Disclaimer: The following is an adaptation of episode 7 season 1 of Moonlight. I do not own these characters. Credit for dialogue and plot from the show goes to their respective authors.
Author's Note: Thanks again to all of you who are reading. Would love to hear your thoughts so please leave a review. This is a revised version of this chapter, reposted on 01/17/14.
I have said before that one of the hardest things about being a vampire is getting used to loss. My human life was taken away from me. I gave up my family, my friends, my identity to be brought into a new and darker world.
I've never been able to completely walk away from my life before. Many vampires do move on without a look back. Take Josef, he left Europe for the new world, and later he left New York for Los Angeles. I, on the other hand, haven't left the city of my childhood. I still live in L.A. Maybe it's more familiar places than people, but it lets me feel a connection however faded and faint to the part of my life that I lost. I still needed that over the years.
It is double edged sword though. To watch something that you loved and took for granted disappear into memory for example, until the only memory that contains it is your own, it hurts.
Tonight I watched a building burn. It was just an old hotel, built in the twenties. To many people in the city it was another beautiful old relic. And to be clear, if there's one thing Los Angeles doesn't value very much, it's anything old. But sure, someone out there watching the news can remember a time they spent a night as a guest or danced at a wedding reception in the ballroom. For me, I remember my parents taking me out to eat in the hotel restaurant on Sunday after church. My parents are long gone and unfortunately after the fire one more tangible reminder of my life with them, my life before being turned into a vampire, that will be gone too.
There was a time when the comforts of familiar places from my human life were almost not enough to hold me here. They'd become overwhelmed and replaced with the accumulated baggage of too many years of anger, self-loathing, violence and destructive behavior. Everywhere I looked I was haunted by more recent memories from the thirty years after I'd been turned. And those memories were always attached to one face, the cataclysmic force of nature that was my wife… Coraline.
It wasn't until I found, saved, Beth that I gained a new and concrete reason to want to stay in L.A. After that event I was able to put the specter that was Coraline behind me, at least somewhat. I've spent some of those years since then watching Beth from a distance. But I always stood back and kept my distance from her, not thinking it was my place to be in her life. She deserved better. I'm not sure I've changed my mind about that really. She still deserves better than having to deal with the crap that is associated with my world. Even so, she's here now, and after our last nighttime encounter in my apartment, I have good reason to believe she wants to be here. Knowing that gives me more hope for the future than I've had in a long time, cautious hope but something is better than nothing.
Unfortunately as with many good times in the course of my life, just when I think things are beginning to look up, that's when something goes wrong. Over the years, I have gotten somewhat used to huge chunks of my history and my life disappearing forever, and most of them when they're gone, they're gone for good. This wouldn't always be a bad thing either. Those difficult parts of my past, I would happy if they stayed buried. It just doesn't always work that way. It feels particularly unfair this time that my distant past has chosen now to rear its ugly head. Or should I say for her to rear her admittedly not so ugly head, even if the beauty of the exterior hides the cold core inside.
I should back up and explain what I mean. I was standing in the crowd of people watching as fire consumed the hotel, helpless to do anything to stop it. Beth was also at the scene, covering the story for Buzzwire and I was grateful to see her. As I stared at the flames eating up one of my few happy memories, my guts churned leaving a familiar hollow void in their wake. That empty sensation proved to be short lived however, soon to be replaced by much more vivid emotions. My gaze swept the assembled collection of people and landed on a familiar face. In seconds the first shock of recognition changed to disbelief and then quickly gave way to alarm. I could have sworn without a doubt I was looking at my ex-wife.
I don't think I even realized what I was doing when I approached her, calling out her name, "Coraline." I was just too stunned. The woman glanced over at me without a flicker of reaction. When she realized I was indeed talking to her, she calmly insisted that I was mistaken. Her name was Morgan and she didn't know me. Beth saw us talking and also quickly joined us. To my surprise, she told me that she already knew Morgan. They worked together at Buzzwire. Morgan was a photographer and tonight she was covering the fire.
Nothing about Morgan's behavior indicated that she was lying. She looked at me, slightly confused but amused, with innocent wide eyes and when she spoke she genuinely sounded like she had no idea who I was or what I was referring to. She even joked that telling her I reminded her of my ex-wife was a really bad pickup line.
Regardless of that though, I could not calm down. Adrenaline continued to course through my system making me feel jumpy and on edge. My mind barreled along at breakneck speed, trying to process the disconnect between how Morgan was behaving and what I was feeling. She could insist all she wanted that I was wrong but, I couldn't shake the eerie feeling that I was looking at someone that I was positive is dead.
As far as Coraline goes, I do have good reason to believe she's dead, being that I'm the one who killed her.
Nominally I killed Coraline twenty-three years ago to protect Beth, whom she'd kidnapped. Coraline had already done so many things throughout our marriage that I found repulsive and she'd often dragged me down to her level. Or at least that's where I laid the blame. I'd never seen her hurt a child though and I wasn't about to let her do it that time, certainly not in some misguided attempt to win me back to her. At the end of the day Coraline forced me to fight her in order to rescue Beth. I staked Coraline through the heart to win the fight. I could have just left her there, paralyzed but alive. Instead I grabbed an oil lantern and tossed it to the floor where it exploded, engulfing the room, and my ex-wife, in flames.
Am I proud of what I did? No, of course I'm not. But there was more to my motivations than just saving Beth. At the end of the day my relationship with Coraline had always been about passion. From the moment I first saw her and she turned to smile at me, I wanted more. She was the woman in the room that every man coveted and she knew it. For some reason that I still don't understand, she chose me. It felt like I didn't just desire her, but I needed her, even before she turned me.
