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A Little Salsa Picante
with a "DVD Commentary" bonus as requested by Valerie
Story: September/October 2006
Commentary: April 2008
by Amy R.
PG. Please see the endnote for disclaimers, credits, and all that good stuff. This fanfiction is a tribute to the television series Forever Knight.
The Story The Commentary
Insert the opening credits here. Use the first-season Canadian version, which is extra-long, so the introductory chatter in the column to the right will all fit.
He came across in 1228.
Preyed on humans for their blood.
Now, he wants to be mortal again.
To repay society for his sins.
To emerge from his world of darkness.
I was feeling lonely in our sleepy FK fandom and having a hard time writing. It occurred to me to borrow the weekly "15-minute Challenge" idea and prompts from Highlander fandom -- specifically, from the Duncan/Methos corner -- just for myself, quietly, because I didn't think I could get the list to play along (or that I had the bandwidth to manage it personally, if I could).
(Outside FK, I read fanfic only on recommendation. Most of my HL friends are DM/M fans, so those are the fanfiction recommendations I got, and how I encountered that challenge game. If you happen to have Duncan/Tessa recommendations, please send them on! I adore Tessa, and Duncan/Tessa, and wish I knew where to read for that.)"A Little Salsa Picante" was written to the prompt: "Just a hint of that smell is enough, and I..." Look for "smell" references throughout the story.
The very first time I tried the prompt, in raw 15-minute Challenge fashion, I tried Nick's perspective, not Schanke's, and got this: "Just a hint of the smell is enough, and the vampire rushes forward, pushing the man out of the way, appropriating his senses. Schanke thinks I have a weak stomach, and likes to tease that the blood is ketchup, salsa, caliente marinara, goodness knows all the red sauces of the world in his culinary expertise. It doesn't help that he picks food metaphors."
Yup, that's the actual first draft. It's still in a file titled "15" along with my other experiments with those prompts. Only this one became a story.
In third season, Tracy is made out to have a weak stomach at times. But in first season, from Schanke's perspective, Nick does. The story's title is a direct quotation from "Dark Knight" ("Can you believe they put a guy like this in homicide? Falls apart when he sees a little salsa picante").
And here we go . . .
"So Myra took away my plate of pierogi and gave me a milkshake. A milkshake!" Don Schanke leaned toward the caddy's open passenger-side window. The warm summer night smelled unfairly full of tempting restaurants and backyard barbecues. cf. The "I Love Pierogis Polka" from "Dark Knight
cf. The prompt
"I had a shake tonight," offered Nick, his eyes on the road. One of Natalie's protein shakes, of course. Detective Schanke wondered why his partner sounded smug, then remembered Nick's wacky macrobiotic regimen for his skin condition. Poor guy probably never got dessert. "No, man, you don't understand. This wasn't a real milkshake with ice cream, and syrup, and, you know, milk. This was a diet shake: crushed ice and vitamin powder. There I was, the man of the house that is my castle, my wife and daughter eating Myra's famous family-recipe pierogi, sautéed in butter -- and me, with a mug of pink sludge." Isn't it in "Only the Lonely" that Schanke refers to Nick's "macrobiotic diet"? About Natalie's birthday cake?
This line is awkward. I'm trying to create a Schanke-ism -- with "man of the house" and "a man's home is his castle" -- but I'm afraid I'm not quite making it.
"Pink?" Not that protein has to be red (or pink), as Natalie tells us... "It's supposed to be strawberry." Schanke sighed. "You know, I can't believe you wouldn't stop for drive-through." Actually, Schank, it's supposed to tie your shake in with all the other red foods in this story. Embrace the experience of being paralleled with Nick! "The Captain said the media have hit already. We don't need your dinner live at eleven, do we?" I like this line. I don't remember how it came to me; I shall attribute it to Nick himself. "I would have finished before we got there," Schanke protested. Since Stonetree had partnered him with Nick a few months back, Schanke felt they had found an easy rhythm in interviews, and usually a fair division of labor. But just like with the paperwork at the other end, they still clashed heading into a new case. Nick would wade in, all grim and absorbed from the get-go, where Schanke would rather play it fast, loose and light. Schanke had learned his own approach as Jimmy Anderson's partner in those wild early years right out of the Academy, before their career paths diverged into homicide and vice. He wondered where Nick's style came from. Knight wasn't exactly the confiding type. I gave this some thought, Nick and Schanke's working relationship from Schanke's perspective. This is what I think Schanke sees. I wonder if Schanke worries that Nick will burn himself out, taking things so seriously, and so hard? Someone should worry.
