The first thing Nick noticed when he stepped out of the Caddy was the cold: damp and bitter, cutting through his coat. Not that he'd ever admit it to Schanke, or he'd never hear the end of it. Funny how a person gets used to central heating over the decades, he mused as he made his way down the embankment towards the small knot of people at the lake's ice-crusted edge. His boots crunched on dead, frozen grass as he picked his way over the chained-together tires reinforcing the crumbling bank. Cold didn't really bother him that much, but he noticed it now, in a way that he never would have in all those years of living in drafty castles and even draftier farmhouses.
Moving with deliberate stealth -- human stealth, though, not vampire -- he glided up behind Schanke's square, solid shape. "Got an ID on the victim yet?" he murmured, inches from Schanke's ear.
"Jesus!" His partner nearly jumped out of his skin. "How many times have I told you not to sneak up on me, Knight!"
Natalie, crouched at the water's edge with her toolkit open on the beach beside her, looked up and grinned briefly around the flashlight in her teeth. Nick winked at her. Nat rolled her eyes and went back to examining the body lying facedown at the water's edge.
"And yet it never gets old, Schank." Nick took a hand from his pocket and held it out to the one person at the scene that he didn't know. "Detective Knight, Metro Homicide."
"I'm Officer Hastings, Marine Unit." He looked shockingly young, especially with his round, freckled face reddened with the cold. "We got the call from a guy walking his dog along the shore -- God only knows why, in this weather -- and when we realized it was a murder, we called you guys."
No need to ask what made them suspect murder. This was no accident. Even without looking more closely, Nick could see the rope wound around the victim's body, looped through a couple chunks of cinderblocks. Suicide victims didn't bind their own arms.
Schanke snorted and looked out at the dark lake. A biting wind scudded across the water, driving whitecaps before it and jostling ice along the water's edge. "Good thing for us the perp's a lazy SOB, huh? If he'd gone out a little farther, this poor sod wouldn't be washing up for years."
"I wouldn't want to be out there at all at this time of year," Hastings said, glancing at the lake. "You'd be surprised how many people think they're invulnerable, though."
"There wouldn't be many private boats in the water this late in the season, right?" Nick asked him. "Is it possible to get a list?"
"From every marina and private dock along the shore? I'm sorry, Detective; I don't think that's realistic." Hastings looked down once again at the body on the shore, and Nick saw him blanch. Most people in this time and place weren't used to looking upon death. It was sometimes hard for him to understand that aspect of the twentieth century. Even aside from Nick's own admittedly unusual experiences, he'd grown up in a century in which everyone had more than a passing acquaintance with the dead.
Hastings grimaced and looked away. "I can check around, though -- narrow the options a little, Detective."
Nick turned as Nat straightened, stripping off her gloves. "I'll need to get him back to the lab to know for sure, but it looks to me like he was struck in the head and either unconscious or dead when he hit the water." She pointed to the ropes biting into the corpse's bound hands, the swollen flesh gray where the sleeves of his sodden jacket had rucked up. "There's no indication that he struggled against his bonds. He might have been in a fight beforehand, but the body was roughed up a bit by wind and wave action, so it's hard to tell if the damage was post-mortem or not. No sign of bullet or stab wounds, though."
"Can you tell how long he was in the water?" Nick said.
"Cold water plays unholy hell with time of death, but I'd guess a day or two, tops." Nat smiled faintly. "At least ID'ing him isn't going to be a problem."
"Why's that?" Schanke wanted to know.
Natalie's smile widened, and she held up a baggie with a water-soaked leather wallet. "I don't think we're dealing with rocket scientists here, boys."
The victim turned out to be Jason MacNair, a part-time construction worker and day laborer with a rap sheet for brawling, petty theft, and several domestic disturbances involving his wife. As they mounted the steps to the MacNairs' run-down apartment unit, Schanke nudged Nick and murmured, "Want to lay odds she'll thank us for bringing the news?"
It took several rounds of knocking at the door to rouse Mandy MacNair, a tired-looking twenty-something blonde with a prematurely lined face and the last yellowish vestiges of a fading bruise on her cheekbone. She lit a cigarette and leaned on the doorframe, making no move to invite them in. "Doesn't surprise me at all," she said flatly, and Schanke raised his eyebrows at Nick: Told you. "I knew he'd come to a bad end. And before you ask, I haven't seen the dipshit in two days. Or is it three? I figure at first he's out with the boys from the job site, then I tell myself, Mandy, he's finally run off with one of those bimbos from the strip club, and good riddance."
"Was your husband seeing another woman, ma'am?" Nick asked.
"Hell if I know. Wouldn't be the first time." She shrugged and blew a cloud of smoke.
Nick tensed. There was someone else in the apartment -- another heartbeat, coming nearer. He touched Schanke's shoulder. "She's not alone," he murmured.
Schanke took a step back, his hand slipping under his jacket to his holster. Mrs. MacNair frowned at the two of them, confused by their sudden vigilance.
"Mom?" a small voice called, and a little girl poked her head between Mandy MacNair's arm and her side. She was wearing fluffy pink pajamas, with her arms wrapped around a teddy bear. Schanke sighed and let his hand slip off his gun.
Mrs. MacNair's sullen glare at the detectives melted into a soft look when she glanced down at the child. "Honey, go back to bed." She gave the child a gentle push that belied the firmness of her words.
"Can't," the girl protested. Nick noted that she looked well cared for, even if nothing else around the house did -- she did not appear abused or neglected, her pajamas clean, her hair combed. "Mr. Buggles is afraid of the dark and he can't sleep." She held up the bear. "Will you tell him a story? The one about the pirates? Mr. Buggles likes that one."
"Not now." There was a sharp note in Mrs. MacNair's voice. "Go to bed." She gave the girl another push, and the child stuck her thumb in her mouth, shot a last curious look at the detectives, and trotted back into the dark room.
"Now look what you done." Mandy MacNair lit another cigarette from the stub of the first. "Woke up my kid. Hope you're happy."
"I have a daughter too," Schanke offered. "A little older than she is. Four or five, right?"
"None of your business." Mandy MacNair blew a cloud of smoke at them.
Schanke gazed wistfully at the cigarette between her fingers -- he was still trying to cadge smokes occasionally at the station. Nick kicked his foot to get his attention back on the task at hand. "Could we talk to your daughter, ma'am?" Nick tried.
The only concrete information she gave them was the name of the construction company her husband had been working for -- Cooper Contracting. Otherwise, her answers to their questions were a whole string of "maybe, sorta, kinda, not really." Had her husband acted distracted lately? "Maybe. He's been out a lot. But he always is." Had he mentioned anything that might be wrong? "Didn't notice." Did she know the names of any of his friends? "Not really." Where he spent his time when he wasn't at work? "All I know is he ain't here. Except when he is."
"Good to see he'll be missed," Nick said dryly as they walked to the Cadillac. "So ... theories?"
