Disclaimer: I don’t own these characters; they belong to TPTB. I’m just getting them wet and drying them off again. Yes, I realize that this story is set in January and today is the first day of spring; but you can’t prove that by the thermometer here at the moment, so it still seems pretty seasonal to me (g). Permission to archive on the ftp site and subsequent permission to archive at “Bright Knight”.
a Forever Knight story
by Mary Chamberlain
March 20, 2006
“This river I step in is not the river I stand in.”
-- Eldon Garnet, Toronto, 1990
“You cannot step twice into the same river.”
-- Heraclitus, Ephesus, 6th C. BCE
“Nick! Where do you think you’re going? Knight! Be careful!”
He might as well save his breath, thought Schanke, and he needed all of it he could get as he pounded up the deserted stretch of Queen Street. Through the icy rain he could just barely make out the figure of his partner, hot in pursuit of another fleeing figure, this one trying to run while cradling a backpack in its arms -- a backpack containing evidence of murder. The backpack was far nearer and dearer to the hearts of Nick and Schanke than the man carrying it, but Benes evidently had a guilty conscience and was displaying a distinct aversion to making the acquaintance of the cops just at that moment.
Nick, over two blocks ahead of Schanke and running easily, had nearly caught up to his quarry by the time they crossed River St. and headed up the slope to the bridge over the Don. The man, gasping for breath almost as much as Schanke, paused in the middle of the bridge for a desperate glance back at his pursuer, then hoisted the backpack and flung it over the railing into the river below.
Gaining another burst of speed from the lightening of his load, Benes sprinted across the bridge and vanished up a side street on the far side. He immediately ceased to be of any interest to Nick, who halted on the bridge and stared downwards at the river, flowing sullenly but swiftly in near-flood conditions. By the gleam of the streetlights on the bridge and on the nearby Parkway, he could easily make out the precious backpack, bobbing lakewards with amazing speed.
Nick vaulted the rail and plunged three storeys down into the water.
It was colder than anything he had ever encountered before. Although he could touch the bottom, it was too weedy and uneven to give any purchase. A sluggish, shallow, disagreeable channel in the summer, he was surprised at the force of the river now as he was sent lurching helplessly in the wake of the backpack. His leather jacket filled with water, throwing him even further off balance, and he involuntarily gulped a mouthful of peculiar-tasting water as he was knocked under the surface again.
Eventually he came upright again and struggled out of the jacket. It promptly tore free from his grip and added itself to the rest of the flotsam. Above the noise of the rain and the river he could hear Schanke yelling at him again, this time from the bridge, but disregarded his partner as he set out, half swimming and half wading, down the river, keeping his eyes fixed on the backpack ahead. He was lucky. Just before the next bridge, the pack collided with an enormous tree branch also sweeping down with the current and was knocked off course towards the west bank, where one of the straps was snagged by the trailing branches of a stunted willow.
He fought his way across and managed to get a good grip on the same tree, holding himself in place while he freed the backpack. Clutching it in one hand and keeping a firm grip on the tree with the other, he struggled up the inundated bank and landed face down on the drowned bicycle path.
Schanke had come clattering down the stairs from the bridge and reached him as he was slowly sitting up in three inches of water. “Jeez, Nick, do you have a death wish or what? You could have been in the lake by now! Nice job, but how was I supposed to explain to Cohen how I let my partner drown? Or dissolve?”
Nick had to pause to cough up what felt like a litre of river before he could say, “Oh, come on, Schank. It’d take more than a bit of raw sewage to kill me.”
“Well, what about double pneumonia, then? Come on, let’s make sure those tapes really are in that bag and get back to the car.”
Nick was almost afraid to open the backpack because he had become aware at some point in the scramble up the bank that whatever was in there, it wasn’t the crucial videotapes. Slowly he forced his cold-stiffened fingers to undo the zipper.
He wasn’t particularly surprised when, in addition to a pool of river water, what looked like a large rat poured out and splashed to the ground.
“What the hell...” Schanke peered at the sodden bundle, his expression torn between disbelief and disgust. “What’s that?”