It's hard to describe how far in the opposite direction passion can go when it comes to betrayal. In that moment when I thought a child, Beth, was going to die because of Coraline's feelings for me, I hated her and everything she represented, I didn't have it in me to forgive her and save her too. I left her to die in the fire I started.
Like I said, I had a good reason to believe I'd never see Coraline again. All the more reason, I suppose, to believe that Morgan was in fact who she said she was and that her resemblance to Coraline was purely coincidental. My gut instinct on the other hand continued to scream the opposite.
Morgan said goodbye and went on her way. After she left I asked Beth how long she'd known Morgan. Beth explained it had only been for a few months. They'd met at Buzzwire not too long after Beth came back into my life. Or not long after I let her back into my life, depending how you look at it. Just when my nerves should have been calming down, this information caused them to jump up another few degrees.
It can be said that my nature as a private investigator is to be suspicious. I learned plenty from all those years I spent married to a manipulative liar like Coraline, so I'm not naturally inclined to trust people anymore. But are you honestly going to tell me that a woman who looks exactly like my ex-wife, showed up in Beth's life, only weeks after Beth and I became friends? Because if Morgan were not who she claims to be, if she were in fact Coraline, then my having an interest in another woman, particularly a woman that Coraline put in my life to begin with, is exactly the sort of competition she couldn't resist.
Put another way, to Coraline I'm just a toy in her toy box, and she doesn't share.
Josef stood on the other side of his office door giving Mick a bemused look. Mick was relieved to find him still there despite the proximity of dawn. He also noted with gratitude that since Josef answered the door himself, he was presumably alone.
"I've got to talk to you." Mick told him, following further inside as Josef retreated down the hall.
With an apparent lack of curiosity or concern Josef kept walking back to his desk. "Well, this better be good. Dawn is in fifteen minutes and I'm about to go home and hit the ice box."
Mick continued, "I saw Coraline last night."
This statement was enough to garner Josef's attention. He stopped and turned back, regarding his friend with a mild expression of surprise. "Coraline? You mean Coraline, Coraline?"
Is there more than one?
"Yeah, that Coraline."
Josef appeared to barely consider before responding. "Was she dead?"
"No," Mick answered flatly, ignoring Josef's sarcasm. He walked past Josef to stare out of the large bank of windows that comprised the office wall behind Josef's desk. His entire body felt like it was throbbing with the effort to keep his emotions in check. But he also knew how quickly Josef would ignore his concerns if he didn't stay calm and rational. It was difficult though, considering his brain would not stop replaying every detail of the encounter with Morgan. He kept searching for some discrepancy between Morgan and Coraline to relieve his fears. So far he hadn't found enough to ease the mounting panic in his system.
"Well, then it can't be Coraline." Josef continued. "You killed her, remember?"
"Yeah, I'm aware of that." Like I could forget. "I was at the Franklin fire downtown," Mick explained. "There was this photographer there. She was a dead ringer for Coraline."
She found me at the scene of a fire for crying out loud Josef! Doesn't that say something? But he was afraid to point that out yet, for fear of sound too much like a crazy person with conspiracy theories. Mick gritted his teeth and prayed for Josef to take him seriously.
Josef was apparently not going to be easily convinced. "Well, everybody's got a twin somewhere." Josef's reply was measured and nonchalant.
"It wasn't a twin," Mick shot back at his friend as he turned around to look at him. He could hear his voice rising in frustration. He wanted to make Josef understand. This was real and it was dangerous. Every passing minute he became more sure of it.
"Josef, it was her," he pleaded. "She moved the same. She talked the same." He'd been married to her for over thirty years. If there was anyone who knew her mannerisms it was him.
Josef eyebrows lifted up. "You talked to this person?"
"Yeah," Mick admitted. "Her name is Morgan. She works with Beth." Yet another coincidence that raised uncomfortable alarm bells in Mick's mind.
"And did Beth recognize her as Coraline?"
Mick exhaled a breath. "No," he replied with reluctance.
Josef crossed the room, sinking down into a chair near his desk. "If it really was the woman who kidnapped her as a child, I would think that Beth would have a few opinions about it," he reasoned.
No way, Beth's lack of reaction alone didn't convince Mick of anything. "Beth doesn't remember me from back then and I'm the one who rescued her," he argued. "What do you remember from when you were 4?"
"Well, it was 1603, Mick. It's reasonable to be a little hazy," Josef responded in a dry tone.
Mick shook his head. "Look. Beth has suppressed the whole trauma, okay? Josef, I know this sounds crazy, but you've got to see her."
"And did this Morgan person have a long history of drinking blood?" Josef's eyes met Mick's.
There it was again. Mick's biggest question as well. If she really was Coraline, then how could she be human?
"No," Mick told him quietly. "She's not a vampire. I was close enough to tell."
"Well Mick, if she's not a vampire then she can't be Coraline." Josef's voice was firm and emphatic. Clearly it would take a great deal to convince him that Mick's ex-wife and risen from the dead and had returned to wreak havoc in their lives.
Mick turned and left Josef's office without a further word. Josef could set aside Mick's fears if he chose. Unfortunately Mick didn't feel he could allow himself the same luxury.
Okay, so Josef wasn't as concerned as I was with Morgan's similarities to Coraline. He probably thought I was having a paranoid over reaction, something to do with my current turmoil over my feelings for Beth.
I can't deny he makes a good point about Morgan being a human. There is one hard and fast rule in the vampire world as far as I'm aware. There is no cure. It should be doubly impossible first for Coraline to have survived the fire where I thought she died, but then on top of that to find a cure and become human again.
Even still, despite knowing all this, I couldn't seem to let go of my suspicions. Of course if Morgan had just gone back to doing her job and I'd never heard from her again maybe eventually I would have been forced to agree with Josef. That isn't what ended up happening.
