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Corners of the Mind
last modified December 7, 2007
by Amy R.
PG-13. This fanfiction presumes familiarity with the entire third season of Forever Knight, particularly "Last Knight," "Ashes to Ashes," "The Human Factor" and "Fever." Further disclaimers, citations and credits are in the endnote.
"Shhhh, it's okay, Tracy," Paul smoothed her pale hair as she cried into his shoulder. "Whatever it is, I promise, sunny-girl, we'll work it out." The huge couch pillows her step-mother had given them for Christmas got in his way as he tried to pull all of her long body into his embrace, so he gave up on that gesture and rubbed her shoulders soothingly instead.
She tried to choke back the sobs, but they refused to stay inside, and finally ended up as a fierce case of hiccups. As soon as she began to laugh at herself, Paul laughed with her, and as she sat up on the couch, he slid to the floor at her feet. "Want to talk about it?" he asked quietly, taking her hands in his.
Tracy sniffled, shook her head, and leaned down to kiss him. "Not just yet, but thank you for asking." She smiled half-heartedly, and saw the pain of that false expression mirrored in his green eyes; it hurt worse that he had to taste her tears than it did to cry them. She clutched his hands as if she could explain just by the pressure of her fingers, and after a long moment, began to speak. "It's the nightmares. I think -- I think maybe they're real. I think maybe they belong to the year I lost after my head injury from the shooting, and I think . . . I think I didn't lose my memories, Paul." Tracy dropped her voice as if she was afraid she would be overheard. "I think they were taken from me."
~ ~ ~
If it had not begun on a night she could not remember, the night they said Dawkins had shot her, and Natalie's body had been found dead in Nick's loft under a pile of ash, it certainly began on a day she would never forget, the day she proposed to Paul.
Paul Stephen Spartali had crashed into Tracy Vetter's life three years before -- quite literally, smashing his brown Saturn into her blue Taurus at the corner of Queen and Spadina. He insisted that the accident was entirely her fault -- that she had been daydreaming at the wheel, as if there was anywhere she could have picked up such a bad habit -- and the insurance companies had been inclined to agree with him, as she had defied her doctor's orders in getting behind the wheel in the first place. But six ghastly months as a near-invalid under the care of one or the other of her parents after the hospital had finally released her had been quite as much as Tracy could stand, and she had been determined to prove her ability to take care of herself again. That had made the accident all the more infuriating -- and embarrassing, when it appeared that Sunday in his Toronto Star newspaper column.
Darnedest thing, her falling in love with a writer.
By the time the insurance companies decided the accident had been her fault, Paul -- whose car had come out rather more intact than hers -- had been driving her in to her desk job in Computer Operations every morning, and taking her home to her apartment every evening, for almost a month. Utterly certain of his own innocence in the matter, his insistent helpfulness had at first seemed repulsively arrogant to Tracy, the more so because that help was so necessary; she felt as if she had already imposed too much on everyone she knew, and if he had not been so helpful she might have been forced to turn to her parents again, the last thing on earth she wanted to do. She loved them -- she did -- but it was exhausting for even a healthy person to be their daughter, and since her dad had announced his engagement right on the heels of Uncle Sonny's death, things had only gotten worse. Her mom had managed to stay away from alcohol while she'd had an injured Tracy to occupy her whole attention, but as Tracy got better, and her dad's wedding day drew closer, her mom had gone to pieces.
The night before the wedding, Barbara Vetter had unexpectedly arrived at her daughter's apartment from Hamilton, and by the next morning had been in such a state that Tracy was as afraid to leave her alone as she was afraid not to appear at her father's ceremony. Both alternatives seemed to blare evil newspaper headlines in her head: "Commissioner's Daughter Protests Second Marriage" or "Commissioner's Ex-Wife Found Dead on Day of Second Wedding." In her memory, always insubstantial for things connected with her shooting, Tracy knew she was supposed to have people to turn to, friends she could rely on, but Bruce was in prison, Jody had gone who-knows-where, Linda from work was on shift, Aunt Shelly was already at the church, and . . . and . . . and the other names and faces slid away like ghosts.
She had not been able to think of anything to do but confide in Paul, and his response to her call had made her ashamed of being so stubbornly resentful of him before. He had given up his day off and spent it watching her mother, so she could watch her father make the vows to his Elizabeth that he had not kept to Barbara, rigidly following all the public forms of his religion, the public forms that were always so important to him. Tracy had prayed to whatever god or saint listened to dilettante worshipers like her, that her dad had done it right this time, and would be happy. When she had come home that evening, she had found her mother and Paul eating microwave popcorn and playing chess on her computer; she had not suspected that her mother knew how to play chess, much less that she would be in a state to do so any time soon. Her mother's little animated knight sliced off the head of Paul's queen while Tracy hung up her coat, check and mate, and the laughter that followed had rung strangely in Tracy's ears until she placed the unfamiliar tone: it was hardly either forced or faked.
As she had seen Paul down to his car, she had thanked him awkwardly and repetitively. At the landing he had stopped, taken her hands in his, and suddenly looked very handsome to her, with his thick, black hair, olive-brown complexion and the conspicuously green eyes that looked down at her from above his prominent nose. "Thank you for calling on me, Tracy," he said. "Thank you for letting me help." If he had moved to kiss her then, she would have kissed him back, and been embarrassed for it later. But he had not. And it had been up to her to ask him on a full-fledged date the next week, after which he had kissed her, and for responding to which she had never been the least bit sorry.
His protectiveness never seemed smothering to her, as she knew it might to other women, as she suspected it might have to the woman she had been before the shooting. But Paul's was not the marionette-manipulation that passed for protectiveness with her father, not a demand or an intrusion, not a way of placing her in his world; it was an abiding concern about how their world placed her. While he thought what he wished and said precisely what he thought -- on paper, when not aloud; it's not always easy being close to someone who is given fifteen square inches of newsprint to himself four times a week -- he had never acted against her request. He would argue with her from here to doomsday when the occasion arose, but he would never undermine her in deed. She believed that. What she had at first taken for arrogant self-aggrandizement was really his personal brand of complete honesty, the thing she would come to love most about him. With Paul, Tracy always knew exactly where she stood.
As she had on the evening of June 10, 1998, when Paul had taken her out to dinner to celebrate her first day back on the homicide squad, matched with Jason Abrams on his old partner's retirement. She had become accustomed to working days while she was stuck in Computer Ops, but back at the 96th, she had felt somehow out of sync until the sun went down and she met up with Paul at Azure; she had wished she could remember how the night had gotten into her blood like that. Before they had finished their salads, Paul had asked her to move in with him. It took her another two weeks to worry over the idea from every angle, and in the end, he had moved his mess into her highly-organized apartment instead of the other way around, but she had known what he wanted almost from the minute he knew himself -- and he had understood how important it was for her to make the decision herself, in her own time and on her own terms.
As she had on the morning of January 15, 2000, when she proposed to him. It had taken her months to work up the question; it took him minutes to say "yes," and even that only because his mouth was more immediately occupied in kissing her.
"So? What did he say?" Jason asked as Tracy sank into her desk chair at the precinct, smiling the smile that had made Paul dub her "sunny-girl," a smile that was in all the pictures of her from before the shooting, but had often been a stranger to her face since. Paul liked to coax it out from behind the clouds, and no one did so as well as him. "C'mon," Jason demanded, snatching her full coffee mug and pretending to hold it hostage. "So are you engaged now or what?"
"He said, 'yes,'" Tracy answered, smiling beatifically on the world in general and getting a brief round of applause from everyone who was listening in. She heard Banks ask Masters to confirm that today was his on the Vetter-initiative pool list, and to fork over the proceeds accordingly. "There was a pool on what Paul would say?" Tracy demanded incredulously.
"No. Of course not," her partner waved the idea away, his bushy black eyebrows briefly coming together in the middle of his forehead, like caterpillars on railway tracks, before he broke into an expansive grin. "The pool was on when you were going to get around to asking him, Trace." He paused for a second. "And there was also one on when he'd get around to asking you. Too bad they wouldn't let me in on it." He assumed a wounded expression. "'Privileged information,' my foot."
Tracy laughed, and recovered her coffee. "I wouldn't have told you I was going to ask him if I'd known you were going to tell the whole precinct, Jason."
"Yes, you would." He retorted. "You did. Since when can I keep juicy info like that under my belt? Speaking of which, how did you ask him?"
"How did you ask the ME for those drug results on the Swafford case?" Reese interrupted, dropping a manila folder on Jason's desk. "That would be the better question, don't you think? Congratulations, Vetter; we're all happy for you, wish you the best; but now how's about doing some police work, hmm?"
"Sure thing, Cap," Tracy replied, with a smile that clearly intended to hold its spot on her face all day. It did not waver an inch as she drove Jason and herself down to the Coroner's building, insisting all the way that using the magnetic poetry set on the refrigerator door to spell out "Paul, will you marry me? Tracy" was in fact incredibly romantic, if you just understood the situation. Paul was always trying to get her to use the magnets to bring out her creative side, and she was always trying to convince him that she didn't have a creative side to bring out. They had gotten into a mock battle the night before, in which she would alphabetize a series of what she insisted were totally unrelated words, and he would then read them out in his rich, flexible voice and make it clear that the more rigidly logical she became, the more poetic he found her.
They had taken the "battle" into the bedroom, and declared a mutually satisfactory peace about an hour later. Tracy had woken up immediately with the alarm, as usual, but instead of heading directly for the shower after turning on the coffee machine, she had cleared the refrigerator of all the extraneous magnets, leaving only the all-important question. Paul had reluctantly dragged himself out of bed while she had the water running, as usual, and had headed for the orange juice that was as vital to him as her coffee was to her. When she had finally stepped out of the bathroom, after agonizing over every possible response he might have, he had offered one she had not immediately thought of: a kiss that very probably would have led to the necessity for another shower if she had not been due in at the precinct momentarily.
"Yes," he had said, when they came up for air. "Absolutely. I love you. Thank you so much for asking."
And so Jason had just had to take her word for it about the magnets.
The current day-shift Medical Examiner, a man named Fowler who always made Tracy think more of a tax clerk than a proper ME -- though she could barely muster a clear mental image of the woman she knew must have formed her idea of a proper ME -- had the drug reports finished for them when they arrived. It took him several minutes to find them, however, by virtue of his patented mathematical filing system. As he was looking for the reports, a lab worker wheeled in a new corpse and Fowler said, over his shoulder, "Could you please just put it in the freezer, Alice? And fill out the prelim card? I'm swamped. No, it's not in this drawer. What if I put it under . . ." He closed the "600" drawer and began looking under "250-300." "Detective Vetter, I know you've spent some time around here; can you help Alice? 'Drugs: Smith,' 'Drugs: Stanley,' 'Drugs: Stanton' . . . ."
"Sure," Tracy answered the inattentive ME, and winked at her bored partner. Jason mouthed "'some time,' indeed," and rolled his eyes; Tracy nodded noncommittally. Sometimes she thought Fowler was the only person on staff who did not think she must be queasy about morgues since the shooting, and whatever his other faults, she did appreciate that about him. She had woken up, barely conscious but alive, in the hospital morgue the morning after she had been shot, misfiled like a stray piece of paperwork by a too-efficient system in a mistake all the more horrifying for being so simple, so unintentional, and so nearly fatal.
Tracy held open the door of the freezer room as the young woman rolled in the body in her charge, shaking away those memories with long-practiced ease. Tracy flipped on the light, and picked up the standard prelim card from a stack on the meticulously-kept supply shelf outside the door while Alice searched for a pen in the pocket of her lab coat.
"Thanks," the girl said, taking the card from Tracy and setting it on a counter as she began to fill it in. "Detective Vetter, would you mind terribly just opening up the bag while I get this started? Doctor Fowler gets awfully picky about power waste for the lights and fans in here, and the sooner we're back out, the happier he'll be." The girl sighed, and Tracy smiled sympathetically; the sympathy for having to work under a pointlessly exacting boss was sincere, but a smile seemed to be the only expression in her repertoire that day.
Until she unzipped the body bag.
Tracy shivered as if someone had just walked over her grave, and for the first time, she understood that old saying. She woke in her own bed, her throat slit centuries before. She flew to her own window, and saw the ghost of a childhood friend beckon her to destruction. She hid under her own covers and ignored the knocking on her windowpane, knowing that nothing could keep the knocker out if he really wanted in, and terrified that inside might be where she really wanted him.
"Detective Vetter?" Alice asked, concerned. "Are you all right? The body seemed pretty intact, especially for coming through such--"
"I know this man," Tracy breathed, barely loud enough to hear.
"That's great!" the intern enthused. "We don't have any identification on him at all! I mean -- I'm sorry, Detective. Was he a friend?"
Tracy reached a hand slowly toward the black hair -- long and tangled, not clipped and sleek like Paul's -- that surrounded the pale, dead face, and was almost surprised to see that hand steady and calm. She froze. She saw another hand, held apart from its wrist. She held hands with a dying man, and saw a defiant, cocky gleam in his eyes that made dawn mean death. She ran her hand over the top of a new grave, dug and filled in one dark night, watered liberally with blood and tears, until no more of either could be spared.
"I don't know," she whispered desperately. And suddenly, the memory that had been jarred open like a trunk dropped on the pavement reversed itself, sucking everything she had built since the shooting into the cracks in everything she had lost. Tracy fainted.
The sensation seemed somehow comfortingly familiar, actually, she thought as she surrendered to the blackness, though she knew none of her medical records mentioned her ever doing such a thing. Her final conscious thought groaned that Jason was never going to let her live this down.
She came to her senses on the floor of the freezer room less than a minute later, woozy more from the foul-smelling thing the officious coroner had held under her nose than from the faint itself, and completely unable to recall who the unidentified corpse had reminded her of. She strode out of the room as soon as she could get Fowler and Jason out of her face long enough to get to her feet, and since she was fine, otherwise, managed to laugh it off as a consequence of too little sleep, too much excitement, the smells of the morgue, and the body's remote resemblance to Paul: a black-haired, white male. Jason hinted that he wanted to drag her down to the hospital anyway, but she was stubborn and insistent, pushing him to interview Swafford's sister as soon as possible in light of the finally-produced drug results, and at last he assented. They had been partners almost two years, and if Jason thought a certain focused squeamishness -- understandable in light of what she had been through -- was her one Achilles heel, he was perfectly willing to protect it for her; that's what partners did, after all, and in his fifteen years with badge and shield, he had never known a more devoted cop than Tracy Vetter. She knew that was what he thought, because she had overheard him say as much in her behalf more than once, whenever her father's rank or her memory's impairment made people question her behind her back.
Tracy's insistence on tracking down Miss Swafford turned out to be a good move, case-wise, and, thanks to some help from Vice, they had both the prime murder suspect and Swafford's dealer in custody by late afternoon. Tracy was smiling again as she and Jason returned to their desks, she to fill out the on-line forms and he to write up the officer's-perspective report. But as soon as they sat down, Reese came out of his office, his brow deeply furrowed. "You're not going to believe this, Vetter. I'm not sure I believe it myself. Beats me how they could misplace--" He paused for a moment, shook his head, and then started over. "Fowler just called up from the Coroner's Office, and apparently a John Doe you helped tag this morning -- white male, mid-twenties, black hair, about 5'10"? -- is, well, gone."
The nightmares began that night.
Or, rather, they returned. With reinforcements. In the months immediately after Tracy had first awakened in the hospital morgue, she'd had the same nightmare almost every night: a tall, pale man, with closely-cropped blond hair, standing over her in a black coat, his expression both horrifying and somehow pitiable, his eyes red with unnatural fire . . . and with tears. She had come to herself in the morgue, she had thought, staring endlessly into those red eyes, unable to move, unable even to look away until he broke the connection himself. She had felt like a fish on the end of an angler's line. "I promised him," the man in her nightmare had said then, looking down at his hands and intoning the words like a dirge. "And in my own way, I always . . . keep . . . my promises." Then he had disappeared.
Doctor Kadlec, Tracy's therapist since shortly before the shooting, had led her to understand that the dream was not a memory, but the coping mechanism invented by a mind that had hovered between life and death, and perhaps a manifestation of the guilt she felt for outliving Doctor Lambert, and, presumably, her partner, Nick Knight. Tracy had accepted Doctor Kadlec's explanation -- embraced it, even -- but though she was glad to fend off the nightmare with the secure conviction that her subconscious pictured Death as a demonic cliché in a black suit, she wondered how she could feel guilt for outliving people she could hardly recall.
That lack of memory, though, she did grieve. She knew she ought to miss her partner and her coworker; she was told she ought to mourn them as friends. And so, while dismissing the nightmare as imagination only, she had clung to the few flashes of memory she did possess, like switching the station on the radio of Nick's car away from some awful talk-show, and sitting on the floor of the morgue as Natalie handed her an oxygen mask. It was not as if that year was entirely missing from her memory, really; it was more as if someone had come along and tried his best to cut out all the scenes with the supporting players.
Captain Reese had come to see her now and then while she was recovering, and once had told her about the time Nick had lost his memory; she had laughed at Nick's immediate assumption that his partner must be male, been glad to hear that they had solved the case in tandem, and disturbed to hear about the perp's death. Reese had assured her that her memory would come back, just as Nick's had, and that story had become a talisman in her fight to get well, and, later, a bond to the partner, friend and self she had lost.
From the moment the anonymous body disappeared from the morgue, however, that bond began to strangle her. The night of the day she proposed to Paul, Tracy dreamed again of the tall, pale man with the demon's eyes, but instead of waking up at his departure as she always had before, she saw him fall, as if into one of the holes in her memory, and then, suddenly, she was holding a baby in what looked like a battlefield, and Nick was kneeling beside her, clutching Schanke's boarding pass. She set the baby on its feet, and it became a boy, who clutched a picture of her partner and called him, "Uncle Nicholas," and then turned into little Susan Feldman with her sled, and then an older girl, who would not reveal where she had hidden a knife, and then a young woman, who asked Tracy if she had ever wanted to die.
"No," Tracy replied, confused, looking down to find a wooden stake in her hand.
"Too bad," the girl grinned, wide-eyed, and turned into the corpse that had disappeared from the morgue. "The first time around, it was the most erotic thing I ever experienced."
