Nick Knight, vampire homicide detective extraordinaire, knew when to lie low, and this was one of those times. A series of practical jokes that he and his vampire master, Lucien LaCroix, had played on one other had escalated to a point where he was beginning to wonder whether there was any way to end the one-upsmanship. Delighted as he had been with the results of his most recent prank, he was becoming concerned that things might get out of hand.
After all, it hadn't started innocently. LaCroix expressed his displeasure with Nick’s choice of sustenance by sneaking into his loft apartment and replacing Nick’s bovine blood with the blood of other creatures, some of which were particularly vile. In response, Nick had taken advantage of an unexpected opportunity and Superglued™ LaCroix's shoes to the floor in his apartment. LaCroix had retaliated by blocking all of the drains in Nick's loft apartment with liquid rubber. That had required messy and expensive repairs. Eager to share the messy repairs experience, Nick had released a pregnant groundhog into LaCroix's apartment. Nick had surreptitiously enjoyed the apartment-destroying battle between vampire and beast, which only ended when LaCroix managed to trap the groundhog in his walk-in closet off the master bedroom. The next night LaCroix discovered that the animal had given birth in a nest comprised of shredded clothes, shoe leather, and pillow stuffing. He had delivered the new family in a wire cage to the back seat of Nick's prized caddy with a note warning him to keep better track of his pets.
Now Nick was vaguely worried that LaCroix would take his revenge somehow on Natalie Lambert, his best friend, who LaCroix considered one of his "mortal pets." With that in mind, he'd asked Natalie to take a vacation with him, to get them both out of Toronto for a while and give LaCroix a chance to cool off a bit. They had flown to New Orleans for the week before Mardi Gras, and had a wonderful time together attending parades, parties, and other festivities.
Tonight, when he dropped Natalie off at her apartment, he'd gone in with her to assure himself that his master had left no unpleasant or unwelcome surprises for her. All seemed in order, so he excused himself and headed for his own home.
His trepidation grew as he approached his converted warehouse home. The garage door opened without incident, so he parked and hurriedly retrieved his luggage from the trunk. He entered the lift timidly, extending his senses to ensure that LaCroix wasn't waiting for him inside the apartment.
When he pulled open the door of the lift, he blanched and stopped cold. He couldn't believe his eyes. He took a tentative step into the main room, dropped his bags and stared, amazed, at the vista before him.
His piano was gone. In its place sat a big, green John Deere™ tractor. His jaw dropped open as he turned slowly to take in all of the other changes.
Gone was the "high tech dungeon of doom," as his partner, Schanke, had described it. Instead, his loft apartment had been transformed into...a barnyard scene! Artificial grass carpeting covered the floor of the main living area. A split rail fence had been erected around his former sitting area by the fireplace, and his furniture had been replaced with matching sofas made to resemble...cows.
The carved dragon mantelpiece above his fireplace had been replaced with a mounted collection of antique farm implements. His entertainment center was missing entirely, yet a recording of barnyard sounds -- chickens, a rooster, and lowing cattle among them -- was playing somewhere and being piped into speakers mounted on side "tables" made of upturned rectangular bales of hay. Another bale sported a glass top, turning it into a sort of coffee table between the two cow-shaped sofas.
The walls all around had been paneled with what looked like cheap, fake wood grain paneling, in an attempt to make the room look like the interior of a barn. Pastoral scenes featuring grazing cattle and poster advertisements for animal feed decorated the walls.
He turned to look toward the kitchen area and noticed a new piece of artwork had displaced his own sun sculpture. A collage of different sized and labeled die-cut wine bottles was hanging in the most prominent place on the wall. The die-cut bottles formed the shape of a huge cow. He began to simmer with anger.
The kitchen table had been replaced with a hay rack filled with loose hay. The kitchen counter was gone. In its place stood an aluminum watering trough with a hand pump at one end. Taped to the handle of the pump was an envelope with his name on the front in LaCroix's unmistakable handwriting. He crossed over to it, tore it open, and pulled out a greeting card featuring cartoonish cows spouting bad puns. "Moochas Gracias," said one. "We're so udderly grateful," said another. “Thanks heifer so much,” gushed a third. He opened the card and read,
"One good turn deserves another, Nicholas, or so the saying goes. I wanted to thank you for providing the recent opportunity to renovate and redecorate my apartment, and I could think of no better way to show my appreciation than to provide you with the same service. I trust there will be no further need for such an exchange of favors?
"Enjoy the 'cowches,' mon fils, and the other reminders of your current favorite nutritional source.
"P.S. Your previous furnishings are safely in storage, should you feel the need to retrieve them. You may call on me at your convenience to negotiate their return."
Nick stared at the message and the card. He was sure that LaCroix had been furious with him, and this was certainly the last thing he would've expected from him. Was he declaring a truce, or claiming victory?
Nick dropped the card back into the watering trough and turned his eyes to view the remainder of his apartment. Above him, he noticed new ceiling lamps, in the forms of glass udders fitted with light bulbs. There were no other light sources in the main room. The balcony of the loft was lined with more rectangular bales of hay, and he climbed the stairs cautiously, not knowing what to expect in his bedroom.
