Forever Knight

LaCroix Vs Murphy

"Anything that can go wrong ... will." Murphy's Law.

"At the worst possible time ..." Roman's addendum to Murphy's Law.

"Without any apparent rhyme or reason ..." Runt's addendum to Roman's addendum to Murphy's Law.

&&&&&&&&&&

Wearily, Lucien LaCroix turned back the black silk covered duvet on his bed. He sat on the edge and removed his robe and slippers. Then he eased himself between the maroon silk sheets. He loved the feel of silk next to his body when he slept. Especially when there was nothing between him and the sheets. Nothing at all.

He did not believe in Murphy's Law. Unlike the famous (Or was that infamous) Murphy, LaCroix subscribed to the rationale that everything happened for a purpose. However ... if there really was a Murphy … and if he did actually postulate that damnable law, the past few days would have been conclusive proof that it did exist.

It started earlier in the week. He had just settled down for his daily sleep. That's when the Toronto Department of Water and Sewers decided to repair the storm drains that ran beneath the street outside the Raven.

There was not much that could rouse the nearly two millennia old vampire from his slumber, but the incessant din of jackhammers and mini bulldozers was one of them. To make matters worse, it was a bright sunny day. That meant there was not much he could do about it. He made his way to the door and opened it just a sliver. Then, standing barely outside the beam of sunlight, he attempted to get the attention of one or more of the workmen. Finally, one of them noticed his actions and turned to him.

"What in the name of all the gods are you doing out there?" He yelled over the din.

"What the #$& does it #&+$ look like we're $(& doin'? The man answered. "We're &# fixin' the &$) street! What the &#$ is it to you, ya &#$ ?"

"For one thing, there is no need for you to use that kind of language." While he was by no means a prude, and he was certainly not above using a paint-peeling obscenity or two when the circumstances warranted it, LaCroix could see no reason for prefacing every third word with an expletive. "For another thing, there are people who sleep during the day. I am one of them. I do not appreciate the racket you are making. And just for the record, my parents were wed when I was born." ( Even though it was in the nineteenth year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius. )

For a reply, the man silently told him that he thought the Leafs were number one. However he used the wrong finger to do it. LaCroix politely informed him that the Jays were the best team, also using the wrong finger.

There was no use even trying to go back to sleep, so he spent the rest of the afternoon contemplating ingenious ways to vent his displeasure on the street crew. He imagined their drained corpses dangling from the arm of their trench digger. He envisioned pulverizing their exsanguinated bodies with one of the jackhammers and dumping the resultant pulp into the concrete mixer, to be poured back onto the street. He visualized running over their bloodless husks with a steamroller and incorporating the nearly two dimensional result into a mural on one of the side walls of the Raven. He considered inflating their emptied mortal carcasses with helium and flying them over the city like gigantic balloons with advertisements for the Raven carved into their dried out flesh. Of course, there was the traditional way of disposing of a kill. He could always dump their depleted remains into the deepest part of Lake Ontario, weighted down with chunks of the asphalt and concrete they were digging up.

It turned out to be a moot question. By the time the sun had set, the crew had finished for the day and were long gone. So much for le meilleure revanche. From the looks of the street though, they would be back tomorrow, and maybe for quite a few more tomorrows as well. Although LaCroix was not a patient man by nature, he could wait another day or two for his revenge.

While Janette was spending several days in Quebec, she had asked ... read practically ordered ... LaCroix to take charge of the Raven. He could refuse his daughter little, so reluctantly, he agreed.

The evening had started out fairly routine.

But not for long.

The Elder vampire of the Toronto Community had just taken his customary place at the end of the bar when about fifteen or twenty bikers came into the club. Mortal bikers. In full regalia. Leather and denim jackets with the arms cut out. Long hair. Full beards. Spiked helmets. Body piercings. Vulgar and / or obnoxious tattoos on every bit of exposed skin. And probably quite a few on their unexposed body parts as well. Even the women in the gang sported offensive tattoos. They were most likely members of a group commonly known as Hells Angels. To the ancient Roman's ultra sensitive nose, it was obvious that most of them had only an occasional nodding acquaintance with soap and water.

It was Bruno's job to keep riffraff like this out of the club. Usually, his size alone was enough of a deterrent. At 6'11" and almost 400 pounds of pure muscle, few persons, mortal or immortal, had the cajones ... or the stupidity ... to challenge the huge bouncer. LaCroix would have to have a talk with the 350 year old giant of a vampire at the earliest opportunity. If he was still among the undead, that is. The only way a group like this would have gotten by him was if he had a stake through his heart. If he wasn't staked, there was a definite possibility he would be after LaCroix finished with him.

A few minutes later another group of bikers swaggered into the Raven. This group was every bit as obnoxious and foul as the first group. The only difference was these were members of the metabolically challenged faction. The two biker gangs took positions at opposite ends of the club. Each one claimed that the Raven was in their turf, and demanded that the other group leave. Immediately. The hostility and antagonism that passed between them was almost visible. The patrons, both mortal and otherwise, who had braved the torn up street outside sensed it too. Slowly, they began edging their way to the door. Although the place was reasonably busy, it emptied out remarkably fast. LaCroix had to give Bruno and the other staff members credit. They were able to control the crowd and get them out safely with very few problems. Their actions probably prevented a mindless stampede. That almost wiped out Bruno's liability for letting the bikers in there in the first place. Almost.

