Forever Knight

Feliz Navidad

Detective Tracy Vetter loaded the bags and boxes into her car and then got in. She wanted to get to the Children's Center early so she could talk with some of the workers there and finalize the plans for this evening. Toronto Metro Police had been supporting the Children's Center for many years and the privilege and responsibility of hosting the annual Christmas celebration had rotated among the precincts. This year, it was the 96th precinct's turn. Captain Joe Reese, for obvious reasons, was the natural choice to play Santa, and Tracy was going to be one of his elves. Reese had practically insisted that she be the one to coordinate everything, and he suggested that she take the presents and the costumes with her so that they could change at the center rather than go from the precinct. That way, he explained, they would not get their costumes wrinkled on the way over.

This year, there was an unused elfin costume. Detective Nick Knight, her partner, was supposed to be wearing that one, but he and the Coroner, Doctor Natalie Lambert had left on a last minute holiday to an undisclosed location. While the Christmas party was an important event, Nick had not taken more than a few days vacation time in all the years he had been with the force, so Tracy could not begrudge him this. Especially if he was with Natalie. ( Maybe the two of them had finally realized what everyone else has known from the start. That they were meant for each other. )

Tracy had talked her 'friend' Javier Vachon into 'volunteering' to fill in as one of Santa's helpers. He had reluctantly agreed, but not before she had repeatedly threatened to stake him and leave his battered and bleeding body in the Alberta Badlands Desert to await the morning sunrise ... with a hornet's nest duct taped to his bare chest ... guarded by a rattlesnake.

He decided to meet her at the Center. ( Wise choice. )

& & & & & &

Joe Reese pulled into the service station and proceeded to fill up. As he was going inside to pay for the gas ... and incidentally to make a 'pit stop' ... the cop instinct in him kicked into high gear. Looking through the large glass front window of the building, he could see that the person standing at the counter appeared to be holding something suspicious in his hand. From the expression on the cashier's face, Reese was willing to bet his latest paycheck that it was a gun, and that this was a holdup in progress.

He backtracked to his car. "73 Delta requesting any available units." He said to the dispatcher. "Possible robbery in progress. Petro Canada service station. Corner of Dundas and Grove." Within seconds, several units responded that they were on the way to the scene.

A few seconds later, the robber headed for the door. As he exited the station, Reese stepped into the open, his gun at the ready. "Freeze! Police!" He shouted. "Drop your weapon and put your hands in the air." ( I can't believe I actually said that hackneyed line. )

The robber stopped suddenly. "P-p-p-please, off-officer ...D-d-don't-don't sh-shoot. I g-g-give up." He started to put his hands in the air. Next thing Reese knew, the robber was collapsing to the ground. At the same time, there was a loud explosion and Reese felt a hot pain rip through his left thigh. He quickly looked down. Blood poured out of a hole in his pants, fed by a corresponding hole in his leg.

Keeping his gun trained on the perp, Reese hobbled to him. Gently, he nudged the man with his good leg. As he rolled him over, Reese could see that he was more of a boy than a man. Reese estimated he could not have been more than 17 or 18 at most. The man / boy did not resist. He was out cold, the smoking gun lying on the ground beside him. Apparently he had fainted and dropped the gun and it had accidently gone off.

& & & & & &

Tracy had just found a parking space close to the Center and was getting set to exit her car when she heard an "officer down" report on her police radio. From the call letters of the unit in question, she knew it was Reese's car.

"29 Ocean responding." She said to the dispatcher and started to pull out into traffic. "Will be at the scene in ten minutes or less."

"That will not be necessary 29 Ocean. Apparently you did not hear the entire message. It only confirmed that the officer down situation is under control. There are two units already there, and another one on its way to the scene." The dispatcher informed her. "An emergency squad unit arrived a little while ago. According to the paramedics, Captain Reese is in no immediate danger and they have everything under control. They will be preparing to transport him to Toronto General any minute now. If you want, you could meet him there."

Tracy reached under the seat and brought out the red police strobe light. She turned it on and placed it on the roof of her car where it would be held by powerful magnets. She peeled off in a tire smoking U-turn at 65 kph in the middle of the street and took off toward the hospital, accompanied by the eeh-aah-eeh-aah-whoop-whoop-whoop of her siren.

& & & & & &

Scarcely seven minutes later, she pulled into the hospital lot reserved for official vehicles. She had broken and / or severely bent nearly every traffic law on the books ... and several laws of gravity and physics as well.

