“You sure you don’t want to trade?” Nick patted his desk’s return arm. “All this space, the typewriter out of the way, a clear view down the hall?”
“Oh, no you don’t, Knight. I won that toss fair and square. I get the side three steps from the coffee machine and six from the men’s room.” Detective Don Schanke adjusted the angle of the swing lamp between their relocated desks so that it shone more on his. His yellow polyester tie glinted in the direct light. “Stonetree may have shimmied out of his promise that you and I had to partner up only for that so-called ‘vampire’ case” — Schanke mimed quotation marks with his fingers — “but don’t go thinking you’ve seized the upper hand in this joint venture, just because—”
“Just because you totaled my car?”
Schanke winced. “How is the Caddy?”
“I went by the garage yesterday.” Nick smiled slowly, watching the tension wind Schanke up, but finally Nick let him off the hook. After all, the perp in their first case cutting the brake line was in no way Schanke’s fault. The polka music and the fire hydrant, however... “I drove it in to work tonight.”
“Good! Great!” Schanke let out the breath he’d been holding. “The, uh, insurance paid for everything, right?”
Nick shrugged. His insurance company did not value his iridescent lime ’62 Cadillac convertible as highly as he did, but his own pockets were deeper than Schanke needed to know. Nick's insurance agent's exasperation with his auto repair claim had at least helped distract him from the other, irreparable, outcomes of that devastating case.
There had been so many victims. Some of them, Nick had known and cared about. He had visited the runaway, Jeannie, first in the hospital and then in the rehabilitation center. They had talked through memories of Topper and “Dr.” Dave, and Nick had tried to help her begin to imagine her future without them. He had written to Alyce Hunter's family, striving to speak as a friend, not as the law enforcement officer who had been able to save her one fewer time than she had needed. Nick had barely known Alyce before losing her, in his own burning home, on Lacroix's fangs.
But of Lacroix — who had once been like a father or a brother, now dead at Nick’s own hands — Nick had nothing to say. He had told Natalie, who could not possibly understand. He had not told Janette, who might understand all too well. She deserved to know, he admitted to himself, but no words fit. Nemesis and yet liege, tyrant and yet teacher. “I can’t be this anymore!” “How long is the longest friendship?” “Va au diable!” Nick had driven a flaming stake though that icy heart.
Then had come the silence.
For eight centuries, the metaphysical threads binding Nick to Lacroix had vibrated to the tunes Lacroix had called. Lacroix had always managed to make Nick into what he least wanted to be. Nick hoped to save lives; Lacroix had driven him to take them. Nick hoped to become human again; Lacroix had stirred the monster he still was. Once more. One last. Murderer into victim, victim into murderer. To whom could Nick turn himself in?
The “vampire” case, indeed.
“Knight. Schanke.” Captain Joe Stonetree loomed in his door, glowering over the squad room. He rocked his head back toward his office. “Got a minute?”
“Sure, Captain,” Schanke said, catching Nick’s gaze and raising his eyebrows as they both stood. Nick shook his head; the only things on his desk were follow-up paperwork and inherited cold cases, not likely to merit the Captain’s intervention.
“I know you’re just passing the shift-change baton before clocking off, Schanke, but I think you’ll want to hear about this one with Knight. Go ahead and close the door behind you.” Stonetree settled himself behind his desk. “I just got off the phone with Detective Emily Martin in Missing Persons. The Lam case is now in your jurisdiction.”
“Oh, man.” Schanke blinked hard. “That means whatshername, Nina—”
“Nisha,” Nick corrected. “Nisha Lam.” The dramatic reappearance of the lost teenager in Mercy Hospital’s emergency room had been all over the news, along with year-old footage of her family’s pleas when she had first vanished, and the even older school photo of the East Indian girl with a tight-lipped smile that had become familiar on posters and fliers.
“Right,” Schanke said. “So this means she didn’t make it.”
“Her stab wounds were worse than we released to the press. I hear it was infection that killed her, though. Dr. Lambert’ll have more for you.” Stonetree tapped his knuckles against the Kleenex box by his pencil jar. “Martin is bringing over all the files. Of course she’ll read you in, but you’ve got two developments to tackle right away. First, Miss Lam named her assailant. We’ve got people out looking; you can supervise if that’s where you want to dig in. Second, the victim’s mother had been sitting with her for days, but went home for a break just before the girl died. It’s too big a risk that the media will get hold of this; we can’t put off notifying the family more than a few hours, at most. Do you want to deliver the news yourselves, or watch their reactions over Martin’s shoulder, or use the hospital’s counselor?”
Nick met Schanke’s eyes. No one enjoyed death notifications, but more than one investigation had turned on those charged moments.
“Flip you for it?” Schanke sighed, half serious.
“Nah. You check in with the team hunting the perp, and then get home to bed so you can pick up the trail on day shift. I’ll meet with Martin tonight.” Nick put his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket. “I’ll tell the family.”
` ` ` ` `
“Oh, Dr. Knight!” Clara, Polly’s matronly maidservant, wailed as she let him into the foyer. “You’ve just missed her.” She burst into tears.
Nick eased the distraught woman over to the settee, patting her shoulder. Part of him knew immediately what she meant, but another part collapsed in on top of that knowledge, sealing it away from him. Polly’s blue-papered suite near Covent Garden was gracious and tidy, as always, but the delicate rosewater scent she favored had become overpowering, stronger than the gas in the lamps, as if an entire jug had spilled.
“You’re a true gentleman, you are.” Clara sniffed and pushed him away, patting the damp spot on his frock coat with the edge of her apron. “You shouldn’t’ve let me do like that. Miss Price wouldn’t’ve liked me to go on so to you.”
Nick gently rebuffed Clara’s efforts to dry him and used his own handkerchief to wipe her eyes. “You don’t mean that Miss Price has stepped outside, do you?”
Clara shook her head. More tears ran down her face.
Nick patted her hand, rose and walked slowly to Polly’s bedchamber. He had first seen it over two months ago, when he had helped her home from the assault she had suffered at the fashionable Turkish baths on Jermyn Street. She had refused to press charges or even name the perpetrator to him. Instead, she had pursued her own justice in the one court she trusted: commerce. If her customer turned assailant would not pay liberally for what he had taken from her, she would endeavor to see that no one else in her profession would sell to him... and she might share some information with the man’s own means of support, as well. Polly understood the levers of power.
