Knight Of The Gunn











August 9, 1992. 12:40 P.M.

Elpidio Munoz and his girlfriend pulled over, off the Interstate between L.A. and San Diego, for a little late-night quality time. It was the perfect spot, or so they thought. Out of sight of nearly all, and close to the new work being done on the road where Elpidio worked during the day, no one would find them, least of all the girl's father. This would be the perfect place to "lose it."

Too absorbed in and with each other to be aware of much of anything else, they failed to notice three extremely important, nay salient facts. One, they were not, as Elpidio had so desperately hoped, alone. Second, something, something very strange, was happening to the ground in the freshly bulldozed area they were parked in. From out of the soil, a hand emerged. Withered, shrunken, partly decayed, it nonetheless was moving, slowly, digging itself, and the body it was attached to, out of the earth. The lovers noted nothing of this, occupied as they were, till something, something very horrible, gazed down at them with red eyes, through the window of Elpidio's car.

No one heard the screams, the shattering of glass, or the unholy, bestial roar. It was two days before the missing lovers turned up, under the blade of a bulldozer. They had come there to "lose it". Thanks to a bad choice, they had lost everything.





Nick sighed loudly as he turned the page. He'd never liked paperwork. Never. Even as a Crusader Knight, he'd been a lousy letter writer, sending home but a single epistle during his entire adventure in Outremer. It just, to put it in the modern vernacular, wasn't his bag.

He turned another page in his report, the Crowe case, and soldiered on. The file on the sadistic serial killer, responsible for the rape/torture/dismemberment/cannibalistic murder of at least nine children, could at last, thank God, be closed. Tracked to his lair, the charming, handsome, deceptively mild-mannered, smiling security man from the local Wal-Mart had been in the midst of literally unspeakable acts with his latest victim when Nick, Schanke, and ten extra officers as back-up had burst into his innocent-looking suburban house, finding him in the basement, naked and completely covered in blood. Captain Stonetree, with his troops for this one, was as thoroughly sickened by what they found as any of his men. Bones, skulls, dismembered body parts, containers filled with blood and organs, the kitchen. It was a truly Satanic chamber of horrors, unlike anything the Captain had ever seen in all his years as a cop.

Unfortunately, Nick had, though that didn't keep even his vampiric stomach from feeling sick. Throughout his long life, he'd seen all manner of horror and death, in and out of war. He had even caused his fair share, but...but this!

Now, with Crowe in hospital, recovering from the bullets with which Schanke and Stonetree had felled him, Nick and his partner could finish up the tedious bits, and Toronto could sleep just a little better, putting the horrifying case of Jason "The Cannibal" Crowe behind it.

"The only good thing is that we got that other kid out of there before Sicko could cut him up," said Schanke, writing fast.

"Yeah," said Nick. "At least he remembers nothing from the time he was kidnapped."

"Lucky kid," said Schanke.

"Yeah," smiled Nick. "Isn't he."

Nick continued to write as fast as mortally possible, when he heard his name mentioned somewhere. He looked up, and saw one of the uniformed officers at the entrance to the bullpen speaking with a tall, distinguished- looking elderly man with a cane, and pointing in his direction. The old man slowly turned and looked at him, and there was immediate recognition on his face.

"Peter?" Nick whispered. He stood as the other man approached him, his own expression going from surprise to joy. He moved away from the desk, and Schanke's ears, meeting the visitor half-way. The two at once clasped hands.

"Nick. Good to see you," he said, his voice still strong despite his age. "You look well," he smiled knowingly. Despite the outward look, Nick could feel at once that something was wrong.

"And you too, Pete." He spared Schanke a brief look. "How are Edie and the kids? Kids? Lord, you two must be grandparents many times over."

"That's what I'm here about, Nick," said Peter Gunn. "It's Kesteven. Edie's been kidnapped."

* * *



Los Angeles, 1959

Edie Hart finished her number, and acknowledged the applause of the small crowd filling Mother's. She looked at her watch. Nearly 7:30, and Pete was supposed to be here at 7. Doubtless he'd gotten hung up on some case or other. He often did.

Ah, to be in love with a Private Eye.

She'd just started another one when the door opened, and a man entered. He was tallish, with trenchcoat, gloves, and fedora. He sat at a table near the bar and removed them. He had a wild shock of blonde hair, a moustache, and radiated a boyish charm as he leaned back in his chair. He looked to be about 30 or so, and if it weren't for the faint smile he never seemed to lose, Edie would have pegged him for an ex-soldier, or maybe the teaching type.

Stop analyzing the clientele, Edie, she told herself. You're starting to act like Pete.

As if on cue, the subject of her thoughts entered the bar, and filled his usual chair. He ordered a drink, and watched, smiling, as Edie finished her number. That done, she moved over to sit beside him. Betty brought his glass, and took her order in turn.

"You know," she said, pretending not to look at him, "I was under the impression that punctuality was important in your line of work."

"It is, sweetie. Very."

"Then, perhaps if Monsieur will look at the clock."

"There was a little trouble. Over at the Union Hall."

"I see. And what was it this time? Mobsters? Corrupt union officials?"

"D.A.'s office, actually. One of their people taking bribes to look the other way."

"And you went in, guns blazing, I suppose?"

"Well, me and Lt. Jacoby. And a few of his men. It all worked out fine in the end, though."

"I hope so," she sighed, arms crossed.

"Valdez'll get the gas chamber for sure. Ten murders, maybe more."

"As long as you keep breathing, Peter Gunn of the Clan Gunn," said Edie, with great patience. Of all the men she could have possibly fallen in love with.

Just then Betty brought her drink, and she began to peruse the faces. Most of them were long-timers. Emmet and the band, of course. Barney behind the bar as always. Mother on the phone. The usuals.

Except for the blonde guy. He'd ordered wine, and she watched him as he poured something from a hip flask into it. As he drank, she could almost feel a wave of electricity, or something, wash over her. She had to admit, he was an attractive guy. Hell, he was downright sexy! The feeling only got stronger when he noticed her looking at him. His blue eyes were incredibly intense. When he looked at her, she felt as if he was looking right through her, almost as if she were naked. Who...

Then, he turned away, and she let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. He'd turned to look at the band, firing up for another number, and then exchanged a few words with Mother as she passed by his table.

"Who is he?" asked Pete, bringing her back to the here and now. He smiled at her ever so faintly.

"Huh? Oh, him?" she blushed. "Uh I don't know. He came in right before you did."

"Alone?"

"Uh huh."

"Did he."

"Pete, are you jealous? She asked, turning squarely to face him.

"Oh honey, please. I."

"That's what I thought," she said, rising, and heading back for the microphone. Slowly, smolderingly, she launched into a husky rendition of It Had To Be You, never taking her eyes off of Pete. For his part, he turned and saw that the stranger was looking at him. Then, the door opened.

* * *

Schanke finished his report, and looked up. He saw Nick talking to a tall, thin, elderly man, leaning on a cane. With a narrow face and snowy white hair, he looked like a doctor or an ambassador. He also looked familiar.

Schanke turned as Natalie entered, prelim in hand. As expected, it contained no surprises. Blood, tissue, semen, and dental evidence recovered from the various crime scenes matched that taken from Crowe's residence, tying him irrevocably to each and every killing. As far as forensics was concerned, case closed.

"Who's Nick talking to?" she asked Schanke. Both men looked very serious.

"Dunno," shrugged Schanke. "But I'd swear I'd seen him before, Natalie." He picked up some papers from his desk, and moved towards Nick. "Hey, partner, you gonna sign off on this? Stonetree's about to have kittens wrapped in barbed wire, and Commissioner Vetter's been on the phone 900 times tonight, screaming. Not to mention the Mayor."

"Uhrright, Schank." Natalie had come up behind. "Uh, Natalie, this is Peter Gunn."

"G...I knew it!" said Schanke, brightening. "Peter Gunn, the Private Investigator!" He took Gunn's hand, shaking it. The old man's hand was thin, but still strong. "I remember you. You lectured in criminology when I was in college. Gee, Nick, I didn't know you knew a legend."

"I'm hardly that, Detective."

"Schanke, sir. Donald Schanke."

"Schanke. Yes, I remember you. You were the one who kept asking all sorts of questions about crime-scene photos, and blood-stain spattering."

"Yeah. Yeah, I did."

"Very perspicacious questions, as I remember, Detective."

"Well, I guess. I hope we can talk, while you're in town, sir."

"Maybe," replied Gunn, smiling.

"Uhh, Nick. This report?" said Don, and Nick excused himself, his final words to Gunn being "later, Pete." Gunn turned and left, just as Stonetree emerged from his office to bellow-

"Knight! Schanke!"

It had been another brutal crime, but fortunately one more quickly dealt with. The attendant at an all-night convenience store was raped, and a customer stabbed, the attacker's confederate looting the place of money, alcohol, and tobacco while the girl was assaulted. Fortunately, though the girl had been stabbed by her attacker as well, he hadn't bothered to make sure, and she had managed to hit the silent alarm.

While Schanke checked out the scene and called an ambulance, Nick followed the scent of blood and sweat left by the thieves. The girl had scratched her attacker's face deeply, and he could smell it in the night air. Two blocks away, he caught them in an intersection, their car on its side, hit by another vehicle as they tried to beat a red light.

It had felt very satisfying to book the cruds, and while it might not be exactly proper police procedure, he'd "whammied" one of them into spilling his guts in the interrogation room. These two were going down. The second victim was even going to pull through, the hospital said. Yeah, he told himself, as he sat back on the leather sofa near dawn, and sipped at his sustenance. It felt very good.

The buzzer interrupted his quietude, and he told his caller to come on up. Soon, the legendary Peter Gunn was sitting across from him, a glass of something more suited to mortal tastes in his hand.

"I must admit, I hadn't thought to see you again, Pete," he said. "Generally, it isn't safe."

"I know. The Enforcers and all. And I wouldn't have come either, except there's no one else that I could turn to, Nick. My hand's been forced."

"The kids?"

"No, I haven't even told them, Nick. They know nothing about you, or Kesteven, or any of it. Edie and I decided that it was best that way."

"And she's been kidnapped."

"Yes," replied the detective, and reached into his pocket. He handed a letter to Nick. "But this should be impossible, Nick. Kesteven's dead. Staked. You saw it as well as Jacoby or I. That was over 34 years ago. And that's not all. She's ill, Nick."

"Ill? How?"

"She has Alzheimer's, Nick. Some days she's fine, just like the old days. Some days she recognizes the kids and me, some days she doesn't know the difference, and asks about Emmet, or Mother, or even you, once. That, and her heart problem." There was a buzzer, and he looked up towards the speaker. Presently, Nick opened the door for Natalie, and introduced them. Then, reading the ransom letter once more, he drifted back. Back to Los Angeles, back to 1959, and that night at Mother's.

* * *

The door opened, and two men entered. They stood by the door a moment, scanning the room, before taking a table on the far side of the bar from Pete, near the pay phone. Pete watched them as Barney got their drinks, and they settled back. He immediately didn't like the look of either of them.

And neither did the blonde fellow, he noticed. He'd stiffened when the two had entered, his body language obvious. Plainly, he knew the two, and from his expression didn't like what he knew. Pete turned his gaze back their way, studying them. One was Negro, and looked to about 40 or so. Solid and muscular, he had the build of an athlete, and the face of someone accustomed to life on the hard side. The face of someone hard, and without sympathy. Curiously, like the blonde guy, he took a flask from inside his coat, and poured something into his glass of red wine. He drank, then sat back, stroking his moustache and looked at the blonde.

His companion was older, perhaps 45-50, white, and drinking beer. With a hawkish nose and craggy face, he looked the stereotypical crook. In fact, after a moment or two, Pete recognized him as such. A small-time hood from...

The electricity in the air palpably jumped as the two, the black and the blonde, locked gazes. The blonde gazed intently at him, narrowing his eyes, and for a moment it seemed as if a tangible wave of something rippled through the room. For a second, the lights seemed to dim, and the black man stiffened.

