Disclaimers: The Airwolf characters Belong to Donald Bellisario et. al. The Forever Knight characters belong to James Parriot et. al. I'm just borrowing them for a very short period of time.
"How Badly Do You Want Me?"
Michael Coldsmith Briggs III, codenamed Archangel, was sitting in a bar in the ~ arrondissement of Paris, nursing a glass of red wine, feeling more than weary with a combination of jetlag and what he was fairly sure was a nice spot of flu coming on. He was also feeling fairly conspicuous in the rather grubby surroundings dressed in his standard garb of white three-piece suit, to the point of having removed his matching fedora and hiding it in his lap. Maybe it was time to think of reconsidering his all-white, all-the-time wardrobe? It would cut down on all the Mr. Clean jokes (oh yes, Dominic Santini, don't think I haven't heard you, or that you're the only one) and would certainly save on the drycleaning bills. The Committee – that vaguely constituted, almost faceless, certainly nameless group of individuals that he had to report to in his work for the Firm – would no doubt approve of anything in the cost-cutting line. Which was probably why his all-white private Learjet had mysteriously been unavailable for this sudden trip to Paris from Los Angeles, when a man with whom Michael had worked years ago, back in the days when he had been a field operative (long before his arrival at the rarefied level of all-white wardrobes, bevvies of pretty white-clad personal aides, and private Learjets) had sent a coded message to the Firm that he had some highly important information to impart to them, and he would only speak to Archangel.
No Lear, no relaxing flight to Paris. Instead, he had been crammed into coach (coach, forsooth!) where he had been unable to stretch out and straighten his bad leg, injured several years ago in an accident involving a deranged psychopathic pilot and his equally weird helicopter. Between that and the incessantly crying child in the seat behind him (why couldn't they have soundproofed children's sections on longhaul flights? For that matter, on any flight longer than five minutes?) it had been impossible to get any rest whatsoever. And now he was sitting in a corner of a smoky noisy bar, drinking cheap godawful wine, exhausted and aching and overdressed, and his contact was now fifteen minutes late.
Then he saw the woman.
She was standing on the far side of the room, her black-clad form indistinct in the haze of cigarette smoke. She was looking straight at Michael, and he could somehow hear her voice as if she was standing right next to him – a sexy, breathy voice with a heavy French accent, just the sort of voice that ought to be coming from those red, red lips, set in a pale face and framed by dark hair. (Michael reflected fleetingly that the adjective train no longer seemed to stop at his station.)
"How badly do you want me?"
Michael stared back at her, unnerved by the odd effect – was she a ventriloquist? He turned to look behind him, wondering if she could be talking to someone else. None of the other patrons in the bar seemed to have noticed her existence at all. Was she some kind of hallucination, a harbinger of flu-induced fever? Had someone slipped something in his glass of plonk? He turned back, fully expecting that she would have vanished.
"How badly do you want me?"
Then two things happened.
The man whom Michael recognized as his contact came through the street door and headed in the direction of his table, blocking his view of the woman in black. Craning to see around him, Michael noticed another man who had been sitting at the bar since Michael came in suddenly leave his stool and fall in behind. In a familiar motion he slipped his hand under his jacket and pulled out a gun…
"Look out!" yelled Michael, launching himself at his contact in an effort to knock him to the floor and out of the way of the gun.
Dumb idea, he realized, when at the height of his trajectory he found himself looking straight down the gun barrel, seeing the tiny flame emerging from the muzzle, and then everything was pain and redness, fading quickly to black.
He crashed to the ground right at the feet of the mysterious woman, and the last thing he heard was her voice, no longer breathless-with-desire but sharp-with-annoyance.
"Merde! I wanted a la carte tonight, not the set menu!"
Somewhere through a red-tinted fog, Michael could hear voices.
"I congratulate you on your restraint and self control, Janette. You have done splendidly so far," said a man's voice, deep and smooth as velvet.
"Merci, Lacroix. I must admit it was very difficult. His blood was quite delicious with all those secrets bubbling away in his veins. Almost volcanic, in fact. Stopping before I'd taken the very last drop was even harder than I'd expected."
Surely that voice belonged to the mysterious black-clad woman from the bar?
"Well, my dear, if all goes well, you will be able to savour those - bubbling secrets – over and over again."
Huh? Secrets in the blood? Were they talking about him? Had he been kidnapped by the Other Side (although it was so difficult to tell who the other side was now – gone were the days when you could pretty safely blame everything on the Russians)? He had to get out of here.
However, as soon as he tried to move, he was encompassed by severe pain – almost like some sort of hunger – although he wasn't sure precisely what he was hungry for.
Definitely not a peanut butter sandwich, that was for sure. Maybe a steak – a nice, juicy, rare steak, dripping with blood – maybe not even cooked at all… Maybe not even a steak, just the blood itself…
Yes. Blood. That was what he wanted. Kinky, but there it was.
"I believe your new friend is awake, and somewhat peckish," said Velvet Voice. "My dear, as a good hostess, don't you think you ought to offer him some refreshment?"
"Certainement, Lacroix. Ici, mon amour, drink this." And Michael found that his mouth, which had been opening to yell his needs to the world, was suddenly plugged with the mouth of a wine bottle, somewhat akin to a baby being fed its bottle. He didn't care. He emptied the bottle almost in one gulp, then the second, then the third, without even realizing what he was drinking. By the end of the fourth, though, he was starting to think that this was the strangest-tasting red wine he'd ever tippled – if four large bottles, drained in about two minutes flat, could be considered a tipple…
He didn't care. The first thing he saw when the red haze finally receded was a woman, leaning over him. It was indeed the woman from the bar.
