Forever Knight

Taste Of Mortality

" ... And what is it that you feel guilty about, mes amis? What eats at your spirit and twists your psyche into emotional knots? Tell me your story. Give me your darkest secrets. Cleanse your soul through me. I can take away your pain. I can absolve you from your sins." Lucien LaCroix enticed his unseen audience seductively. "I am The Nightcrawler and I shall be awaiting your call."

"You killed her and you will pay." The man on the phone ranted.

"My dear caller." The Nightcrawler replied. "I have not a single clue to what you are talking about. You must be delusional. I have not killed anyone." ( At least not in the last eighteen months. )

"You killed my wife just the same. You might as well have pulled the trigger. You said you wanted people to call you with their troubles and you would help them. Marge called you because she was depressed and needed some positive encouragement to help her deal with it. Instead of helping her, you ridiculed her. You called her a whining spineless ninny. You said that the last thing this world needed was a bunch of sniveling losers like her. You told her to either get her act together or give it up. She took you seriously. She put the gun to her temple and ... " There was a long pause. "You are going to pay for her death." There was a dial tone.

"There is no reason be unduly alarmed my dear children." The Nightcrawler purred into the microphone. "The Nightcrawler receives calls like this from time to time. This call is probably from some unversed disenchanted crank who undoubtedly suffers from penis envy. Obviously the caller does not understand what The Nightcrawler is trying to accomplish. He does not realize that The Nightcrawler is attempting to shock the callers into action." ( Not to mention the fact that I get a perverse thrill from verbally cutting their puny little mortal egos to shreds. ) "I can assure you nothing will come of it. Now then. Where were we? Oh yes. We were talking about guilt ... "

& & & & &

He had done his homework. Through a series of serendipitous coincidences, he had found out that The Nightcrawler's real name was Lucien LaCroix. He already knew what the man looked like. His wife had a framed autographed picture of The Nightcrawler hanging on the wall above the radio in the den. Although it was the same stock publicity photo that was sent to every fan who asked for one, Marge was convinced that it was meant specifically for her. That he really was her friend and that he cared about her. That was why she called him on that fateful night.

Now he had another reason to do this. The SOB had publicly ridiculed HIM when he had called earlier tonight.

He parked his truck where he could see both the front of the building where radio station CERK had its studios, and the alley where the rear entrance was located. The show was almost over. Sooner or later, Lucien LaCroix would have to come out. He hefted the baseball bat on the seat beside him. All he had to do was wait.

& & & & &

Detective Nicholas Knight sat at his desk. Something was very wrong. He had the eerie feeling all night. Ever since he had heard the threatening call on The Nightcrawler show earlier that evening. He knew there was nothing to worry about there. His two thousand year old master could easily take care of any problem that the caller might pose. He just hoped that the ancient Roman would take care of it in such a way that would not involve him or the County Medical Examiner's office.

It did not have anything to do with any of his outstanding cases either. Because ... miracle of miracles ... there were no outstanding cases at this time. He and his partner, Don Schanke had just turned over the final report on the Livingston case to Captain Cohen an hour ago. The killer had been apprehended without a fight, and had willingly confessed to the fact that the shooting was the culmination of a decades old feud. If only all their cases were this simple.

Still, the feeling persisted. He was about to reach into the eternal mental link that existed between him and his master when the phone rang.

"Nicolah!" A panicky Janette cried. "Venez au Toronto General Hopital. Immediatement! Apportez a votre ami de docteur... Natalie ... avec vous." (Nicholas. Come to Toronto General Hospital. Immediately! Bring your friend the doctor ... Natalie ... with you.)

"Qu'est-ce qui ne va pas, Janette?" (What is wrong, Janette?)

"Je vous dirai quand vous arrivez ici. Depechez-vous! S'il vous plait, Nicolah!" (I will tell you when you get here. Hurry! Please, Nicholas!) The line went dead.

"Hey Knight!" His partner called to him as Nick headed for the precinct door. "Where do you think you are going? You're not going to bail on me and leave me to do the weekly report all by my lonesome, are you?" Don Schanke sighed loudly as his partner practically ran out the door. "Why do I even bother? It's like talking to the wind. We are dealing with Nicholas B ... avoid-paperwork-at-all-costs ... Knight after all." He grumbled to himself.

& & & & &

"I don't know what is wrong, Natalie." Nick relayed to Natalie as they sped to the hospital. If it was just him, he would have flown, but with Natalie along, he figured it was better if he drove. Even so, he had severely bent, if not broken, nearly every traffic law in the city of Toronto. Not to mention York County. "All I know for certain is that Janette was in a state of near hysteria when she called. Since she was speaking French ... and Medieval French at that ... , whatever it is, it must be serious."

"Well, I'm prepared for any eventuality." Natalie held up her 'vampire bag' In addition to stakes, holy water, crosses and garlic coves, she had stuffed it with anything and everything she could think of that a vampire might need ... or she might need ... when Nick had called her.

& & & & &

Janette was waiting for them at the door. " Depecher! Cette voie!" (Hurry! This way!) She said as she grabbed both of them in a vise like grip and practically dragged them into the Emergency Room.

"Janette!" Nick said forcefully. "Tell me what happened."

" Il... Il... La police l'a trouve ... Il ... Il ... " (He ... He ... The police found him ... He ...) She babbled hysterically.

Just then, two policemen came over to the group. Nick recognized them as Detectives Blackthorne and Mann from Violent Crimes.

"Just out of curiosity, Knight." Blackthorne asked. "What are you doing here? I didn't know we had any homicides here ... yet."

"You don't. I'm here as a favor to Miss DuCharme."

"DuCharme? Oh, you mean the LaCroix case." Mann said

"The what?"

"Lucien LaCroix. You know. That creepy Nightcrawler guy. Personally, he gives me the willies." Mann made a disgusting face. "A homeless guy going dumpster diving found him in the alley behind the CERK building. His head has been bashed in and it looks like every bone in his body has been broken. As far as we can tell, he wasn't robbed. His wallet wasn't touched. All his cards and ID's were there, and there was over 200 in it."

"Any idea who did it?"

"My money is on the nutcase who called in to the show earlier tonight." Blackthorne answered. "But without any proof ... Well, you know the drill. No one we talked to saw or heard anything out of the ordinary. We checked the station phone logs, but it turned out the call was made from a pay phone at the Bloor-Yonge Subway station. It's only five minutes from the studio. Chances of anyone seeing anything there are none to non existent. Bloor-Yonge is probably the busiest station of the whole system. Hundreds of people go through there almost every minute. Even at this time of night. With any luck, this one will end up in the unsolved file."

"That would make you happy wouldn't it? Anything to get out of having to do any real work." Nick felt his eyes flecking yellow. It was one of the worst kept secrets at the precinct that Blackthorne and Mann were only interested in cases that could be easily and quickly solved. Even so, their investigative techniques were ... not the most all-encompassing.

"Watch it, Knight." Blackthorne threatened. "You're treading on thin ice here."

"Nicolah!" Janette cried. " Aidez-le! Aidez-le! Vous devez apprendre qui l'a fait"! (Help him! Help him! You must find out who did this!)

Nick took her gently in his arms and turned her so that she was facing him squarely. Away from the other officers. He led her to a secluded corner of the room. "Slowly. Gently. Breathe deeply. In ... Out ... Calm down." He stared deeply into her yellowed eyes. "Dans l'Anglais, s'il vous plait." (In English, please.) "How did you find out about it? I know that LaCroix does not carry any cards that would list a next of kin."