"Hello, Knight?" Schanke tapped his forehead. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to notice that the Widow MacNair isn't exactly losing sleep over the whole thing. Either she's got a little thing of her own on the side, and she and the boyfriend split a bottle of liquid courage and whacked Dear Hubby with a boathook --"
"Or she got tired of MacNair cheating on her, and took matters into her own hands." Nick glanced over his shoulder at the apartment, just as the light in the window flicked out.
"Not by herself," Schanke said. "Little thing like that? She had help. If it wasn't a boyfriend, she hired somebody."
"We don't know it was her, Schank."
"Yeah? I don't see any other suspects around here, do you?" He made a show of looking around, checking behind Nick's parked car. "Just because she's decent to her kid doesn't make her a good person."
"I wasn't thinking that."
Still, they waited around an hour or so, parked down the block, to see if she showed any signs of leaving, or if anyone showed up at her door. She didn't, and they didn't. Her lights remained off. Nothing happened.
"Let's face it," Schanke said, huddling into his coat in the passenger seat. He reached for the paper coffee cup on his side of the dashboard and swirled the cold dregs, then yawned. "This isn't the kind of hotshot homicide case that earns mayoral commendations and promotion opportunities for a couple of working stiffs like us. It's the sort of case where everyone involved is a waste of air anyway, and we freeze our asses off in order to bust a cheating wife and send a little kid to a foster home."
"You should do something about that incurable optimism, Schanke."
"What I should do something about is the fact that your heater isn't doing a thing to warm up this car and we're not getting anywhere anyway." He reached for the keys in the ignition. Nick smacked his hand away. "Come on, Knight, have a heart. This is a waste of time."
Much as he hated to admit it, Schanke had a point, and even more importantly, daybreak was on its way. "Yeah. Let's pack it in. I guess the next step is to see if his co-workers had the same opinion of him as his wife." Nick reached into the backseat for a phone book. "Cooper Contracting. There's an address." He glanced towards the east, where the sky had begun to lighten towards dawn. "Sorry, Schank, but --"
"Oh, hell no." Schanke yawned again. "If you're knocking off, so am I. We can both hit the construction office this evening. It's winter. Gets dark early. I'm going home before Myra forgets what I look like."
Another day, another stiff, Natalie thought as she hung up her winter coat in the morgue's little closet. She'd gone straight from home to the crime scene, and before launching into the MacNair autopsy she took a few moments to settle in, make a fresh pot of coffee and see if Grace had left her anything before going off shift.
There was a small stack of paperwork on her desk, but far more eye-catching was the large yellow Post-It note on her computer that read CLASSIFIED!!! DR LAMBERT'S EYES ONLY in Grace's handwriting. A sideways-pointing arrow indicating she ought to flip over the note. Nat pulled it off and turned it over, revealing a little stick-drawing diagram of the lab, an arrow pointing to the back of Grace's desk, and the words DO NOT REVEAL EVEN UNDER TORTURE!
Nat laughed, crumpled it and shoved it into her pocket. The janitors kept finding the M.E. department's secret stash of candy bars, which meant they had to keep hiding them in new places. She tiptoed over and peeked behind Grace's desk -- a suspiciously bulging manilla envelope was taped there. At the very least, the game of "hunt the candy bar" gave the janitorial staff a reason to clean under and behind things.
Nat obtained a Mars bar for herself, and set to work. Time slipped away from her as she settled into her familiar routine, pausing occasionally to update MacNair's file. For the most part, it was deeply routine -- with one very interesting exception.
She'd finished with MacNair and had her hands immersed in soapy water when Nick wandered into the morgue. "Aren't you off shift yet?" she asked, glancing up. "It's got to be almost dawn."
Nick flashed her a quick smile. "Long winter nights. I'm headed home -- just dropped Schanke off -- but I wondered if you'd found anything."
"I just finished, actually." Nat reached for a towel and scrubbed her hands dry. "For the most part, it's nothing you couldn't guess from looking at the body in situ."
"I love it when you talk Latin at me."
Nat wrinkled her nose at him and carried on as if he hadn't spoken. "He was hit in the back of the head with something solid and bar-shaped -- a tire jack, boathook, baseball bat, heaven knows." She touched the back of her own head, running her fingers slantwise through her hair to demonstrate. "Then whoever it was trussed him up, as you saw, and threw him overboard. Wind and wave action drove him ashore almost immediately, and wiped away anything that could've helped us ID the perp. The one thing I can tell you is that whoever tightened those ropes was strong."
"Too strong to be a woman?"
"I don't know." Nat quirked a smile at him. "Women can be strong. I wouldn't rule it out. Do you have a suspect?"
"Schanke thinks the wife did it."
Nick sighed and turned away. "I don't know. There's a little girl. She's already lost her father; I'd hate to see her lose her mother too."
Nat touched his back lightly. "You're not responsible for other people's bad decisions, Detective Knight." She withdrew her hand and cleared her throat. "Besides, I haven't gotten to the interesting bit yet."
"There's an interesting bit?"
"The contents of his stomach." Nat flipped through her partially completed report. "Want to guess as to the nature of his last meal?"
"I'd really rather not."
"What, not even a guess?" He just grinned at her and waited. Nat cracked first. "Well, I doubt if anyone would guess this. I found a wadded-up ball of paper. Since it hadn't passed through his digestive tract yet, it was probably swallowed shortly before death. It's up in Forensics right now, to see if anything useful can be recovered."
"Any guesses? A will or deed, something like that?"
Nat shrugged and perched on the edge of her desk. "Not big enough. It's thick, heavy paper, smaller than a letter-sized sheet, but beyond that it's so degraded and discolored from stomach acid that I couldn't even begin to tell you. Forensics might be able to recover an image."
But they hadn't yet done so by the time the night shift came back on duty the following evening. Hastings had faxed over a list of boat owners; Nick split it, handing the other half to Schanke, but MacNair's name did not appear. "Guess now we get to see if the workplace is another dead end," Schanke said with a sigh.
The owner and foreman at Cooper Contracting was a florid, heavyset man in his fifties. "Well?" he said when they entered his cramped office and flashed their Metro PD badges. "You find anything?"
"Find anything about what?" Nick asked. Schanke, rubbing his cold-reddened hands together, made a beeline for the pot of sludgy coffee in the corner.
"Aren't you here about the missing dynamite?"
Schanke stopped in the act of reaching for the coffeepot. "Missing dynamite?"
"Yeah, I talked to you guys the other day. Some of our blasting supplies are missing from one of our work sites. Dynamite, caps and a detonator."
"We're in Homicide --" Nick began
All the color left his face. "My dynamite was used to murder someone?"
"We're not here about the dynamite." Nick shared a glance with Schanke. "... although we'd be interested to hear about it."
The dynamite had been discovered missing two days ago during a routine inventory. "There's no telling when it was taken," Cooper said. "Could have been a month ago. I don't think it's a coincidence those two deadbeats quit a couple days before it turned up missing, though. I told the cops to check them out, but I guess you guys don't talk to each other."