"Jackson!" She called to the officer in the waiting room. "What happened? The Captain? Is he all right? Has anyone talked to the doctor recently? Did someone contact Mrs. Reese? Is there anything I can do? Maybe I could give blood? I'm the same type as he is, you know. And I give regularly at the precinct blood drives. How about witnesses? Have they all been interviewed?" Her words almost ran into each other.

"Calm down, Detective." Constable Rich Jackson said. "Captain Reese is going to be okay. From what the doc says, it's only a flesh wound. And not a very serious one at that."

"But how? ... What? ... "

"All I can tell you is that when we got to the scene, there was Reese sitting on the robber and looking all silly faced."

"Sitting? ... Silly faced? I gotta hear all the details of that one."

"I think I'd better let him tell you." He led Tracy to one of the examining rooms.

& & & & & &

Joe Reese was sitting up in the exam bed with the head cranked up as far as it would go. He also had several pillows propped under him as well. His color was good and he had a large grin on his face.

"I heard what you said out there in the hall." He said to Tracy. "And yes, when the units arrived on the scene, I was sitting on the robber. He was out cold. He fainted and dropped his gun. It accidentally went off and shot me in the leg. I knew that if he came to and tried to get away, there was no way in hell I was going to be able to chase and catch him with a bum leg, so ... I cuffed him and then I sat on him. I know it's not exactly a police handbook approved method of restraining a prisoner, but I figured that he wasn't going to get too far. Not with 285 pounds of police officer straddling his butt."

"I'm just glad you weren't seriously hurt." Tracy said, trying desperately to suppress the case of the giggles that was threatening to erupt at the thought of Joe Reese sitting on the man.

"I realize that it wasn't the most dignified position for a Police Captain to be in, especially in front of his men, but under the circumstances ... " He shrugged.

"I can understand. You were wounded after all."

He pointed to his leg. "You mean that? Not much more than a scratch. Bullet went clean through. No bones or major blood vessels involved. They X-rayed it. Cleaned it. Bandaged it. Shot me full of antibiotics. And gave me a couple of pain pills. That's all. In fact, they're not even going to keep me overnight. Denise is over at the administration desk right now taking care of the paperwork, and then they're going to spring me. With one provision, though. No walking or putting any weight on the leg for at least forty eight to seventy two hours." A look of sorrow came over his face. "I guess that means the Christmas party at the Children's Center is off. There's no way we're going to find a substitute Santa this late in the game."

"Yeah. I see what you mean." Tracy sighed. "There's no way anyone ... Well, maybe Captain Beardsley over at the 75th might ... No. I won't give him the satisfaction of lording it over the 96th any more than necessary ... " Suddenly her face brightened. "There is someone who could ... " She said as she hurried out of the room, leaving a thoroughly bewildered police Captain behind.

& & & & & &

Javier Vachon paced a track in the snow outside the Center. ( I'm really gonna drain her this time. ) He thought. ( First she badgers me into agreeing to do this gig for her, and then she doesn't even show up. Some friend she is. ) His thoughts were interrupted by his cell phone ringing.

It had taken a great many more threats and intimidations than he was willing to admit to, to 'persuade' him to get a cell phone, but in a sense, he was glad that Tracy had talked him into it. At least this way, he was able to communicate with persons outside of 'his' kind. And even the majority of the members of the Community had cell phones as well. Might as well join the twentieth century while there was still time.

"Javier." The voice on the other end said.

"TRACY! QUERIDA! WHERE ARE YOU?" Vachon practically shouted.

Tracy pulled the phone from her ear. "There's no need to shout. I'm not deaf." (At least not yet. But after another outburst like that one, it might be a whole different story ... ) "I need you to come to Toronto General Hospital. There's no emer ... " There was only a click and silence on his end. " ... gency." She turned around and practically collided with Javier Vachon.

Vachon grabbed her into a bear hug. Although he did manage to use considerable restraint, his vampire strength nearly broke several ribs. As it was, Tracy could hardly breathe.

"Querida!" He said, feathering butterfly kisses down her cheek. There was almost a tremor to his voice. "What is wrong? How serious is it? Do not worry mi amada. Everything will be all right. I'll see to it that you have the best care possible. I will be here for you no matter what. I promise."

"Vachon!" Tracy said, struggling to free herself from his embrace. "I'm perfectly okay. There's nothing wrong with me." ( Except maybe a few bruised ribs after that greeting from you. )

"Then why did you call me to come to the hospital?"

