta do a lot of things to look gorgeous for her menfolk"

"Three minutes. Then I'm flying over to the Mirage and bringing one of the tigers across."

Slowly, the door opened and Tracy came out. She was dressed, but she still had a towel wrapped around her head. "Okay, but don't blame me if my hair looks like I stuck my finger in a light socket." She waggled her finger at Vachon. "Why did I let you two talk me into agreeing to the three of us staying in a two bedroom suite with only one bathroom? Just let me ... "

In answer, there was a whooshing sound and then the sound of the door being locked. "VACHON! I've got all my things in ... " The sound of the shower running drowned out the rest of her sentence. It was followed by a hair dryer and then there was the noise made by what only could be an electric razor.

"Are you using my Lady Schick?" She bellowed.

"But Tracy. I forgot mine and I have to trim my beard."

"A beard? Is that what you call that thing?"

"Wouldn't want me to look ... scruffy, would you?"

"Heaven forbid. Now get out of there and let me finish before I stake you with whatever happens to be handy."

He opened the door and stepped out wrapped in one of the hotel's huge bath towels. Holding it with one hand, he swept a low bow. "Whatever my lady wishes."

Before she had a chance to go in, there was another whoosh and Screed took charge of the bathroom. He must have been in the shower, because Tracy heard the most horribly off key rendition of a bawdry sailor's chantey that she had ever heard. This was followed by another round with her Lady Schick and the hair dryer.

( What's he got to dry? ) Tracy wondered.

Finally, Screed came out, wrapped in nothing but a huge smile. "It's all yours, Sweet Cakes." He too made a low bow.

While she had seen naked men before, she had never seen Screed naked before. She earnestly hoped she never saw him naked again. While he was not exactly ugly, he was very thin and not extremely well muscled. He looked like little more than an animated skeleton.

"What's a matter, Baby Jane? Never seen a bloke in 'is altogether afore?" He asked, barely suppressing a grin at her reddened face.

Tracy scooted in without answering.

"C'mon Trace." Vachon was pounding on the door almost before she had it locked. "Get the lead out. Show begins in twenty minutes."

It took her only a few minutes to complete her chores. When she came out, she was very pleasantly surprised to see that both Vachon and Screed were dressed in casual dress clothes and both indeed had shaved, and at least Vashon had styled his hair. ( Using MY razor and MY dryer. )

They cocked their arms to her and the three of them headed out of the room for the show.

&&&&&&&&&&

Screed, Tracy and Vachon made their way to the elevator.

"What's wrong, Baby Jane?" Screed asked "From what I seed on you in the show and what I sees now, I'd be likin' to thinkin' somebody 'ad walked across your lower lip. A bloke'd think you didn't 'preciate the troubles I 'ad to goes through to score those pasteyboards fer youse. 'Ad to practerically gets down on me knobby kneecaps and beg for 'em. Seems the blokes in charge over at the Miy-rage forgets real quick like 'oo's a big spender, they does. That's not important, anyhoo. The important thing is you're supposed to be enjoying yourself, but you ain't. C'mon. You can tell ol' Screed. What's troublin' in your pretty little 'ead."

"Sorry, Screed." Tracy answered. "I really did enjoy the show but I just can't help thinking about what Nick, Don and Reese are going through back in Toronto. And I know Natalie must be frantic too."

"I told you I'd take care of Moore if you want me to, Tracy." Vachon said.

"No way, Vachonetti. Wouldn't want you to get your fangies all bloodied up over the likes of 'im now, would you? Might make you right ill, 'e might. That bag o' overripe ratzie pellets needs a Carouche to do 'im in proper, 'e does. An' I volunteers meself to do the jimmy jam, Sweet Fruit. Be right proud to do the deed too, I would. And just for you … no charge."

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

"Damn you, Lady Zera." LaCroix muttered as he turned into yet another blind corridor. He knew that the Headquarters building was huge but he had no idea just how vast it was until he began his quest. The task was simple. Find Nicholas. He was hiding somewhere in the building. The only problem was that Lady Zera had taught him how to block the link that existed between the master vampire and his son. That was Nicholas's assignment. To keep LaCroix out. That meant the only way to find him was to search each and every passageway and floor inch by inch. ( May a rutting buffalo find you in his hour of greatest need. )

While I appreciate the sentiment Lucius, thoughts like that aren't going to get you any closer to Nicholas. Lady Zera's voice echoed through his mind.

And just how am I supposed to do that? LaCroix sent back. I must say he's picked up on this blocking very well. He learned in only a few hours what took me two centuries to figure it out.

Use your other senses. They are all enhanced, you know. Zera replied. You were a Roman General in your mortal life. Surely you learned something about tracking a person.

&&&&&&&&&&

Nicholas sat in the plush chair in Edgar Rathman's office. Since it was after 2 AM, the office was unoccupied. The only problem was that he had been here three hours already and he had no idea how long he would have to remain. Earlier, Lady Zera had taught him the secret to block the link between him and other vampires, including LaCroix. It was a simple thing, really. Almost like riding a bicycle. All it required was a little concentration. The longer he blocked, the easier it became. He turned the page of the Playboy magazine he had found in Rathman's desk. True, it did have some interesting articles. Especially the article on Miss July. Complete with the requisite foldout of her ... womanly attributes.

"Really, Nicholas. Such tripe." Lady Zera stood before him. He had no idea how she had gotten in. "I had thought you would be above such things as this." She took the magazine from his hands and threw it in the trash can.

"Lady Zera!" Nick said. There was a very slight tinge of pink to his cheeks, perhaps the vampire equivalent of a blush. "I may be a vampire, but I am a ... male vampire. How did you find me? I thought I was blocking very well. "

Nicholas! Keep the block! You nearly lost it. Lady Zera's warning filled his mind

Nicholas concentrated again and recovered the link as he had been taught.

"You may be able to successfully block the others, but you must remember that I am well over ten thousand years old. I have learned to overcome the blocking efforts. Even so, I had a difficult time tracking you down. That is very rare in a relatively inexperienced blocker. You can be proud of yourself."

"How is LaCroix doing?"

"Not very well. He has tracked you using the link for so long that he is having a very difficult time finding you without it. He is very close to frustration. Now for some multi tasking, as they say. While you are blocking LaCroix, send to me."

"And how do I do that?"

Easy. It's just like blocking, but in reverse. Instead of picturing a wall, think of a telephone line running between you and me. Now think of what you want to say. Then picture those thoughts going down the telephone line to my mind.

Like ... This?

Excellent! You are a superb student! Now try sending to Lucius.

"But won't ... "

Don't speak! SEND!

But won't that give my location away?

Not necessarily. If you can keep the block while you are sending, he will be able to hear you but not be able to track you.

Nicholas grinned. Confounding the old demon was beginning to be fun. He pictured the line from him to his master and sent his thoughts along it.

&&&&&&&&&&

Lucien LaCroix's head snapped up. "That fries it, Nicholas! Now I WILL find you if I have to tear this entire complex apart ... brick by &!#?#) brick!" He vowed. Nicholas was in his mind. Loud and clear. Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah!

&&&&&&&&&&

Lucien LaCroix burst into Edgar Rathman's office just as Nicholas was getting ready to search another Playboy magazine for its 'intellectual value'.

"How ... did you find me?" Nicholas asked. "I have been carefully blocking my link."

"And you have done an excellent job of it." LaCroix replied. "I did not trace you that way. Lady Zera suggested that I use my other senses, and that's just what I did. I merely used my ultra sensitive nose. You do wear a distinctive brand of aftershave." ( And I still couldn't locate you until I reached this particular section of the complex. )

"Then I take it this part of the exercise is over." Nicholas said with a sigh of relief. He had spent over five hours confined to the rat faced reporter's office and he was beginning to feel the first pangs of claustrophobia.

"Oh yes. The seek and find part is over." LaCroix said with an evil gleam in his eyes. "But as far as the sending lesson goes ... Really, Nicholas. Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah? Couldn't you have been more creative? I owe you for that one. Big time. And I WILL pay my debts. You can count on that."