Slowly Janette's eyes returned to blue. "Through his health insurance card. It's a phony, of course. We all carry one only because Canadian law requires it. Thanks to some serious hacking by Larry Merlin, all of the Community's identification numbers are automatically routed to Aristotle's phone number as our case representative. The hospital called him for verification and then he phoned me and told me that LaCroix had been brought to Toronto General.

They will not let me see him, though. How will I explain his ... condition? I mean I cannot very well tell them that he is a vampire, can I? Let me see ... He has an allergy to the sun ... He can fly ... He drinks blood ... Oh, and another thing, he's 2000 years old ... They'd have me in a rubber room so fast it would make your head spin.

Why did they bring him here? He has no pulse or heartbeat and he does not need to breathe. They should have assumed he was dead. They should have called the Coroners Office. At least that way your doctor friend could have handled it."

"I don't know, but I'm going to find out." Nick walked to the Nurses Station. "Who is the doctor in charge of Lucien LaCroix?"

"I am." A voice behind him said. "I'm Doctor Turner." The light skinned black woman held out her hand. "And you are ... ?"

"Nick Knight. Toronto Metro PD." He shook it and then showed her his badge. "What can you tell me about his condition?"

"I can only tell you what I told the other officers. From what I have determined from the preliminary examination, Mr. LaCroix is in guarded condition. He has severe head injuries and abdominal injuries as well. His right arm is broken in two places, and he has a greenstick fracture of his left femur. His right cheek and jaw are cracked, and he has several broken ribs. His left lung has been punctured and it's probable that his spleen has been ruptured. There could be kidney damage too. He also has a multitude of severe contusions and deep bruises over 80 percent of his body. His breathing is shallow, probably due to the lung injury. His pulse is 68 and thready and his blood pressure is 75 over 50. I sincerely doubt that he will survive the night. By all rights, he shouldn't even be alive now."

Natalie came beside him. "I am Dr. Natalie Lambert." She introduced herself to Dr. Turner. "I am Mr. LaCroix's ... personal physician. I would like to see him. Alone."

"I don't think ... " Dr. Turner found herself staring into Nick's eyes. Suddenly it was as if nothing existed except for those very blue eyes. She could hear a steady thumping sound pounding in her ears.

"You think it would be a very good idea to let Dr. Lambert examine her patient alone." Nick said in time with her heartbeat.

" ... there should be any problem with that." Dr. Turner continued. "I think it would be a very good idea to let Dr. Lambert examine her patient. Alone. He is in examination room 23."

& & & & &

Natalie approached the man lying on the bed very cautiously. What she saw ... if she did not know any better ... was a man in very critical condition. His forehead was swathed in bandages and a neck brace kept his head immobilized. His right arm was encased in a temporary cast from the shoulder to the wrist and was suspended from a trapeze above the bed. Another temporary cast sheathed his left leg from the hip to the ankle. His left eye was grossly swollen, as was the right side of his face, and there was a respirator tube inserted in his throat. An IV dripped medication laden liquids into his left arm. Another IV delivered blood. A chest tube and a catheter drained fluids from his body. Both fluids were bloody. Numerous other tubes and wires taped to his body were connected to monitors and other equipment. A multitude of bruises and cuts covered almost every exposed area of his torso, and Natalie suspected the same was true of the covered parts as well.

She took out a small stake and held it at the ready.

"I really should shove this deep into your black heart and put you out of Nick's misery as well as mine. But I can't very well do that, can I? I am a doctor after all." She lowered her hand to her side, but kept a hold of the stake. "I took an oath to save lives, not take them. And like it or not ... and I don't like it one bit ... that includes you."

She put the stake back into her bag and took out a unit of blood. "It's your favorite kind. A positive." She said as she hooked an IV tube from her medical bag to the blood bag. She attached a 16 gauge needle on the other end and inserted it directly into his stomach. She opened the stopcock to full and watched ... fascinated ... as the blood flowed into the ancient vampire at about five times the rate it would take for a mortal. "Okay, you old demon. That should kick start your healing process. You can snap out of it anytime you want." She said as she disconnected the apparatus. Three units had been absorbed in less than three minutes.

There was only silence, punctuated by the beeping of the heart monitor and the hissing of the respirator. "I can understand that you could ... whammy ... the ER personnel into thinking that you are human, but how did you con the machines?" She watched as his chest slowly rose and fell. Out of curiosity, she took out her stethoscope and put it to his chest. What she heard nearly overwhelmed her. HE HAD A HEARTBEAT! True, it was slow and thready, just as Dr. Turner said it was, but it was a heartbeat just the same. She pulled the blood pressure cuff from its holder beside the bed and wrapped it around his left arm. 83 over 60. ( This is impossible! Vampires do not have a regular heartbeat or blood pressure. Unless you count the one beat every ten minutes as one. ) There was one explanation, but it was more bizarre than she wanted to deal with ... Somehow ... someway ... LaCroix had crossed over to mortal.

She watched in awe as the bruises and cuts began to fade. The monitors slowly began to show more human normal readings.

"Nick, would you come in here a moment?" She called from the doorway.

"What's wrong, Nat?" Nick said as he entered the room. Janette was right behind him.

"It's LaCroix. Can you feel him?" Natalie asked.

"I've been so worried and to tell the truth, I haven't even tried. Why do you ask?"

"Humor me. Try."

Nick closed his eyes and concentrated on the mental link that all vampires have with their masters. After a few minutes, he opened them and shook his head. "Nothing. In can't feel him at all. He can't be dead, though. He wasn't staked or decapitated. Even though he's unconscious, there still should be something. Some sort of vibration on our link. But I can't feel anything. Why can't I sense him?"

"I cannot sense him either, Nicolah." Janette added.

Natalie pointed to the monitors. They were steadily beeping and hissing away. "The machines aren't faking it. He really does have a heartbeat and a pulse. The only conclusion I can draw is that by some bizarre quirk of fate, he has many of the indicators of being a mortal. Strange thing is, he's still showing signs of the vampire, too. Don't ask me how or why."

Just then, Dr. Turner came into the room. "I don't know what miracle you worked, Dr. Lambert, but according to the monitors in the Nurses Station, Mr. LaCroix is recovering rapidly. If this keeps up, he should be strong enough for surgery in a few hours."

"Surgery?" Natalie blanched. Surgery was the last thing that LaCroix needed. That would be a disaster of the first magnitude. For everyone concerned. "What does he need surgery for? I don't see anything that is serious enough to warrant an operation."

"To repair the damage from the skull fracture, of course. If possible, I also would like to set his arm, leg and face too. On the positive side, it appears as though the injuries to the abdominal and thoracic areas are healing themselves."

Natalie looked at Nick. Somehow she sensed an unspoken plan forming between him and Janette. "Would it be possible for me to examine his medical records?"

"Of course. I just finished entering them into the computer. Come on. I'll show you." Dr. Turner led Natalie to the records room and showed her how to pull up LaCroix's file.

"While I look through these, why don't you confer with Detective Knight and Ms. DuCharme. She is Mr. LaCroix's next of kin after all. She is the one who will ultimately have to make the decision on whether you should operate or not." Natalie suggested.

"But I really should stay here with you. In case you need any more information."

"I'll be all right here. If I do have any questions, I can always come and get you."

"Well ... Okay ... You're right. As his next of kin, Ms. DuCharme does have the last word." Dr. Turner left the room.

& & & & &

Twenty minutes later, Nat returned to LaCroix's room. Dr. Turner was talking to Nick and Janette.