This is weird, Gunn thought, then Edie finished. As she sat down, the blonde guy got up, left money on the table for his drinks, and with a final look at the other, left the tavern. A few moments later, the Negro followed suit. His older companion seemed reluctant to leave, nose buried in his beer, but did so as well.

When finally he left Mother's, Gunn was still mulling what he'd seen inside. As he reached his car, he heard a noise from across the street. It was a Human cry. A cry of pain. A cry, and a hiss. Drawing his gun, he moved that way, and peered into the alley. In the light of a dirty fixture over an open door, he saw two figures standing.

And glowing eyes?

The figures were locked in a tight embrace, like wrestlers. Pete heard a few grunted words, but couldn't make them out. The two were moving with blinding speed as they fought, knocking over trash cans and sending cats scurrying. One broke free and grabbed up something, a pipe perhaps, and struck the other.

"HOLD!" ordered Gunn, and both combatants turned.

"Oh my God!" he rasped, as he saw both men more fully. Both, the blonde and the Negro, were looking at him with blazing red eyes, and fangs! The Negro held the pipe, clearly wet with blood. Before Pete could do more than blink, a door opened, and someone stepped out into the cone of illumination.

"Hey, what's all this?" a voice demanded, then stopped. With incredible quickness, the Negro was up, and had grabbed the intruder.

Sinking his fangs into the fellow's neck. The man screamed, struggling violently, then sagged. The blonde seemed frozen for a moment, as his adversary held onto his victim. Then, he dropped the limp body, and flew off.

Yes. Flew. In a blur, the malefactor had dropped the man, and moved straight up, into the air. Pete raised his gun and fired, but the killer was gone into the night.

Not so the blonde. In a blur, he crossed the distance between them, until he was six inches from Pete's face. He now appeared totally normal, save for a bloody cut on his forehead. How in Heaven's name...

"You did not see this," he said, his voice pleasant and melodious. He looked deep into Pete's eyes, and for a moment all Gunn could see or remember were those blue eyes, all he could hear was the beating of his own heart. "Do you understand? You saw nothing," said the man.

"I...I saw..." began Pete, but a voice cut through the fog.

"Pete? Pete!"

It was Edie. He blinked a few times, his mind clearing, and he turned to see her. When he turned back, the stranger was gone, and the odd sensation in his head as well. He looked down the alley, saw the shape of the body, and in a flash remembered it all.

"Pete," said Edie at his side. "What's going on?" Behind her were Barney, Mother, and a few patrons from the bar. "We thought we heard a shot, and..."

"Yeah," he said, holstering his pistol. "I've got to call the police."



"I've heard of you, naturally," said Natalie, curled up on the couch and sipping an instant coffee. "I didn't realize that Nick knew you."

"It was after I'd left Frisco, Nat. I was waiting for my new ID to kick in, when I'd heard that Kesteven had escaped from prison."

"Who?" asked Natalie.

"Luther Kesteven. When I was a P.I. in San Francisco, there was a series of brutal murders. Torture, dismemberment, mutilation. Alot like the Crowe case, actually. It was sickening, even for me."

"And this Kesteven was the guy?"

"He was. I finally tracked him down, my last major case in Frisco in fact, and based on the testimony of a victim I'd rescued, he was sentenced to death. After I'd left town, I saw in the papers that he'd escaped from San Quentin after killing a guard and another inmate."

"And you decided to go after him." She shook her head, with a faint smile. "My hero."

"Excuse me?" asked Gunn.

"She still means I act like a knight in shining armor, sometimes," said Nick. "Or in my case, rusty armor. Well, I felt responsible, still. After all, I'd collared him once. I hoped I could do so once more, deliver him to the authorities, anonymously of course, and then be on my way."

"Which brought you to Los Angeles," said Peter.

"I remembered that Kesteven was Southern Californian to begin with, so I followed a hunch. He had a cousin in L.A., and I ...'convinced' him to tell me what he knew."

"How?" asked Gunn. "Oh, yes. I remember."

"Yes, his hypnotism," said Natalie. "Then?"

"I learned that he'd been in the company of one Sid Mack of late. A small-time crook. Safe-cracking, hold-ups, that sort of thing, and Mack was known to visit a bar called Mother's. So, on a hunch..."

"And he was there," ventured Nat.

"He showed up a few minutes after I did. And Kesteven was with him. Only..."

"Yeah?' asked Nat.

"Only now, Kesteven was a vampire. A fledgling, yes, but one of us." Nick rose, and refilled his guest's drinks. "That complicated things just a bit."

"I take it he wasn't when you sent him to prison," said Nat.

"No. He was mortal. And he escaped less than a week before he was scheduled to be executed. I heard that the guard and inmate who died had both suffered severe loss of blood." He handed her another coffee, and Pete a Merlot. Natalie grimaced but said nothing. How could someone have reached 800 years old, and not know how to make instant coffee?

"Then he was brought across in prison?"

"It's the only was I can figure it. The logistics must have been a bitch, but it was done."

"That must have been annoying. Did LaCroix...?"

"No. Kesteven was none of his. Thankfully."

"Okay, so Kesteven became a vampire, and he's on the prowl," continued Nat.

"He's kidnapped my wife," said Gunn. "And she's ill, Doctor Lambert."

"Why?"

"We spoiled his plans, back in '59, Doctor. Kesteven was putting together a criminal gang for a job. A big job."

"How big?"

"Nearly 10 million, if it had gone down," said Gunn. Nat whistled.

"No wonder he hates you," said Natalie. "But why has he waited so long for revenge? Thirty plus years?"

"In part, because he was dead, Nat," said Nick. "Yes. When it was all finished, he was staked, and dumped for sunrise. Somehow, somehow..."

"Somehow, he didn't die, and he's back from the grave you put him in," said Natalie. "I see."

"And Edie's very ill," added Nick. With a nod from Gunn, he handed her the ransom note. It was handwritten, and very to the point.

"Mr. Gunn, you will, I think, neither have forgotten me, nor the trouble you caused me back in 1959. The time has come, finally, for a reckoning of the account between us, Mr. Gunn. I have your wife, and you know what I will do to her if you attempt in any way to thwart me, or go to the police. Follow the enclosed instructions."

-Luther Kesteven

Enclosed was the name and address of a hotel in Buffalo, and a telephone number. Pete was to go there, check in, and wait. There was also a Polaroid shot of Edie, bound in a chair, looking frail. Frail and frightened, for over her shoulder was Kesteven, eyes red, fangs down, his expression taunting.

"My God," said Nat, "he's sick."

"That he is, even as a mortal. "So."

"So, I checked in and waited," said Gunn. "And I waited. I called the number he gave, only to find out it was the number of an auto body shop. For two days I kept waiting. I was about at my wits end when he finally called me."

"What did he say?" asked Nick.

"Was I enjoying Buffalo, and did I miss my wife. He let me hear her scream." Gunn leapt up, and began to pace the room. "I...I've always prided myself on being in control, Nick. In the Army, with my men pinned down by German artillery, or in Korea. As a cop, then a P.I. Even when Edie was snatched before, by Shoemaker or Stone, I kept it inside. Under control. But now..."

"Pete."

"Nick, I'm an old man. I haven't got that kind of strength left, anymore. I...I want to rush in blasting, like the old days. But now...Now I feel as weak and helpless as a kitten. You...you can't understand what it's like. And Kesteven is what you are. I can't fight him with fists, or bullets."

"So you came to me," said Nick, and at once regretted it, seeing the look on Pete's face. He raised a hand. "Pete, I didn't mean it that way."

"I...I know, Nick. I fought the idea of involving you. I remember the warnings, but I was led here, Kesteven being a vampire, his pointedly not mentioning you in the note. Buffalo being so close, and then the call to my hotel. It was from the Toronto Area Code. Hell, I know a thing or two about following up a clue. But he did mention you, nonetheless, Nick."

"How?"

"The number he gave me?"

"Yeah?"

"It was Knight's Auto Body."

"Clever. So, how'd you know where he was?" asked Natalie, indicating Nicholas.

"Pete and Edie are some of the few mortals I've kept in touch with, Nat. Christmas cards, that sort of thing."

"So I knew Nick was in Toronto," Gunn went on. "I hesitated as long as I dared, partly because of the risks with the Community." He looked at Natalie. "Yes, Nick told me all about that when he found out I was a resister. But Edie..." He sagged, turning away from Nick.

"Don't apologize," said Nick, hand on the old mortal's shoulder. "You could have come to me, in any case."

"I know, but I remember what you told me about the Enforcers. LaCroix. I didn't want to..."

"Forget it, Pete. I'm here. We'll get him. Again."

"I'm...I'm glad, Nick." he sat down, obviously tired.

"And you needn't worry about LaCroix," said Nick. Pete raised a questioning brow. "LaCroix is dead."

"I recognize her, now," said Natalie, looking at the hostage photo once more. "Edie Hart."

"You know her?" asked Gunn, brightening slightly.

"Met her once, actually. We went to one of her concerts once when I was little. I have her autograph, somewhere. My mom had several of her albums when I was a kid, including the one with the Mancini Orchestra. I've got them now. She's fantastic."

"I know," said Pete, and a momentary twinkle in his eye bespoke a wave of memory. "She is." He rose again, walking slowly towards the fireplace.

"But Nick," said Natalie, "what happens if the Community finds out, and sticks its nose into things?"

"In that case," said Gunn, turning around, eyes flinty, "I will accept whatever penalty the Community decrees for me. So long as Edie is safe."

"Pete..."

"I mean it, Nick. By God, I swear it."

"Yeah," said Nick, expecting no less, then he felt it. For a brief moment, at the edges of his awareness, he sensed another vampire. He reached out, but it was gone.

The next night was fairly quiet, and Nick spent the early part of it catching up on, what else?- paperwork! He'd gotten the number Pete was called from traced. It turned out to be from a phone booth in the suburbs. Edie's scream must have been taped. But, the heart medication she'd been prescribed was something fairly new, and Natalie promised to check in with some of her medical contacts, to find out what she could, and whether any of it had gone missing.

"Would you please tell me something, Nick?" asked Schanke, as they slummed the mean streets of Toronto in Nick's personal green Battlestar.

"What?"

"Why are we heading for the Raven again?"

"Uhhh.. who says were heading for the Raven, Schank?" asked Nick, all innocence.

"Because, one, whenever we do, you always take the same route from the station. Two, you've got that same glazed look you always get before we go there. And, three, when I got into the car, I heard you slurp 'Janette' into the car phone before you hung up." He looked at his partner, daring him to disagree. "Well?"

"Slurp? Slurp??"

"Well?" repeated Schanke, implacable.

"I... I just need to check something out, okay?"

"Such as ze lovely Mizz duCharme, perhaps, eh mon ami?" asked Don, in a truly terrible French accent.

"As in I have to check something out."

"Ah."

"Ah?"

"Oh come on, Nick. You know I hate this place. It's so bloody weird." He saw Nick smile, ever so briefly. "What, did I say something funny?"

"If you don't like it, don't come in," said Nick, a little less lightly.

"Last time, Myra found lipstick on my collar," said Don. "I thought I was going to have to go into a monastery ala Peter Abelard, or get a job as some Sheik's harem-keeper, if you get my drift. Man, that Alma chick was weirder than Technicolor earwax. I.. "

"And how is Myra lately?" asked Nick. "Ah, here we are." He pulled up in front of the Raven. "I won't be long, Schanke." Getting out he muttered: "I do not slurp."

"With Janette?" he snorted, once Nick was gone. "Yeah, right."

As he entered, the bouncer at the door snarled at Nick. Like most in the Community, he'd heard of the ex-Crusader and his insane search for a "cure", and looked down on him for it. He growled down at him from his nearly seven feet, baring teeth. Nick just growled back, and let a little of his power be felt. The other stepped back. Though large, the bouncer was only a few years across. It would have been no contest.