( Somehow I have the feeling this is going to hurt. )

Oh no, Nicholas. You have taught me over the centuries that pain accomplishes very little in the way of teaching lessons. Your punishment will be much more exquisite ... and much more appropriate.

&&&&&&&&&&

"See, I TOLD you." Willie said to Frank as he threw some clothing into a suitcase in his small apartment. "It's already started. That lawyer has made a fool of Knight and nobody is lifting a hand to help him. Or us. Even Knight and LaCroix have deserted the Community. They know what's coming and they've turned tail. Any minute now, a mob of vigilante mortals is going to show up at the Raven with torches and stakes. Then it will be Salem or the Inquisition all over again. I'm not waiting around. I've hocked everything I have and bought a ticket for Tahiti. From there, I can fly to my friend's island on my own. If you're smart, you'll come with me."

"Maybe you're right. Maybe it is time to bail out. Let me go home. I'll meet you at the airport."

&&&&&&&&&&

Kingston Prison, Ontario

Joe Reese sat behind the Plexiglas partition that separated him from Mark Daley.

"What do you want me to tell you, Reese?" Daley spat. "I already talked to the goons from IA. Told them everything I knew. Told them that Knight was a lying two faced son of a bitch and that neither Moore nor I had anything to do with the so called harassment charges you've been spouting. Said that Knight had a personal thing against Jay over Dr. Lambert and that he took out all his frustrations on that poor innocent detective. Told them Knight was a menace to society and shouldn't be just dismissed from the force but he should be staked on the front lawn of St. John's at sunrise."

"Why would you want to do something like that? You know he's innocent of these trumped up charges."

"Why not smear him? I mean, lets face it. He's a vampire. A killer. He's walking free while I'm locked up here with no chance in hell of ever getting out. I got nothing to lose, so why not take Knight and the rest of you assholes down with me?"

"Then you admit that you and Moore were responsible for the harassment that was done to Knight."

"I admit nothing. And if you try to use anything that I said here, I'll deny it up, down and sideways. You're all dead meat, and I, for one am going to enjoy seeing each and every one of you go down." Daley stood up. "Now, if you'll excuse me, it's time for my afternoon tea. Wouldn't want to be late for that, you know." He smiled ominously as he headed for the door.

"Don't be so goddam cocky." Reese called after him. "You know I hate dirty cops and you and Moore are the dirtiest I've ever run across. You'll get yours and I hope I'm around to see it."

"Is that a threat, Captain?" Daley said. "Because if it is, then I'll have to tell IA about it, and that wouldn't look too good on your record. Threatening a poor defenseless prisoner."

"That's not a threat. That's not even a promise. That's a fact. I would strongly suggest you keep a close watch on your back from now on, though. I happen to know that some of the biggest baddest brothers around are locked up in here. They'd like nothing better than to play show and tell with your vital organs ... while they're still attached." Reese smiled sinisterly. "Enjoy your tea."

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Janette looked tenderly at the woman sitting across the desk from her. Since the coming out of the vampire community, Janette and Natalie had formed a close bond. They both admitted that it really helped to have someone other than Nick and LaCroix to confide in, especially when it came to women things. Natalie had come to the Raven looking for Nick, and Janette had led her into her office so they could talk openly.

"I do not know where they could have gone." Janette said. "I am just as worried as you are. I have heard rumors that they have fled the area to escape the pressure, but I have known them for too many centuries to believe that. And I suggest that you believe it, too."

"But where can they be?"

"As I said, I do not know, but I do know that they are not in any danger, wherever they are."

"And how do you know that?"

"I know that Nicholah has told you of the special bond that exists between master and child. It also exists between the children of a vampire. If they were in any trouble, I would know it through my bond. I can sense nothing. Ergo, they are not in any danger."

"That must be a nice thing to have."

( And you could have it, too if Nicholah would only get his act together and bring you across. You would make a superb addition to the Community. )

"I believe they are all right, too." Natalie said. "I just wish they were here. This hassle with Moore has me all upset."

"Perhaps I can help you with that. It would be a pleasure to put him out of your misery. I have a thousand year old grudge against ecume d'etang like him. I would like to see that he got what is coming to him."

"No, Janette. If a you were to do anything to him, particularly at this time, it would have horrendous consequences for the Community."

"Who says I would do anything? And who says it would even be a vampire? As I understand it, there are numerous persons among the mortal community who would take great pleasure in seeing that Jason Moore became a permanent resident at Mount Pleasant Cemetery."

"Promise me you won't do anything to Moore."

"I promise I won't drain him." (But there are other ways to kill, and I know quite a few of them. )

"Okay." She looked at her watch. "I didn't realize it was so late. I've got to go to work."

"But I thought you had been suspended until the IA investigation was over."

"I may have been suspended from my duties as a coroner, but I'm still a doctor. A friend of mine from medical school runs a free clinic over on East Queen and I've been helping out there three days a week."

"That is most admirable." Janette rose and opened the door for Natalie. "I really do hope things work out for the best for everyone concerned." ( And they will, if I have anything to say about it. )

"So do I. And thanks again for talking with me."

"My pleasure. You know you're always welcome here." She kissed Natalie lightly on the cheek. It was such a pleasure to have a mortal friend like her. She was beginning to see why Nicholah loved her so.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Nick pulled the pillow tighter around his head. It did no good. "Damn you, LaCroix." He shouted. It had to be his master's doing. Only the ancient Roman could think of something this Machiavellian. He had said there would be a payback, and this certainly was it.

It had started around eight this morning and had been continuing all day. At this rate, he would get no sleep at all.

Somehow, some way, LaCroix had bribed, or maybe threatened, one of the repair technicians to sabotage the radio in his room. He might have even done it himself. As The Nightcrawler, he would have a fair knowledge of electronics.

Nick couldn't turn it off. He couldn't lower the volume. He couldn't change stations, although Nick suspected that this wasn't coming from a broadcast station. It had to be closed circuit. To make matters worse, he couldn't even pull the plug on the damn thing. It was welded to the outlet.

He looked at the clock on his dresser. 4:35 PM. Four more hours to sunset. He doubted that his sanity would survive that long.

He winced as the horrible sound started again. As it had all day.

I love you,
You love me
We're a great big family.
With a great big hug
And a kiss from me to you
Won't you say you love me too!

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Natalie Lambert tried vainly to calm her rapidly beating heart. The sight of the two men who could only be Enforcers had nearly scared her to death. Literally. It was bad enough being suspended from work because of the investigation. To add to the problem, Nick had not been seen or heard from for the past two weeks. LaCroix was missing, too. According to Janette, some of the more outspoken members of the Community were saying that the detective and his master had turned tail and ran when things got tough.

"I know who you are and I can assure you that I have done nothing to compromise the Community." She said with much more bravado than she actually felt.

One of them, a light skinned Black, merely crooked his index finger at her. The other, of obvious Middle Eastern descent, took her gently by the arm. In a matter of seconds, the three of them were out of the apartment and about six to seven hundred meters above the Toronto skyline.

"Can you at least tell me where we're going?" She said as she huddled in the first Enforcer's arms. She really did not expect an answer. She wasn't disappointed. She did not get one.

Although they were flying quickly, Natalie estimated at least two hundred kilometers an hour, she did not feel the cold. Somehow between the exit from her apartment and the takeoff, she had been snugly wrapped in a large furry blanket. She really didn't remember that part of it.

After what seemed like hours, during which the trio had cut back, retraced, and circled more times than Natalie could count, they touched down. From the description of the trip that Nick had told her, Natalie had every reason to believe they were at the Council Headquarters, although she had no idea how they had come here, or why she was there.

They led her through the halls to what looked to be a waiting room. From Nick's description of the Chamber anteroom, Natalie knew that this wasn't it. What it was

though, she had no idea and her 'escorts' were no help. As soon as she was seated in one of the blue damask chairs, they had disappeared. Although the chair was very comfortable, Natalie fidgeted as she stared at what could only be the door to some sort of an office. For no apparent reason, she felt like Dorothy waiting for the Wizard of Oz. She subconsciously wished she was back in Kansas. Or better yet, back in Toronto.