Instead Morgan showed up on my doorstep the next evening. Beth brought her to my office because Morgan claimed to need my help. She told a story that after she'd returned home last night, someone had broken into her apartment. She'd even fought with the intruder; just enough to scare the guy off and only sustain minor injuries herself. Although according to her, she wasn't the target of the target of the break in. The intruder was after her cameras and escaped with them. She approached Beth today to ask if I could help to retrieve her property.
So basically this woman, Morgan, not only managed to get close to Beth, but had manufactured a way to see me again.
Or on second thought, maybe Josef is right and I am jumping at shadows.
Either way with Beth looking on, confused, I couldn't ignore Morgan even if I wanted to. I agreed to go to Morgan's apartment to investigate the break in, telling myself the whole time that I didn't have any good reason not to do so. And as much as I wanted to take Beth aside and warn her to just stay away from Morgan, that we both should just stay away from her, in truth this was a good chance to investigate my suspicions. We went right away to Morgan's apartment, all three of us.
When we got to her apartment I tried my best to focus on the case at hand, but I had trouble concentrating. I had a hard time being anywhere near Morgan and relaxing. Far from alleviating my fears from yesterday, her resemblance to my ex-wife continued to unsettle me. I kept catching myself being distracted by memories of my life with Coraline.
I have to hand it to Morgan, if she really is my ex-wife, she still knows how to play the game and keep me guessing. Not a flicker of the eyes, not a twitch of the hand would give away that she's treading on familiar ground. From Morgan's behavior you'd think we just met. Maybe we did. But for me, when I'm with Morgan my blood starts racing, it feels like my pulse is hammering in my ears. You'd almost think I'm human again the way I react to her.
After a while I guess Beth also picked up on my strange behavior towards Morgan. The longer we were in Morgan's apartment, poking around and asking questions, the more Beth gave me the distinct impression that she was irritated with me. Not that you could blame her I guess. Beth has helped me with enough investigations to know that something about my behavior on this one wasn't normal.
In my defense, the creepy parallels to Coraline didn't just end with Morgan's physical appearance. First of all, her apartment was decorated in a Mid-Century Modern style, a school of design that was popularized during and often associated with the 1950's. Also just so happens to be the decade during which Coraline and I met and were married. Morgan even went as far as to tell Beth that she had a fifties thing she was "trying to shake." Also, on Morgan's nightstand I found a copy of Remembrance of Things Past, Coraline's favorite book.
Now was all that really just in my head?
The real coup de grace though was the picture. Morgan went to her computer and pulled up the photographs she'd taken at the hotel fire. She had saved them on a USB flash drive that hung around her neck on a chain. It made sense to think that since her cameras were taken, ignoring other more valuable items, maybe the photos were what the thief was after.
If you want to believe everything else in that apartment that reminded me of Coraline was a coincidence, that's fine. It was much harder though to disregard as happenstance one of the photos Morgan had inadvertently taken during the fire. In this shot, when you look closely at an upstairs window you can see a man and a woman struggling. It looks like the man is strangling the woman from behind, "killing her," to use Beth's words.
The picture looks awfully similar to how I fought and killed Coraline all those years ago.
Mick was once again in Josef's office. He was pacing back and forth across the room while Josef watched him from the comfort of his seat.
One thing he had learned in his life as a vampire was how important it was for him to control his temper. The peculiarities of vampire physiology made anger much more dangerous for everyone and everything around him. Tonight unfortunately, calm was beyond his grasp. Luckily for him, Josef didn't seem overly concerned.
Of course if Josef would just give a little more credence to his theory, then maybe Mick wouldn't be in his current state. Mick continued speaking to Josef as he paced from one side of the office to the other.
"You wouldn't believe these photographs, Josef. It's like outtakes from the night..."
"The night you killed your wife," Josef finished for him
Mick stopped and turned to look at Josef. "You know what, it's like somebody staged this whole thing for me."
"Can you hear yourself right now?" Josef asked.
Mick knew Josef was trying to be the voice of reason, but he was far beyond reason. "No, it's like… it's like Coraline is baiting me with these photos."
Josef's voice rose in volume. "Coraline is dead," he spat out. "You saw her die with your own eyes."
Mick froze looking back at Josef. His chest constricted with pain. Now I wish I had.
When he could move again he crossed the room and sank down into the chair next to Josef, avoiding his eyes. "I never saw the ashes," he managed to say.
There was a beat of silence before Josef responded. "In the 22 years since she died you never told me that." His voice had dropped back to its normal volume, but it betrayed a seriousness that had previously been missing.
Mick's features contorted in frustration. "I never told anybody that," Mick told him. "I never thought she could possibly survive. I left Coraline trapped in an inferno that night, man!" He was shouting and forced himself to stop. "Just like the woman in these photos," he continued quietly.
"Mick. Look at me." Josef waited for Mick to do as he requested. Eventually Mick looked over and met Josef's eyes. Josef continued, "Coraline did not come back from the undead to exact revenge on you."
"You know how dangerous she was," Mick tried to point out.
"Yes!" Josef cut him off sharply. "I've known her for a century more than you. And she is capable of anything. But not even she could pull off a resurrection."
"No?" Mick shot up from his chair, unable to stay still any longer.
Josef rose from his chair in an attempt to follow Mick. "Coraline drove you crazy the whole time you knew her. Now she's dead and she's still driving you crazy. You need to let her go."
As Mick left Josef's office for the second time in as many days he couldn't help but think that Josef was right, he should let Coraline go. Unfortunately however, in the interest of both his and Beth's safety, he'd have to continue investigating Morgan even if it meant he lost his mind.