"It's Captain Reese. He was shot during a holdup attempt earlier this evening."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I hope he'll be okay."

"He'll be fine. It's only a minor flesh wound, but it means that he won't be able to play Santa Claus at the Children's Center party tonight."

"And that involves me because ...?" Suddenly his face changed to almost a panic as the reason Tracy had called dawned on him. "Oh no you don't, Tracy Ann Vetter. " He said as he backpedaled toward the exit. "I agreed to play one of your silly elves only after you threatened to do things to me that for all practical purposes were anatomically impossible. Even for a vampire. Especially for a vampire. But there's no way ... " He tried to give a lost little puppy look, but it ended up looking more like a deer in the headlights. ( It works for Knight, why doesn't it work for me? )

"Come on Javier." Tracy pleaded. "You've got to do it. We're desperate. You're our last hope. There's no one else. You wouldn't want to disappoint all those poor little kids on Christmas Eve, would you?" She had refined the lost puppy look to an art. ( I learned it from the master. My partner. Nick Knight. )

"But I ... " He continued to make his way toward the emergency room door. ( A few more feet and I'm home free. ) That's when he tripped over it. The edge of the wheelchair. The wheelchair with a certain Toronto Metro Police Captain named Joe Reese sitting in it.

"Captain Reese." Tracy said sheepishly as she looked at Javier sprawled at the feet of her boss. "You remember Javier Vachon. He's a ... He's a friend of mine. He's going to be helping us with the Christmas program."

"I can't thank you enough for stepping in on short notice like this, my boy." Reese said, extending his hand to help the Spanish vampire to his feet. "Those kids will sure appreciate that you agreed to play Santa Claus for them." He looked at his wife. "Denise, honey. Do you think it would be possible to drop by the Center for just a little bit? I promise I won't overdo it, but I would like to at least put in an appearance."

"I guess we can arrange something. I know how much this means to you." Denise said as she wheeled Joe out of the Emergency room. "We just have to stop at the house and get you a new pair of pants. I don't think the ones you're wearing will do at all." She pointed to the blood stained and cut up trousers he was wearing.

"Tracy. I'm ... I'm just not the Santa Claus type." Vachon complained. "Vampires don't make good Santas." He whispered just loud enough for Tracy to hear.

"What has that got to do with anything? You'll be perfect."

"I'm too tall ... "

"So. Just how tall is Santa Claus?"

My complexion is too dark ... "

"And Joe Reese's isn't?"

"My hair and beard are too scraggly and they're definitely not white ... "

"There's a wig and whiskers in the costume box."

"I'm way too thin ... "

"We can always pad you out with pillows.

"But ... But ... "

"When you're finished making like a motorboat, why don't you go and see if you can find some pillows while I bring the car around to the door? Somehow I have the distinct feeling you didn't ride your motorcycle here."

& & & & & &

Javier Vachon walked down the hospital's basement hall. (Why do I let Tracy bamboozle me like this? I never agreed to ... But that's beside the point as far as she's concerned. ) He had been in Toronto General several times before, and if his vampire memory served him, the central supply department was at the end of the corridor. That's where they kept all the pillows, blankets, sheets, and other supplies. As he passed the hematology lab, he remembered that although he had already fed well, he could always use a little extra 'nourishment'. Especially if he was going to be around a lot of mortals all night long.

Fifteen minutes later, he came to Tracy's car. He had three pillows and a pillow case with him.

Tracy took the pillow case and opened it. It was filled with bags of dark maroon colored liquid that Tracy knew wasn't tomato juice. "What ... are ... these?" She stammered, holding one of the bags to Javier.

"Blood bags. Screed calls them sippy snacks. I figures I might as well stock up while I was here."

"I KNOW what they are. What I want to know is what they're doing in a pillow cover under your arm. Don't you realize that the hospital has to account for each and every one of these? If ... No, make that when ... " She did a quick count of the bags. " ... twelve units of blood turn up missing, there's going to be an investigation unlike anything you've ever seen. It will make the Inquisition look like a Sunday School quiz."

"TRACY!" Vachon said exasperatedly. "Give me some credit. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck this evening, you know. I have learned a few things in the past five hundred years. If you look closely, you'll see that they're all outdated. And as far as the technician in the blood lab remembers, he 'disposed' of them in the approved manner. It was almost too easy to whammy him. He definitely was not a resister."