After what seemed to be an eternity, but was probably no more than a few minutes, the door opened and an elderly lady came out. Her silver gray hair was impeccably styled and she was wearing an exquisitely tailored suit of finest dark beige linen that nearly perfectly matched her eyes. Natalie felt conspicuously out of place in her faded black jeans, grubby athletic shoes, and oversized beige sweater.

The woman smiled. "Do not be so self conscious, my dear. She said in a soft, almost motherly voice. "You have nothing to be embarrassed about. I realize that you were not brought here under the best of circumstances." She carefully examined Natalie with her eyes. "Nicholas is right, though. Even dressed like you are, you are truly beautiful." She hesitated a few seconds. "Oh, dear me. Where are my manners? I know who you are, but you do not know me. I am Lady Zera."

"I suspected as much." Natalie said, taking the proffered hand. "I remember seeing you at the Hays Theater when Nick went public, but we were never formally introduced. And Nick has told me a lot about you and the rest of the Council. It is a pleasure to finally meet you." ( That is, unless you intend to kill me. ) It was difficult for Natalie to remember that this gentle grandmotherly looking woman before her was ten thousand years old, let alone the leader of the world's vampires.

"I have no intention of killing you." Lady Zera said. "In fact, I only wish to get to know you better."

"You ... You read my mind?" Natalie stammered.

"Yes. I'm afraid I did. It's a habit of mine that can come in handy at times." Lady Zera motioned to the door. "Won't you come in?"

"Would you like some tea?" She said after Natalie had settled into one of the huge wing back easy chairs that faced an ornate mahogany fireplace. This side of the office, if that was indeed what she was in, looked more like a sitting room. There was a beautiful Oriental rug on the floor. Hand woven and no doubt very old. Beside the three chairs were antique brass floor lamps placed at just the right angle for reading a book or sewing, although Natalie doubted that Lady Zera did much of either of those things. On the opposite side of the chairs were cherry wood end tables. On either side of the fireplace were several mahogany bookcases filled with an eclectic assortment of books. Probably all first editions. Whimsical porcelain figurines, Hummels most likely, graced the tops of the bookcases and the fireplace mantle.

The opposite end of the room held a desk arrangement that would have rivaled any fortune 500 CEO's office. The dark oak desk was large, but not imposing, a mix of modern and classic design. There was also a back desk with a state of the art computer setup, and a side desk that held a vast array of communications equipment. The executive chair was covered in light brown butter leather. ( A most impressive setup indeed. )

"I'm glad you approve." Lady Zera said as she handed Natalie a delicate porcelain teacup. Her Great Grandmother Lambert had a set of china in the same pattern. Turn of the century Wedgewood. It was probably worth a small fortune. "I do hope you like Earl Grey. I've heard it's the best available."

"Thank you. You are most kind, but I know you didn't bring me all the way here just to have high tea." Natalie replied.

"You are right. As I said earlier, I would like to get to know you better. You are somewhat of a celebrity among the Communities. You have helped many vampires and have done extensive research into our physiology. Yet, outside of Nicholas and perhaps Lucien and Janette, few of us know anything about you." Lady Zera sat in the chair beside her. She had a similar cup in her hand. Natalie strongly suspected it did not contain Earl Gray.

"There was a very good reason that I could not reveal myself to the Community ... or to anyone else, either."

"Ah yes. The Enforcers." Lady Zera smiled softly. "Fear of what they can do is one of the ways available to keep the Communities in line." Lady Zera's eyes twinkled conspiratorially. "I will let you in on a secret if you promise not to tell anyone."

Natalie raised three fingers. "Girl Guide oath." Her eyes also twinkled.

( Yes. An excellent choice. ) "Unfortunately, there is much more myth than reality to their story. While they can be extremely ruthless on many occasions, they are not the mindless killing machines that legend makes them out to be. They are no better or worse than any mortal police force. They just have a harsher, nastier, reputation. Of course, that misconception has worked to our advantage, and so we have no intention of correcting it."

"You mean I have nothing to fear from them?"

"Oh no. You have much to fear from them, but as long as you do not endanger yourself or the Community, you are safe."

"Tell me the truth. Is there a cure, or am I just chasing rainbows and spinning my wheels?"

"To the best of my knowledge, there is no cure. That doesn't mean a cure doesn't exist, it just means that I don't know of any. There have been legends and rumors of a cure for as long as I have been a vampire. And that's a very, very long time. I think if such a thing really existed, I would have known about it.

One legend says an ancient book known as the Abaraat contains a formula for making a vampire mortal again. Another says it is can be accomplished through a pre Columbian Incan ritual. I have even heard that something as simple as aspirin or chicken soup can bring someone back across. Some say the cure is in a book of black magic currently in the care of a white magician in Greenwich Village. Making love and becoming pregnant have also been mentioned. I have never seen any proof that any of them work. Of course, your experiments with Lidovuterine B came very close."

"You know about that?"

"Of course we do. We have known about your work from the very beginning. We wanted to see whether you were any threat before we took any action. Fortunately for you, you are much more of an asset than a liability."

"Then there is no cure. There's no hope for Nick and me." Natalie's face showed the utter despair that enveloped her heart at the Presider's statement.

"Oh no, my dear. Although there may not be a cure at this time, there is still much hope for you and Nicholas. That is one of the reasons that I had you brought here. Nicholas has been undergoing intensive training during the past weeks and he is making great progress. He is much more comfortable and confident with himself, both as a vampire, and as a man. The next portion of his training requires the assistance of a ... mortal. While I have many on my staff here who would be more than willing to assist him, I think that both he and you would get much more out of it if you went through it together."

"Training? What sort of training?"

Lady Zera smiled broadly. "You will find out in due time. I can assure you, though, that if done correctly, it can be extremely pleasurable." She saw the deep blush that covered the doctor's face at this statement. ( My intuition was correct. Natalie Lambert is the perfect one to teach that lesson to Nicholas. )

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Don Schanke sat at the bar of the Raven, nursing a beer. It had been over a week since the IA had begun their investigation into the case of Jay Moore. So far, no one knew what, if any progress had been made. The only people who had even spoken to the investigators had been Moore and Elvers, his lawyer, and they certainly weren't talking. No one else had even been called to testify. This was DEFINITELY not standard procedure.

Something smelled rotten to the detective, and it wasn't in Denmark, it was right here in Toronto. Maybe Tracy was right. Maybe her father did have a vendetta against Nick and was using Moore's case to take it out not only on him, but also on anyone connected with him.

Now, with Nick gone who knows where, some were saying that he had turned tail and ran. Schanke didn't buy that for one minute. Nick was not the type of person to run away from danger. The fact that he had lived for 800 years attested to that. Now Natalie Lambert was missing, too. Things were definitely going from bad to worse.

"Damn that slimy bag of cow flop, Jay Moore." He muttered to no one in particular as he drained the last of his glass. "Damn them all."

Miklos placed a fresh glass of beer in front of him. "This case has everyone upset, Detective Schanke. Feelings among the Community are starting to become very edgy. Even some are even saying, quietly of course, that Nicholas and LaCroix have abandoned them. They are fearful of what the mortal community might do."

"If only Moore and his shyster lawyer weren't keeping the problem with Nick in the headlines, things might just settle back to where they were before all this began."

"Perhaps something could be done about that. I have great admiration for the mortal community in general, and you and Miss Tracy in particular. I know several ways to silence those two. I would be happy to take care of the ... problem."

"I don't think that's an option, Miklos." Schanke replied. "If The Powers That Be even think that a vampire could be involved, it would be a disaster. Thanks for the offer, though. I'm glad you think that much of Tracy and me."

"My pleasure. I have known about you a lot longer than you have known about us, and you have always treated the others and me with great respect, and that did not change when you found out exactly what we are. I appreciate that as well."

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters.