LaCroix quietly motioned to Miklos, the bartender. "I think it would be a wise thing to lower the protective guard." He suggested.

"I thought you might want to do that." Miklos replied, discretely pressing a button under the bar.

There was a thick plexiglass shield mounted on a track in the ceiling that could be electronically lowered in front of the ornately etched double picture window sized mirror that was hung on the wall behind the backbar. Janette had the plastic safeguard installed after a confrontation three years earlier, that resulted in the mirror being smashed to smithereens. It had cost a small fortune to replace. LaCroix did not want that to happen again. From the way the situation in the main floor was degenerating, it was even money that the mirror would be one of the first things to go.

Mere seconds after the shield was locked in place, it was as if all hell had broken loose. The ancient Roman General was not certain exactly what had started it, or which side had made the first move, and it was essentially unimportant. LaCroix felt certain that the resulting fracas would be one for the record books.

It nearly was. It took a half dozen paddy wagons and ambulances to haul the combatants away. Fortunately, by the time the SWAT team arrived, most of the undead bikers had already made their escape. Still, there were several vampires in one of the rooms in the lower cellar who could possibly need of the services of Natalie Lambert, the local Coroner and unofficial 'Doctor To The Undead', before everything was said and done.

The main barroom itself was a total shambles. If there was an unbroken or undamaged piece of furniture or equipment, LaCroix did not know where it was. He had seen more intact structures after the Nazi bombings of London during World War II. Only the mirror remained in one piece, although the plexiglass in front of it had been dented and cracked in several places.

He eventually located the phone and dialed a memorized number. "Alexander." He said when the other vampire answered. "I need a damage control party at the Raven as soon as possible. Immediately will not be too soon."

"I heard about your little tea party over there earlier tonight. You were the lead story on the eleven o'clock news." Alexander replied. "I figured you'd be calling on me, so I've already started assembling the team. They'll be there as soon as I can get them there."

"Get them here sooner." It wasn't a request.

It was a good thing the Community had a broad member base. Almost anything or anyone that might be needed for just about any reason could be found within its ranks. Right now, LaCroix was in desperate need of repairmen. And Alexander was the person who knew exactly where to find them. Or anything else for that matter. Naturally, his services did not come cheap. He had no choice, though. Janette was due back at the end of the week, and if she saw her beloved club in the state it was in now, Master or no Master, she would do her level best to make the rest of his centuries in this plane of existence an unmitigated hell.

He and Miklos had done what they could to lessen the damage. But after hauling out numerous extra large trash bags of debris, they came to the conclusion there was nothing more they could do. This was way beyond their ability to make right. The rest would be up to the repair crew.

&&&&&&&&&&

It had been a very long day ... or was that ... night. He snuggled into the overplump silk covered pillow and gratefully sank into the arms of Morpheus.

His eyes popped open with a start. THE DIN! It was ten times worse than yesterday! Through bleary, sleep robbed eyes he focused on the clock. 8:30 AM! He estimated he had gotten only about three hours sleep at most. He grabbed for his robe and stood up. In this position, he could differentiate two separate sources of the noise. One was from outside. That had to be the Toronto street crew. They were starting even earlier than the day before. The other racket came from downstairs. The vibes that he was getting from there were clear. Vampires! The street workmen, he could do nothing about. At least not now. But the others ... that was a whole other story. They would pay dearly for disturbing him!

He quickly dressed, and was halfway down the stairs when it dawned on him that he couldn't do anything about them either. The vampires were members of the crew that was repairing the Raven. They couldn't leave even if they wanted to. It was full sun outside. They were trapped here as much as he was. And he HAD told ... or more precisely ORDERED ... Alexander to send them immediately.

He opened the door between the hall and the bar. Even though he had only cracked it just a tiny bit, his eyes began to water and he began to sneeze and choke. The room was thick with sawdust ... and plaster dust ... as well as just plain dust. Not to mention who-knows-what else was floating in the air. Better not go in there. He cautioned himself. Excellent idea. He agreed.

He started down to the sub basement. Ever since she first acquired the Raven some twenty five years earlier, Janette had kept a series of rooms down there available for the use of homeless and needy vampires. Right now, LaCroix fit that criteria perfectly. He was a very needy vampire. He NEEDED sleep! As far as the homeless part went ... he had been figuratively evicted by the racket from his lodgings on the second floor. At least down here, some two stories below the ground, the noise was reduced to a dull thudding.

The first room he checked held at least a dozen or more vampires. It was hard to tell. The room was perhaps 10 by 10, and they were sleeping not only on cots, but on every other available space as well. Two of them were even hanging by their ankles from the overhead joists. The next few rooms were not much better. These held only seven or eight, but again, they were packed in like veritable sardines. The smallest room had only three vampires, but these were the ones that had been injured in the brawl earlier, and they needed their space.