“I think it’s a cat, Schank.”
“A cat! C’mon, it’s a rat.” He grabbed the backpack, turned it upside down and shook it until only drops fell out, then rummaged inside. “Where the hell are the tapes?”
“Somewhere with Benes still, I guess.” Nick poked at the soaking lump on the ground. It was the deadest-looking thing he’d ever seen; still, he’d distinctly heard a heartbeat. He found a spot higher on the bank where the ground was only sodden as opposed to actually underwater and shifted the cat there, pushing gently on its chest. Just how where you supposed to give artificial respiration to a cat? His mandatory police CPR course hadn’t dealt with anything but humans.
“Come on, Nick, just leave it,” said Schanke impatiently. “It’s too bad, but the thing’s dead. If we ever catch Benes again we’ll charge him with cruelty to animals.”
Nick stubbornly continued to press on the little animal’s chest and a few seconds later was rewarded when it emitted a sort of choking gasp, followed by a tiny squeak which was probably inaudible to anyone without a vampire’s acute hearing. One paw gave a slight twitch.
“There,” he said triumphantly. “Hey, Schank, it’s still alive.”
“How can you tell?” said his partner, who, without the benefit of Nick’s enhanced senses, could hardly see anything between the driving rain and the near darkness by the river. “Oh, never mind. Just bring it with you. Now can we please go back to the car?”
With Schanke holding the empty backpack and Nick carefully cradling the cat, the two men splashed along the path and trudged up the metal staircase to the street. Ten minutes later they were back in Schanke’s car, wrapped in blankets which Schanke had unearthed from his trunk, with the car heater going full blast.
“I can’t believe you’re okay after jumping into that river,” said Schanke. “I think I’d better take you over to St. Mike’s and have them check you out. I mean, even if you don’t have pneumonia, God knows what you might have caught in that river. Typhoid, cholera, malaria -- hell, you could even have bubonic plague. I’d better burn that blanket when you’re done with it. Whatever you’ve got, it’s probably contagious.”
“I don’t have anything,” Nick answered patiently. “You are not taking me to the hospital, I’m fine.” In actual fact, he was seriously cold and was surprised to find that he was beginning to shiver, in spite of the blanket and heater. He was also starting to think that more than anything else he wanted a long hot shower to get rid of the stench of the river.
“Besides,” he added, “you’re practically as wet as I am.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t go far a little midnight dip in the most polluted river in the country.”
“Well, if you really feel like doing something for me, would you mind driving me home? I could use a shower.”
“More like a full decontamination,” said Schanke darkly, putting the car in gear.
They made one stop on the drive to Nick’s loft at a 24-hour Tim Horton’s for Schanke to buy the largest possible cup of coffee. The rest of the trip he spent enumerating all the diseases which he confidently expected Nick to be showing symptoms of by the next day, but Nick remained unmoved, adamant that he was not going to let Schanke take him to emergency.
It wasn’t until they had reached the warehouse building that housed the loft that either of them thought of the cat.
“You have to go back to the station. I’ll keep it for tonight, and drop it off at the Humane Society tomorrow,” decided Nick.
“Yeah, well, just make sure you decontaminate it too.” Schanke gently stroked the cat’s head with one finger. “Poor little guy. I wish it could talk, then maybe we could find those tapes.”
The first thing Nick did after the creaking old freight elevator had deposited him in his apartment was to snap on the gas fire. The second was to boost the thermostat by five degrees.
Then he put the cat down on the rug in front of the fireplace and uncorked a bottle of blood wine.
While he was there he rummaged in the fridge for something that he could feed the cat. The options consisted of a carton of cream for Nat’s coffee, a week past its best before date; a dozen bottles of blood wine; and a bottle of garlic pills left over from an experiment of Nat’s which had proven wildly unsuccessful. He shut the door with a sigh and went back to look at his new houseguest. The cat was still soaked and shivering, but Nick thought it looked slightly less distressed.