"Where's Janette?" Nick asked. The bouncer merely jerked his head in the direction of the bar. "Maybe you should consider speech lessons," quipped Nick, and moved past him. At the bar, the Mistress of the Raven was sharing a drink with another vampire. Nick did not recognize him, but could feel his extreme youth. No more than a few weeks at best, he estimated. As he approached, Janette put down her glass, and smiled.

"Later, mon cher," she purred, and patted the fledgling on the cheek. With a slight bow of respect towards Nick, he vanished into the undulating crowd. "Nichola."

"Yours?" he asked, of the other.

"Leonard? Oh no, Nichola. His Master was killed in a car crash a few weeks ago. Completely incinerated. I have sort of become a mother to him." She finished off her drink. "Teaching him what he needs to know, and all. After all, a fledgling without a Master can be dangerous."

"True. It is one of your talents, Janette, after all." smiled Nick.

"Merci, mon chevalier, but you did not come here to praise me, I think. You want something."

"Well..."

"I thought so," she sighed, and poured herself another glass. "What is it this time?"

"Luther Kesteven," he said. "Ever hear of him?" He waited while she searched her memory.

"Keste...oh yes. Something. Wasn't he a mass murderer or something, years ago? California, was it not?"

"Yes. I put him away, when I was in Frisco, but he broke out. Someone brought him across."

"I see, and you think that he is in town?"

"I know he is, Janette."

"And?" she asked, eyebrow cocked.

"And he was staked. Left for the sun. Yet..."

"Then how can you know it to be him?" He explained the report from the California Highway Patrol, and the drained bodies.

"He's kidnapped a friend of mine, Janette. A mortal." He watched her expression. "No. Not Natalie. Someone from a long time ago." He showed her the Polaroid.

"Oh, Nichola..."

"Look, Janette, she was a resister, and she saved my life. She and her husband kept my secret. She's ill, Janette. Dying."

"Then let her, Nichola. It's what mortals do, is it not?"

"He's a danger to us all, Janette. Not properly hiding kills. Getting involved in high profile..."

"Nich..."

"Janette!"

"Alright, alright mon chevalier," she sighed with exaggerated patience. "I shall keep an eye out. What is he doing with her, anyway?"

"Revenge. I nailed him once, then foiled a 10 million dollar heist."

"I see. And her?"

"She helped."

"Ah." Nick looked up, and saw Schanke at the door.

"Gotta go, Janette. Keep in touch."

"Of course, Nichola," she said, squeezing her eyes shut against the headache that was just starting. She lit a cigarette, and took a long drag. Exhaling with a disgusted sigh, she looked around the Raven. "Leonard?"

They pulled up at a jewelry store, to find that the nightwatchman had been shot, and the vault sliced by a pro. At the very least, two mil in gems were gone, and not a print in sight.

"And you're sure it's him?" asked Nat, after Schanke had been sent off with a somewhat doctored prelim.

"Oh yeah. Aside from being a sick sadistic serial killer, Luther Kesteven was also the best cracksman in the Western Hemisphere, Nat. He could slice open a vault the way you do a corpse, and never trip an alarm. He was a virtuoso."

"You're absolutely certain?"

"Yes. This is an old vault, the sort he'd be familiar with. I also recognize his style. And, he left me a calling card." He pointed to a bloodstain on the edge of the cut metal. "It was his. Not enough to tell me where Edie is, but enough so that I could sense the owner."

"So that's why they didn't attack the guard in the usual way. This was something for you to find, alone."

"That's how I read it, Nat."

"It's like he's taunting you, then. Playing games."

"Uh huh. It's his style. He taunted the police during his crime spree in Frisco, too. He knew Pete would contact me. He's letting me know he knows."

"But why mix a kidnapping with a jewel heist? It only complicates things. Gives him more to worry about, Nick."

"Luther could never resist the lure of the big haul, Natalie. He has an insatiable need for wealth. To live like a king. He could never resist it. Not then, not now."

"And that's how you caught him, back in '59?"

"Yeah."

* * *

"This is insane," decreed Lt. Jacoby, seated at his desk, closing the manila folder over the M.E.'s report. The dead man from the alley had died from massive exsanguination, and had pronounced bite marks in his throat. The implications did not sit at all well with Jacoby. "Now, give it to me, once more."

"I told you," said Gunn. "I left Mother's, and headed straight for my car. I heard a cry from the alley, like someone was in pain. I saw the guy from Mother's struggling with someone else. I cried halt, and then drew my gun. I fired, but he got away in the dark. End of story." He waited a bit. "Any ID on the dead man at all?" Jacoby looked intently at him before answering.

"Salvatore Minelli," he nodded, returning to the file. "A baker by profession, Pete. Came here from Italy 27 years ago. Totally clean. No criminal history or known associations. It looks like he just blundered into...whatever."

"Then I wonder where the other one went."

"Sid Mack? We're looking, Pete. We've also put your description of this Negro on the wire. Hopefully, something will turn up, but..." He let the sentence hang. "Pete..."

"I don't get it, either, Lieutenant. Is the M.E certain?"

"Yes. The victim was missing over six pints of blood. Death by exsanguination." There was a strained silence. "As to Sid Mack, we're looking for him."

"You said that."

"I...Oh, right."

Gunn left the obviously flustered policeman and went outside, heading for his car. As he reached it, he felt suddenly as if he were being watched. He stiffened, hand on the door, and looked up. At the end of the block, someone was standing, looking in his direction. The streetlamp caught their hair. The blonde guy. Gunn let go the door, and started that way. A truck rolled through the intersection, and he waited. When it had passed, the other had gone.

Yet, all the rest of that night, the feeling of being watched did not go away.

The next night at Mother's, Jacoby entered just as Pete tucked into his dinner. He had news, it seemed.

"We got a positive on the guy you saw, Pete." He tossed a police report on the table, opened to a mug shot. "Luther Kesteven."

"Lu...ah."

"You know him?"

"By reputation. It was in all the papers, a year or so back. He was convicted of several murders in San Francisco."

"Not just murders, Pete.' Jacoby looked around, and lowered his voice. "Torture. Torture and sexual mutilation such as you wouldn't believe." He turned a page, and indicated some crime scene photos. "One of the officers in Frisco even took early retirement, it was so horrible." He let Gunn peruse the file a few moments. His friend was clearly as disgusted as he. "But it goes deeper, Pete. He's also the best safe cracker around, bar none, according to the S.F.P.D. He can play a vault like Heifitz."

"I see. And Sid Mack..."

"Is also a safecracker, with contacts in the fencing world. Now the Frisco police said that Kesteven escaped from prison about five months ago. He killed a guard and another inmate in the escape."

"From death row? He must have had help, Lieutenant."

"The prison authorities agree. They're still investigating, but so far nothing."

"And now he's here, with another safecracker. He's obviously planning something, Lieutenant. Something big." He pushed his plate away, and smiled up at Edie, standing at the microphone. He turned back to Jacoby. The Lieutenant had a pensive expression. "What? There's something else, isn't there?"

"Yeah, there is, Pete. There is, but I don't know how to say it."

"Just say it, Lieutenant. That usually works."

"The...the two men at the prison, killed in Kesteven's escape."

"Yes?"

"They died the same was as Minelli, Pete. Massive loss of blood."

"Then you mean..."

"I don't know what it means," said the cop with some heat. "Part of me doesn't want to." He leaned back. "I've got an APB out for both of them, Pete. Kesteven and Mack. We'll get them." He rose as Edie came over to the table, and excused himself. "Miss Hart," he said, tipping his hat, and left.

"I hope," said Gunn to himself.

Even without the bloody clue, Nick would have recognized Kesteven's work. The way he'd bypassed the security system, the way he'd filleted the steel. All bespoke a master. And, given that they hadn't had security cameras like that back in the 50's, obviously Kesteven had updated his skills.

"Here you go, Detective," said a uniform, handing Nick a folder. "Just came in."

"Thanks," said Nick, and opened it. It contained both the old 50's police files from California about Kesteven, as well as one report from CHiPs, dated August, on the discovery of two corpses at a construction site on the Interstate, south of LA. Nick checked the map references very closely. No doubt about it. To the best of his recollection, given the circumstances, it was the exact spot. The spot where he'd dumped...

"Hey, Nickyboy," said Don, interrupting his reverie. "In early, huh?"

"Yeah."

"What's the file, Nick? Something hot?"

"Nah," said Nick, popping them into hid desk drawer. "Old stuff. So, did you hear the news?"

Much to the surprise of all, the night watchman had survived, and had recovered sufficiently to give a police artist excellent descriptions of the robbery team. There were three of them. One had been quickly identified as Michael Harr, known to police in three Provinces and four U.S. States as a petty thief and fence, and paroled almost a year ago from a Canadian prison. Incredibly, he was now working for the City Works department. As a file clerk! Another, though not yet identified by the department, Nick at once recognized as Luther Kesteven. The third man was unknown.

"That's how they got in," said Schanke, perusing the report on Harr. "Through the sewers. I'll wager the price of The Mother Of All Souvlakis he provided the gang with copies of those plans, Nick."

"No bets," said Nick, stomach quivering at the very thought. "I conceed." He put on his jacket. "City Works says he works nights, but was off the night of the robbery."

"He on duty, now?"

"His shift starts at eight."

"Then let's roll, Pardner!"

Harr was just leaving his place when the detectives pulled up. He tried to run, but Schanke's order to "freeze", and the sound of two guns being cocked decided him of the better part of valor. As they closed in, both detectives could smell him. He reeked of alcohol, enough to make even Nick's nose wrinkle in disgust.

"Woo, Harr. With all that jewelry loot you can't afford anything better than flavored turpentine?" asked Schanke, as he cuffed the short, closely cropped man.

"Hey man, what's the charge? I ain't done noth..."

"How's burglary, grand theft, and attempted murder grab you, huh Harr?" asked Nick.

"Huh? Whaddya..."

"We know you were part of the robbery team at Yuzhin's Jewelry, Harr, and that you provided the plans for the sewers under the building."

"Look, I..."

"Save it for Downtown," said Schanke.

"I want a lawyer!"

"You'll get one." He looked up, and saw Nick with that "remote satellite" look in his eyes. "Nick?" Zilch. Oooooooh, Ni-Ick!"

"You take him on in, Schank," said Nick. "Make sure they do a paraffin test on his hands, too. I want to check out his place."

"Sure, Nick. Come on, Harr. You have the right to remain..."

Schanke's voice faded into the darkness as Nick went inside. Harr lived on the third floor of a run-down apartment building. Letting himself in with Harr's key, he looked around the Palais d'Swank. Like the building as a whole, it was frumpy. On a side table, was a half-empty bottle of cheap booze. Obviously, Harr had yet to utilize any substantial profits from his latest illicit adventure. Using his preternatural senses, Nick felt some slight residual heat, and smelled smoke. He turned towards the fireplace. There were still warm ashes in the grate. Gingerly looking them over, he found a few unburned bits. Parts of the sewers under the relevant section of Toronto. Yeah. He pulled a plastic bag from his coat, and placed the pieces inside, then pulled out his cell phone, and called the lab boys. In a drawer, he found a single diamond ring, of at least 10 carats weight, and an old Smith and Wesson .32 pistol. He sniffed it. It had been fired recently. Checking the cylinder, he found that two shells had been discharged. Then he felt it, again.

"Come on in," he said, turning. There in the doorway to the small apartment stood Luther Kesteven. As Nick expected, he looked unchanged from all those years ago. Except, he decided, for the eyes. The eyes were, if possible, even crueler than before.

And they were angry.

"You're too late, Luther," said Nick. "Harr's in custody, and he'll sing. Believe me. He will sing."

"Yes I'm sure," said the other vampire. Though he was vastly younger, Nick could feel raw power emanating from the other man. Kesteven had fed, nay glutted, and quite recently. "Well, you've beaten me to it once again, deBrabant. Swollen with pride, are we? Hhmm?"

"Where is she?"

"Why should I tell you?" demanded Kesteven sharply, yet his eyes gleamed with a sick merriment.

"She's an old woman, Kesteven. She's done you no harm."

"Really?" The black vampire fully entered the room and closed the door. "She served her purpose," he said off-handedly, lighting a cigarette.