Schanke opened his mouth, but Nick said over the top of him, "Which two deadbeats would those be?"
He fully expected one of the names to be MacNair, but Cooper said, "Donnings and Russ. Ed Donnings and Jim Russell, that is. Want me to pull their paperwork?"
"Sure." As Cooper rummaged in a file cabinet, Nick added casually, "Any of your other guys miss work in the last day or two?"
"Sure did. Jase MacNair. How'd you know? Wait a minute. You said you guys are here about a homicide?"
Cooper seemed to share everyone else's opinion of Jason MacNair. "It's not the first time he's missed work. I was pretty close to firing his ass. Still, it wasn't like I wanted him to go out and get killed or something."
"Did he and the other two know each other?" Schanke asked, sitting on the edge of Cooper's cluttered desk with both hands wrapped around a styrofoam cup of coffee.
"All my guys know each other, more or less. We're not a big outfit. We go out for beers after work." He shrugged, unburied a beat-up Xerox machine and ran off copies of the files. "I didn't know any of them really well, though. Donnings and Russ were buddies, but I never noticed MacNair hanging out with them in particular. I guess the only thing they had in common was that all three of them had been out on the Warwick house renovations. Maybe what they say about the curse is true."
If Schanke had been a dog, his ears would have pricked up. Nick could feel himself perking up and taking notice, too. "Did you say a curse?"
"It's balderdash, obviously," Cooper scoffed. "It's just an old house out in Scarborough. Rumors of hidden passageways in the walls, ghost stories, the usual. Total bunk of course. We're doing renovations on the interior. Owners want to fix it up and make a tourist attraction or something out of it. Now I'll need to pull a crew off one of the other jobs and pay double-time to get it done by the new year -- what a hassle."
"I think we might oughta take a look at that house," Schanke said.
"Heck, that'll be easy," Cooper said, gesturing with the sheaf of paperwork in his hand. "Old lady that owns the place will talk your ear off about it. I think half the rumors about ghosts and curses and whatnot are her doing, trying to drum up interest in that shack as a tourist trap. She likes to talk about how the original owner was a pirate back in the eighteen-somethings."
Schanke looked fascinated. "Pirates?"
"A lot of balderdash, is what it is. Pirates in Toronto! What does she think this is, Halifax? But tourists'll eat up anything."
Eventually Cooper was sidetracked by the arrival of two plumbers with a payroll complaint, and the detectives made their getaway with copies of the employment forms. "So," Schanke said, "pay a visit to the deadbeats, or make a quick trip to Scarborough? It's still pretty early in the evening. And come on, don't tell me you aren't curious, too. Pirates!"
Nick laughed. "I don't think Lake Ontario was a hotbed of pirate activity in the 19th century, Schank."
"C'mon, Nick, where's the adventure in your soul? Didn't you want to run off and be a pirate when you were a kid?"
"It's not all it's cracked up to be," Nick muttered.
The Warwick House was a rambling brick structure, cloaked in a sprawling jungle of winter-dead trees and shrubs. Several windows were boarded up, and the left wing of the house was swathed in Tyvek; this, along with the construction debris on the lawn -- ladders, sawhorses, stacks of sheetrock -- gave Nick little hope that they'd find anyone at home. But lights were on downstairs, and their knock was answered promptly by a tiny woman with a wide smile and a frizzy cascade of white hair. She introduced herself as Lily Renfro -- "just Lily; Mrs. Renfro is my mother-in-law, dears" -- and ushered them into a living room whose walls had been stripped down to the studs, and insisted on plying them with tea and brick-hard cookies that smelled like sawdust, while chattering on about the history of the house.
"My parents bought it before the war," she said. "The first war, you know. I wasn't born yet, though my sister was, God rest her soul. And they, my parents I mean, bought it after the last of the Warwicks died -- well, Mary Judkins, actually, that was her married name. She was quite old then. Davy Warwick was her father. He and his brother were pirates, you know."
She looked at them expectantly. "We've heard," Nick said, pretending to nibble a cookie before palming it. Out of the corner of his eye, Nick noticed Schanke doing the same thing, but much less expertly -- he'd had a lot less practice.
"Oh, excellent! Isn't it exciting? They were quite the rogues, those two. Of course, Mrs. Judkins was a respectable lady, nothing like her father. We were friends with the Judkins, you know. Well, my grandparents were. I don't remember any of them, of course; she died before me or my sister were born. So many years ago ..."
"Pirates," Schanke prompted.
"The Warwicks. Yes. They were involved with, well, you name it. Mainly timber piracy, with some smuggling of sundry cargo on the side, whatever had some money in it."
"Timber piracy?" Schanke echoed, and Nick hid a grin behind his gilt-edged teacup; he could see Schanke's dreams of pirate gold crashing down around his ears. "You mean -- logs?"
"That was a big deal in those days. Illegal logging, shipping the timber across the lakes to the States -- oh yes." Her eyes lit up. "But their big score was the Acadia, of course."
"More logs?" Schanke said warily.
"Oh no, not at all. Furs. The Acadia was a Hudson's Bay Company merchant ship. It went down in 1829 in a storm on the lake. The Warwicks came out to help -- everyone did, everyone that had a boat. Got the crew and passengers off the foundering ship, they did, but in the bustle it seems quite a lot of the cargo went missing, including a safe full of gold intended for the company's stores along the lake. Maybe it went down with the ship. No one is quite sure."
"I'm sure you have a guess," Nick said. Schanke had started looking bored as soon as he'd realized that the "pirates" were more on the order of small-time blockade runners, but Nick was enjoying her animation and excitement.
"Oh, yes." Lily refreshed their untouched tea from the steaming pot. "My grandparents were friends with Mary Judkins and her husband, as I said, and Mrs. Judkins was very fond of my mother, having no children of her own. She told Mother the whole story, and Mother passed it along to me. They did take that safe, Davy Warwick and his brother -- smuggled it onshore in all the excitement. But they couldn't open it. The plan was to get some tools and black powder, and come back later. But they ended up quarreling over the money, and Davy Warwick shot his brother, who died later that same night. Poor Davy was so stricken with remorse that he hid the safe in a secret cove he knew about along the shore, and swore never to touch the money."
Couldn't have been too remorseful, or he'd have returned it to its rightful owners, Nick thought, but he was too caught up in the fable to interrupt it with logic. Oral storytelling was another lost art of the modern world, one that Nick missed, and she was good at it.
"But then his luck turned bad. All his ventures failed. He was nearly caught by the authorities a dozen times, and only when he swore to give up the smuggling lifestyle and make an honest living onshore did his luck turn again. He went straight, made a comfortable living and had this house built." Her eyes danced. "But he never quite gave up on the gold. When he died, hoping that the bad luck had been broken, he left his daughter a map showing her where he'd buried the safe. She wanted nothing to do with it, but couldn't quite give it up, since it was her father's legacy to her. Not wanting to inflict the bad luck on anyone else, she hid the map somewhere in the house, or so my mother said. But Mrs. Judkins never told my mother where she hid the map, and she died without revealing it."