" ... You do have a point there, Ms. DuCharme, I think Dr. Lambert is right. He definitely does not need surgery." She said as though she were reciting it from a script. "Mr. LaCroix's injuries are nowhere near as serious as I thought they were when the paramedics first brought him in. His injuries looked a lot worse than they actually were. I guess I must have misread the x-rays and lab reports. From what I see now, he appears to be in very good condition. I'm going to recommend that we keep him overnight for observation and if there are no complications, I will release him tomorrow evening into Miss DuCharme's care." She said in almost a monotone.

"I agree. That does seem like the best course." Natalie concurred.

Dr. Turner shook her head slowly as she left the room. "Strange, I've never been that far off on a diagnosis since my first year in Pre Med." She mumbled.

Nat looked at Janette who gave her a barely discernible thumbs up.

"From what I just heard, I guess what I did pretty much dovetails right into your plans." Nat said. "I know I've resorted to some extremely innovative perjury to cover ... certain cases ... that have come across my autopsy table these past few years, but this bit of creative falsehood should put me in the running for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. I've never had to rearrange an entire folder of lab results before."

"What about the X-rays?" Nick asked.

Natalie intently studied the ceiling. "X-rays? What X-rays? I don't know anything about any X-rays. Somehow, they all just seemed to disappear." She patted her medical bag while maintaining the most angelic, saintly, innocent look she could possibly muster.

& & & & &

It was almost sunrise before the master vampire was transferred from the emergency room.

"The sun will be up in a few minutes. Are you sure you don't want to go home for the day?" Natalie asked Nick and Janette. "I can keep you up to date on his condition."

"We'll stay." They both answered practically in unison.

The trio waited as the aides settled LaCroix into a private room and a cadre of nurses and aides conducted a myriad of tests and procedures on him. After they left, Nick went in. LaCroix appeared for all purposes to be asleep.

Nick took a scalpel he had palmed from the ER and started to slice his and LaCroix's wrists. ( No. I want to find out what happened to him in that alley and there's really only one way to do that. ) He let his eyes go yellow and his fangs elongate. Just as he was about to descend on his master's neck, Janette and Natalie came in. Quickly he stood up and willed his eyes and fangs to recede. Janette would have understood what he had planned to do, but he knew that Natalie would be extremely angry if she had seen him with his fangs planted in his master's neck.

"Well, this is where we wake the old devil up." He again took the scalpel and sliced his wrist and did the same to LaCroix's. He put the two arms together and waited a few minutes as LaCroix's body absorbed enough of his blood. "You owe me for this." Nick said as he watched the incisions heal. In a few seconds, there were only barely discernable scars on either of their wrists. "And I will collect. You can count on that."

Slowly, the ancient vampire began to rouse. After what appeared to be hours, but in reality was only a few minutes, he opened his eyes. He shook his head gently a few times and stared blankly at the people standing beside the bed

"Who ... What ... ?" He stammered.

"Take it easy, LaCroix." Nick said. "You've had a pretty rough time."

"LaCroix ... LaCroix ... Is that by any chance my name?"

"Of course that is your name ... Lucien LaCroix. What do you think your name is?" Janette asked, bewildered at his question.

Again, LaCroix shook his head slowly. "I have no idea."

"Who am I? What is my name?" Nick asked. "And who are the others in the room?"

"I ... I don't know. You obviously know me, but I have no recollection of any of you."

"Nick. Janette. Could I see you outside for a few moments?" Natalie said as she guided them to the door.

"That must have been a pretty good whack he took to his head if he can't remember who he is." Nick mused as they stood in the hallway.

"More than a good whack. According to the X-rays that I saw, the entire right side of his skull was caved in and there was significant trauma to the brain itself. It's no wonder he can't remember anything. And that could also explain why he has a heartbeat and blood pressure. If his mind does not know he is a vampire, his body wouldn't react as a vampire. I don't think it would be a good idea to tell him everything about his past if he asks. And I'm sure he will ask."

"What do you mean by everything?" Janette asked.

Everything. Especially fact that he is a vampire. He might not be able to handle that just now."

"But ... " Janette protested.

"There will be plenty of time later. It's probable his memory will come back on its own as his injuries heal. If we try to force his memories on him before he's ready for them, we could send him over the edge."

"Very well." Janette reluctantly sighed. "We will wait."

& & & & &

"Are you a doctor?" LaCoroix asked Natalie as they returned to the room. "I see you have a stethoscope around your neck."

"Yes I am. My name is Natalie Lambert." She took his wrist and counted the pulse. 78. She checked his heartbeat. Strong and regular. Very mortal.

"And who are the rest of you?"

"My name is Nicholas Knight. I'm a detective with the Toronto Metro PD."

"Am I under arrest?"

"No, you are not a suspect in any crime. In fact, you are the victim. You were brutally attacked last night. I was hoping you could tell me who did it."

He slowly shook his head. "I'm sorry, Detective. I wish I could help you, but everything before I woke up a few minutes ago is a complete blank."

He looked at Janette. "And you, dear lady. Who are you?"

"I am Janette ... Janette DuCharme. Are you sure you don't recognize me, mon pere?"

"Mon pere? I believe that is ... French, isn't it. I think it means ... father. Are you my daughter?"

"Oui ... In a manner of speaking, that is. You are the closest thing to a father that I have. I am sort of ... adopted, you might say."

LaCroix smiled broadly. "I am glad we are close enough that you think of me as a father." He looked at Natalie. "I'm hungry. Do you think it would be possible to get something to eat?"

Natalie went into a corner and reached into her medical bag and took out a unit of blood. She snipped the tube and poured some into a glass and handed it to him.

LaCroix took a swallow and immediately spit it out. "What is this? It tastes like something died and you pureed it. Any chance I could get something edible? How about some cheese and bread and meat? Maybe washed down with a little wine?"

"I think oatmeal or maybe some chicken noodle soup would be a better choice. And I think for the time being, plain water will do nicely." Natalie replied. "You have been seriously injured and it wouldn't be a good thing to overtax your digestive system just now."

"In that case, I'll take the chicken soup. Oatmeal is a children's dish, is it not?"

"Chicken noodle soup it is." Natalie said as she went to the Nurses Station to order the food.

They watched in awe as LaCroix ate the soup. Then a bowl of oatmeal. And a plate of eggs and toast, a cup of peaches, and a chocolate cream filled donut. He polished it off with a glass of milk and a cup of coffee. With cream and sugar.

He wiped his mouth. "That was quite tasty. And very filling. Somehow, from the way you three watched me eat, you'd think I'd never eaten anything before now. Do I normally eat that much?"

Nick and Janette looked to Natalie.

"No. In fact, you hardly eat anything at all." Natalie explained. "You have had a ... severe digestive disorder for a number of years ... " ( Like 2000. ) " ... and have been on a special diet." ( Of blood. ) " ... It has strictly limited the type of food you could digest." ( Mostly A Positive. ) "But it looks like that problem has been cleared up. How do you feel?"

"Sleepy. I think I could use a little nap."

"I too am tired." Janette said. "Nicholah is probably weary as well. We shall be back tonight to take you home." She kissed him lightly on the forehead and then the two of them left.

"What about you, Doctor Lambert? You look to be exhausted too. You should get some sleep as well."

Natalie rubbed the bridge of her nose. She had been awake nearly 24 hours. "I think I'll grab a little shuteye in the on-call Doctors quarters. I'll be back in a few hours to check on you again."

Natalie caught up with them in the hall. "The sun is already up. You know you cannot leave. Where are you going to spend the day?"

Janette rolled her eyes. "I am certain there are a few unoccupied semi private rooms somewhere in this hospital. I do not think we shall have any trouble obtaining permission to use one of them for the day, do you?" She grinned mischievously.