"Welcome to your new life," she said softly, with a seductive smile. Interesting teeth, thought Michael – very long and sharp. Kinky. He discovered that, after all that wine, what he was really in the mood for now was some good ravishment. "I am Janette Ducharme, and this – " indicating a tall man, also dressed in black, standing behind her, " – is Lucien Lacroix."
"Michael Coldsmith Briggs the Third," said Michael. "Enchanté." And he dove headlong into her arms.
"You'll Get One of Those About Every Ten Minutes"
Nick Knight stood on a Paris bridge in the middle of a dark, lonely night, in a dark, lonely mood. He kicked a pebble into the Seine below and found himself wondering, if he jumped in and got swept straight out to the English Channel, how long it would take before Janette noticed that he was gone.
All right, so maybe it hadn't been a particularly good idea to phone Nat back in Toronto from the hotel room, while waiting for Janette to finish her bath. But he'd been gone a week, and he really wanted to hear her voice again, just for a minute or two. All right, so maybe he shouldn't have kept listening to her voice for the hour it had taken for Janette to complete her toilette before their planned night on the town. All right, so maybe he didn't need to have told her that he was sorry she wasn't there and that it would be so good to see her again when he got back home.
Looked at from a different angle, all right, maybe the whole Paris trip with Janette and Lacroix hadn't been such a good idea either. If Nat hadn't already guessed his vacation destination, Janette's pyrotechnics when she finally emerged from the bathroom and discovered Nick with his cell phone to his ear and a grin on his face probably gave her more than a hint of whose company he was in. Even if his cell had been reduced to a useless handful of plastic and parts in about one nanosecond after Janette's vampire hearing recognized the voice at the other end.
All things considered, she had been fairly restrained. At least she hadn't reduced him to his component parts. But he couldn't conceive of being welcome at the Raven anytime soon. And probably just to spite him, she'd gone out and picked up a new boyfriend.
Nick didn't like this development at all. So far as he knew, she had never brought anyone across before, and now she was starting with a suave, sophisticated, powerbroker type – apparently some kind of secret agent. And Nick knew how dangerous secret agents could be, in more ways than one.
Nick prided himself on being above such petty emotions as jealousy – after all, he had watched Janette's paramours come and go for centuries, and hadn't been tempted to drain more than, say, half of them - but he looked down his nose at someone who had such little wardrobe sense as this Archangel.
But Janette had Lacroix's blessing for her little affair.
Which meant that there wasn't a single thing that he could do about it.
"Michel, mon petit, how do you like your new life so far?"
"Oh, tres bien, tres bien." Foreign languages had never been one of Michael's strong suits.
"I'm so glad to hear that," Janette purred in his ear as they sat at a tiny table in the depths of a dark Paris bar, considerably more upmarket than the last one Michael had been in, sharing a bottle of what Janette had coyly referred to as the house special. "But I really must tell you a few little tidbits of information about being a vampire. The facts of unlife, as it were."
"Well, first of all, you're immortal now. Provided that you stay out of the sunlight, and away from pointy wooden sticks."
Michael didn't think that would be too much of a problem. The Firm had an enlightened policy of flex hours – pick your own twenty hours out of twenty four. He could always get shutters for his office windows, or move into a bunker with the more committed paranoiacs on staff. He should probably get the sword stick taken out of his walking cane, though, just to be on the safe side. Not that he needed either it or the eyepatch any more, but Michael knew that they gave him a certain je ne sais quoi, the air of a man with a mysterious and dangerous past.
"You will have to drink blood, and nothing else."
Again, no problem. No doubt Marella could source that from somewhere.
"You will be able to fly, without needing any kind of aircraft or other machinery."
Definite possibilities there, especially involving a certain black and white, super-secret helicopter and the blackmail its pilot used on Michael…
"And you will always have a bond, a mental link with the one who created you. I will always know where you are, and what you're thinking."
Oops! For a high-ranking employee of the Firm, that wasn't a good idea at all. He would be a walking breach of security. Maybe he could learn to think in code?
"And the sex is wonderful," breathed Janette in his ear.
Michael smiled a very fangy smile.
Then again, there was always the option of early retirement…
"What kind of an ident is 'Oh My God'?"
Three weeks later, a remarkably happy and sated-looking Archangel appeared in the main conference room at the Firm's California headquarters, codenamed Knightsbridge for reasons which had always escaped Archangel unless someone had simply been trying to make the place seem a bit more classy.
He'd been summoned to appear before Zeus and the Committee to give an explanation for his extended absence – in fact, his total disappearance since his ill-fated (or not, depending on how you looked at it) meeting with his contact in the Paris bar. (Well, Michael supposed, it had been pretty ill-fated for good old whatsisname. He had an idea that more than one patron of that bar had become vampire fast food that night as Janette tried to cover her tracks. Which was very convenient for Michael, if not exactly morally gratifying.) Deputy directors of the Firm's operations were not expected to vanish off the face of the earth, at least for any longer than it took them to visit the washroom, especially without notifying their close personal assistants of their intentions.
Especially their close personal assistants.