He seriously considered evicting the occupants of one of the rooms and commandeering it for himself. He wasn't just ANY vampire! He was LUCIEN LACROIX! But just as with the workers upstairs, he could not throw them out. They were here because they had no place else to go. To spite what Nicholas thought about him, he could not be that cruel and hard hearted. Especially not to the disenfranchised members of the Community. To mortals ... yes. To vampires ... no.

Eventually, he found an empty cot in the last room. Like the first room, it was small, and there were already six others in it. They too were crowded together, and there was less than a foot between the cots. Barely enough space to shuffle in sideways. He went to the closet in the hall, got a blanket and tried his best to get comfortable.

"Z-Z-N-N-R-R-R-K." The man in the cot next to him rolled over and plopped his arm across LaCroix's chest. If the Roman General thought that the bikers were hygienically deficient, this ... this ... person was ten times worse. It was obvious that the man had not bathed since he was brought across, however long ago that was. LaCroix hypothesized at least two centuries. Or apparently for some time before that, either.

It was the last straw! He took the blanket and carefully made his way back to the hall. During the short time he was in the room, even more vampires had made their way into Janette's 'sanctuary', and they were sleeping against the walls.

He motioned to one of the younger vampires. A woman hardly out of her teens both in perceived, as well as in vampire years. "There's an empty cot in there." He said pointing to the room he had just vacated.

"Thank you, sir. You are most kind." She grabbed her blanket and headed for the room. While he regretted putting her with the unwashed snorer, it was better than sleeping on the floor.

"I am ANYTHING but kind." He groused as he searched for a place to lie down. "If I had stayed in that room one moment longer, I would have drained that uncleansed buzz saw ... and possibly half of the room's other occupants as well. Janette would never have forgiven me for that."

He finally found a space at the end of the hall that was acceptable, in a manner of speaking. Here, with another rolled up blanket for padding, he could use the bottom step as a pillow of sorts. As long as no one stepped on him, he could make do. He spread his other blanket and curled up. Within minutes, sheer exhaustion overtook him and he settled into a dreamless sleep.

&&&&&&&&&&

When he awoke, the first thing he noticed was ... nothing. No hammering. No sawing. No equipment noises. Nothing. Nothing but silence. Except for the snorer in room six, that is. It was absolutely delightful. Slowly, he got to his feet. Although he knew it would pass in a few minutes, from sleeping on the cold damp floor his entire body felt as though it was made of the same concrete as the hallway.

He opened the door to the bar room and surveyed the area. Unless someone looked closely, it was as if the previous evening had never happened. It would be difficult to detect that the two ends of the bar were slightly different shades of mahogany. Surely no one would notice that the booth against the far wall had a chunk taken out of the back corner. Or that several of the heavy steel chains that defined the various areas of the club were missing. The same went for the fact that quite a few of the tables and chairs were new. Except for the smell, which was rapidly dissipating, there was no evidence that the walls had been newly replastered and repainted. All in all, the workmen had done a remarkable job in record time. It was definitely worth the cost. However ...

He once more dialed the memorized number. "Alexander. I must congratulate you. Your workmen did an excellent job, but there are still a few things that were either not completed, or were sloppily done. I have a list of them here. First. There is the top of the bar ... " He proceeded to itemize everything he had found wrong.

"Don't worry about a thing, LaCroix. I will have the men there before sunup tomorrow and everything will be corrected. I will see to it." Alexander knew it was in his best interests not to antagonize the Elder of the Community. The repairs would be done to the two thousand year old vampire's satisfaction, even if he had to do them himself.

LaCroix went to the bar and took a bottle from his private wine rack. He opened it took one of the crystal goblets that hung from the revolving rack above the bar. Many of these too, had to be replaced after two of the bikers had used it for impromptu target practice. They had taken turns pelting the glasses with the steel balls from the broken pinball machine.

He poured a generous amount from the bottle into the glass, brought it to his lips and took a swallow. Gagging and choking, he spit it out! He then remembered that some of the bottles from his private reserve had also been broken in the fray. Apparently the workmen had replaced them with whatever happened to be available. What was readily available was the bovine stock he kept for whenever Nicholas visited the Raven.

"Those #(& blithering idiots!" He ranted. "Is it such an impossibly complicated task to tell the difference between a premier vintage and ... " He shook slightly and made a face. " ... steer blood? If they think they are going to get any kind of a tip out of this fiasco, they can bloody well think again! If they're really lucky ... and properly contrite, I MIGHT even let them live."

He spent the next five minutes gargling with the mouthwash that Janette kept in the public washrooms for the use of mortals, such as Natalie Lambert, or that buffoon of a partner of Nicholas's. He was not certain which was worse. The blood or the dental rinse. One point in the mouthwash's favor, at least now his mouth no longer reeked of cow.

He thought about going down to the 'wine cellar' and replenishing his supply. "Why should I do that?" He rationalized to no one in particular. "When there is a fresh, warm, readily available supply just waiting outside the door." It had been a long time since he had been on a hunt. After the events of the past evening, he deserved one!