Mick was seated in a chair in the noisy main office area of Buzzwire, the online news magazine where Beth worked. She sat in a similar chair facing him. Partly he'd come to see her at work because he wanted her help investigating Morgan. However, it was also true that she'd been pretty obviously annoyed at him over his odd behavior toward Morgan when they'd last seen each other. He wanted to attempt to do some damage control. And hey, if she came away with the impression that she shouldn't outright trust Morgan, then all the better. He couldn't come out and tell her his suspicions about Coraline. That would generate more difficult questions than he wanted right now, but he'd still like Beth to put a little more distance between herself and Morgan.
"So, tell me more about Morgan," he started.
Beth paused, her eyes on him, a quick look of surprise crossing her face. "Umm..."
As she composed her thoughts she absentmindedly reached out and placed her hand over his where it lay on the desk. The brief tingle of her warm skin on his was startling but felt good at the same time.
He glanced at her hand but just as quickly she pulled it away, perhaps aware of the familiarity of the gesture. Mick had to bite back a smile. He still felt like he was trying to work out his equilibrium in their relationship after the Black Crystal drug incident a few weeks ago. He was relieved Beth wasn't feeling too awkward around him because of it.
"Like, who'd she work for in Chicago?" He pretended not to notice her touch and continued his questions.
"Everybody, she was a stringer," Beth responded.
"But legit stuff?"
Beth ticked off a list of names on her fingers. "She has shot for The Tribune, NewsCorp… I don't know. She's got a reputation for being a kind of gritty crime photographer. We've been running her pictures for a couple of years."
"And you met where?" he wanted to know.
"At a crime scene, kind of like how I met you, actually." Beth answered him then paused. Mick ran his eyes over the room without focusing on anything specific. "Why are you so interested in Morgan?" she asked.
He looked back at her. "Just standard due diligence." That was mostly true at least.
"On a client?" Her voice contained a hint of confusion.
He nodded back at her. "Yeah. Know your client, Private Eye 101."
"Hmm, okay." Beth shifted in her seat and her eyes darted away from him toward the floor. "I'm just not used to being grilled about a girl that you're after, so..."
She has to be joking?!
She thought he wanted this information because he was interested in Morgan? "I'm not after her," he hurried to point out. Unfortunately Beth did not appear to be buying his assertions. She still wasn't making eye contact.
"I wouldn't have picked her as your type." She kept the same train of thought as if he hadn't spoken. She obviously intended for her voice to sound breezy and conversational but Mick could hear a sharp edge beneath her words.
If only you knew….
"This isn't about types," he insisted.
Her eyes eventually moved back and met his. "Even if it is, it's fine." Her tone still had a light inflection that he didn't in the least bit believe. "It's your business."
He watched her for a long moment puzzling over her behavior in an attempt to understand it. Slowly the realization dawned on him. He tried with difficulty to contain the smile that was threatening to break over his face.
"You're jealous," he pointed out with no small measure of glee. He knew he shouldn't be amused but it was hard not to enjoy her reaction.
Beth fixed him with a silent stare, smiling a little in return. "Don't flatter yourself."
"Okay," he laughed and nodded. If that's how you want to play it. Her behavior however said otherwise. He changed the subject back to matters at hand. "Look, I just need some info on Morgan's time in Chicago. Can you look into it and get back to me?"
"Sure," she answered him with a nod of the head. She paused and her face lost its humor. "Are you going to turn her photos in to the police?"
He shook his head. This situation was way too precarious for the police, at least until he knew more. "Not yet," he said. "I'm going to wait and see if I find a body at the hotel first." With that he stood up and left Buzzwire.
I followed up at the hotel. I wish I could say it looked like a set up and I didn't find anything. The burned corpse of a woman on an upper hotel floor however, was very real. Regardless of the circumstances, Morgan or Coraline, someone did die in that hotel fire.
Fortunately I'd pulled a perfect set of finger prints off of Morgan's front door and they yielded a lead. The probable identity of the camera thief was one Hank Mottola. Hank had a record, racketeering, trafficking in stolen goods. He practically had perfect suspect stamped on his forehead. But there was one issue with Hank from the search of his file, a rather big issue. Hank had supposedly died three weeks before the fire at the hotel.
Okay, so that's interesting… dead humans aren't supposed to be walking around stealing cameras and murdering women. Vampires on the other hand… if Hank were turned into a vampire that would explain why he was walking around after his supposed death. Of course if this were the case, then he must know another vampire right? Hmmm, I wonder who that could be. I've got a few ideas.
Hank's address was in the system, so I went to check out his place. Luckily it was empty, logical since he's supposed to be dead. I broke in and quickly found Morgan's cameras. They weren't even that hard to locate. Imagine that.
After recovering the cameras I took another look at the photographs Morgan had given me from the fire, photos I now know with certainty captured a murder. First I compared the mug shot of Hank from his records to the man in the picture. No doubt about it, it's him. As I sat there staring at the images on the computer monitor I realized there was something else important in a few of the shots, something that I'd missed before, another disturbing echo of Coraline.
I stared at the picture for a long time without moving and my stomach twisted sideways. I felt ill. In Morgan's photograph the woman being murdered has a fleur-de-lis tattoo on her shoulder, exactly like my ex-wife did.
I remember with crystal clarity the first time I saw Coraline's tattoo. That would be because, at the time, she was asking me to unzip her dress so she could go skinny dipping in her pool. Quite a surprise since I'd only met her a few hours earlier.
Like I said, Coraline was always good at unbalancing people… that and seduction.