Far more than the shadowy figures of Zeus and the other Committee members gathered around the room's large central table, Michael was worried about the reaction of Marella, the aforesaid C.P.A. and, as Michael was very well aware, the real power behind the throne in his department.
And Marella, whom he had been avoiding since returning from Paris, was looking extremely displeased. In fact, she was looking downright pissed, and Michael was beginning to have a few qualms about what he was about to do. He wished he knew how much of Marella's hostility was motivated by the fact that he had dropped off the Firm's radar without telling her, and how much by the presence of Janette trailing behind him into the boardroom, wearing a tight-fitting black silk outfit, black picture hat tilted beguilingly over one eye, and a subtle but exotic perfume.
"Archangel," said Zeus loudly, "who is this woman and what is she doing here?"
With his newly vampiric hearing, Michael distinctly heard Marella muttering under her breath, "And what's with that stupid hat?"
Before Janette could do more than give Marella a savagely sweet smile, Michael spoke up hastily, "This is Ms. Janette Ducharme, my lifestyle consultant and wardrobe coordinator. No need to worry, she has absolute top security clearance."
"Lifestyle consultant?" sputtered Zeus. "Archangel, you've finally cracked. I knew it was only a matter of time after that little adventure in East Germany."
"Wardrobe coordinator?" snorted Marella. "Well, at least now I know why you've suddenly switched to black."
"Thank you. I'm glad someone finally noticed." Michael had indeed traded his customary white suit for an all-black outfit, including black silk shirt and socks. The only white item of apparel was a new eyepatch.
"Oh, I didn't say I approved," said Marella coolly. "Black's not your colour. Your complexion is too sallow."
"My complexion is not sallow…" Michael began heatedly, before collecting himself and making an attempt to regain his customary sangfroid. It wouldn't do for his eyes to suddenly turn gold and his fangs to start showing in front of all these people. Being in a line of work which required individuals to be more prepared for the unexpected than a whole troop of boy scouts, someone in the room was quite likely to have a pointy stick handy. "In any case, this is all immaterial. Zeus, gentlemen, ladies, I'm hereby announcing my resignation from the Firm, effective immediately. Ms. Ducharme has – er, convinced me of the merits of a less stressful lifestyle."
Another snort from Marella's direction, but when Janette's eyes swivelled around to pin her with another one of those vicious smiles, the C.P.A. (former C.P.A., Michael reminded himself) was merely looking thoughtful. Very thoughtful.
A restrained hubbub had broken out in the room as Michael's bombshell dropped. With his vampiric senses, Michael could easily tell what they were all saying, even Zeus with his hand shading his mouth as he whispered to the man sitting next to him. What made him uneasy, however – not to mention highly indignant – was the general tenor of the remarks. Everyone was surprised, but nobody seemed particularly upset. In fact, judging from more than a few whispers and several pointed glances, there was already a consensus about his replacement.
Finally Zeus turned back to him. "Well, Mr. Coldsmith-Briggs, giving us no notice of your departure is highly irregular, not to mention extremely discourteous, and you realize that you've forfeited the customary farewell party and hundred-dollar gift certificate from the retailer of your choice, not to mention the fact that all your medical and other benefits will cease immediately, including your membership in Spies Anonymous..."
Michael shrugged. He could live without the party and gift certificate, and medical benefits were now completely superfluous. As for Spies Anonymous, much as the Firm's upper management seemed to feel that all senior staff should belong to it, Michael had never had any urge to stand up in front of a crowd of fellow spooks and say, "Hi, my name is Michael and I'm addicted to covert ops..."
Zeus was continuing, "However, I'm happy to say that your decision hasn't caught us completely unprepared. It will naturally be quite a costsaving if your department can get rid of all those white limos and helicopters, not to mention the white wardrobes. And fortunately we already have a very able successor in place. I'm sure everyone here joins me in congratulating Marella on her new position."
Michael stared from Zeus to Marella as another outburst of noise, this time pleased-sounding, filled the room. Marella was smiling graciously.
"Well! Congratulations, Marella," said Michael, gnashing his teeth but determined not to look as if he'd been completely stunned by the rapid turn of events. The meeting was supposed to be all about him, and somehow it had wound up with everyone being focussed on Marella.
"You still here, Briggs?" said Zeus in surprise.
Michael took Marella's arm and led her away from the others. "You know, Marella, this is a pretty demanding job you're taking on. You've been a more than capable assistant for a long time, but I'm not sure if you really realize what you're getting into..."
"Of course I do," Marella replied briskly. "Not to put too fine a point on it, Michael, who do you think has done more work in that office lately, you or me? Who's made more coffee? Pressed more buttons on those keyboards? Flown more rescue missions? For that matter, you'd have been pushing up daisies in East Germany long ago if I hadn't put on my tightest skirt and gone to Stringfellow Hawke with all that stolen intelligence about you being held prisoner and convinced him to go in after you."
"All right, all right. I know you can do the job. But I think I'd better go up to my – your – office with you and go over a few things..."
"Oh, don't worry about a thing, Michael. Everything's under control – or will be, just as soon as I get rid of that white leather chair of yours."
Michael felt something inside of himself snap. His eyes began to turn gold and he could feel fangs beginning to sprout. He stared directly into the eyes of his erstwhile C.P.A. "You will not get rid of that chair," he rumbled, his voice taking on a vampire's hypnotic cadence. He knew he was being petty, but he was a vampire now. He could be petty if he wanted to.