Nick looked down at the pert, pretty face on the pillow, fair hair in a loose braid over the coverlet to her clasped hands. Clara had closed Polly’s eyes. Without that unwavering blue gaze, the body did not look quite like Polly. Nick touched her cheek; it was still warmer than his fingers. He sank down, pressed his cold cheek to her cooling one, and wondered why no tears came. Was he not even human enough to cry for a friend?
At first, acting as her doctor, Nick had assured Polly of a full recovery, give or take some scars she would have been able to hide in public. The cracked rib would mend, and her wounds had been wide but not deep, splitting skin but barely touching the tissues below. She had coaxed an advance from a generous client in Bevis Marks to tide her over, and Nick’s professional, medical visits grew into personal, social ones. Nick had been out of society for some time; Polly, steeped in society’s blindest side, had brought him up to date, her observations sharp and her examples droll.
She had been honest with him about her condition in life. He had begun to imagine trusting her with his.
But then her two largest wounds had suppurated. A putrid fever had swept in from nowhere. Medical professionals had just recently learned that cholera came from bad water, but they had long held that most other diseases came from miasmas, bad air. Nick knew he and Clara had kept Polly’s air and water fresh.
“You did everything anyone could’ve, Dr. Knight,” Clara said from the doorway. “The apothecary you sent said it was her habit of body, that with her profession and past, the fever would have come and carried her off just now, just like this, no matter what, not whether you’d treated her, nor she’d ever taken those cuts, nor—”
“The apothecary was mistaken, Clara.” Nick stood. Looking around the room, he saw bowls, basins and vases on every flat surface, filled with Polly’s prized rosewater. Had she requested it to stifle the smell of her illness? Or had it been the best that fool of an apothecary could offer a sickroom? “That debased libertine murdered Polly the moment he cut her. Her death falls within a year and a day of his act. I will see him hang for her.” Nick closed his eyes to spare Clara the golden glow he felt rising in them. “I need one thing from you, however, Clara. I need his name.”
Nick heard the maid’s skirts rustle as she turned and walked out of the room. By the time she returned, he had regained control of his instincts.
“John Williams.” Clara pressed a folded piece of paper into Nick’s hand. “She didn’t tell me what it says, but of course you can read. This is the reply she received to her note of claim on the gentleman, the day after the night you carried her home.”
` ` ` ` `
“So no joy on this supposed Michael Tremblay guy the vic named to her nurses,” Schanke said, climbing into the Caddy’s passenger seat and fastening his seatbelt. “Doesn’t much help that it’s the most common last name in Quebec, and most popular boy’s name in the English-speaking world since before disco. Do parents have no creativity?”
Nick eased his car out of the precinct parking lot and headed for the Coroners Building. Driving a little under the speed limit let him confirm the feel and responses of the Caddy’s still-new rebuild. “Says the man who named his daughter ‘Jenny.’”
“Hey! It’s Myra’s family’s tradition to— never mind. Point being, I spent all day with the uniforms on that deathbed accusation, and we’ve got nada, nichts, rien. Nothing’s changed since you launched out of here this morning like a Gilmour slapshot — except that the Captain had to hold that press conference, natch. What a circus! You know, if you could have held on for just a couple of minutes, Knight, I would really have liked to have heard about last night’s notification of the Lam family from you directly, instead of those notes you left on my desk.”
“The sun was almost up.”
“Oh, come on. Your allergy isn’t that bad.” Schanke paused. “Is it?”
“The notification went as well as could be expected.” Nick ignored the question and switched on his blinker as he pulled into a turn lane. The control lever was not at precisely the same angle as before, he could tell. “Detective Martin had a previous relationship with them from Nisha’s disappearance, so we discussed her approach going in, and I let her lead. Like I wrote you, after some initial denial by the mother and tears from the father, the parents seemed more numb than anything. No conscious guilt, nothing obviously held back. The sister looked scared, though. The mother sent her up to bed so she’d have enough rest for a school exam this morning; is that normal? Anyway, I want to follow up on that scared look.”
“Death alone is pretty petrifying for a kid,” Schanke looked out the window. “Nisha sounds like she had everything going for her: straight ‘A’s, clarinet, lacrosse, Girl Guides, school government — perfect attendance since kindergarten, for crying out loud. We tell kids that if they just behave, everything will be okay, but Nisha did everything right and got hurt anyway. Can you blame her sister for being scared?”
“No. I just want to know exactly what she’s scared of.” The Missing Persons team had never been able to conclusively determine whether Nisha’s case was a runaway or a kidnapping. When she appeared at the hospital, she had answered questions about her wounds with apparent lucidity, but she had maintained silence on where she had been for the past year. Even though she had been periodically delirious with fever from untreated stab wounds gone septic, that omission sang “cover-up” in every register Nick knew. But had she been covering for someone else, or for herself?
Schanke turned on the radio and discovered that Nick’s mechanic had re-set it to a rap station. Nick had listened to CERK before they hired Lacroix; that was why Lacroix had insinuated himself there, after all. Now, Nick could not decide whether he wanted to continue listening to the station. Would he be reclaiming his own choice, or remembering Lacroix’s? Schanke switched the radio back off. “My first partner out of the Academy — Jim Anderson, great guy; I’ll introduce you — he’s in Vice now. Sometimes, especially when the vic’s a kid, I just can’t help wondering whether Jim’s on the better side of this all, you know?”
“Sure you do!” Schanke pursed his lips and shook his head. “I mean, we’re always too late, too far behind, by definition. No penalty shootout for us, no extra period, no tenth inning. The score is in the record books by the time we walk onto the field, and the best we can do is add an asterisk. The poor sucker is on Natalie’s table and we’re running his life backward like an upside-down filmstrip.”
Nick turned the Caddy in at the lot by the Coroners Building. Parking on the street again could wait until he had no urge to check the brake line every time he stuck the key in the ignition. “We put perps away so they can’t kill again.”
“‘Again.’ Exactly! It’s all about that ‘again’ for us, one down from the get-go. And most killers aren’t serials or professionals, thank God; they’re just one-time messes of greed or jealousy or pride, and then where are we?” Schanke unbuckled his seatbelt and got out as soon as Nick stopped the car. “But in Vice, y’know, Jim has a shot at helping people before something happens that they can’t come back from. He can maybe even keep some crimes from ever going through at all.”
Schanke was right; Nick did know that feeling. He took a deep breath of the clear spring night. “We give the families closure, Schank. And sometimes, with these high profile cases, the whole community needs that closure, too.” A homicide cop had to accept a certain powerlessness, had to be working most of all for truth, or justice, or his God, to not drive himself crazy with what might have been. But that was not the kind of thing Nick could easily put into words. He locked the Caddy and headed through the nearest entrance. “Plus there’s deterrence, right? We catch people so that others know they’ll be caught if they do the same thing. And, well, they used to say that a decent burial was the final act of mercy you could give in this life.”