Schanke had paused with his cup of tea halfway to his mouth, the gears obviously turning in his head. Nick had realized long since that his partner's dumb-beat-cop act was just that -- an act -- although you didn't have to be a rocket scientist to draw the line between secret treasure map and the ball of paper in Jason MacNair's stomach.
Nick glanced around at the walls, their bare studs peeking out from a patchwork of half-stripped plaster. "Did you look for it?"
"Of course I did; what girl could resist the allure of hidden pirate gold? All I ever found in these walls were a lot of spider nests. I always believed it did exist. But if it did, those nice young men would surely have found it during the renovations, and they never said a word about it."
"The men from the construction crew?" Schanke asked, leaning forward.
When she nodded, Nick said, "So you told the, uh, nice young men about Davy Warwick and the hidden map?" But he already knew the answer.
"Timber pirates?" Schanke said as soon as they were out of the house.
"We found out what we needed to know, Schank. I think we can be pretty sure that MacNair and the others found that map."
"Yes, but -- logs?"
"It's not all rum and sea shanties and parrots," Nick said. "Anywhere people can make a living stealing something and reselling it for more profit elsewhere, they'll do it. Like running cigarettes over the border from the U.S."
"Or eating a treasure map to keep your buddies from getting it."
Schanke shuddered. "Is it just me, or does this case keep getting stranger and more disgusting? I'da loved to see their faces when they couldn't find the map after tossing the body overboard, though." His face changed. "You think they're still looking for it?"
Nick had been wondering the same thing. Natalie. He tried to tamp down his mostly-irrational worry under a solid wall of logic. "Yeah, but I doubt if they'd even think of looking in the morgue. If they knew MacNair swallowed the map, they wouldn't have shoved him into the lake until they retrieved it."
Still, as soon as they were back at the Caddy, he tried calling the morgue from his car phone. One of the lab assistants answered. "Dr. Lambert? No, she just went out on a call."
"A crime scene?" Nick asked, but just then his radio spit static and answered the question for him.
"81-Kilo, please respond. Possible homicide, 3091 Birch, Unit 12. Coroner on scene."
"Thanks," Nick told the kid on the phone, and retrieved the radio mic. "81-Kilo, on our way."
"That address sounds familiar," Schanke murmured.
"It should." Nick jerked a thumb at the employment paperwork they'd obtained from Cooper. "It's Russell's."
The address was a trailer court. As Nick pulled in with lights flashing, he noticed a small cluster of curious neighbors starting to form around the police tape.
Nick could smell blood as soon as he stepped out of the car. Schanke, blissfully obvious, just shivered and wrapped his coat more tightly around himself. Nick closed his eyes briefly -- focus, force it down -- and then hailed the first uniformed officer that he saw. "How many bodies?"
"One," the beat cop said. "As far as we know so far, anyway."
Schanke grabbed the page with Donnings' employment information. "We need to call this in and dispatch a car to -- damn it. Never mind." Donnings' only address was a P.O. box.
They met Natalie coming down the steps from the trailer's sagging porch, stripping off her gloves. "Male," she said. "Caucasian. No positive ID, but the unit belongs to --"
"Jim Russell," Nick said.
Nat's eyebrows went up. "James Russell, yes. I take it this is related to something you're working on. Are you getting somewhere on the MacNair case?"
"Not fast enough," Nick said grimly, trying to shut out the intoxicating smell of blood. It was stronger here. And fresh. "What happened?"
"Someone stabbed the victim with a kitchen knife," Nat said. "It looks like there was a fight. One of the neighbors heard a disturbance and found the body an hour or two later."
"Tonight?" Schanke said, and Natalie nodded. Schanke looked ill. Nick knew what he was thinking: if they'd gone directly here, rather than detouring by Warwick House ...
But they hadn't been at Warwick House that long, and anyway, even if they'd gone directly to follow up on Donnings and Russell, they'd only have had a 50/50 shot at picking the right address. "She said an hour or two, Schank. By the time we got the addresses from Cooper, it was already too late."
Schanke remained unmollified. "Yeah, and I was sitting around the station eating donuts rather than interviewing Cooper --"
"You can't second-guess what's done and over. It'll eat you alive." Don't I know that. "Either Donnings or Russell is dead, and the other one's missing."
"At least it's not hard to figure out whodunnit," Schanke said. "Whoever's not lying in a pool of their own blood must be our man. Or woman." He jerked his head at the trailer. "C'mon, partner. Let's have a look."
Nat darted a quick glance at Nick, and then nodded towards a woman sitting on the steps of the next trailer over, talking to one of the uniformed officers. "I think that's the witness over there, the one who called the police," she said, in a suitably offhand manner, but Nick recognized the out she was offering him, and gave her a brief smile.
"Hey, partner, I'll talk to the witness, huh?"
"Yeah, thanks a lot -- give me the dirty work, Knight," Schanke snapped at his back.
Leaving the trailer behind dulled the sharp edge of the Hunger and made it easier to think clearly. "Bad in there?" Nick murmured to Nat as she fell into step beside him.
"You've seen worse, I'm sure," she replied softly. "Still, it's messy. Lots of defensive wounds on the victim. Not to mention the alcohol fumes. It's clearly a drunken argument gone bad. You think this victim knew MacNair?"
"We know he did," Nick said. "Ask Schanke to tell you the story. It's a fascinating one. I'm sure the Schanke version would be even more interesting." Leaving Nat wide-eyed and curious, he sat down to talk to the witness.
The witness had little to offer, aside from confirming that the body was Russell's. She'd been making dinner "for me kids, y'know" when she heard the neighbors in the trailer next door having a screaming fight. "I don't get involved with that sort of thing, me. You hear a lot of it, living around here. Still, it kept bothering me even after things settled down. I washed up and settled the boys with their homework, and then I walked over, just to be sure everything was okay."
"And that's when you saw the body."
She nodded, drew a shuddering breath and clasped her hands in her lap.
"Did you know Mr. Russell well?"
A headshake. "Not really. He wasn't a bad guy -- one time he saw me struggling with a punctured tire in my driveway, and came out and helped me change it. But he had bad friends, druggies and such. I kept my kids away from him."
"You said there was screaming; do you remember what they were fighting about?"
But she hadn't heard anything useful, or specifically noticed anyone coming or going from the trailer. Nick secured a promise to call the station if she remembered anything else, and went to join Natalie and Schanke at the coroner's van as the body was loaded. Nat was scribbling on a clipboard, but looked up with a smile when Nick joined her.
"Schanke told me the oddest story about pirates."
"Really boring pirates," Schanke said. "And I didn't find any dynamite, either. If Donnings and Russell took it -- and I'd bet anything they did, to blow open the safe they're looking for -- then Donnings has it." He frowned at Nick, who hadn't said anything yet. "Er ... partner?"