"Well ... if you're sure ... "

"Tracy ... Have I ever lied to you? " His coffee brown eyes were overflowing with innocence. " On second thought, don't answer that."

& & & & & &

The center's gymnasium had been decorated with all manner of holiday items. Christmas trees lined one side of the floor while a table fairly groaning with foods prepared by the center staff, the children's parents and guardians, and 96th precinct personnel, lined another wall. Above all of this was a myriad of red, white and green crepe paper ribbons secured to the ceiling by huge plastic ornaments and wreathes. In the center of a third wall was 'Santa's throne', a chair covered with a red velveteen cloth and flanked by two more huge decorated trees. A bin full of gaily wrapped presents for the children stood beside one of the trees, and a red cloth covered rope led to the 'throne' from the other direction.

"Okay." Tracy said, practically pushing Javier out of the classroom they had been using as a dressing room and toward the gym. "Show time."

"But Trace. I still don't think this'll work. Those kids will know right away I'm not Santa Claus."

"Javier Diego Philippe Dos Santos y Vachon!" Tracy said, rolling her eyes. "We've been through this a thousand times on the way over here. Those kids might know you're not the real thing, but they're not going to care. They're looking for Santa Claus, and they're going to see Santa Claus. They won't care if he's white or black, young or old, tall and skinny, or a fat midget with only one large eyebrow going all the way across his forehead."

"But ... "

They reached the door. "Go!" Tracy said, giving him one last push. "And don't forget. HO ... HO ... HO ... ! "

Javier stepped into the gym amid cheers and shouts from the children.

& & & & & &

After about an hour, Javier was really starting to get into the Santa Claus persona. Tracy was right. The children were expecting Santa Claus ... and that was who they saw.

A small oriental looking boy of about eight or nine was the next one in line.

"What's your name, Sonny?" Javier asked in his deepest Santa voice.

"Than Ling Chan." The boy replied. "And you're not really Santa Claus! You're just some goofy looking guy in a red suit."

"You don't believe I'm Santa?" Javier asked him.

"Of course not. Why should I?" Thang answered. "I don't even believe in Santa Claus. Why should I believe you're him? The only reason I'm here is to get the toy your friend in the elf costume over there is going to give me." He pointed to Tracy. "And something good to eat." He pointed to the food table. "Besides, Grandfather made me come." He indicated an elderly Oriental gentleman sitting off to the side.

Javier wracked his brain. The legend of a mystical person delivering gifts and toys to children at this time of year was common to nearly every culture. Some of the legends had been in existence practically since time began. He just had to remember which one of the many myths Thang or his ancestors would have believed in. Finally he had it.

"You believe in Lan Khoong Khoong, don't you?" Lan Khoong Khoong or 'Nice Old Father' brought presents to all good Chinese children during the Chinese New Year celebration.

"Of course I do."

"And you believe he's real, don't you?"

"Well ... " Thang thought for a moment. "Yeah. He's real. At least Grandfather says he's real. Of course, I've never seen him, so I don't really know for sure."

"Well. Now you've seen him. I am Lan Khoong Khoong."

"But you just told all the other kids you were Santa Claus." Thang countered.

"Yes I did. I am Santa Claus. And I'm Lan Khoong Khoong too. I'm called by many names throughout the world." Javier's mind raced to remember all the stories he had heard during his many trips to foreign lands. "In Germany, I'm called Kris Kringle, or Sinter Klaus. That's where the name Santa Claus comes from in the first place. In Yugoslavia, I'm Deda Mraz. The French call me Pere Noel, while, in much of the English speaking world outside of Canada and the USA, I'm Father Christmas.

In Spain and the Hispanic countries, it's the Three Wise Men, or Tres Reyes who come with gifts on Epiphany, which is the sixth of January. I'm more or less the leader of the group. I'm the one who brings the gold. Even the Jewish children know of me and Mrs. Claus, but they call us Bubba and Zoie, and we bring their gifts on Hanukkah, not Christmas."

Thang's eyes lit up. "Then you really are real." He cried as he put his arms around Javier's neck. "Wait 'till I tell Grandfather that I met Lan Khoong Khoong! In person!" He jumped excitedly off Javier's lap, barely stopping to take the gift that Tracy held out to him.

"And what is your name, little boy? ... " Javier said.

"Joey. " A man's deep voice replied.