The night we met I had been playing guitar with my band at a party hosted by Coraline in her Hollywood Hills mansion. Her house was a modern design, surrounded completely with glass walls on the exterior. The crowd at the party was a mix of the right recognizable faces, a who's who of the rich and powerful in Los Angeles. Coraline herself was a mystery. She was strikingly beautiful with dark hair and eyes, pale flawless skin. She sashayed around the party appearing bored, but not disinterested enough to escape her guests. It was hard to take your eyes off of her as she made her way around the patio. She was magnetic.
I guess I'd made up a story in my head to write her off. Well, sure she's gorgeous, but to be so young and so rich, she has to be a vapid social climber. She had to be exactly the sort of woman that wouldn't interest me. That was what I was trying to tell myself, right up until she spoke to me. She asked me if the band could play some more exciting music, something that would jolt the crowd, a rhythm and blues song Aint' That Just Like a Woman. It was one of my favorites. Add to that her active encouragement to shock her stuffy friends, a concept I found extremely attractive, I was hooked. This was before she asked me to unzip her dress, allowing me much more than a glimpse of her magnificent body, by the way.
In hind sight, it isn't really surprising that I ended up so crazy over her is it?
The photograph of the tattoo on the murdered woman was finally enough to convince Josef to at least take a look at Morgan for himself. He made sure he was visiting me in my office when Morgan came by to pick up her property.
She came to my office and was thrilled to have her cameras back. Just to see her response, I also showed Morgan the death certificate issued for Hank Motolla from before the crimes were committed. For a moment she appeared genuinely perplexed before suggesting that Hank must have faked his own death. I pointed out that maybe Hank had risen from the dead instead. Morgan didn't even miss a beat, tossing off my comment as self-evident that couldn't have happened. Coraline knows all about vampires after all, but Morgan Vincent should be blissfully unaware of them.
What happened next was not, strictly speaking, my idea. Just need to say that up front. My research indicated Hank had been cremated and his ashes interned at Hollywood Forever cemetery. I told Morgan we should take a step back and let the police handle matters from here. After all, she did have her cameras. The police could take care of the murder investigation. But no, Morgan insisted we keep going, all the way to the cemetery to see good old Hank's ashes for ourselves.
Mick closed the office door behind Morgan, and turned to head back toward his apartment, and the kitchen.
"You were right." Josef admitted after Mick had passed him. "Morgan is a perfect doppelganger for Coraline. She moves like Coraline. She sounds like Coraline."
"She didn't flinch, even when I baited her about coming back from the dead," Mick muttered, indignant, "the nerve."
Mick couldn't deny taking a certain amount of pleasure in Josef's reaction. At least Josef was agreeing that the similarities weren't all in Mick's head. He appeared to be as floored by the resemblance as Mick was, and he'd known Coraline much longer.
"But Mick," Josef continued, "it isn't Coraline. I could smell Morgan in there. She wasn't a vampire. She's a human. And there is no way to assimilate that fact into any conspiracy theory about Coraline coming back."
Mick shook his head, "I know, but…"
"No." Josef stopped him. "There is no buts."
Mick stopped what he was doing to look back at Josef. "Well, what if it is Coraline and she's reversed it?"
Are you kidding? Mick couldn't believe how obtuse his friend was being. The answer was so obvious. "You don't even get it, do you?" Mick asked. "What this means."
"It means that you're losing it," Josef replied.
"It means she's found a cure," Mick insisted forcefully.
Josef's eyebrows shot up. "A cure?" he repeated, incredulous. "There is no cure for vampirism Mick!"
Mick could feel the tension building in his body and he clenched his jaw, looking away from Josef. And you say I'm stubborn.
"And if there was," Josef continued speaking, "I would know about it, and not that I would care. Personally, there is no way I'd ever go back to the mortal coil.
"That's you." Mick told him softly. "I would."
"You see that? Right there," Josef said. Mick looked up and met Josef's eyes again. "That's your entire problem. There is no way to un-become a vampire, Mick."
Mick ignored him. "I think this has to do with Beth. I think Beth is why Coraline has come back now, because she can't stand to see me…"
"With a human? Is that what you were going to say?" Josef asked.
"She can't stand to see me happy."
Josef exhaled a breath. "I appreciate, you know, the unwritten rule that we don't give each other advice and we don't nag."
Josef was watching him, his face somber and his eyes serious, no longer joking or arguing with Mick. "What are you saying?" Mick wanted to know.
"One of these days," Josef told him, "you're going to have to stop hating what you are."
It was after dark and Mick was seated in his car outside of Morgan's apartment, staring up at it. He was trying to keep his head clear and think rationally but he wasn't succeeding.
Normally being a vampire was an asset emotionally. It was true that when you woke up from being turned you were wild. The rage and bloodlust were all you knew. Over time though, once you learned control, you gained the ability to stay calm and focus in a capacity that humans lacked. Still able to see, hear, feel with clarity, but with everything at a distance, emotions at arm's length. The problem was, once you let go and started to feel again, everything had a way of being magnified.
Mick knew that recently he had been letting his emotional guard down quite a bit. The presence of a particularly attractive blond reporter in his life ensured it kept happening. At first he'd dropped his defenses if not for Beth, then because of her. As a child she had radiated a warmth and innocence that he had wanted to protect. He still did. The desire to keep her safe and the happiness he took from seeing her had stopped him from putting the wall back up over the years, not completely anyway. Now that she was an adult… the feelings involved were a great deal more complicated, not to mention overwhelming.
It had taken so long from the day Coraline had turned him to build up the wall that kept out his emotions. More than twenty years after rescuing Beth it was still tumbling down, brick by brick.
Unfortunately there was still one problem. That coin had two sides. Now he had to deal with both the positive and the negative. Beth amplified so much that felt good in his nature, but Coraline had always intensified everything that was bad. Such had been their relationship even before she'd turned him.