"You intend to do WHAT?" Lucien LaCroix shouted. "I FORBID it! Nicholas is MY son. I agreed to this training to help make him a better vampire. ( And to bring him closer to me. ) "Teaching him how to make love to a mortal has NOTHING to do with him being a good little vampire."

"It has EVERYTHING to do with being a better vampire. I know why you didn't teach him this. It was not because YOU did not know. You did not want HIM to know." Lady Zera returned.

"I have a right. He made a bargain with me in exchange for his sister's life. I would not bring her across, and in exchange, I could take any mortal woman he fell in love with. I WILL have my revenge, and you can not do anything about it."

"I know all about your relationship with Fleur de Brabant. And you have had your revenge a dozen times over. Alexandra. Alyssa. Sylvaine. Alyce Hunter. Marian Blackwing. Emily Weiss. To name a few. Need I go on?"

"I didn't do anything to those women. He is the one who ended the affairs. One way or another."

"After you carefully engineered the circumstances so that he had no choice in the matter."

"That is neither here nor there. Those were only infatuations. His love for the good doctor is all too real. It is almost as strong as my love for Fleur. I will have my vengeance through her."

"You will NOT harm her. She is under MY protection. Nicholas is also."

"I will not have to do a thing to her. That is the beauty of all of this. The fear of my retribution and the fear that he might kill her is what keeps Nicholas from declaring his feelings to her. He is suffering far more than I could possibly inflict. That is my revenge."

"And I am telling you that the score has been settled. Do I make myself clear? Or would you rather continue to argue with a 10,000 year old woman who is the leader of the world's vampires?" Lady Zera dropped her shield slightly and let her power once again wash over the old Roman. She could feel him cringing internally at the intensity of her strength. "800 years is much too long to hold a grudge. You claim to have loved Fleur ... "

"I do not CLAIM to love Fleur. I DID love her." He interrupted.

"Do you actually believe she would have wanted you to use the love that existed between the two of you as a weapon against her brother? Is the magnitude of your love so superficial that it can be corrupted this way? Is the extent of your pain so deep that it has transformed your love for her into such hate for Nicholas?"

Slowly, Lucius Gaius Pletano bowed his head in acknowledgement.

&&&&&&&&&&

Kingston Prison, Ontario

Mark Daley was surprised to see Jay Moore sitting on the other side of the Plexiglas barrier.

"What are you doing here? He asked his former partner. "After what you did, I never thought you'd want to come within 500 kilometers of a jail."

"What I did?" Jay replied with mock innocence. "But I didn't do anything. Even the judge agreed with that and dropped all the charges."

"You mean your conniving shyster lawyer manipulated the facts so the judge had no other choice but to let you go."

"What's the difference? That must make you very happy. At least I'm free and Knight and company are in the proverbial hot seat. You could be free too if you had let Malcolm Elvers defend you. He still could file an appeal."

"What, so I could spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder? No thanks!

I'll admit I wanted Knight out of the way, but not this way. When ... I repeat, when the truth comes out, he's going to look like he can walk on water, and you'll be week old cat shit."

"It'll never happen. Besides, even if it does, Knight is history. I suppose you've heard that he took off for parts unknown as soon as things got tough. That just proves that we were right. He's nothing but a spineless bloodsucking coward."

"I wouldn't gloat too much. You're still not out of the woods. If I were you, I'd be watching my backside real close."

"Don't worry. Reese, Schanke and Vetter and the rest of the 96th precinct can't lay a hand on me."

"Yeah. Right. But what about Stonetree and the 27th? They're not under injunction. Or under investigation for the alleged ...violations against your so called civil rights. And while Dr. Lambert can't do anything, there's nothing that says that the rest of the Coroner's office has to keep their distance. I've also heard that there aren't too many people over at the 43rd who are card carrying members of the Jason Earl Moore Fan Club either.

Don't forget, Knight has a lot of friends in both the mortal and vampire communities. Most of them wouldn't mind opening an industrial strength can of whupass on you. Plus, there's enough people on both sides of the law who hate rapists, or wannabe rapists. If you had half a brain, you'd be contemplating spending rest of your days in a monastery in Tibet. But then, if you had half a brain, you wouldn't have tried to rape Doctor Lambert in the first place."

"I didn't try to rape her. She wanted it as much as I did."

"Keep telling yourself that. Maybe when hell freezes over, someone will believe you. In the meantime, I've got a stack of dirty laundry that needs to be washed." Daley motioned to the guard to let him out of the visitor's area.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Tracy Vetter walked into the bullpen at the 96th. Everyone was right. The two weeks in Vegas was just what the doctor, in this case Doctor Natalie Lambert, had ordered. Now, however, it was time to get back to work, although with her partners on suspension, that wasn't exactly the most pleasant scenario. Suddenly, she stopped short. Her desk was as she had left it, but both her partners' desks were clean. Not just tidy, but bare. Their holders had been emptied, their file boxes were completely vacant. Even their nameplates were gone. Vera Williams, the desk sergeant, now in civilian clothes, was sitting at Nick's desk.

"What the hell ... " Tracy stammered.

"Oh. That's right. You haven't seen the results yet. They just came out yesterday." Vera handed her a manila folder. "IA finished their probe and the proverbial shit hit the fan. Knight was found guilty of numerous gross violations of Moore's civil rights. His disappearance, according to their findings, was prima facia proof of guilt. He was summarily dismissed from the force under dishonorable circumstances. I was assigned to take his place. While I wanted out of uniform, I didn't really want it this way.

Reese and Schanke were each found guilty of improper interrogation procedures. Schanke was busted to uniform patrolman and sent over to the 31st. Captain Reese is now Sergeant Reese and reassigned to Traffic Violations desk downtown. That ass kissing toady, Ben Holworth was promoted to Captain and put in charge here permanently. In addition, everyone even remotely connected with the case has been shuffled into areas where they have little or no say in police policy. IA concluded that you did nothing wrong, and you were cleared of all charges. You've been ... promoted ... to desk sergeant to take my place. You start Monday. The paperwork is in your basket. Signed, sealed and delivered. There's nothing anyone can do about it."

"That fries it!" Tracy seethed. "You're wrong about this whole thing, Vera. IA may have done the dirty work, but I've got more than a sneaking suspicion that it was my dear sweet loving and caring father who pulled the strings." She picked up her purse and headed to the door. "He's wanted Nick Knight out of here from day one and me pigeonholed into some neat little non threatening position ever since day two."

"Where are you going?" Vera asked.

"To have a few not-so-proper words with my male parental unit." Tracy seethed. "He's not going to get away with this."

"Think it over a while. Please." Vera said. "I heard what you threatened to do the last time you and the Commissioner locked horns. Trust me, Tracy. Right now, turning in your resignation would be the wrongest thing you could possibly do. You quit and he wins hands down. You might be better off out of here, but I can guarantee that he'll make life a living hell for the rest of us in revenge. You can do much more damage by staying and being a thorn in his side."

"Maybe you're right." Tracy acknowledged. "But I'm still going to tell him what I think of him ... and his dirty little underhanded tricks. Better have maintenance standing by. I have a feeling he's going to need them. What I've got to say to him is going to peel the paint off the walls."

"Afraid you can't do that." Vera replied.

"And why not?"

"Because he and his new wife are on holiday in Barbados. He won't be back until next Monday.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

"You mean that's all there is to it?" Nick asked.

"What did you expect? Some complicated magic formula?" Etrian replied. "It's simplicity itself. You just gorge yourself before you even attempt to make whoopee. That way you can focus on the deed. Since you are well fed, you only have to take enough from her to complete the act. You don't have to worry about satisfying the beast, as you call it, because it'll be already satisfied. You can concentrate on satisfying the man."

"And it will work?"

"Every time." Etrian smiled knowingly from ear to ear.

"When can I try it?"

"What about tonight? There's a case of premium stock in your room. All donated, of course."

"No. While I appreciate the gesture, I want it to be special when we first ... I mean ... Natalie's not a ... " Nick's face was tinged a faint pink.