"Don't be ridiculous, Michael. That chair's a monstrosity. It's got to go. And just what's happening with your teeth?"
Damn. A resister. Janette had warned him about them. Just his luck to meet up with one the very first time he needed to do some serious hypnosis. He looked appealingly at Janette; maybe she'd have better luck in convincing Marella not to ditch his beloved chair.
"Come, mon cher," said Janette, tucking her hand in his arm and discreetly hauling him toward the door. "As your lifestyle consultant, I must point out the dangers of letting your emotions overcome you, at least in certain circumstances – such as crowded rooms." As the door closed behind them, she hissed, "You're immortal now. What's a chair?"
Michael gave it some thought and decided she was probably right. Let Marella redecorate his office if she wanted; he had eternity to find another perfect chair.
Much later that night, he said thoughtfully, "You know, Janette, I think Marella would make a pretty good vampire."
By the next evening, Michael still thought that bringing Marella across was a good idea. The thought had even crossed his mind that a vampiric threesome with himself, Janette and Marella could be quite a fun experience. It wasn't the sort of notion he usually entertained, but as Janette pointed out, he was no longer constrained by mortal mores. However, as a virtual vampire newborn, he'd figured out that he sometimes had to be cautious around Janette, and maybe this was one of those times. Janette had been downright cool about his suggestion of adding Marella to the family.
Janette had no objection on principle to sex with any number of participants, but she definitely had no intention of letting Marella join the night shift. She reminded Janette far too much of Natalie: attractive female with strong personality and her hooks quite firmly sunk into a man whom Janette considered her own property. And she was clever enough to hide her true feelings for Michael behind a screen of indifference, much the same as Natalie pretended to be "just friends" with Nicolas. No, Marella would become a vampire over Janette's undead body.
"I don't want another one. I want THIS one!"
Two days later, late in the evening, Michael dragged Janette off to Van Nuys Airport, after ascertaining that Stringfellow Hawke and Dominic Santini had a late movie shoot and would still be at the Santini Air hangar at that hour. Janette had convinced him that now was a good time to do some leisurely travelling, and Michael had talked her into coming out to the small airport so he could say goodbye to the Airwolf crew before they left. It also crossed his mind that it could be fun to see the look on the faces of those two when they saw him with his lifestyle consultant on his arm.
Their reaction exceeded his most gleeful expectations. Dominic's mouth dropped open so far that Michael wondered if his jaw was dislocated, and the wrench he was holding landed on the floor with a crash. Hawke's mouth didn't gape quite so much, but he'd been in the process of climbing out of the Santini Air helicopter and he straightened up so fast that he cracked his head on the doorframe. Michael winced. "Better check to make sure you didn't dent that chopper, Hawke," he suggested.
"Mamma mia!" gulped Dom. "Michael, did you climb down a few chimneys on your way here? You've gone over to the dark side!"
Michael twirled his cane. "Yes, I decided it was time for a change. White was getting boring."
"Yeah, but black? Michael, you shouldn't be wearing black. Your complexion is too sallow."
"My complexion is not − "
"Hush, mon cher," Janette interrupted soothingly. "The man is a mechanic, not a fashion critic." Then, murmuring in Michael's ear, she added, "But he might make an excellent hors d'oeuvre." She gave Dominic a cool once-over, finishing up at the excess avoirdupois overhanging his belt buckle. "Or perhaps an entire three-course meal."
One word summed up Michael's reaction to the thought of putting his lips anywhere near Dominic Santini's neck, and that word was . . . "Yuck." Hands, now, getting his hands around the same neck and squeezing hard was a much more attractive prospect.
"What are you talking about?" demanded Hawke. Michael had forgotten the man's amazing hearing.
"Well, Hawke, you see, along with my wardrobe, I've decided on a different diet these days."
"You've become a vegetarian?" asked Dominic, bewildered.
"Not – exactly." Michael flashed a hint of fang. Dominic peered at him more closely. "You had something done to your teeth too? 'Cause I could swear I just saw -- "
"C'mon, Michael, I can't believe you showed up here at this hour just to show off your new outfit," said Hawke brusquely. "You got a job for us, or not?" In spite of his impatient tone, Michael noticed that the pilot's eyes were fixed on Janette. Janette was returning the scrutiny, with interest.
"Not," said Michael firmly. "I came to say goodbye. I'm – er – taking early retirement."
"With her?" Dominic burst out. "Are you outta your mind?"
Michael had had enough. Eyes glowing gold and fangs showing, he grabbed the Italian by the shirtfront and slammed him against the helicopter's fuselage, his feet dangling a good twelve inches off the floor. "And what's wrong with her?"
"Nothing!" croaked Dominic. "She just looks way too good for you, that's all!"
Michael tightened his grip.
"Hey!" yelled Hawke, and tried to pull Michael away. Michael swatted at him and Hawke went sailing ten feet across the hangar. He scrambled to his feet and rushed back to make another attempt at separating Michael from Dominic, who was now starting to make interesting choking noises. At least, Michael found them interesting. He was beginning to enjoy himself.
"That's enough!" said Janette, not loudly but in a voice that had a strange reverberation to it. "Michael, put him down. You two -- " She pinned Hawke and Santini with her gaze. "Sit."