& & & & &

Lucien LaCroix looked around the apartment on the second floor of the Raven. "So." He said to Janette. "You own a nightclub. While I did not expect it, it does seem to suit you quite well. Do I assist you in the running of this establishment?"

"No. But you do spend a lot of your free time here."

"Then what do I do for a living?"

"You have a nightly radio show on CERK. You call yourself The Nightcrawler." She informed him. ( Actually, you don't have to do anything. After two thousand years, you are filthy stinking rich. )


"Make yourself comfortable." Janette pointed to one of the doors leading from the living room. "That is your room. Why don't you get some rest? I have to go down to the club. Do not worry. The apartment is soundproofed. You will not be disturbed by any of the noise from downstairs." She started to the door. "I would also advise you not to leave this apartment for the next few days. At least not without me or Nicolah with you."


"Just do as I ask. Please."

& & & & &

LaCroix could not sleep. He had spent the past three days confined in the apartment as Janette had asked. He wanted to go out, but Janette slept during the day and she spent the evening hours in the Raven. Nicholas had been by briefly several times, but he, too worked nights and slept all day. Natalie Lambert was the only one he knew that could go out in the daytime. She had come over the first day to examine him, but when it was obvious that his injuries were almost healed, she had not been back.

Moreover, his memory had not improved. He still could not remember anything before he woke up in the hospital. True, there were miniscule flashes of something, possibly a memory, but they were over before he even had a chance to grasp them.

He listened to his radio show. They were playing a tape from one of his previous broadcasts. It was his voice, but he could not believe that those were his words.

"Was I really like that?" He had asked Janette. "If I was, I am glad that I cannot remember it. I do not think I like that man very much."

She had not given him a direct answer. She said something about that being his radio personality. Not necessarily his real personality. Then she excused herself and quickly went down to the club.

He had watched the lineup of cable and network programs on the 60 inch HD TV. For some reason, the soap opera 'Passions' fascinated him. Especially the character of Tabitha. He had read most of the books in Janette's collection. He had done the crossword puzzle in the Times in his head. And the Soduku as well. He had surfed the web for hours on end. He was bored.

( Surely it would not hurt to go down to the club for a few minutes. I could really use some entertainment. ) He thought as he headed for the door.

& & & & &

LaCroix blanched as he peered from the doorway into the main room of the Raven. The scene before him resembled an orgy more than anything else. At least sixty couples crowded onto the tiny dance floor. There did not seem to be any space between the bodies, either of the couples or the crowd in general. Couples were of all descriptions. Male-female ... Male-male ... Female-female ... Same race ... Mixed race ... Singles ... Twosomes ... Threesomes and foursomes ... It also appeared as if several of the pairings on the floor, as well as at the tables, did not seem to fit into any particular category. The music, if that was what was blaring over the speakers, was a thumping frenzied tempo evocative of primitive tribal fertility rituals. It appeared that many of the patrons had been caught up in the passion. They were bent over their partner's necks in what was definitely an intimate position.

He gasped as one of them looked up almost directly into his line of sight. The man's eyes were a fluorescent yellow and there was what looked like blood dripping from his elongated teeth. They could even be called fangs. A few of the others looked up also. They too had yellow eyes and elongated teeth. He searched the area for Janette. He found her sitting at the end of the bar. Then he saw her eyes. While they were not as distinct as the others, they were definitely yellow. She was smiling, and tips of fangs protruded from beneath her upper lip. Something was definitely going on here. Something he did not think he wanted to know anything about.

Quickly and soundlessly he closed the door and practically ran back to the apartment. He had to leave here as soon as possible. He remembered the card that Detective Knight had given him at the hospital. Maybe he could help. This time he went out the back entrance. At a carryout a few blocks away, he called a cab.

& & & & &

" ... But Captain. Lucien LaCroix ... The Nightcrawler ... is a ... a friend of mine." Nick argued. "And I did promise Janette ... Miss DuCharme, that is ... I would find the person who did this to him."

"There are three reasons why I am not going to assign you to the case." Captain Amanda Cohen answered.

"One. This case belongs to Blackthorne and Mann. Before you go off on a tangent, I am aware of Blackthorne and Mann's record on cases like this, but ... it IS their case. THEY are with Violent Crimes Division. YOU are Homicide. This is a case of assault, and from what Dr. Turner informs me, despite his memory loss, your ... friend is recovering very satisfactorily from the attack. That means that unless the attacker tries again and succeeds, it will stay an assault. Although from what Blackthorne tells me, there isn't too much to go on at this time. No witnesses and no leads."

"But Captain I ... "

"Reason number two. Because he IS your friend, you are too close to investigate impartially. You ought to know the regulations about working on cases involving friends and family. It's a first class no-no. You've broken those regs enough times to know what I'm talking about, haven't you? ... Don't answer that ... Any defense lawyer worth his retainer fee would have a field day with that one."

"But ... "

"And the third and most important reason ... " She looked ... more accurately glared ... at him. " ... Because ... I ... Said ... So!" She enunciated each word smugly. "Any other questions ... Detective?"

"No, Ma'am. But ... " Nick sighed . This conversation was going downhill fast.

"If you are all through making like an outboard motorboat, I suggest you get back to work. There are a lot of things that do need your attention. Like the weekly report that was due three days ago." Captain Cohen stared directly at Nick with that Don't-Even-Consider-It look in her eyes.

"Yes, Ma'am." Nick said softly. When Captain Amanda Cohen gave 'That Look', the conversation was over. Any further attempts to change her mind were the equivalent of requesting to be assigned to parking meter detail. In the Yukon.

Just then, Don Schanke poked his head in the door. "Sorry to interrupt this little kaffee klatch, Ma'am, but there's a man out here who says he has to see Detective Knight immediately."

"It's your buddy, The Nightcrawler." Don informed him as they walked to their desks. "You know, I always thought he was a little on the spooky side, but anyone who likes souvlaki can't be all bad."

Lucien LaCroix was sitting at Knight's desk eating a piece cut from Schanke's sandwich. "You know, this isn't bad." He smacked his lips loudly. "You really ought to try it sometime, Detective Knight." He finished the sandwich. "I apologize for interrupting you at work, but I did not know where else to turn. Is there somewhere that we could talk? Privately?"

"Is it about the case? Have you started to remember anything that could help catch whoever did that to you? If that's the case, I'd better get Blackthorne and Mann in here." ( Although it would be an exercise in futility. They probably won't do anything anyway. Not enough suspects or favorable headlines. ) " It is their case after all." ( After the chewing out I just got, I better get with them before Cohen hangs my hide from the flagpole in the midday sun. With me still inside. )

"No. This does not have anything to do with my attack. I still can't remember anything. This is ... personal. In a sense."

Nick inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Blackthorne and Mann were not two of his favorite people anyway. "My shift is almost over. If you want, we could go back to the loft and talk there."

"I would like that very much. It would be perfect. As long as I don't have to go back to that Raven place. I don't think I could handle that. At least not now."

Just then the phone rang.

"Nicholah. LaCroix. Il est absent. Vous devez le trouver avant que les Enforcers font." (LaCroix. He is missing. You must find him before the Enforcers do.)

"Janette. Dans l'Anglais, s'il vous plait." (Janette. In English, please.)

"Oh. Very well. If you insist. But I know you speak French too. I went up to the apartment during my break and he was gone. Do you suppose that whoever attacked him found out where he was and kidnapped him?"

"He wasn't kidnapped."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Because he is sitting right across from me here at the station. He has asked to stay with me for a while. I'm going to take him to the loft when I get off. I'll call you from there and explain everything. Don't worry. Everything will be all right."