He carefully opened the door to the alley behind the Raven and looked around. There was no one in sight, so he lifted off. Somehow, he had overlooked the vagrant who was curled up behind the dumpster. The derelict stared wide eyed as a tall man dressed completely in black ascended into the night sky. He reached into his filthy coat and took out the bottle wrapped in the plain paper bag. He poured the contents into the dumpster. "Brother George was right. Gotta stay away from that rotgut. It's pickling my brain. Flying men. Next thing you know, they'll be riding on those pink elephants I saw the other night over by the Skydome. The circus must be in town." He mumbled as he headed for the Salvation Army mission.

LaCroix slowly circled the area looking for suitable prey. He flew just high enough that there was little chance of being spotted, but low enough that he could easily see. Finally, he found a likely victim. A lone woman taking a shortcut through an alleyway between two rows of shops. It serves her right. She should know better than to go there alone. Especially after dark. There's no telling what might happen. It could be very dangerous ... or even fatal. After all, this is not the best of neighborhoods. He silently landed in the shadows a few yards in front of her and waited.

As she passed, he fell in step behind her. She noticed him and quickened her pace. He matched it. She was frightened. He could sense that and it excited him. Fear made the blood that much sweeter. This will be a good hunt. After trailing her a while ... just long enough to allow the fear to build to an enticing level ... he caught up with her. He grabbed her from behind and pulled her neck to one side. He could see and hear her blood pumping through the vein that ran just below the skin. It smelled of allspice and gardenias. He could almost taste it. His fangs dropped and his eyes yellowed.

"A-Y-E-E-H-A-H!" She screamed. Suddenly, he felt the point of her left elbow jamming into his side. Hard. He thought he heard several ribs crack. At the same time, her right foot smashed down on his instep. Hard. He knew several bones were shattered there. The heel of her right hand drove into his chin, jerking his head back. Hard. The snapping sound could have been a vertebra or two dislocating. At almost the same moment, she grabbed his arm that was around her head with her left hand and twisted it, and herself, around. The maneuver ended with her at his back, and his right arm pulled into a hammerlock. Hard. Without letting go, she pushed him into the wall. Hard. His head struck the bricks with a sickening thud. The resulting crunching noise told him that his nose had been broken, and possibly his left cheekbone as well. A river of blood running down his chin indicated that his lower lip had been split, and at least one or more teeth had been knocked loose too. Before he could even react, she brought her knee between his legs. Hard.

"A-Y-E-E-H-A-H!" This time he was the one screaming. In pain. Holding his crotch, he sank to his knees. At this point, she kicked him once more right in the area where it hurts the most, and he went sprawling to the ground. For good measure, she ground her right heel into the very same spot. Hard. Through a swirling red haze of extreme agony, he watched helplessly as she dusted her hands against her jeans.

"Pervert!" She yelled at him as she walked away. "The nerve of some men! Attacking a poor defenseless woman!"

( 'Poor defenseless woman', my aching anal orifice! ) He wasn't sure which hurt worse, his body or his ego. The indignity of it! He, Lucius Gaius Pletano! Commanding General of the elite Eighth Roman Legion! Conqueror of the Western Gallic Provinces! Nearly 2000 year old Master Vampire! Beaten to a pulp by a mere mortal. And a female mortal at that. On second thought. It was definitely his ego. His body would heal, but his ego would bear the internal scars of this encounter for some time to come. He lay there for quite a while until the worst of the pain subsided and some small semblance of feeling had returned to his battered body. For some reason, he no longer was hungry.

He knew he had to feed, though. He needed the blood. If for no other reason than to facilitate the healing. Blood from family would be the best. Since Janette was out of town, that left only Nicholas. He disliked the idea of being beholden to his rebellious son for anything. He much preferred it the other way around. He would rather that Nicholas be obligated to him. He had little choice in the matter, though. He had to have blood. And soon. As they say, beggars cannot be choosers.

Because of the condition he was in, it took him almost twice as long to reach the loft as it normally would have taken. He landed on the roof and opened the skylight and carefully lowered himself inside. Nicholas was nowhere in sight ... or in sensory range. From the looks of the dust that had accumulated on the furniture, no one had been in the loft for several weeks. While it was entirely possible that Nicholas had decided to move on, it was highly unlikely. He would have known that immediately. So, where was his wayward son when he needed him?

The precinct! Of course! If he was anywhere in the area, they would know at the 96th precinct!

&&&&&&&&&&

He stood outside Captain Amanda Cohen's office. The Precinct Commander was hunched over the stack of reports in front of her and apparently had not noticed the man standing before her.

"Where ISH he?" He demanded. He tried to sound as threatening as possible, but due to his injuries, his voice was just a little under half an octave higher than normal. In addition because of his cut lip and loose teeth, the words were somewhat garbled.

"Where is who?" Cohen replied, not looking up from the paperwork.

"NICHOLASH!"

"Oh, you mean Detective Knight. He's on a special assignment and he can't be reached."

"But where ISH he?"

"I'm sorry, I can't tell you that. If you want to leave a message, I'll see if I can get it to him." She still had not looked up from her work.