"Drawing me out."

"Of course," smiled Luther. "I'd heard you were mixed up with the law, again. A cop." Luther shook his head. "Really. And in Toronto. Disgusting pile. But as long as LaCroix was around, I knew better."

"Leave him out of this," snarled Nick, wondering how Kesteven had come to know about him staking LaCroix. If he knew, did the Enforcers...

"Anyway, once I was fully recovered from my long sleep, and fully up to date on the modern world, I moved." He moved around the room, puffing out clouds of blue smoke. "I must say, things certainly have changed, deBrabant. Moon landings, color television, computers, and these cellular telephones. I'm impressed. Really impressed."

"I'm pleased for you," said Nick, in quite the opposite tone of voice.

"And hey!" said the other, sick grin wide, "I get to vote, now! And we can use the same drinking fountains and restrooms, you and I! Isn't that great?"

"Get to the point, Kesteven, if there is one."

"I'm here, deBrabant. That's the point. You and me, together again."

"And Edie. But then it's always a sick game with you, isn't it?" said Nick. "You can't just challenge me. You have to involve an innocent, and indulge your twisted pleasures."

"But it's so much more fun, that way!" laughed Luther. "And she's not an innocent," he continued, all merriment suddenly fading, replaced by a cold, glacial cruelty. "She nor Gunn. You all interfered before. All of you! You cost me alot. I only wish Jacoby was still with us. I could settle all my debts at once."

"So you kidnapped Edie, and taunted Pete, knowing that sooner or later, he'd come looking for me."

"Well, you are the only other vampire he knows Nick. I may call you Nick, mayn't I?"

"Let her go, Luther. We'll have it out, just you and I. Vampire to vampire. Your choice of venue, if you like. But let Edie go." For a moment, Luther seemed to consider Nick's offer. "Is she still alive, Luther?" Nick moved a step closer, letting menace seep into his voice. Just a tiny bit, Luther stepped back.

"Oh she's alive. Half the time she doesn't know who I am, or even where she is, but she's alive still. I see to that."

"Then..." Just then the flashing lights of a police unit shown through the window. Nick turned for just a second...

"No!" said Luther, and drew a small glass bottle from his coat. "Ta ta!" he laughed, and threw it at the nearest wall, followed by his glowing cigarette butt. At once the room was filled with flames, and Kesteven was gone, his laugh hanging in the air.

Stonetree wasn't happy, no not at all, to learn that one of the suspect's apartments had gone up in flames, or that it was one of his detectives that had "tripped a booby trap". He was however somewhat mollified by Nick's recovery of the surviving plans, and Harr's gun. Ballistics matched it with the slugs removed from the guard. They had, at least, one of their men.

"The gun was reported stolen nearly ten months ago," said Schanke, checking his computer screen. "Since then, matching bullets have been recovered from two murder scenes. One in Michigan, the other on our side, here in Ontario. Harr will be doing time till the 29th Century, Nick."

"But that still leaves two others," replied Knight. "And we've only recovered the one ring. Mr.Yuzhin has identified it as having come from his shop. The rest of the loot is still out there."

And so is Kesteven, he added silently.

Harr was in a mood, not just to sing, but to do opera, now that he was sober, and realized that one of his partners in crime was out to waste him. He named his cohorts- Connely, alarms expert and getaway man extraordinaire, and Kesteven, the torch man. Only he knew the black man under a different name.

Peter Gunn.

Schanke was puzzled, but Nick understood perfectly. It was another one of Kesteven's ways of playing with him. And of slowing down the police.

But, they had to follow the steps, although they were a bit slow to do much about Connely. Like Harr's, his place had burned, only matters were somewhat complicated by him being in it at the time. That, and his blood had been taken as well. Thanks to the severe burning of the skin, Natalie was able to cover that up with no trouble.

They were also too late for the fence, as well. Harr was too small- time to handle so big a boodle, but he knew those who could, and one Juan Garcia-Sanchez was the man. Unfortunately, he was taking after Connely just now, though forensics managed to recover enough evidence to prove his connection to the thieves, including a few pieces of jewelry identified by Yuzhin.

That left Kesteven. Nick couldn't cover it up, and Schanke had seen him. Gunn was brought in to the station. Harr, of course, had never seen him before, and reiterated that his erstwhile partner was black. Even so, Stonetree was going to check out Gunn's recent movements, until Nick "convinced" him not to.

For a moment, standing there in the doorway to the Captain's office, Nick felt his anger at Kesteven boiling up. Taunting. Toying with people, their lives mere playthings for his lusts. It was what made Luther Kesteven vile. It reminded him of LaCroix. It was...

Of course! He went to his computer, and accessed all recent reports of missing children in the Toronto area. As much as he hungered after wealth, and getting his revenge, Kesteven could never for long reign in his twisted lusts. No doubt, at this very moment...

Bingo! Seven of them in the last month. Three had been found, and definitely linked to Jason Crowe. Those he could ignore. Of the remaining four, two had been found dead, both sodomized and sexually mutilated, but with no forensics match to Crowe whatsoever. The other two were still missing. The recovered bodies were found...

"Bingo, Nick," said Natalie, suddenly in front of him.

"Huh?" he said, looking up from his monitor.

" 'Huh?' " she aped. "Ah, such replies. Edie's medication." She held up a slip. "With Pete's say so, her doctor opened up. Her medication is an extremely new variety of beta-blocker, marketed under the brand name ProCardia. It's so new, that no company in Canada is yet licensed to manufacture it, so it has to be shipped here from the States."

"Anything more?"

"Yeah. A friend at the pharmaceutical company that makes it gave me a list of all the pharmacies in Toronto that have ordered any since the time that Edie was kidnapped. There are only two."

"Right. Let's go."

While Schanke remained behind to do paperwork ("KNIGHT!!"), Nick and Nat, with Gunn in the backseat, prowled the streets. At the second pharmacy, an all-night place, they hit gold. The pharmacist had sold a prescription of ProCardia a few days earlier. He remembered it because the prescription slip was from a cardiologist at an American clinic.

"Black. Big fella," he said. "His mother's heart's not good." Nick let his senses roll. Yeah, Kesteven had tried to hypnotize the guy, but had been only partly successful. Still, this was a gold mine. There, on the security camera tape, was Kesteven, buying not only the medication, but bandages and other first-aid supplies.

"Why would a vampire need first-aid supplies?" asked Nat. "If he hasn't hurt Edie yet, and it seems he's taking care of her. Buying the ProCardia and all."

"The body that was found a few days ago?" Nick said. "The child?"

"Yeah?"

"He wasn't killed right away. Some of his wounds had been tended, and there were traces of surgical tape on the skin. He was kept alive for a while."

"I see," said Nat. She had been busy with a three-car crash at the time, and not done that particular autopsy. "Stretching things out."

"Like before," said Nick. "Back in 1958, in Frisco, two of the bodies linked to Kesteven had tiny traces of hospital tape gum on the skin. He had kept his victims alive for days, giving them medical treatments between torture sessions, stretching out their agony, squeezing every possible ounce of diseased glee from their suffering." Nick pounded a fist on the wheel, actually red-faced with anger.

"He hasn't changed a bit," grumbled Gunn.

"No, he hasn't," said Nick. "And the pharmacy that sold him Edie's medicine is less than a mile from where one of the dead boys was found. And the home of one of those that's still missing."

"You think he's in this area?" asked Natalie.

"I'd bet the Foundation on it," said Nick. "I can feel it."

* * *

For the next couple of nights, Pete felt as if he were being shadowed. Then, his search for Sid Mack was temporarily interrupted. The next morning, a Mrs. Titus came to his office, and engaged him to find her son, missing for nearly a week. The police had somewhat perfunctorily decided that he was just another teenage runaway, end of story, but she refused to believe it. As a rule, Pete didn't take on missing children cases, but something about Mrs. Titus, a widow, and her plea for his help, tugged at his heartstrings. He down took the particulars, got to work, and after barely ten hours of searching, found the boy.

Dead, in a pile of garbage, in an alley. The boy, all of sixteen, had been savagely tortured and then mutilated, slashed, making even Pete's hardened gut want to heave. What kind of...of beast could possibly...

He couldn't bring himself to take his fee from the boy's devastated mother, but he did notice the bite marks, and the traces of Human skin under what remained of the boy's nails.

Black skin.

"How can you be sure it's him?" asked Jacoby, back at the precinct. "There are other Negroes who are criminals, Pete."

"I just do, Lieutenant. I...I feel it." he heard Jacoby take a breath. "And it is Kesteven's MO. Just like the victims in San Francisco. Traces of hospital tape gum on several of the bodies, just like you found on the Titus boy. He kept the boy alive for several days, until he'd sated his..."

"Yeah, okay Pete. It's Kesteven. But what's the connection with Sid Mack? A thief and a thug he may be, but Mack's no animal, Pete. He doesn't even like carrying a gun."

"Obviously, Kesteven's planning some sort of heist, and Mack's in on it, Lieutenant. But it's just like in Frisco. He can't control this...this other part of himself." He thought a moment. "Who brought Kesteven in?" Jacoby opened another file.

"Not a cop. A P.I., in fact. Looking for a missing child. When the police took Kesteven in, they found evidence tying him to several large jewel robberies and one home burglary. Ritzy dump on Russian Hill. The P.I. was one Nicholas French." He closed the folder. "Why?"

"Just wondered, Lieutenant."

"I recognize that look, Pete. 'Just wondered' my tush. What is it?"

"Do we have a description of French?"

"Better than that. A photograph." He handed the folder over to Peter. It was a lousy photo, but recognizeable nonetheless. It was the blonde guy from Mother's. The man who'd stood, watching him from the end of the block. The one who'd fought Kesteven in the alley. Pete perused the file some more, deciding that it was high time for him to have a little talk with his colleague from Frisco. "Pete?"

No answer.

"Hello, Peter Gunn. And how are things, up on Sputnik?"

"Huh? Oh, sorry Lieutenant. Just...thinking."

"Uh huh. Anything you'd like to share with you friendly local neighborhood police department?"

"We ought to talk with him. French."

"I thought so, too. That's why I had a copy of his file sent from the S.F.P.D. But, we can't just now. Read on." Gunn did so. Jacoby saw him frown. "Yes. Private Detective Nicholas French is unfortunately deceased, the victim of a boating accident on San Francisco Bay. Body never recovered."

As he stepped outside, headed for his car, Pete noticed someone leaning over the driver's door, looking at something inside. Someone with blonde hair. Slowly, he crept up on them, reaching for his gun, but once more, traffic intervened. He stepped back, and once the interloping vehicle was gone, so was the stranger. When he got home, he let himself in and clicked on the lights.

"Good evening. Mr. French, I believe it is," he said, gun drawn. He stepped down into the living room, looking directly at Nick, seated by the fireplace. "I think it's about time you and I talked."

"Yes," was Nick's sole reply.

The address Kesteven had given the pharmacist was, not too surprisingly, a fake. Actually, it was 26 Grenville St., the hatrack of your friendly neighborhood morgue. It was clear that once more Kesteven was toying with them. Nat said little, but shuddered inwardly at the realization that he knew about her, and where she worked. She also realized just how frustrating for Nick this all must be. Driven by both his policeman's oath and his nature to bring the criminal in, he was also held in check by the danger. The danger to Edie, the danger of exposing the secrets of the Community. This Kesteven must be laughing his butt off, she thought.

"81 Kilo'" came the radio.

"81 Kilo," replied Nick.

It was the report of a naked youth, badly bruised and covered in blood, collapsing in an intersection not five blocks away. There in minutes, Nick got the particulars from the cabby who'd phoned the police, while Natalie examined the boy.

"He won't last an hour, Nick,' she reported, crouched over the lad. He looked to be about 15 or so, and of Asian extraction. Nick's jaw clenched at the site, and fought back the Beast, stirring at the sight and scent of all the blood. Oh, that...