"I hope so. What will you do if he ... asks for something to eat? I know you do not keep any ... mortal food on hand. I will clue you. He eats more than any three human beings I have ever known. I have had to send one of my mortal waiters out nearly every night to restock the refrigerator."

"Thanks for warning me. I'll call Nat and have her bring some food to the loft when she gets off."

& & & & &

" ... And it was terrible, Nick. Total debauchery. And ... some of them were ... " LaCroix closed his eyes and shook his head. " ... I can't even begin to describe it. It was like they were ... were ..." He said as he paced the living area of the loft.

"Were what? La ... I mean Lucien?" Nick asked.

"Like they were ... were ... almost like they were ... vampires. And Janette was one of them."

"Do you believe that vampires exist?"

"I ... I don't know. At this point I don't know what I believe and what I don't believe. All I know for sure is that I cannot return to the Raven. At least not now. Would it be possible ... Could I stay with you?" He pleaded.

"Sure ... I guess. You can have the bedroom. I'll take the couch."

"No. I'll take the couch. It's more than enough that you are letting me stay here. I cannot kick you out of your bedroom, too."

At that point, the lift door opened and Natalie came in laden down with grocery bags and boxes. Before Nick could get to her, LaCroix was by her side. "Let me help you." He said as he took two bags that were about to fall and set them on the table. "You didn't have to carry these bags up here all by yourself, Doctor Lam ... Natalie." He said with a smile. "I remember seeing a phone on the outside door. Why didn't you call from there? I know Nick or I would have been more than happy to bring them up for you." He began emptying one of the bags.

Suddenly, he stopped, and a look of pain mixed with embarrassment spread across his face. "I'd like to help you more, but I'm afraid that ... nature calls." He looked at Nick. "Rather urgently, too."

"Up the stairs. Second door to the right."

Natalie hurriedly emptied the green bottles from the fridge into a sack and handed them to Nick. Using vampire speed, he took them to the bedroom and stashed them in the dorm refrigerator he had hidden in his closet for emergency purposes.

"Tell me Nick." She said as he came back down. "Who is that man, and what has he done with Lucien LaCroix? If this is typical of his behavior, I hope he never does get his memory back. I think I could get to like this guy."

"Unfortunately, his memory will eventually return."

"I know that. But I can dream, can't I?"

"Dream about what?" LaCroix asked as he came back into the kitchen area. "Was that a pizza I saw in one of those boxes? Would you mind if we cooked it now? I know it's time for breakfast, but I also know that you and Nick work the night shift, so your days and nights are upside down." He furrowed his brow and shook his head slightly. "Janette would not be too specific, but somehow I got the impression that I worked the night shift too ... And for a very long time ... And not just as a radio show host." He took the pizza out of the box and handed it to Natalie. "I understand that Nick has a food allergy, but would you like to join me?"

"I'd love to." Natalie said as she put the pizza in the oven.

"Would you mind if I joined the two of you anyway? I could have my ... usual drink." Nick held up a glass of one of Natalie's protein shakes. He could not help but notice Natalie's Cheshire Cat grin.

LaCroix put the last piece in his mouth. "That was delicious. Nick, you don't know what you are missing. What was it called again?"

"Seven layer pizza." Natalie said as she wiped a bit of sauce from her cheek. "It has pepperoni, sausage, ham, onions, banana peppers, mushrooms, and olives on it. Smothered with three different kinds of cheeses. Truly a pizza addict's concept of nirvana."

LaCroix got a far away look.

Natalie had seen the same look in Nick's eyes too many times, She knew what it meant. LaCroix was remembering.

"I think I have had this before ... but it was not this elaborate. I ... Something else ... Soldiers ... I seem to be eating it with ... with soldiers. Tell me. Was I ... was I ever in the military?"

"Yes you were." Nick answered. "But it was a long time ago." ( A very, very long time ago. And you've been in many armies over the centuries, too. )

"You remembered." Natalie said. She was not sure whether to be glad or sorry at the prospect of LaCroix returning to his previous existence.

"Not exactly. It was more like an impression than anything positive."

Somehow Natalie got the idea LaCroix was feeling the same way as she was.

& & & & &

As soundlessly as she could, Natalie slid the lift door open. While she had brought groceries three days ago, Nick had called to ask her to refill the refrigerator on her way home after her shift. Janette was right. LaCroix was eating everything in sight. Almost immediately, the smell of frying bacon hit her.

"Good morning, Natalie." LaCroix said, smiling. He was standing at the stove with a spatula in his hand and a towel serving as an apron tucked into the top of his trousers. The steel blinds were up and the sunlight almost touched him.

Natalie quickly ran to the shades and started to close them.

"Please. Leave them open. I know that Nick has a sun allergy, but I enjoy being in the sunlight. I lift the blinds whenever I can. Do not worry. I will be certain that they are closed before he wakes up. Now for a more pleasant question. Would you like to join me for breakfast? How do you like your eggs?"

Natalie had to admit. LaCroix was a good cook. In addition to bacon and eggs, he had prepared oatmeal, pancakes, fruit cups and toast. What Natalie didn't eat ... which was considerable ... he had made enough to feed at least six people ... LaCroix finished. No wonder Nick had asked her to go shopping again.

"Now. Another question. Would you be willing to accompany me on a trip to Coronation Park today? I understand they are having a Renaissance reenactment all this week. For some reason, that seems to fascinate me no end. Could I have been a teacher at one time? Possibly of Medieval History?"

"I don't know. You could have taught history at one time." ( I do know you lived through enough of it. ) "Another memory?"

"I'm not sure. Perhaps the fair will trigger something. Shall we go?"

& & & & &

It was almost five o'clock in the afternoon when they returned to the loft.

"That was slicing it a little close." Natalie said as she put her things on the table. "Nick should be waking up any minute now. If he would have found out you had left without telling him, even if you were with me, he'd have the entire Metro out looking for you. But then, he does sleep the sleep of the dead." ( In more ways than one. )

"Yes. I know. I've tried to wake him a few times. I did tell you we'd be back in plenty of time to close the shutters, didn't I? Now he'll never know of our little escapade." LaCroix said as he pushed the button on the remote to close the steel shades. "I had a wonderful time. The show and the exhibitions were superb. Even though a few of the costumes were from several different time periods as well as from different countries ... or in the case of medieval times ... kingdoms."

"And how would you know that?" Natalie asked. ( Maybe this did trigger something. )

LaCroix just shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe it's the teacher in me." He chuckled.

"Anyway. Thanks for the scarf." She held up a pale blue silk scarf.

"You're most welcome. According to the man at the souvenir stand, a lady would give her scarf to her champion as a token of her love. It was meant to bring him good luck in his quest. I suppose that means you will give yours to Nick."

"Why ... why would I do that? We're only ... just friends."

"In a pig's eye. I've seen how the two of you look at each other when you think no one is watching. If that's not the look of love, what is?" He couldn't help noticing how Natalie was blushing very deeply. "To change the subject. Do you think Nick will like the present I bought him?" He held up a statuette of a medieval crusader on horseback. "A knight for a Knight. I thought it was somehow appropriate."

"I ... I'm sure he ... he will like it. Yes ... Like it ... very much." Natalie stammered.

"Is there some significance to this knight? You seem disturbed."

"No. no. Just surprised, that's all. You didn't have to buy Nick or me anything."

"But you both have been so kind to me. Let's just say that this is just a small token of my gratitude."

"And just how do you intend to give it to him without telling him how you got it?"

"Well." He said with a twinkle. "He and Janette said I shouldn't go out alone. But then, I wasn't alone, was I?"