Jimmy Anderson is from "Hunters," of course.
Schanke's stomach rumbled audibly.
Nick knows where you're coming from, man...
Nick looked amused. "I doubt Myra would thank me for helping you dodge her program. Besides," Nick piloted his boat of a classic car between news vans, police cruisers and the coroner's wagon, straight into safe harbor in front of the brightly-lit house at the center of activity. "Here we are."
"How do you do that?" Schanke marveled, snapping off his seatbelt.
"Find spaces like this! Half the block is crammed with the residents' cars, and the other half with our people trying to get at this specific lot, but you park front and center as if 'Reserved for Nick Knight' were stenciled on the asphalt."
"Just lucky, I guess." Nick grinned. Schanke rolled his eyes as they climbed out of the car. Still, as long as Knight's string of parking-space windfalls held, Schanke would not insist they put the miles on his sedan, instead. Privilege of being the protagonist, I guess. Heroes get all the parking luck. It's easier on the crew that way!
He took in the house, blazing with light in the soft suburban dark. A few hours ago, Schanke would bet, this house would have been as ordinary as they came. One-story ranch, shingle siding. Lawn that hadn't been mowed since the beginning of the Blue Jays streak, he estimated. No toys in the yard, one car in the open garage, a moth self-destructively circling the porch lamp. That was then. Now, numbered plastic triangles trailed reddish-brown men's sneaker footprints down the driveway and around the corner. And to get to the yellow tape cordoning the crime scene, the detectives had to pass television reporters doing stand-ups in the unfenced yard. Halfway across, Schanke realized Nick wasn't with him.
"What is it? Knight? Nick?" Schanke retraced his steps to the sidewalk, and snapped his fingers in his partner's face. "Hey, Nick!"
"Huh? Oh, sorry." Nick resumed walking, and pulled out his badge to show to the uniformed officer who appeared as soon as they ducked under the tape.
"What was that all about? Everyone knows you don't pause near reporters. That just attracts their interest, like vultures, or insurance salesmen."
"I hate the way they turn misery and misfortune into entertainment. I hate that some people are entertained by misery and misfortune."
This description of the exterior of the crime scene went through several revisions. I hope I finally got it tight enough to just paint the establishing shot, and not digress.
Nick is having a flashback, of course. Better here than behind the wheel! From his partners' perspectives, this tendency to zone out and then snap back in with some new insight, seemingly out of nowhere, must be incredibly annoying -- and not a little dangerous -- even as it often solves cases.At first, I thought this flashback was another installment of the story introduced in the "Spin Doctor" flashbacks. "Tried and convicted in the media:" doesn't Nick say that there? And while Nick is polite to Tawny Teller ("Unreality TV"), he firmly believes she has no place anywhere near police work. Later, I thought the flashback should be a whole different story, a new one, pointing up specific aspect of this case, because that's how FK flashbacks are supposed to work.
But it's a moot point. What matters is just knowing that Nick is having a flashback, because that tells us that we're in an episode structure, even though we can see only as much as Schanke sees.
"Yeah. Well, the public hunger for news must be appeased. Or at least fed at designated intervals, between commercials. Speaking of fed, do you suppose the paramedics would have chocolate bars in their kits, for insulin shock or something?"
Nick cracked a smile, but both men held their tongues as they passed through the front door and into the living room. The television was smashed -- no, dropped and crashed -- on the beige rug, with some stereo components mixed into the mess. Crying was faintly audible from what Schanke guessed were the bedrooms, down the hall to the left. The shorter hall on the right was silent to Schanke's ears. The forensic technicians had already completed a first pass with cameras and progressed to collecting samples, dusting for fingerprints, and spraying for assorted other traces.
This house is loosely based on the house I lived in longer than any other in my childhood.
Schanke almost stepped on an envelope from the cable company. At the last second, he spotted the numbered plastic tag marking it and some other mail scattered on the rug.