Tracy woke up after that, to Paul gently shaking her shoulder. "Tracy. Tracy," he repeated softly, as if to avoid jarring her re-entry into the waking world. "You're having a nightmare, Tracy."
She sat up slowly and drew her knees to her chin, clasping her hands around her ankles. "The nightmare."
At that, Paul switched on the lamp on his nightstand, appraising her flushed features. He drew her back onto the pillows, and told her silly stories until she fell asleep again. They were stories he had invented for his little brother Matt during the hard years right after their father had died, when their mother had had to work nights and he had been responsible for getting them both supper and sleep, so Tracy drifted off to a tale of a frog that lived in a cave and convinced everyone it was a fearsome monster by speaking through a megaphone. The townspeople were afraid at first, but when the theft of the megaphone from the general store was discovered, they understood what had happened, and decided to keep the frog's secret and make the monster into a tourist attraction that drew silly vacationers from all over the world.
Tracy missed the second half of the story the first time, but had the opportunity to hear it again when her nightmare disturbed Paul the next night. And the next. After that, she took to sleeping on the couch in simple fairness, and Paul asked if she had thought of calling Doctor Kadlec.
"And what would I say to her?" Tracy demanded impatiently. She mimed picking up the phone. "Hi, doc, this is Tracy Vetter and I'm having nightmares about vampires. No, I'm not crazy, and please don't tell my captain?"
Paul swiveled his chair away from his computer so he could catch her eyes. "No, you are not crazy, and no, she can't tell Reese: doctor-patient privilege. And no, your nightmares are probably not about vampires; the vampires must symbolize something. Like sex. Or fears of being trapped and used." He turned quickly back to his computer at that, and commenced typing furiously. "Or something. Food, cleaning products, whatever. I don't know."
Tracy watched his back for a moment, and then walked up behind him, placing her arms around his neck. "I love you, Paul," she whispered urgently. "I swear, this isn't about us. It can't be."
He had stilled his fingers on the keyboard so as not to drown out her words, and then raised them to her hands, and brought her hands to his lips. "Then let someone help you find out what it is about, okay?"
"I'll think about it," she replied.
In fact, she spent the next five days trying to avoid thinking about it, until the next time her day off coincided with Paul's. They had planned on going to look at rings, but in the end, neither one of them had been in the mood, so Paul decided to go in to the paper after all, and Tracy sacked out on the couch with a stack of newsmagazines, a plate of chocolate-chip cookies, and every intention of winning an uninterrupted nap.
She did not.
Tracy dropped off somewhere between an article on a massacre in the middle east and one on the increasing efficacy of vitamin supplements, but instead of finding ages-old battles or new medical miracles in her dreams, she found, again, the image of Death. "In my own way, I always . . . keep . . . my promises," he said, as she knew he would, but instead of disappearing this time, he extended a hand to help her up off the gurney, and she found herself able to stand.
"Very good, Miss Vetter," he congratulated her. "Or, should I say, Detective?"
"Am I on duty?" she asked, looking down at the hospital gown she wore.
"Oh, you do have a case to solve," he informed her. "But your shield is of little use here." He gestured as if to draw her attention to their surroundings, and the morgue melted into some sort of club, with pounding music and decorative chains. "Have you read any good books lately?" he asked. "Killing Mind? Exorcism in the Modern World?" She shook her head; they did not sound familiar. Raising one eyebrow at her ignorance, Death seated himself at the bar, picked up a raven-handled obsidian knife from the counter, and calmly sliced off Tracy's right hand, catching the blood in a goblet. It did not hurt, and that was as shocking as the act itself. She looked up at him. "Would you like something to drink?" he asked, offering her the goblet under her wrist. "No? Too bad." He drained it himself, and then kissed her on the forehead with his bloody lips, leaving a print she could somehow feel. "Compliments of Rosebud," he informed her before strolling away.
A hand tapped her on the shoulder to get her attention. It was her own, and the rat-faced man holding it bowed deeply to her. "Yer rooker, I don't doubt me, missy. Too pretty a paw fer the likes o' 'im." He jerked his head at someone in the shadows behind him, and then dropped his voice. "Confidenteel-like, blondie, Enrique from the clinic in Rio ain't really the sort o' bloke a lady like yerself oughter be 'angin' on the words o', if yer don' min' me sayin' so. 'e'll take yer 'eart, 'e will."
The body that had disappeared from the morgue stepped out of the shadows holding its own right hand in a jar. "Do you want me to take your heart, Trace?" he asked, a half-smile on his face. She shivered at the strange sensuousness of the question. "Your body? Your blood?"
"Who are you?" Tracy demanded.
"She don' rekkernize yer, mate."
"I know, Screed," the other man said, placing his jar on the floor and unscrewing its lid with his one attached hand. "Figures that the high-and-mighty Knight finally gave in and asked his daddy to take care of his little mortal problem." He pulled out the pickled hand, placed it on his wrist, and wriggled his fingers. He grinned. "Know me now, Trace?"
His face fell, slightly, and he seemed to ponder a moment. Then he came and stood directly in front of her, gently replacing her own hand on her wrist. She wriggled her fingers, and he placed a ripe apricot in her palm. "Know me now?" he breathed on her cheek.
He sighed, kissed her quickly, and stepped back. "Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow," he recited. "But soon, and for the rest of your life."
"Vachon!" she blurted out, her eyes going wide. She moved as if to embrace him, but stopped midstep and wrapped her arms around herself protectively. "Why did you leave me?"
"Why did Rick leave Ilsa?"
"This isn't a movie."
"Is it not?" asked Death urbanely, appearing next to Vachon with his empty goblet still in hand. "I think it rather depends upon which reel you are watching."
"Telly," Screed voted, disengaging for a second from the mouthful of rat he had found somewhere.
"Ah, and baby makes three," Death noted, his eyes suddenly narrowing. "But he was subtracted by the plague on our house, crossed out of the equation like the Spaniard's brother. Who is missing, Detective?" he asked grimly. "One, two, three; minus the carouche leaves two. The sum should be three. Who is missing?"
"It's the last piece of the puzzle, Trace, I promise," Vachon said. "Who's missing?"
Tracy looked at each one in turn, and then helplessly back at Vachon. He spread his hands, as if to say he had done all he could. Screed looked at her pityingly over his rodent, and Death sneered and began to walk away. That stung her pride, and she looked down to find herself wearing her leather coat, with her badge and gun underneath. Vachon, she knew. Screed, she knew. Death . . . .
"Hold it right there, Lacroix!" she drew her gun on him. "The Kharam decapitation case is still unsolved." Lacroix is the owner of the Raven, she thought. Lacroix is the Nightcrawler. Nick is a big fan of the Nightcrawler. Nick . . . .
"Omigod." She pulled up her aim. "It's Nick, isn't it?"
And with that, Tracy awoke.
The dream did not stay with her intact -- dreams never do -- but as she had promised herself through her image of Vachon, she finally had all the pieces in front of her. Whatever had been blocking her memories all these years had at last collapsed under the onslaught of the past week, and she felt as if someone had scattered a million-piece puzzle on the floor and then taken away the box. She had no picture, no plan, but for the first time in four years, she had her life, and she meant to hang on to it.
Tracy paced back and forth, thinking. First in front of the couch, then in a horseshoe shape around the bed, then around the entire perimeter of the apartment. It got her thoughts flowing, but they kept flowing in circles. Still thinking, she started cleaning, scrubbing and sweeping and dusting everything that came to hand. By the time the apartment was in order, so should have been her thoughts -- they always had been before. Tracy had not been able to remember a time when she could not organize her way into mental security and emotional control -- until then. Finally, she sat down in the center of the couch and began examining the fluffy pillows her father and Elizabeth had given her and Paul at Christmas, turning each one around and checking the seams, her thoughts four years, one species, and an entire lifetime away.
When Paul came home, he dropped a perfunctory kiss on her forehead and strode straight through into the kitchen, diving into the refrigerator for a Pepsi and clinking the cookie jar on the table as he surfaced. "You won't believe what Janice did today," she heard him say, and stilled her hands for a moment as she tried to place the name: oh, the new assistant editor. "Cavewoman Editor Strikes Again," he gestured out the headline melodramatically. "Unbelievable. I'm going in deep with the comfort food here, Tracy; do you want an orange Shasta or something?"
She started to shake her head, but changed her mind. "Yeah. Thanks. So what did Janice do now?"
"Well, to start with, she told Tony that from now on . . . Tracy? What's wrong?"
"What do you mean, 'what's wrong?'"
Paul leaned on the kitchen counter and stared across the room at her with concern. "Not only is the entire magnetic poetry set alphabetized, which you haven't done since before your mom went back to AA," he observed carefully, "it is subdivided into parts of speech, right down to prepositions and interrogatives."
"I . . ." Unable to find any words, Tracy suddenly felt all the hours she had spent mining her own memory condense like a rain cloud. She tried to blink back the tears she felt battering the backs of her eyes, and grabbed up the next pillow so fiercely that it split its seams, the stuffing suddenly bursting out in a huge, undifferentiated mass, the way she felt her memories had done. It was too much, and the tears began streaming down her face in complete defiance of her orders to them. So many deaths she had not been able to mourn, so much time lost, so many tears owed. Paul came out and sat next to her on the couch.
"Shhhh, it's okay, Tracy," Paul smoothed her hair and cradled her against him as she cried. "Whatever it is, I promise, sunny-girl, we'll work it out." The huge couch pillows got in his way as he tried to pull all of her long body into his embrace, so he gave up on that gesture and rubbed her shoulders soothingly instead.
As the tears turned into sobs, Tracy tried to choke them back; but they refused to stay inside, and finally ended up as a ridiculous case of hiccups. As soon as she began to laugh at herself, Paul laughed with her, and as she sat up on the couch, he slid to the floor at her feet. "Want to talk about it?" he asked quietly, and took her hands in his.
Tracy sniffled, shook her head, and leaned down to kiss him. "Not just yet, but thank you for asking." She smiled half-heartedly, and saw the pain of that false expression mirrored in his green eyes; it hurt worse that he had to taste her tears than it did to cry them. She clutched his hands as if she could explain just by the pressure of her fingers, and certainly she wished she could, that her knowledge could be transmitted whole for him to believe. After a long moment, she began to speak, her words murky, but her voice knife-edged with a tense certainty as she vocalized her conclusion for the first time. "It's the nightmares. I think -- I think maybe they're real. I think maybe they belong to the year I lost after my head injury from the shooting, and I think . . . I think I didn't lose my memories, Paul." Tracy dropped her voice as if she was afraid she would be overheard. "I think they were taken from me."
Paul leaned back against the coffee table. "How? By whom?"
"I had another nightmare shortly after you left." Tracy played absently with the pillow stuffing. "Only this time, everything made sense. Paul . . ." she looked at him, as if evaluating him for the first time. This was dangerous ground she would be leading him onto, but without his help, she doubted she could make it out herself. She wavered just a moment. "I think I have all my memories back, now. All of them. And it's a very long story, and not one you're going to want to believe."
She did. She told him what she had never been able to before, from memory instead of report: what it had felt like to watch that plane explode in the sky, to doll up for that TV talk-show, to have to kill a man to save her own life, and, within days, to have to kill again to save her partner's. She told him what it had been like to work with Nick Knight, such a good man and such a lousy partner; what it had been like trying to come to terms with Natalie Lambert, whom Tracy believed had never quite forgiven her for not being Don Schanke; what it had been like to work for Reese when he was insecure in his job, when he knew the worst of her father through his covering for Bruce, and yet still fawned over him at every opportunity; what it had been like to meet a young-looking man who introduced himself as Javier Vachon, and the turn her life had taken after she proved resistant to his attempt at hypnotism.
She told Paul about vampires, about coming across and first hunger, about hypnotism and Enforcers, about blood connoisseurs and bottled blood. She told him that Vachon was Fowler's missing corpse. She told him everything she had learned about that wrinkle in their reality -- everything, except that her own blood spoke of apricots and calla lilies. For now, she kept that to herself.
She told him about the unsolved Kharam decapitation case, and how Vachon had called her up claiming to have information but, instead, had only wanted to tell her goodbye. It was time to move on, the vampire had told her, time to finish the plane trip Vudu had interrupted. The very sparseness of his explanation had seemed typical of Vachon, and she filled in his motivation herself without a second thought; she supposed he did not want to stay where Screed had died. He had been a good friend, a vampire who had decided it was time to move on, and she told Paul how, so soon after that, the last thing she had seen as Dawkins's bullets had smashed her back against the locker-room wall, was Nick, fangs extended and eyes glowing.
And she told him that the man from her dream might or might not represent death, but certainly bore a pronounced resemblance to Lucien Lacroix, the last owner of that defunct nightclub, the Raven, and that she believed her dream a memory, after all; that Vachon had lied in denying Lacroix was a vampire, and that Lacroix must have been the one to hypnotize away her memories, invading her mind while the hospital thought her dead.
Why he had done that instead of simply draining her, she did not know.
Tracy's recital was followed by a long silence, as both she and Paul lost themselves in their respective thoughts. Eventually, she asked: "What do you think?"
"I think, sunny-girl," Paul answered, standing up and kissing her on the forehead, "that it is way past midnight, and that if we're smart, we'll eat a couple of sandwiches, brush our teeth, go to sleep, and talk about it in the morning."
"Paul, I'm not crazy," Tracy said, standing up and hugging him for reassurance. If she had doubted herself before beginning her tale, the act of sharing it with him had made it clear; this was the world as she had known it, and now knew it again. "And I needed you to know."
He held her in silence until she moved to step away, and then followed her into the kitchen. She put two knives and four pieces of bread on the cutting board -- plastic: wood is more sanitary, she had insisted stubbornly, and refused to let his plastic "germ trap" near her food . . . until she had found his high-school shop-class signature painted on the bottom -- and retrieved the peanut butter from the cabinet while he went into the refrigerator for the jam.
"I'm trained to be a reporter," he began as they each covered two pieces of bread with the condiment they held. He stated it slowly, as if she could have forgotten that fact somehow. "That's just another word for 'detective,' Tracy, and you have to consider what your story sounds like without corroboration or evidence."
"And what does it sound like?" she asked, slicing her sandwich corner to corner and his from side to side.
"It sounds," he said evenly, "as if your memories have resurfaced and accidentally brought most of your subconscious along with them. I think you should call Doctor Kadlec, and see if she can help you sort out which is which."
Tracy leaned back against the cabinets and munched on her sandwich. There was something weirdly appropriate about eating lunch food for supper in the wee hours of the morning, as if life could get any weirder at this point. "Based on the evidence you have, that's a reasonable conclusion. You don't have tomorrow off, do you?"
Paul shook his head. "But since I put in an appearance today, I can take it off. No problem."
"Good. I'll make you a deal. Tomorrow, we will go looking for corroboration. If we don't find anything, I'll call Doctor Kadlec. If we do, you'll help me find Vachon . . . and Lacroix. Deal?"
Tracy smiled distantly, her thoughts occupied measuring the span between the world she knew and the one she had just recovered, checking off which signposts still stood by the roadside of the long route she had traveled from one to the other. The two of them finished their sandwiches, brushed their teeth, and got ready for bed, as Paul had suggested.
"Paul?" Tracy asked, after they had lain in the dark for a few minutes.
"Mnnn-hnn?" he responded, sleepily.
"I never told you why I went to Doctor Kadlec in the first place, did I?"
"You didn't use to remember, and she wouldn't tell you."
"It was after the LoPietro case. She was helping me with regression to see if I had been killed by a vampire in a former life," Tracy informed him, and wondered if he could hear the smug grin in her voice. "Good night." She turned over, promptly falling into a peaceful, dreamless slumber; those memories that had fought so hard to regain their rightful place in her conscious thoughts were content with the spoils of their victory, and her subconscious was surprised to find itself no longer cramped in its corner of her mind. She slept well.
Tracy suspected that Paul, on the other hand, had ended up tossing and turning for a good while over the news that Doctor Kadlec was very possibly not going to be as much help as he had supposed.
In the morning -- very late morning, admittedly -- Tracy and Paul set off in her car, she driving while he used her cell phone to call in and book off work, both of them wearing jeans and sweaters under their winter coats. Shutting the phone and setting it on the seat between them, Paul noted that they were headed away from the water rather than toward it. "I thought we were going to start by checking the carouche's grave?"
"We are," Tracy answered. "If Vachon is at the church, he's not going anywhere until after sundown -- and probably not even then, knowing him, if some place isn't functioning as a replacement for the old Raven. And I want to start where I know something is to be found. But first we're running by the new Loblaws to pick up some garlic and stakes."
"Garlic and stakes?" Paul echoed. "Accusing you of being prepared is like accusing a fish of being wet, but, legends aside, what makes you think those will be any good? And what about crosses?"
"You're wearing your little crucifix around your neck, right? You always do, so that should cover any possibilities on that end. Garlic, I know for sure," Tracy said, flipping on her turn signal as she approached the intersection. "I once had a pizza delivered to the church, and they brought garlic sauce for the breadsticks. Vachon refused to be in the same room with it: said it gave him a headache." She pulled into the store parking lot. "I don't think it's deadly, like in the movies or anything, but no one is going to bite us if we've smeared garlic butter on our necks, believe me."
"Oh, I don't know," Paul leered mildly at her as they got out of the car, and then winked before heading toward the building. "So how about the stakes? You said that you'd seen both him and his brother -- the Inca? -- survive bullets, so your gun's logically no help, but I don't remember anything specific about stakes."
Tracy stopped for a second, unintentionally holding open the automatic door by occupying its sensor. "That's funny," she said quietly. "I'm absolutely positive that a stake through the heart is fatal, but I can't remember why I think that." She pondered for a moment, and then went all the way into the store. Keeping her voice low, she continued, "But we really shouldn't be talking about this in public, anyway, daytime or no daytime."
Paul nodded, and offered to fetch the garlic butter, leaving the stakes to her expertise. Tracy asked him to pick up some whole cloves, too, and then headed back to the newly-expanded hardware and garden departments; Loblaws had bought into the US "one-stop shopping" trend two years before, and begun expanding. The store seemed to have more products under its one roof every time she came.