& & & & &

The phone was ringing when Nick woke up.

"Wakey, wakey, Nicky boy." Schanke's voice came over the answering machine. "We got a lead on the bozo who tried to off your Nightcrawler friend ... "

Nick picked up the phone. "I thought that was Blackthorne and Mann's case. What are you doing working on it?"

"Cohen told YOU not to touch it. She didn't say anything about me. Besides, I found out that since your ... friend was okay, and there were no suspects banging down the door to confess, or viable clues staring them in the face, the Wonder Twins over in Violent Crimes land have pushed the case not just to the back burner, but completely off the stove and into the fridge. I knew you wouldn't be too thrilled with that, so I did some sniffing in my spare time. Now, do you want to hear what I found out or not?"

"Of course I do. Continue."

"Well, I remembered that the perp had said that his wife Marge committed suicide after calling The Nightcrawler. So ... I badgered the station people into giving me the phone records and tapes from the past couple of weeks. Without a court order, it wasn't the easiest thing to do. But as they say, persistence pays off, and eventually TPTB over at CERK caved in and gave me what I wanted, probably just to get rid of me. I just turned on the old patented Schanke charm and ... "

"Schanke. The Reader's Digest version, please."

"Okay, if that's the way you're going to be about it. Sure enough, three weeks ago, The Nightcrawler did get a call from a woman that matched the call that the perp described. From the caller ID, I was able to get a listing from the phone company. Ralph Muzzeli. 5284 North Laverne Ave. Guess what. From Vital Statistics, I found out that his wife was named Margaret and from our mutual friend Grace over at the Coroner's office, I learned that a Margaret Lillian Muzelli had committed suicide two days after the call to The Nightcrawler.

When I went to give that info to Bevis and Butthead over in VC, they said they had other much more important cases to investigate, and they would look into it when they had the time. They also raked my butt for horning in on THEIR case. Who did I think I was, trying to tell THEM how to do THEIR job!

Wanna go with me and turn the thumb screws on our little Ralphie?"

"Raked your butt, did they? Just for that alone, count me in."

& & & & &

"I don't understand why you are questioning me." Ralph Muzzeli said as he sat across from the detectives in his living room. "I haven't done anything wrong."

"Did you attack Lucien LaCroix ... also known as The Nightcrawler ... on the night of July 28th in the alley behind 281 Queen St ... otherwise known as radio station CERK?" Don Schanke asked.

"The Nightcrawler is an abomination. He does nothing but warp peoples minds. I read in the papers that he had been attacked and nearly killed. All I can say is that he got what he deserved."

"But you didn't attack him. Right?" Nick asked. He homed in on the man's heartbeat. Although Ralph was calm on the outside, his heartbeat was unusually fast.

"Did you call him that night and threaten him?" Don asked.

"I told you. I haven't done anything wrong." Ralph repeated calmly.

"Was your wife named Marge?" Don continued.

Ralph's heart rate went up dramatically. In addition, Nick could almost smell the fear emanating from his body. Ralph was unquestionably guilty. "Did you attack Lucien LaCroix?" Nick asked in time with Ralph's heartbeat.

Suddenly, Ralph found himself virtually drawn into Detective Knight's eyes. It was almost as though there was nothing else in the universe except those eyes. The question seemed to reverberate through his skull. "I ... I ... " He tried to maintain his calm ambiguous manner. It was a losing battle. He had to tell all to those eyes. " ... Yes. I attacked him. I wanted to kill him for what he did to Marge. I ... If he had not said what he said to her, she never would have ... have killed herself. He had to pay. I thought I had killed him. I just wish I had made sure I finished the job while I was at it."

"Do you think maybe we should call in the Brothers Dipstick from you-know-where before we go much deeper?" Schanke asked his partner.

"I guess we had better." Nick sighed. What he really wanted to do was throttle Ralph to within an inch of his life and when he was finished with him, feed his drained corpse to the fish in Lake Ontario. Either that, or turn him over to LaCroix. Unfortunately, neither of those was an option, especially with his partner sitting beside him.

Don explained to Ralph what they were going to do. " ... And I suggest you don't say anything more until they get here. I also strongly advise you to call your lawyer if you have one."

"You will tell everything to the detectives who will be here shortly." Nick whispered as Schanke busied himself calling the precinct.

& & & & &

"Well, well." Blackthorne said as he and Mann came into the living room. "If it isn't Nicky Knight and his faithful Indian companion Donny. "I thought Captain Cohen told you to keep hands off."

"I didn't do anything." Nick said. "Schanke did the digging. He found the clues. He solved the case."

"And Cohen told Nick to stay out of it. She didn't say anything about me." Schanke added with a very self-satisfied grin.

"And, I understand that when he tried to turn the evidence over to you, you blew him off. That makes it a wide open case." Nick continued. "By rights, we could claim the collar. But then, how would that look on your record? Particularly when Schanke puts in his two cents to IA about your attitude. Not very good, I suppose. So ... I'll give you one more chance. Are you going to make the arrest or not? Because if you don't, I will." Nick toyed with the idea of adding two more bodies to the bottom of the lake.

Sighing heavily, Mann took out a well worn card from his badge case and stood in front of Muzzeli. "You have the right to remain silent ... " He intoned.

& & & & &

It had been a good evening. Although Blackthorne was adamant that Nick and Don be excluded from the formal questioning of Muzzeli, Captain Cohen had told them that Ralph had given them a full confession. "I still ought to have you two directing traffic on the 401 - 404 split during rush hour for the rest of your natural lives for disobeying me, but off the record ... Good job, Detectives."

& & & & &

A weary Nick pulled into garage. Just as he was about to get out of the car, his cell phone rang.

"Nicolah!" Janette said. "I'm calling to warn you. The Enforcers were here at the Raven. They are looking for LaCroix. They cannot sense him any more, and they are concerned that he might be dead or even worse ... mortal. I did not know what to tell them so I told them the truth. That I did not know anything about his condition at this time ... or where he is. They must have believed me, because they left without doing anything. I fear their next stop will be your place. If LaCroix is there, you must get him to safety ... immediatement." (immediately.)

He sensed them as he rode up in the lift. Enforcers! His heart dropped into his shoes. Janette was right. They had come to the loft. His first instinct was to run, but he knew that if he had sensed them, they had sensed him as well. There was no place he could go. No place he could hide that they would not find him. Besides, there was Nat and LaCroix to consider. Nat was mortal, and in the condition he was in, LaCroix was not much better. He took a deep breath, more for courage than for need, and squared his shoulders. ( Might as well get this over as quickly as possible. I heard it somewhere ... I think it was on a TV show ...Today is a good day to die ... As good as any, I suppose. ) Cautiously, he pulled the door open.

Two Enforcers stood in the middle of the living area. One, a huge black vampire named T'Mutu, he knew from previous experience. This one, unlike most Enforcers, was willing to listen to reasonable explanations and engage in rational dialog. While Nick was by no means an expert on Enforcer hierarchy, he had the impression that T'Mutu was the equivalent of a supervisor. The other Enforcer, small by comparison and extremely thin, he did not recognize. If the fates were kind, T'mutu would be in charge. If not, from the cold cruel look in Pencil Thin's eyes, this would be a difficult session. ( But then, they had let Janette off the hook. Maybe there was hope. )

"Do not fear, De Brabant." T'Mutu said, as though he had read Nick's mind. Which he probably had. "We are not here to punish anyone. We are here merely to inquire about the fate of your master."

Nicholas believed him, but the looks and vibrations emanating from Pencil Thin said that he would rather be draining him than questioning him.