"Detectives?" Dan, the brisk, bespectacled senior forensic technician, gestured them around the pile of broken electronics and toward the shorter hallway. He kept his voice low. "The footprints run out a block down, where the shoes and knife were tossed in a trash can set out for tomorrow's collection. Even so, this should be an easy collar. The APBs went out almost immediately. The mom ID'd the perps as her son and a friend of his."
In "Dead Air," there's a forensics guy named Dan. (I pulled the name off my still-in-progress master character list; I didn't rewatch the episode for it in this case.)
"Domestic dispute?" Schanke asked, accepting the pictures Dan handed him.
"Motive is your department," Dan shook his head. "I can tell you the mom says the son stayed home to work his summer job while the rest of the family was in Uxbridge visiting grandparents. They came home earlier than expected, surprised the boys. Preliminary evidence supports her story that she and the daughter stopped to pick up the mail and came in the front door, while the dad -- the deceased -- went in through the garage."
Cop plots are the hardest part of FK fanfiction for me. They're so important, but so neglected! I have several significant stories half-begun that languish for want of a cop plot (most particularly, a first-season novel, and a short story from Tracy's perspective set between "Fever" and "Francesca").
"Trapping the boys between." Nick rubbed his hand over his mouth and nose. "So they ran from the mother and sister, and bumped into the father. This hallway leads to the garage?"
See it coming?
Dan nodded. "Through a den. That's where the body is. Uh, Doctor Lambert asked me to say, if you got this case, that she thinks you might want to interview the family first, and that the photos will be all you need for the scene. As a matter of policy, I don't agree, but I said I'd pass it on."
Natalie knows this will be hard on Nick. She doesn't have a lot of options; warning him this way is perhaps all she can do.
Nick looked down the hallway. He sniffed, and stiffened. "She may have a point."
cf. The prompt
"What?" Schanke exclaimed. "Knight, sometimes I'm dumbfounded that the Academy let you out at all. Never mind that you ever made detective. Of course we'll look at the scene before we start asking questions." He waved Dan off, grabbed his partner's shoulder and steered him down the hallway. "I know we need to stay out of the way of the tech guys, yadda yadda, but sometimes you take it way too far. Heck, you're even passing up a chance to see Natalie, which is not like you at all. Everyone knows you can't solve a case without her. And me." Schanke pushed on the 'caution' tape to swing open the den's door. "Besides, nothing beats the evidence of experienced eyes."
"Or noses." Nick clutched the door jamb.
cf. The prompt
Schanke edged past his partner, careful not to get his fingerprints all over the wall like Nick was doing. The small room was crowded with bookshelves, two desks, and one computer, all splashed with blood. The braided rug in front of the door that must lead to the garage was soaked with it, explaining the footprints. And next to that, in a beige summer outfit which -- to Schanke's purely aesthetic appreciation, honest -- revealed more of her figure than usual, coroner Natalie Lambert stood over a closed body bag, filling out a form on her clipboard.
They touch crime scenes way too often. I know it's essentially before common analysis of DNA back there in canon, so many of the protective measures we see on shows like CSI were irrelevant, but come on, fingerprints?
Had to introduce Natalie's appearance into the story through Schanke's eyes. What does he see? Pretty lady professional. Off limits!
"Must have been some struggle," Schanke whistled.
"Not really," Natalie said. "Scalp wounds are especially bloody, even when they're not fatal."
"Scalp? You mean, like Indians?"
"Or like the colonists who paid the bounties? No, these knife wounds just happen to be largely to the head, when they're not on the arms where he fought back. I can't say yet whether all the blood came from our victim here, or some of it from the killers. Like I said, scalp wounds bleed all out of proportion to their size." Natalie looked past Schanke with concern. "Nick, are you handling this all right?"
In the first draft of this story, Natalie said, "Or like the colonists who taught that to them?", repeating the popular misinformation that the French colonists taught scalping to the Native Americans. Luckily, I looked up the history before posting. Archaeological evidence indicates that scalping in the Americas predates European arrival. However, the colonists spread the formerly rare practice widely by offering bounties for the scalps of their enemies.
We human beings are really lousy creatures sometimes.
Schanke turned around. His partner still clutched the door jamb as if he could not stand without it. And his eyes were screwed shut. "Knight?"