It bothered her that she could not attach her confidence in the efficacy of a stake to any solid incident. She had dismissed word-of-mouth on vampires ever since the first night she saw Vachon's reflection in her bedroom mirror, so she was sure it was not some remnant of popular culture, but, then, what was it? For almost four years, she had been used to her memory holding back on her, but that just made this the more frustrating, as she had thought herself finally free and completely in possession of her past. It nagged at her, too, that the waterfront felt so indisputably like the proper place to start searching for Vachon. Logic proffered the church, and instinct swatted it aside with Screed's final resting place.
A boy with a nametag and blue apron directed her to where the plant stakes were kept, next to the grass seed that would certainly sit unsold for the next month or two, at least. Pointed in blunt little triangles for pushing into soil, the rectangular wooden shafts were hardly sharp enough for Tracy's purpose, and they seemed ridiculously flimsy. She wandered out of the garden section over to the lumber aisle, finding another boy in a nametag and blue apron to direct her to the sturdy stakes used to secure frames for concrete pouring. These looked much more as she imagined a vampire-killing stake should. Hefting one, Tracy shivered under an intense feeling of deja vu. She lashed out with the stake experimentally, as if to stab at the level of her own heart, and the feeling disappeared with the movement.
"Who are we planning to stab, anyway?" Paul asked, coming up behind her so unexpectedly that Tracy whirled on him and knocked the groceries out of his hands. They both knelt on the floor to pick them up, and Paul continued, "I mean, except for this Lacroix, all the va--"
"Don't," Tracy interrupted him, shortly. "Public."
Paul changed horses without missing a beat: "--people you've mentioned are, or were, anyway, actually friends of yours."
Handing the bag of garlic cloves back to Paul, Tracy picked up three more stakes and nodded her head to indicate they would do. As they approached the check-out counter, she said, "Of my friends, Paul, two are dead and one hasn't seen in me in four years, and as far as I might have trusted them, I don't for a minute trust those who might have taken their places."
"Good point," he acknowledged, handing over the garlic so she could pay for everything at once.
On the way to the shore, Paul stared at the small tub of garlic butter in his lap. "Is this really necessary, Tracy?"
"Probably not," she replied serenely. "But on the off chance that someone with extra-long eyeteeth is wandering around in forty-million-SPF sunblock this lovely winter day, we'll do it anyway. Besides," she grinned without taking her eyes from the road. "We'll just have Italian for dinner and no one will know the difference; there are Luigi's coupons in the glove compartment." She hesitated, the grin lapsing. "I know you're mostly humoring me so far, Paul, and that's really why I'm trying to take precautions. Until you understand what you might encounter . . . ."
"You want to protect me from the consequences of my own ignorance?" He stretched his arm behind her and gave her left shoulder a quick squeeze. "I appreciate that. And," he sighed exaggeratedly, "I'll put the butter on my neck now."
When they found a parking space on the land side of Cherry Beach, Tracy rubbed some garlic butter on her own neck, and left long, greasy marks where she wiped her fingers along the seams of her jeans. As she and Paul strolled toward the shore, Tracy thought that they would have looked like any other young couple with their arms around each other during a romantic walk in the park -- that is, if it hadn't been a weekday afternoon in the middle of winter, and if they hadn't each been carrying a wooden stake in their free hand.
"This is it," Tracy announced, stopping a few feet from where she knew Screed had been buried, on the border of the grass-bearing soil just before the land sloped down to the water. "I suppose we're lucky there's been so little snow, lately. It's been years, so this is really a longshot, but . . ." She paused, and continued more contemplatively. "It just felt right to start looking for Vachon here, somehow. I wanted to pay my respects, I guess. Screed scared the heck out of me a few times, but in between, he was always nice, even polite, in his own, strange way. And Vachon loved him like a brother." She squatted down where she knew the foot of the grave to be, and traced out a border that existed only in her memory. Any mark of Screed's burial had long since dissolved under the wind and rain and traffic of four long years. "Well, not like his brother, perhaps," she smiled to herself. "Brothers by choice, much more deeply bound."
Paul stood quietly behind Tracy for most of her reminiscence, but toward the end he moved off slightly to her left. "Tracy," he called for her attention. "We can't tell if Screed is there without digging him up, and I don't know what might or might not be there after four years, but look at this." Paul gestured to the ground at his feet, sweeping his arm along to indicate a large, oblong area. It was fairly unremarkable to casual examination, but with her attention drawn, it was clear that the ground had been disturbed, and the sod replaced in frozen chunks. Tracy strode several yards away to make a comparison, and then returned.
"It's been dug up," she said, meeting his eyes. "Those are spade marks."
Paul nodded his agreement. "Within the last two weeks or so, I'd say. Maybe a bit less. Do you know anyone in forensics you can get to look at it?"
Tracy shook her head. "They might find Screed's body, and if it hasn't gone to ash, there would be an awfully unusual dental structure for the ME to explain -- and if the ME does his job right, he could bring down the Enforcers on himself. And maybe us. We couldn't risk it."
"Well, there isn't supposed to be any digging around here, much less burying, so whatever happened here is somehow out of line," Paul noted. "We just don't know exactly how. Is there any chance that you could have mistaken Screed's grave by a few feet, that it's over here instead?"
Tracy folded her arms across her chest and began pacing the length of the disturbed ground. "No. I marked it by the angles from the lightpole and the bench here, and the CN Tower across the water. Believe me, Screed's plot is undisturbed. So the question is, whose plot is disturbed? And were they buried, or unburied? And why next to Screed?" She continued to pace for a minute in silence, and then walked up several yards to the park bench and sat down.
Paul joined her. "What is it?"
"Nick," she answered quietly. "I just thought to myself that I wished Nick were here. I've never thought that before, you know, because I didn't use to remember him, really, and it brought me up short. Then I thought, the reason I wished he were here, was that he always had the most amazing instincts about these kinds of problems. And then I realized, it wasn't instinct at all; he was a vam-- person. And then I thought I'd better sit down."
They sat for a while, undisturbed except for the occasional call of a gull headed inland toward a fast-food restaurant's dumpster. Paul broke the silence. "So neither of us are able to determine the status of the disturbance here, only that there has been some sort of disturbance in the vicinity of the spot where you believe Screed is buried. Right?"
Tracy nodded. "And we're not likely to get any more information out of the ground on our own. Ready to move on?"
Heading back to the car, Paul joked, "Do you want me to drive? You've got that abstracted look on your face again."
"Don't be ridiculous," Tracy retorted, arching her eyebrows at him and pulling out her keychain to flip off the car alarm. "That's Nick, not me." She paused as she opened her door, leaning on the frame. "I hadn't thought of that before."
"It's Nick's fault that I-- that we crashed into each other in the first place. He was always getting lost in his thoughts while he was driving, and just barely pulling out of collisions, even with vam-- personal senses to depend on." Tracy came out of the memory and grinned up at Paul. "Something you and I don't have. I blame him. Entirely. Tell the insurance people to raise his premiums and put mine back the way they were."
"Well then," Paul responded, putting his arms around her waist and pulling her close. "All thanks to your deceased partner's ghost. We might never have met if he hadn't ruined your ability to drive."
Tracy narrowed her eyes and swatted at his shoulder. They both laughed, and then kissed very briefly before stepping back and getting into the car. Tracy wrinkled her nose. "Italian?"
"Italian," Paul confirmed, stifling a sneeze.
"Two more stops before dinner, though," she informed him as she backed out of her parking space and got them back on the road. "First, the deBrabant Shelter -- the old Raven -- and then Vachon's church."
"But Bellevue Avenue is closer," Paul objected. "Why not hit the church first?"
"No matter what it is these days, I don't really want to be poking around the site of the Raven after dark without one of its own kind on my side," Tracy replied. "Do you? No, don't answer that. I know we're still short on admissible evidence." She sighed.
"I don't believe in your vam-- people yet, sunny-girl, but we have seen that something is up, right where they would be involved. That much I admit. Does that help at all?"
"Maybe," Tracy said. "At least I know you're still with me, that I didn't leave you behind the first time I said 'vampire.'"
"I thought we weren't supposed to use that word?"
"We're in a closed car, traveling down Richmond Street in the middle of the afternoon. If we're not perfectly safe, we're absolutely doomed, so I don't think using that word will make any difference."
"Complex rules to this game."
"Don't blame me," Tracy said, pulling into a parking space and gesturing for Paul to leave the stakes in the car. "I just picked them up as I went."
The Raven nightclub had passed through several sets of hands since its glory days in the early nineties. Shut down temporarily after the unsolved Kharam decapitation, the owner had disappeared, and it had then passed into the hands of a conglomerate of developers, apparently at the peak of market value. After a few months, it had reopened as part of a club chain based in the US, and had promptly gone bankrupt, dragging down the conglomerate with it in less than a year. For a while after that, it had functioned as an outlet clothing store, but that, too, failed against all expectation, barely surviving into a second holiday season. And as went the Raven, so went the neighborhood surrounding it, right down to zoning legislation.
In the last year, the building had been purchased by the deBrabant Foundation, a private charitable organization known -- among those who paid attention to such things -- for its eclectic projects, and its upper story turned into a kind of second-level women's shelter, a stable and public place from which it was possible to relocate those who needed immediate protection, and to care for those who were not actively threatened from without. The main floor, on the other hand, had been made to house a general-practice clinic heavily subsidized by the Foundation. While the clinic functioned through all the normal OHIP channels, the administration overlapped with that of the privately-funded shelter, and the Foundation provided it with not only a rent-free location, but the most modern equipment and the ability to provide free any prescription medications approved by its doctors -- things well beyond the reach of the government rate schedule.
Like any other Toronto resident who watched the local news now and again, Tracy had heard reports of the Raven's fortunes over the past four years. Now that her memory was back, however, Tracy, like few -- if any -- other Toronto residents, was beginning to find a pattern in those fortunes. The Raven had served blood; Lacroix had owned the Raven; Nick had listened to Lacroix; Lacroix and Nick were vampires; Nick's middle initial, undefined in any of his personnel records, was "B" -- perhaps as in "deBrabant," as in "deBrabant Foundation," as in "Janette deBrabant," missing suspect in the unsolved Larouche homicide, whose ward had had a picture of a man he called her brother: Nick.
And Nick . . . Nick was dead.
All these things ran through Tracy's mind as she and Paul walked up the street to the heavily-remodeled front of what she suspected had once been the beating heart of the vampire community in Toronto. "deBrabant Clinic and Centre" was painted in red letters on a large, double-paned window where a concrete wall had stood the last time Tracy was inside the building.
"Non-specific enough for you?" Paul gestured at the label on the glass, and held open the door for her.
Passing in front of him, Tracy answered, "I suppose advertising isn't really necessary." It took her eyes several seconds to adjust to the light inside; she had not realized how bright the winter sun was until the door closed behind her and she found herself at the mercy of fluorescents. Similarly, she had not realized quite how cold it was until the indoor air hit her ears. "I should have worn my earmuffs," she muttered under her breath, and reached into her pocket for her shield and identification card as she approached the receptionist, a short, brown-haired young woman who looked to be in her late teens or early twenties.
"Can I help you?" the young woman asked, wrinkling her nose slightly and slipping the book she had been reading into a drawer with a strangely guilty expression; why, Tracy could not guess. It was not as if there were anyone else there awaiting her attention. The little lobby was well-lit, well-furnished, and, at the moment, completely empty.
"Yes, please," Paul spoke up. "I'm Paul Spartali, and this is Tracy Vetter. We're here--"
"The Paul Spartali?" the girl snapped to attention. "Oh my goodness: you are! Umm -- what happened to your series on Superintendent Vickers? You never even commented on his arrest." She blushed visibly and appeared to bite her tongue; Tracy winced slightly on her behalf. "I'm sorry. I did a project on your column last quarter. The assignment was to read one journalist every time he or she published for a month, and then write a paper about it."
"I would be fascinated to read it, Ms.--" he looked quickly at her nametag. "Shank."
"Schanke," she corrected him. "Jennifer Schanke. The 'c' is hard and the 'e' says its name." She hesitated for a moment. "If you really wanted, I could email a copy of my paper to you, at the address at the end of your column; do you really read stuff sent there?"
Paul nodded and offered his hand on the deal. As the delighted Jennifer took it, Tracy hid a smile. She did not think that Paul had ever had a teenage groupie before, and this girl seemed as close to one as the author of a column on social issues and local politics would ever come. This girl . . . all at once the name registered on Tracy: Schanke, Nick's partner before her.
Finally releasing Paul's hand, Jennifer noticed Tracy again. "I'm sorry I know you didn't come here to meet me. How can I help you? Are you doing a story? Doctor Bromley is out at the moment, but should be back soon; Doctor Pajot is upstairs with Ms. Burke, actually, our director. Would you like me to call them down?"
"That would be great, thanks," Tracy answered, letting her wallet slide back into her pocket. It would be much better to play this out on Paul's credentials than hers, it appeared.
Jennifer picked up her phone and pressed a button on a small console next to it. After a few seconds, she said, "Tara? There are two reporters down here, and they'd like to talk to Leslie, if they could." She paused a moment. "No, I don't see any. Mmm-hmmm. Thanks."
"She'll be down soon," Jennifer said, hanging up the phone. "This is the slow bit of the day, really, after I get out of school but before the day people start getting off work and the night people start going to work, so she has time to talk."
"So this is your after-school job?" Paul inquired.
"Sort of," Jennifer answered, dropping her eyes. She seemed torn between the desire to talk to the columnist and the fear of imposing on him. "It's after-school volunteering. I used to work at the Fireweed Cineplex; it opened when I started high school, and I was one of the first employees. But, umm, last fall, when I turned eighteen? The deBrabant Foundation, out of nowhere, gave me this trust fund for college." She looked out the window for a moment. "My dad was killed in the line of duty as a police officer five years ago, and that's all that the lawyer would say when she signed it over -- that it was because of who my dad was, and that I had to use it for college."
"Was volunteering here part of the deal?" Tracy asked.
"What? No," Jennifer seemed confused. "With the trust, I have enough to go through college anywhere, even in the states, if I want to, and so since I didn't have to work anymore, my mom suggested I come up with a way of, you know, passing it on." She shrugged. "Volunteering was my idea."
"And a very good volunteer she is, too," said a large, round woman in a flowered dress as she emerged from the end of a partition. She seemed to be speaking through a terribly stuffed-up nose, and she over-pronounced her words as if to compensate. "I do not know what we would do without her. I am Leslie Burke." She shook hands with Paul and then Tracy. "Jennifer tells me you are reporters?" she asked. "She also tells me you are not carrying cameras; that would not be allowed, you know."
"We understand," Paul said quickly, as if he was afraid Tracy would move to correct the misperception about her profession. She caught his eyes and tilted her head just slightly to let him know she would not. He acknowledged that with a similarly oblique movement, and proceeded, on the strength of his column, to get them a tour of both the clinic and offices created by the labyrinth of partitions on the main level, and what Burke called the "hospice" in the apartments upstairs. Tracy trusted Paul to listen to the statistics and stories as they poured over the visitors; she was more interested in finding any remnants of the Raven she had known. There were not many, beyond the outer structure of the building itself, and it discouraged her until, on their way back downstairs, her attention was caught by an unusual pair of door handles left over from the original decor.
"What's back here?" Tracy asked, pulling on one of the ornate handles shaped like an Egyptian statue.
"Oh, that goes down into the basement," Burke sniffed, descending the stairs more slowly than the younger couple. "There is nothing down there but storage, and I really do not think it is a very safe place, all in all. There are no windows and this is the only real door. We keep it locked. I do not wonder but that it was originally designed as a bomb shelter, or some such."
"'Real door,'" Tracy pounced on the word and turned around to look up at Burke.
"Yes," Burke nodded stiffly. "There were two bolt holes into the city tunnels that we had to have closed up. I assume the building had its . . . illegitimate . . . side in its days as a club."
Tracy mentally rolled her eyes at that, while keeping a bland smile frozen on her face; she felt Paul squeeze her hand behind her back. "I'm interested in precisely that angle, actually," Tracy began. "The transformation of the site from a service to the city's darker side, to what it is today. Could we possibly go down?"
"I do not know about that . . ."
Paul gave Tracy's hand another discreet squeeze, and smiled winningly at the larger woman. "Perhaps your young receptionist could take my partner down for a quick look, and you and I could talk more about the management of the facility, and your place in the deBrabant organization?"
With that invitation, Burke couldn't get rid of Tracy and Jennifer fast enough. Tracy was relieved to get out of the presence of the officiously competent woman, but Jennifer was obviously disappointed at not getting to speak to Paul some more.
"So," she asked as she unlocked the doors to the basement with the keys Burke had given her. "You're Mr. Spartali's partner?"
Tracy considered a minute, starting down the stairs. "His fiancée, actually."
"Oh." Jennifer's face fell just slightly, and Tracy tried to remember where she had pinned her idolatrous affections when she was eighteen: some actor who had played a cop in a US television show, though she could not for the life of her remember his name. "Congratulations," Jennifer picked up. "Do you think he'll write about it at all?"
"I'm sure he will," Tracy grimaced, and Jennifer looked at her aghast as they wound down the concrete and stone steps. "I love his writing," Tracy explained defensively. "Don't get me wrong. It's just that it can get tiring, always being the case study for the issue of the week, and as for the engagement," she sighed, "we've hardly had a chance to think about it yet, but eventually we're going to have to figure out a path between his passionately Catholic mother and my stiffly Anglican father. They'll care more than we do -- no doubt more than God does -- and Paul is bound to put it on paper for the benefit of the world at large."
Jennifer nodded understandingly, and unlocked the door in front of them at the bottom of the stairs. "I don't know where the light is, actually, umm . . ." she trailed off, looking into the dark doorway.
Tracy stepped through in front of her, and ran her hands over the cool wall until she found a switch. "There we go."
"Thanks. Now, the, umm, extra supplies are over this way, in what used to be the wine cellar, I guess, and then there're these other rooms that Leslie always keeps shut because they used to have the exits in them."
"Can we look at them first?" Tracy asked.
Jennifer held up the key ring and winked. They went over the cavernous rooms, but in whatever she had hoped to find, Tracy was disappointed. The outlines of the bricked-up doors were easily visible, but only because the rooms were otherwise almost entirely bare.
"Such a lot of space, to sit unused," Tracy noted, sitting down on the one piece of furniture in the second chamber, a bed-frame without a mattress.