“So we’re the burial detail, are we? Yeah, yeah, I hear you.” Schanke trailed his fingers along the hallway wall until they reached Natalie’s lab. He opened her door. “That’s not bad, Knight. I’ll remember that one.”
“Will wonders never cease?” Dr. Natalie Lambert’s voice sang out from beside the occupied autopsy table. She set aside some calipers, peeled off her gloves and snapped back the bill of her cap above her brown curls. When she smiled at the detectives, her smile, just for a second, promised Nick all the splendors of day. “Do I hear the sweet sounds of you two actually getting along?”
Nick aimed for wide-eyed innocence. Schanke chuckled. “Nah, you must’ve imagined it. Got anything for us on the Lam girl? That’s, uh, not her there, is it?”
Natalie stared at Schanke for a moment before walking down to her desk, shaking her head. “No, that’s not her, and yes, I have the report.” Natalie picked up a manila folder. “Cause of death: massive organ failure, consequent to severe sepsis, due to a menagerie of pathogenic bacteria that moved in through seven shallow cuts near her coccyx and two deeper stabs, one on each thigh.” She handed the folder to Schanke. “Not the hospital’s fault. She was too far gone by the time she arrived. What’s infuriating is that none of these wounds should have resulted in morbidity if they’d been properly cared for — I mean, even just washed with tap water and soap and had antiseptics applied. Disabling, maybe, but not fatal. What’s really interesting, though, is that these wounds were far from her first.”
Schanke walked down to hand Nick some photos from the folder, his eyes grim. Nick flipped through, registering the white traceries of multiple levels of healed incisions and punctures under and around the fatal cuts. At the bottom of the stack came a strange close-up, not like the others; it took Nick a moment to recognize it. Then he realized, “She cut herself.”
“Not recently,” Natalie said. “But yes, that’s where it started for her, pathologically speaking. What she did to herself, there, predates her disappearance. Self-harm is a recognized mental illness with experiential triggers, and she fits the profile. It’s often a misdirected attempt to create feelings of control in a life that seems out of control.”
“Like — what’s it called — anorexia?” Schanke suggested. “Sheesh, the things you have to worry about a kid falling into!”
“A counselor could have helped her, Schank, broken her ritual and taught her how to find some real control, addressed the underlying environment — if she’d asked, if someone had seen and spoken up. But these other marks?” Natalie reached over and moved a different photo to the top of the stack Nick held. It showed scars from tidy punctures and chaotic incisions. “These are all later, within the past year, and all inflicted by someone else.”
“So this is, what, some weird kink? She moved on from cutting herself to letting someone else cut her? That’s horrible, Natalie!”
“I didn’t say that!” Natalie crossed her arms. “And anyway, motivation isn’t my department.”
“It isn’t ours, either.” Nick handed the photos back to Schanke. “The lawyers, they get to care about motive; it’s how they persuade a jury, with the storyline that TV and movies have taught us all to expect. But our job is finding the facts. All of them. Even — maybe especially — the ones we don’t like.”
Natalie nodded. “Well, I don’t know whether you’ll like this one, but the fact is that given the duration between injury and death, I just can’t determine physically whether any of it was consensual, forced, drugged, or what. However, whatever had been going on for most of this year received ordinary care and healed. This last — let’s call it an ‘incident’ — involved a dirty blade and what had to have been an unusually unhygienic environment.”
“No telltale non-native bacteria or toxins yet, sorry. I’ll keep looking. But back to the motivation the Crown Prosecutor is going to want to establish: the state of the knife — the murder weapon — may keep this from being bargained down to manslaughter. Anyone living at this end of the twentieth century knows how infection works. I’m thinking culpable homicide by criminal neglect, even if the defense claims the wounds were somehow consensual.”
` ` ` ` `
Nick climbed up out of the final plunge pool. He stood still, a dripping white breechclout away from nudity, as an attendant first dried him with a warm sheet and then enveloped him in it in an Eastern manner. While Lacroix emerged from the pool behind Nick and received his own sheet, Nick stared up at the grand dome overhead. The stars cut through the stone cupola did little to illuminate this magnificent atrium in the moonlight, but he imagined they would suffuse the room with sun during the day. Perhaps someone would paint it; then he could see.
“The patronage of the Queen’s sons has made the Jermyn Street hammam the height of fashion,” Lacroix observed. “These convenient evening hours followed the increased demand.”
The attendant placed wooden clogs in front of both bathers to prevent their wet feet from slipping on the marble floors.
“It does make me appreciate being back in the city,” Nick admitted carefully, stepping into his clogs. The night had been pleasant so far, and he did not want to ruin it by focusing Lacroix’s attention on how Nick had spent recent years in rural backwaters, subsisting mainly on the blood of animals and facing down the strange exhaustion that had haunted him ever since the war in America had finally ended. War had changed; death had not. Nick had felt renewed by his retreat. Lacroix, however, had run short of patience and made an object lesson of Nick’s dog. “Turkish baths are one of many things you can’t get in Croydon.”
The attendant conducted them toward a vaulting key-hole doorway, through which Nick could see and hear a fountain. It marked the far end of a long, decorative pool that split the wood-paneled, three-story-high cooling room. Lamps hung in front of airy, latticework booths lining the sides.
“They should properly be called Roman baths, you know,” Lacroix said, not for the first time. “Thermae. The key is that in the first room, the tepidarium, one perspires in dry air. The custom of moist air is a barbarism from colder climes...”
Nick turned his attention back to the attendant, who showed them into one of the latticework booths opposite the splashing fountain. The booth featured two divans, a table, and a full-length mirror as wide as it was tall. When Lacroix finished his commentary on the relative merits of saunas and thermae, the attendant offered them coffee, tobacco or confections immediately, and anything else they might wish with only a slight delay.
“Is Mr. Todhunter available tonight?” Lacroix reclined such that he maintained a broad view of the whole cooling room from inside their booth.
“The cupper? Yes, sir. I shall fetch him now.”
“They aren’t still fire-cupping here, are they?” Nick asked as soon as the attendant had stepped away. “Hardly a physician in the world will recommend it for anything but inflammation or putrefaction anymore.”
“Tut-tut, Nicholas.” Lacroix raised his eyebrows. “Bloodletting has been the sovereign specific — the universal treatment — since Hippocrates. Surely you agree it would be very inconvenient were it to fall into disfavor?”