"I'm okay." Nick barely opened his mouth. He didn't open his eyes.
He's not okay. He's vamped out. (Hungry, like Schanke.) Natalie knows. Schanke doesn't.
Schanke grinned. Everyone had a weak spot, and he had pegged Nick's long before Stonetree hitched them up. Heck of a lot better to have a partner with a weak stomach than a weak brain. But that didn't let Knight off the hook. Oh, no. Absolutely not. "And once again, the sight of some salsa picante lays low the mighty Detective Knight. Do you realize, Natalie, that Mr. Pride of the Metro PD here cannot cope with a little ketchup on his crime scenes? Alas, if only the criminal element would restrain itself to poison to coddle his delicate sensibilities--"
If this were any other vampire, Natalie or Schanke or both would be dead by now.
Natalie gave him a quelling look.
Nick smiled, lips pressed together, but still didn't open his eyes. He turned his face back to the hallway. "I guess that protein shake tonight just wasn't enough, Nat. Sorry."
"It's all right. We'll try again. Why don't you two go regroup while I finish up?"
"Yeah, yeah." Schanke followed his partner back to the living room, chuckling. "So, you up to interviewing the witnesses?"
On one level, Nick means "enough" to keep him from getting hungry tonight. But on another, he means "enough" to cure him. He tried (he drank the shake, not blood) but he failed (he vamped out involuntarily). Maybe they had tried a special shake tonight, something new, something with high hopes especially justifying his smugness at the start of the story. In any case, Natalie understands.
Schanke thinks "try again" is about needing practice, toughening up, like the things they will say about Tracy in season three.
"At least, with the family here, there aren't any notifications this time," Nick said, seeming much recovered a room away from the scarlet spatter. He pulled out his notebook and checked what he'd written when Stonetree handed them the assignment at the beginning of the shift. "No comfort for them, though. The mother has refused to be separated from the daughter so far, or to leave the house. Do you want to lead this one?"
Does Nick say somewhere in canon that he hates notifying the families of murder victims? I think so, but I can't remember the line.
"Nah. Like Stonetree says, the live ones like you. Lay on, MacKnight."
I don't remember in which episode Stonetree says, "The live ones like him," when divvying up assignments between Nick and Schanke. But he does say it.
Watched by a quiet uniformed officer, the mother and daughter both sat on the bed in what must be the daughter's room, with rainbow pillows and unicorn figurines retreating before boy-band albums and movie posters. This girl was older than his daughter Jenny, but seeing some of her same books and toys made Schanke briefly imagine his family in this one's place. He was glad Nick would take most of the talking.
"Mrs. Lewis, Zoe, I'm Detective Nick Knight and this is my partner, Don Schanke." Nick showed his badge and expressed polite sympathy without committing to any one view of the incident. The girl began crying again, and her mother, dry-eyed, put her arm around her shoulders. "I'm afraid we need to ask you a few questions. Mrs. Lewis, could we possibly talk in your bedroom, while Officer Phillips here stays with Zoe?"
Trying to move the story along, skimming past actions that don't contribute directly. Does it wander too far into telling instead of showing?
"I'd rather not get out of her sight, if you don't mind."
"In the long run, this could be important to her, to you -- and to your son."
"I'll be all right , Mom," the girl said, but followed them to the door. Schanke heard Phillips ask about one of the movie posters. The girl answered, but was still looking down the hall at him when Schanke closed the door to her parents' bedroom.
Mrs. Lewis paced beside the king-sized bed, between the closet and a nightstand under the window. She provided essentially the same story as the initial reports, adding context about her teenage son's summer job, the friend who had been with him tonight, and the escalating pleas for money that she and her husband had mistakenly thought the job would solve. Finally, she sat on the bed.
"I didn't know what was wrong until tonight. I didn't want to know. I pretended it was everything else in the world, because if it were this, it would be my fault."
Pretending, when we just don't want to acknowledge what the evidence is telling us. Sound like anyone we know?
"Your fault?" Nick prompted.