"I understand." Etrian nodded. "And I agree. You set the scenario and we will do everything to see that it is as close to perfection as it is possible to make it."

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick stood at the door to the lab. Natalie was hunched over the electron microscope peering at some samples.

Lady Zera had agreed to let her continue her research while she was here, and had arranged for a lab with all of the latest technology available to be set up for her. Money was no object. According to the Presider, "Who knows what good might come out of it? We might even find a cure for the common cold. Or maybe even vampirism." Lady Zera said the last part with a bittersweet smile.

Natalie was like a kid in a candy store.

Nick cleared his throat. Natalie looked up, a grin wider than the Grand Canyon on her face. "Look here, Nick!" She gushed. "This microscope has ten times the power of the one at U of T!" She went to a series of what looked like miniature silos. "And over there ... A complete cryogenics setup." She pointed to a small room off the main lab. "And in that room is a ..." She bounced back and forth through the room like a whirling dervish, barely able to complete a sentence. "And that's a … "

Nick gently grabbed her gently and held her. "Easy, Nat." He said softly "I know you're excited about this, but you're going to have to slow down or you're going to bust your gusset. Wouldn't want to be running around with a busted gusset hanging out would you?"

"I guess not." Natalie smiled.

"Good. Then why don't you call it a day? Everything will still be here tomorrow. Go back to your quarters and put on your finest duds. I'll pick you up in about three hours and we'll celebrate."

"And what are we celebrating?"

"You'll see." Nick smiled softly. "It's a special occasion." Internally, he was bursting with joy and anticipation.

&&&&&&&&&&

True to his word, less than a week after teaching Nicholas 'the secret', Etrian had arranged the perfect evening for them. He had enlisted the enthusiastic aid of the entire Council in this endeavor. T'Mutu and Chang had supervised the transformation of one of the executive dining rooms into a near perfect replica of a five star Parisian restaurant. Complete with orchestra. There were enough musicians among the staff, both vampire and mortal, who had volunteered their talents. The chef had searched numerous cookbooks and made dozens of calls to leading eateries worldwide to prepare the perfect meal for them.

Lady Zera and Adrienne Walking-With-Moon eagerly arranged for a selection of suitable evening clothes in the proper sizes to be surreptitiously delivered to Natalie's rooms. Along with an appropriate collection of accessories, including jewelry. A hairdresser, a manicurist and a makeup specialist from town were on standby.

Nick just wished that he could have been there to see Nat's face when she arrived at her quarters.

&&&&&&&&&&

"What do you think of it?" Adrianne Walking-With-Moon said with more than a hint of pride in her voice. "Is everything to your liking?"

"To my liking?" Natalie replied. "Everything is absolutely gorgeous!" She picked up one of the dresses, a pale sea foam green below the knee length shantung silk dress that complimented Natalie's hair and eyes perfectly. The bodice was draped slightly and cut just low enough to hint at decolletage. The skirt clung loosely to her hips and had just enough of a flair that she could walk easily. She held it to her. "But I still don't see why you went to all this trouble."

"Well, we here don't get the chance to splurge that much, so when we do, we do have the tendency to go overboard. I picked that dress out myself."

"You have exquisite taste. I think this is the one I'll wear tonight."

"Terrific. I'll get the people from the beauty shop to come in and give you a makeover."

"You have a beauty shop here at the complex?"

"Not exactly. We use the one in town. Actually, all of this ... " She indicated the assortment of dresses and accessories. " ... came from local stores."

"In town? Do they know what … I mean ... who … I mean … "

"Do they know we're vampires? Yes, they do. They have known about us for generations. In fact, they supply us with much of our … dietary needs. Willingly, of course. And many of the townspeople work at the complex as well. We, in turn, provide most of the operating budget for the town. It's a perfect example of mortals and vampires working together for the common good. Of course, they have all been sworn to secrecy.

To the outside world, this complex is some kind of a super secret government agency. Which in a way is more or less the truth."

"I see. It's too bad the rest of the world can't live like that. Not only with vampires, but with each other as well."

"I fear that problem could take many millennia to resolve. The human race, and that includes vampires as well, haven't gotten along with each other since Adam and Eve were evicted from the Garden of Eden. But that's another topic for another time. Right now, though, we have to make you beautiful for your date tonight."

"I know Nick said this was a celebration, but he didn't say what we are celebrating."

Adrianne rolled her eyes. "Isn't that typical of a man? For the most part, he has completed his training. He now has all the skills and knowledge necessary to be a confident and happy man, as well as a knowledgeable and contented vampire. To spite what Nicholas has believed in the past, he now realizes that these two states are not mutually exclusive. "

"Yes. I've noticed that he's been a lot more self-assured lately."

"And completely off the subject, he loves you with all his heart and soul. And he does have a soul. And you love him too."

( You have no idea how much I love him. )

"Yes. I do know ."

" I'll never get used to you probing my thoughts."

"I didn't have to probe very much. You are projecting louder than Surround Sound."

"Are you sure he's in love with me? He hasn't given me any indication that we are anything more than just friends."

"He's had a terrible problem with that, but I'm positive he's overcome it. Maybe he'll do something about that tonight." Adrienne had a difficult time keeping a straight face. Nicholas had every intention of doing something tonight. That's why there were all these elaborate preparations.

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick swallowed. Hard. His mouth felt dry and his stomach was in knots. He had consumed nearly four bottles of the special blend that Etrian had left in his quarters. Young lovers. Their feelings and emotions of love had filled every pore in his body. He felt like he was a sixteen year old on his first date. In a way, it was his first date. With Natalie. And if what Etrian said was true, he could at last be with her in the way he longed to be from the first moment he had opened his eyes in the morgue.

Hesitantly, he knocked at the door. It was so soft that at first, he wasn't sure that Natalie had heard it. But then the door opened.

Inadvertently, he drew a long breath. The creature standing before him was the most beautiful, most perfect thing he had ever seen. The dress clung to every curve, accentuating all her positives and minimizing all her negatives. At this point though, Nick couldn't find any negatives at all. Her hair had been piled atop her head and a cascade of loose chestnut curls tumbled around her shoulders and along her ears. Drop crystal earrings and a matching necklace completed the outfit.

Natalie could hardly believe her eyes. Nick was before her in a tuxedo that looked as though it had been specifically tailored for him. (Which it probably was. ) It accentuated his chest and clung gently to his waist and hips. His tie, kerchief, and cummerbund were made of the same material and in the same color as her dress. ( How did he know which one I picked? Of course! Adrienne had to have told him. ) A white rosebud graced his lapel. He held out a small bouquet of white rosebuds to her.

"Nat, I ... " He stammered.

"Nick, I ... " She stuttered.

After what seemed like centuries, he crooked his arm to her. "Shall we go to dinner, Milady?" He asked with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

She put her hand on his elbow. "We shall, Milord." She replied with the same gleam in her eyes.

( Yes. Tonight will be very special indeed. ) Nick thought as they headed for the dining room.

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick paused outside Natalie's door. Tonight had gone beyond his wildest dreams. The food was superb. The chef had outdone himself. Natalie obviously enjoyed it. Using the techniques that T'Mutu had taught him, he had even managed to eat several ounces of the leg of lamb and keep it down. Furthermore. He even liked it!

After, there was dancing to the orchestra. Even though they were the only ones on the floor, it wouldn't have mattered if the place had been crowded to the doors. Nick couldn't keep his eyes ... or his thoughts ... off the gorgeous woman in his arms. From the look on her face, he had every reason to believe that Natalie was thinking and feeling the same.

"Would you like to come in for a while?" Natalie asked him.

( For a while? I'd like to come in forever. ) Nick only nodded. He was too frightened / anxious / just plain scared to voice his answer. ( What if she doesn't want me as much as I want her? What if she really doesn't want this from our relationship? What if Etrian is wrong? What if ... )

( Why isn't he answering me? What if I'm reading things into tonight that aren't there? What if he doesn't want me as much as I want him? What if Adrienne is wrong? What if ... ) Hesitantly, she opened the door.