He had loved her, but more than that, he had needed to win her. She would dangle her affection in front of him until he felt drunk with desire. He had to have her, partly because he wanted her, partly because so did every other male in her proximity. To be the man who won the most beautiful woman in the room, the one every other man, every person he'd wager a guess, was jealous of, it felt so damn good. At precisely that moment she would pull her attention away, rejecting him. She left him lost and alone, filled with fury. It made him crazy.
He had taken part in her game for so many years. Felt defeated over and over again, he'd always been one step behind her moves, trying to catch up and losing. Until finally he hadn't won, but he thought he'd left the playing field.
Now, for the first time he had someone in his life that he wanted to be with, someone that made him happy. He was scared too, but first there was hope.
Mick continued to stare up at Morgan's window. He wanted to be wrong about her, about his suspicions. He didn't like the animosity and fear that being near Morgan was already generating in him.
Is that you Coraline? Trying to lure me back to play again?
What was he doing? He knew he should go to the cemetery alone to try and verify Hank's status as living or dead. If Morgan was Coraline he was only giving her what she wanted by taking her along. Then again, if she was Coraline, he had a long list of questions for which he needed answers. Starting with why she was back, and following with how she had done it.
He was startled from his thoughts as Morgan exited her front door and approached his car.
She came up to the passenger's side door, opening it and sliding into the seat. She turned to look at him with a quizzical smile. "So were you planning on sitting here and stalking my apartment all night, or were you going to ring the bell?"
"Oh… yeah sorry," he stammered staring at her, briefly flustered by her presence. "Just a little distracted by this case I guess."
Nice move there buddy, very slick. Morgan was definitely messing up his concentration, regardless of who she was.
"What you're not used to prowling around cemeteries at night?" She blinked back at him innocently.
He paused for a few beats before answering. "It's not one of my common practices, no."
"Oh well, you're missing out on all the fun then." Her smile widened." "Come on, let's go."
Mick pulled his eyes away from Morgan's face and inhaled a breath through his nose in an effort to clear the uncomfortable sensation that had settled in his chest. "Sure, let's go." He put the car in drive and pulled out, heading in the direction of what he really hoped were Hank Mottola's ashes.
He could feel Morgan's eyes occasionally landing on him as they drove, but he was trying to not give her the satisfaction of looking back. It wasn't easy. Still, she stayed silent for the remainder of the ride. He was grateful for that much.
A short while later they arrived at the gates of the cemetery. As he put the car in park, he thought about his next move. They'd have to get past the guard booth. If Morgan weren't there he would have just jumped over the fence, but he couldn't let her see him.
"God, this whole story is just so weird." Morgan interrupted his thoughts.
Weird, yeah, that's a colossal understatement. He looked over at her. "No joke."
"Just like one of those true stories that sound more like fiction."
He continued to watch her face, but she wasn't giving anything away. "Inadvertently catching a murder on camera?" he asked. As if the photographs were the only strange aspect of this case.
"A horrific murder. Burnt alive," she added with her nose wrinkled in disgust. "That I happen to catch at that exact moment?"
Mick again swallowed the spark of discomfort that lit in his body. She's baiting you, don't give her the satisfaction.
"What are the chances?" he commented.
"Beth thinks it's the angle we need with her editor."
He looked away from Morgan towards the cemetery gates, suddenly uneasy. "She does, huh?"
"Yeah," she replied and then turned to watch him. "What's the deal with you two, anyway?"
His hands tightened on the steering wheel. It didn't matter who she was, he wasn't going to discuss Beth with her under any circumstance. "There is no deal."
"She likes you," Morgan stated matter-of-factly.
"She has a boyfriend." The words were out of his mouth in a flash, a touch too forcefully. If Morgan was Coraline, he wanted her to believe that there wasn't anything between him and Beth.
But Morgan wasn't one to be easily deterred. "Well, it's there if you want it, trust me," she continued.
Sure, like it's that simple.
"What about you?" he attempted to distract her.
"Me?" Her voice lilted up in a question. She gave a loud sigh, looking away from him and not answering. Morgan's response sound like it was designed to give him the impression she ambivalent toward him. He told himself that if she really were Coraline, then she was only hurling daggers at him to strike an emotional cord. Oh you, I don't know that I ever really liked you anyway. He told himself that he shouldn't care, didn't care if she rejected him.
Why the hell are you letting her get under your skin and bother you? He thought to himself. He tried to ignore the internal pang of irritation that told him it did bother him though, at least on some deep, guilty level.
"Why don't I handle the guards?" she said, changing the subject and began to get out of the car.
He was relieved to see her go. "What are you going do?" he asked.
"I'll think of something," was her vague reply.
With Morgan out of the way, giving the guards her story, he left the car and found a spot to hop over the fence. His nerves were on edge after her questions about Beth. Why do you want to know Morgan? He forced himself to focus.
From the other side of the fence, he made his way across the dark cemetery, thankfully not sensing any other guards nearby, until he reached what he thought was the correct mausoleum. He went inside the small stone building. The walls were lined with rows and rows of small rectangular openings, just large enough for an urn. He could see well enough in the dark, but some of the internments were lit with candles, providing a dim yellow light. He searched the maze of corridors, running his flashlight over the name plates, until he'd located the right spot. His light hit on a small brass plate engraved with the name Hank Mottola. Above the name plate there was a space for an urn, an empty space. Hank's ashes weren't here.
So if Hank were dead, where was his body or his ashes? Did this mean Hank had faked his death? Or did it mean something else?
He really was still hoping it wasn't the something else.
Time to leave. Mick spun on his heel and hurried back in the direction of the exit. Despite Morgan's teasing, cemeteries at night were not his idea of fun, vampire aside.