They thumped to the ground side by side, staring up at Janette. "That's better," she said, and began to stroll back and forth in front of the two mesmerized pilots, one fingertip resting consideringly on her lips. Their heads followed her every movement, like two marionettes being pulled by the same strings. "Michael, mon cher, I completely approve of the concept of playing with your food, but bashing it to death lacks subtlety, and tends to attract unwanted attention. Perhaps a lesson or two in – what is the current term – ah yes, anger management, would be a good idea. Lacroix would be an excellent instructor. He's had so much practice at it with Nicolas, you see. Of course, Nicolas will tell you that Lacroix doesn't manage his anger nearly well enough, but let he who is entirely blameless throw the first flaming stake." She looked back at Hawke and Santini. "Now, what shall I do with the two of you? Mr. Santini, you really seem determined to be an annoyance. I would suggest letting dear Michael practise his hunting skills on you, but it's quite obvious that you're overfond of garlic, and that always makes things unpleasant. There's a reason not too many vampires live in Italy. Perhaps he should practise his hypnotism instead. Michael, do you think you could convince Mr. Santini to go outside and play?"
"Sure," said Michael, with a toothy smile. "Come on, Dominic, let's go play chicken on the runway."
With those two gone, Janette reached down and pulled Stringfellow Hawke to his feet. He stared woodenly off into space while Janette slowly circled him, contemplating him from all angles. He certainly wasn't suave and debonair like Michael, and she doubted he could do puppy-dog cute the way Nicolas could, but still there was something decidedly attractive about the man. Just like Nicolas when she'd first seen him, he was all broody and edgy. And that face of his wasn't about to break any mirrors, either.
She wondered how Nicolas would feel about having another brother.
For an old guy, Dominic Santini could sure move briskly. Michael hypnotized him into standing motionless on the Van Nuys runway until a plane touched down, then released his mental hold and watched from a safe distance as Santini scurried to safety, cursing. Then he did it all over again. However, after the Italian had dodged a cargo plane, a little Cessna, and an extraordinarily nimble private jet (which was forced to hastily abort its landing when Michael decided he wanted some extra payback for that crack about his suitability for Janette, and kept Dominic standing in its path a few seconds too long), the ex-spy decided that the game was beginning to pall. Besides, the fact that a man was roaming around on the runway was starting to attract attention.
He wasn't really too disappointed, then, when a whoosh of displaced air announced the arrival of another vampire. He eyed his fellow denizen of the night with interest. There was something vaguely familiar about him, a sort of family resemblance. Michael realized he was finally meeting the mysterious Nicholas Knight that Janette always pretended she couldn't care a garlic clove about.
Michael didn't see the attraction, personally. Oh sure, most women would probably think Knight was easy enough on the eyes, when he wasn't being all angsty and mopey about his eternal damnation, which Janette had assured him was the case at least fifty percent of the time, and that was in a good century. But there was no sign of the power and menace of a vampire that was eighty years old, let alone eight hundred, give or take a decade or two. As a matter of fact, thought Michael smugly, as an evil, undead creature of the night, Nick Knight was pretty much a washout. A big fat wimpy zero. Scary? Probably the only frightening thing about him was cow-blood halitosis –
"Let him go," hissed Knight. It was a verbal equivalent of grabbing Michael by the throat and hoisting him two feet off the ground. The ex-spy realized that perhaps he'd made an over-hasty assessment of Knight's ability to intimidate. But he resented the other vampire's high-handed interference; this was his turf and Dominic was his friend – well, victim – and besides, Janette wasn't too far away, and she wasn't about to let Knight eat him for a light snack. He hoped.
"Back off, bullbreath," he snarled.
Oops. Definitely the wrong tactic to have chosen. Michael had become fairly proficient at flying under Janette's tutelage, but that was nothing compared to what he did now with the impetus provided by an annoyed and apparently very powerful vampire. He found himself sailing fifty feet in the air, right under the wheels of the same private jet which was making a second attempt to land, and was thwarted once again. He landed with a loud thud and a totally graceless sprawl practically on top of Dominic Santini, who was legging it as fast as he could back to the hangar.
"What the hell's going on here, Michael?" bellowed Dominic.
Michael scrambled to his feet. "Run now. Talk later," he replied succinctly. He grabbed Dominic by the arm and started hustling him even faster. They made it about two steps when there was another whoosh and Nick Knight touched down in front of them again.
"Aagh!" yelped Dominic. "Who the hell are you?"
"A very apt question, Mr. Santini," said Nick solemnly. "I've asked myself the same thing many times, and I've never been able to answer. But never mind that now." His voice deepened. "You must leave here now. Don't come back till tomorrow morning. Forget that you ever saw me, or that your friend Michael and his – um – companion were ever here. Do you understand?"
"Forget-that-I-ever-saw-you-and-that-Michael-and-his-um-companion-were-ever-here," Dominic intoned. He turned and began to trudge off in the direction of his car.
"Incoming!" yelled Nick, pointing at the sky, where the luckless jet was now trying for a third landing. Dominic began to run.
"Hope his heart can stand all this strain," murmured Michael, beginning to feel a tad remorseful.
"You're wondering this now, after making him run over half the airfield?" said Nick incredulously.
"Yeah, well, at least I wasn't the one that just landed in front of him like Mary Poppins without the umbrella," snapped Michael.
As he went sailing through the air again, he wondered when he was going to learn not to start digging his grave with his own mouth. If vampires had graves. It seemed unlikely. He was airborne for nearly long enough to start seriously pondering the question before smacking to the floor just inside the doors of the Santini Air hangar. An instant later, Nick made a much more dignified landing next to him.