"Well," Jennifer said, sitting down beside her. "Anita -- she's the night receptionist three times a week, and she's been here since we opened -- says that the reason Leslie doesn't like it down here is because when the building was bought . . . You won't put in the paper that I said this, will you?" Tracy shook her head, and Jennifer dropped her voice, even though they were at least a full story below the main offices. "Anita says that when the building was bought, there were still weird things down here, coffins and chains and stuff in addition to normal beds and tables and chairs."
Coffins? Tracy thought, but only said, "Well, it takes all kinds."
"I suppose," Jennifer allowed. "Umm, if you don't mind me asking, did you and Mr. Spartali have, like, a lot of garlic bread at lunch or something?"
Tracy's hand rose involuntarily to her neck, and she hid the move in adjusting her collar. "Or something," she smiled. "Is it that noticeable?"
Jennifer laughed. "Yeah. It is. Sorry. Leslie's got a really rotten cold, but I don't think anyone else in your vicinity could miss it."
Tracy shrugged, and changed the subject. "What about the wine cellar?"
"Oh, that's only supplies, like I said. There wasn't one single bottle left, Anita says, when the hospice moved in."
Jennifer unlocked the old wine cellar, and Tracy had to agree that there was nothing unusual there, just a long room full of medical and office supplies, with empty bottle racks still climbing the walls where they had been bolted on. Tracy sighed, and they switched off the lights and headed back upstairs.
As Jennifer locked the bottom door behind them, she seemed to begin to say something, and then stopped. Tracy paused on the step above her. When Jennifer caught Tracy looking at her, she blushed again and then reached up to briefly squeeze Tracy's hand. "It's pretty presumptuous, I know, but I just wanted to say, you know, your families will work it out. My mom and dad were a really mixed marriage, religion-wise, and I've never known a happier couple. And I'm not just saying that because they're my parents."
Having said her piece, Jennifer hurried up the stairs past Tracy, but Tracy stayed where she was. "Ms. Schanke?" she called after her.
"If you don't mind me asking, was your father Donald Schanke, Metro PD, homicide?"
Jennifer nodded, her expression unreadable to Tracy, who then pulled out her identification card and handed it to the girl. "Tracy Vetter," Jennifer read. "Oh. Oh! You're . . . you were Nick's partner, after Dad. I didn't make the connection, before." She handed the wallet back slowly, after turning it to trace her fingers over the familiar shield. Tracy felt tears gathering behind her eyes, and berated herself for tormenting the poor girl; she was the daughter of a cop, and she could have been in Jennifer's place so easily so many times. She should have known better.
"Thanks for telling me," Jennifer quirked half a smile at her, though it didn't light her eyes quite the way a smile should. "Did you ever, umm, meet my dad?"
Tracy shook her head.
"But you knew Nick." Suddenly, Jennifer started crying -- not sobbing, but with tears streaming quietly and continuously down her face. "We never believed it, you know, Mom and I, that Nick killed Natalie. He would never have done that, not Dad's best friend. The papers didn't know what they were talking about, calling him a suspect." She sat down on the step, and Tracy sat beside her, hesitantly putting her arm around her shoulders. "Mom tried to have Dad's funeral at night, you know, because of Nick's allergy? But Nick said it would be too tough on everyone else, and wouldn't let her. And that night, I ran off and rode my bike all the way down to the cemetery, and Nick was already there, and we just sat there for hours and talked about my dad. He held me while I cried," Jennifer looked up at Tracy and laughed through the tears, "and he drove me and my bike home in his big, ugly car, and excused me to Mom so I wouldn't get in trouble when he found out I didn't have permission to go."
Tracy hugged the girl, and they sat there for a while longer, reminiscing about Nick. Finally, Jennifer remembered that she was ostensibly at work. "Oh my goodness, Leslie'll be so upset," she exclaimed, springing to her feet.
"Naah," Tracy disagreed. "She's been talking to Paul all this time; I doubt she's noticed a minute on the clock." They both laughed, and started up the stairs.
Before opening the door at the top of the flight, Jennifer turned again to Tracy. "You know, my dad used to call me 'Jenny,' and so did Nick. I never let anyone else call me that anymore. But, umm, you can, okay? It's sort of like you should have inherited it from Nick."
"Thanks, Jenny," Tracy said, and wished she could think of something to offer in return. She stood four years from her partner's death, and yet only one day from the memory of the loss, and to be able to share that with someone who had known Nick had straightened her out inside, where she had not yet even realized her soul was so painfully knotted.
"Look," Jenny grinned ruefully. "I've got to run to the bathroom and wash my face. Can you tell Leslie where I am?"
"Sure," Tracy answered as they stepped back onto the main floor. "And Jenny -- when you email Paul? I'll get your address and write you, okay?"
"Great," Jenny grasped both her hands briefly, and then dashed off around a partition. When Tracy stepped back into the receptionist's area, Paul flashed her a relieved look, and concluded his conversation with Burke immediately on the heels of Tracy's information of Jenny's whereabouts.
Stepping outside, Tracy was surprised to discover that it was full dark. "What time is it, anyway?"
"Seven-oh-nine," Paul answered without looking at his watch, and then put his arm around her shoulder as they headed down the street to the car. "What on earth did you find that kept you so long?"
"Well, there weren't any coffins in the basement -- anymore," Tracy answered, smiling. "I'll tell you about that in the car. And we still reek of garlic, by the way. But your fan?" Her smile faded wistfully as her voice rose into the question. "She's the daughter of Don Schanke, Nick's partner before me. That's what we were on about so long: people we've lost."
Paul kissed the top of her head as they reached the car, and opened the glove box as soon as he settled into his seat. "Luigi's then?" he asked, pulling out Tracy's coupon envelope.
"Luigi's," she agreed, starting the car and pulling into traffic. "I suppose it's too late to go by the church tonight."
"I'm game, if you don't mind being there in the dark."
"You're up for it? I was sure Ms. Leslie Burke would have soured you on the whole project by now."
"She certainly tried," he laughed. "And you owe me for that hour alone in her company. But -- hey, I did get something out of her. Tell you over lasagna."
"Who owes who here?"
"You can have lasagna and I'll have spaghetti," Tracy insisted, and then related the history of the Raven's basement as told by Jenny, as heard from Anita. "I know it's not much," she concluded, as they looked for a parking space in the restaurant's lot.
"But, again, it's something," Paul acknowledged. "Something odd, right where you believe there should be something odd, vampires or no. Actually, I'm more interested in your partner's partner's daughter being there, and her mysterious bequest from the deBrabant Foundation." He smiled slightly. "You know what Ms. Schanke was reading -- what she chucked out of sight when we came in?"
Tracy remembered that gesture, and the slightly-guilty look that had accompanied it. "No. What?"
"One of Emily Weiss's old Vampire Sagas novels. It's the closest we've really gotten to the v-word all day. Ironic, isn't it? Burke looked fit to blow a blood vessel when she opened that drawer, but then said, 'girls will be girls,' and went back to telling me how she was hand-picked to run the clinic. From what Jennifer told you, I guess we know that vampire fetishists are an easily-pushed button for her."
Turning off the car, Tracy asked, "Can you tell me the rest of this story inside?"
"Because I'm starving."
"Good reason," Paul answered, and they walked up to the restaurant as quickly as they could, dodging other cars looking for a spot. During the twenty-minute wait for a table, Paul sketched out the column he planned to write from this, mostly ignoring the capable but annoying Ms. Burke, and speculating on the story of the sad-eyed young mother they had been briefly introduced to in the lounge upstairs. After they were seated, with bread and soft-drinks on the table, and lasagna and spaghetti ordered, Paul began to lay out the pieces of the puzzle he had extracted from Burke, in between the lines of her hagiography of herself.
"Apparently," Paul resumed telling Tracy after their meal had been delivered and their waiter assured that they had everything they wanted. "The deBrabant Foundation made bids on the Raven property each of the other times it was sold since immediately after this Lacroix guy disappeared in '96, but was edged out. Burke thinks it was divine justice, the previous businesses failing so her hospice could get its just desserts, but . . ."
"But you don't?" she supplied.
Paul shook his head. "It may just be the way Burke told the story, and it certainly needs to be investigated further, but no; I don't. It's just too pat. I can't help but think that it sounds an awful lot like someone who knows the place very, very well has been behind the deBrabant Foundation's involvement with the old Raven from the beginning, someone like, say, the previous owner."
"Lacroix," he agreed. "Burke believes that the Foundation has been in existence for decades, perhaps over a century: that it's some sort of hereditary trust. And she firmly believes that she was hand-picked for her job by the current heir to that trust."
"Did she tell you who that is?"
"She has no idea, Tracy. She thinks the Foundation is run out of New York, but she doesn't even know that for certain; her paycheck is signed by an intermediary here in Toronto. She can be so full of herself that I doubt she even sees the holes in her story, and it certainly isn't as if it's illegal to go around being mysterious when you're donating huge sums to the public good."
"Unless it isn't really for the public good."
"But what would a . . . person . . . want with a clinic and shelter?"
"I can't imagine," Tracy said, in a way that implied she certainly could imagine. "Unless something is flowing out of the clinic the back way." Paul laid down his fork for a minute to stare out her, and she stared back, speaking very quietly. "We said a game, before, Paul, but it's never been a game. I thought it was, once, but I was wrong. It's always life and death for someone. That's the nature of the beast."
They sat silently for a moment, eyes locked, and then Paul dropped her gaze and took up his fork again. "We should probably save the rest of this conversation for the car. Why don't you tell me what you and Jennifer Schanke talked about?"
Tracy did, and they passed the rest of the meal primarily with reminiscences of Nick, her own, and Jenny's, second-hand. With the bill paid and their after-dinner peppermints on their tongues, they walked out to the car. While Tracy went into the trunk for her industrial flashlight, to match the plastic one in the glove compartment, Paul checked his watch.
"It's almost nine, Tracy, and we both have to be at work tomorrow."
"We can be home by midnight. Easy," she answered, shutting the trunk firmly and handing him the light before walking around to her door. "I've been stalling this all day, and I don't know why. I'm actually rather fed up with myself for it, and want to press through to the end. Are you still game?"
"Why not?" he asked rhetorically, and slid into his seat. "Do we take in the stakes this time?"
"We take in the stakes."
The drive to the church was not a long one, but it was long enough for both of them to lapse into the silence of their own thoughts. Tracy tallied up the day, and resigned herself to calling Doctor Kadlec sometime the next afternoon. She had found so much, emotionally, but so little, in the eyes of objective truth. Of course, she noted to herself, the letter of the promise was only to call her therapist, not to bring up anything in particular with her, and certainly this whole phenomena of recovered memory did need to be explored, vampires or no vampires. On the other hand, she also knew what Paul believed the promise to be in spirit, and she was not going to lie to him, no matter what. She only hoped she could convince him of what she knew more clearly to be true the more clearly she was able to access these prodigal memories: it was just too dangerous to tell anyone, anyone at all. The Enforcers would not blink at doctor-patient privilege, nor would any other vampire enforcing their code. She had only told Paul because, well, he was Paul, and not telling him would be like denying it to herself. She hoped he understood that. And she prayed with every breath that the Enforcers would not call in their price on the knowledge she had given him.
The silence lasted after she parked, and even after they had gotten out of the car and approached the church. On the threshold of the building, however, with a flashlight in one hand and a stake in the other, Paul stopped her. "Tracy, the guy who used to live here, Vachon, your friend -- how . . . close were you? I mean, if he hadn't left . . . ?"
"Would I be here with you tonight?" Tracy supplied softly when he trailed off. She put her arms around his waist, and pulled him as close as their winter coats would allow, as if to hold him in place for the answer to his question. She wanted to say that Vachon had been a good friend, and that while she had been infatuated with him for a while, in the end they would never have worked. She wanted to say that while she would always love Vachon for opening her eyes to his world, there was nothing more to it. She wanted to say that, but something stopped her. Instead she said, "I hope I would be somewhere with you tonight."
"Good to hear it," Paul whispered, and then brushed her lips in a quick kiss. "Shall we go in?"
They went in down the stairs, to the lower part of the building where Tracy had always found Vachon in her later visits to the church, flashlights picking out their path a few steps in front of them as they descended. Tracy shone her light quickly over the walls, trying to match her view to her memory and determine whether anything had been moved. Her best hope for evidence of vampires would be a crate of bottled blood; her best hope for a lead to Vachon, similarly, would be something he had not meant to leave behind. Not that he ever had much to leave behind.
"Do you mind if I light these?" Paul asked, pointing his flashlight at the iron candelabra next to the couch and setting down his stake to pull his keys out of his pocket; he had both a lighter and a Swiss-army knife attached to the chain, to the point where the accessories outbulked the keys by half again.
"No, that's fine," Tracy said. "That's the light I was always accustomed to in here, anyway." She sat down on the couch and contemplated the room. "I didn't expect him to be here, you know, though I thought it was worth a shot. And it makes perfect sense that there isn't anything here to find -- I mean, after all, he must have taken his guitar with him four years ago, and if he didn't sell his motorcycle and helmet, it's not like they wouldn't have disappeared by now, but there's still something that feels slightly . . . off . . . down here."
"What's this doing here?" Paul asked, gesturing at the blue and white graffiti on the wall with his turned-off flashlight.
"I don't know," Tracy grinned. "He wouldn't tell me. I suspect he didn't know, either."
"Hnh," Paul snorted, and began to poke around behind the empty boxes and random junk that seemed to occupy all the fringes of the room. "So what exactly are we looking for, as Vachon doesn't seem to be home?"
"Bottled blood. The crates are about so big--" Tracy gestured with her hands, "--by so big. About the size of two boxes of printer paper. He used to have them piled up everywhere. The bottles look just like wine bottles, except that they don't usually have any labels on them."
"Well, I don't see anything like that down here. You want to check under the couch?"
"He's a slacker," Tracy protested. "Not a slob." But she looked under the couch anyway, and then out across the floor from that level. "Nope, nothing down here. Wait a minute!"
"Nothing down there," she repeated, climbing to her feet and pointing at several spots on the floor. "Almost nothing, anyway. The couch kept much dust from accumulating under it, but look here, and over there -- why are these spots dust-free?"
"Dust." Paul pondered. "I wouldn't say the place is clean, but the dust has been pretty well stirred up in places, like someone was moving things around." Shaking his head, he added, "That's a hard thing to see in candlelight."
Tracy flipped her flashlight back on, and began to trace the footprints she and Paul had left on the floor. There were long, clear streaks around the few pieces of furniture, and evidently there had been prints in the dust down the center of the stairs, prints which they had already obscured with their own. Tracy returned to the two square patches which had first caught her attention, undisturbed around the edges but completely clear of dust themselves. "What do these look like to you?" Tracy asked.
He squatted next to the nearer square. "It looks as if someone lifted something straight up, and carried it away."
"That's what I think, too," Tracy agreed. "Any idea how that was accomplished?"
"You're not suggesting that someone flew," Paul objected. "We have no idea what was sitting here -- they could have been two boards, or even two pieces of paper of no weight at all. And what about those streaks, by the couch and by the stairs? Something was dragged, there anyway."
"I'm not suggesting anything," Tracy shrugged. "Except that someone has been in here recently enough that the dust hasn't erased the proof of their passage. Say, within the last two weeks or less?"
"Sounds reasonable to me." Paul stood up. "Is there anything else to be deduced from this site, Detective Vetter?"
"Why no, I don't think so, agent-of-the-press Spartali. You want to head upstairs?"
Paul picked up his stake and flashlight, turning on the latter before blowing out the candles he had lit just a few minutes before. Tracy preceded him up the stairs, to the attic where she had first met the Inca, so nearly disastrously. It suddenly occurred to her to wonder why the heck Vachon's vampiric brother had interrogated her in Spanish in the first place; the man had been perfectly capable of speaking English, and they had been in Canada, for crying out loud. French, she could have excused, and might remotely have understood, but Spanish? Either he had been particularly upset with Vachon, or he had not wanted her to be able to answer. The second possibility made her shiver, and Paul, seeing that as he came up behind her, asked, "Are you ready to go home?"
"Not quite yet. We have to look around up here, too. The dust seems undisturbed, so we may be in luck."
Paul found another candelabra and lit it, while Tracy walked over to the window and ripped down the black blanket that had been tacked over it four years before. Between the candles and the moonlight, the contents of the attic were much more clear, but she found her attention drawn more to the moon than to the scraps of uncompleted projects and discarded dreams that had occupied the building well before Vachon, and, apparently, well since. The moon was on the wane, which surprised her; she always associated the full moon with Vachon, probably because it had been full the night they met.
"Tracy," Paul called her over. He shone his flashlight under the eaves by the stairs. "Is this what you're after?"
She came over to look, and then got down on her hands and knees to pull the dust-covered crate out into the open. "Looks like a forgotten stash to me," she remarked, dislodging the unbolted lid and pulling up a bottle for his inspection: green glass, no label, something liquid inside. "Got a cork remover?"
He gravely opened out that attachment on his Swiss-army knife, and popped the cork. He sniffed the bottle, and then moved it quickly away from his nose. "I don't know what it is, but I promise I won't be drinking any of it."
Tracy took a more careful whiff. "It doesn't smell quite like the wine and blood mixture I remember Vachon drinking, but, then, it's been sitting up here four years. I don't know what kind of preservatives they do -- and don't -- put into it." She replaced the cork and set the bottle on the ground, then began pulling up bottles at random, as if checking for labels. "Come to think of it, Nick always kept his in his refrigerator. At the time, I assumed he just liked his wine chilled, but now knowing it must have been blood, I wonder if maybe he did that to extend its shelf life. Maybe he didn't drink as much as Vachon."
"And maybe this is just a bad batch," Paul offered. "Can I see that again?"
Tracy handed back the first bottle, and Paul poured a little out on the wooden floor. He watched it dry for a few seconds, and then cautiously smelled the bottle again. "I would guess there is a good deal of blood in this mixture," he decided. "But my expertise is only as the Toronto Star's Employee-Hockey Stupid-Accident Champion. How much do you want to take with us?"
"What good would it do us? We can't risk sending this to the lab, either. The point was for you to see it." She replaced the bottles in the crate and pushed it back into its odd little nook. Standing, she rubbed her dusty hands on her jeans and then crossed her arms. "Finding any clues to Vachon's whereabouts was a longshot, and it looks like we've come up dry. What about the existence of vampires, Paul? What do you see?"