Without replying, he turned and practically stormed out of the office. At least as best as he could. The Asian policewoman's neck was becoming awfully tempting. One does NOT ignore Lucien LaCroix! And survive!

( His partner! Surely that incompetent nincompoop would know where he is. ) He reasoned that the mano-a-mano approach would most likely work best with this clown. Being mindful of the very delicate condition of his injured lower regions, he carefully sat on the edge of the desk.

"Donald." He almost choked on the word. "I am trying to locate Nicholas and so far, no one is willing to help me." He looked deeply into Schanke's eyes and concentrated as much as he could ... considering the pain ... on the man's heartbeat. "Surely you know where he is, and you will tell me where to find him."

"I'd like to help you Mr. ... LaCroix, isn't it? But I'm afraid I can't tell you a thing." Don Schanke replied.

Damn! I must be more seriously injured than I thought if I can't even hypnotize this cretin.

"It's not that I don't want to tell you where he is. It's just that I don't know." Schanke continued. "Nobody does. He was loaned to the Vice Squad about two weeks ago on some kind of top secret hush hush undercover sting operation. Nobody knows where he is, or when he'll be back. Sorry. Is there anything I can help you with?"

He studied the man before him for a few minutes. "You know something, Mr. LaCroix, you look like shit. Have you been mugged or something? Is that why you want to find Nick? If that's the case, maybe you should be talking to one of the people over in Robbery or maybe Violent Crimes. They'd be more able to help you than Nick would.

You know, you look like somebody really worked you over good. While you're at it, it might not be a bad idea to see a doctor, too. And I think you should do that ASAP. It's very possible something could be broken, you know."

"No, thank you ... Donald." He fought the sensation back. Having to be this ... familiar with Nicholas's fool of a partner was difficult at best. "I ... I ... walked into a door. That's all." Detective Schanke's blood was also coming across as very appealing. All he would have to do was ... NO! He would surely lose Nicholas forever if he even thought about doing that.

( A Doctor! Of Course! Why didn't I think of that! Every once in a while, that escapee from a primate colony does come up with a surprisingly good idea! ) The Coroner's office! Nicholas's mortal girlfriend would certainly have packs of blood around. He remembered Nicholas saying that she kept some on hand for emergency purposes. This was DEFINITELY an emergency!

Grace Balthazar, the Assistant Coroner, was in the office. She explained to him that this was Dr. Lambert's day off, but she would be glad to help him if she could. He could not ask her to give him a supply of blood. Not without making explanations that he could not, and did not want to make even if he could. Not without attracting the attention of the Enforcers.

She also noted his condition and suggested that he talk to someone in Robbery or in Violent Crimes division.

The idea of draining Dr. Balthazar was also discarded. According to Nicholas, harming any of his so-called 'friends' was a first class no-no.

&&&&&&&&&&

As he left the morgue, he was barely able to take to the air. By now, the need for blood was becoming imperative. Although his injuries were healing, they were doing so much more slowly than usual. And the effort was severely depleting him. He was almost at the point where it did not make too much of a difference where the necessary fluid came from, mortal or vampire, just as long as there was enough of it to heal his battered body.

Then he spotted him. The perfect victim ... make that ... donor. He was perhaps twenty to twenty five years old at most and was crouched in an alley off Queen, behind one of the porno shops that lined the strip. His eyes stared straight ahead, but he was not looking at anything in front of him. Whatever he was seeing, no one else could possibly see. He was in his own reality, if the recent needle marks on his exposed left arm were any indication. To heighten the effect, he periodically took a puff on a 'cigarette' with the end twisted shut.

I will be doing society a favor by ridding it of someone like that. He reasoned. In addition to the blood, the drugs in his system might provide enough of an anesthetic that, like him, I will be 'feeling no pain.'

He pulled the man to his feet and cocked his head to the side. The man made no effort to struggle. In fact, he did not even seem to notice anything was even happening. LaCroix not-too-gently lowered his fangs into the junkie's neck. Still no reaction.

After a few swallows, the effect was beginning to take hold. A languid smile crossed the master vampire's face. ( Oh! Yes! ) This was what he was seeking. No more pain. No more worry. Just pure unadulterated bliss! He took an even stronger sip. The colors! He never realized there existed so many colors! And they were so bright! He drank even deeper. They swirled around him and gently lifted him onto a brilliantly hued wave. He dug his fangs deeply into the man's neck to capture every last drop of the sanguine elixir. His mind was floating on a multicolored sea and he was being carried by a rainbow tinged breeze into a luminous pastel shaded cloud. Before he realized it, he had drained the last bit from the user. But it did not matter. Everything was so ... so peaceful! So ... so beautiful! So ... so serene! He could stay in this distorted version of reality forever! He released his hold on the remains of the junkie and watched lethargically as he slid to the ground in extremely slow motion.

In the same slow motion, he brought his wrist to his ear. He could clearly hear the movement of every small wheel and cog in his watch. It took him several moments to realize that he had a digital LED watch. There were no moving parts. What difference does it make?