Apparently just in time. Janette was wrapped around the figure of Stringfellow Hawke as tightly as a layer of black clingfilm, eyes red and fangs extended, clearly about to deliver the coup de grace to her blissed out looking victim. Whatever they'd been getting up to while Michael had been away – and it was obvious what that had been – must have had the pilot's full, if uninformed, consent.
Michael cleared his throat. Nick took a more forceful approach. "Janette! No!" he yelled.
Janette looked up from her delectation of the pilot's jugular. "Nicolas," she said coolly. "Your timing is impeccable, as always. Now leave me alone. I'm about to become a mother."
"You can't do this!"
"Of course I can. I think I'm rather good at it." She smiled in Michael's direction. He smirked, but inwardly felt rather anxious. Janette was planning to make a vampire of Stringfellow Hawke? That would mean having the man who had all the social graces of a stoat that had gotten out of bed on the wrong side for a quasi-brother.
Like having to put up with Nick Knight alternately moping and snarling around the fringes wasn't bad enough. Both of them had made a second career out of being in a bad mood. Maybe the cop and the pilot could spend their time comparing notes on angsting and leave him and Janette in peace. Michael was confident that Janette had chosen him not only because of his charm, good looks, intelligence, sense of humour, and mustache – not necessarily in that order -- but because he didn't waste time brooding like a hen sitting on a clutch of immortal eggs.
Nick tried again. "Please, Janette, don't do this. Don't condemn another innocent being to an eternity of darkness."
Innocent? thought Michael. Obviously Nick didn't know Stringfellow Hawke, a man who was probably singlehandedly responsible for more carnage and mayhem worldwide than an entire regiment of Marines, and whose mountain cabin was quite the little love nest, with a high-speed revolving door. Never mind Hawke, did Janette realize what she was getting into?
"You just don't want to share, Nicolas. Either stop being a party pooper or go away. You're spoiling the mood." She bent over Hawke's waiting neck again.
"Janette, ma chere, I've never known you to not be in the right mood to drain a mortal," said a familiar velvety voice, and Lacroix strolled into the hangar. "Are you indeed contemplating yet another addition to our little family? Don't leave, Nicholas. You and Michael may be required in the capacity of mid-vampires."
Janette looked affronted, Nick furious. Michael decided to lie low and keep out of the family squabble. He knew Lacroix well enough by now to know that the sparks – and the bodies -- were most likely to fly when he was at his most velvety.
"I must say, you could have selected a somewhat more prepossessing site for the happy occasion," the elder vampire opined. "Such a prosaic – not to mention grubby – setting."
"S'not grubby," mumbled Hawke, sounding irritated. "Dom an' I clean this place up ev'ry day. Who're you?"
Lacroix raised an eyebrow. "Janette, do you really wish to bring across this – this – walking bad attitude? Look at Nicholas here. Is he not a sufficient example of the perils of choosing stubborn, pig-headed, disrepectful specimens for converts? This one bodes even less well."
"Did you just come here to insult all of us?" snapped Nick.
"Indeed no. I merely thought that as patriarch of our happy little clan, I had the right to make my views known before Janette takes the drastic step of bringing us yet another addition – especially one that already doesn't know enough to respect its elders."
"Don't take it personally," said Michael, in case Lacroix decided that after that remark Hawke would be more suitable as a quick snack. "He doesn't respect anyone, really."
"Ah. Then he has that in common with a certain other young person in this room. Janette, let me say this once and for all. I don't want another one, I want this one." His hand came down on Michael's shoulder.
Nick gulped. Michael could practically see the words What about me? hanging in the air. For himself, although he was happy to have the master vampire's approbation, he knew enough by now to realize that being the current flavour of the month was at best a dubious honour.
Lacroix looked at his elder son and sighed. "Yes, Nicholas, I suppose I want you too, although Pluto knows why." Nick scowled. Lacroix continued, "He has the sense to listen to his elders, he's polite, he plays an entertaining game of chess, and it amuses me to have a family member called Archangel. I'll admit his complexion is a bit sallow for black, but after all, black is not de rigeur for our kind. Perhaps dark brown would be more suitable."
Janette regarded Michael, one forefinger touching her chin, like a couturier examining a model. "Hmm. Perhaps you're right. Yes, definitely an Autumn – or perhaps a Spring. I must give it some thought. Now gray might look nice, don't you think?"
Michael ground his teeth, and decided that the next person who said his complexion was sallow was going to be summarily drained.
"How about pink polka dots?" asked Nick sarcastically. "Aren't we getting off track here? What are you going to do about your new friend, Janette? You can't leave him like that."
"Yeah," mumbled Hawke. "Let's get this seduction on th' road."
"I suppose not," said Janette regretfully. "He might not be the most suitable convert, after all. I'll just drain him and we'll be on our way."
"What?" yelped Michael in spite of himself.
"Oh, Michael, I forgot my manners. Would you like to share? Nicolas won't partake." Poised over Hawke's neck, she looked at him inquiringly, as if asking if he'd like a cookie.
"Well – um – not exactly. That is – "
"Hey! What's going on in here?" bellowed a voice from the door. Michael groaned silently.
"Dominic, what are you doing here? I thought you'd gone home."
"I got halfway there and then couldn't remember if I'd locked up the hangar or not. Good thing I came back to check! What's wrong with String? What are you doing to him?"