He knelt down, and tried to question the boy while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. The victim was semi-conscious and incoherent, and Nick's attempt at hypnotism did nothing. However, looking deep into the kid's eyes, he commanded him to sleep, and the boy did so at once. Making certain the cabby wasn't looking, he put his fingertips to a still oozing wound, and brought them to his lips.

A kaleidoscopic firestorm of emotions and images ripped through his mind, as he tasted the intoxicating nectar. Squeezing his eyes shut, he saw pain, terror, utter degradation and horror. He saw the implements of suffering, and he saw a face too. Kesteven. No doubt about it.

"Nick? Nick, are you okay?" said a voice. He felt a hand touch his shoulder. It was Gunn. Nick blinked, took a deep breath, and slowly the mental hell cleared. He looked up at the elderly mortal.

"Huh? Oh, Pete. Yeah?"

"The ambulance is here."

"Right."

The boy was identified as Nawal Chandra, 16, of Toronto, missing for two days, last seen by his manager as he left his job at a Burger King. Despite his terrible condition, once he was stabilized and out of the ER, he began to recover quickly. And to talk.

When Nick and Schanke busted into Kesteven's hideout, he was of course nowhere to be found. It was also on fire, though they managed to salvage some considerable evidence. First-aid supplies, instruments of torture, and two partly burned corpses. The remaining missing children, a boy and a girl, sine sanguis.

Of Edie, there was no sign whatsoever.

"Why, Nick?" asked Nat, out of earshot of Schanke. "Why take Edie with him? Killing her would seem to be more his style. Even alive, she's pretty well out of it, plus she's baggage."

"It's a game, Nat. And the game's not over yet. He hasn't gotten his revenge on Pete or me. That's the only reason I can think of."

"Well I hope you find him soon. I don't know how much more of this stress Pete can take."

"My God, Nick," said Schanke, moving over as the lab boys filed in. "This guy is diseased. Did you see what this slug did to those kids back there? It's like Crowe, episode two."

"I know, Schanke. He's a monster."

"I just wish we had a name to go with him."

"That would help."

"Oh hey, something else. Over on that chair back there?" Schanke pointed towards a partly charred loveseat.

"Yeah?"

"White hairs. Looks like a woman's." He handed a strand to Natalie.

"The girl's?" asked Nick.

"No," said Natalie. "She was black. This looks like an elderly woman's."

"Huh?" said Schanke. "What would an old lady be doing with a butt-wipe like this, Nick?"

"I..."

"And tell moi something else, Nick." Schanke waited a beat. "The description Chandra gave of his abductor matches Harr's description of his partner in crime. There is evidence up the wazzoo here linking him to the jewel robbery, Nick. Now, he told Harr his name was Peter Gunn, and pulls this job at the very moment the real Peter Gunn is in town to see you. Connection? I think so."

"Schanke..."

"Come on, Nick. You kn..."

Beep

"Knight."

"Nichola," came Janette's smokey voice over his cell. "He is here."

"You're certain?"

"Nic..."

"Alright. I'm on my way."

"Nick? N..." began his partner.

"A snitch, Schank," he lied, heading for the door. "I'll keep in touch." Once outside, he checked to be sure he was clear, and took to the air, for the Raven.

"Natalie?"

"Yeah, Schanke?"

"Why does he always do this to me?"

* * *

Pete noticed that his uninvited visitor didn't seem all that worried about the gun pointed at him. Of course, if he was right about what he'd begun to suspect, that made a certain kind of sense.

If any of this made sense.

"Have a seat," said Nick.

"Thanks. I will," said Gunn, "seeing as it's my place." He sat, never taking his eyes, or aim, off of Nick. "Now, what can I do for you, Mr. Nicholas French?"

"Very good," said Nick.

"I am a detective," said Gunn. "Just like you. Or perhaps not just like you."

"Exactly," said Nick. "Not like you. Different."

"Alright, different. In fact, I keep thinking about what I saw near Mother's the other night."

"You shouldn't," said Nick, flatly.

"Why? Because you're...what you are?"

"Because it could be dangerous, Mr. Gunn."

"Dangerous? For whom? Me or you?"

"Possibly both."

"Look, I saw what happened in that alley. I'm forced, like it or not, to accept the evidence of my eyes, as fantastic as that may be." He waited a beat. "If it's any consolation, I left your part in things out of my report to the police."

"That was wise."

"And whatever it was you tried to do to me, it didn't work. Obviously."

"So I see," sighed Nicholas. "I regret that circumstances have involved you in this, Mr. Gunn."

"But they have, and we're stuck with it. So tell me, why are you here? To kill me?"

"No," replied Nick. "Not to kill you. If I were, I could have done so as you opened the door, or down in the parking garage. No, I'm here to...to help you."

"Help me? How do you mean?"

"You have seen things not meant to be seen, Mr. Gunn. This puts you in some considerable danger."

"From?"

"From...others. Like myself. From Kesteven. If I could find you, Mr. Gunn, so can he."

"What exactly are you, Mr. French? If that's your real name." He watched Nick, eyeing him closely.

"Nicholas deBrabant," said Nick, intertwining his fingers. "And you know what I am."

"I always thought that was a myth. An old wive's tale."

"No," said Nick, standing up. For a moment he let Gunn see. "I am a vampire." To Nick's surprise, the man recoiled hardly at all. "And so is Luther Kesteven, now."

"Now? You mean he wasn't, when you captured him?"

"No, he was mortal. He was brought across in prison, just before he was due to be executed."

"Brought across?"

"Made a vampire. Someone, I don't know who, made him. And now he's out."

"And you're after him."

"Yes, but I find myself in need of help, Mr. Gunn. And I can hardly go to the police."

"Hardly."

"You'll help?" asked Nick, returning to normal.

"Tell me something first. How do you and Kesteven fit together?"

"I was a P.I., like you. In San Francisco." He noticed Gunn's expression. "You seem surprised."

"I am, a little. A...vampire, following such a profession."

"We aren't all of us like the movies, Mr. Gunn. Some of us are...different."

"Like you."

"Like me. As a young man, I was bound by my oath of chivalry to uphold the law. I still do, when I can." Nick was quiet for a moment, and Gunn studied him. It was obvious to his experienced eye that Nicholas was under stress. Some inner conflict, perhaps? It suddenly occurred to him that this person might not like what he was. It was a bizarre concept. A vampire that hated being a vampire.

"So I've seen. You fought Kesteven. You tried to save Minelli. But why come to me, if it's as dangerous as you say? Why not just leave?"

"Kesteven is my responsibility, Mr. Gunn. I was hired to find a missing boy, in Frisco." Nick looked down at the rug, and his face darkened. "I found him. Sodomized. Slashed. Mutilated. I can still see the..the look on his parent's faces. I sometimes think I always will. I found Kesteven, at great personal risk, and I put him away."

"You can't carry the guilt of the world around with you, Nick. No one can."

"But Kesteven is one of us, now. My kind. And that makes him a hundred times the danger that he was before. He's one of the deadliest predators on Earth. You have no conception. I have to stop him, Mr. Gunn. I have to, before...others come and do it."

"Others?" Something about the way Nick had said that sounded...ominous.

"Yes. The Enforcers. Those sworn by the unholiest of oaths to guard our secret. Believe me, you don't want to find out."

Pete thought a moment. Never had he had a...well, vampire for a client before. But he kept thinking about the victims. The children, cut off before they even had a chance to really live. The face of Mrs. Titus, crushed by the news, floated up into his memory. Like Nick, he wondered if he could ever forget that look. How many others? How many others?

"Again, why me?"

"You know my secret. And, you know the right people to know for things like this. You have connections. Connections I don't have time to build."

"Okay, you've got it. But one thing. You...drink blood, right? If you..."

"You needn't worry, Mr. Gunn." Nick drew a flask from his coat. "I haven't drunk Human blood in a long time. This is animal."

"I see."

"I do not...hunt anymore. I haven't in over fifty years."

A vampire on the wagon? Weird!

"I see." He sat next to the telephone, drew a black book from his desk, and began to search. "Alright, let's get to work."



Nick could sense the presence of other vampires of course, as he drew near the Raven. He felt Janette through their mutual link, as well as the auras of the rest. He fervently hoped that the presence of so many others might sufficiently obscure his own aura from Kesteven's perceptions, at least until he was close enough to act. As he entered, the bouncer at once gave him place, with a slight bow of the head, which he returned. Obviously, Janette had had a word or two with the man.

The music was even louder than it was usually, tonight, and Nick spared a moment's regard for the band up on stage. Garishly dressed even for their kind, it's members were pumping out a hideous cacophony of sounds both instrumental and vocal, bringing to mind for Nick the acoustical harmony of two battleships broadsiding each other at point blank range. The lead guitarist, a tall, athletic-looking blockjawed fellow with his leather jacket, fingerless gloves, three-day beard and long dark hair, was the worst offender to both Nick's mind and cultured tastes, though from the look in his dark eyes, he was fully involved in the music. He certainly had the crowd enthralled, including the voluptuous, curly-haired blonde eyeing him rapturously from barely arm's length. Shaking his head, Nick looked about, spotted Janette with Leonard near the bar, and surfed his way towards her through the undulating bodies.

Leonard inclined his head towards Nick, out of respect for one older than he. At least, he thought, Janette is teaching the kid some manners, something so lacking in the younger members of the Community these days. He inclined his head towards Leonard in return, as the Code required, and then Leonard turned and with another bow left at a look from Janette.

"Where is he?"

"In one of the back rooms with Alma," she replied, lighting another cigarette. "She seems to have taken quite a fancy to him, Nichola."

"I hope she's okay. Kesteven's sick."

"I'm sure that Alma can take care of herself, mon cher, She's a big girl, you know."

"He's older, and he's insane. How long, Janette?"

"Only a half-hour or so," replied Janette, looking at her watch. A purely Human affectation for the sake of the mortals about her, she didn't need it to know the hour of the day. Or night. "You know Alma. She likes to take her time."

"Time is short, Janette. Please."

"Very well, mon chevalier, but..." she took him by the arm, "you pay for the damages." She told him which one. He spared her a smile, and headed aft.

The room in question was not particularly hard to find, even if Janette hadn't been specific. Alma was a noisy lover, and her particular squealing snarl was distinctive. Nick hoped that Kesteven would be so absorbed with her that he would not be aware of his approach until too late. He drew his gun, waited for the crescendo, then...

The door flew in, and he shouted the required "Freeze!" bit. Kesteven, covered in gleaming bloodsweat and tightly gripping Alma, was clearly surprised on seeing Nick. But he froze for only the barest moment. He started to rise, and Nick fired, directly into his left knee. Kesteven yowled in pain and Nick fired again, twice, taking out the other knee, and right hip. Kesteven howled, and rolled onto the floor, bleeding profusely.

"Ni..." began Alma, but Nick ordered her out, and shut the door. Kesteven was groaning in agony; fortunately he would not heal as quickly as one of Nick's age, but even so the detective knew that he had only moments to dispatch him.

"Where is she, Kesteven?" he demanded, gun to his head. While not fatal to even the newest fledgling, a bullet through the brain pan would put Kesteven out for a long while. Perhaps days. And Nick would never give him days. "Tell me, or I'll get it from your blood."

"Go...to.....hhhell!!" the other growled in return. Nick responded by grinding the heel of one shoe into the other vampire's injured knee. He shrieked in pain, but still said nothing.

"You first, Luther. Where's Edie?" No reply. Nick pressed the barrel to an elbow, and fired. Kesteven screamed again, and Nick shoved the muzzle brutally into the other's crotch. "Now." He reached over, and savagely wrenched one injured knee. "I won't ask again."

"She..." gasped Kesteven, weakened from pain and loss of blood. "Aban...bandoned warehouse. Near the old...cement factory."

"Which one?" Luther did not at once answer, and Nick brought some of his blood to his lips. Closing his eyes, he concentrated on the images within it. Foolishly, for during those precious seconds, Kesteven's wounds...

And then it all hit the fan.

"Ja pierdole! Nick?" It was Schanke's voice, and Nick turned, momentarily distracted. His partner was standing in the open door, gun drawn, staring down at the carnage before him, and spluttered-"O Matko Boska!"