Vachon looked up, surprised to see a heavy set black man being wheeled before him by his wife. A few seconds before, there had been a boy of nine or ten standing in the front of the line.

"I couldn't resist doing that." Reese said with a huge grin. "I just wanted to tell you that I was listening from to what you said, and I thought you did a wonderful job of answering that little boy's questions. At first, I didn't think you could pull it off, but I see that Tracy made a good call when she suggested you for the part. Maybe you could teach me those Santa Claus names so that I can use them the next time somebody doubts that I'm the real thing."

"Sure thing. How about if I stop by your place tomorrow evening? Does Tracy have your address?"

" Yes she does." Reese nodded. "I'll be looking forward to your visit."

"Me, too. If you don't mind though, I think there are a quite a few kids still waiting to see Santa." He pointed to the nine year old patiently waiting his turn. "See you tomorrow evening about 8 PM."

Denise had to dodge several kids to navigate Reese's wheelchair out of the gym.

"And what is your name?" He asked the nine year old.

"Tommy. And don't mind Thang. My dad says he's one of them foreign creeps who are taking all the good jobs away from us real Canadians."

"Let me tell you something." He said. "Unless you area a Mississauga or a member of one of the other Indian Nations, There aren't any so called 'real Canadians'. We all came from other countries."

"Oh yes there are real Canadians! My dad is a real Canadian. He was born right here in Toronto." Tommy protested.

"Yes. But what about his father? Or his grandfather? Or his great grandfather? If you go back far enough, the ancestors of everyone we think of as 'real Canadians' came from a foreign land to settle here. So you see, in that sense Thang is a real Canadian. And in a few generations, all of his people will be truly 'real Canadians' as well. Maybe rather than putting people down, we should concentrate on our global heritage. After all, that's what being Canadian is all about."

"I suppose you're right." Tommy smiled slightly. "My great grandfather came from Germany and my grandmother is Irish".

"You know I'm right. Now go and get your gift from Tracy Elf over there."

Tommy climbed down and ran to Tracy for his gift.

& & & & & &

Later, as he was "taking a break to feed his reindeer" an elderly Chinese gentleman came up to him.

"My name is Chang Cho Ping. Thang is my grandson. I want to thank you for what you did for him. Since we had to leave China, he has been disillusioned and depressed. Everything here is strange and foreign to him. He misses his home, and ... well ... you have given him something to believe in again. Even if it is only a legend. My the gods bless you for that." Mr. Ping bowed low.

"Are you so sure that Lan Khoong Khoong is only a legend, Mr. Ping? After all, almost all legends and myths have their origins in reality." Javier returned the bow.

"You are a very wise man." Ping said. "Perhaps I shall look further into the legend of Lan Khoong Khoong. I believed in him once. Perhaps I will believe in him again."

& & & & & &

Several hours later, the party was over. All of the children had gotten to see Santa and had been given their presents. Then it was time to eat. The children and everyone else eagerly devoured the many treats spread out before them. Vachon had his own 'snack' as well. There were games and entertainment, also provided by the 96th. Finally, all the children had been returned to their parents or guardians.

Javier carefully peeled the white whiskers from his own beard. It was a good thing vampires healed quickly. While it was exquisitely painful, the fact that the fake beard was glued to his own stubble also meant it took several patches of his skin with it as it came off as well. Even though the sites were rapidly being covered with new pink skin, there would still be a number of bald places on his face until his beard grew back.

"I really enjoyed that." He said to Tracy. "Just do me one little favor."

"What's that?"

"Don't EVER ask me to do it again."

& & & & & &

After the party, Javier Vachon had escorted Tracy home. Then he decided to finish the night at the Raven. He stood at the bar, thoughtfully nursing a glass of the 'house special'.

While he didn't want it to become common knowledge that he had done it, he had enjoyed himself at the Center, and he was seriously considering letting Tracy talk him into 'volunteering' to help her next year. After all, he did have his 'slacker' reputation to uphold, and if this ever got out, he would never hear the end of it. Especially among the Community.

So far, he was lucky. No one had said anything. Maybe if the fates were good to him, no one would even notice the microscopically tiny flecks of white hair still clinging to his splotchy beard.

"Ho. Ho. Ho. Javier. Or should I say Santa Vachon?" Someone said sarcastically. There was no need to look around. Vachon knew that voice. His worst nightmare was standing behind him. Lucien LaCroix.

"How ... How did you find out? And so soon?" Javier stammered. If a he were mortal, Javier's face would have been beet red with embarrassment.