He looked around. Everything. Cars. People. Even time itself. Going at an unhurried pace. Everything just moving at a leisurely tempo. The way things ought to be proceeding. Why do we have to be in such a hurry all the time? Why couldn't we just take things as they happen? Like it is now?

Without warning, the situation changed drastically. Now, the exact opposite was taking place. Everything was happening at super speed. He vaguely remembered picking up the junkie's corpse and heading for the middle of the lake. Almost before he left the alley, he was there. He dropped the body and headed back toward the Raven. Again he was in front of the club before he realized it.

There were people in the club. Dancing frantically in the area in front of the stage. Either that, or they were dancing inside his head. He wasn't sure which was right, and it really didn't matter.

"AreyouallrightMrLaCroix?Doyouwantmetogetyouanything?" He recognized the voice as Miklos's, but the bartender was speaking so fast he couldn't make out what the Greek vampire was saying. In addition, it sounded like he had inhaled a balloon full of helium. Or he could have been doing a superb impersonation of the Chipmunks.

Once more reality was abruptly altered. He slowly walked to the rear door of the club. He had to go slowly, considering that the floor was now undulating in several different directions at the same time. Somehow, he managed to thread his way to the stairs. He made a grab for the railing, but it spun away from him at the last second. If it weren't for the giant foam mattress that suddenly popped up on the floor, he would have fallen head first into the void that opened up beneath him. He watched the railing for a few minutes and when it came by him again, he grabbed it and hung on for dear life. Matching his steps to the gyrations of the stairs, he was able to make his way to the second floor. He got down on his hands and knees to avoid the giant purple-and-green spiked ... whatever they weres ... that were hurling at him from the end of the hallway at near bullet speed. Finally, despite the myriad of obstacles that kept popping up ... sometimes literally ... he managed to arrive at his quarters. Still on all fours, he reached up and struggled to open the rubber doorknob that someone had replaced his brass one with. He crawled to his bed and with a great effort, climbed in.

&&&&&&&&&&

He awoke the next evening blessed with a hangover comparable to the Fifth Roman Legion, complete with a brigade of trumpeters and drummers, marching through his sinuses. His mouth tasted like the bottom of the birdcage. On top of that, he was sure that it was stuffed with cotton. Raw liver flavored cotton at that. He smacked his lips a few times in an attempt to alleviate some of the dryness, but was completely unsuccessful. The lining of his mouth reminded him of wet army boots, and his pebbled tongue closely resembled three week old litter box leavings.

He made a solemn vow by all the gods. He would never to take from a drug user again! Ever! No matter how desperate the situation!

The last time he had felt like this, he had been on a week long bender with several so-called friends. He woke up with someone he did not know beside him. Or maybe it was several someones. Then again, it might not have been a someone at all. He couldn't tell. He was not certain whether he / she / it / they were alive when he went to bed with him / her / it / them. And he was not entirely sure he / she / it / they were alive when he woke up. He wasn't completely convinced that he was still alive either. But that was nearly ten centuries ago. Perhaps one hangover every millennium wasn't a bad average.

At least one good thing came of his adventure into drug induced nirvana. His injuries were almost healed. A small residual ache in his groin was all that remained. That is, if you didn't count the fire breathing monster in his brain that was trying to escape through his eye sockets. Oh well, a little hair of the dog should take care of that very nicely. A glass of bloodwine, or perhaps bloodwhiskey, should do the trick.

Another serendipitous result was that he had slept through all the commotion from the street repair crew. Perhaps there was a silver lining to all of this after all.

Two Bloody Marys ... made with real blood ... later, the headache was gone. He took a leisurely look around the club. Apparently the repair crew had returned during the day just as Alexander had promised. Now the repairs were practically impossible to detect. The bar had been restained all one shade. The nicked booth had been replaced, as well as the missing chains. Janette would definitely notice, but he doubted anyone else would. Considering the exceptional quality of the work, she might even decide to be lenient and torment him for only a few decades.

He stepped outside to inspect the repairs to the street. Again, the mortal crew had done an excellent job. Except for the difference in the shades of the asphalt, there was no sign that anything was amiss. He smiled briefly. It was a good thing no one was around to see it. He did have a reputation to maintain.

&&&&&&&&&&

Then IT happened. He heard a cooing sound coming from the roof overhang and a large, wet blob landed squarely on his head. He looked up to see a huge pigeon strutting across the gutter directly above him.

"C-o-o-o-w-r." The bird taunted.

"You #$&)! pigeon. You have just signed your death warrant." He yelled and raised his fist to the roof.

"C-o-o-o-w-r." Another greenish milky colored blob splattered across his knuckles.

He headed to the roof, but just as he reached it, the bird calmly took off and perched on the overhead telephone wires. Just as he was about to reach the offending avian once more, another bird dropping plastered itself on the shoulder of his suit. His brand new suit. His brand new Armani suit! "That fries it!" LaCroix called as he took to the air once more. "And you're going to be the one who will be fried when I get a hold of you!"

The bird headed for a nearby park. The vampire thought about going after the miscreant street dove, but that would have meant crossing several heavily populated areas. The chances of being spotted were great.