And Kesteven, despite the pain, used that distraction. Heaving Nick aside, he flew from the room, knocking Schanke into the corridor and onto the floor. Nick followed, blurring through the Raven on his six. Outside, he lost him amidst the traffic, but spotted Gunn getting out of Schanke's car.

"Nick, I..."

"I know where she is, Pete," he cried. "We don't have much time!"

"Where, Nick? Is..."

"Come on!" He hustled Gunn into the alley, and once they were out of sight, he put his arm around the old man, and together they took to the air.

* * *

Gunn certainly knew some shady types, Nick decided, and for a moment he found himself becoming a bit wistful for his recently dispensed-with persona. A few of Pete's snitches seemed a bit reluctant to talk, perhaps cautious, but a "look" from Nick seemed to loosen many a tongue.

"I can't see someone like Kesteven hanging out in a place like this," said Nick, as they entered the pool hall. "Doesn't sound like him."

"This is one of the best places to find things out," said Gunn. "Believe me."

"Oh I do." He looked around the place, and soon spotted the proprietor, a little man barely four feet tall, standing on a box to reach the pool tables. Though short, the fellow played a mean stick, Nick decided, after watching him dust four opponents in short order and stuff his pockets with cash. He could just see the expression on LaCroix's face, after being beaten by this one. LaCroix fancied himself a master at billiards, as he did at most things competitive. But this fellow...

"Hi, Gabby," said Gunn, approaching the little man as he reset the table. "How's business?"

"Booming," replied the other, patting his pockets. "What's shakin' on your end, Pete?"

"Same old thing, Gabby."

"Not what I heard, Pete," said the diminutive pool shark, lighting a cigarette.

"Oh? What have you heard?"

"You and that jailbird from Frisco. The sicko." The midget looked at Nick from under the brim of his fedora. "Who's your friend, Pete?"

"Nick French," said Nick, politely.

"You play?" he asked, eyes as shrewd as any vampire's.

"I have," said Nick, hiding his impatience.

"Come on, then," he said, tossing Nick a cue. He turned to Gunn. "After all, Pete, you owe me a game."

"I need..."

"I know, but let's play," said Gabby. Acquiescing, Pete took up a stick, and he and Nick set to. While he had played many a time before, often even beating LaCroix, Nick had never faced an opponent quite like this one. They were trounced soundly three times, all within the space of twenty minutes. With a sigh, Nick decided it was time...

"Sid Mack," said Gabby suddenly. "A real thug, Pete. No honor among thieves, there."

"Where can I find him, Gabby?"

"What for? You wanna crack a safe?"

"He's mixed up with Kesteven," said Pete. "The jailbird."

"So I hear. He's one sick piece of garbage," said Gabby, setting up again. "Not like your usual crook. Something else about him too. Something weird."

"I know," said Gunn, sparing a look at Nick.

"We need to find him," said Nick. "Fast. Have you seen him?"

"The two of 'em were in here the other night. Talking with some guy."

"Who?"

"What do I look like?" asked Gabby, taking the cigarette from his mouth, and flicking the ashes onto the floor. "J. Edgar Hoover? I didn't ask to see his draft card." His eyes went wide as Nick plopped a C Note onto the worn felt. "Uhh...of course..."

"Of course," replied Nick.

"Called him 'Ricky'", said the little man, pocketing the Franklin. " No last name. They were planning a job. A hold-up."

Yeah! thought Nick.

"What sort?" asked Gunn.

"Uh, my memory, Pete,' said Gabby, leaning on his cue. "You know, lately it's been kinda, well..."

"See a doctor," said Nick, producing another bill. Gabby at once returned to the shot.

"Armored car."

"Whose?"

"Federal Reserve. An armored truck, on the way down here from the Frisco Mint."

"Where do I find them?" Gabby fell silent, but this time Nick just glared at him.

"Old road house, off the Grapevine, Pete. Zuckerman's."

"Thanks, Gabby," said Pete.

"Don't mention it," replied his informant, once more patting his bulging pockets. "Do come again. Oh, and guys? Be careful. This Negro's one sick piece of work."

"We will," said Nick, and picking up his cue, cracked the balls on the table. In six shots, they were all gone. He set the cue back on the table. "Thanks," he said with a wink.

"Well," said Gabby after they'd left. "If that don't beat all."

* * *

Pete had a good head for heights, but he'd never flown like this before, and hung onto Nick like grim death. He needn't have worried-Nick could feel how frail the old man was, and held him strongly. Toronto blurred beneath him, but he didn't enjoy the view. As for Nick, he could sense Kesteven close by, and from the flutters in his perception, knew that the other had stopped somewhere to feed. He felt a stab of pity for whomever had fallen victim, but he couldn't stop to do anything now. He had to get to Edie.

From Kesteven's blood, he'd seen both her and her prison, but there were so many such buildings, and his glimpse had been a fleeting one. As he settled back to Earth, he felt his foe close by. He let his senses loose, and swept the area. He sensed a heartbeat, fluttering, close by. He rushed there...

In time to find a body. A night watchman, and freshly drained, with Kesteven standing over him. He was still naked, and almost entirely healed now, radiating fresh power. He snarled at Nick, eyes glowing a hellish red, lips stained. Nick drew his gun, but Pete, coming up behind him, fired first.

The slug tore into the other vampire, but the would closed rapidly. Nick fired as well, but missed his target's head as he moved. With a mocking laugh, Kesteven blurred, and was gone.

"Nick, I..."

He stopped at the sound of shattering glass, followed by a faint scream. A woman's.

"Edie!"

"Come on," said Nick, and grabbing the old man once more took to the air. Following his sense of the other vampire, he came to a smashed window high up in the brick wall of an old building, and barreled through, crashing to the floor. He rolled, dropped Gunn, and came to his feet...

To see Luther Kesteven behind Edie's chair, his hands clenched tightly into her shoulders. She was bound, looked very ill, and at that moment had the vampire's fangs buried in her neck.

"NO!" shouted Peter Gunn, and a pistol roared in the darkness of the room.

* * *

Nick awoke, promptly one hour before sundown. Gunn had never had a vampire for a guest before, and was studying Nick minutely. As he slept on the couch, looking for all the world like a corpse, he never drew a perceptible breath that Gunn could see. Touching his wrist, he felt only a single pulse after a few seconds, then nothing. He waited, but felt no more. He wondered how a body could actually live this way. Cold. No respiration. Apparently no heartbeat.

And a constant need for blood.

As he mused, all the old tales and legends about vampires came to mind. Evil, depraved, bloodthirsty creatures of darkness. Heartless, soulless killers who preyed on Humanity.

But Nicholas wasn't, or so it seemed, like that. He drank animal blood, eschewing that of men, and he fought crime. Went out of his way to fight it. If he was to be believed, he hadn't killed anyone for food since the 19th Century. He wanted to be different than others of his kind. He genuinely cared about mortals. He...

He began to stir, groaning in his sleep. Must be dreaming, Gunn decided. He was proven correct when Nick began to talk in his sleep, in French. Pete didn't know it well, at least not the archaic-sounding variety Nick was using, but it seemed as if his guest was arguing with someone. Someone named LaCroix. He watched as sweat began to break out on Nick's forehead.

Red sweat? What the...?

"Non, Fleur," cried Nick, seemingly in fear or anger. "Fleur!!!" he shouted, and snapped awake. For a moment, he seemed not to know where he was, and then his gaze focused on Pete.

"Bad dream?" asked Gunn.

"Kind of," said Nick, sitting up and touching his forehead, his fingertips coming away bloody. He got to his feet, and headed for the bathroom.

"Sounds like you were arguing, Nick," said Gunn. "Who is LaCroix." For a moment, there was no answer.

"Believe me, someone you do not want to meet."

"And Fleur?"

"A.Lady."

"Old girlfriend?"

"No." Nick was quiet for a moment. Then: "My sister," he said, voice sad.

"Sorry. Occupational hazard, being curious," said Gunn, as Nick returned to the living room.

"It's alright," said Nick, checking the window. The sun was close to the horizon, and he flinched back, dropping the curtain.

"Careful," said Gunn, noting the vapor rising from Nick's skin.

"At least we know Kesteven's as housebound as I am, right now."

"True." Pete watched his guest pace. Was it just Nick, or were all of them like this? "Tell me something about yourself, Nick. I mean, if you can." Nicholas seemed to consider. "How long?"

"Since 1228," Nick said at last. Gunn whistled. He'd figured a hundred years, maybe two. But over 700? Nick certainly molded himself to the modern world very well. "I was a Nobleman. From deBrabant, in what is now Belgium. Then," he sighed, as if the memory were still a painful one, "I went to Outremer, and I became a knight of the 6th Crusade."

"Outremer?"

"Sorry. The Holy Land. I fought Saracens as a warrior of the Cross." He paced some more. "Now the Cross repels me. I."

Ding dong

It was Lieutenant Jacoby, with news for Pete. He'd finally gotten a lead on Sid Mack.

"Right now, he's hiding out in an abandoned roadhouse off the Grapevine," said Gunn. "Zuckerman's. Kesteven's with him."

"Why do I bother?" said Jacoby, shaking his head. Looking about, he noticed the smear of red on the couch. "Oh, Pete."

"Yes, Lieutenant?"

"I've also got a lead on Nick French."

"You do?"

"I do." The cop looked at Gunn. "He was spotted outside the precinct last night."

"He was?"

"Yes. By me. Talking to you."

"Me? I."

"Come on, Pete. Don't give me the runaround. I have a very good view from my office window. A supposedly dead P.I. from Frisco turns up here, at the same time the killer he put away is in town, painting it red. You not only know it, you gave him a lift in your car when you visited Gabby's. I want to know how this all ties in to Kesteven."

"Look, Lieutenant, I."

"It's okay, Pete," said Nick, looking down from the balcony. Jacoby looked up, scowled at him, then turned back to Pete. Nick descended the stairs slowly. "Yes, I'm French," said Nick. "And I'm after Kesteven."

"Obviously, you're not dead," said Jacoby.

"You could say that," replied Nick.

"And the boating accident, in San Francisco Bay?"

"It was real," lied Nick. "I was hit by another ship, and washed overboard. When I came to, I was on board an Ecuadorian freighter, and didn't know who or what I was."

"And?"

"When I remembered myself, I saw a newspaper article, saying that Kesteven was out. I came after him."

"I see," said Jacoby, clearly dubious about Nick's story. "And?"

"We're going after him," said Gunn.

"Why you?" asked Jacoby.

"Salvatore Minelli. And Mrs. Titus. She hired me to find her boy. I was too late to help him, but I can try and balance the scales by bringing Kesteven in."

"And you?" asked the cop of Nick.

"Unfinished business."

"Uh huh," said Jacoby, and going deeper into the room, he looked down at the stain on the couch. Then going to the window he opened the curtains slightly. The sun was still up, and he heard a sharp intake of breath. He turned to see Nick shaking on hand, as though it hurt. "You okay?"

"Yeah, fine. Lieutenant. I."

Ding dong

"Pete." It was Edie, dressed to the Nines, and totally gorgeous as usual. In a low-cut gold lame' gown with spaghetti straps, her honey- colored hair hanging free, Nick found her extremely attractive, and for a moment found himself envying Gunn. Another reason to be mortal, again. Like Janette, but without her. He shook his head, dismissing such lugubrious musings.

"Edie."

"Have you forgotten?" she asked Gunn. "It's my night off. You promised to take me to." She stopped, seeing the others. ".dinner."

"I know, Edie," said Gunn, "but something's."

"Come up. I know. It always does," she glared. "Promises, promises, they name is spelled G-U-N-N."

"When I get back."

"Ah, yes. When you get back When you get back, I may have forgotten all about you. Run off with Emmet, or a television star perhaps."

"Miss Hart," said Nick, "this is at least, in part, my fault. When we get back, I'll endeavor make it up to you."

"Really, Mr."

"French. Nicholas French. I'll make it up to you. Dinner at Mother's. No limits."