Paul looked out the window. "Even if it is blood, what do you think I should see? Objectively."
Tracy sighed and leaned on the doorframe. "Objectively," she repeated. "There is something going on with the old Raven, the deBrabant Foundation, my deceased partner, and his possible relatives. There has been digging on Cherry Beach, recently. Someone has been in this church, recently. Bottled blood has been stored in this room, undisturbed, for some time. But there is no necessary relation between any of these facts."
"And as far as the blood -- cults and other human weirdoes come to mind well before supernatural creatures of the night." Paul walked over to the stairs. "I'm sorry, Tracy, but I still think you should call Doctor Kadlec tomorrow. I'll see what I can find out about this deBrabant Foundation, but it still sounds to me as if this vampire business is a side-effect of your memories resurfacing."
Tracy nodded noncommittally, and blew out the candles. She lingered at the window a moment before following Paul downstairs. As she had promised, they were home by midnight -- easily.
The first thing Tracy did when she arrived at the precinct the next morning was to inform Captain Reese that her memories had returned. He seemed cautiously delighted, and asked if she had told her father yet.
"Ummm, no, actually, Cap," Tracy answered. "I've told my fiancé, and now you. I'm going to tell my partner when I sit down at my desk, and later I'm going to call my shrink. My dad's not exactly on the A-list for this news."
Reese raised his eyebrows questioningly, but when she did not expand on that, he seemed to accept it. Tracy compared the Reese of today with the Reese who was unexpectedly promoted into the celebrated Captain Cohen's shoes four years before; she appreciated the way he had grown in the position, and wondered briefly how much losing Nick and nearly losing her had had to do with it. "You know your own business, Vetter," he closed the subject. "When you get a chance, though, I'd appreciate it if you'd take another look at the files on Natalie Lambert's murder. You may see something that will ring a bell now, even if it didn't before."
Tracy nodded, and walked slowly across the room to her desk. She had no intention of looking at the files, actually, now less than ever. She had pored over them for weeks after the shooting, as soon as she had been able to convince her doctors she was up to such work, and she knew them like the insides of her own eyelids. With her memory intact, she knew she could solve the case in an instant; and with her memory intact, she knew it was better left as it was.
The body of Doctor Natalie Lambert, coroner for the city of Toronto, had been found lying in concentric pools of sunlight and blood on the floor of the main room of the apartment of Metro PD Detective Nick Knight. Her throat had been torn open, but the wound was formed in such a way that her colleagues concluded that she had died -- they did not know how -- before it had been inflicted, and that it had been meant to disguise something -- they did not know what. She had been found covered in a certain quantity of ashes, determined under the microscope to be the remains of some animal matter, and with a long, carved, scorched, wooden staff lying across her torso, tangled with the clothes in which Detective Knight had last been seen. The windows and skylight had been found open, but all doors had been locked from the inside. The media had had a field day, feasting on cults and conspiracies and, most of all, the missing Detective Knight. But when week after week of investigation had turned up nothing, the press had abandoned the story, and the police had eventually moved it to the back burner. As weeks had turned into months, even Lambert's sister-in-law and niece, her only living relatives, had slowly ceased to press for an answer, and the case had been declared unsolvable, the situation incomprehensible, a motive impossible.
But while the motive still eluded Tracy, she thought she comprehended the situation as well as anyone could. Natalie had been drained by a vampire, and a vampire's body had been exposed to the sun and reduced to ashes over her. Believing that Nick would never abandon Natalie, dead or alive, Tracy deduced that the ashes had been Nick's; believing that Nick would never kill himself, Tracy concluded that someone else had killed him. The only question that remained was whether Nick's killer and Natalie's were one and the same.
Well, that and whether she ought to stake the vampire who had killed her partner.
"What's up with Reese, Trace?" Jason asked, looking up from a sheaf of papers and prying her out of her reflections as she reached their desks.
"Something happened that I thought he ought to know about." She shrugged slightly and sat down on the edge of his desk. "While we were off, my memories came back -- you know, from the shooting."
"That's great! Isn't it?"
She shrugged again. "It's a lot to take in all at once. Not everything I was told about that year matches up with what I now remember of it."
"Oh, little things. How was Becca's birthday?" Tracy reached out her hand for the file he was holding, and Jason turned it over with a noncommittal shake of his head.
"Forensics still hasn't turned up anything on that one," he informed her. "Becca, though, was pretty good. She wouldn't let her brothers come out of their room for the duration of the party, and she banished Lilly and me to perpetual servitude in the kitchen, but for a just-turned-thirteen-year-old, she was pretty good." He smiled. "Another two years and Ryan and Jacob will be teenagers, too. What is this world coming to?"
Tracy answered the smile, and then handed back the file. "How did we get stuck with this one, anyway? We'll be out all day running down the coworkers, and we don't even have anything to ask them."
"On the up side, it's nice to have the day clear to run down the coworkers in. If this homicide drought continues, maybe we can take two consecutive days off every week. Which reminds me, Becca said to thank you very much for the hair-thingies."
"Please tell her she's very welcome," Tracy responded.
"Abrams, Vetter," Reese called, stepping out of his office. "A body has been found in an alley off Cherry Street Main, just beyond Unwin Avenue. I want you two on it."
"On our way, Cap," Tracy answered immediately, winking at Jason and tapping the file they were determinedly leaving behind. When they arrived at the alley above Cherry Beach, they found the immediate area cordoned off with plastic tape and monitored by uniformed officers. The body of a woman in the remains of a jogging suit had been found that morning in a cardboard-recycling dumpster behind a row of shops, during the normal collection of that bin's contents; since there were as yet no civilian hangers-on, Jason set the uniformed officers to help the Forensics people sort the cardboard that had been sharing space with the body, and then went to interview the woman and man who had uncovered it. Cecile Lawrence, the ME on duty, informed Tracy that the victim had been dead about a week, probably a bit more, and that while it was hard to make any preliminary judgments through the mess various winter-hungry vermin had made of the corpse, the neck was broken and it was notably exsanguinated.
"Exsanguinated?" Tracy repeated.
"Drained of blood," Cecile informed her.
"I know what it means. I just wondered . . ." Tracy shook her head. "Never mind. You say the level of decomposition indicates death occurred over a week ago? But that would mean someone must have moved the body some time after the death -- they empty these things every week, don't they?"
"Every two weeks," Jason corrected her, joining Tracy and Cecile from the back of the BMI Paper-Reclamation van where he had been interviewing the two people who worked the recycling route. "They hit this row every second Wednesday, and they say -- no-brainer -- that there was no body in the bin the last time they were here. And can you believe that the victim's CD player and headphones were still on her? Strange stuff."
"Well, that matches the best I can tell you here, detectives," Cecile replied, glancing over her clipboard. "Let me get this body back to the morgue and properly autopsied, and hopefully something else will turn up."
"You mind if I take a look at it before you do, Cecile?" Tracy asked.
"No," the ME shook her head in surprise. "But it's no pretty sight, I'm warning you."
"Don't expect it to be," Tracy answered as Cecile unzipped the black body bag in which the corpse had already been placed. Holding her sleeve over her mouth and nose, she made a show of looking carefully at everything there was to be seen, but all the information she needed had been available in her first glance at the neck. Fang marks -- human, not rat, dog or fox. "Thanks," Tracy said, gesturing to the ME that she could close the bag. "If no one has had a sketch artist on the victim yet, could you make that a priority before you start cutting?"
Cecile raised one eyebrow. "Bone structure is bone structure, Tracy, and I doubt the artist can do much with the flesh left on this one. I'm lucky to be able to tell you it was a female with Asian ancestors."
Jason intervened. "You're probably right, but without that we're gonna be stuck matching missing persons anonymously again, Cecile. Please?"
"Sure," she acquiesced. "I'll snag Stewart on the way down. Funny someone would bother to take the wallet and leave the CD player."
"Jogger," Tracy shook her head. "She probably wasn't carrying a wallet in the first place."
"Maybe not, Detective," a young woman in uniform said as she came up to the trio from where the cardboard was being sorted. "But we found these." She handed Jason a ring of keys; attached to the ring was a string of lettered beads.
"Tiffany," Jason read solemnly. He looked up to meet Tracy's eyes. "Somebody's daughter, sister, wife, mom, friend. Let's find out who's missing her, Trace."
They did, almost before Stewart finished sketching a reconstruction of the victim's face: Tiffany Sohn, 31, a banking associate reported missing by her partner when her employer called to ask why she had not come in to work the previous Tuesday, a call followed by her failure to come home that night, and, of course, all the nights since. Sohn's house was not far from where her body had been found, and when Tracy and Jason tracked down the partner at her office downtown, they learned that Sohn had been in the habit of jogging along the shore in the early morning before heading to work. And early mornings this time of year, Tracy noted to herself, were uniformly dark.
"So Fuller's trying to portray this one as a hate crime," Paul announced conversationally when she picked him up after work that evening.
"Huh?" Tracy asked, completely thrown. It had been a long day. "What?"
"Your new case, " he answered. "Janice got Gordon Fuller the Wonder Dweeb reassigned back to criminal investigations -- I know; aren't you so thrilled? -- and he's trying to put forward this theory that the reason the victim wasn't robbed was that the murder was a hate crime of some sort. The murdered woman was both Asian and a lesbian, right?"
"Fuller is full of it," Tracy snorted, and switched lanes. "As usual. The victim was killed by a vampire."
"You heard me. The V-word. You know," Tracy turned to look at him as she stopped the car at an intersection. "I never realized it before, but Natalie Lambert must have covered these things up all the time. I mean, I saw three vampire victims at crime scenes myself in that year, and there's no way a good ME like her could have missed what even I observed." The light went green and she made a left turn. "I wish she was here to do it this time; we can only hope that the fang holes will be attributed to the rodents that have been gnawing on the body all week."
"Tracy, why did you take that turn?"
"We're going by the morgue so you can see what there is to see."
Paul was silent for a moment. "Don't take this the wrong way, but did you call Doctor Kadlec?"
"I didn't get a chance. I'll email her tonight instead, if you still want me to." Tracy sighed. "So since Fuller has already told you all about my day, how was yours?"
"The column on the deBrabant Clinic is set to go for Friday," he answered. "Though, actually, I've suggested that they hold it for Sunday and do a bit of a spread on the relevant issues -- make a deal out of it."
"That would certainly please Leslie Burke," Tracy noted.
"More importantly, it's giving me a chance to poke into the deBrabant Foundation while everyone else is looking up statistics on battered women and the health-care system. They're tough, whoever they are. All I was able to find out is that their first-recorded activity in Canada was in 1951, as the intermediaries who paid the lawyers who worked for Katherine Barrington after she disappeared." He put special emphasis on the woman's name.
Tracy caught it. "Katherine Barrington, who emerged from hiding six years ago, after her stalker was finally stopped by Metro PD detectives Schanke and Knight." She parallel-parked the car just beyond the fire zone of the Coroner's Building.
"Exactly. Oh, and I also traced back the money trail to New York; Burke was right about that much, at least. It vanishes without a trace in the paperwork of an art gallery called 'The Last Man.' Apparently, the gallery is just another charity of the Foundation, and the manager, or owner or whatever, is an employee of theirs, a 'J.L. Cross.' Your Lacroix? Big in posh and exclusive art circles, whoever it is, but when you're that posh and exclusive, you don't talk to reporters. I got nothing but a polite run-around on the phone. And everything fuzzes out and bends back on itself in double payrolls and tax receipts, so it's impossible to tell anything more than that it is the end of the line. As I said, they are tough."
Getting out of the car, Tracy asked, "Anything more on Nick, then?"
Paul shook his head and followed her into the building. "Everything is circumstantial. You have reason to believe he was mixed up with Lacroix and the deBrabant woman, and we've three times seen the Foundation spending its largesse in his wake -- the Raven, his partner's daughter, and Katherine Barrington. Though, of course, Barrington was before he was born."
"That depends on when he was born," Tracy said, pausing to check the duty roster on the bulletin board outside the elevator, and then heading down a side hall. "You know, Patrick McDonagh, the boy who was with the suspect in the Larouche homicide? He as good as told me that Janette deBrabant was Nick's sister, but he and his aunt both said she died in that fire, and forensics didn't contradict them. I rechecked the file today. A vampire's sister, a fire?" She shook her head.
"Well, regardless, there isn't hide nor hair -- nor ash -- of Nick Knight since 1996. This Cross, on the other hand--"
Tracy waved him to silence as Alice emerged from the double doors at the end of the hallway. The intern's arms were full of papers, and she had apparently opened the door by backing into the handle and pushing through bodily. She jumped just slightly when she saw that she did not have the hallway to herself.
"Oh! Detective Vetter! Hi! I thought I was the only one in this wing just now. How are you doing?"
"I'm fine, thanks, Alice," Tracy answered, turning to follow the girl back the way she and Paul had just come. "Actually, we're here to check out something with the Sohn body. Do you know its status?"
"Sure. It's in the freezer in Dr. Fowler's lab. They're ready to release it to the family as soon as the routine tests come back tomorrow morning. Why? What's up?"
"I want to reconfirm the animal marks." Tracy told herself it was not technically a lie. "I suspect that maybe something bigger than a rat was at her, and maybe the neighborhood should be worried."
"You mean wild dogs? Or something else?" Alice stopped outside a door and Paul held it open for her as she stepped through and set her stack of papers on top of a waist-high filing cabinet. "No: never mind. Curiosity killed the lab assistant as easily as the cat, and if you keep talking to me, I'll just start offering my unauthorized opinion again." She flashed a brief grin and then squatted down to pull out the bottom drawer. "I'm half convinced I'm on night shift a week before I was due because I had the gall to suggest, in Doctor Fowler's hearing, that it looked almost like that body just got up and walked away on its own. He was already upset because someone had stolen his coat."
"I'm sorry, Alice," Tracy offered.
"Oh, never mind me. I'm just grousing because I'd only just gotten readjusted to the day shift." She stopped filing for a minute and looked up at Tracy . "Am I keeping you? I don't mean to. Doctor Lawrence hasn't gone home yet, I don't think, but you'll have to hurry if you want to catch her."
"We'll do that. Alice," Tracy turned back for a second before following Paul down the hallway. "Umm, hang in there, huh?"
"No problem, Detective Vetter," the intern smiled. "Good luck with your case."
"What was that all about?" Paul asked as they headed for Fowler's lab.
"She was there when I fainted," Tracy informed him. "And she's all too right -- the body did just get up and walk away. I wish I could tell her that."
Tracy was relieved to have to switch on the lights when they reached their destination. It meant they had missed Cecile and beaten whomever would be coming on for the next shift; there would be no awkward questions to answer. The morgue freezer was almost unoccupied, and having the gurney in the center of the room as Tracy slowly unzipped the body bag made the occasion seem almost ceremonious. Without touching the corpse, she drew Paul's attention to what she knew to be fang holes, still distinct among all the other markings, almost as if something in the tiny wounds had instinctively repelled the scavengers that had made so free with the rest of Tiffany Sohn.
Paul stared silently for a moment, and then reached up with his left hand to measure the space between his own canines. Unsatisfied, he bit into his forefinger just enough to indent the skin, and then held it next to the marks on the victim's neck. Meeting Tracy's eyes, he admitted gravely, "It could be."
"Good." Tracy did not realize that she had been holding her breath until she let it out in that word. Paul smiled at her obvious relief, and she smiled at herself. She promptly zipped up the bag and exited the freezer, waiting only for Paul before flipping off the light switch. "I really want to go home now. It's been a heck of a day."
While Paul slept that night, Tracy tossed and turned and finally got out of bed, cracking the window a couple of inches and wedging herself between the walls of the broad sill, her knees folded up to her chest under her flannel nightshirt and the old heater banging itself awake against the wall below. The moon was only a tiny sliver, and as far as she could see at all, it was by the light of the streetlamps and the occasional passing car. The air was freezing on one side of her, and carried the burned-dust smell of steam heat on the other. She kept the curtains closed behind her, for whatever good that would do in insulating Paul from the chill as he slumbered under their quilted spread. As far as she was concerned, however, the cold seemed to wake something in her, crawling into her bones and caressing her skin from the inside out. She felt restless without reason or recourse; she felt like a battery that had been sitting in its charger too long and could neither take anything more in nor put anything out.
She looked at the sleeping world from her third-story window and wondered why Vachon had never taken her flying.
It had been an ostentatiously normal evening. Paul had started making some Rice-a-Roni and chicken while she watched the local news, and she had finished making them while he watched the national news. They had turned off the television while they ate, and conspicuously talked about everything but work: the grocery list, the neighbor who had lost her cat, Paul's little brother's new job in Ottawa. Paul had not said that he believed in the existence of vampires, but neither had he mentioned calling Doctor Kadlec again. On the surface, everything had slid smoothly into its accustomed groove, and she had expected that to soothe her into hers. It had not.
Tracy could pick out a few stars from the glare of the city lights, and it seemed to her as if they were terribly far away, further than they had ever been, as if they were deliberately withdrawing from the earth and its doings. It seemed as if the cold was a consequence of their departure, a just recompense to those below. Tracy believed in her job, in the path she had chosen, in the necessity of finding out the truth and putting killers behind bars on its strength. She believed in her job, but, sometimes -- sometimes -- it just sucked. Sometimes. Like today. It had not been telling the partner that the woman she loved was dead; it had not even been telling the parents that they had run out of time to tell their daughter they still loved her. No, it had been the little niece who opened the door at the parents' house, and asked tearfully if her aunt was dead as soon as Jason said he and Tracy were detectives. Tracy wanted to rail against the media, against whatever television show had taught that little girl that the police mean death. She wanted to rail against the world for making her, herself, a harbinger of death. She wanted to -- but it was not the world's fault. She knew what had killed Tiffany Sohn, and she could not even tell those who were mourning her, not even give them the tiny solace of the truth.
It went against everything she believed in, letting the killer go, and with every minute that passed in the precinct with Vachon's name unspoken, Tracy retreated further into herself, demanding an explanation from the person she had been. What had made her think, four years before, that his bottled blood was somehow innocent? What had made her believe, when she had seen him kill Vudu with her own eyes, that he was still somehow above the vampires who had killed Don Eckhart and the two arsonists in Union Station? What had she seen all those nights when she had looked into his wide, brown eyes? Whatever it had been, it did not shield her now from the inescapable assembly of the puzzle pieces which pictured him as Sohn's murderer, on the beach near Screed's grave, before dawn of the day she had seen his body in the morgue.