Nick looked at himself in the mirror between them. Suddenly, the bath sheet reminded him of a shroud. As a doctor in the war between the states, he had seen soldiers lose blood in more ways than even he — a seven-hundred-year-old vampire — had ever imagined. “I cannot cite a single man unequivocally benefitting from blood loss.”
Lacroix turned his head to watch some other bathers pass by. “What does their benefit have to do with it?”
Nick opened his mouth, angry, but shut it just in time and closed his eyes as well. He was ready to rejoin society, he thought, but that meant rejoining Lacroix, at least for a little while. He could not afford to fall so easily into their pattern of the past three centuries, in which Lacroix would jeer, sneer and brutalize Nick's determination to spare the innocent. When Nick opened his eyes, Lacroix was watching him.
A polite cough drew their attention to the front of the booth. “Ah, Todhunter.” Lacroix gestured for the black-haired young man — no: vampire, Nick realized — to join them. Instead of an ordinary town frock coat, Todhunter wore the short jacket popular with university students, and he carried a large leather valise painted with an advertisement for cupping in the “Latest German Mode.” Nick snorted. Lacroix asked, “Do you have something for us tonight?”
“If you please, a flask of gouty nobleman, not a quarter hour old.” Todhunter murmured below human hearing, patting his case. “But if you have the time, Mr. Lacroix, I think I can offer a truly superior experience for my most discerning client and his guest.”
Lacroix’s lips twitched. “Continue.”
“John Williams, a gentlemen poet who routinely takes the massage, shampoo and cupping, looked discreetly in his purse this evening and declined those services. If you were to suggest that you, a fellow gentleman, were uneasy about the procedure, and that witnessing its advantageous application would be a favor to you — and of course you would pay, that goes unsaid —”
“What do you think, Nicholas?” Lacroix looked him down and up, settling on his torso instead of his eyes, as if to read in which direction Nick would move physically, from the play of his muscles rather than his mind. “Are you in a mood for poetry tonight?”
The scenario was clear to Nick. After introductions and banter, this poet gentleman would lay out on one of the couches, under Lacroix’s gaze, as Todhunter applied heated glass or porcelain cups to his bare skin, bringing the blood to the surface. Then Todhunter would use knives — or a scarificator machine, if he did indeed practice the latest mode — to release that blood though shallow incisions, collecting it in some vessel destined for Lacroix’s lips. And Nick’s, if he chose. And then... Nick swallowed. “What is the gentleman’s complaint, that he is routinely cupped?”
“An excellent question, sir.” Todhunter smiled. “But indeed, a superior vintage for your enjoyment, for nothing ails him at all! He is a respectable, genial, hearty man of enviable talent, who practices healthy habits like cupping to maintain his vigor.”
“Careful, Nicholas.” Lacroix’s voice snapped hard. Then it coiled, softly. “Even by your farcical standards, this is unobjectionable. The ox volunteers to face the butcher and walks contentedly back to his pasture in the end. We are nourished — even satisfied? perhaps — without a hunt, without a kill. It’s ideal for this hectic, teeming, railway age, and everything your fastidious heart desires, surely.”
“He won’t know what we’re really taking from him. He won’t understand that he’s getting nothing in return.” Nick stood and leaned across the partition to signal their attendant.
“So will you go drain a thief now?” Lacroix mocked. “Or would you rather feed on a murderer? What is your preferred strain of scum these days?”
Nick paused on the threshold. “The guiltiest of the guilty is the one who betrays a trust.”
Nick had the attendant conduct him to a private changing room. The attendant then brought his clothes, neatly brushed and pressed. Declining assistance in donning them, Nick made short work of his buttons, tie and cufflinks before sinking onto the couch and looking around the plush little chamber, evidently designed for naps — or assignations. Nick could not refute Lacroix’s argument with words, but its dissonance echoed in his mind. False pretenses, that’s what it was. Nick tried to recapture the peace with himself he had achieved in Croydon, contemplating the war dead, and his own dead, and what should be between a man and his own death.
He would doubtless pay a long-term cost, he realized, for the short-term relief of turning his back on what he now recognized as Lacroix’s peace offering.
In the silence, a hiss of pain came to Nick’s sensitive ears. His attention drawn, he noticed shuffling sounds in the next cubicle, just one person moving, slowly, and then a suppressed sob and an awkward, agonized breath. Many things could inspire that particular sound, in Nick’s experience; none of them were good. Without thinking, Nick exited his own dressing room and knocked on the neighboring door. “Hello? Do you require assistance?”
The movement inside ceased. If Nick had not been a vampire, he would not have heard the shallow, smothered breathing and accelerated heartbeat that begged him to go away. If Nick had been any other vampire, the smell now unmistakable from the other side of the door might have inspired him to break it down. Blood. Hot. Spilled by violence, filled with fear. Nick reined in his instincts and knocked again. “I’m a doctor. I can help.”
After a moment, the door cracked open. A blue eye, a pertly concave nose and the right halves of two determined lips examined him from the vicinity of his chest. “Thank you, but no help is needed.”
“I beg your pardon, Miss,” Nick bowed slightly, dropping his eyes to where she held up her unlaced bodice with her hand, “but that’s manifestly untrue.”
Her eyes impaled him. She cracked the door wider. Then her gaze darted up and down the hallway, and she stood aside to allow him into her little room.
The chamber was similar to his, but bedclothes had transformed the couch, and the low table supported the remains of what looked like two consecutive lavish meals, though it was beyond him to say which. Buns would be from breakfast, wouldn’t they? The small woman dropped into a chair and turned to face the wall. When she released her bodice and swept up her fair hair, Nick saw the red wounds in a neat line down her back, and purple bruises on her sides.
“They’ve mostly closed by now, surely?” she asked. “Do any require stitching?”
“Yes, I’m afraid at least two do. Cut with an old penknife, were they? I’m sorry I don’t have any supplies with me. I can run to a dispensary—”
“Look in my satchel under the bed there.”
Pulling it out, Nick quickly found a paper of needles and a spool of fine white silk. As he threaded it, he observed, “You didn’t get these cuts from cupping. And there were no ladies hours at the hammam today, in any case.”
“I was fetched to meet a request.”
“Ah.” So she was a harlot — or more politely, at her apparent class and dubious privilege, a courtesan. Given the hours vampires kept, Nick sometimes had the impression that half the women in London shared her profession, though the papers claimed things were much better than they used to be. Nick wanted her to talk as he stitched, a distraction being worth much in suppressing pain, so he asked, “I take it that your handy sewing kit is for occasions like this one?”