"Why, Javier. I thought you knew. Nothing happens in the Community that I do not know about. And I am frequently aware of it even before the person involved knows about it." LaCroix smirked. "I knew you would be playing Santa at the Children's Center as soon as I heard that Captain Reese had been wounded. You were the obvious choice to fill the role. Especially since Detective Vetter would be the one making that choice."

"So help me, LaCroix. Master vampire or not, if you so much as breathe a word of this to anyone, I'll ... "

"You'll what?"

Suddenly it dawned on the Spaniard who he was threatening. Lucien LaCroix could make his eternal unlife miserable in ways that no one could possibly imagine. Just ask Nick Knight, LaCroix's ... son.

"nothing." He said in as small a voice as he could.

& & & & & &

It was the end of January when Javier Vachon entered the 96 precinct. It wasn't often that he came here, even though Tracy worked there. There was something about police officers and vampire slackers that did not foster great trust. He was here only because Tracy had called him and asked him to come.

He stood for a few seconds at the desk sergeant's area. Tracy was busy with someone, a man, he couldn't see who it was.

Then Tracy spotted him. She motioned for him to come to her desk. As he approached, he remembered where he had seen the gentleman sitting with her. At the Christmas party the month before. Chang Cho Ping. Than Ling Chan's grandfather.

"You remember Mr. Ping." Tracy said. "He's been trying to find you for the past three weeks, but didn't know your name or anything about you. All he remembered was that you played Santa at the Christmas party at the Center. He knew that it was sponsored by the police department, so he's been calling all the precincts to see if anyone knew who you were. Finally, someone directed him to me. That's when I called you."

"But why would he want to find me? I haven't got anything he could want."

"Oh but you have." Chang said. "You are Lan Khoong Khoong."

"But you and I both know that I'm not Lan Khoong Khoong." Javier replied.

"But Thang does not. Your friend Officer Vetter has been telling me that children often see what they want to see. Thang firmly believes that he saw Lan Khoong Khoong at the Christmas party. And now that I think about it, I'm not too sure that he didn't."

"Like I said, what do you want from me?"

"I'm getting to that, Mr. Vachon. It seems that Thang has been telling everyone that he actually saw Lan Khoong Khoong. The other children especially have been giving him ... how do you say it ... a rough column to rake."

"A hard row to hoe." Tracy corrected.

"Either way, it is the same. They have been making his life miserable, teasing and jeering him. What I am wondering from you is this. Chinese New Years is in two weeks. Our Neighborhood Association is planning a huge party. Would it be possible for you to make an appearance at our celebration as Lan Khoong Khoong?"

"I don't know. I mean, I don't have a costume or anything. In fact, I don't even know what Lan Khoong Khoong looks like. And I'm Spanish, Not oriental. And I can't speak Chinese. And I ... "

"JAVIER VACHON!" Tracy yelled, breaking his diatribe of negatives.

"WHAT!" Javier replied, exasperatedly.

"If you can play Santa, you can play Lan Khoong Khoong."

"Detective Vetter is correct." Mr. Ping added. "You can do it. And I will help you. As far as the costumes go, I have a friend who is an expert with a needle and thread. I believe that it wouldn't be any problem for him to alter a traditional robe to fit you. As for speaking Chinese, I am certain that a few sessions with me and some of my friends will help immensely. We can at least teach you the basic phrases that you will need to know."

"Well, I ... "

"He'll do it." Tracy vouched.

"Thank you so very much." Chang Cho Ping bowed. "You have made an old man and a young boy very happy." He shook Vachon's hand and bowed once more. Then he left the bullpen.

"I'll do it?" Vachon asked.

"You'll do it." Tracy reaffirmed. "You know you can't disappoint little Thang and his friends, can you?"

"I can't?"

"No you can't." Tracy looked around the room. "Is there an echo in here?"

"In that case, just call me Javier Khoong Khoong." He bent down and kissed Tracy gently on the forehead. "See you later, Querida."

"Does that mean you'll do it?" Tracy looked up, but Javier Vachon was nowhere to be found.

& & & & & &

Vachon threw the book to the floor. "Wo de muqin chuan yi hong se lifu. ... My mother wears a red dress. What the hell do I care what color dress my mother wore? ... And I know for a fact she didn't even own a red dress ... " He groused. "This is stupid. I'll never learn enough Chinese to pass myself off as Lan Khoong Khoong. Even Ping's friends can't cram enough of the language into this thick Spanish skull of mine for that."

