Eric laughed at his own words, shaking his head. "It sounds so insane, I know. If… if I wasn't so upset about everything that's been happening I'm sure I wouldn't be telling you this."
Nick offered the man a reassuring smile, contemplating on the best way to proceed. "Not as insane as you think," he said, studying the man seated across from him. "Please continue. You said you moved here to get away from your wife's stalker. Where are the two of you from?"
"Originally? Collinsport - it's a small town in Maine."
"Any particular reason why you're here in Toronto?" Nick asked, writing down the name of the town. At this point, anything Vanson gave him could be important.
"Yeah. Amy was looking for a cousin of hers. She said that he was the only one who could help us… he's really the only family she has left."
"Her cousin lives here?"
Eric shrugged helplessly. "We - I don't know. I've never met him, and Amy hadn't seen or heard from him in years; since before we got married eleven years ago."
"Amy told me that he goes by the name of Carl Grant."
Nick jotted down the name. "He goes by?"
"He's a writer, apparently. It's his pseudonym."
"Oh, I see. What's his real name?"
Eric frowned, wrenching his hands together nervously. "Amy never told me."
'That's suspicious.' He wondered how much this mysterious cousin really knew, and why he'd hidden himself from the family so well. "You think he's in Toronto?" Nick asked after a moment.
"Even after hiring a private investigator we couldn't find out where Mr. Grant lived. All we know is that his publishing company and agent are here in Toronto; it's a long shot, I know, but it was all we had."
"What do you know about the… myth?"
"Only what everyone knows," Eric said, rubbing his face tiredly. "Detective, I'm not sure how much help I can be. I think you'll find your answers when you find Carl Grant."
"I hope so." Nick stood, seeing that Eric had been through enough questioning for one night. He tucked his pad of paper and pen away, and made his way to the door. "Thank you for talking to me tonight, Mr. Vanson. It really wasn't necessary, but I do appreciate it."
Eric took a deep breath, standing to see him out. He forced a pained smile as he opened the door. "I needed to tell someone."
Nick nodded, stepping out into the hall. He turned to face Vanson once more. "I'm very sorry about your wife." At Vanson's nod, Nick added, "I'll keep in touch."
As he walked out of the building, he realized that he had far more questions than he had answers. Still, he had a place to start.
Nick flipped open his cell phone and speed dialed Schanke's number as he walked back to the caddy.
"Hi-ya," Schanke answered after a couple rings.
"Hey Schanke. I need you to do a little leg work."
"This is new?" he balked. "You notify the deceased's husband?"
"Yeah, and he already gave us a lead. Carl Grant."
"Yeah. You've heard of him?" Nick asked, but didn't wait for an answer as he opened his caddy's driver side door. "Get as much information as possible on him. Where he lives, his real name…"
"The whole shebang, eh?" Schanke interrupted. "So this is officially not an animal attack?"
"I don't know, Skank. It seems that Amy Vanson had a not-so-welcome secret admirer, and was currently in search of her long lost cousin..."
"Carl Grant," Schanke guessed.
"You got it."
"Ah, Carl. How are you today?"
Carl Grant flashed his literary agent - Audrey - a charming smile, dropping a hefty manila envelope onto her cluttered desk. "Much better, now that I've got this damn thing written."
"Congrats," Audrey said, peeling her eyes away from the envelope long enough to give him a quick wink. She reminded him of a less glamorous Lucille Ball; her exaggerated facial expressions and flame red hair did nothing to dispel the thought.
Audrey placed a finger on the envelope, then slid it towards her on the desk, giving him a calculating look. "A detective gave me a jingle today. Get into any trouble lately?"
Carl made himself comfortable in the chair opposite Audrey, surprised by the news. He avoided the police as often as possible; they tended to be more hindrance than help when it came to the kind of mess he usually found himself in. Still, things had been quiet lately, so the phone call seemed rather out of the blue. "You know I've been good… lately."
She laughed lightly, picking up the manila envelope. "They called my Toronto office. They wanted your address."
"I trust you didn't give it?"
"You know the policy. Now, they do too."
Carl smiled, sinking further into his chair. "That's why I love you."
"I know," she said with a grin, flipping open the envelope's flap and pulling out the contents. "I gave them your cell number."
He nodded. "I suppose you had to throw the dogs a bone. Did they say what all this is about?"
"Naturally, they didn't say anything to me. Seemed anxious to talk to you though. You probably have a message waiting on your cell."