She was considering killing Lacroix.
Did logic dictate, then, that she should be considering killing Vachon, too?
Tracy suddenly pushed the window up all the way and swung her legs recklessly out over the ledge, ducking her neck just under the sash. If she fell, she thought, she would die. The ground was very far below; the sky was very far above; and as her breath froze into crystals in the air before her face, she discovered that she had been trying to occupy a middle ground that did not exist. Vachon had killed Vudu outside the law, but as she had told Bruce, that kind of thing was never justice; it was murder. She did not want to die; she did not want to kill. She wanted only the truth. She put vengeance firmly aside, and crawled back onto the warm side of the window.
"Tracy?" Paul's voice came sleepily from the bed, and she supposed she must have woken him as the lock clicked the window shut.
"I'm here," she responded quietly, giving the still winter night one final glance before rejoining him under the covers.
More asleep than awake, he rolled over to embrace her as she got into bed, waking up almost fully at the first touch of her skin. "You're ice!"
"I've been outside, sort of," she whispered. "Thinking. Go back to sleep."
"No," he teased, poking her so she turned onto her side, placing her back securely against his chest. "Like you said earlier, Fuller told me about your day; I want to hear your version." He rubbed his hands up her arms as if to warm her, and blew gently on her shoulder before kissing it. "What have you been thinking about?"
Tracy closed her eyes and shivered at the feel of his lips on her skin, a response even the freezing cold had failed to muster. "Too much," she answered. He was so warm, and his breath was the spirit of life. She pulled his right hand up to her lips and kissed his palm lingeringly, a tribute to that, and had the pleasure of feeling him almost shiver in return. "I'll tell you in the morning," she promised, reversing herself in his embrace and enthusiastically seeking out his lips to indicate how she would like to spend some time before then.
Over breakfast the next day -- her Kix and his Lucky Charms -- Tracy lined up the dominoes of the last week for Paul as she had done for herself, and told him that she had decided to go to New York to see the proprietor of The Last Man gallery.
"Literally, 'to see,'" she repeated, adding milk to her coffee. "No appointments, no chances for him to deceive or deny, and no trouble if it isn't who we think it is. But I have to see him; I have to know the truth."
"On the practical side," Paul offered, "when I was doing my poking around yesterday, I found out that they are having a big opening for some up-and-coming painter named Darwin Bellon today."
"Tonight, really," he corrected himself. "Scheduled to open at eight. Hop a flight out of Pearson as soon as you get off shift, take a red-eye back; you may be completely wiped on the job tomorrow, but you'll have your answers. That," he gestured emphatically with his spoon, "is the practical side. The other side, the I-can't-believe-I'm-actually-taking-vampires-seriously side, is that this is the guy you think hypnotized you, stealing your memories of an entire year, goodness-knows-why."
"Because humans aren't supposed to know about vampires," Tracy said. "I told you that."
"You told me that," Paul acknowledged. "You also said that you didn't know why he hadn't just killed you instead. My point is, what makes you think he won't do it this time?"
Tracy stood up and took her bowl to the sink, washing and rinsing both it and her spoon before turning back to Paul. "I have a theory, about the hypnotism. I don't think he could tamper with my memory again, even if he wanted to. Vachon always gave me to understand that a resistor was just something I was, more-or-less like being blond and female -- that it's built-in. I think that whatever part of my brain has this anti-vampire-hypnotism function was damaged when my head smashed into the locker-room wall on the recoil from Dawkins's bullets. After all, none of the doctors were surprised at my memory loss, so something must have happened to my brain; but it's healed now, obviously, and I don't think I can be whammied again."
"You didn't answer my question," Paul prompted her. "That's all fine and good, but what makes you think this Lacroix isn't going to try to kill you when he finds out he can't manipulate your memories?"
"I'm getting to that." She refilled her coffee mug and sat back down at the table. "The first time, you know, I was in the morgue, apparently dead, I guess. He could have left me that way; he could have killed me so easily. But he went to the trouble of reaching through the coma and rearranging my mind. He said . . . he said, 'I promised him,' and that he always keeps his promises." She stirred her coffee idly. "My theory is that the 'him' was Nick. I think that my life, like Jenny Schanke's college fund, is a legacy from Nick."
Paul took that in. "What if you're wrong?"
"I'll keep a stake up my sleeve." Tracy smiled. "Don't worry; I'll be fine."
"Yes, you will. I'm coming with you to make sure of it."
"Paul, I'm a cop. What can you do that I can't?"
"I can watch your back."
"You can get yourself killed," Tracy retorted, but in a concerned tone that blunted its edge. "We don't know if you're a resistor, but we can pretty well bet that Nick didn't extract any promises on your behalf. Paul, I don't know what I'd do if I lost you; I can't let you walk into that."
"But I'm supposed to let you?"
Tracy tightened her lips and briefly shut her eyes. A fair question, for which she had no answer. "This is something I have to do."
Unwilling to drop the question, Paul tried another track. "What about Vachon?"
Tracy glanced at her watch, and then dashed for the bathroom to brush her teeth. They were both going to be late. "Let's talk about it tonight before I leave, okay?"
But when evening came, Tracy instead found herself dropping off her car in the lot outside the Toronto Star building and taking a bus home. Paul had called the precinct a few hours before to say that an emergency meeting of the editorial staff had been called on the heels of another Janice-initiated debacle, and that he had no idea when he could get loose. He'd had to leave the message on the voice-mail system; Tracy and Jason had been out hopelessly following the slightest of leads on people who might possibly have held a grudge against Tiffany Sohn.
On the bus ride, watching all the other people with all their anonymously-interlocking vampire-less lives, Tracy felt the day's sense of surreal isolation stretch out infinitely. The futility of pursuing the Sohn case as she and Jason had to do, the truth already known but eternally unpresentable, had pushed her to the sidelines of her own consciousness. And as she had watched herself go through the motions, she wondered how often Natalie Lambert had stood in a similar place, halfway between worlds and feeling more like a rope in a tug-of-war than a bridge to any reconciliation. She wondered if Nick had stood there, too. She wondered if his life had been his cover, or if his cover had been his life.
The bus dropped her off about a block from her apartment, and she covered the intervening distance a good clip faster than it would have, even if it had taken her directly to her door. Inside, she called to confirm the round-trip plane ticket she had ordered over the Net that afternoon, futilely tried to cancel the one Paul had ordered, and quickly changed into the peach silk pantsuit she had worn to the most recent charity dinner her father had insisted she attend. She smiled over the pointlessness of fancy clothes as she incongruously covered the outfit with her leather coat and defiantly kept on her warm, tan, dress boots in place of the suit's matching pumps. Halfway out the door, rummaging in her coat's large pockets to confirm that she was carrying a stake as well as her passport, garlic as well as mace, and wishing that she had time to go through the trouble of taking her gun with her, Tracy remembered what she was forgetting. She went back into the apartment, flipped on the kitchen light, and recorded a message for Paul on the answering machine: "Paul, it's 6:34 and I'm taking your car to the airport. I CCed you a copy of my ticket reservations at your work account. If everything goes well, I'll be home by two. I know I said we'd talk about Vachon tonight, but he'll hold till tomorrow; whatever he's doing, I think it's local. Wish me luck." She lifted her finger from the machine, and stared at the blinking red light for a moment before pushing down the key again. "I love you."
The apartment seemed very silent after that, but Tracy did not have much time to think about it as she dodged traffic, paid for parking, dashed through the terminal, and made it through the required red tape and onto Air Canada flight 724 without a moment to spare. Fastening her seatbelt, she reflected gratefully on the convenience of no-luggage commuter flights and stared dutifully at the attendant's rote informing of the passengers that none of the safety precautions had changed one iota from the last million times they had flown. The plane flight, like the bus ride, seemed somehow surreal in its complete normalcy, with the dull magazines she could not bring herself to read and the over-salted nuts she could not bring herself to eat. Tracy had the little row to herself, and so once the plane was in the air, she shifted to the seat at the window and watched the illuminated network of civilization roll under the plane. She just wanted it all to be over, whatever it was she might find on the other end of this jaunt, whatever the answers were to what had happened to her, to Nick, to Vachon, whatever had been the reality of that incredible year. She just wanted it to be over, so she could put her life back on "play" from "rewind."
But as she stared out the window, shaking her head at the flight attendant as the beverage cart rolled past, Tracy wondered whether that was even possible, whether reel two of her life belonged to the same film as reel one. She wondered if they counted, every one of the moments she had lived since that intermission in her memories, or whether they were thin shadows of what she might have felt and done and been had Lacroix not had his way with her mind.
That was why this encounter was something she had to do; and it was why a part of her now wished, more than anything, that Paul was with her.
Tracy disembarked in LaGuardia around 8:30; the plane had been almost precisely on time, and she had been sitting close enough to the cockpit that she had managed to maintain a facade of patience until the passengers in front of her had all exited and she could swing out into a ground-eating pace. She had been through this airport her share of times -- though more often than not with at least one of her parents -- and she knew exactly where to find a taxi to take her up to fifty-seventh street and The Last Man. Normally, knowing where to go and getting there quickly would do Tracy little good, as she would lose all the time she had gained to working up the decisive appearance of someone who wanted a cab, rather than someone who just coincidentally happened to be in the vicinity. Of all the forms of transportation in the world, Tracy despised taxis. Something about getting into a car alone with a stranger had never ceased to make her skin crawl and her imagination dredge up gruesome, unsolved homicides for comparison.
But tonight, with her mind firmly on the logistics of getting herself into the presence of a vampire, she gave few thoughts to her conventional, mortal paranoia, and snapped up the first driver available, a genial, grizzled man whose inescapably-yellow New York cab smelled strongly of the pine-tree air-freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. "Oh, I know that place," he informed her as they set out. "Precisely. They always work the night shift there, same as me, which seems a bit strange for such a fancy-dancy gallery, but," he shrugged his shoulders, "to each his own, don't you know. Or her own, as the case may be."
Tracy smiled noncommittally, and turned to stare out at the city crawling by as the older man kept up a stream of chatter to her, to his dispatcher, and even to himself, when all else failed. She tried to look up at the night sky, but the angle of the car windows and the intrusion of the buildings conspired to keep it hidden. It occurred to her that the city was really the natural habitat of the vampire -- the concentration of humans, the perfect camouflage, the ever-deepening shadows as the buildings reached ever higher -- and it made her wonder where and when the species could have evolved, if it evolved, if it was not simply an embodiment of the primal evil she had sensed the night Vachon had told her he had decided to move on. She wondered if that was a question she dared ask Lacroix, and she wondered if even he knew the answer.
She paid her garrulous driver with her Mastercard when he dropped her off in front of her destination, and wished she had remembered to change some of her cash for US currency when she'd had the chance. The skyscraper holding The Last Man looked just like all the others up and down the street, accommodating human scale for only a few feet around the door before shooting out to giant, mirrored panels that strove to dwarf the human imagination as well as the human body. This skyscraper looked just like all the others, except that its lights were on for patrons, not janitors, and when Tracy disembarked from the elevator on the twelfth floor, she found herself stepping into the tail end of a tornado. Apparently, the featured artist himself had just departed after a whirlwind tour of the show, and from the enthusiastic puffery Tracy overheard on every side, whoever he was, he had left these people begging for more. The majority of them seemed to be leaving even as she arrived, having come more to experience the artist than his art.
She was fairly sure she did not approve of judging a painting based on the affability of the painter, Tracy thought as she moved in against the tide of those who had already seen what they came for, but the pieces on the walls caught her attention almost against her will, and she spent nearly as much time looking at them as she did searching for the tall, pale-haired, former owner of the Raven. She folded her coat over her arm as she glanced past the paintings, keeping the pockets in easy reach, and wished again, despite her original protest and persistent fears for his safety, that Paul could have come; this was much more his kind of thing, and after all this time, she felt almost naked without either Paul or Jason at her side. She had become accustomed to teamwork.
The lights in the gallery as a whole were fairly dim, and their effect was further diffused by the slick, black partitions that provided extra wall-space and turned the giant room into a labyrinth of cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Every painting, however, was individually lit by lamps affixed to the wall around it, and Tracy thought the effect was not unlike standing under a particularly bright streetlight on a particularly dark corner.
"So what do you think?" asked a blond and boyish young man with his hands shoved carelessly into his tuxedo pockets, as she paused in front of a wide Wal-Mart parking-lot at sunrise. She thought he sounded like one of those people who cannot decide which side of the Atlantic they really live on, and end up with an accent that is neither British nor North American, and she wondered how someone so young could have developed it so thoroughly.
"It's not what I expected," she admitted. "I thought realism was still considered hopelessly Victorian or something, and I've certainly never seen today's world depicted with such . . ."
"What?" the young man prompted as she trailed off.
"I'm just supposed to meet someone here," Tracy said uncomfortably. "I really don't know anything about art that I wasn't taught in my freshman survey course in college . . . but do you notice the little freeway in the background up there, bumper to bumper, and the little employees arriving over there in the corner?" She gestured widely at the canvas, and then pulled back her hands as if she was afraid she would touch it by accident. "But all fresh and wonderful under the rising sun. Smaller than the concrete things, but still better, if that makes any sense. I guess, such -- poetry?"
"Yeah. That's what she says, too. Almost." He smiled with satisfaction and appropriated Tracy's arm, steering her enthusiastically over to another nook largely ignored by the show's remaining attendees. "There's something over here you should see."
Unable to think of a way to resist without making an unnecessary scene, Tracy followed. "Who's 'she'?"
"Ms. Cross," he answered, lingering over the name as Tracy's heart fell down to her stomach. So much for this Cross being Lacroix. The dead end was indeed a dead end, and the goblets of red liquid many of the guests held would be nothing more than wine, after all. "The name is unpleasant to you?" he asked with concern.
"Oh, no," Tracy apologized. "I don't know anyone of that name. Unless . . . there is a Mr. Cross?"
"Sadly, no," he sighed exaggeratedly and pressed his hands to his heart. "Though goodness knows I'd give my left hand -- the left, mind -- for the mere opportunity of becoming him. Ah, but she is only interested in my art, tragedy of tragedies. Here we are."
He pointed at a fairly small panel on the wall in front of them, but Tracy followed his arm back up to his face rather than across to the painting of a fairly normal European city neighborhood on a bright summer day, distinguished as Paris only by a smog-encrusted glimpse of the Eiffel Tower so near the edge that it would be covered by almost any frame. "You're--?"
"Darwin Bellon," he dropped his voice unnecessarily. There was no one near them. "At your service, but don't go spreading it around."
Tracy looked out at the small clusters of people circulating around the more popular paintings on the other side of the room from the little alcove in which she and Darwin stood. "Why don't they recognize you? Weren't they just hanging all over you a little bit ago?"
"Well, yes," he admitted. "But then I was wearing a funny old cap, acting a complete prat, and being escorted by Jeanne Cross -- who is, as always, the real attraction around here. I'm just her current project; they would hardly recognize me now if I flashed my passport under their noses. Though, come to think of it, considering the photo in my passport, that's really nothing remarkable. So what do you think of this one?"
"I told you, I don't know anything about art," Tracy protested in embarrassment, looking back at the little painting. Like most of the others, the subject was very engaging to her but wholly unremarkable in the shocking ways she had thought contemporary art was supposed to be remarkable, and knowing that she was speaking to the painter, her mind jumped ship trying to determine what would be a compliment. The only thing that occurred to her was that it was the kind of scene someone might as well have photographed. Helplessly, she said that out loud.
"Ah, but I asked him to paint it, instead," a stunning, black-haired woman remarked meaningfully, coming up behind them and taking Darwin's arm with her free hand. "And no camera loves its image the way that our classical young Mr. Bellon does." She smiled and then pursed her lips, gesturing elegantly with her wine glass. "The young couple, here, just emerging from the cellar stairway? Darwin will not tell you, but they are Eurydice and Orpheus as surely as if they wore a chiton and toga. Only this time, he does not look back, and they escape the underworld together. Darwin has a Golgotha in an electric chair that is really quite remarkable, though less characteristic, and which, I am happy to inform him, has just sold."
"That's wonderful!" he exclaimed, only at the very last moment stopping himself from hugging her, and gallantly kissing her hand instead. Looking back and forth from the blond woman in peach to the brunette in black, he said, "Oh, you two haven't met, have you? Come to think of it," he clarified, looking at Tracy. "We haven't met either."
"Tracy Vetter," she offered as she shook his hand, but her eyes stayed fixed on the woman who had joined them, as they had from the moment she began to speak. "But though Janette deBrabant and I have not yet met face to face, we've come close once before."
"Who?" Darwin asked.
"You must have me mistaken for someone else," Janette replied politely, extending her hand. "I am Jeanne Cross, the proprietor of this gallery."
Tracy took her cool hand expressionlessly, looking conspicuously at Janette's wrist where a mortal pulse would have been, and where Tracy strongly suspected one was not. She could not tell that quickly, of course, but if the temperature of the woman's pale skin was extremely circumstantial, that evidence was buttressed by the consistency of the red liquid in her glass. So that was how she had survived the fire.
Of course, she had not aged a day since the image on the wanted poster had been generated.
"I don't think I'm mistaken," Tracy replied carefully. "I knew your brother."
"I am sorry," Janette condescended graciously. "But I do not have a brother. You really must be mistaken. And if you will excuse us, there are some people I would like to meet Darwin." She gave a nod of polite dismissal, and began to turn the young painter back toward the center of the room.
"Ms. Cross," Tracy said quietly. "I worked with Nick Knight. Surely you are interested in the final outcome of the Larouche case?"
Janette paused and sighed. "Darwin, would you please go introduce yourself to Mr. and Mrs. Riemann over by the Manhattan prints while I deal with this? Ms. Vetter has not asked anything of interest, so you will not recall having met her." Darwin quickly complied, not even acknowledging Tracy with a glance as he left. Janette watched him go, and then stared firmly into Tracy's eyes as she addressed her again in the same slow, measured beats she had just used in speaking to the artist. "You are mistaken. I am not who you think I am."
"That won't work on me," Tracy crossed her arms, and shook off an intrusion she had only consciously felt once, and that from Vachon. "Can we talk now?"