"Well, it seems we have a gentleman in our midst," she smiled, offering Nick her hand. She glared at Pete with a smile. "Something new around here. Offer accepted, Mr. French." Nick kissed her hand, very correct, very Old World.

"Come on," said Jacoby, heading towards the door. He tipped his hat. "Miss Hart."

"Thanks for saving that situation," said Pete, on the way down the stairs. "Edie can be."

"It seemed the best way. Come on."

There was still sufficient light to sting Nick's skin, but he grit his teeth and got into Pete's car. As Jacoby called for backup, Nick stopped him.

"Why?"

Nick explained, minus a few facts, about the armored car hold-up. This was news to Jacoby, and Nick tried to whammy him. Unfortunately, he was a resister as well. Nick swore silently. Jacoby put a call through to the Mint in Frisco, but it took time. Way too much time, and by the time someone finally got back to him, the truck was well on its way.

"We go in with too many cops, Kesteven'll smell it, and we'll lose him," said Nick. "This is the only way."

"If this flops, the Commissioner will have my badge," said Jacoby. "Not to mention my head."

"Come on," said Pete. "Time's wasting."

* * *

The roadhouse was empty when they got there. Nick swore colorfully in the Old French of his childhood, and they quickly set about searching the place. There were scraps of food and a radio, as well as some recent copies of Life and Collier's. Mack had obviously been here: several well-chewed cigar stubs in an ashtray testified as much. For all his many vices, Kesteven did not smoke cheap stogies.

Nick took a deep breath, and let his senses flow outwards. Yes, Kesteven had unquestionably been here, but so had.another vampire? Yes. He could smell it. Traces of.

He tore open a back storage room, and found several corpses. All had the tell-tale marks of the vampire's work. He was about to close up when Jacoby found him, and his grisly discovery. The cop was obviously sickened, and continued to eye Nick suspiciously.

"How did." he began, when he was interrupted.

"Here!" shouted Pete. In what had once been an office, he'd found papers. Photographs of several men in guard's uniforms, schedules for shipments from the San Francisco Mint, and a well-marked road map.

"Pete," said Jacoby, "There are six bodies back there." He pointed towards the storage room. "All killed just like Minelli."

"Lieutenant," said Nick.

"Don't you 'Lieutenant' me, Mr. French. You know something. You went right for that room. You knew."

"I expected to find them, yes," said Nick. "Kesteven is an insatiable killer."

"You are not getting off that easy, French," said Jacoby. "You didn't look all that hard, and those bodies haven't even begun to smell yet. That, and the way they died."

"Lieutenant," said Gunn, "we'd better hurry if we're going to catch them."

"Alright, let's go." He looked at Nick again. "But he knows something, Pete. And so do you."

They returned to the road, speeding towards the spot marked on the map. As they drove, Nick pondered what to do about Jacoby. The man was a cop, through and through. And, so it seemed, a resister. He and Gunn. Damnation! If he couldn't "whammy", he'd have to come up with some kind of plan to keep them from the notice of the Enforcers.

As he mused, he slowly began to feel the tell-tale sensation of another vampire nearby. Sure enough, he could see the truck, off the road in among some trees. Gunn sped the car towards them, and Nick was out of the convertible in a flash.

One guard was dead, and the other was helping to unload the cash. Risking exposure, Nick flew directly into the other, unknown vampire, knocking him into a tree. With a crunch, he slumped unconscious to the ground, and Nick turned to face Kesteven.

"Freeze!" shouted Jacoby, and pointed his pistol at the guard. Foolishly, the other chose to draw his weapon, and both guns went off virtually at once. The guard crumpled with a slug in his gut, and Jacoby took one in the left arm. Sid Mack made a move for the guard's piece, but a shot from Pete sent him running into the night.

Nick and Kesteven were locked in a struggle such as Jacoby had never seen. Both men's eyes blazed blood red, their snarling mouths open to show bared fangs. Kesteven kicked Nick hard, but Nick was back up in an eye- blink, and had his arms around the other, squeezing with all his strength. Ribs audibly cracked, and Kesteven howled in pain. He brought his fangs down, ripping open Nick's face, and the Crusader shrieked in agony, letting the other go. Nick staggered back, cradling his savaged face.

"Fool!" rasped Kesteven, taking shallow breaths as he healed. "All that cow swill has made you weak."

"What in God's name are you?" cried Jacoby, staring at Nicholas.

"What do you think, mortal?" sneered Kesteven. He moved swiftly, taking hold of Jacoby. The cop fired his weapon point blank into Kesteven's chest. The vampire fell, momentarily paralyzed as the bullet cut through his spine. He howled in pain, then began to crawl away.

The first vampire, a thin fellow with a goatee, awoke and swiftly taking in the situation, attacked Gunn. He was held immobile in arms of steel, and felt his head being bent back to expose his neck. The fangs touched his skin.

And there was a roar. The vampire released him, and he fell. The other turned to Jacoby, who put another slug into him. He flinched, and then screamed as the next bullet tore off part of his face. It exploded into a red pulpy mass, and he fell, screaming.

Kesteven was now back on his feet, but so was Nick. He tackled the serial killer, the two rolling along the ground, trading blows that would have killed a mortal. For a moment, it seemed as if Kesteven might win. He had Nick pinned, and was about to tear his throat out when Pete fired again. It got Kesteven's attention, and Pete emptied his gun into the vampire. Nick heaved him off, and he rolled.

Out of bullets, Pete picked up an unlikely weapon-a heavy bag of coin from the truck. With all his strength, he smashed it into the side of Kesteven's head, then again. He heard a crack.

And then Kesteven screamed. The bag had broken, and some of the coins had torn into his skin. Silver being inimical to the vampire, his skin began to burn as though it were sunrise.

There was a noise, and Nick looked up from Kesteven. The first vampire had gone. Taken to the air. Kesteven was pawing at his face, and Nick attacked once more, with a branch torn from a tree. He clubbed Kesteven with it, then again and again till he was on his knees. Nick then tore a smaller branch from it, and drove it down, like a spear, into the other's back. Kesteven screamed once more, then was still.

Sweat-drenched and gasping for breath, Nick turned, still "vamped- out", and looked at his companions. The smell of blood from Jacoby called to him like a siren song, tempted him, hammered at him. His body was crying out for sustenance, it needed it soon, and the cop smelled sooooooooooooo good. He.

He fought it off, and returned to his normal appearance. After several deep breaths, he moved, offering his hand to Jacoby, and pulling the policeman to his feet. "I."

"You're.one of them," Jacoby managed to get out. "A.vampire."

"Yes," was all Nick could say.

"Nick!" cried Pete, and both men turned. Kesteven was gone! But.He must have missed the heart. Damnation! In a moment of utter rage, Nick let the nature out again, and roared in pure fury.

They called it in on Pete's car phone, and soon the authorities were there. The wounded guard would live to stand trial, and there was an APB out on Mack. The parts played in the night's adventures by two miscreant vampires were left conveniently out. They were merely gang members who "got away". They rode back in Pete's car, after Jacoby had been tended. He said nothing the entire trip, for which Nick was thankful. The silence was at last broken by the ringing of the car phone.

"Yes, Edie?"

Gunn lay on the pedal, roaring into town.

"Pete," said Jacoby, "what is it?"

"It's Kesteven. He's got Edie."

Bursting into his apartment, Pete was greeted by the sight of Luther Kesteven holding Edie Hart, his eyes red, leering at him sadistically.

"Pete!" she cried, but he shook her, snarling. "Silence!"

"Let her go, Kesteven," ordered Jacoby, gun leveled.

"She's not part of this," said Gunn.

"Then how about I make her part, huh? You stuck your nose into my business, Gunn. You will pay." He looked behind them. "Where's deBrabant?" Silence. "Where is he?"

"Who?" asked Jacoby.

"Nicholas, you fool. The other vampire. That's French's real name. Where is he?" Edie struggled again as he spoke, but he slapped her. "Be still, bitch! Now where."

"Here, asshole!" came a voice, and with a blur, Nick sailed through the open window, slamming hard into Kesteven. The black vampire toppled, Edie under him. Nick picked him up, pummeling him brutally about the face. The other vampire fell once more, as Edie scurried out of the way.

She watched in horror from across the room as the two Undead fought. Nick took a brutal kick, crashing into a bookcase, and then responded with a head block. Kesteven was hurled into one of Pete's lamps, then dodged an attack from Nick. Pete and Jacoby both fired, but the bullets did scant harm. He lunged at Nick, getting a knee in the gut for his trouble, and came to a stop mere inches from his erstwhile captive. In a blur of speed to nearly match Kesteven's, Edie, holding on the Pete, raised one leg, and gave the vampire as savage a kick in the back with her high-heeled shoe as she could muster. Unprepared, Kesteven was hurled forward, to crash into one of Pete's chairs-

And screamed. The chair, smashed to kindling on impact, had proven to be Kesteven's doom. He slowly rolled, mouth a rictus of pain, and looked up at them, a bloody piece of wood emerging from his chest. He pulled weakly at it, blood bubbling from both his mouth and wound, and tried to speak, but only gurgled red foam. He tried to rise, but Nick brought down another piece of ruined furniture, and pinned him to the floor. With a convulsive spasm, Kesteven fell still.

"What in God's name are you?" squeaked Edie, eyes fixed on Nick. He was still "vamped out". He looked away for a moment, then at the clock. Not long till dawn. He sighed, then looked at Pete.

"Explain it to her," said Nick, to Gunn. Then picking up Kesteven's body, he was gone.

* * *

Gunn's bullet shattered Kesteven's left shoulder, spattering blood everywhere, and his hold on Edie loosened for a moment as he staggered back. The old woman was unconscious now, though whether from fear or loss of blood, or both, they couldn't say. Gunn fired again, and this time the slug ripped into Kesteven's right eye. The vampire screamed and let go completely, toppling writhing to the floor. He kept on screaming as Pete pumped bullet after bullet into his face, then he fell still.

Both men worked to tear the ropes from Edie's chair, and Gunn pulled her to him. She sagged in his arms, limp as a savaged doll, evincing no signs of life at all. Even in those few moments however, Kesteven, having feasted but minutes before, began to regenerate, and started to move once more. Determining not to repeat the mistakes of the past, Nick picked up the slowly renewing body, dragging his foe towards one of the huge ventilator fans circulating air through the old warehouse. Kesteven opened his remaining eye, just as Nick lifted him up over his head.

"Noooo!" gurgled the savaged vampire, and tried to fight Nick once more, clawing at him. But he was still too weak, one arm useless, and his enemy was yet frothing over with a full measure of wrath.

"Burn in hell!" cried Nick, and with a heave, hurled Luther Kesteven into the rotating blades. With a howl of terror, the vampire was sucked into the turbine, letting out a truly hellish scream of horror as he was reduced to bloody fragments, spit outside to await the dawn. Nick bent over, hands on knees, taking in big gulps of air. Slowly he straightened, slathered in gore, and turned towards his friends.

"It is done," he declared. But Pete wasn't listening. He was cradling Edie, holding her close to him, her feet hanging limp. She was deathly pale, where Kesteven's blood didn't cover her, and her mouth hung open, her eyes sightless.

"She's gone," said Peter Gunn, almost in a whisper, looking up from his wife, eyes wet, to Nick. "She's gone, Nick. I was.I was too late." He looked at Nick, yet past him, as if he weren't even there. Nick could hear and feel the anguish in the old man's voice, the utter misery. In a blur he was at Edie's side, and felt her heart. Sure enough, it was still. Nothing. Edie was.

Wait a second. Her face had been splattered with Kesteven's blood when he'd been shot, and her mouth.

"Mon Dieu!" he swore, as he felt the first faint sign of it. From the edge of death, Edie was.

"Nat!" he called into his cell phone. He gave her the address, and told her to bring blood. Lots of it. Hanging up, he realized that Natalie could never make it here in time in her car, and called Janette at the Raven. She objected, of course, as only Janette could, until he told her what had happened. As he rang off, he put a hand to Pete's shoulder. "Pete?" The old man was sobbing quietly, closed off from the world, totally absorbed in the loss of his wife. "Pete."