The living area had been transformed while they were out. Every surface was covered with bouquets of flowers of one sort or another. Roses. Carnations. Orchids. Lilies. Daisies. And dozens of others she couldn't even name. In vases. In bowls. In pots. Lying loose in bouquets tied with ribbons.

What wasn't covered with flowers was holding a candle. Tall ... Short ... Fat ... Thin ... In holders ... In candelabra ... Floating in crystal bowls of scented water. It was romantic beyond belief.

Without a word, Nick took her into his arms. Softly, tenderly, gently, almost hesitantly, he touched his lips to hers.

Natalie had heard the expression about fireworks going off, but up until now, that had just been a figure of speech as far as she was concerned. Now, as Nick's kiss deepened, she learned that it was, indeed, literal. The colors swirling behind her eyelids were impossible to describe.

Without breaking the kiss, he guided her to the bedroom.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Richard Vetter stood open mouthed in the entranceway to his house as Tracy barged past him.

"What the HELL do you think you're doing?" She fumed. "And WHO gave you the right to play god?"

"Whoa." Richard said as he closed the door behind his daughter. "Calm down, Button. I haven't the foggiest idea what you're so upset about. Mimi and I just got back to Toronto earlier tonight."

"Don't give me that bullshit! And DON'T call me Button! You know exactly what I'm talking about!" She held a copy of the IA report in front of his face. "This is what I'm talking about! The IA investigation! Nick's been kicked off the force! The crap that's been done to Reese and Don! Don't you DARE tell me that's not your doing!"

"Even if I denied it, you wouldn't believe me, would you?"

"Then you did do it?"

"Not exactly. When Mel Elvers came to me and asked if I could help him get Jay Moore reinstated, I read the transcripts of the trial. It seemed that there was enough there to open an investigation. So, I had Roy Harris sign the order. I knew if I did it, you'd be suspicious."

"MEL Elvers? You mean you know Moore's attorney well enough to call him by his nickname?"

"Of course I know him. I was his frat sponsor at university. We Phi Delta Phi stick together."

"And naturally, you hand picked the investigation team, didn't you? Every one on that team either hates vampires in general, hates Nick in particular, hates Reese, or is in your back pocket for one reason or another. Isn't that right?"

"It's part of my job as head of the Police Commission to appoint the investigators."

"Let me take a wild guess. You stacked the IA so that the verdict would come out in Moore's favor. But why would you do something like that? Is it because you ... " Suddenly, the light bulb seemed to go on in her head. "YOU were the one who footed the bill for Moore's defense, weren't you? FATHER! HOW COULD YOU? Didn't it matter to you that he was guilty! That he had nearly raped Natalie Lambert! You knew Elvers would chew up the defense arguments and spit them out like watermelon seeds!"

"Moore's father was one of my cronies when I was starting out on the force. I owed him a favor. Besides, Jay Moore deserved a good defense."

"Defense. Yes. Whitewashed. NO!"

"I realize that things might have gotten a little out of hand but ... "

"A LITTLE? Don't you realize you've ruined the careers of three of the best cops in Toronto, if not all of Canada? Not to mention what you've done to Natalie Lambert. And for WHAT? For that slimeball Jay Moore!"

"Does this mean you're quitting like you threatened to do?"

"No. This means I'm staying. I'm going to stay in your face, and I'm going to do everything in my power to prove that you rigged that investigation to railroad my partners and my Captain."

"That will never happen. If you think you can use what I just said, I'll deny it to the hilt. Who do you think they'll believe? The respected head of the Police Commission or the vengeful ex partner of disgraced officers? Even if you are my daughter, you just don't have the necessary authority to pull it off."

"We'll see about that!" The force of the door closing blew papers off the hall table.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

Lucien LaCroix lay on his bed. His eyes were closed and he had a sensuous smile on his face. Although he knew that his son could easily block his thoughts from the elder vampire, he was making no effort to do so. Apparently, his control did not extend to the throes of passion.

He could tell that the foreplay was getting very serious. Soon that phase would be over. He could tell from the waves of passion emanating over the link, as well as his own state of arousal, that the time was very near to begin the act itself.

Suddenly, he could no longer read his son's thoughts. It hit him like a cold slap in the face. Nicholas had been in control the whole time and had cut him off at the precise moment when the emotions were at their peak.

"DAMN YOU LADY ZERA!" LaCroix shouted to the walls. "You HAD to teach him to block his thoughts. Just as things were getting interesting."

That's what you get for eavesdropping. Nicholas sent to his master. For eight hundred years, you have denied me this. You claimed it was in revenge for Fleur. There's a line in a song that says 'That's when I'll discover that revenge is sweet'. Well, now it is my turn. I'm not going to give you the pleasure of vicariously enjoying my lovemaking. If you want to get your rocks off, do it in the regular way. Not through me.

The link went completely silent.

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick slowly opened his eyes. ( It wasn't some exotically realistic dream. It had to be real. ) No dream could have taken him to the soaring heights that he had experienced. It was real. Natalie Lambert lay beside him, her arm draped softly across his bare chest. Her breathing was soft and regular. She was still asleep. He listened for her heartbeat. To spite their making love multiple times, it was still strong and regular.

Etrain was right! The lessons that he had learned, coupled with the bottles of special blend had sated the vampire and allowed the man to forcefully emerge. He only needed two mouthfuls to climax the first time. And each time after that required less blood than the previous time. By sunrise, all it took was the initial bite.

Natalie moaned softly and snuggled her head into his neck. Sleepily, she opened her eyes. Nothing but love showed in them.

"Good Morning. Or rather Good Evening, my love." Nick said, softly kissing her on the forehead. ( My love. I like the sound of that. )

( My love. I like the sound of that. ) "Did we do what I think we did? What I hope we did? Or did I dream it?" She said groggily.

"You didn't dream it. We did. Many times." Nick smiled.

"I think I could spend the rest of my life here. With you. Just lying in this bed." Nat slowly rose and headed to the hall. "But nature calls and I must answer."

&&&&&&&&&&

Lucien LaCroix relaxed and lowered himself slowly into the steaming water. It had been a long time since he had given in to pleasures such as this. Ever since the baths in Pompeii, to be exact. Now that he had discovered the joys of the hot tub in the Complex gym, he had spent a lot of time here. He made a promise to himself to have one installed in his house in Toronto. He definitely had to have one in his villa on the Riviera. And of course in the house in Santa Barbara as well. He thought about the compound in Algiers, but a hot tub in the middle of the desert was just a bit too much. Even for a vampire.

He smiled broadly as his son entered the room "Nicholas!" He called. "Do come and join me. We need to talk, and this seems like the perfect place to do just that."

Nick started for the stairs to the tub.

"I do hope you are not thinking of coming in here dressed like that."

"What's wrong with the way I'm dressed?" Nick eyed his swimsuit. A knee length loosely fitted cotton garment that T'Mutu said was the latest fashion.

"That's just the point. You're dressed. How do you expect to have the water caress every part of your body if half of it is covered with cloth?" Noticing Nicholas's discomfort at that thought, he continued. "Oh come now, Nicholas. There's nothing to be bashful about. We both have the same equipment. We've both seen each other as nature intended us to be. Many times."

Blushing noticeably, even for vampire, Nicholas undid the drawstring of his trunks and let them slide to the floor.

( Yes. Nicholas is an excellent specimen of the male body. Almost as good as myself. )

"And now. What did you want to talk to me about?" Nick settled himself into the bubbling waters.

"Last night."

"Last night was none of your business. And I resent the fact that you were spying on me. If you ever ... " Nicholas bristled.

"And you have every right to be angry."

Nicholas stared at his master. Coming from Lucien LaCroix, this was as close to an apology as he had ever heard.

"What are your plans for the good Doctor now?"

"My plans for Natalie are none of your concern either. And if you try anything, I swear I WILL kill you this time. And you know that I can do it. I am not that wimpy cowering person I was a month ago." He lowered his barriers and let his power flow over the Elder. There was no doubt that he meant what he said. Or that he had the ability to make good on his threats.