“My sewing kit is intended for rents in my garments, not my skin.” She held admirably still. “This outcome was... uninvited. Though not unheard of. I will dispatch a bill for the... addition. The reply to the bill will figure prominently in the story I tell my friends and protectors... and determine what tale, if any, reaches anyone else who may be interested.” Nick understood her double threat, to the perpetrator’s private and public lives. Polite society expected a gentleman of rank to use women, but abusing them was déclassé. She asked, “Will there be scars?”
“Yes. I’m sorry.”
“All the more important to have a dramatic tale with which to explain them, then.”
“There.” Nick finished stitching the second deep wound. “I recommend that you move as carefully as you can manage until those are ready to come out in a week or so. I’m going to examine your bruises now, if you don’t mind. Where else are you in pain?”
“Have you ever broken a rib, Doctor?” She picked up his hand and moved it to her chest.
“Once or twice.” Gingerly, Nick felt the injury. “No, a crack, not a break, thank goodness.” The pain must be vicious, even so. Her poise had impressed Nick; now it astonished him. “How are you managing?”
“Do you see the empty decanter on the table?”
“I understand.” It smelled of almond liqueur, but that would hardly blot out the presence of such damage. “I can’t bind your rib properly here. We need supplies, and you need rest and care. I can put you up in a hotel—”
She picked up her dropped bodice, held it to her, and turned to face him, holding out her free hand in farewell. “I have my own rooms, and my maid will look after me. Thank you, Doctor—?”
“Nicholas Knight.” He bowed over her hand politely. “But unless you also have your own physician, you won’t see the last of me for a while yet.”
“I thought that might be the case.” She smiled at him for the first time. A merely pretty face became riveting. “I’m Polly Price.”
` ` ` ` `
“Quick, while Schanke is in the washroom.” Natalie leaned back in her desk chair. “After that bloodmobile case, I’ve got to ask. Is there anything vampiric about this one?”
Nick brushed back the hem of his blue sportcoat as he put his hands in the pockets of his slacks. “Most monsters are human, Nat.”
“Granted.” She twirled a pencil between her fingers. “But?”
Nick sighed. “Hunting and killing like they — we — used to do is awkward and draws so much attention now. Which is not to say that they don’t, still, whenever they think they can get away with it. But there are — suppliers. They may kill, but usually they tap medical settings: blood banks, hospitals, even morgues.”
“Is that why there’s never enough blood on hand in emergencies?” Natalie frowned. “It’s being diverted to vampires?”
“I don’t know.” Nick was taken aback by the idea. “There’s not usually that big a population in any given city.” He added that to his list of questions for Janette. “Look, there are also what are called connoisseurs. Unlike suppliers, connoisseurs fill custom orders.” Nick hesitated. The vampiric intimacy of drinking human blood, of feeling another’s very life, was something he was trying hard to leave behind him, in his wretched past, with this wretched condition. He did not want to taint his human friendship with Natalie with irrelevant inhuman horrors. Or... pleasures. Nick shook his head and edited his definition down to only what might apply in this case. “Say, blood from someone who had been eating a specially requested diet. As long as you— as long as a vampire doesn’t personally bite the source, the compulsion to drain it all isn’t the same.”
“Are you saying Nisha might have been held somewhere so a vampire could harvest her blood?”
Nick fought down a harsh memory of his own sins. “It’s a possibility.”
“So should you take over the search for this Michael Tremblay guy from Schanke? I mean, what if Tremblay’s a vampire?”
“If the day shift finds him and he disappears in a puff of ash,” Nick felt a tight smile pull at his lips, “I won’t shed a tear.”
Natalie dropped her pencil and regarded him for a moment. Then she stood up and diffidently took his hands between hers. “Speaking of ashes, how are you dealing with what happened to Lacroix?”
Nick looked down at their hands. “It’s kind of you to ask.”
“But you’d rather not talk about it? Your feelings are part of you becoming more human, Nick.”
Va au diable! Flames engulfing his home. Wood, like a short lance in his hands. Yet another death, yet another life he had dared to care about stolen by Lacroix, just because Nick had been cared for in return. Fear and fury. Desperation.
And then... the silence. The vast hush where, before, the echoes had never ceased.
“C’mon, Knight.” Schanke opened the door. “Ferry me back to the precinct so I can clock out and get home to my wife, daughter and dinner. It’s souvlaki night!”
Nick gave Natalie’s hands a brief squeeze. “Thank you for caring.”
“I’ll ask again someday.” Natalie pressed her lips into a small smile. “Just so you know”
After dropping off Schanke, Nick drove to the Raven. In Janette’s nightclub, serving vampires as well as humans, traditional formalwear mixed with edgy goth garb and yuppie suits in a fluid eclecticism that Nick knew soothed Janette’s immortal sensibilities; it disguised genuine change as mere fad, and vice versa. Blue lights strobed the dance floor in time with an echoing bass melody. Nick found Janette at the bar, a glass of red liquid in her hand.
He owed her the news about Lacroix. Nick did not forget that Janette had known Lacroix — suffered and esteemed and cherished and loathed Lacroix — centuries longer than he had. She was now as liberated and as bereaved as he.
But the echoing emptiness, the strings unplucked, gagged him. Feelings did not turn into words. Telling himself that she would mention the silence herself when she was ready, Nick slipped back into the mute wilderness beyond his best intentions.
“I like your dress,” he said, coming up behind her. “Is it new?”
“Nicolas!” Janette exclaimed, spinning to face him. A wide smile curved her succulent lips, glistening with her illicit beverage. She tossed back her thick black hair, worn loose tonight. “Ah, but what makes you think it isn’t the same gown I was wearing the last time you saw me?”
“Both are black; both are lovely; both cover far too much of your delicious legs.” Nick reached out and stroked her neck above the collar. “But the other one bared your shoulders.”
“So you are qualified to be a detective after all,” Janette purred, leaning in. “I had wondered.”
“Speaking of detecting—”
“Oh, don’t tell me that this is a professional call?” Janette straightened her spine and sighed. “Nicolas, you are no fun whatsoever.”
“I know. Does the name Michael Tremblay mean anything to you?”
“What about Todhunter?”
“The gadget-mad supplier? He moved on, oh, I don’t know, recently. Ask Aristotle?”
“You know he won’t break the sanctity of the relocation.” Nick had been grateful for that protection more than once in his many attempts to flee Lacroix and start anew. “Do your current suppliers include any connoisseurs?”