Janette sipped slowly from her glass, and then crossed her arms in a similar posture. "Why should I talk to you?"
"I need information." Tracy almost thought a smile had flitted across Janette's face with that statement, but it was gone too quickly for her to be sure. "Answers."
"We all have our problems," Janette said with mock sympathy.
"And maybe I can answer some of your questions," Tracy offered.
"What makes you think I have any?"
Tracy gritted her teeth. To get information from an upstanding citizen, you showed your badge and asked. To get information from a snitch, you offered something in return. To get information from a recalcitrant vampire? She was at a loss. The silence drew out between them, and at long length, Tracy boldly declared, "I came here looking for Lucien Lacroix, who murdered my friend and partner, Nick Knight."
With that, Tracy thought she saw Janette's mask of indifference crack for the first time. The vampire quickly repaired it, however, and said offhandedly, "I have an office down the hall. This is not really a good place to have this talk."
"Oh, I think it's an excellent place," Tracy disagreed. "Lots of people." Looking across the gallery to where the other patrons were gathered, she belatedly realized just how many of them were sipping from goblets like Janette's.
"But not all of them are your kind of people," Janette replied. "Not even most of them. And that makes this far more dangerous than I believe you know. Come, Ms. Vetter, I can smell the garlic in your coat pocket from here." She widened her eyes mockingly. "I am sure you are well equipped to face me in my lair. And if you are not," she shrugged, "then this interview is over. We have nothing further to say in public."
Tracy watched the other woman's face. She could not read it, but she rather thought she saw a trace of -- fear? Not of her, certainly, but of something. "If I fail to return, I will be missed. And tracked. And found. People know where I am, and who I intended to meet."
"Of course," Janette shrugged nonchalantly, and led Tracy down a short corridor in front of the elevators. Her office was paneled in rich, red wood, and its one window had grooves along the sill for the built-in shutters Tracy suspected were a daily necessity. It featured a standard executive's desk facing out from the same wall as the door, and two stiff chairs sitting as suppliants in front of it. The paneling appeared to enclose any number of cabinets, more or less inconspicuous depending on how often they had been opened. Tracy stood by the window and stared out at the city as Janette firmly closed the door behind them and perched herself on the edge of her desk. "Now, Ms. Tracy Vetter," she began. "What do you want from me and why should I give it to you?"
"I know about vampires. I'm a resistor. I was Nick's partner."
"Three strikes and you're out: is that how that game is played?" Janette sighed and moved around to her chair. "I will give you one thing for free, Detective Vetter, and that is that if I were you, I would not be advertising any of those facts. Especially in my gallery, hmmm?" She extracted a cigarette from a box in the top drawer of her desk.
"Why? Enforcers?" Tracy asked.
"If you know about those who protect our secret, then you should behave much more circumspectly than you appear to." Janette looked up from the match she was about to light, and pursed her lips speculatively at Tracy. "Unless, of course, you want to die. And even in that case, I would prefer you do so off my premises."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Janette looked at Tracy as if evaluating her. "As all the world knows, about four years ago, there was a good deal of news coverage of certain . . . regrettable . . . incidents in Toronto. A Doctor Lambert, dead. A Detective Knight, missing. His partner, a Commissioner's daughter, emerging from a coma with memory loss. Ashes and stakes and blood, at a murder scene. There was quite a substantial amount of publicity, and naturally, publicity does not go over well with those who wish to protect secrets." She lit her cigarette and breathed it in. "As I said, one thing for free, detective, from another affected by those . . . incidents. Any two of the three facts you just stated constitute a death warrant, for those in your vicinity as well as yourself."
"I appreciate the warning," Tracy said. The small part of her mind that was completely occupied in keeping her from visibly reacting to the tobacco stench wondered if Janette realized that smoking was a tactical move in this situation; only one of them could ever develop lung cancer, after all, and it was not the one with the cigarette in her hand. "But someone has already had the chance to kill me and passed it up. I want to know why."
Janette leaned back in her chair. "I am not in the habit of interpreting others' acts of mercy."
"It was Lucien Lacroix, former owner of the Raven nightclub. You reacted to his name in the gallery, Ms. Cross."
"Did I?" Janette asked with a bored expression.
"As you said, everyone knows that the night -- or, rather, the morning -- that Nick Knight and Natalie Lambert died, I was in a hospital, in a coma. What almost no one knows is that I woke up to Lacroix standing over me." Tracy paced up to one of the chairs in front of Janette's desk and crossed her arms over its high back. "His eyes burned golden red, and he was crying blood tears. He said, 'I promised him.' He said, 'In my own way, I always keep my promises.' And then he disappeared."
Janette sat quietly for a moment. "Anything else?"
"I only remembered that last week. Lacroix took my memories from me. He stole them. For four years, I have had almost no memory of Nick or Natalie or Vachon, and did not know that I knew about vampires."
"Was Nicolas the one who told you?"
"You said 'one' free," Tracy reminded her. "My turn. My questions -- I want to know if you killed Mario Larouche and his two associates. I want to know what happened that night, to Nick and Natalie. I want to know what you know about Javier Vachon. I want to know about you and Nick and the deBrabant Foundation and the Raven. I want to know why Lacroix let me live. Most of all, I want to know what he did to me and whether it can happen again."
"So many," Janette observed. "Be careful, or you may run out of information that interests me with which to bargain. I am responsible for the arsonists, yes. Now, was Nicolas the one who told you?"
"No. Do you know Javier Vachon?"
"No. Did Nicolas know you knew?"
Tracy smiled slowly. "Oh, yes. I suspect now that he knew almost from the very start, and it's the last thing I said to him before I slid into that coma. He knew, before he died, that I knew about vampires. And he knew I knew about him."
"What makes you think he is dead?" Janette ground out her cigarette in a black ashtray and moved to the window, staring out at a city that made it remarkably easy to keep vampires' hours.
"If I tell you what I know about that night, will you do the same?"
"Why do you want to know? Why come all this way, after all this time -- it has been, what, a tenth of your lifetime already, since it happened?"
"Nick was my partner," Tracy stated firmly, suppressing her rising frustration at Janette's continued refusal to talk. "My friend. I owe him. My understanding, at least, if there is nothing else I can give. Please . . . Janette. For Nick. Help me understand. For myself, with what Lacroix took from me . . . I need to understand in order to take it back."
Janette turned away from the window and walked slowly back to her desk. She pulled out another cigarette, and another match, and then transferred her gaze to Tracy. With the remarkable ease of very, very long practice, Janette lit her cigarette without ever lifting her searching gaze from the mortal woman in front of her.
As Janette prolonged her probing stare, time seemed unaccountably to stretch out, and the ease of the gesture went, in Tracy's perception, from petty to profound. She felt as if she was being judged, and did not want to think about what the basis of that judgment could be. She felt an urge to look anywhere but at Janette, and so, naturally, stared defiantly straight back into her eyes.
Finally, Janette dropped her gaze as she dropped her cigarette in the ashtray. "And if I do not help you, what will you do?" she asked rhetorically. "You will not do what you should: return home and forget about this, live a normal, mortal life. Non. Certainement. You will keep asking questions until you are dead, and likely others with you." Janette returned to the window and looked out again into the night. "Just as he would have." There was silence again, but this time Tracy felt no threat from it.
"All right," Janette agreed at last, her gaze as distant as Tracy imagined her thoughts must be. "We will exchange. What do you know?"
Tracy sat down in the high-backed chair, playing idly with the stake in her pocket. She told Janette what she had told Paul so few days before, first laying out the pieces of the Larouche case more clearly than she could have before learning Nick's mysterious sister was a vampire. She told Janette that she and Natalie had lied for Nick, while Nick had lied for Janette. She then jumped to Vachon's phone call and ended with awakening in the morgue. She filled in what blanks she could from the evidence files she had read -- that Nick's caddy had been parked outside the loft, for example, and that Natalie had packed all her personal belongings after her final shift in the Coroner's building. She went over her last case with Nick, the suicide of Natalie's friend Lora Haynes, and her last sight of him, in the locker room after she had been shot. "Now you," Tracy prompted. "I was Nick's partner. What were you?"
"What was I?" Janette repeated, her voice rich in irony. "I was . . . everything. Patrick apparently told you I was Nicolas's sister; that will be close enough." She turned her back to the window and stared diagonally across the room at Tracy. "He is dead; you are right. He died that night. Guilt, then ecstasy, then agony, then . . . nothing. But I was not there, Detective Vetter. I was in Paris at the time. And no amount of wishing can give me more of a window on that night than you have yourself. I can only guess."
"What do you guess? Did Lacroix kill him?"
Janette leaned her head to one side, as if the angle brought Tracy into a clearer focus. "I do not know . . . Tracy. I think so. I think Nicolas finally agreed to bring his Natalie across, and failed. I think he must somehow have convinced Lacroix to kill him, as he would never have been able to kill himself." She rose and poured herself a drink out of a crystal decanter she removed from a cupboard. She drank down the full goblet, and followed it with another. "Such an idea would not have occurred to me under normal circumstances, but the pieces have to fit together somehow . . . do they not, Detective? And Lacroix walked into the sun later that morning. I felt it some myself, and there are . . . others, closer to him then, with whom I confirmed it. Only over Nicolas . . ." She poured herself a third goblet, and returned to her chair. "So there you are, Tracy Vetter, and you know Lacroix cannot harm you again because he is dead. Is that all?"
"No," Tracy answered quietly, her mind reeling at the news of Lacroix's death. "No, he-- Did he harm me? I mean, he didn't kill me, but--"
Janette laughed, a sound both surprised and bitter. "You do not even know, do you? Oh, quelle mortelle triste. It is just like him to have tied his pieces to the board even after he quit the game." She paused, and then continued, almost as if to herself, "La reigne du Lacroix c'est morte. Rien de son oeuvres existerais." She rose and came to stand in front of Tracy. "He chose his exit, and I have no wish to allow him encores at this point. The memories of a resistor can never be removed, only . . . restricted, or barricaded, and even that only with great effort and skill." She ran her hand as if along the outline of Tracy's face, but several inches from the mortal woman's head. "I can sense his touch on your mind as surely as if you bore his brand on your skin. And -- there!" She clasped her hand on the empty air as if she had just plucked up a butterfly in flight. "Remember, Tracy Vetter. Look around the barricade, and remember."
Janette's voice had dipped into the measured cadence Tracy associated with vampiric hypnotism, but she felt none of the intrusion of her earlier brushes with the experience. She felt, instead, something like the painful relief of removing a piece of too-tight clothing that had been cutting off circulation. She looked up into Janette's eyes, and saw Vachon's bloody face telling her he would not heal. She staggered through all the moments she had ever believed she and Vachon were more than friends, through all the hopes and fears that had come as she peered over the brink of loving him, never quite daring to fall in. She felt the stake in her pocket, and she felt the jolt as Vachon impaled himself at her hands.
Mortal tears streaming down her anguished, human face, Tracy broke her gaze away from Janette's. "I killed him. My God. I killed Vachon. I . . . loved him, and he made me kill him."
Returning again to her chair, Janette waited patiently for Tracy to regain control of herself before suggesting, "Perhaps that is why Lacroix spared you, Tracy Vetter. Perhaps, he saw in you a glimpse of that pain in common." She shrugged her elegant shoulders in a motion almost too fluid for that coarse term. "Or perhaps not. He once promised Nicolas not to invade his life in Toronto with-- now what did Nicolas call it? 'His mindless killing.' That was their truce. Certainly you were a part of Nicolas's life in Toronto, and Lacroix . . . always kept his promises. To the letter."
"But why take my memories, and why in two layers -- the year, and then Vachon?"
Janette cocked her head toward her left shoulder. "You are mistaken. Really, this time. What Lacroix took from you I have released just now. Anything else . . . the newspapers said your surgeons attributed your amnesia to a head injury, Detective. I see no reason to doubt them. The mind is an unpredictable thing."
"But why Vachon?"
Janette finished the last of the liquid in her goblet and stared down into the empty vessel contemplatively. "I do not know. Rearranging people's lives and rewriting their memories for their own good was Nicolas's predilection, not Lacroix's. Perhaps Nicolas asked it of him. I do not know, Detective Vetter, and believe me, I have more unanswered questions as you do." She returned to the cabinet with the crystal container and poured herself another glass. Tracy observed to herself that she found something somehow more honest about Vachon's hunger, drinking straight out of the bottle; Janette's veneer of polite civilization only made her the more dangerous and unpredictable, as did the occasional flashes of what seemed honest sympathy in an otherwise steady beam of forced toleration.
"What about the Raven? The deBrabant Foundation Clinic, or hospice, or whatever?"
"Have you seen it?" Janette asked, almost wistfully; Tracy nodded. "What is it like?"
"It's quite nice," Tracy answered, confused by the need for such a question. " It's well-equipped, clean, safe, generally friendly, and with an extremely competent staff. It helps people. The manager is a bit of a bear, but she seems very devoted."
"Leslie Burke, a bear?" Janette disagreed with a smugly-assured smile. "No. Never."
Tracy raised her eyebrows. "How long has it been since you've seen Ms. Burke?"
"Hmm? I do not know. Perhaps thirty years? Oh-- that would mean she has grown old, in this becoming a 'bear.' Ah, well. If she is a problem, she will be dead soon, I suppose, and I will find someone better."
"Dead?" Tracy repeated. "Is she ill?"
"What? No: mortal. You will all be dead soon, all things considered." Janette refilled her goblet yet again, and then shut the cabinet. "So I have told you the old Raven is mine. I believe that rounds out your interrogation, Detective, and I may yet have a few patrons who require my attention. If you do not mind?"
Janette gestured toward the door, and Tracy rose to comply. But with her hand on the knob, she paused. "Why do you own the clinic?"
"Why does anyone do a 'good deed'?" Janette returned mockingly.
"That's why I'm asking. Is it a good deed, or is it a practical resource?"
"You think I--" Janette cut herself off and sipped at her bloody drink. After a long moment, she smiled, an expression of lips, not teeth. "The clinic is precisely what it says, Detective, precisely what Nicolas would have had it be. No investigation can ever reveal anything else, for there is nothing else to reveal."
Watching her eyes, Tracy accepted that and nodded. Nevertheless, she pressed, "Then why haven't you seen it yourself? It seems important to you."
Janette sighed, and then answered patiently, in the tone of a tired adult indulging one last question from a small child. "Because, Detective, in the aftermath of the messy, public way Lacroix allowed Nicolas to exit this world, the Enforcers declared Toronto off-limits to vampires for three generations, until all possible witnesses die out. Because of Nicolas and Lacroix, everything the Toronto Community ever built is destroyed. Because of Nicolas and Lacroix, I, myself, am routinely watched, on the suspicion that such insanity is hereditary. I defy them in small ways, with Lacroix's name and Nicolas's money, but if I do not send you home with a painting as an excuse for this tête-à-tête, it is very likely that you will be drained well before you cross the border. Do you understand now? Good."
Janette crossed her arms and waited for Tracy to open the door, then led her back to the main gallery, making a great show of having sold her the small painting of the French neighborhood with Orpheus, despite the fact that Tracy knew it to be astronomically out of her price range. Arrangements were made to have it shipped to her after the show, though Tracy noted that Janette deliberately avoided mentioning any of the latter half of her address aloud.
Just as the elevator doors began to close between them, Janette addressed Tracy one final time. "And Detective? Do not look back."
Tracy called a cab from a phone in the ground-floor lobby, but the wait for it, like the ride itself and the flight that followed -- the mirror image of the ones earlier that night -- blurred into meaninglessness; her conscious mind was occupied elsewhere, grappling with what Janette had said, how far to believe it, and what she herself now remembered, which she could not doubt. She had killed Vachon. Not literally, of course: he had killed himself at her hands after she refused to grant the death blow. But the feeling of responsibility, which would have persisted in any case, broke over her like a tsunami in the sudden storm of these memories violently snatching back their rightful place from the false ones Lacroix had given her. Her "good friend" had not decided it was "time to move on;" her . . . love? . . . had died. At her hands. And she had buried him with those hands, on the beach next to Screed.
She realized now that it had been Vachon's grave that had been disturbed on the water side of Cherry Park. She could only guess that he had managed somehow to regenerate in the darkness of the earth, helped perhaps by the blood with which she had buried him, in a tribute she had hardly understood, but had desperately needed to give. If she did not know why Vachon had survived, she had the evidence of her own eyes that he had, as the sight of him had been the trigger for this entire odyssey into locked and lost portions of her own soul.
And so Vachon again walked the streets of Toronto, where Janette said no vampire was allowed to be.
She had to warn him. Didn't she?
Driving back from the airport, Tracy wished that she was bringing answers home to Paul, rather than just more questions. Most of all, she wished she knew what to do with four-year-old emotions that were suddenly as raw and unresolved as the day Lacroix had buried them. She had grown and changed as she lived the intervening years, but was she the person she would have become if she'd had to mourn Vachon? Tracy wondered if anything since that night could be real, and as she looked at her own left hand on the steering wheel, a hand that as yet wore no ring, she wondered if it would be fair to put one there. And she wondered how life could be worth living if she did not.
Tracy was unsurprised to see one light still burning in their apartment when she pulled up, but as she parked Paul's car next to an empty space, she began to worry. There was no way the meeting could have run this long, she told herself, glancing at the clock on the dashboard. 2:03 AM.
"Paul?" she called as she pulled her keys out of the door, not expecting an answer. The kitchen light was still on, as she had left it, rather than the desk lamp that Paul inevitably gravitated toward, and Tracy barely closed the door behind her before heading for the answering machine. Four messages: the first two were her own, and since the number display only counted two, she knew Paul had called in for them.
The third was from him: "Hi, Tracy. I hope you caught your pumpkin at midnight, or I'll probably be home before you, making this message completely redundant. It's about one-thirty. After the meeting -- tell you about it later -- I grabbed a pizza with Tony and Alicia and then came back to poke the computer into some old city files on the tunnel system around the deBrabant clinic. It looks like Burke was right about the 'illegitimate' side of the club, though I'd say it has the Constantine family written all over it, instead of your least favorite word from the latter half of the dictionary. Anyway, I found this place where it surfaces into the basement of a disused former factory building three blocks over from that abandoned church, and it looks like a direct line, so I'm going to go and follow up the--" The machine beeped at her, and she waited with some semblance of patience for the next message to cue up. Paul had more stamina than their recorder. "I know, I know," he began in the next message. "I talk too much. I just meant to say that I'm checking out that bit of the tunnels, and I should be home by three. I love you, too, sunny-girl, and I hope you found everything you wanted and nothing you didn't. See you in a bit. Bye."