The bed was gone, too. In its place was a pile of hay, topped by a folded set of plain white cotton bed linens and a rough plaid wool blanket. His dresser remained, and he crossed to it gratefully, pulling the drawers open one by one. Cow print boxer shorts were in one. Cow print socks were in another, and so on. In the closet, he found a full-size cow costume, complete with detachable head and udders. A note was pinned to it, which read, "Nicholas, you are what you eat!"
Returning to the main floor, Nick noticed that the bathroom light was on, and he cautiously looked inside. Green shag bath mats contrasted sharply with the dazzlingly white tile floor.
"At least he didn't remove the tub and sink," he grumbled to himself. The remainder of the bathroom resembled a bovine-themed flea market nightmare. Mismatched cow-shaped accessories crowded the space, which suddenly seemed too small to hold them.
There was a stool shaped like a calf in the corner supporting a pile of bath sheets, each one featuring a different bovine theme. There were cartoon cows, grazing Jerseys and Holsteins, cow hide prints, and a rather disturbing one featuring a butcher's diagram of the different cuts of beef. The walls were wall-papered (!) with a print of dancing cartoon cows and other barnyard animals, and the shower curtain was so covered with hoof prints that it looked like it had been run over by a herd of stampeding cattle.
A porcelain cow's head was mounted on the wall by the sink, and its mouth held a circular towel ring. Hanging from the ring was a hand towel with the face of a Black Angus bull staring at him. No matter where he stood, it seemed that bull was looking directly at him!
The sink was not untouched. Irregular black spots had been painted on the white porcelain surface, in a Holstein hide pattern, and the water faucet was an open-mouthed cow's head. The taps were shaped like upturned udders with "H" and "C" stenciled between the teats indicating hot and cold. They turned easily in Nick's hand, and he was relieved to find that the drains still functioned normally.
The counter space was crowded with bovine bathroom accoutrements. Cow-shaped liquid soap, mouthwash, and shaving cream dispensers, a bull’s head ring holder, a cow themed toothbrush and toothbrush holder, a tray featuring a barnyard scene holding matching Holstein patterned hairbrush, comb and hand mirror, and even a razor sporting a cow-shaped handle were scattered across every usable surface. Small cow-shaped soaps lined the top of the backsplash. There was even a rather cute cow holding a toilet brush on the floor beside the washstand cabinet.
In fact, the only part of the bathroom seemingly unaffected by the bovine invasion was the toilet paper dispenser. Nick gave the roll of toilet paper a spin, just for fun, and nearly jumped out of his skin when a loud, "Mooooo!" sound emanated from the roll bar.
He flew out of the bathroom, startled, eyes glowing gold and fangs extending in classic "fight or flight" mode, and was stopped cold by a restraining hand on his arm.
It was LaCroix.
Nick closed his eyes and willed them to return to normal. His fangs retracted. LaCroix released him as he reopened his eyes and stepped back. The master vampire's face betrayed no emotion, and Nick could not sense his mood through their link. He waited, apprehensively, for LaCroix to speak.
LaCroix waited a long moment before addressing his "son." He knew how to use silence to intimidate. In fact, he'd made a lifetime practical study of every conceivable means of intimidation. In almost 2,000 years, he'd become quite adept. In fact, he considered it almost an art form.
Finally, when he judged the time to be just right, he spoke. "Welcome home, Nicholas," he intoned with absolutely no inflection or emotion whatsoever. "I brought you a gift." He extended a large package without releasing his focus on Nicholas's eyes.
After a moment, Nick accepted the package and moved into the "corral" area to open it. He set it on one of the "cowches" and carefully pried open the lid. LaCroix watched impassively from the other side of the split rail fencing.
It was a hat. Nick reached into the box and withdrew a cowboy hat. He looked at LaCroix, stunned. The hat had a furry texture, and was dyed in a Holstein black and white cowhide pattern.
"Put it on." It was not a suggestion, and Nick slowly and carefully complied, looking more nervous by the moment.
"Good." LaCroix smiled, and its effect did not decrease Nick's sense of impending doom. He stood absolutely still while LaCroix approached and circled him. When LaCroix stopped behind him and leaned in close enough to raise the hairs on his neck, he stiffened involuntarily.
"Why, Nicholas, I do believe you've been thoroughly 'cowed.'" He stepped quickly in front of Nicholas, grinned evilly, and disappeared with a "whoosh," leaving the younger vampire behind in a state of shock.
When it was clear that LaCroix would not return, Nick took off the hat, stared at it for a moment, and returned it to the box. He breathed a sigh of relief. He would no doubt face more trials and tribulations at LaCroix's hands while recovering his property and restoring his apartment to normal, but for the moment, he would just have to accept his pun-ishment.
Forever is a long time. It's even longer without a challenge or a goal. Idly, Nick wondered how he might be able to replace all of LaCroix's underwear with identical items in smaller sizes....