“No.” Something flickered. She was holding back. “Really, Nicolas, don’t look at me like that. You know I won’t contract with any vampire who kidnaps or kills to obtain the commodity for public sale. I don’t want trouble from your coworkers any more than from the Enforcers. Or the Constantines, for that matter.”
“How about humans who kidnap and kill?” Nick knew that nothing of a smile remained on his face.
Janette frowned back. “I go through channels when I have to. Not now. Not recently. I would serve that carouche swill you favor — I would shut down entirely — before I would invite Enforcer intervention.”
“Okay, what about privately? Someone who doesn’t buy from you, someone who harvests for himself? Or herself? Probably a recent convert, a little over a year ago — maybe even a teenager. Ham-handed, inept, getting off on the violation and not concerned with efficiency.”
“If he does not buy from me, Nicolas, how would I know him?” Janette rolled her eyes. “I am not saying that my social circle is not wide and diverse, but there are not that many of us in Toronto. Those I know, I know. Any others— perhaps they have reasons to avoid me, n'est-ce pas?”
“If they were doing something that might bring down the Enforcers—” Nick realized.
“Then they would be fools to bring it to my attention,” Janette said. “I will not allow all I have built here to be destroyed by careless children who do not understand their responsibilities to the rest of us under the Code. It’s not challenging, after all. ‘Do as you will, but keep the secret.’ Exposure is death, and I do not wish to die.” She raised her eyebrows. “That applies to you, too, Nicolas — you and your risky mortal amusements.”
Nick felt his expression ease as his mind turned over the evidence anew. Nisha’s very public reappearance was the key. No vampire would believe another would be so careless. So either an experienced vampire had covered his tracks exquisitely, or a heedless human predator was the perpetrator, or... both.
Impulsively, Nick stepped into Janette’s space. She smiled and tilted her head. He learned down slowly, so slowly, as slowly as he could. Only when Janette licked her lips in anticipation, sweeping away the lingering residue of human blood, did Nick close the distance and enjoy that lush smile against his own.
Blood remained on her tongue, however. He could pretend to have forgotten, to not have noticed, to not care... instead, he moved his lips to her check, and then her temple, and then stepped away and saluted her hand.
“Thank you, Janette,” he said. “You may have told me just what I needed to know.”
` ` ` ` `
“So again, Mr. Cecil, you confirm that the unfortunate young woman, Miss Price, upon whose body this inquest sits, shortly before her death, did tell you that Mr. John Williams, a gentleman resident in the city, did commit upon her the wounds so observed?”
“Yes, sir.” Cecil, the apothecary, nodded vigorously at the county coroner, and then again at the local men who made up the inquest jury. Only the coroner, jury and current witness had chairs; onlookers stood against the windowless walls of the tavern storage room temporarily turned over to this grim business. “Just as Miss Price’s maidservant told you, I attended her on her last day, and she answered when I asked. She was perhaps delirious by then, however.”
“Even so, we must consider that settled.” The coroner rubbed his bald head with one hand while squinting through his glasses at the notes he had spread out on his portable writing desk, balanced on a barrelhead. “The said wounds are determined to have been incisions, not sores, and to have been willfully caused, reportedly by a penknife, reportedly by one John Williams, not here present.”
Nick, standing in a back corner, squeezed Clara’s hand. She squeezed back. Poor Polly’s body lay under a shroud on a makeshift table of a board over barrels. The smell was especially vile in the summer heat, but the turnout of Polly’s friends and sympathizers — many of the women holding scented cloths to their noses — reassured Nick that he had done the right thing for them as well as for her in pushing the reluctant coroner to hold this inquest. The inquiry had taken four hours so far, beginning with the examination of the body in front of the jurymen only, for modesty’s sake, and then turning to the testimony that spectators could also attend.
“This brings us to the heart of our business,” the coroner said. “Miss Price having been determined to be wounded, the question remains: did the wounds cause her death? Dr. Knight would have us believe that they did, despite more than two months passing between the infliction of the said wounds and the decease of the said unfortunate Miss Price. Mr. Cecil?”
“I’m right sorry to disagree with Dr. Knight,” Cecil nodded in Nick’s direction, “but the putrid fever was the cause of death.”
“Yes, yes.” To Nick’s relief, the coroner waved away this objection. “But did the said wounds cause the said fever?”
“Oh! No. No, that’s not possible.” Cecil looked puzzled. “The fever was caused by her thrush, of course, the natural consequence of her debauched habit of body, which is to say, her manner of employment.”
A hiss rose from the audience. Nick dropped Clara’s hand and worked his way to the front of the room.
“Quiet!” the coroner commanded. “Continue, Mr. Cecil.”
“Well, as everyone knows, as a body is progressively debauched — especially a woman’s body, of course, which is more fragile to begin with — it weakens and develops this infirmity. I solemnly swear, Miss Price would have mortified just as she did, just when she did, whether she had suffered those wounds or not.”
Nick pressed forward. “That’s not—”
“You have already testified, Dr. Knight. You will be recalled if the jury has questions for you.” The coroner waved Nick back and consulted his notes again. “Mr. Cecil, you may step down.” The coroner then removed his spectacles, rubbed his eyes, and rose to address the seated jurymen. “You represent all the parishes of this county, and are responsible for a just and truthful verdict in their names, in the case of the said unfortunate Miss Price, as to the said cause of the said death. You have seen the body examined, and heard the sworn testimony of witnesses. I ask you to bear in mind that Mr. Cecil has sat as an expert upon a multitude of inquests here in Middlesex, while Dr. Knight — ahem — served his medical apprenticeship in America. It is up to your good sense.”
The onlookers were escorted out into the tavern as a luncheon was brought into the storage room for the jury. Many left the building, either to attend to other business or, like Clara, to fetch their own meals. Nick shrank into a corner and pulled up his cloak collar despite the hot weather, grateful for the old window tax that had made so many English rooms relatively safe for vampire habitation through the day. When the empty luncheon platters were carried out, the remaining audience was allowed back in.
Nick’s heart sank as the jurymen looked anywhere but at him.
The jury’s spokesman stood and received the coroner’s permission to speak. “We are undivided in our common conclusion that Miss Price died of a putrid fever caused by her habit of body, and not by any abuse whatsoever.”