Remembering Schanke’s words of wisdom about decontamination, he peeled off his clothing, tossed everything in the washer, and dressed in an old pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Then he filled the kitchen sink with warm water, fetched his shampoo from the bathroom, plopped the cat in the sink and began to wash it clean of the filthy river water and bits of debris. Either the cat didn’t mind the treatment or it was too frightened or dazed to struggle; there were no objections as Nick sudsed and rinsed and eventually wrapped it in a bath sheet and rubbed it as dry as possible.
With the dirt gone, the cat turned out to be bright orange with a white shirtfront, and had large brilliant green eyes that stared unblinkingly at Nick. He made a sort of nest for it in a wool afghan in front of the fire and left it to recover while he went off to attend to his own decontamination.
It was the longest, hottest, most welcome shower he could ever remember indulging in. He stayed under the blast of water until it started to become tepid. Then he towelled away every last drop of water and dressed in an old set of Metro Police sweats. They were warm and soft and seemed a more appealing choice than the cool slippery silk of his dressing gown.
He had just finished drying his hair when the phone rang. He expected it to be Cohen, but to his surprise he heard Myra Schanke’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Nick, Donny just told me that you pulled a cat out of the river,” she began without preamble. “What an awful thing for anyone to do!”
Nick hoped this was censure of Benes, not himself.
“I’m sure you don’t have any cat food or a litter box or anything,” continued Myra briskly, “so I’m going to bring you over the stuff that belonged to our old cat. I’ll just drop it off outside your door, so you don’t have to worry about letting me in. Now, does the cat seem all right? Do you want the name of a vet?”
Nick tried desperately to stem the tide of Myra’s generosity. “As far as I can tell, it’s fine. But Myra, you don’t have to go to all this trouble -- I’m going to take the cat to the Humane Society tomorrow. I mean tonight.”
“It’s no trouble. And the cat needs food and a litter box, even if it’s just for the day. I’ll be over as soon as Donny gets home. Oh, and I’ll put in a jar of soup for you. I just made it yesterday. Donny says you hardly ever have any food in the place, and you’ll need something to help warm you up. Are you all right, by the way?”
Nick gave in to the inevitable. “I’m fine, thanks. Make sure you leave some of that soup for Schanke. He was nearly as wet as I was.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I made lots. When you catch the man who threw that cat in,” she said viciously, “I hope you charge him with attempted murder.”
She hung up, and Nick turned to the cat. It was now slowly washing itself, obviously unimpressed by Nick’s efforts on its behalf. It paused and eyed Nick warily, one hind leg hoisted inelegantly in the air. Nick looked back at his new guest, almost as warily.
“You’re welcome to doss down here for the day,” he told it. “But just remember that I’m a vampire, not a cat valet.”
Natalie Lambert wondered, not for the first time, why she did what she did for a living. There must be easier ways for a woman with a perfectly good medical degree to support herself. Warmer ways. Drier ways. Ways which didn’t involve standing around in mud and water on a filthy January night in a cold driving rain, staring at a bloated and partially decomposed body.
She sneezed violently, took an incautious step back, and felt the icy water of the Rouge River slop into her boots. Again. She let out a yelp and an extremely unprofessional epithet, and renewed her grip on the sturdy tree branch which was her only secure link to dry land at this stage, although a couple of uniformed officers hovered on the bank within arm’s reach. The Rouge at this point was normally little more than a stream, placidly meandering through wilderness parkland north of the Toronto Zoo, but at the moment it was a rushing torrent with sufficient force and volume to carry a body down from somewhere upstream until it had lodged here in the roots of the tree to which she was now clinging tenaciously. Only a mile or two to the north, she thought bitterly, and it would have been in York Region and someone else’s problem.
Get on with it, Lambert, she told herself robustly, and called up the bank for someone to bring one of the lights a few inches closer.
Five minutes and another soaker later, she had still been unable to discover little more than that the corpse was indeed a corpse and was probably that of an elderly Asian man; but determining the cause of death, even presumptively, would have to wait until the body could be examined at the morgue, where even a refrigerated slab would be warmer and drier than here. Natalie had a gut feeling that the man had simply died of exposure, but being able to reach no more solid a conclusion than that was a poor return on spending what felt like half the night in such dismal conditions.