"Oh, aren't I lucky," he said, almost as if to himself. He had that gut feeling again; the feeling reserved for when all hell was just about to break loose.
But then, why should he be surprised? Things had been quiet lately… unnaturally quiet for him. He knew that it wouldn't last. It never did.
He stood as his agent happily flipped through the pages of his latest novel. His books were hot right now, and she knew that this meant a good commission for her.
"See you later, Carl," she said, seeing him stand to leave.
He turned to face her once he reached the door. "If you're lucky," he said with a suggestive wiggle of his eyebrows. He turned and closed the door behind him, leaving her office to deal with what was sure to be another Collins crisis.
He walked all the way to his car without turning on his cell. He was reluctant to spoil his good mood so early in what had started out as a promising day.
Sliding behind the wheel and closing the door after him, he sat there for a moment in silence before pulling the cell phone out of his pocket. He stared at it for a moment as a thousand possible scenarios of doom and destruction raced through his mind.
Damn it, would he never be free?
He feared that he knew the answer to that, but couldn't quite admit it.
Making up his mind, he tossed the cell onto the passenger seat, not even turning it on. He started up his car and popped in one of his favorite cassette tapes, feeling a bit nostalgic as he recalled a particular melody from an era gone by. He turned up the current music, determined to drown out the haunting strains that played in his mind, tugging at memories that were best left alone.
As he pulled out of the parking lot, he cast a quick glance at his cell, and then smiled wistfully as he returned his gaze to the road. "Yes. You can do without Quentin Collins for one more day, whoever you are."
Nick arrived at his loft just before sunrise. Another day and night, and they'd gotten virtually nowhere in the case. Schanke was convinced that it wasn't even a case for the police department, and it would be closed by tomorrow. Nick hoped that would happen. However, things were seldom that simple.
He was still stewing about the werewolf murder as he sat on the couch with a glass of his preferred vintage.
Honestly, he wasn't sure how he was going to go about this. It was possible – and even likely – that the attack would only warrant a brief investigation as Schanke had suggested. After a couple days, if there were no more killings, it would be chalked up to another animal attack, end of story. If that was the case, he may actually be lucky. He didn't want to investigate this on an official level… or even an unofficial one for that matter. The last thing he wanted to do was track down, or cover for, a rogue werewolf prowling the streets of Toronto.
Grabbing one of his many remotes, he hit a button and watched the metal blinds shut out the first rays of sunlight appearing over the horizon.
"So, you're here to hunt, are you?"
"I am," Nicolas said, taking a swallow out of his tankard.
The man took a seat across from him, sizing Nicolas up. "Young Basil – he's the son of a farmer down the road – made a most disturbing discovery today. A child lay dead in their field; at least, what was left of the child."
"Most disturbing. Does this sort of thing happen often?" Nick asked, trying to hide his unease. He was a predator, it was true, but he drew the line when it came to children.
"Eleven children are dead, all within the year."
"Eleven!" Nicolas exclaimed, setting his tankard down with a thud.
"All torn asunder, all taken from their homes. How do you explain that, Mr…?"
"Norwood. Nicolas Norwood," he supplied. "Am I supposed to be able to explain such dreadful happenings?"
"The town is most distraught. Something must be done about this vicious beast."
"I should say. I agree that the abduction and murder of the children is most alarming. I have not heard of such in all my travels abroad."
Nick sat up with a start, realizing that he'd fallen asleep on the couch. Instantly, he knew that he was no longer alone in his loft. Turning to the left, he froze when he saw a woman standing by his stereo.
She was no ordinary woman, either. You could see right through her.
Now, he normally wouldn't be surprised by a ghost. He'd been tormented by enough of them in his long life, though he could never say with complete certainty that they weren't just creations of his own mind; delusions brought on by years of guilt.
What truly caught him off guard was not that she was a ghost, but that he didn't recognize her. If she had been a victim of his, conjured up by his troubled mind, he would surely recognize the lady. But he was positive that he'd never seen her before.
The woman was clearly not from this century, wearing a purple and white ankle-length dress in the style of the Victorian period. Her long auburn hair was pulled up into a loose ponytail, unusual for the era she must have come from. She was of medium height and build, with large brown eyes and a fidgety demeanor.
She wasn't looking at him, preoccupied with one of his many artifacts and relics on display throughout the loft. The particular object of interest was an old gypsy knife with intricate carvings on the handle. The small knife sat on a shelf beside his stereo, in front of some tapes and CDs.