Groans and jeers skittered through the onlookers. Nick stepped up again, “If I may—”
“No, you may not! That is not how we do things here.” The coroner turned to the jury. “Thank you for your service. Your verdict is recorded. There has been no murder. A complaint for simple assault against Mr. Williams may be lodged with the magistrate on behalf of the said Miss Price if there is an interested party. However,” he turned to Nick, “I would ask Dr. Knight to bear in mind that while no witnesses place Mr. Williams at the Turkish baths on Jermyn Street on the said evening, three so far do so place the said Dr. Knight himself there, and in the company of the said Miss Price. A wise magistrate may easily discern the motivations in providing medical care to Miss Price, to avoid the charge of murder if she were to die, and in throwing suspicion on another gentleman!”
Nick gritted his teeth and fought to keep his eyes blue and his canines blunt.
When Clara rushed in, out of breath, she had only to look at his face to know what side justice had taken.
` ` ` ` `
“Mr. Michael Tremblay.” Nick dropped a folder on the table that nearly filled the small interrogation room. The pale, skinny, forty-something middle-manager sitting across from where Nick stood did not react. “Michael Tremblay,” Nick repeated. Again, no reaction came. Nick raised an eyebrow at the two-way mirror, through which he knew Schanke, Stonetree, Detective Martin from Missing Persons and Assistant Crown Prosecutor Richard Lambert, Natalie’s brother, were watching. “For the record, Michael, this is being recorded. You have been read your rights and you have not requested legal counsel. Is that correct?”
“You are charged with and will be indicted for the culpable homicide of Nisha Lam. Do you understand?” When still no reaction came, Nick rapped the table with his fist to make the most startling noise possible that would, nevertheless, not sound like intimidation on the recording. “Do you understand?”
“Out loud for the recording, Michael. Do you understand?”
One corner of Tremblay’s lips twitched. He mouthed an exaggerated “yes” in apparent self-satisfaction.
That was enough for Nick. The man was not constrained by vampiric hypnotic suggestion or amnesia. He was simply a self-regarding ass, and, as expected, not very bright.
Nick sat down. “Our staff psychologist has tentatively identified you as a sociopath, Michael. Or, as she puts it, you have ‘antisocial personality disorder.’ Do you know what that means?” Tremblay smirked and Nick grew more comfortable. He knew all too well where to take this; Lacroix had spent eight centuries making Nick’s mind work like Tremblay’s. Nick had painstakingly dragged himself up out of that pit, but he could never go back, never unsee or unmake that part of himself.
He could, however, make it serve the truth.
Nick pulled a piece of paper from the file between them. “It’s defined as pervasive ‘disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others.’ Fits you, doesn’t it? All these run-ins with the law, and what you did to those animals when you were a kid? Yes, your juvenile record is sealed, but people don’t forget things like that. And they’re happy to reminisce when the police come calling.” Nick set down the paper. “Now, almost all sociopaths believe themselves vastly superior to most other people. In particular, they tend to think they’re much, much smarter than the rest of us. Do you think that, Michael?”
Tremblay crossed his arms on his chest, still enjoying his game of muteness.
“But you’re not, obviously.” Nick leaned back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. To further convey casual disregard, he kicked up his feet on the table. “You were duped — set-up. You’re just the clean-up crew on someone else’s clever scheme. It was all Todhunter, wasn’t it?” Nick glanced up at the ceiling. “Oh, look, there’s a broken tile. I should put in a maintenance request, don’t you think?”
Tremblay struggled visibly with himself. “What are you talking about?” burst out at last.
“Maintenance requests? They’re forms you fill out for repairs—”
“I mean Todhunter, you donut-scarfing idiot!” Tremblay slammed his fist on the table much harder than Nick had. “Don’t waste my time. What do you mean, he set me up?”
“We know you took the girl from him, second-hand, that you weren’t the original kidnapper. She was a time-bomb, wasn’t she? He found you — taught you what to do — but maybe he left something out, huh? Something that would have kept her from getting sick a month after he cleared out of town, leaving you holding the bag and scrubbing her DNA out of your basement, with him free and clear and out of the country? Or maybe—”
“It wasn’t like that!” Tremblay squeezed his eyes shut and pressed his fingers to his brow. “He and I were full partners, and she was mine. You don’t understand anything, you unbelievable chump.”
Nick dropped his arms and put his feet on the floor. “So set me straight.”
After three hours of preening himself on double-entendres about vampires that he assumed went over the head of his interrogator, Tremblay come to his senses enough to ask for a lawyer. The interview ended immediately. Tremblay was returned to holding. Nick, heading for a debriefing in Stonetree’s office, walked into a round of applause in the bullpen.
Nick tried to wave the ovation to his partner where he stood by their desks. “Thanks! But Schank and the day-shift team found the guy.”
“Yes, we did.” Schanke took an extravagant bow, and then canted his hips in a completely unconvincing Elvis impression: “Thank you; thank you very much.” Straightening up, he said, “But we couldn’t have done it without that profile you worked out. How you knew—”
“Nice work, Knight.” Stonetree nodded over the assembled heads. “You, too, Schanke. And our thanks to Detective Martin, who worked this case for a year, and ACP Lambert, who is going to put this sick piece of garbage away for good. It’s all over but the paperwork, people.”
The cheer that rose over the squad room bubbled with laughter.
Nick’s phone rang. “Knight.”
“This is Norma, Nick. I have an outside call to transfer to you, but I thought you might want to take it in a quiet room. It’s Mrs. Lam — the victim’s mother.”
“Good thought.” Nick looked around at his happy team. “I’ll pick it up in number three. Thanks, Norma.”
Nick shut the observation room door softly behind him. He took a deep breath that he did not need for oxygen, but rather for the emotions Natalie claimed were part of his path to humanity. He hoped she was right. He picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing button. “This is Nick Knight.”
“Hello, Detective. This is Anjali Lam, Nisha’s mother. You visited us the night she died.”
“Yes, ma’am. Again, I’m very sorry for your loss.” Nick sat on the edge of the desk.
“Thank you.” Nick could hear Mrs. Lam swallow a sob. “Detective Martin called earlier with the news that you caught the— the person who took Nisha from us. I wanted to thank you. It’s— it’s very good to know that he’s off the streets.”
“We’ll do everything we can to keep him there permanently.”
“Detective Martin also reminded us that we might not— not like some of the things that come up about Nisha in the case, with the reporters and defense counsel and all. I told her, and I wanted to tell you, Detective Knight, that you never have to handle us with kid gloves. No matter what you find out, we love and miss Nisha just the way she was. We stand by her in death as in life. Whatever it takes, whatever they say: you take him down and we will be there.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
Some time after he hung up, a faint knock on the observation room door preceded Natalie turning the knob and poking her head in. “You’re sitting in the dark?”
Nick looked around. “Oops.”