"This isn't over!" He threatened as the pigeon disappeared from sight. "Not by a long shot! I WILL have my revenge!"

"Jupiter … Neptune … Minerva … Mars … Venus … Juno ... " He recited the Roman deities. By the time he reached Pan, he no longer wanted to ring the felonious feathered fiend's neck. He'd leave that to someone much more qualified.

Defeated, he returned to the ground. This time to the rear entrance to the Raven. It would do no good for anyone to see the Elder of the Toronto Community in the shape he was in. Perhaps someone might have spotted him last night, but he wasn't in any position to do anything about it then. He could do something about his appearance now though. He went quickly to his quarters and after a shower and a change of clothes, came down to the bar.

He closely scanned the occupants of the club, but he did not find the vampire he was looking for. He really did not expect him to be here. While he had nothing overtly against them, those ... kind were not too well received by the Community in general. Finally he spotted someone who could help him in his quest.

"Vachon." He said to the dark haired Spaniard sitting at the end of the bar. "There is something I wish to discuss with you." He motioned toward one of the booths that lined the walls.

Javier Vachon did a quick examination of conscience. He could not find anything that was horrible enough to warrant a 'discussion' with the oldest vampire in Toronto. Perhaps in all of Canada. If not North America. At least he had not done anything lately. "Yes, Sir." He said as he followed the Roman General to the booth. "Right away, Sir."

"I need a favor of you." LaCroix said as the former Conquistador sat stiffly across the table from him.

"A favor?" Vachon gulped. "You want a favor from me?" At least he wasn't in immediate danger of losing his unlife. He hoped.

"Yes. A favor … And don't look so astonished. I could make it an order."

The future of his unlife was becoming somewhat more precarious at this point. "Yes, Sir. No need to do that, Sir. Whatever you want, Sir." Vachon tried to make it seem like he was not groveling. At least not groveling too conspicuously.

"You have a ... friend. A Carouche. Steed ... Speed ... "

"Screed." ( Screed's in trouble? )

"Yes. That's the one. Screed. I wish to see him."

"You want to see Screed?" ( He must have done something pretty bad if LaCroix wants to see him. )

"Is there an echo in here? Am I not speaking clearly enough for you? I … wish … to … see … Screed. You will inform him to meet me at the rear door of the Raven at the earliest possible moment. You may go now."

"Go? Now?"

LaCroix closed his eyes and took a deep breath. ( Jupiter … Neptune … )

"I'm going. I'm going." Vachon called as he hurried to the Raven's entrance. Considering the look on the elder vampire's face, his unlife could still be in serious jeopardy.

&&&&&&&&&&

The banging could be heard even in the bar area. Miklos went to the back entrance and a few minutes later approached the Elder. "Excuse me, Sir, but there's a ... a Carouche waiting on the delivery dock. He says you sent for him."

" 'Allo 'ere gov'ner." Screed stood just inside the entrance clutching a grimy World War I aviators cap to his equally grimy army surplus jacket. "Vachonetti comed by me diggins a lit'l bitty ago, 'e did, an' 'e says yer Vampireship is wantin' to par-less-vooks wit' me. 'E says it's real important like, it is. 'E says I gotta gets me blinkin arse over 'ere Hay Hess Hay Pea. So 'ere I is."

It took LaCroix a few seconds for his brain to decipher what the Cockney was saying. "Yes. I wish to speak with you. And it is fairly important."

"I don't knows about what youse would want to con-verse-ate to a poor like person like me for. I ain't done nuffin' I wasn't apposed ter do. That is if'n ya don' count the little inc-e-dent wit' the washin' tubbie what was full o' froggies what jus' 'appened to gets itself put in the lay-dies washroom last Saturday's night." It seemed nearly impossible that Screed could affect an innocent-as-a-newborn-babe look, but he had. "It was all in good clean fun like, it was. An' even though they screamed and 'ollered a whole bloody lot, no one was actual 'urt any like."

"Screed. I did not call you here for that. Although when you have completed what I have summoned you here for, I may wish to interrogate you at length about it. I have a chore for you. It would not take long, and it should be something that you are eminently qualified to do. Would you be interested?"

"What does you 'ave on yer mind fer me to em-i-nent wif'?"

Again it took a few seconds to decipher. "There is a flock of pigeons that have made their home on the ledge above the Raven's front entrance. One of them ... attacked me earlier tonight. I wish you to eliminate them."

"Youse gots sky rats 'ere? An' ya wants me to get rid o' 'em fer ya? Right?"

LaCroix sighed heavily. ( Does everybody have to repeat everything that is said to them? ) "Correct."

"An' 'ow much is it worf' to ya, Gov'ner?"

( He wants paid? Doesn't he realize who he's talking to? ) "I think you would appreciate the opportunity to dine on squab."

"Squabbies. What's thems? Isn't that another o' th' names fer sailor mans?"

"That's swabbies. Squab is another name for pigeon."

"Well, then why doesn't ya just calls 'em pigeons instead o' that 'ere fancy name?"

"It does not matter what you call them. Just get rid of them, and perhaps I won't stake your less than worthless hide to the Raven's roof at sunrise." LaCroix let his eyes turn yellow and he let the full length of his fangs show.