Pirates. Something was percolating in the back of Nick's brain -- had been, in fact, ever since they spoke to Lily Renfro. "Just a minute, Schank," he said absently, turning away.
Distantly, he heard Schanke say to Nat, "Ah, the thousand-yard Knight stare. Wait for it ... here it comes ..."
And the thing he'd been looking for clicked into place. "Schanke, do you remember what Mandy MacNair's little girl said to her mother when we were there? About bedtime stories?"
Schanke's eyes widened as the light dawned. "She wanted to hear the story about pirates."
"Exactly. What do you want to guess we're not talking about the peg legs and parrots kind of pirates?"
"I knew it!" Schanke said. "I knew it. It's always the wife. I'm thinking we should pay a repeat visit to the Widow MacNair."
Nick shook his head. "I think one of us should talk to her. The other one should head back to the station and pull the files on the dynamite theft. If Donnings and Russell were suspects, someone must have interviewed them. That'll at least give us a general idea of where they were and what they were doing two days ago."
"I notice you're looking at me," Schanke said. "Thanks a lot. Once again, I get stuck with the paperwork, while you --"
"-- drive around the frozen streets of Toronto while you're sitting in a warm, snug office with lots of coffee."
"Well," Schanke said. "Since you put it that way."
Nat gave him a quick smile, an "I see what you did there, Knight" sort of look. With Schanke out of the way, Nick would have a great deal more leeway to interview Mandy MacNair. She took Schanke's arm. "C'mon, Schanke. I'll give you a lift."
Mandy MacNair's apartment was dark and quiet. Nick approached with inhuman stealth and listened at the door. No one home: no heartbeats, no smell of blood or cooling flesh. Mandy MacNair and her daughter were somewhere else.
We should have staked her out. But they'd had no cause, no evidence to justify pulling some of the precinct's limited manpower to watch her.
And now Mrs. MacNair was gone, along with her little girl. Probably wherever Donnings was. Or running from him.
So which is she? Victim or killer?
Whichever she was, the child was certainly innocent. He could wait for a warrant -- or do a quick search that no human senses would ever be able to detect. The door was locked. Nick turned, jogged down the stairs and around the building to the back. A row of windows looked out on the narrow alley. There was a wooden fire escape that didn't look capable of supporting a grown man's weight, but that was all right -- he didn't need it. Nick took a quick look around for inconvenient witnesses, then flew to the window that he judged to belong to the MacNairs' bedroom. He pressed his gloved fingertips against the peeling paint of the sash, pressing just hard enough to pop the catch and push up the window. Nick slipped into the room and bent the metal of the catch back into place.
His search of the apartment was quick. There were signs of hasty packing -- clothes thrown on the floor, stuffed toys scattered around. From the look of things, Mandy MacNair hadn't planned this; she'd flung a few things in a suitcase and taken off. Which still didn't answer the question of whether she was running away from someone, or off to dig up a long-buried treasure.
Nick let himself out the front door, locking it behind him, and made his way back down to the street. He stood looking up at the building for a minute or two, acutely aware of time ticking away, a little girl who could be in danger, a bunch of missing dynamite and a treasure allegedly lost for a century and a half ...
There was something about the challenge that appealed to him, he realized after a moment. Vampire strength, speed and mind control made vampires indisputably more powerful than humans -- and it was a constant temptation, as much as the blood, to lean on those abilities beyond the merely necessary. To take what he wanted without asking.
But in this sort of police work, it didn't actually give him that much of an edge. It was still a matter of asking questions, using his brain, putting the pieces together. And as he stared at the apartment building, another piece fell into place.
Nick spun on his heel and headed for the Caddy. He leaned into the backseat for the list of boats and owners that Hastings had faxed to the station.
They'd already checked the list for MacNair, because he was the only one of the co-conspirators that they'd known about at the time. But they hadn't looked for anyone else. Donnings had no address on his employment paperwork, just a P.O. box. MacNair's body had most likely been tossed from a boat, but a year-round slip at the marina was expensive, not something that a construction worker would be likely to have --
-- unless he lived on it.
The car phone rang. Nick tucked it into the crook of his shoulder just as he found it: the Lucky Lady, in a year-round slip at Marina Quay West, rented by E. Donnings. "Knight."
"Heyyy, partner," Schanke began, and he and Nick chorused at the same time: "I found Donnings' boat."
There was a brief pause; Nick caught himself grinning, especially when Schanke launched into the expected complaint. "Oh, that's great. And here I thought I'd scooped you for a change. How'd you find out? Talk to MacNair's wife?"
"No. She's not here. It's on the list of boat owners that the harbor police faxed over. You?"
"It's in the dayshift's report on the stolen dynamite. They talked to him at the marina."
"Did they search the boat?"
"Nope. No warrant. Nothing to connect him to the theft that wasn't circumstantial."
"I think we have probable cause for Murder 1 now."
"Way ahead of you, partner," Schanke said, sounding satisfied. "The paperwork is making its way through the proper channels even as we speak. Meet you at the harbor?"
The Lucky Lady's slip was empty.
"Great," Schanke snapped, tucking his hands under his arms in the sharp wind off the lake. "Any more bright ideas?"
"Yeah," Nick said. "We ask the neighbors."
It turned out that the winter-over boat crowd were a close-knit bunch who paid a great deal more attention to their neighbors than did the trailer park residents. Most of them were asleep at this time of night, but Nick and Schanke found a few boats that still had the lights on and were happy to talk about Donnings. No one had liked him much -- apparently he was an unfriendly sort who often had trouble paying his slip rental fee.
"Actually, when he cast off tonight, I figured it was because he'd finally been evicted," said a woman having a cigarette on the dock beside her sailboat. "He's been in and out of dock a lot lately. At this time of year, most people are battening their hatches and making their winter preparations."
Nick could see that. Some of the boats had heaters or bubblers to keep the water around the hull from freezing; a few were wrapped in makeshift plywood and plastic structures to keep the heat in. "Do you know where else he might have gone? Another marina, maybe?"
"Maybe." She took a drag on her cigarette. "Lots of people winter at Port Credit down in Mississauga, but most places with winter slips are full at this time of year. Maybe he couldn't take it and hightailed it back to warmer waters."
Nick left his card, asked her to call if she noticed Donnings' boat turn up in its slip again, and went to round up Schanke, who was canvassing the other side of the quay. "A day late and a dollar short, again," his partner complained through chattering teeth. "We're doomed to chase these people until we freeze to death."
Nick turned, startled, to see Natalie waving at him from the other end of the quay. "I hoped you'd still be out here!" she called, and started jogging towards him. Nick and Schanke met her halfway.
"You weren't answering your radio or car phone," she panted, resting her hands on her knees. "Forensics managed to reconstruct the map."
She reached into her jacket and took out a folded piece of paper. Schanke recoiled in disgust, and Nat rolled her eyes. "It's a copy. Settle down." She spread it out, and the two detectives closed in on either side of her, peering over her shoulder.
"That's a treasure map?" Schanke said after a moment. "I was expecting something a little more Treasure Island, and a little less ... bar napkin."