"I'm an addict, Detective Knight. Oh, I've been clean for eleven years now. Zoe probably doesn't even remember. I pray she doesn't. Ken does, though." She paused. "When I saw him tonight, I saw something I used to see in my mirror. I don't know exactly what he's been getting high on, but I know that ravenous single-mindedness. Intimately. My bad genes, my bad example, taking my husband's life, ruining my son's." She covered her face.
cf. "Feeding the Beast"
The whole "red stuff" bit behind this story rolls back to Nick's dependence on blood. It's like food, yes (and canon did surprisingly little with the food metaphor! we never had an eating-disorder episode; I keep meaning to write one, but it's such delicate territory) but it's also like addiction (and canon always returned to addiction).
Nick knelt in front of her. "Controlling your addiction for eleven years, Mrs. Lewis, would give your children a role model for self-discipline, not an inspiration for indulgence."
Nick knows. He really, really knows. Addiction and recovery and guilt. (Janette's crack about controlling himself too well in "I Will Repay" shows, among other things, that his choices influence those around him, too.) Doesn't give himself as much leeway as he gives Mrs. Lewis, though.
She dropped her hands and met his eyes. "You want to question Zoe now, don't you?"
"We'll switch places, then. I want her room to stay a safe space for her, and these conversations aren't really very safe, are they?"
The daughter's interview didn't add anything in Schanke's book, which was all to the good. The sad stories matched. The boy's room hid few secrets. Back in the caddy, they called for an update and learned that the son's friend had been nabbed a kilometer away, wasted and barefoot.
"No point in questioning him until whatever junk he's on wears off," Schanke said. "So how about that dinner?"
"After what you've just seen, you still want food?" Nick started the car.
You're both hungry, Nick. Pick up on the parallel!
"Those of us who don't faint at the sight of spilled tomato juice have to keep up our strength somehow. C'mon, I know a great little taco joint near the bus station. It's right on the way to the precinct. They've got a chili sauce that'll really put hair on your chest."
More red stuff
"My chest is just fine, thanks," Nick said, but followed Schanke's directions anyway. "So Myra's obsession with diet drinks for you is pretty recent?"
I can't believe I'm going to say this, but did you know there's actually a bare chest scene before "Night in Question"? First-season, tarot cards, loft floor, robe open.
"Except for the time her supposedly psychic aunt predicted I wouldn't live to see another spring, and I had to give up triple-cheese pizzas for watercress salads all winter."
cf. "Dying to Know You"
cf. "If Looks Could Kill"
"Since you've been on night shift more, she's been seeing less of you. Have you thought that maybe this is her way of trying, you know, to hold you closer, keep you safer?"
"Yeah? I dunno." Schanke had thought he and Myra had worked out the night-shift thing, but it was all kinds of different. He could see how she might be feeling shortchanged. Maybe they should get up to the cabin for a weekend soon. "Thanks. I'll think about that."
cf. "Hunters" and "Father's Day"
"Just an idea," Nick shrugged.
As usual, a car pulled out of the all-night taqueria just as they arrived, opening a prime spot for Nick's turquoise tank. "I'm telling you, Knight, you've got a gift from the parking gods. It's like a superpower."
Could be evoking Lisa Cooper from "Father Figure," who obliquely compares Nick to Superman (she asks if the loft is his Fortress of Solitude). Or could just be my own Marvel Comics fandom.
"I think I'll stay out here and hone my secret identity while you refuel."
"Okey-doke. Can I bring you anything?" Schanke breathed in deeply, the scent of baked corn and fried peppers tingling from his nose to his toes. His stomach growled. "You've got to try their fish burritos. Fish is healthy enough for your weird diet, right?"
cf. The prompt
"Uh," Nick hesitated. "Really, Schank, I'm not hungry. The crime scene and all."
Not hungry for burritos, true. Not hungry at all? Liar.
"Well, if you're sure." Normally, Schanke would have put more effort into sharing the wonders of Juana's fresh fish burritos and secret chili sauce. But this close to real food, his pining digestive system had all his attention. Schanke wondered if he should place two orders, so they could start on some of his snack while he listed the rest.
Floating on that divine cooking smell, barely able to hear over his rumbling stomach, and looking only at the angel behind the register, Schanke collided with another patron at the front door. A family-sized take-out bag fell to the pavement. Food scattered for meters around. Tacos and flautas and chips. And everywhere, on everything, spicy red pico de gallo salsa with tomato chunks. For a second, Schanke couldn't breathe.