One of the cops helped her up the bank and took her over to a squad car. The driver had providentially just made a coffee run, and she was able to sit in relative warmth and sip steaming hot liquid until her teeth had stopped chattering. But none of that could touch the cold hard core of incipient hypothermia, which she knew could only be eased by a long, long soak in a steaming bath, followed by an undisturbed sleep in a bed piled with every blanket and comforter she possessed.
She waited until the body had been transferred to the coroner’s van, then got into her own car and followed the van back downtown. By the time the arrival of the unidentified man had been documented at the morgue, there was only half an hour left of her shift. With barely a third thought, she put her damp coat back on and headed homeward.
During the drive she pondered the choice of soothing hot beverage for drinking when she was finally warm and dry. Herbal tea, good for inducing sleep -- not that she was going to need any help for that. Was there any of that decadent hot chocolate left, she wondered? Of course some people swore by the efficacy of a hot toddy in preventing colds, and she was positive that one of those was brewing by now, if not double pneumonia. There was almost a full bottle of Canadian Club amongst her meagre stock of alcohol, left over from one of the rare occasions when she had friends over. But she really didn’t think she could face rye whiskey at seven in the morning.
The pleasant debate helped slightly to keep her mind off how cold she was getting again, until she reached the tree-lined midtown street where her apartment was located. Halfway down the block she realized that all the streetlights were out. The electric-powered door to her underground parking garage was yawning open, and inside the only illumination besides her car’s headlights came from a single light near the elevator.
“Oh no, no, no...”
No elevator, of course. She groped her way up the unlit stairwell, thanking heaven that she only lived on the second floor. Oh please, please let there at least be hot water...
When she finally made it into her stone-cold apartment, the first thing she did after tripping over the cat -- who promptly let his annoyance with the Arctic conditions prevailing in his home be known in no uncertain terms -- was to head for the kitchen and turn on the hot water tap. Water there certainly was, although the pressure was much lower than normal, but it was almost as cold as the Rouge River had been.
She leaned on the counter, feeling ready to sink onto the floor in a puddle and wail like Sydney, who was now rubbing against her legs, demanding to know why she wasn’t immediately restoring his comfort.
Automatically she found his bag of kitty chow and poured a generous amount in his dish, which kept him quiet while she considered her options. She knew for a fact that there weren’t enough blankets in her apartment -- probably not in the entire city -- to warm her up without that hot bath. Go to a hotel? She didn’t feel that she had the strength to drive back downtown, find somewhere to park, and go through the check-in process, without falling on her face through sheer exhaustion. Call Grace? Grace would put her up, but she lived on the other side of the city, and taking public transit, wouldn’t be home for another hour at least. She didn’t know anyone else who would welcome an unexpected guest at seven in the morning.
Well, she did know one person.
Fortunately the phone in the kitchen was working, and she knew the number well enough to dial it in the dark. It took three rings before the phone was answered, long enough for her heart to start pounding in anxiety in case no one was at home.
By the time she reached the loft Nick had filled the capacious tub in his second-floor bathroom, thankful that the water heater had recovered from its earlier exertions. He made noises of concern and sympathy over her bedraggled state, promised to have her clothes clean and dry by the time she was done, and escorted her upstairs, leaving her to sink into the steaming water and utter bliss.
She stayed there for so long that twice Nick came silently back to listen outside the door and check that she was all right, entertaining a morbid fear that she might fall asleep in the tub and slide under the water. However, eventually she emerged safely, flushed with hot water and scrubbing, dressed in an old pair of sweats that had been at the top of the drawer when she had grabbed a few essentials in the dark.
She found the leather couch swathed in sheets, comforters and pillows. The fireplace was exuding heat and there were more lights on than usual. Although it was now almost eight-thirty, the sky was still dark enough that Nick had only lowered the metal shutters partway, and the sound of the rain lashing against the windows produced only a sense of cosiness. The elements, doing their worst outside, were now powerless to impose their force and viciousness on the snugness inside.