The "map" was little more than a set of loosely scribbled lines. There were no words at all, just a circled area at the upper right. Or possibly the bottom left.
"I think we can safely say that whoever drew this was not a draftsman," Nat said. "On the other hand, from what you two told me earlier, that's not surprising. He was sketching a map for his daughter, and probably explained it to her."
Schanke turned the map around, held it sideways and then upside down to its original orientation. "Coastline of Lake Ontario?" he suggested, running a finger along a squiggly line that bisected the paper in a wavering diagonal. "These could be the Humber and Don rivers, here and here."
"Or it could be a very bad drawing of a horse," Nat said, rotating it the other way.
Schanke snatched it back and turned it the way he'd had it. "Come on, partner, back me up here."
"I think he's right," Nick said. "This was over a hundred years ago; the coastline would have been different, and most of modern Toronto wasn't there. This could easily be the Humber River, and if so, then ..." He tapped the paper to the east of the river, if it was in fact a river, where a spot on the wavering line was circled. "What's here now?"
"Subdivisions, mostly," Schanke said. "A hundred and fifty years ago, I have no clue."
Nat took the map and studied it herself. "I think there were sawmills on the river. West of that was mostly forest and marsh." When both the men looked at her, she said, "What? I did take university courses in subjects other than human dissection, you know."
Nick gave her a little bow. "I defer to your expertise."
"If you two are done flirting, there's a case to solve?" Schanke retrieved the map. "Assuming this wiggles on the coastline are actually intentional and not just the artist's DTs, we might be able to match it to the modern coast and figure out where this is."
"There's a map in the Caddy," Nick said.
The three of them almost fell over each other in their haste to get back to the parking lot. Nat brushed off the hood of Nick's car so that they could spread out the map. By the light of a street lamp, they studied the seemingly random squiggles in the map's sketchy lines.
"It's going to be different," Nat said. "The entire coastline's been reshaped by dredging and construction over the last century."
"But the major landforms won't have changed." Nick ran his finger around the curve of something that might or might not be Humber Bay, and then down the coast to the west. "Assuming this is to scale --"
"-- all right, yes, true, but it looks like we're trying to find a location between Long Branch and somewhere west of Port Credit."
"No wonder they can't find it," Nat said. "That's a huge area to search, and it's so built up -- the odds of anything still being there after all this time are next to nothing."
"But it gives us an area to search. Or, more accurately, for the Marine Unit to search." Nick leaned into the Caddy and reached for the radio.
"Wait." Nat caught his hand, then reached around him for the treasure map. "Something's not right. There's got to be some trick to it; it's hard to believe it would be that simple."
"The map was hidden in the walls," Schanke said. "Or floor or whatever. It took a major renovation to find it. How much trickier do you need it to be?"
Nat shook her head. "Grace and I get more creative than this when we're hiding candy bars from the janitors. I need ..."
Still studying the map, she began to walk towards the harbor.
Nick hurried after her. "Need what?"
"A marine chart. Most of the boat owners probably have one. It'll show the coastline in a lot more detail than your street map."
"Do you know what you're looking for?"
Nat shook her head again. "But I hope I'll know it when I see it."
"So I'll call it in, then, why don't I?" Schanke said to their backs in a peevish tone.
He caught up to them a few minutes later. "The Marine Unit is heading out to that area. And we probably should too, partner."
"In a minute," Nick said. "It can't hurt to have some of the boat owners look at the map too, right? They know this coast better than any of us, and Donnings would, too."
He rapped on the side of a large sailboat, one of those with an owner who'd been present, awake and friendly during their earlier rounds of questioning. A moment later a head popped out of the boat's cabin. "Detectives? Did you think of something else?"
"We just need to know if you have a map of the coastline," Nick said.
Moments later, they were all crowded inside the cramped but blessedly warm cabin. The words "pirates" and "old map" had been sufficient to ensure full and enthusiastic cooperation from the boat's owner. (That the map had been retrieved from a dead man's stomach was a detail they'd conveniently left out.)
The boat's owner spread out a large marine depth chart and held up the map to it. "It's not very accurate," he said.
"It's a hundred and fifty years old," Nick said, "give or take a bit. The coast's changed a lot."
"Even aside from that, though. This part here looks really familiar ..." He touched a squiggle of the coastline just west of the circled area. "But if the map is accurate, that'd be out around Port Credit, and there's nothing over there that looks like this."
"That looks like this now," Schanke said.
"Yes, Detective, I know. But it does look familiar to me. I'm just not sure why."
"What if it's from a different part of the map, transplanted into the wrong spot?" Nat spoke up. Under her breath she added, "That's a good trick; I need to mention it to Grace."
The boat owner gave her a quick, delighted grin. "That's it! That's a little bay I've been to -- but it's not near Port Credit at all. It's over here." He slid his finger along the chart in an eastward direction, past the mouth of the Don River and up the coast. "Here's Frenchman's Bay, and -- yes, right here." He pointed to a spot in one of the coastal parks in Pickering, just east of Toronto. It did look similar.
"That's it, then!" Nat spun to face Nick and Schanke, her eyes bright. "The circle doesn't mark the spot at all, but the out-of-place section of coastline does. Anyone following the map literally -- especially someone who's not familiar with the coast, like his daughter surely would be -- is going to end up on the wrong side of Toronto. Yeah, I'm definitely gonna have to tell Grace about that one."
"The question is, which way did Donnings go?" Schanke asked. "The right way or the wrong way? I think I've got a quarter around somewhere; we could flip it ..."
"No bet." Nick stared down at the map. "I think he's in Pickering. If you recognized it that quickly --" he nodded to the boat owner "-- then Donnings probably did too."
"So the Marine Unit is currently headed in the wrong direction," Schanke said. "C'mon, let's go get on the horn and let them know."
Outside, the wind on the pier felt even colder. Nick let Schanke outdistance him, and then tried to catch Nat's attention. Finally he touched her shoulder and leaned close, forming two words against her ear as the wind whipped her hair around them both. "Distract him."
Nat gave him a look that was at first puzzled and then morphed into a frown of mingled irritation and worry. "Don't do anything stupid," she whispered back.
Schanke turned around and waved his arms at them. "What are you two doing back there? Come on!"
Nat shot Nick a final exasperated look and then trotted to catch up with Schanke, seizing his arm and spinning him around with her before he could see that Nick wasn't following. "I still have Hastings' number; Dispatch can patch us through to his commanding officer --"
As their voices retreated up the dock, Nick looked around to make sure that no one had emerged onto the decks of any of the boats, and then launched himself into the air.
Nat managed to keep Schanke distracted until they were about halfway up the pier; then he stopped, looked around and finally noticed that Nick was gone. "Okay, what the hell? How does he do that?"
"He's probably on his way back to the station," Nat suggested.
"Uh huh. You know, sometimes I think he forgets he has a partner." Schanke whipped out his badge and started back the other way, towards the boats.