Gunn looked up at him, slowly, eyes red, face a portrait in pain. Seldom had Nicholas seen such agony on a Human face, vampire or mortal. As the detective began to give in to his pain, they both heard a sudden sharp intake of breath, and looked down. A pair of confused, amber eyes looked back up at them.

"Pete?"

* * *

"That is so.so bizarre," said Natalie, the next night, at Nick's loft. "Someone being brought across by accident?"

"But true," said Nick. "Edie was weakened by both her illness and loss of blood. When Kesteven's blood splattered everywhere, some got into her mouth, and that did it." He looked over at the couch. Peter Gunn lay on it, immobile, unbreathing, his own transformation nearly complete.

They had managed to smuggle the newly envamped Edie to Nick's place in time for First Feeding. After several bottles from Janette's store, she was herself again. Once her mind was fully restored however, and she understood what it was that had happened to her, she was horrified. True, her heart problem was now gone, and her brain free of disease, but to have become a.a vampire? She railed against it, denied it with fury, cursing and crying. And here it was Janette, Janette!, that shown through. She had proven to be, quite uncharacteristically, very understanding. Almost maternal. She'd comforted the neophyte vampiress, explaining the way of things to her patiently and gently. Nick shook his head, surprised. He'd never seen this side to Janette before.

That, of course, left Pete. He had decided, with his characteristic swiftness, that he would join Edie in her new state. Nick was, naturally, saddened at this turn of events, but was understanding of it nonetheless. However, he did not wish to be the one who did the deed, and Pete, he could see, was visibly uncomfortable at the idea of having Janette for his Mistress.

"I will," offered Edie, much to the surprise of all. Normally of course, so young a fledgling would never be allowed to even attempt this, but then these were most decidedly not normal circumstances. Janette, slowly and patiently, instructed her in the procedure, and it was done.

"It makes sense," said Gunn, just before Edie dropped her new fangs. "She's been telling me what to do for years, anyway."

"Just for that, Peter Gunn," she snarled, "no anesthetic!"

"So, how did Kesteven survive?" asked Natalie. "Staked, and left for the sunrise? He should have been incinerated."

"When he got that piece of wood through the chest, courtesy of Edie, I figured that was that," said Nick. "Unfortunately, he was one of those rare people who have their heart on the right side, rather than the left. I didn't know that, I'm afraid. And I was rather in a hurry."

"And he was where, all these years?"

"After he was staked, I carried his body as far as I dared, and dumped it near the San Diego Freeway. It was getting close to dawn, and I had to find cover. I can only assume that he came to long enough to crawl for safety, not realizing that 'safety' was yet another one of L.A.'s interminable Freeway projects."

"And he was entombed there all these years?" asked Janette. "Under the asphalt?"

"He was," replied Nick. "Recent roadwork in the area must have uncovered him. I obtained a report from the California State police. Two bodies, drained, in exactly the same place, after the old pavement was torn up." He heard Pete begin to stir, and got up, moving over to him. "And then he came looking for revenge."

Pete opened his eyes, and at once felt the difference. He felt.better. Stronger. More vital. And hungry. Always a gentleman, his First Feeding wasn't the least bit messy-not a drop got onto his immaculate Don Richards suit- but no less intense than any other. Half way through the sixth bottle from Janette's private stock, he felt his hunger begin to ease.

And his new power.

"So Kesteven was broken out of jail and brought across for his talents," he asked, now seated next to Edie. They looked for all the world like your typical elderly couple, yet there was something else. A difference that even Nat could sense, but for her experience with Nicholas, not name.

"Yes. As you know, he was an absolute virtuoso when it came to armored trucks and vaults," said Nick. "His Master was putting a criminal gang together, and recruited Kesteven right there in prison. Promises of extreme wealth, and immortality, were more than he could resist."

"Ah. Who was he? Kesteven's Master?"

"I later learned that his name was Stavros Sparkman. After we rolled up the rest of the gang back in '59, he completely vanished. I haven't heard hide nor hair of him, since."

"Sparkman?" said Janette.

"Yeah. I heard somewhere that they called him 'Spark' for short."

* * *

It took more than a little fancy "creative writing" in his report, but Jacoby managed to cover up everything "odd" that had happened that night. Sid Mack was found, after spending some of the cash stolen from the armored truck, and would stand trial along with the guard. Luther Kesteven was still "at large".

Nick and his new associates sat around the biggest table at Mother's, bought out for the evening, dinner on him as promised. He explained as much as he dared, making clear the extreme need for discretion. Edie visibly shuddered at his description of the dread Enforcers.

"That's why I tried to make you all forget," he said. "This knowledge you now have is dangerous. Extremely dangerous. For all of us." He took a sip of wine. "Just my luck you're all resisters."

"Your secret is safe," said Jacoby. "After all, who'd believe me? The Department'd have my badge in five minutes, and I'd be on the way to Camarillo." He studied Nicholas a moment. "You truly amaze me, Mr. DeBrabant,"

"Oh? In what way, Lieutenant?"

"You. You are.what you are, yet you hate it. You work among mortals, openly, striving to do good. To uphold the law, even against your own kind."

"Crime is crime, Lieutenant," replied Nick. "I was sworn to uphold the law, once. To me, it doesn't matter who commits the crime. It would be the same thing if someone in your own department was a killer, or on the take. You'd have to act. Kesteven was pure, Satanic scum, and I dealt with him as he deserved."

"And we're all the better for it, too," said Edie. "He was so evil. Unlike you."

"No, I'm evil too. It is the nature of the vampire, Miss Hart."

"No, you're not," said Edie, shaking her head. "You fight evil. Hunting it down in the dark, like some.comic book superhero. Only you're real. You forego Human blood." She indicated his wine glass.

"But I've done a lot that is evil, Miss Hart. A lot that was immoral and degraded. I have ever since I made that foolish decision, so long ago."

"But you work to change, Nick," she battled on. "To be something else, something better. To repay society for your sins. How many more people would Kesteven have killed, before he was finally stopped? A hundred? A thousand?" She shook her head. "No. The world is just a little bit better place, tonight, because you were here."

"She's right, you know," said Gunn. "You shouldn't feel guilty, Nick."

"And I'm sure," said Edie, reaching out her hand to his, "one day you'll get your wish."

"Wish? What's that?" asked Jacoby.

"To be mortal again," said Nick, after a long moment. "To be like you all. To be able to live a normal life. It's the one thing I want more than anything else in the world, Lieutenant." They could all see the sadness in his eyes, quickly gone.

"You'll get it," smiled Edie, and it was a bewitching smile. For a moment, Nick envied Gunn such a woman.

"Can you tell us anything about your past?" asked Jacoby. "You must have seen a lot of history."

"Yes," said Gunn. "Tell us about the Crusade you were in."

Nick acquiesced, and his audience was spellbound by his tales of heroism and adventure. The Sixth Crusade, battles with Saracens, Joan of Arc, the Civil War, even the Titanic.

"Joplin?" asked Edie. "You knew him? Well come on. Play something!" She led Nick to the piano. Everyone, including Mother, the band, and even Jacoby, joined in, and soon the place was jumping to some hot jazz. Nick smiled, laughing as he played the piano, just basking in the glow of this very mortal, very Human moment.

The next night at work, Nick found Schanke waiting at his desk, anxious to pepper him with endless questions about the previous night's brouhaha. Fortunately, he hadn't spoken of it to anyone yet, shocked to have seen his partner with a gun point-blank on a naked bleeding man, and after a deep, penetrating look from Nick, remembered an entirely different version of events. They'd gotten a tip, and found the miscreant drinking heavily at the Raven. He'd fled, they had given chase. He drew a weapon, and after an exchange of fire, both Nick and Schanke burned him down in the alley behind the club. Since what little remained of the real Kesteven had been left for the sun, Natalie managed to "loose" the corpse of a homeless black man of similar type, and with considerable fudging of the forensic evidence, give it a new history. Kesteven's partner in crime, Harr, was no resister, and was "reminded" that the dead fellow was indeed his late, erstwhile co-conspirator. By this time, nearly all the jewelry taken in the robbery had been recovered, and with the forensic evidence "matching" the crimes, the case of Toronto's latest psychopathic serial killer, his true identity forever a mystery, was closed.

Schanke, now that there was time, wanted to have a long chat with his old criminology professor. He sat across from him at Nick's, after end of watch, never suspecting the truth of things, banging heads with one of the most brilliant minds in criminal detection of the 20th Century. If he noticed that the Gunns looked awfully good for their ages, he said naught. Though it had been barely 24 hours since her transformation, Edie's eyes seemed brighter, her movements stronger, then they had in many years. The same with her husband. In time, Nick had told them, their hair would slowly begin to lose some of it's gray, and their skin to look somewhat younger, as their bodies gradually adjusted to their new vitality. Something, Edie admitted, that she could live with.

"When you get back home to California," Nick told them, after Schanke was out of earshot, in the head, "then you can begin preparations to move on."

"You mean die, Nick. Right?" said Edie.

"Yes. Since Edie is 'ill', you'll have plenty of time to put your affairs in order. If you should need any help, let me know. Then, when you're ready, I'll introduce you to Aristotle. He'll construct new identities for you both, and then you can start a new life, somewhere else."

"And our kids? Our grandchildren?" asked Edie.

"Yes, Nick," said Pete. "What should we tell them?"

"I would tell them nothing," said Nick. "Of course, I have no children, so it's entirely theoretical on my part. I leave it to your discretion, but if anything ever slipped, it could bring the Enforcers down on all of us." He rose, refilling glasses. "I know how hard it is to leave loved-ones behind, though. It's never easy." Just then Schanke returned. His partner wanted to hear more about some Gunn's old cases, and Pete obliged. The body in the dryer. Bringing down the Fusary "Family". The time he and Jacoby had taken out two East Bloc assassins in his apartment. Schanke lapped it up, every bit of it.

"And you had your own club?" he asked.

"Yes," said Edie. "Called Edie's."

"Edie's?"

"Yes. You've heard of it?"

"Now that I think about it, yeah. My first vacation, after joining the force. We, that is my wife Myra and I, went to LA. Ended up at this terrific club." He thought a moment. "Great place. Except for the Maitre'd."

"Schanke?' asked Nat, seeing his scowl.

"Yeah. The guy said I had to wear a tie. Wouldn't let me in without one. Can you beat that?" Gunn and Edie laughed, a slow drawn out laugh.

"Sounds like Leslie," smiled Edie, remembering her long gone employee and friend. "Always trying to get me to adopt a dress code." She laughed again. "I miss him."

"I miss all our friends," said Peter.

"Yeah," said Don. "Sooner or later, it all goes. So, you started out in this Mother's place as a singer?"

"She did," said Pete, feeling nostalgic as well. "That's where we met." He put an arm around his wife, and smiled warmly. Seeing the two like that actually brought a tear to Nat's eye. She looked at Nick. Did he see? Can he see? she wondered. That could be us. We could.

"After Mother died," she heard Edie continue, and came back to the here and now, "I came into a rather substantial sum, and opened my own club." Edie glanced at Nick, deciding, of course, not to reveal where that rather substantial sum had come from.

"Must be fun, having your own place. You know, we have a few clubs up here, in Toronto. Good ones, too. Well, except for that Raven place. Ever see it?"

"Uh, no," said Edie, once more sparing Nick the briefest of glances. As a matter of fact, they had been there, spending the day with Janette, learning the things that they needed to learn. As far as Edie was concerned, once was enough. The Raven, as a jernt, just was not her style.

And Alma..brrrrrrrrrrrr!

Eventually, as dawn drew close, it was time for Schanke to go, and he was on his way. Before they left for their hotel, the Gunn's offered a toast. To the old band. To Mother. To Jacoby. To Leslie.

"To absent friends," said Peter Gunn.

"Here here," said Natalie, clinking her glass with the rest, and looking deeply into the eyes of Nick Knight.