The machine waited, blinking silently, for Tracy to reset it, but it had an uncountable number of blinks to go before someone took pity on it and allowed the recorder to rewind. As soon as the message had ended, Tracy had bolted out of the apartment, pausing only long enough to pick up her gun and a second stake. The address Paul had described was Screed's -- the one place they had not looked for Vachon.
Paul had a half-an-hour head start on her, Tracy noted, as she briefly debated pulling police authority in order to make up some fraction of that time. After all, Paul was no one to Vachon, no one at all, and if he found himself surprised by a nosy reporter in a Toronto without a Raven, goodness only knew what might happen.
Or, more specifically, Tiffany Sohn knew.
Spotting her own car sitting down the street, Tracy anxiously pulled into the alley where she had parked every time she had visited Screed's place after that first. That time, of course, a car had been unnecessary as she had awakened, uninvited and unwilling, tied to a chair in the carouche's rat-infested hell-hole. Instinctively choosing her gun over her stakes, Tracy edged into Screed's old squat from around the ventilation grating. Not seeing anyone as she descended the candlelit steps, she called cautiously. "Paul? Vachon?"
"Tracy!" she heard Paul exclaim from somewhere to her left, his voice muffled and tense. "Get out of here!" She whipped around the concrete pillar in front of her, gun raised, a motion which followed naturally into a dead-eye aim on the sandy-haired vampire holding Paul off his feet against the far wall.
Golden-eyed and with all-too-visible fangs, the stranger growled at her intrusion and then laughed without humor at her gun. "That will do no good against me, mademoiselle."
"Probably not," Tracy allowed, edging closer as quickly as she could without dislodging her aim. "But I have a stake in my pocket, and I figure the impact of the bullets will give me a chance to pull it out. So drop him, now, or I will stake you and drag your body to the nearest CBC station and have your autopsy all over the world before the Enforcers can blink. Got it?"
"And what's going on down here?" Vachon's nonchalant amusement came from behind her.
"Tell your friend to drop him, Vachon, or I will fire, I swear."
"Trace?" Vachon could not keep the surprise completely out of his tone when the sound of her voice confirmed what she knew his other senses must have told him. With her gaze locked on the strange vampire with the French accent, Tracy clearly saw him roll his eyes at this evidence she and Vachon knew each other. She thought Vachon must have noticed that expression as well, because he responded to it by saying, "Bourbon, let him go. Trace, what are you doing here?"
Following Bourbon with her gun as Paul joined her in the center of the room, the two mortals now between the two vampires, Tracy did not turn to look at Vachon until Bourbon turned away and she felt it was safe to pull up her aim. Vachon had saved her life five times that she knew of; it was hard to help trusting him to preserve it again, and he seemed to have some authority over this Bourbon, but Tracy knew they were in a bad situation. The French vampire had been right. Her gun could provide nothing but an inconvenience to his kind. Her safety, and Paul's, depended on Vachon.
When she did turn to look at her one-time snitch, she was taken aback. She had not expected him to age, of course, and he had not. She had not expected him to change, of course, and he had not. But to see him standing there, his marble face staring out from his sable mane, his assured expression temporarily overtaken by surprise, the black clothes stretched over his hard muscles almost mistakable for those in which she had buried him, if not for the newer cut of the jeans--
"Tracy?" Paul prompted, startling her out of her reverie.
"At the moment," she holstered her gun and tossed one of her stakes to Paul. "It looks like I'm rescuing you." Turning to the Spanish vampire, she said, "I've been looking for you, Vachon, but I didn't think to look down here."
"See?" Bourbon addressed Vachon. "La mortelle sais que il n'y a pas une place propre ou on vivent comme des carouches." Vachon quelled him with a look, momentarily, but Bourbon rallied and pressed on. "Ca va. Comme Screed au decade mal, sinon comme les gens de son sorte. Javier, son temps de partie -- plus de temps."
Vachon crossed his arms and stared impassively, leaving otherwise unacknowledged what Tracy and her inadequate French guessed was some sort of complaint.
Bourbon sniffed impatiently. "It is time to move on, Javier, and past time. You are well enough to travel now, and we have to get out of here."
Looking from the French vampire back to the Spanish one, Tracy concurred. "That's part of what I need to talk to you about, Vachon. I don't know how the heck you're still alive, and it's not that I'm not thrilled about it, but I know that Toronto is no place for a vampire these days. You have to get out."
"How does she know about the interdict?" Bourbon demanded.
"She knows a lot of things," Paul offered cautiously, positioning himself at her back. "Tracy, it's this Vachon you want to talk to, right?"
"Talking to mortals? Given, she is blonde and you are therefore hopeless, Javier, but unless you have been planning to fill Urs's place, you have to learn to leash your tongue."
Vachon blinked. "Bourbon, shut up." He moved to sit on a protruding concrete ledge and gestured at the spot in front of the stairs where he had just been standing. "If you'd feel safer with a wall on one side and an exit on the other . . . ?" Paul and Tracy exchanged a look, and he proceeded to the area Vachon had just vacated while she joined him on his ledge. "So, Trace."
She smiled at the incongruous normality of his tone. "So, Vachon."
"Had a good four years?"
"Uh, yeah. How 'bout you?"
"I don't actually know. I don't remember a thing from the night you staked me to the night Bourbon dug me up last week. Thanks for keeping me out of the sun, by the way."
"She is the one who staked you?" Bourbon demanded incredulously.
Without looking at him, Vachon repeated, "Bourbon, I said 'shut up.'"
Tracy quirked her eyebrows. "Why did he dig you up if he was going to be such a pain about it?"
"He's family," Vachon shrugged. "We hadn't spoken in three decades--"
"Twenty-seven years, eleven months," Bourbon corrected under his breath.
"--and since I wasn't actually dead, he didn't know there was anything wrong with me until he realized that Toronto was where I'd stalled out." Vachon paused and sought Bourbon's eyes. "He came to get me out of the Enforcers' territory, and he's put his own life in danger to do it." Flipping his gaze back to Tracy, Vachon grinned. "He's not normally quite so much of a pain. He's just anxious to move on."
"He's right, Vachon," Tracy said slowly. "From what I understand, you need to get out of here, soon." She paused. "I assume you're responsible for that jogger who was drained near Cherry Beach?"
Vachon took in the question for a moment. "She was the first living thing to happen by after Bourbon dug me up." He shrugged. "I was completely disoriented, Trace, like the first hunger all over again, but with remnants of the visions that had made me seek out death in the first place. Bourbon lost me, and I got myself smashed up good by a truck just at dawn. I ended up having to sneak out of a morgue."
"I know," Tracy said. "Look, the body has been found and is in the hands of the Medical Examiners. Any cover you have is close to being blown, and if there are any more bodies with bite marks, the publicity will be tremendous. Doctor Lambert is dead, you know. There isn't anyone to cover for you anymore."
"Nothing else will be found," Bourbon asserted, seating himself on a pile of blankets against the far wall. Tracy wondered bleakly how many unsolveable missing-persons cases were contained in that statement, and the French vampire seemed to notice her disapproval. "We did scavenge some few aging crates of bottled blood from Javier's last dwelling, but they would not have lasted long between the two of us in any case, and, tell me, mademoiselle, would you drink sour milk if you could simply walk outside and find a cow?"
"Since when do you know about Doctor Lambert?" Vachon changed the subject.
"Since I know about Nick," Tracy answered. "He's dead, too, Vachon. Reduced to ashes by the sun. Unlike you, he won't be coming back."
The young-looking vampire reached out a hand to pull a stray lock of hair forward over her ear. Running his fingers lightly along her jaw, he said softly, "I'm sorry about your partner, Trace." He held her gaze for a long moment, and then dropped his hand and tilted his head to indicate Paul. "So is this his replacement, Detective?"
"No," Tracy answered, rolling the short word through a dozen emotions in a single syllable. "Paul Spartali? Meet Javier Vachon. Vachon? Meet my fiancé, Paul."
Vachon studied her face for a moment, and then turned his eyes to take in the mortal man who had been standing uncomfortably on the edge of the conversation. Tracy watched them evaluate each other, and thought how alike they were in some ways, and how different in others. She wondered if she had been subconsciously looking for Vachon when she fell in love with Paul, and yet she knew Paul was no Vachon. Whether that was a good thing or a bad one, her present briefly warred with her past in deciding.
"Charming, no?" Bourbon commented from his seat. "Javier, you are just creating more loose ends to tie up. So now you have it confirmed that Nick Knight is dead, and now you have seen the one who staked you. Your business here is complete. Let us have them, and then go!" Too fast for a mortal's eyes to follow, he covered the room and disarmed Paul, his fangs bared.
"No!" Vachon growled, jumping to his feet. The French vampire reluctantly backed off.
"Fine, Javier," Bourbon said. "But find a solution within the Code, and quickly, please, or prepare to face the Enforcers on your own. Hypnotize them?"
"She's a resistor," Vachon sighed. "That's how this all started in the first place."
"Well, he does not seem to be. Would you like to bring her across?"
"Trace?" Vachon asked rhetorically, looking unblinkingly into her eyes. She almost began to answer, but saw that he knew what she would say. "No, Bourbon. I'm not making that mistake again; Urs would haunt me for it, and she deserves her peace now that she's finally found it. Tracy doesn't want to come across; she doesn't want to die; she doesn't want to be a vampire. Ojala que quisiera." He paused. "Do you, Trace?"
"No, I don't," she answered honestly, though she knew that left the vampires without recourse within their Code, as she understood it. If he could not hypnotize them or bring them over, Bourbon seemed bent on draining them, and while she doubted Vachon would let her die, she could not depend on any similar defense for Paul. Looking at him over Bourbon's shoulder, something Janette had said returned to her: resistors' memories "barricaded," with "skill" and "effort." That was next to the last thing she wanted, to have her memories shoved again into inaccessible corners of her mind; but the very last thing she wanted was to die, or to have Paul die. She raised her voice to address both vampires. "But, look, I'm not sure I want to have to live with access to my knowledge of vampires if I have to hide it from Paul, either. Maybe you can--"
"Tracy!" Paul exclaimed in surprise and anxiety; he could not know where she was heading. "Vachon," he addressed the vampire with admirable calmness from where Bourbon had him cornered. "You let Tracy free with her memories before. Let her go again. Nothing has changed."
"Really? What about you, Spartali? I'd say you were a pretty big change."
"Apparently, I can be dealt with. Let her go."
Vachon smiled slowly. "I intend to."
"What?" Bourbon demanded. "You can't!"
"Why not?" Vachon asked, wide-eyed. "We aren't the ones who broke the Code and let them know about vampires."
"Of course not. Obviously, it was her partner, Knight. Obviously, as he is responsible for all the Code-breaking in Toronto, he is responsible for this, too."
"Oh," Bourbon took in that plausible reconstruction of reality. "Obviously."
"And as soon as we're out of town, there will be no more vampires in Toronto, and therefore no opportunity for these two to get in trouble with the Enforcers. Right?"
Bourbon turned directly to Vachon, and it seemed to Tracy almost as if they were communicating something fairly complex through that long glance. She wondered if that was a skill gained by such long association, or whether it was a part of vampirism she still knew nothing about; she wondered how small her cache of supernatural knowledge was in the shadow of everything she did not know. And while she did not want to lose the pieces of herself she had found in that shadow, she had since built so many more in the light. She still loved Vachon, for what he had taught her about that world, and about herself, and for what might have been, even though it never could have been. It had been a fantasy love, not the kind of love to build on, not the kind she had with Paul. She and Vachon could never have worked in the real world, she admitted anew, and it was the real world that she desperately wanted to live in. She had loved Vachon; she was in love with Paul. Tracy gently laid her four-year-old emotional tangle to rest.
"If we leave now," Bourbon negotiated carefully. "We can be in a five-star hotel in Rochester before the sun rises." Vachon nodded slowly, and with that, Bourbon exited the cellar without another look at the mortals.
Turning to Tracy, Vachon said, "I'm sorry we didn't have longer to talk, mi querido problema mortal, but it's time to move on." He rubbed the back of his hand against her cheek. "Take care of yourself," he smiled, and then strode to the steps to follow Bourbon out. Halfway up, he turned back and caught Paul's eye. Blowing out the nearest candle, Vachon said, "Put out the lights when you go, huh?"
Tracy thought she heard the sudden wind of a vampire jumping into flight seconds after Vachon vanished from view, but she could not be sure. Paul and she stared at each other for a moment across the suddenly-silent basement, and then he moved to her, dropped his stake and hugged her to him fiercely. She buried her head in his shoulder, and would not let go even when he moved to sit down on the ledge she and Vachon had occupied through most of the encounter.
"You're crying again," he noted, wiping his thumbs gently across the tracks of those tears.
"It's okay," she assured him, smiling brightly behind the rain, and holding him securely to her. "Everything's going to be okay, now. Everything is right where it is supposed to be."
~ ~ ~
A man stepped into the loud and well-lit party from the dark and quiet deck of the ship. Even out on Lake Ontario, even after sunset, it had been relatively warm this August, and it probably did not occur to anyone that he must be cold, wearing only a short-sleeved black t-shirt tucked into black jeans. They might have noticed that his clothing was not quite up to the suits and gowns that predominated among the guests in the room, but black is eternal, and it suited him.
Tracy watched him walk slowly up the long room, toward her and the other dancers, standing still or drifting apart in front of the band now that the song had ended. She watched him take it all in: the ribbons, the flowers, the food; the children up too long after their bedtimes and the adults exchanging stories of times just like this one, and just so different. She watched him take in the table piled with gifts, and the original Darwin Bellon painting displayed in the center. Most of all, she watched him take her in, and she wondered vaguely whether her hair had fallen out of its sleek twist since the last time she looked in the mirror, or if her bra strap had once again crept out from under the yoke of her white dress. She watched him, and reaching out again for Paul's hand, she gestured unobtrusively so that he, too, watched the man in black advancing from across the room.
Paul hesitated for a moment, then gave her hand an understanding squeeze and walked off the dance floor, laughing and joking and doing his best to take their cluster of well-wishers with him. Commissioner Vetter chose that moment to approach his daughter, but the man stepped smoothly in front of him, and bowed to her in the courtly gesture of a time long lost.
"Vachon!" Tracy welcomed him, her voice instinctively low. Not taking her blue eyes from the wide brown ones in front of her, she spoke to the gray-haired, tuxedo-clad man who had moved to her side: "Dad, this is Javier Vachon . . . a friend from out of town."
Richard Vetter nodded with the robust disdain Tracy remembered him using on her dates when she had been a teenager, and she wondered if the smug smile hovering around his lips was due to the fact that, whatever the slacker in front of him might be, it was not his son-in-law. He began to reach out for a handshake, but as Vachon caught his gaze, Tracy's father seemed to change his mind, simply nodding and withdrawing.
"Did you just . . . ?" Tracy watched her father suddenly set off determinedly toward the remaining cake.
"Did I just . . .?" Vachon echoed, arching his eyebrows.
Tracy laughed and reached out to clasp his hands between hers. "I'm glad you're here, but why are you here?"
"Can't I have the honor of a dance with the bride?"
"There isn't any music."
"That's okay, Trace," he grinned. "I don't dance." He stared at her for a long moment, and she thought how he had changed not at all since the last time she saw him. She knew she looked well that night, but she also knew she looked changed, and change itself was the wall rising between them. Finally he asked, "Where's Paul?"
"With his mother," Tracy pointed out the table where they sat, surrounded by his friends and family. "That was supposed to be the last dance."
"Am I disrupting tradition, then? Shouldn't you be going off with him right about now?"
"We can spare the time, Vachon."
"No," he shook his head, and reached out to brush a loose strand of hair tenderly away from her neck. "No, you can't. Live your life, Trace. Live every minute, because you don't have any to spare." He looked at her, his eyes wide and earnest, and she wondered at how futile her instant must seem in his forever.
"My choice, Vachon," she answered softly. "Thank you for recognizing that."
"Mi angel rubio y mortal vestido de blanco," he said slowly, his Spanish still incomprehensible to her. "Le deseo a usted toda felicidad, Mrs. Spartali." Holding her eyes, he raised her ring-bearing left hand to his lips in a gesture as eternal as he was. Bowing again, he left the room, and the deck, the way he had come, just before the ship docked again in Toronto.
Paul came up behind Tracy and embraced her around her waist. "What did he say?" he asked, too low for anyone but her to hear.
Tracy laid her hands over his and stared after Vachon contemplatively for a moment. "I don't know," she answered serenely, turning to face her husband in the circle of his arms. "But I think he wished us luck."
The Forever Knight fantasy television series characters were created by James Parriot and Barney Cohen, are owned by the Sony Corporation, and periodically appear on the SciFi Channel; no infringement is intended. Please support Sony and SciFi in all their Forever Knight endeavors!
All characters and situations in this fantasy-fiction piece are entirely fictional. Any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental.
This story was originally inspired by the song "It's All Coming Back To Me Now," written by Jim Steinman, sung by Celine Dion, and drawn to my attention by Bonnie P.
My appreciation goes to Bonnie for her encouragement and enthusiasm throughout the composition of this story; to Elisabeth for her stern analysis as I reached for an ending; to Marg and Elisabeth for helpfully providing Toronto place-names and Canadian cultural information; to Bonnie for defending Vachon's character; to Elisabeth for defending Janette's; and to Chelseagirl, Elisabeth and Bonnie for their editorial suggestions.
Credit and thanks for the French spoken by Janette and Bourbon goes to Cynthia. Credit and thanks for the Spanish spoken by Vachon goes especially to Barbara, and also to Chuck and Jeni. Any errors are my own fault; I speak neither French nor Spanish.
Please do not archive, post or distribute this piece; you're welcome to link to it here on my own site, though. I wrote "Corners of the Mind" and posted it to fkfic-l during the summer of 1997; I coded it in HTML and placed it on this website in March, 1999.
Thank you for reading. Comments and constructive criticism are appreciated. Please email me or comment on my LiveJournal or Dreamwidth.
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