More red stuff
"Oh, man, I am sorry." Wrenching his eyes from the food, Schanke bent over to help pick up what could be salvaged of what he had knocked from the kid's arms. "In fact, I can't tell you how sorry I am to waste food just now. At least let me buy you --" Schanke saw socks without shoes, and looked up into the face of Ken Lewis.
"No, never mind; it's okay," the kid protested faintly, but then must have seen the recognition in Schanke's eyes. He bolted.
Earlier, the story mentions that the police found the shoes and knife tossed in a trash can. And Schanke saw photos of the boy.
Am I suggesting that the boys were on marijuana by sending Ken for a big bag of fast food, given its famous hunger-inducing effects? Not intentionally. I meant to leave the drug involved indeterminate. An earlier draft had a digression about a nearby bus station, implying that the kid was provisioning himself for running. I didn't realize until later that the food might be read as a clue to the drug; I just needed to get the kid to where Schanke could nab him.
Schanke was not fast enough. Nick was. Almost before Schanke could stand up, Nick had Lewis immobilized in an approved hold.
How it looks from Schanke's view, when Nick comes out of nowhere, vamp style
"What, you decided to come eat after all?" Schanke asked as he fished out and applied a pair of handcuffs.
"Nah," Nick held Lewis's head down and recited his rights as he helped him into the back of the caddy. Then he locked the doors. "I just couldn't resist the sight of the mighty Schanke overcome by the red stuff."
"Now this is not the same, and you know it." Schanke looked longingly at the marvelous meal wasted all over the sidewalk. "Everybody has to eat. Even murderers. Even cops who are allergic to sunlight."
Actually, it's almost precisely the same. And Nick knows it.
Food metaphors in FK were never adequately explored. Nick's condition is as validly an eating disorder as the more popular (and arguably less fraught) metaphors. And how many people have tackled that in fanfic? There's Ophelia's zine story about Janette and Natalie and chocolate... More to the point, there's Marcia's story where Nick almost starves himself to death and then gives up on his quest... What others have I missed?
"Yeah, I know. Go get some while I call this in."
"Thanks, partner." Maybe it was a bit the same, Schanke granted as he stepped around the spill and headed for the counter. He knew Knight's little weakness, and Knight knew his. Neither would let the other's get in the way of a case. And neither would ever let the other live it down.
Which is just the way it should be, with the guy watching your back.
"Okay, so I'll start with two fish burritos, a beef taco, and a cola. No, on second thought, make that a diet cola. Did I mention this is to go?"
A cliche, I know. But would Schanke use it?
Thank you for reading, both the story and the commentary! Thanks to Valerie, for being interested and requesting the commentary!
Mr. Parriot and Mr. Cohen created Forever Knight. The Sony Corporation owns it. I intend no infringement. Please support all authorized Forever Knight endeavors! (Buy what they sell.)
Characters and situations in this fantasy fan story are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental. (Vampires don't exist. Pink diet shakes do, though.)
Title. "Can you believe they put a guy like this in homicide? Falls apart when he sees a little salsa picante." -- Schanke, "Dark Knight"
Allusions. Schanke's former partner Jim Anderson is from "Hunters." The generic language of addiction is from "Feeding the Beast." Myra's psychic aunt is from "Dying to Know You." Schanke's preference for triple-cheese pizzas is from "If Looks Could Kill." Natalie's protein shakes for Nick are in many episodes, but mostly first season. The Schankes' cabin is from "Hunters" and "Father's Day."
Inspiration. One of Highlander fandom's old "Fifteen Minute Challenge" prompts ("just a hint of that smell") inspired this piece. Do you think they'd mind if we imported their challenge mechanism to FK?
Securing beta-reading for this piece presented challenges. I am grateful to Shelley, who read the story in October and assured me it was list-worthy. Errors, of course, are my own.
I wrote this vignette in August 2006, posted it to fkfic-l on October 23, 2006, and archived it here on my own website on October 26, 2006. Please do not archive, post or distribute. You're welcome to link to it here, on my FK fansite.
Thank you for reading! Your comments and constructive criticism are welcome. (Feedback fertilizes the fanfic imagination, you know.) Please email me or write me on Livejournal or Dreamwidth. Again, truly, thanks for reading!
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