Nick was sitting in the leather chair watching the fire. As Natalie came downstairs she gradually became aware of a sound that was familiar, but so out of context here that at first she didn’t recognize it: a cat busily chomping on kibble. Startled, she looked around for the source of the crunching and spied a half-grown orange and white cat on the floor in the kitchen, scarfing down the contents of a heaping bowl.
“Where on earth did he come from?” she exclaimed in delight.
At the sound of her voice, the cat bolted from the kitchen and vanished under the couch.
“I think he’s still a bit nervous,” said Nick unnecessarily. “Like you, he’s had a rough night. Would you like some soup?”
Natalie had been prepared to stoically accept a cup of Nick’s stored-under-the-sink instant coffee, so the offer of soup came as a pleasant surprise. She suddenly noticed a delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen. “Don’t tell me you’ve been cooking!”
“Hardly. No, Myra gave it to me along with the cat food. Sit down and I’ll bring it over.”
Natalie happily did as directed, burrowing into the layers of coverings on the couch and arranging the pillows to prop herself up while Nick carefully spooned out a bowl of soup from the pot simmering on the stove. It tasted as good as it smelled, and Natalie savoured it while Nick gave her a modestly abridged version of the night’s events. Like Myra, Natalie was appalled at the idea that anyone could have done such a thing to an innocent animal. But although she certainly appreciated Nick’s heroic efforts to rescue the cat -- even if at the time he thought he was saving crucial evidence to a murder -- she derived a great deal of amusement from the catalogue of diseases which Schanke had predicted would soon be afflicting his partner.
“He really came up with all those?” she marvelled. “He must have swallowed a medical dictionary. Well, just to make him feel better, I think you’d better come up with at least a sneeze or two for his benefit.”
Nick grinned. “Then he’d just think I had a nosebleed.”
“You’re probably right.” Natalie put the empty soup bowl down on the coffee table and snuggled deeper into her cocoon. “What a pack of drowned rats we all were,” she observed. “At least I didn’t have to get into the water over my head. What will you do with the cat?”
“I was going to take it in to the Humane Society. But now I’m wondering if the Schankes would take it.”
“Sounds perfect,” Natalie agreed sleepily.
There was a peaceful silence. Outside, the sky had lightened sufficiently for Nick to slide the shutters completely down. Traffic noise from the morning city was shut out, and the only sounds in the loft came from the rain on the skylight and the gentle hiss of the gas fire. The orange cat emerged from under the couch and hesitantly made its way across the open space to the afghan on the floor. Nick looked over at Natalie, who was by now almost asleep, and knew it was time for him to be upstairs in his own bed.
He turned out all but one low-burning table lamp, rinsed out the empty bowl in the kitchen, and headed for the stairs.
“Night, Nick,” called Natalie drowsily. “Thanks for putting me up like this. I didn’t think I’d ever be warm again.”
Nick paused on the landing and looked thoughtfully down at two of the three drowned rats sheltering in his home. “I know exactly what you mean,” he said.
- The End -
Notes: The idea for this piece of fluff came from the fact that I love cocooning after work in the long winter evenings. It’s almost worth getting chilled on the way home just to get warm and comfy again.
It’s also partly based on real-life events. A year or so ago, someone really did toss a cat into the Don. Fortunately, it was rescued, taken to the Toronto Humane Society, and subsequently adopted by its rescuers (who named it Moses). And a while before that, a police officer was in the news for jumping into the river to save a homeless man who had fallen in from one of the bridges.
The title came from the first of a three-part Toronto artwork, centred on the intersection of Queen and Broadview (coincidentally, the location of Jilly’s strip club from “Dance by the Light of the Moon”, and a few blocks from the buildings used as Nick’s loft and the 96th Precinct). Titled “Time: and a Clock”, the first part consists of an arch over the western end of the Queen St. bridge over the Don River, proclaiming, “This river I step in is not the river I stand in”. If anyone wants any more information about the sculpture, or to see a picture, try here.
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