"He's about to die with a smile on his face," said Janette sweetly. Her eyes had gone red again.
"Michael, who are these people? What are they doing with String? They look like – like –vampires, or something!"
"How very perceptive of you," said Lacroix dangerously.
"Actually, Dom, they're from that new vampire movie being filmed," said Michael hastily. "It's all, you know, makeup. False teeth, contact lenses, that kind of thing. Janette is just – um – running through some of the dialogue with Hawke."
"Yeah, right. And I'm Federico Fellini. Michael, I want these freaks out of my hangar!"
"Um, guys, I think we should leave," said Michael. "Remember, you have an early call in the morning." Nick and Janette gave him a puzzled look. "For filming, you know," he clarified, hoping they would take the hint. He really didn't want to leave Hawke and Dominic as two drained corpses on the hangar floor.
"You're right," said Nick, obviously pleased at being offered a way to withdraw without bloodshed. "Come on, Janette. Our director here – " he tilted his head in Lacroix's direction " – can find us another location."
"Oh, I don't think so," said Lacroix, back into velvet mode. "I rather like this location. So quaint, so realistic, so pungent. One can almost see the fumes of fuel, of the sweat of honest toil, of garlic." He put his forefingers and thumbs together to make a frame, which he pretended to peer through. "A fine setting for my next work, 'Death of a Most Annoying Man'."
"Are you threatening me, buzzard face?" demanded Dominic.
In the blink of an eye Lacroix was standing an inch behind him, speaking in a lethally soft voice. "I never make threats. I merely state the most likely outcome of events if my wishes are not carried out. And my wish right now is for you to shut up. Permanently." Caressingly, he pulled the Italian's head back and bent over his neck. "Fortunately, I am too old and powerful to be overly offended by your aftershave – essence of garlic, is it?"
Janette shrugged and returned her attention to Stringfellow Hawke. Michael looked in horror from one of his friends to the other. Nick said desperately, "Come on, Lacroix. Just because he called you buzzard face − "
"Nicholas," said Lacroix warningly. "Do not attempt to criticize me, or you may find yourself the object of some salutary staking." Simultaneously, both vampires reared their heads back to strike at their hapless victims, mouths wide and fangs gleaming…
"Stop!!" yelled two voices in concert from the doorway.
"That will be trouble."
One of the voices belonged to Caitlin O'Shannessy, looking grim and carrying a shotgun, although what use that was going to be, Michael had no idea. The other woman was someone he'd never seen before, a pretty, petite woman with long curly brown hair and big eyes, wearing an efficient-looking suit.
"There you are, Nick," said this person coolly. "Straying back to the fold, are we?"
Nick's mouth opened and stayed that way, while the mouths of the two who were about to chow down on Hawke and Santini snapped closed. "There goes the neighbourhood," hissed Janette.
"My dear Ms. Lambert," snarled Lacroix. "Words cannot express how delightful it is to see you here."
"I'm sure they can't," said Ms. Lambert, obviously a woman of great self-possession, and one who, moreover, wasn't daunted by facing a pair of red-eyed, snarling immortal fiends. Michael realized this must be Natalie, the Toronto forensic pathologist who was Nick's Other Woman.
"Have you come to tempt Nicolas back to a life of protein shakes and abstinence?" said Janette contemptuously.
"I'm here to take him away from snacking on humans, if that's what you meant," answered Natalie coolly. "Come on, Nick. If you think these two are bad, Cohen's out for your blood for not showing up for work, especially when you just came back from vacation, and Schanke's not too happy about having to cover for you, either. If he finds out that you've been hiding out in the land of palm trees and surfer girls while we've been mushing through the third snowstorm this month in Toronto, he probably won't speak to you till July. I told them you had the flu again, but since you've used that story five times already this year when you've decided to go AWOL, it's beginning to wear about as thin as the lingerie in those Classy Intimates catalogues of Schanke's. You're going to have to start coming up with something more exotic."
"That's your department, isn't it?" Nick asked hopefully.
Natalie rolled her eyes. "Come on, buster. Cohen's going to personally break down the door of your loft demanding to see you in your sickbed if you're not back at work by tomorrow. And trust me, I get the feeling she's not a resister."
"But how did you know where to find me?"
She shrugged. "I met Marella, Michael's friend, at a medical convention last year. We got talking about noncompliant patients we'd had to deal with. Of course I never said anything about vampires, but when her boss suddenly had a major lifestyle change, she put two and two together and called me. Oh, and this is Caitlin O'Shannessy. She works with Mr. Santini and Mr. Hawke. She's from Texas, and she speaks softly and carries a gun loaded with garlic and sawdust pellets."
"And if you don't let go of him, rabbit eyes, you'll get a bellyful of something that's really going to sting," said Caitlin, the shotgun aimed directly at Janette.
"Don't be ridiculous," said Janette disdainfully. "You can't hit me with that thing without hitting Hawke first."
"It won't kill him, and it might just hurt enough to make him think twice the next time he starts to fall for some sweet talker with a pretty face," snapped Caitlin.
Janette looked disgusted. She let go of Hawke, who swayed like a palm tree in a gale before grabbing hold of a nearby workbench. He looked around, still dazed. "This is all becoming far too much of a bore. Lacroix, I think these two petty bourgeois pilots are more trouble than they're worth."