"Excuse my oversight." T'Mutu continued. "My ... companion is Logan Grainier."

Nick had the distinct impression that the partnership was not a voluntary one.

"Do you know anything of Lucius Gaius Pletano, now known as Lucien LaCroix's, fate?" Grainier asked. His smile rivaled LaCroix's for coldness.

"I can only tell you what is already publicly known. Three weeks ago, LaCroix was attacked by a crazed maniac. He was beaten within an inch of his life. If he had been mortal, he would have died from his injuries. As it was, he suffered massive head trauma and as a result, lost his memory. The reason you cannot sense him is because he does not realize that he is a vampire, so his mind does not emit any recognizable vampire vibrations."

"That is the most ridiculous crock of bullshit I've ever heard." Logan's eyes went to orange and his fangs dropped. "Now you will tell us the truth or we will get it the hard way. And I guarantee you it will be quite painful." Logan started for Nick, only to be restrained by T'Mutu.

"There is no need for drastic measures, Grainier. Perhaps De Brabant is telling the truth. I have heard of such situations. Of course they involved mortals, not vampires. A person suffers a memory loss, and because he cannot remember what he was, he acts in a totally different manner than he did before. Therefore we will give him the benefit of the doubt."

Reluctantly, Grainier's eyes returned to an indigo color and his fangs receded. "Very well, T'Mutu." He growled softly. "But it is well known that De Brabant searches for mortality. Why isn't it possible that his master also searched, and that Pletano has found what he was looking for? Mortality."

"Because, Grainier. If you had known Lucius Gaius Pletano and Nicolas De Brabant as long as I have, you'd know what a ... what did you call it ... a ridiculous crock of bullshit ... that line of thinking is." From the purposeful look on T'Mutu's face, there was no doubt he was in charge.

"Very well." From Logan Grainier's face, it was evident that he was not happy with the arrangement. "I have just one more question. Do you know where Pletano is?"

"No I don't." That was the truth. He had not been able to sense his master since the attack. LaCroix might be in the next room or halfway around the world for all Nick could tell.

"A warning, De Brabant." Gainier said. "If Pletano is found to be mortal, you will be expected to bring him back across. If you do not, we will take charge. That will be most unpleasant for all concerned, I can assure you."

The next second, Nick was alone in the loft.

( Where are you, LaCroix? ) If the Enforcers found him before Nick did, it could be disastrous. He was about to call Janette to see if he had gone back to the Raven when he heard a sound that was almost like music to his ears. The toilet being flushed. At vampire speed, he headed for the upstairs bathroom.

Lucien LaCroix had just finished zipping when Nick entered. "Is everything all right?" He inquired.

"Oh, yes quite all right. I have a little confession to make, though. Since you work nights, I have, on occasion, been sleeping in your bedroom. While the couch is very comfortable, there's nothing like sleeping in a real bed every now and then. I try to be out of there well before you come home. I hope that's all right.

Anyway. I had to go to the bathroom a while ago. When I went onto the balcony, I sensed the two men in the living area. Apparently they did not see me so I hid in the bathroom. While I could not hear all of their conversation, I got the impression they were looking for me. And I also had the distinct feeling that it was not exactly a friendly visit. That's why I stayed in there until they left."

"You said you sensed them. You mean you saw them?"

"No. I just knew they were there." He furrowed his brow. "Am I a psychic or something like that? There have been quite a few times the past week that I have been aware of things that I should have no way of knowing."

( He is remembering. ) "I don't know. Maybe these things are your memory trying to return. Many times, these memories have a tendency to surface in strange ways." He lied. Sooner or later Nick knew they'd have to tell him the truth about his nature, he just hoped that LaCroix would be able to cope with it.

"What of your investigation of the man who attacked me? I recall you telling your partner that you were going to question a suspect."

(There is no way he could have known about that unless he heard both ends of the phone conversation. He is closer to regaining his memory than I thought. ) "Yeah. We talked to him and he ended up singing like a canary. Turns out he blamed you ... The Nightcrawler, that is ... for his wife's death. He wanted to take out his revenge on you. He wanted to kill you, and he ... almost did."

The phone rang.

"Nick." Schanke said as Nick picked it up. "Bad news. Muzelli walked. At the arraignment, he went up before Judge Matthew 'Bleeding Heart' Boyen. Muzelli pled not guilty by reason of temporary insanity brought on by stress over the death of his wife. Boyen took pity on the poor soul before him and set bail so low, Muzelli could have almost made it out of pocket change. Our favorite Keystone Kops didn't even try to dispute that. Muzelli and his lawyer left the courtroom grinning like a pair of hyenas. Keep your eyes sharp, Nick. I got a feeling he's going to try to make good on the threat he made to finish the job Do you want me to have Cohen post a couple of uniforms to keep tabs on your place? Discretely, of course."

That was the last thing Nick wanted. "No. While I thank you for the offer, I think I can handle Muzelli if he shows up here."

"Okay. Maybe a cruiser going by every so often ..."


"All right, no uniforms and no cruiser, but you had better give a holler if there's any trouble, okay?"

& & & & &

He stared at the upper windows of the warehouse and nervously fingered the .9mm automatic in his pocket. ( I should have done it this way the first time. Then there wouldn't have been any chance he'd survive. ) From what the two detectives who had actually arrested him had said when they thought he couldn't hear them, Lucien LaCroix was staying with Detective Knight. It was not too difficult to find a listing for N. Knight in the phone book. Now the problem was getting into Knight's living quarters. From the keypad mounted next to the door, he knew the entryway was password protected and probably wired to some kind of an intrusion detector. There was a phone there too, but he'd have to be ten kinds of stupid to use that to gain entry.

He was about to give up trying to get in and wait until someone came out, when a car pulled into the lot. Quickly, he ran to the end of the building and hid behind the corner. Presently, a woman got out and went to the door. With practiced ease, she keyed in the access code. Before she could react, he was behind her. He grabbed her in a hammerlock and shoved the gun into her side. "One peep out of you, lady, and I'll kill you. I don't want to do that, but I will if I have to. All I want to do is get inside, and you will help me. Now just walk through the door quietly."

"You're Ralph Muzelli, aren't you? The one who attacked Lucien LaCroix. " Natalie asked.

Muzelli nodded. "That's me."

"You really don't want to do this. Right now, all they have on you is an assault. The judge will take into account the fact that your wife is dead and there's a good chance you could get off with a light sentence, maybe with good behavior, you'll only have to serve a couple of years. If you do anything more, the chances are you'll wind up doing some very hard time, possibly even life. If you put that gun away and go home now ... "

Muzelli pushed the gun harder into her. "Don't try to talk me out of this. Just open the door and get me upstairs." He said coldly.

Natalie had no choice but to do as he said.

& & & & &

Nick heard the lift grind to a stop. "That must be Nat." He told LaCroix. "She said she was coming by after her shift. This is our usual movie night. You're welcome to join us if you want. Tonight is comedy night. I understand Natalie has found a treasure trove of Martin and Lewis tapes."

"Thank you Nick, but I think the two of you would rather be alone. I'll just go to bed in your room if that's all right. Or maybe I could try to go back to the Raven. I think I could handle it since you explained that the Raven is a Goth club that caters to the so called fringe element." He started for the stairs.

The door opened and Natalie came in, but she was still held in a hammerlock by Ralph Muzelli. Nick started toward her, but Muzelli transferred the gun from her side to her head. "One more step, Detective, and I'll blow her brains to kingdom come."