"Then why are yah botherin' goin' through all that jimmy jam in the first type place?" A man with a thick Cockney accent said from behind him.

"Screed." Javier said, turning to his friend. "I didn't even hear you come in."

"The way youse was concentratin' your brainy powers on that Chimanese learnin' book, you wouldn'ta even 'eard it if'n the Queens Own Grenadiers Royal Army Marchin' Band comin' through 'ere playin' th' h'entire Nineteen 'Undred and Twelve H'overture at full blast."

"You have a point there. But I have to learn Chinese in two weeks. Do you realize that it has over four thousand characters, and most of them are words all by themselves? In addition, many of the words have multiple meanings. The pronunciation is a nightmare. And I'm not even going to mention the dialects."

"Peoples tells me I 'as enough trouble talkin' with the Queen's proper H'english. Of course, I thinks they's daffy in th' noggin. Do you think I speaks funny? Of course not! But then again, I ain't never tried to learn any o' that foreigner talk neither. I figures that if they can't speaks an' understands good 'n' proper Queen's H'english, they's the one 'oo's gots a problem, not me."

"Be that as it may. I still only have two weeks to learn Chinese."

"Then why are you botherin to learn it outta that there silly readin' book for? That's th' way that th' mortal peoples does it. In case youse ain't noticed lately, you an' me, we ain't h'exactically mortals now are we? Th' ways I sees it, youse goes right to the source."

"I've got a meeting with Mr. Ping and a few of his friends at the end of the week. They're going to help me. I thought I'd get a in little practice before hand"

Screed went behind Vachon and knocked several times on his head. " 'Allo in there, V-man. Anybody 'ome? Youse ain't listenin' to what I says. Go ...To ... The ... Source." He emphasized each word with another knock. "Think about it now. 'Ow does a right proper vampire likes yew learn anythin' real fast? You nicks a Chink and draws off a ha'pint or two, and Voiks Lacks! You knows Chimanese like youse been speakin' it from when you was an ittle bitty baby.

"But I promised Nick I wouldn't do anything like that. That I'd do it the right way."

"Right way schmight way. This 'ere's an h'emergency sitcheation. Derfective Knight couldn't h'objec' to yer doin' it in that case. An' I don'ts recall you promisin anythin' like that to the good Derfective inna first place. What 'e doesn't know can't hurt you. And if'n 'e does find out, you can be on yer way to Madrid, Cubar, or even the arse end of 'ell in a matter of minutes. Comes ta thinks o' it, Cubar IS the arse end of 'ell these days."

"Maybe you're right. And it would be just for one night. And I don't have to kill. Like you said, I only have to take a little bit."

"Of course I'm roight. I allus am, ain't I? Don't answers that. Well, I'd likes ter stick around a bit an' blabber wit' ye some more, but I gots me a date wit' a 'uge tommy kittycat whats been pinchin' inter me stash o' ratsies the past coupla daytimes while I been asleeps, an' I gots to teach 'im a lessons er two. Sees ya around, V-Man." With that, Screed left in a gust of wind.

& & & & & &

"Xi shang hao xaio peng yu. Cheng wei Lan Khoong Khoong. (Good evening children. I am Lan Khoong Khoong.)"

"No. It is shi SHANG hao. You have the words correct, but your pronunciation is terrible." Ping corrected. "You are saying it like a westerner. Try again."

"It's no use. We've been at it for almost three hours and I can't even say good evening correctly."

"Do not despair. You will improve with time." Lo Si, one of the gentlemen at the meeting replied. "When you think about it, Chinese is a very difficult language to learn. English is almost as hard. It took some of us many years to learn to speak English properly."

"But I don't have years!" Javier burst out, his frustration showing. "I only have a little over a week."

"Keep it up. You are doing very well, and that's all you really have to say in Chinese. Almost everyone who will be at the celebration either speaks or understands English." Kwai Chang reinforced.

"Yeah. I know, but if I'm supposed to be Lan Khoong Khoong, I should be able to say more than that, shouldn't I?" Javier countered.

"We can get together tomorrow and try again if you want." Cho Ping suggested.

A voice in the back of his head (with a cockney accent at that) reprised. ( Go to the source. ) "That won't be necessary." He told Ping. "I have another way to learn what I need to know."

& & & & & &

Vachon adjusted the wig and slipped on the robe.