Natalie grinned, flicked on the switch and stepped inside. “Gotta watch that appearance of humanity.”
Nick found a smile to match her grin, but it did not lift his spirits with his mouth. “You remember you asked me how I was dealing with what happened to Lacroix?”
“How’s denial as a tactic?”
“Oh, I’m totally on board with the appeal of denial, personally.” Natalie stepped close and put her hand on his shoulder. “But if you press me, I’ll admit that denial stalls you in place. And life, you know, it just keeps going on.”
She hugged him. He buried his face against her hair and his heart in the persistent silence.
` ` ` ` `
“Mr. Price?” Nick asked the portly barley farmer silhouetted by candlelight in the open door of the sturdy wood-framed house. When he nodded, Nick sketched a polite vestigial bow and continued, “My apologies for intruding on you after the supper hour, but my coach just arrived from London. I came straight here from town. I’m Nicholas Knight.”
“I’m sorry, who?”
“The doctor who wrote you,” Nick said. “I... tended your daughter in her last illness.”
“Ah.” The man’s head snapped back. “You’ll be talking to my wife, then. Mary! Those doings are no business of mine. I washed my hands of the brat years ago, when she let that army officer ruin her in the first place.” He chewed his lip for a moment. “It’s very civil of you to have told us she’s passed, Doctor, and more than civil to have buried her, I will say that. But if you’re looking for payment for your services, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Nick closed his fist in his pocket around Polly’s small cache of gold. “Quite the reverse, actually.”
“Dr. Knight?” A white-haired woman just Polly’s height sidled up between Mr. Price and the door. “As my husband says, of course it’s very Christian of you to have treated and buried the girl, and you mustn’t think us ungrateful. We offer you our hospitality until the next coach can return you to London.”
“Hush! Would you have it said we turned away a visitor in the night? And nigh on a gentleman at that? We just won’t speak of the unpleasantness.” She smiled Polly’s smile at Nick, and it made his cold heart add a beat. “Please come in.”
“Thank you, but I think I’d better complete my business and be on my way.” Nick had looked forward to speaking of Polly, to sharing her presence with someone else who had known her, one more time. Disappointment swelled up, and Nick knew he would kill that night. The vampire in him ruled; the man acceded; nothing but the sun would stop him. The only question was who, and he did not want it to be Polly’s parents, not even as their every word begged their condemnation. Betrayers. “Your daughter, for whom you have such... remarkable... regard, provided for you in her will.”
“Will?” Mr. Price repeated.
“I have the honor to have been named executor.” Nick twitched the barest token bow. “Your daughter, faced with harsh challenges, made her way with determination and courage. In the cutthroat stews, more competitive than any shining height, she climbed to the top and held her place there.” The rage spreading like oil through Nick’s blood began to make itself heard in his voice. Deeper, smoother, the vampire’s will-sapping enchantment coiled, just a flickering intention away. “More importantly, she was honest and kind. They would have taken it from her, if they could, but she kept her soul. Her humanity.”
Mrs. Price blinked. “A will means money, doesn’t it?
Nick closed his eyes and fulfilled the letter of Polly’s wish by holding out her careful savings to her parents. Betrayers of her love, betrayers of her trust, betrayers of her memory. When he felt the small purse lift from his hand, he opened his eyes.
The vampire ignited.
The Prices knew terror as well as pain before he finally let them die, in horrors such as only one of Lacroix’s teaching could fashion.
Nick had humbled himself to ask Lacroix to testify to John Williams’s presence at the hammam that fatal night. Lacroix had laughed in his face. More, Lacroix had congratulated Nick on the jest of the year and called in Janette to share the joke. Todhunter had been nowhere to be found. Nick had expected that from his family, his fellow vampires.
Sometimes, he forgot that humans could be monsters, too.
` ` ` ` `
Nick was not surprised when the building manager let him into Lacroix’s apartment, alone, on nothing more than an earnest expression and a flash of his badge. A year’s rent had been paid in advance and, while there were no noises or smells to raise concern, the man had noticed that his tenant did not seem to be keeping even his original odd hours anymore. Finding where Lacroix had spent his weeks in Toronto from CERK’s employee records had taken even less effort.
Nick shook his head, amused at himself. It was as if he had wanted this to be difficult.
He looked around the pre-furnished flat. The wooden furniture was expensive, heavy, nothing that could be easily smashed to produce stakes. The art on the walls featured contemporary watercolor landscapes; popular, cheerful, easy to understand, they were clearly nothing Lacroix had chosen. The television sat unplugged.
Reminding himself that he was here to clean up any loose ends that might trigger the kind of Enforcer action Janette dreaded, Nick headed to the kitchen. There were bottles to pour out and wash. Nick collected all the cups and glasses as well as bottles in a bag to incinerate, just in case of residue tests. He wiped down surfaces likely to have been touched by illicit beverages. He pulled back all the curtains, unfastened all the shutters and raised all the shades. Tomorrow's sunlight would chase away suspicion.
In the bedroom, he found Lacroix’s few personal effects. Of course Lacroix had storerooms and stashes all over the globe, but only Toronto concerned Nick. He liked his life here, just as Janette did hers. This had been his city that Lacroix had briefly invaded. But now, somehow, this was a city in which Nick could not stop seeing Lacroix’s reflection.
After confirming the absence of blood stains, Nick left the clothes and toiletries as he found them. He paged through the hardcover Paradise Lost on the nightstand, remembering Lacroix reading the epic poem aloud to him and Janette when it was new, remembering closing his eyes and being swept away on the union of story and sound. Nick sat down on the rug to read for a while, to see whether his erratic vampiric memory would oblige him with more details of those long, long, long gone nights, when, for once, for a while, things had been entirely happy.
That was when he spotted the leather instrument case under the bed. Nick closed the book and set it aside. He pulled out the case. To his surprise, his hand shook as he opened the latch. This was not the fashionable rebec that Lacroix had played that first night in the catacombs below Paris. It was not the rustic one to which Nick and Janette had danced in Seville. But it was the modern replica with which the Nightcrawler had announced his presence in Toronto over CERK, its notes the gauntlet thrown down... the herald of its master’s end.
Nick plucked a string. He ran a fingertip up the bow. And then his vampiric recall did rain down details, overflowing his head and heart. Tunes and lyrics, battles and reconciliations, famines and feasts. Vibration. Resonance. Sound.
He closed the case. A hush remained, but the silence had broken.
Nick took the rebec with him when he left the apartment. As soon as he brought himself to tell her that Lacroix was dead, he would give it to Janette.