( Yes. He has indeed become someone to be reckoned with. ) "There is no need to get hostile about it. In fact, I only want to wish you and Doctor Lambert the best of everything."

"And what would that be?"

"Nicholas. You have changed over the past few weeks. So have I." There was a long pause. "This is not easy. I have never opened myself like this to anyone either as a mortal or as a vampire. Although I did what I thought was right, I have come to see that I have been trying to hold you to me in ways that only drove us farther apart." Another pause. "I have realized that I have been using the bargain we made over Fleur as a weapon to deprive you of any happiness. I wanted you to feel the grief and heartache that I have felt over losing her. I now see that this was … not the correct course to take. Fleur would never have wanted our love to be perverted that way." A third even longer pause. "I am releasing you from that bargain. From now on you are free to love Dr. Lambert … Natalie … As you see fit."

"Thank you LaCroix … Father."

"However. If you should hurt her in any way … Emotionally or physically … I WILL claim the right of revenge." LaCroix stood up in the tub and exited.

&&&&&&&&&&

"Why wasn't I told about this when it happened?" Nick demanded. He held a copy of a newspaper to Chek Kai Chang. The headlines told of the IA results.

"Because you would have demanded to return to the mortal community immediately." The Oriental replied. "You would not have been as prepared as you are now, and you would have most assuredly ... as they say ... gone off half cocked."

"Damn straight, I'd have wanted to go back. I STILL want to go back. NOW! The longer this situation goes without a solution, the worse it looks for everyone. You have no right to hold me here."

"We have no intention of holding you here. And we have no intention of standing by and doing nothing about this travesty either. As you may or may not know, one of our Quebec Community is a former Governour General of Canada. Back when it was still a colony of England. He has been quietly working with members of Parliament and the RCMP to investigate this incident. I fully expect a decision any day now. At least wait until that happens before you make any plans."

"In the meantime, what am I supposed to do? Sit here and twiddle my thumbs while my life as Nicholas Knight goes down the drain? Not to mention the fragile bond that has been forming with the outside world?"

"No." Lady Zera joined the conversation. "I am offering you a position on the staff here. Since the Communities have been coming out, there has been a potential major problem developing. Many of these Communities have existed for centuries completely cut off from the mortal world. They have no skills or knowledge of how to deal with mortals in a positive way. Since you have spent numerous lifetimes living and dealing with mortals, you could teach them the skills they need to know." Lady Zera smiled broadly. "What do you say?"

"I'm not the one you need. I've been disgraced by the mortal community. Many of the members of the vampire Community believe the propaganda my detractors have spread about me is true. Do you really think they will listen to me?"

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Commissioner Richard Vetter stormed into the 96th precinct and up to the desk sergeant. "What's the meaning of this?" He said in barely controlled anger. He held up a manila envelope.

"Good evening Commissioner." Sergeant Tracy Vetter said as unemotionally as she could. "What can I do for you?"

"This. It's a subpoena to appear before the Provincial Legal Review Board. It seems they received a complaint about the IA investigation into Jason Moore. It's your doing, isn't it, Button ... Tracy."

"No it isn't. I swear." ( I wish it was. But apparently someone a lot higher on the food chain that either one of us has the same opinion of the whole mess as I have. ) "Let's continue this in a more private place." She motioned to one of the other officers to take the desk and led her father to one of the interrogation rooms.

"I don't know who complained, but I got a summons, too." She said after she had closed the door. "So did Cap ... I mean Sergeant Reese and Don Schanke. In all likelihood, Nick has been subpoenaed too. Maybe the truth will finally come out."

"Tracy. Don't do anything foolish. Think of your career. If I'm forced out, the chances of your being promoted go out with me. It could be disastrous for you."

"I've got a hot news flash for you, Father Dear. I never asked for YOUR so called help in the first place, and I NEVER wanted your interference in MY career. To spite what you think, I DO have the smarts... AND the experience ... to be promoted ON MY OWN! And just for the record, that's the way I WANT to be promoted. I want to be judged as TRACY Vetter, not Commissioner Vetter's LITTLE GIRL, Tracy. In fact, I've done everything I can think of to get out from under YOUR shadow.

While we're on the subject of careers, what about Reese and Schanke? They've been cops since before I found out about boys. What about THEIR careers? And what about NICK? With THIS on his record, he'll have a hard time getting a job as a school crossing guard."

"He's a vampire. He'll survive."

"That's your answer to everything, ISN'T IT? He's a vampire. He'll survive. That makes everything okay. Vilify him He's a vampire. He'll survive ... Blackball him. He's a vampire. He'll survive ... Smear him. He's a vampire. He'll survive ... Persecute him. He's a vampire. He'll survive ... Hunt him and all those like him to near extinction ... They're vampires. They'll survive."

"Tracy. Don't do this ... "

"No, Dad. YOU don't do this. And from this moment on, as far as I'm concerned, YOU are no longer my father. You are MERELY the person who provided the sperm that created me." She opened the door. "I've got to get back to work. I've wasted enough time away from my job. Good evening, COMMISSIONER Vetter." The door slammed loudly behind her.

&&&&&&&&&&

Council Headquarters

"Are you sure you want to do this, Nicholas?" Lucien LaCroix asked his son. "After all, you'll be walking straight into a hornet's nest. Perhaps you should reconsider your decision concerning the proposition that Lady Zera made."

"I know what she suggested is a high honor. Working with some of the more cloistered communities would bring immense satisfaction, and would go a long way toward improving the vampire - mortal relations." Nicholas continued to pack the suitcase lying on his bed. "And I have thought it over carefully. It isn't fair to let Reese and Schanke bear the brunt of the consequences for things that I did. After all, they were only secondary players. It's me they really want. Don't you see? If I can clear my name, it will go a long way toward paving the way for vampire equal rights. I have to go back. It's something I've got to do."

"Nicholas. You don't HAVE to do anything. Moore and Elvers are nothing more than annoying insects. They will be dealt with in due time. Your place is here at the Council. You and the Doctor. Here, you can accomplish so much more that you could possibly hope to do in the mortal world. Especially if you bring her across."

"Don't start that again, LaCroix." Nicholas's eyes flashed yellow. "While my perceptions of a vampire have softened some as a result of the experiences of the past few weeks, I still do not believe it is the right thing to do. Regardless, the choice to come across or not is ENTIRELY up to Natalie, and no one else."

Lucien LaCroix smiled broadly. "My, my, my, we have been doing a lot of changing, haven't we? A month ago, even the mere suggestion of bringing the good Doctor across would have sparked a fierce argument. I for one, think that this is a major breakthrough."

"You know what, LaCroix. I don't give ... as Screed would say ... a fat rat's crammy what you think. I've made up my mind and that's that. We're leaving tonight. Now, if you'll excuse me, Natalie is waiting for me at the hangar. The plane leaves within the hour." With that, Nicholas slammed the case shut and turned and strode out the door.

"We HAVE come a long way, and for the better, I might add. It's so good to see you finally becoming the vampire I always knew you could be." LaCroix smiled as he watched his son cross the compound toward the Council landing field.

&&&&&&&&&&

Toronto

Tracy Vetter looked up in surprise at the man coming into the 96th. He was the last person she expected to show his face here. "Detective Moore. I didn't think you had a death wish you wanted fulfilled. What do you want here, anyway?"

"Don't get smartmouthed with me, Vetter." Jason Moore said in a much louder voice than necessary. "I just wanted to remind everyone that this investigation by the Provincial Legal Board could be considered as harassment. And as such, it would be in direct violation of the injunction that Judge Harris issued. If that's the case, it's contempt of court. If I, or Elvers, find out that any one of you is responsible, I WILL hang the entire precinct out to dry. Do I make myself clear?" With that, the detective turned on his heel and strode out the door. It nearly hit him as he stormed through it.

"Just let me have him between my headlights for fifteen seconds." Vera Williams grumbled. "It'll be an accident. He walked right in front of me and I couldn't avoid him. Even if I have to chase him for six blocks."