"I'll tell 'em you said that," said Caitlin, not letting the shotgun waver an inch. "They'll be real pleased. Of course," she added reflectively, "I doubt either one of 'em knows what bourgeois means. They'll probably think it's that beef stew with burgundy wine."
"Either definition would be applicable," muttered Janette.
"Oh, I don't think we need be in such a hurry to leave," said Lacroix silkily. "I haven't eaten yet, and I must confess to feeling just the slightest bit peckish." He took a fresh grip on Dominic and bent over him once more.
"Oh no you don't, Buzzcut," called another voice from somewhere above and behind them. A bolt from a crossbow pierced the wall of the hanger three feet behind Lacroix, nearly parting his hair on the way past. He jumped and dropped his prey on the floor, spinning around to see where the shot had come from. Dominic sat up, rubbing his head.
Marella appeared out of the shadows on the top step of the stairs leading to the second floor storage area. Her crossbow was raised and ready to fire again. "You'd better try another restaurant," she said, in a voice as deadly as Lacroix's own. "This one isn't serving any more customers."
"Merde," muttered Janette. "This is beginning to look like a scene in some B-movie."
"'Attack of the Warrior Women', maybe," suggested Michael, feeling that he hadn't made much contribution to the conversation so far.
He was ignored. Marella began to descend the stairs. Between the double threat of her crossbow and Caitlin's shotgun, Janette and Lacroix grudgingly began to move in the direction of the back door. Natalie had taken Nick's arm, giving him immunity. Michael stood and looked indecisively from Janette to Marella and back again.
"I've been thinking, Michael," said Marella without taking her eyes from the two retreating vampires, "it would be really useful for the Firm to have someone who wanted to work permanent night shift. Make it a lot easier to deal with our contacts in the Far East, and so on. You'd have to be discreet about the blood drinking thing, of course, but I don't imagine you'd have much trouble convincing Zeus to give you some kind of ex officio director status."
That was beginning to sound like another one of Marella's really good ideas to him. Dealing with the Committee, foreign government agencies, and spies of various stripes would be a piece of cake after irate vampires. Even Stringfellow Hawke would be less prickly than Lacroix until the undead being had had time to cool down – which might take a decade or so.
"Have you redecorated my office yet?" he asked cautiously. If Marella had already tossed his white leather chair, the deal was off.
"Don't worry. That awful chair is only in storage, not out at the curb waiting for the garbage truck."
"I'll think about it," said Michael.
"Think fast. It looks like your chums are waiting for you."
He looked at Janette. "Janette, I really think …"
The vampire shrugged. "C'est la vie, so to speak. I'll see you later. In another fifty years or so, hmm? Oh, and Michael …"
"Don't even think of converting this secretary of yours."
Marella's finger tightened another quarter inch on the trigger of the crossbow.
Janette blew him a kiss, then she and Lacroix vanished into the night.
Marella and Caitlin lowered their weapons with sighs of relief. Caitlin went over to Hawke, who was still looking dazed. Marella and Michael helped Dominic to his feet.
"Well, I guess Nat and I had better be on our way," said Nick awkwardly. "You know, Michael, if you ever feel like visiting Toronto, you'd be welcome. We don't spend all our time digging out from snowstorms, you know."
"Yeah, and it's so handy when we want ice for our drinks to be able to just chip some off our igloos," added Natalie brightly. Nick jabbed her with an elbow. "Sorry," Michael heard her mutter. "They're Californian. I couldn't resist."
Nick mumbled something about reinforcing negative cultural stereotypes, but they were both snickering as they waved and left.
"Who wuzzat?" said Hawke groggily, but whose gaze had nevertheless been firmly fixed on the rear view of Natalie walking away. Caitlin thumped him in the ribs with the butt of the shotgun. "Ouch! Whu'd I do now?" he said plaintively.
"Hey, I'm getting hungry," announced Dom. "Did I hear somebody talking about beef bourguignon?"
Miles away, Janette and Lacroix prowled among the late-night crowds at Venice Beach, hoping to snag an unwary surfer dude or bikini bimbo. The master vampire in his customary black Armani ought to have appeared overdressed amongst the half-naked throng, but as usual merely made everyone else seem underdressed and grubby.
As they walked, he remarked thoughtfully to Janette, "Ma chere, the next time you anticipate holding a happy event, do let me know in advance so I can relocate someplace more congenial. Such as a garlic-packing plant. Or perhaps a factory that makes sufficient wooden crucifixes to supply the entire global market."
Janette pouted. "Why not just move into a cathedral and be done with it? I understand Notre Dame makes a very desirable residence."
"Don't be petty."
Leaving Caitlin to minister to her two co-workers, Michael and Marella strolled out of the hangar. "I have to admit, it'll be nice to have you back again," sighed Marella.
"Missed me, did you?" he said teasingly.
"I wouldn't go that far. But I'd probably have started getting nostalgic when people started saying, 'Hey, I wonder what happened to old Archangel, maybe he finally just washed himself down the drain with the bleach' and then they would have started raking up all the old whitewash jokes, and then I might have started getting sniffly. It'll be good to have you back and bringing me coffee for a change."
"Excuse me? Me bringing you coffee?"
Marella made a casual gesture with the crossbow. Michael gulped. "Black, two sugars, right?"
"Right. And Michael, we're going to have to do something about your wardrobe. That black just doesn't do anything for you. Have you thought about maybe going with dark gray instead?"