"Yes, yer Generalship. Right away, yer Generalship." Screed bowed as he backed out of the delivery door.

Minutes later there was a loud squawking from the Raven's roof that continued for almost an hour. Finally, there was a knock at the dock door and Screed stood there, hat in hand. "I wishes ter thanks ye, fer th' job. I gots rid o' all 'em sky rats up there and a few more as well from the nearly by roofs too. Theys was a right proper sump-tu-ous feast, they was. Ain't never dined on th' blood of ... what'd ya calls 'em ... squabbies afore." He held out his hand. " 'At'll be fifty bob, thankye."

"FIFTY DOLLARS! What for?"

"Fer disposin' o' the car-cass-es. I knows yer didn't 'xacetly asks me t' does that, but I couldn't very well leave 'em up 'ere on the roof to rot now could I? The a-roma would be gettin' bloody nasty in a day or two like. I knowd you wouldn' be likin' that, so's I tooked 'em out onto the layke and dropped the lot o' 'em in. Theys gonna make a right tasty snack fer some o' the create-shures what eats them kinds o' thingies too. So, you see, I ac-com-play-shed two goodly things at the same time. Gots rid o' yer sky ratzies fer ya, and provided sus-tain-ence for the am-in-als what in-hab-i-tates the lake. I figgers me time an' me in-gen-you-ity is worf' at least a fifty in cash money to ya for me ser-vi-says."

"I'll give you five dollars."

"I'll take forty five." Screed countered.

"Make it ten."

"Forty. An' I'm takin' me a loss at that."

"Fifteen. No more."

"Thirty five, and not a shilling less."

"Twenty. And that's nineteen dollars too much."

"Twenty five."

"Deal." He grumbled as he took out his wallet and handed the Carouche the bills. It was worth it to be rid of the pigeons ... and Screed.

"I thanks ya muchly, Gov'ner." He said stuffing the money into the pocket of his ragged jeans. "An' if'n they ever comes back. Jes' call on good ol' Screed again, an' I'll 'ave 'em gone in a blinkety blink."

Still gripping his cap tightly to his chest, the Carouche bowed his way out through the delivery door. And nearly off the end of the dock.

He returned to the main club room, and was surprised to find Janette sitting at her usual place at the bar. She was not due back for another two days. The look on her face was unreadable. Does she like what I did to the place ... Or is she searing mad? It's too hard to tell. You'd think in nearly two thousand years I'd have learned to tell what a woman is thinking. Especially a woman like Janette.

He walked to her and placed a gentle kiss on her cheek. Still no reaction. "Welcome back, Ma Cherie. I did not expect you so soon. Was your trip to Quebec a satisfying one?"

"Quite." Janette said coldly.

This is definitely not a good sign.

"I thought it would be best if I returned as soon as possible. I heard about the little ... altercation you had here. It's become the talk of the Quebec Community. I had to see for myself." She scrutinized the club carefully.

"And ... " LaCroix prodded.

"And ... you have done an excellent job of eliminating the outward signs of the battle. I am pleased."

"You're pleased?"

"I just said so, didn't I?"

"And you're not angry?" Although he did his best to keep an unemotional facade, he was delighted that his daughter was not furious with him.

"Angry? Whatever gave you that idea, Mon Pere? I'll let you in on a little secret. One of the reasons I went to Quebec was to meet with some reconstruction architects I know there. I have been toying with the idea of renovating the Raven for some time now, and I wanted to get some ideas. It has been looking a bit shabby for the past few years and several things urgently needed to be repaired or replaced. I see you have replaced the missing chains. Very good. And that booth over there has had a portion of the back missing for several years. Now it has a new back entirely. I like that. I have known that the bar needed refinishing for quite a while. I had planned to do that when I returned, but I see that you have already made the necessary repairs for me. As well as a few others that were not even on my list. Like redoing the floor and repainting the walls. And at your own expense, too. That saves me the time and money to have it done. I am impressed."

She motioned to Miklos to bring the Toronto Elder a glass of his private vintage. "I couldn't have asked for a better home coming present." She lifted her glass to him. "Well, perhaps there is one better gift you can give me. But we can discuss that ... " She smiled coyly and indicated the doorway to the private quarters. " ... Later." She slowly drew her index finger down the line of his jaw.

Things were really looking better. No more pigeons. No more street repairs. No more workmen tearing the Raven apart. And Janette had approved of what he had done with the club ... And with what he had done with her in the upstairs bedroom. Perhaps he could finally get some sleep now.

Murphy and his infernal law were wrong. Everything that happened recently did have a purpose. All he had to do was figure out what that purpose was. But that could wait until a later time. Right now, sleep was the priority.

Wearily, Lucien LaCroix turned back the black silk covered duvet on his bed. He sat on the edge and removed his robe and slippers. Then he eased himself between the maroon silk sheets. He loved the feel of silk next to his body when he slept. Especially when there was nothing between him and the sheets. Nothing at all.

&&&&&&&&&&

The end?

We're talking about Lucien LaCroix.

There is no end.