The next person through the door was a much more welcome sight. "NICK!" Tracy shouted as she ran to him and enveloped him in a bear hug. "What are you doing here? ... Were have you been? ... If you ever pull a stupid stunt like leaving like that again ... "

Within seconds, nearly the entire precinct surrounded him, hugging, slapping on his back kissing him, at least the ladies, and besieging him with rapid fire questions.

"People! People!" Ben Holworth clapped his hands together. "This is a police station after all. Return to your desks. We have work to do."

"That's Ben Holworth." Tracy told her former partner. "Our fearless leader. The gutless wonder of the western world. Spent most of his career in administrative. Mainly as a lackey for my ever loving father. I think if he ever came up against a for real bad guy, he'd probably wet himself." She whispered in a level that she knew only Nick could hear.

Holworth looked directly at Nick. "As far as you are concerned, you have no business in here. In fact, your presence here is definitely not welcome. I suggest you leave now. Before I have you escorted off the premises."

Nick only stared in disbelief at the man before him. ( He's got to be joking. )

"While you may be a vampire, I seriously doubt that you would do anything ...unnatural. I know you realize that your position in the ... mortal world is very tenuous right now. Again. Please leave now, MISTER Knight."

"I'll go." Nick replied. Call me later. He sent to Tracy. Lady Zera had told him that he could do the same thing with certain mortals, and from the look on Tracy's face, the Presider was right.

&&&&&&&&&&

Tracy practically stormed off the lift at the loft. "What the HELL did you do to me back at the station." She demanded.

"Hi, Tracy. How have you been?" Nick asked as casually as the grin that was spreading across his face would allow him to.

"Yes." Natalie added. "It's good to see you, too." Nick had told her all about the incident at the station.

"Never mind the small talk you two. Nick was messing with my mind back there. I thought I was a resistor. That I couldn't be hypnotized. How did you do that?"

"You are a resistor. What I did wasn't hypnosis. It was a form of thought communication. I was talking directly to your mind. I learned it while I was away." Nick explained.

"Can you teach that to me?"

Why not? I taught it to Nat. Nick answered.

It's easy to learn. Natalie added.

For the next three hours, the trio brought each other up to the present on what had happened.

&&&&&&&&&&

Don Schanke came out of the hearing room. Natalie, Tracy, and Reese had already testified. As had Moore and Elvers. From the satisfied look on his face, things were going well. The Provincial Legal Board was apparently was not as impressed with the testimony from Moore and Elvers as the IA had been. But then, they were not under Commissioner Vetter's influence.

"Well, partners." He said to Nick and Tracy. "It looks like everything is going our way for a change. Although I'm not supposed to discuss that was said in there, it looks like the team of Schanke, Knight and Vetter may be back in business real soon."

The bailiff called Nick next.

&&&&&&&&&&

"You are a vampire, that is correct." The board member asked.

"Yes. That is public knowledge." Nick answered.

"Why did you go to see Jason Moore on the evening in question?"

"I went to see if what I had heard about him and Natalie Lambert was true or not."

"So you were not acting in an official police capacity when you confronted Moore?"

"No, sir, I was not. I was there strictly as a … friend of Nat … I mean Doctor Lambert's"

"Did you have any intention of harming him?"

"No, sir." (I waned to kill him, not harm him, but I knew that I couldn't in all good conscience do that. )

"Tell us exactly what went on between you and Mr. Moore."

Nick noted that the Board member did not refer to Moore as 'Detective'. To him, that was a good sign. "When I reached his apartment, he was already in the hallway with several suitcases. It was obvious that he intended to leave town. When he saw me, he ran for the stairs. I followed him. I asked him about what had happened, and he confessed everything. I restrained him by handcuffing him to the railing and called for police backup."

"Did you dangle him over the stairwell?"

"Yes. But there was never any intention of dropping him or harming him in any way. I only meant to frighten him. And that's exactly what happened. Moore knew that. He knew I was a vampire and that I was stronger than the average human and that I was in complete control the whole time. He also knew that I could have killed him easily if I had wanted to, and that I did not."

"Why did you leave Toronto after you received notice of the IA investigation?"

"I had no choice. I was summoned by the High Council. When they summon you, you cannot refuse. It could be … very dangerous."

"Then it was not voluntarily."

"No. When an Enforcer comes for you, you must go. A lot is at stake. Literally."

"No further questions. Thank you for your cooperation."

&&&&&&&&&&

Commissioner Richard Vetter glared holes at the persons in the anteroom as he was called before the board. The board had already talked with the officers from IA who had investigated the case. Now it was his turn. He was definitely not a happy camper.

Forty minutes later, a pale, subdued Richard Vetter walked out of the committee room. This time he didn't even look at anyone. He just left as quickly as possible.

&&&&&&&&&&

Joe Reese strode into the office at the 96th. Okay, you little weasel." He said to Ben Holworth. "Get your quivering ass out of MY chair."

"What do you mean YOUR chair, Sergeant?" Holworth answered smugly. "Commissioner Vetter appointed ME Captain here, and until I hear otherwise, I'm in charge."

"You're hearing otherwise. I take it you haven't read your mail yet. The Board came out with their decision. They concluded that the IA investigation into the handling of Jason Moore was seriously flawed, and they've thrown everything out. That means you are no longer in charge here. I am. And YOU have two hours to get out or I'm going to throw you out."

&&&&&&&&&&

Don Schanke took off his uniform cap and threw it on the floor.

"What do you think you're doing, Donny?" Myra asked her husband.

"I won't need that any more." He held up the letter from the board. "I've been reinstated."

&&&&&&&&&&

Nick hugged Natalie as hard as he safely could.

While the board had concluded that he had acted with unnecessary roughness with Moore and had suspended him for six weeks without pay, they had decided that this sentence would include the time he had been under dismissal after the IA hearing. He was to be fully reinstated beginning Monday.

"This is truly a cause for celebration." He said. "Go put on that dress that the Adrienne gave you, and I'll take you to the best restaurant in Toronto."

"Gladly. It's good to see justice win for a change. How about we invite Don and Myra to join us? They've been through at least as much as we have."

"Why not? While we're at it, How about Reese and Denise. Better yet, how about the entire 96th?"

"Let's not get carried away. The Reeses, yes. But the entire precinct? I think that's a bit much. Since we are inviting Don and Joe, I thing we should include Tracy, too."

"I guess I was going a little overboard. Okay. The Schankes, the Reeses, and Tracy."

&&&&&&&&&&

Richard Vetter threw the letter on his desk. Hard. "They can't do this to me!" He growled. "Not after all the things I had to do to get where I am."

Although it was far less than he could have received, the board decided that his part in the mishandling of the Moore case deserved a written letter of warning and an indefinite suspension as head of the Police Commission. While he was still on the Commission, in essence, he was now low man on the totem pole and Commissioner Dan Sinclair was in charge. Dan was the opposite of Richard. A fair, by the book cop, who rarely dabbled in office politics. He and Vetter had not seen eye to eye on numerous occasions, but since Vetter was the head of the Commission, things were done his way. That was about to change. Radically.

&&&&&&&&&&

Former Detective Jason Moore walked along the street. The Board determined that there had been every indication of a mistrial. But, since he had been acquitted, and all the evidence essentially destroyed when his record was expunged, there was no legal means to petition to retry him for the attempted rape of Natalie Lambert. They had, however, dishonorably dismissed him from the force.

He thought he heard a sound from the alley. As he went to investigate, a figure separated from the shadows and came toward him.

"Jason Moore." The figure said.

"Yes." Although he evening was warm, he felt a cold shudder grab at his heart.

"According to the strictest letter of the law, you have been found innocent of your crimes. You have however, been tried in the court of common decency. The verdict has been given. Morally and ethically you are most certainly guilty. It is only fair and just that you pay for those crimes. I am here to see that justice is carried out."

It was the last thing Jason Moore ever heard.

&&&&&&&&&&

The End

Who are we kidding?