He had almost reached the heavy iron doors, could see the outside through their glass panels, when he froze. The smell in this place was understandably hard to read, so many ashes. It was there though, human. He turned his flashlight to focus on an alcove where the smell was strongest. It was only too late he realized the sound of footsteps were rushing toward him from the other direction, from behind.
He turned his head to face the sound, quite surprised to come face to face with Hank Motolla in the flesh.
Well, that explains why your ashes aren't here.
Before Mick could react or even think really, Hank raised a crow bar, slamming it across Mick's shoulders. Mick staggered backward under the impact and was knocked to the ground, collapsing flat on his back. He swiftly rolled over to his front and attempted to push himself up to standing, but before he could get up Hank brought the crow bar down again, striking him across the head.
Immortal or not, the crack left Mick momentarily stunned. Pain exploded through his skull and his vision blurred. Hank kept raising the heavy iron rod and bringing it down with force. Another blow and Mick could hear a loud crack as his shoulder blade broke. Lightning bolts of agony shot through his shoulder and down his arm.
Momentarily too distracted by his pain to notice, Mick was hardly aware as Hank, apparently satisfied with his work, suddenly stopped the attack and quickly exited the building. Mick's body throbbed but with effort he got on his knees and pulled himself up. Mercifully, the distress in his head and shoulder were fading at a rapid rate as the bones healed. He pushed the doors open and forced his way outside. His vision and hearing started to clear.
He spotted Hank, not far ahead, escaping across the wide expanse of lawn.
With a burst of adrenaline, Mick's temper exploded. You're going to have to do better than that to get rid of me asshole.
Blood roaring through his veins now, Mick started running toward Hank. He bent at the knees and pushed off with his legs making a powerful leap to fly through the air in the direction of Motolla.
At the last second, Hank spun around aiming the crow bar again at Mick. The bar struck his back and Mick didn't have time to wonder how Motolla had anticipated his quick recovery. He hit the ground rolling before popping to his feet. He was barely up when Hank landed a kick to Mick's chest and sent him back to the ground. They had moved from the mausoleum and were now on the edge of a large reflecting pool. Before Mick could rise again, Hank grabbed him and forced his head under water and held it there.
The fight had taken its toll on Mick's temper and he gave in, letting his vampire instincts surface and take over. He could feel his eyes shift to a pale blue and his fangs descend. A jolt of energy rushed through his body and he tossed Hank off of his back. He had the power now. The tables turned and he was on top of Motolla, holding him down.
"You fight pretty good for a dead guy, Mottola." Mick snarled, his mouth close to Hank's ear. "Just like a vampire." Mick raised his head and let out a loud growl before sinking his teeth into Hank's neck. Hank screamed.
"Mick!" Morgan's voice reached Mick's ears, bringing him to his senses. With a jerk he dropped Motolla and turned his head in her direction, not thinking about his appearance.
"You're eyes..."Morgan whispered to herself, voice shaking.
Fresh blood was pumping through Mick's veins and all of his senses were on high alert. He pulled his gaze off of Morgan and wheeled back toward Hank, but he was already gone. Mick's eyes darted around the cemetery. He couldn't see Motolla anywhere.
Anger and adrenaline took over and he faced Morgan again.
A set up? Are you too afraid to fight me yourself after last time Coraline? Is that it?
Morgan was backing away from him, one slow step and then another. Mick could hear her stricken panting breaths, her heart pumping double time. Her face had contorted into a mask of terror.
Oh no, not this time. You're not going anywhere. It's time we had a little talk.
He watched as Morgan finally gave up and pivoted around running away from him. He took off like a shot after her.
It didn't take long for him to catch up to her. He forced the vampire in him back down, returning to human form. "Come back here! Come here!" He grabbed hold of Morgan's shoulders and spun her toward him. She struggled, trying to wrench free of his grip. "You come here!"
"What's wrong with you?" She shouted at him. He could smell the fear pouring out of her in waves.
He tightened his grip around her upper arms, his fingers digging into her flesh. "You tried to kill me!"
Her eyes locked on his, confused. "What are you talking about?" Her voice had a hysterical, panicked quality but he ignored it.
He had been able to shift from full vampire back to a human appearance, but that had done almost no good for his raging emotions. He felt rage burning hot and far beyond his control, fueled in part by the physical pain from Mottola's attack and the effort to keep Mottola from killing him.
"I kill you then you kill me and we're even, huh?" he spat out at her. "Is that it?" He couldn't stand her games anymore and wanted to end this ridiculous charade.
Morgan was shaking, staring at him uncomprehending and frightened, almost crying. "You're scaring me!"
"You set me up in there," he accused her. "It was your idea to check those remains. And then I get ambushed by Hank Mottola. What is he, some friend of yours?"
But if Morgan was Coraline, she wasn't admitting to anything yet. "Get away from me!" She yelled, pulling out of his grasp and falling to the ground.
She looked scared and helpless, but he didn't believe her. He knew it was an act. It had to be. No matter what he did, she still managed to gain the upper hand against him. He only wanted answers. Couldn't she see that? Was that so hard to give him? "Just tell me how you did it," he tried pleading with her. "Just tell me how you turned human."
She didn't answer, but struggled to her feet, trying again to run away.
Oh no you don't! She wouldn't give up and admit who she really was? Then he'd just have to force her. This wasn't over, not yet. He grabbed her roughly from behind. "Show me that tattoo!"
"What tattoo?" Morgan yelped.
His fingers closed around her shirt collar and he ripped it, tearing the fabric and revealing her bare shoulder. Morgan screamed and fought harder, hitting him.