"Let her go. She has nothing to do with this." Nick tried to home in on his heartbeat. This time, though it was steady and regular. Nick sensed that Muzelli was resigned to the fact that he would probably die, and was unafraid. That was dangerous. A man with no fear was totally unpredictable. A loose cannon.

"I know that. I just want The Nightcrawler over there. That's what I came here for. The two of you are in no danger if you just stay out of the way."

"You won't get away with it, you know." LaCroix said in his best Nightcrawler voice. "You might kill me, but if you do, I can guarantee you that Nick will surely kill you. If he doesn't, the police will hunt you down wherever you go. Do you want to spend the rest of your life looking over your shoulder?" Lucien slowly moved toward the man, carefully pacing his steps to match his words.

"I've accepted the fact that I probably won't leave here alive. If that is the case, I will be with my Marge once more." Muzelli said coldly. "There is another good thing that will come of this, though. You'll be dead, too."

"But if you kill me, you will forfeit any chance of going to heaven." LaCroix continued, edging ever closer. "How do you intend to be with your wife in that case?"

"You forget. Marge committed suicide. She didn't go to heaven either."

Just then, the sound of the lift kicking in sounded through the loft. For a split second Muzelli turned toward the door. Nick took advantage of that momentary distraction to make a flying (almost literal) tackle to Natalie. He knocked her to the floor just as Muzelli fired off three rounds.

LaCroix stared in shock as the first bullet struck him. There was no pain, only a slight stinging sensation as the bullet ripped through his right lung and exited out his back. Suddenly, a parade of memories flooded through his consciousness faster than he could absorb them.

A second bullet followed the first. Several scenarios stood out in the parade as though they were frozen in time. Pompeii ... A volcano erupting ... "To live, Divia. To live!" ... Pain as fangs dug into his neck. An Egyptian tomb ... A scythe ... The symbol of the Ankh. A prostitute running toward him ... " Aidez-moi! Aidez-moi!" ... "Le milliere revange c'est revange." A young blond Crusader lying on the bed in his quarters ... a trickle of blood running from two small holes in his throat ... "We shall be friends for a very long time, Nicholas." A couch in a bombed out villa on the Russian front ... "Kindly remove this ... annoyance." ... A stake protruding from his chest. A young boy in a miniature English Officer's uniform ... Fangs projecting from beneath his upper lip ... Daniel. "Vau a diavolo" ... A flaming spear thrust through his chest ...

With the third bullet, he was in the alley behind CERK. He was about to take to the air and head for the Raven, when something large and hard struck him forcefully in the back. He felt his ribs break and the wind forced out of his lungs. He pitched forward from the force of the blow. Before he could regain his balance, there was a second blow, this time to his head. The area began to spin out of control. He went to the ground with a thud. He vaguely remembered something frequently pummeling on his arms and legs and a heavy boot digging into his abdomen and side numerous times. Then there was blessed darkness.

There was a blood curdling scream, and Nick looked up to see LaCroix, blood running from three holes in his chest, advancing on the hapless gunman. His eyes were fire red and his fangs were fully extended. "I REMEMBER!" He growled.

"LaCroix!" Nick shouted. " DON'T! Let the law take care of him."

"The law had its chance and it failed miserably. Now I demand MY satisfaction. And I SHALL have it!"

Seconds later, the master vampire had grabbed Muzelli in a death grip, his fangs fully embedded in his neck.

Muzelli gasped at the scene that was being played out before him. Suddenly he realized why The Nightcrawler hadn't died when he attacked him in the alley. In that very same instant, he realized that he WAS going to die. A stream of warm yellow liquid ran down his trouser leg. With a high whimpering sob, he surrendered his fate to the vampire.

LaCroix dropped what a few minutes earlier had been Ralph Muzelli to the floor and came to where Nick sat holding Natalie in his arms. "Is she ... ?"

"She ... is just fine, thanks to the two of you." Natalie replied as the two vampires helped her up. "Although I fully expect to have quite a few lovely bruises where Nick plowed into me." She held her side for emphasis.

"I'm sorry I hurt you." Nick apologized. "But I didn't have too many options."

"I understand." Natalie said. ( Why does he think that he has to ask for forgiveness for everything? ) "But that doesn't make it hurt any less."

The lift door opened and T'Mutu came in. He looked over the situation carefully. "It is obvious that Lucius Gaius Pletano is still a vampire. There will be no further inquiries into his condition. The situation is closed. The Council is satisfied." The Enforcer said solemnly.

"Excuse me for asking." Nick said. "But I didn't think Enforcers usually used mortal devices. Why use the lift?"

T'Mutu smiled ever so slightly. "As I approached the loft, I sensed that there was a hostile situation here. I also sensed that you might be appreciative of a little distraction." He glanced at Muzelli's body. "I see that I was correct."

"Another question, if I may. Where is your companion, Grainier?" Nick asked.

"Our previous encounter was part of an assessment of his qualifications as an Enforcer. He was found lacking. The matter has been resolved."

Nick decided not to pursue the matter any further.

T'Mutu picked up Muzelli's corpse. "If you wish, I shall attend to the disposal of ... this for you." Without waiting for an answer, the Enforcer was gone.

& & & & &

LaCroix, Natalie and Nick sat at the kitchen table. Within minutes after he had dispatched Muzelli, the master vampire's wounds had completely healed. Within a half hour, there was nothing but three pink scars on his chest. These would be gone before the night was over.

"Now what do we do?" Natalie asked. She had a glass of white wine in front of her, while the two vampires each had a goblet of blood. Steer for Nick, and human for LaCroix.

"Nothing. Truthfully, there is nothing we can do." Nick replied. "Obviously, Muzelli will not show up for his trail. Everyone will assume that he jumped bail. A warrant will be put out on him. For an assault, they aren't going to be pursuing him all that hard. When he isn't found after a time, the case will go into the cold case file and that will be the end of that."

"Speaking of ends." LaCroix added. "Let me make one very thing clear. Now that I have regained my memory, the man that I was when I had amnesia no longer exists. Furthermore, he never did exist. He was nothing more than an anomaly. A knot in the thread of time. Nothing has changed and nothing will change. Not now or ever.

Nicholas, we will not speak of this situation ever again. It never happened. Is that perfectly clear? That applies to you too, Doctor Lambert. Now, if there is nothing more, I shall return to the Raven." He levitated to the skylight and opened it. A second later, he was gone.

"He may think the Lucien LaCroix that he was during the past few weeks never existed." Natalie said. "But I know that he did, and I think that somewhere in the deep dark recesses of the master vampire's subconscious, he still does exist, and LaCroix knows that too. I just hope that someday, somehow, he does return. I really liked him."

& & & & &

"Gentle beings." The Nightcrawler's voice rode the airwaves. "Tonight's topic for consideration is your true self. Consider the implications for a moment, my children." LaCroix took a sip of the deep red liquid in his glass before continuing. He gently rolled it around in his mouth before swallowing, and closed his eyes as the heady nectar that had once flowed through the person's veins slid down his throat.

"What exactly is your true self? Is it the self that you project to the world? Is it the self you show to friends and acquaintances? Is it the self that you exhibit to the people who are closest to you? Perchance it is the one that you only reveal to yourself when no one else is present? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these."

Lucien LaCroix paused. As much as he tried to deny the kinder gentler Lucien LaCroix that had emerged during his bout with amnesia, He knew that the persona was still there, deep in his inner self. That he would always be there. Waiting for an opportune moment to reemerge.

"Then again, it could be none of the above."

Another pause. "What are your views on the subject? The Nightcrawler wants to hear your thoughts. I eagerly await your call."

& & & & &

The end?

Maybe ...

And maybe not ...