"Wait!" Nat dragged at his arm, trying to stop him or at least slow him down. "What are you doing?"
"Commandeering a boat."
"What happened to waiting for the harbor patrol?"
"Do you seriously think that my impulsive idiot partner isn't doing something exactly like this right now?"
"It's not your jurisdiction, Schanke!"
"We're pursuing a suspect and trying to save a little girl's life." He turned to look at her, and she caught, as she sometimes did, a glimpse of the man under the bluster and the bad jokes: a good cop, a good man, a loyal friend. "Besides, Nick's out there, on the water somewhere. You look me in the eye and tell me he's not. He's my partner, Nat; I'm not letting him do this by himself."
All you'll do is get in the way, and possibly get yourself killed and Nick exposed, Nat thought. But that was the one thing she couldn't say, and try as she might, she couldn't think of a plausible alternate explanation for what Nick was doing, sans car on a dock in the middle of the night, other than going after Donnings.
"Yeah, thought so," Schanke muttered. He scanned the row of boats and banged his fist on the side of a sleek powerboat. "Police! Emergency!"
The man who emerged from the wheelhouse was tousled and sleepy-looking, shivering in the freezing wind. "I'm sorry, who are you?" He looked from the badge in Schanke's hand to the detective's face.
"Metro police. I need this boat to pursue a suspect. Not to mention my partner," he added under his breath. "Nat, you can head back to the station and --"
"Oh, no." Nat made a split-second decision: if damage control regarding Nick's other identity needed to be run on-site, then she was just going to have to be there to do it. "I'm going with you." She jumped from the dock to the powerboat's slippery, icy deck, catching herself on the rail. The owner of the boat stared at them both, open-mouthed.
"No way. We're going after a guy who's already killed two people. And someone needs to call for backup."
"We can use the radio on the boat. The harbor police will be right behind us," Nat pointed out. A little TOO close, probably. "I'll stay out of the way. But --" she extemporized wildly "-- someone might need medical help and I'm right here, Schanke. I can't just go back and sit in my office when I'm needed."
"Cohen will have my ass for this," Schanke muttered, and hauled himself after her onto the deck.
Nick always seemed to forget what it felt like, flying. Not a little boost to get up to the second floor of a run-down apartment building, but a head-to-toe rush: the way all his senses heightened, the wind like knives on his sensitive skin (ice-cold, pleasure-pain), the city's cacophony of heartbeats and human voices filling his head and his world. There was no way to fly without giving himself over to the predator, letting the Hunger inside him out to play, its needs aligning for the moment with his own.
He flew northeast, skimming the coast towards Pickering. The city was a mass of lights and noise and life to his left, and to his right, the lake's great black emptiness stretched to the horizon, broken only by the jewel of an occasional barge.
The mass of the city's lights grew sparser, Toronto's neon heart giving way to regular glittering patterns of subdivisions strung out along the ribbon of light that marked the 401. He'd thought it would be harder to find Pickering; back in the days when he flew regularly, all places looked alike in the dark, and in his modern existence he'd rarely left Toronto. But this was a different world than the one he'd known, a world limned in sodium-vapor light, and he oriented on the brilliant constellation of Pickering's nuclear power plant, visible for miles across the lake.
He flew lower, until he could feel the cold spray from the wind-tossed lake. The Hunger clawed at him, vicious and implacable -- as he drew on its power, so it drew on his strength. The heady exhilaration of the experience warred with exhaustion and an all-to-acute awareness of his own limitations. He'd rarely flown for such a long consecutive stretch of time since he stopped killing, and a wave of weakness made him falter, dipping briefly lower before recovering. He had a momentary vision of losing control completely and falling into the winter-cold lake. It wouldn't kill him, but he could only imagine that the experience would be deeply unpleasant. And there was the little girl to worry about. But those were distant fears. Keeping the vampire in check -- keeping his human side in control and sane -- took most of his concentration. He kept hearing snatches of whispering in the back of his head -- LaCroix's voice. He tuned it out, focused on calling up the memory of the nautical chart, the curving shape of the coastline and the place where the sailboat owner had pointed.
There it was, a bay spangled with housing developments and the occasional glimmer of headlights, banded with fingers of darkness where parkland wended its way towards the lake. The bay itself was dark and apparently devoid of boats. There were a couple of small quays, empty at this time of year.
But the water was not completely empty. A human wouldn't have seen the boat, dark as it was, its running lights off. It was clearly visible to Nick, however: a blocky, battered fishing boat, with Lucky Lady painted on the side.
He dropped onto the stern deck, landed lightly and caught his breath.
There were humans inside. He was expecting three, so it took him a moment to sort out the tangle of heartbeats and realize that there were actually four. Four? Who's the other one? He was fairly sure that one of them was a child -- that light, quick pulse, the rapid cadence of its breathing. A thin strip of light spilled dimly from the single small cabin window, through a crack in the curtains.
"This is useless and you know it," a woman's voice said harshly -- Mandy MacNair. With Nick's senses still almost painfully sharp, she might have been standing next to him, speaking into his ear. "It's dark as the inside of a black cat out there. We need to wait for daylight."
"And then what?" a man snapped back. "The police are looking for us already." His tone shifted to a low, threatening register. "You know where it is. Stop playing games with us."
"I don't know." Another woman's voice, this one quavering with age and terror: Lily Renfro, the old woman from the Warwick house. "It's just a story, a story my mother told me -- I never knew there really was a map. Please, let me go --"
"Liar!" Mandy MacNair barked. There was a sharp crack of flesh on flesh, and Lily Renfro cried out.
Another hostage, then, in addition to the little girl. The boat rocked gently underfoot. Nick laid a hand on the door, pushing down the Hunger in order to think. You need a plan here, Nicholas. He couldn't see into the cabin without opening the door, and when he did, things were going to move very fast. Taking out Mandy MacNair and the man -- who was probably Donnings -- would be no problem at all ... if he didn't have to worry about hostages. And dynamite. And ice-cold water under their feet. He wasn't in danger. The hostages ... not so much.
"She's right; she's no use," Donnings' voice said. "Kill her."
... and in that moment, his decision was made for him.
Nick took a deep breath and ripped the door off its hinges.
The boat's cabin was a few steps down from the deck, just big enough to accommodate a steering console, small built-in table and two bench seats. The four people in the cabin were frozen in place, a tableau arrested by the vision from nightmare that had just burst into their warm lamplit world. Donnings had bundles of dynamite spread out on the table, electronic detonator in one hand and screwdriver in the other; he stared at Nick with his mouth open in shock. The MacNair girl was huddled on the bench seat across from Donnings, pressed against the bulkhead with her knees drawn up, as far from him as she could get. Lily Renfro was on her knees on the floor, her hands tied in front of her. Mandy MacNair stood over her, squeezed between the steering console and the wall by the close confines of the cabin, with a small revolver pointed at Lily Renfro's temple.