His mind spun, refusing to acknowledge what he was seeing. "Where's your tattoo?" he panted. Where is it? He didn't understand. It should be there. "There's no tattoo!"
Suddenly the smell of blood hit him and he froze like a statue, hands still wrapped around Morgan's lower arms. He lifted his left hand to his face and inhaled the scent. It was her blood, human blood. But that wasn't possible. Coraline wouldn't be able to keep bleeding. A vampire wouldn't be able to keep bleeding. She would heal too quickly.
He was trying to piece the puzzle together in his head. "You're bleeding," he said, still staring at the blood on his hand. He turned to look at her and inhaled again. His eyes locked on her face in confusion. "How are you bleeding?"
She didn't give him an answer. He released her arm and she started to back away, panic still playing across her face. He could hear her breathing coming out in hitching gasps.
"How are you bleeding?" he repeated the question again. Coraline, please just tell me what's going on. "You should have healed by now." All the fight went out of him. He just wanted an answer. "How are you bleeding?" he repeated louder this time. Morgan didn't respond, hurrying away, shooting looks at him over her shoulder as she went.
A day later Mick was standing in his apartment, staring out the window. Behind him, Beth was seated on the couch. He had been trying to figure out a way to explain all of this to her but was having trouble getting started.
"What did Morgan say?" he finally asked.
"Nothing, she refused to talk," Beth informed him before getting to the point. "I think it's time you tell me what's really going on."
Mick turned around to face her. There was an enormous knot in his chest but it couldn't be helped. "The truth is Morgan is the spitting image of my ex-wife," he began. "I was convinced it was Coraline up until last night."
Beth didn't say anything but continued to watch him. He could see concern for him in her eyes.
"You know this murder she's caught on camera?" he asked.
"That's exactly how Coraline died," he told her. "Exactly."
"In a fire?"
"Yeah," he nodded.
Beth was silent for a moment and her gaze shifted away, as if considering something. "That woman was murdered," she eventually said, returning her stare to his face.
"So was Coraline."
"By who?" she asked.
The knot in his chest grew more painful. She was looking up at him without judgment. He didn't want to tell her, was afraid it would change how she felt about him. But he thought she probably already had suspicions about the answer and needed to hear it from his mouth. He felt more grounded and sane here in this room with Beth than he had in a week. Now it was time to share one more secret that he'd wanted to keep from her. Here again he had failed.
Mick took a deep breath and let it out again. He took a few steps closer to Beth, looking her straight in the eye. "By me."
If this information disturbed her, she didn't reveal it. "How did that happen?" was her measured response.
He was watching her reaction closely. How was it possible that this didn't spark any memories in her? "You don't know do you?" he asked in wonderment.
Her frustration was immediately evident. "How would I know?" she shot back at him in irritation.
He walked away, considering how to make her understand. "Have you ever had an intense affair?" he asked at last.
"Yeah," she quickly responded. "The first couple of months of Josh and I were like a honeymoon."
He jerked his head from side to side and squeezed his eyes shut. She wasn't getting it. "Not the first 6 weeks," he bit out. "Not a honeymoon, an intense affair." He put pointed emphasis on the last two words. He grimaced as he tried to explain. "Like-like a fever?"
"I was kind of crazy about this guy at college." Her voice was uncertain as she searched for a frame of reference. "I don't know. It's a subjective question," she ended up.
"You'd know if you'd had one." He kept his eyes on her face. "It's like an infection. It burns you up." His head was swimming with the memory and his stomach turned. "It makes you do things you wouldn't normally do" he finished quietly.
He sat down in a chair across from her and told her a story from his life with Coraline. Just one example of many, but this one was before he had been turned into a vampire. He couldn't even use that as an excuse.
He told her of the party and how they'd met. How afterward Coraline had made dates with him then stood him up. When he had finally come to her house, looking for answers to where she'd been, he'd found another man with her. He'd left them and had gone out to get raging drunk.
What was it about her that made him lose his mind, over and over again?
He should have stayed away that night. Maybe his life would have turned out differently if he had.
Eventually, he had gone back to her house. She had laughed at him from the other side of the glass. Her laughter, the emptiness it had left him with, the fury, he couldn't take it. What had he done? He had found a patio chair. Took it to her beautiful windows, and he had hurled the chair through, shattering the glass.
How had Coraline responded? Had she run away? Called the cops to have him arrested? Far from it, she welcomed him with open arms, letting him embrace her in a passionate kiss.
She'd made him crazy enough to break, to commit violence, out of longing to have her. And that's exactly what she wanted, and had rewarded him for it in turn.
Beth had gotten up as he told his story pacing a little as she listened. Now she had stopped and was standing facing him.
"I never thought I'd feel that way again," he said.
"Insane," he told her honestly
Beth looked down at her feet. "Then Morgan showed up," she added.
"Yeah," he agreed with her. "And I went crazy. Chasing ghosts. Nearly got killed. Let a killer get away. After all the parallels to the past, I…" He stammered looking at her. "I just didn't know what was in my head and what wasn't."
"So, you tried to force her to reveal herself at the cemetery?" she asked.
"Yeah, but I was wrong. She didn't have a tattoo."
Beth took a few steps closer to him. Her eyes wandered away then back again.
"Were you disappointed?" she finally asked.
He sucked in a breath to reply and his eyes met hers. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. That was the problem with how close they had become in the last few months. He couldn't lie to her. She could read his answer in his eyes. He could see hurt reflected in hers.
She turned and walked out, leaving him alone in his apartment.
How could I be disappointed you're asking? All the things I've had to give up, all the things I've had taken away from me, because I fell for Coraline. Everything I've had to endure was because she chose me those many years ago.
I should hate her.
Until right now, I thought I did.