"You make a very presentable Lan Khoong Khoong." Cho Ping said . "Now go out there and give all the people a real treat. Just remember. Almost everybody speaks or understands English, so do not be embarrassed that you cannot speak more than a few phrases of Chinese."

"Don't worry, Mr. Ping. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised. As I told you before, I took a crash course. I think I'll be able to muddle through just fine."

Javier entered the main room. "Ni hao mei ren. (Hello everyone.)" He said. "Cheng wei Lan Khoong Khoong. (I am Lan Khoong Khoong.) Bi ren dai fa fang xing fu xi zai cong ti lai nian tou. (I bring you happiness and joy for the coming year.)"

Ping looked at Lo Si in amazement "It is amazing! He is speaking as though he has spoken Chinese all his life! And in a Mandarin dialect at that! I did not believe one could learn it so well in so little time."

"I, too am impressed." Kwai Chang added.

"Perhaps he went to Berlitz. I hear they can do wonders in a very short time." Lo Si speculated.

"Regardless, it is still amazing." Chang Cho Ping repeated.

The audience squealed their approval as well.

For the next hour, Javier went among the people, conversing easily in Chinese with everyone, and handing out presents to the children. Finally, it was time to leave.

"Zai jian. (Goodbye.)" Javier said, waving. "Bu lai.(Be good.)"

"That was amazing!" Tracy congratulated him as she helped him remove his makeup and costume. "How did you learn Chinese so fast? I thought the only way you could learn something that fast was to ... " She blanched as she remembered seeing two tiny red scabs on Cho Ping's neck earlier in the evening. At the time, she thought they were nothing more than small scratches. "YOU DIDN'T!"

"Didn't what?" Javier replied as innocently as possible.

"You know perfectly well ... WHAT! You bit Mr. Ping, didn't you? That's how you learned Chinese so fast!"

"Querida. Don't get yourself in a knot. I only took a few mouthfuls. Just enough to speak like a native. It didn't hurt him, and Mr. Ping doesn't remember a thing. For all he knows we had a very nice talk about his butterfly collection. Did you know he has three kinds of Monarchs in it?"

"That is not an excuse. I thought you knew better than that. "

"But Trace, this was an emergency. You yourself said that you didn't want me to disappoint little Thang. How would it have sounded if Lan Khoong Khoong spoke with a Spanish Canadian accent?"

"Well ... Okay. I guess I can forgive you ... this time."

"Would it help if I took you for a seven layer pizza from Angelinos?"

"It's a start. Extra banana peppers. No anchovies."

"What are we waiting for?"

& & & & & &

" Do I sense a pattern emerging here? First you play Santa Claus and now Lan Khoong Khoong." A satirical voice from behind him said. There was no mistaking that voice. It was the voice of none other than Lucien LaCroix.

Vachon had stopped in at the Raven for a nightcap before heading for the abandoned church he called home. He had hoped, but not really believed that he would not encounter the master vampire.

" Perhaps you should take out an advertisement in the Times? 'Will play characters for any occasion. Contact Javier Vachon'." He grinned slyly. "Perhaps I could persuade you to play Janus for next year's Agonalia festival. That is when the Roman children received their presents and played games. You would look ever so cute in a double faced mask."

"LaCroix. Do not start in on me ... "

"Or what?"

"nothing ... " Vachon said barely above a whisper.

& & & & & &

A few weeks later, Javier Vachon found himself once more in the 96th precinct squadroom. Tracy had again called him to meet her there.

"What is it this time?" He asked.

"This is Rabbi Moskowicz." Tracy said, pointing to an elderly gentleman sitting across from her at her desk. "It seems Rabbi Moskowicz and Mr. Ping are both members of the Greater Toronto Interfaith Council. Mr. Ping told Rabbi Moskowicz about your performance at the New Year celebration, and the Rabbi wants to ... "


"A very unusual fellow you have there. All I wanted to do was to invite him to a dinner at the Royal York Hotel next month. The Council Members want to give him an award for his efforts on behalf of the Children's Center and the Chinese Community. I didn't think it would get that kind of a reaction."

"Some people just are over demonstrative by nature." Tracy agreed. "I suppose Javier Vachon is one of them.

& & & & & &

The end?

As far as Javier Vachon is concerned, it is.

Feliz Navidad

Kuai Le Sheng Dan

Merry Christmas

Happy Holidays

(Please remember, my terrible Chinese came from an online English-Pinyin translator.)