Nick sat quiet and motionless, watch with some trepidation as the woman picked up the knife and turned it over in her hands. "Bawari," she said with a hint of fear in her tone. She put the knife down quickly.
Downing the rest of his dinner in one gulp, he watched her carefully. He set the glass on the table beside him, unsure if he should rush his unique house guest into introducing herself. It just didn't seem like a good idea.
Finally, she turned and met his gaze with her own.
She giggled softly, pointing at him in a childlike way. "You're not afraid of me," she stated happily, making her way closer to him as her attention flitted about the room. It reminded Nick of a curious two-year old who was interested in everything, like only a child could be.
Eventually she'd managed to meander her way to him, but her gaze was fixed on something behind him. He turned to see what had captured her attention so, and realized it was one of his paintings; a blood red sun, with fiery yellow rays bursting forth. One of his favorites. Returning his attention to the lady in front of him, he couldn't help but feel that she was a little 'off'. Nick wondered if it was possible for a ghost to be mentally challenged.
"Red," she whispered vehemently, the color disturbing her. She tore her stare away from the painting, looking at him with a glint of anger in her eyes. "Your painting is a lie."
Nick inhaled sharply, but said nothing. He had no idea how to answer such a statement, and decided not to try.
Her anger vanished as quickly as it had come. She shrugged as if nothing mattered, and her whole mood changed with it. No longer upset, she moved a bit closer to him.
"You have to find him," she said.
"Find who?" Nick asked, finally finding his voice.
She laughed, and fiddled with a stray strand of hair. "What a silly question. Why, the man you're looking for, of course."
Nick thought for a moment, and he couldn't help but wonder if this had anything to do with the werewolf murder. It seemed unlikely, but he asked anyway. "Carl Grant?"
She laughed again. "No, no silly. You can't find him if you don't have the right name!"
The woman walked slowly around his living room table, her head tilted up as if she found something interesting in the rafters. "Funny how he should use his brother's name. He must be feeling sad. So much to haunt one man."
She stopped her rambling and turned to Nick. "But you understand that far too well, don't you?"
Nick nodded once, swallowing hard. There was a hint of madness behind her eyes, but she was incredibly perceptive none-the-less. Perhaps knowledge came with being a ghost?
"If I'm not looking for Carl Grant, then who am I looking for? Who are you?"
"He's been so many people. So many. But he can't escape himself, just like I couldn't escape myself," she said, toying with the end of a ribbon on her dress. "You want to know my name? You're very sweet. But I mustn't give it to you!"
The lady was deranged, he was sure, but it was apparent she was trying to tell him something important.
"I'm a Collins, you know. My sister laughed at me when I told her. She did not believe a Collins would marry a gypsy." She shook her head. "But he did. Too bad. He knew and married me anyway. At least, I think he knew. Oh, I'll have to ask him."
Sensing her fragile mind was getting sidetracked he cut in gently, "Who am I supposed to find?"
She brought a hand to her breast, as if shocked. "Oh! Didn't I tell you? Oh dear, I'm always forgetting things. Did I ever introduce myself?"
Nick raised his eyebrows, then attempted to give her a kind smile, only half succeeding in the attempt. "No, I don't believe you have."
"Well, where are my manners? I am Jenny Collins," she said with a hint of arrogance in her voice, standing up a bit straighter as she spoke.
"A pleasure, Jenny. I'm Nick. Tell me, who am I supposed to find?"
"My husband. He'll help you! You'll need help. It won't go away."
"He's already seen you. He already has designs for vengeance. You'll need help." Jenny stopped, and then tilted her head as if she were listening to someone standing beside her. "I've already told him the name!" she declared hotly. Then, suddenly, she became frightened, as if the voice had told her something bad. She turned her attention back to Nick. "You must go to Collinsport!"
"Maine?" It was a stupid question, but he'd been thrown off by her behavior and wasn't quite sure what to say.
"Go now! He is there!" Jenny urgently, beginning to fade away. "Be careful of him. He's most dangerous."
"Be careful of who? Your husband? Or someone else? Wait!" Nick stood up, as if to stop her from leaving, but just as he did so Jenny faded away completely.
Nick collapsed back onto the sofa. His ghostly visitor had left him feeling completely bewildered. Clearly, she wanted him to go to Collinsport and find her husband. The thought left a heavy feeling in his stomach.
Jenny clearly died in the Victorian era; her husband couldn't possibly be alive… naturally anyway. The only conclusion Nick could come to was that she wanted him to find a ghost… or a fellow vampire.
For once he thought that a vampire just might be easier to deal with.