An instinctive snarl bubbled up in Nick's throat as he loosed the chains on the demon inside him. The world slowed, moments stretching from one heartbeat to the next. He went for Donnings first, judging him the greater threat -- plowed into him and smashed him headfirst into the bulkhead, then swung around to slap the gun out of Mandy MacNair's hand; it spun to the floor in dreamlike slow motion. Nick caught Mandy MacNair's chin roughly in his hand, capturing her eyes. "Get on the floor," he said, and she sank to her knees, eyes wide and glassy.
A bullet caught him in the back; the impact made him stagger. Donnings had recovered faster than he'd expected. Nick turned and bared his fangs; Donnings' jaw went slack and he dropped the gun --
-- and, whether intentionally or accidentally, slapped his hand onto the detonator on the table, pressing the button down.
He did NOT just do that.
Even for vampiric reflexes, there wasn't time to grab both the little girl and Lily Renfro in the split second remaining to him. Instead, moving faster than he'd even known he was capable of, Nick threw his entire weight and all his demon strength against the edge of the table, flipping it up and driving it, along with its lethal cargo, through the bulkhead into Lake Ontario. There wasn't time to do more than get it off the boat before the handful of dynamite sticks already wired to the detonator went off.
It was like being punched in the face with a locomotive. Nick blacked out for an instant and came back to himself embedded in the opposite bulkhead, his mouth tasting of sulfur and blood. The boat was listing to the side, ice-cold water rushing into the cabin to lap over his feet. It was going down fast.
Nick struggled free of the wall and the splinters of the table. His whole body hurt like hell and he could feel broken bones grinding together, healing even as he reopened the fractures in an effort to move. The cabin was full of smoke and the lights had gone out, but his night vision was sharp enough that he could see Mandy MacNair shaking off the hypnotic paralysis, the side of her face covered with blood, and Lily Renfro trying to twist her body out from under the shattered remnants of one of the benches. Nick yanked it off her and then snapped her bonds with a twist of his fingers -- there was no time to play ordinary human with the cabin already knee-deep in water. "Can you swim?" he demanded.
"I grew up on the lake," the old woman said calmly. "Of course I can swim."
Donnings' twisted body was crumpled half-in and half-out of the boat, and very obviously dead. It took Nick a panicked moment to locate the little girl -- for one awful instant he thought she'd been ripped apart in the explosion. But she had managed to slither off the bench into the water somehow, and did not appear to be hurt beyond superficial scratches and bruises. She tried to struggle away from him, and he put an arm around her anyway and drew her to his body with brute strength -- I am a monster, yes, but I'm a monster who is on your side tonight. The deck continued to tilt, slanting at a steeper angle as the suction of the sinking boat heeled it over.
"My daughter --" Mandy MacNair gasped.
Your daughter. That you endangered. Nick grasped her wrist, not gently. "I've got her. Swim," he ordered. Lily Renfro had already vanished into the water. He could only hope that the seemingly frail woman could swim as well as she seemed to believe, or at least hold on long enough for him to deposit Mrs. MacNair and her daughter somewhere safe and come back for her.
"Hold your breath," he told the little girl. The damage to his body had healed enough that he could move freely again, though the Hunger clawed his insides, the need growing until he could hardly think about anything else. The cloying, seductive smell of blood -- Donnings', Mrs. MacNair's, even his own -- wasn't helping.
Nick ducked into the water, towing Mrs. MacNair with him but releasing her as soon as they were underwater so that she could swim unencumbered. He went through the hole in the side into the black water. The humans would be completely blind in this murk, and even Nick had some trouble seeing beyond a few feet in front of him. Holding the girl close against his side, he swam out from under the ship's sinking bulk and broke the surface of the water, holding her up so that she could breathe, though her small gasping breaths were shallow as the shock of the cold water paralyzed her diaphragm.
It was bitterly, unbelievably cold, the water barely above freezing and the air considerably below. Even his vampire side couldn't quite deaden the pain. The humans could only last minutes under these conditions before hypothermia claimed them. Nick tread water and turned in place, scanning the shore with its patchy snow and empty docks, searching for someplace to put her that would be warm.
Nat hoped that she never had to take another ride like that ride on the lake. It couldn't be safe to be out here anyway, and certainly not at the speed they were traveling. The boat's owner, who had introduced himself as Sean, was a yuppie-type in his mid-20s who seemed to delight in the fact that the cops had just given him total carte blanche to open up his throttle as far as it would go.
They were just turning off the lake into the more protected bay when the explosion happened. It took Nat a moment to register what that tremendous muffled thump! had been, what it had to have been, when a shockwave caught the speedboat, lifted it and slapped it down on the water.
"Was that what I think it was?" Schanke asked, reaching under his coat -- for badge or gun, Nat wasn't sure, and she didn't know if he knew, either.
Nat didn't answer; she was too busy scanning the dark water. Oh God, Nick, you'd better be all right. She wasn't sure how much damage a vampire could actually take. At the very least, if Nick had been caught in that, he'd be in a world of temporary hurt.
"Hey, there's someone in the water." Sean pointed through the speedboat's windshield.
Nat couldn't see a thing, but she'd take his word for it. She scrambled out onto the slippery deck and leaned over the railing; then an instant later a limp, shivering little girl was pressed into her hands. She caught a brief glimpse of Nick before he vanished under the water again, out of sight.
"Schanke!" Nat handed the little girl over to him. She hoped he didn't press her for an explanation -- there was no way she could have leaned far enough over the railing to fish the girl out of the water on her own; Nick had been out of the water to his waist when he had handed the girl up to her. But Schanke went to his knees on the deck to bundle his own coat around the girl, and this gave Nat an opportunity to help someone else out of the water, with Nick assisting from below: an elderly woman who looked more exhilarated than afraid, though she was coughing. After Nat handed her off to Sean, she turned back to find someone else's hands being thrust into her own: a skinny woman about Nat's own age, whose hands, Nat quickly discovered, had been handcuffed together. Mrs. MacNair, Nat thought, recognizing her from the photo at the station. The woman was wide-eyed and stunned-looking, clearly in shock -- or, Nat thought, possibly something else, given that she'd just been alone with Nick. Nat helped her on deck and then discovered that Nick was still there, just below the boat's deck and -- hopefully -- out of sight of anyone else on board.
"She's one of the killers," Nick whispered. "I didn't have time or strength to do much other than make her docile." He coughed. His face was drawn as tight as she'd ever seen it, and it was obvious to her that he was holding on to his self-control with his fingertips. His jacket was shredded -- he'd obviously gotten at least some of the blowback from the explosion. "Got to get out of here, Nat."
"Go. I'll hold down the fort here."
Nick's eyes went past her to the survivors being hustled into the warm cabin of the powerboat.
"They're shaken up and in shock," Nat whispered. "Anything strange that they say now is going to be taken with a huge grain of salt, especially if they recant later. You can handle damage control once you're -- you know." There was a time and a place to lecture Nick about relying too heavily on the blood. This wasn't it, especially since she could tell that he was poised on the edge of snapping completely.
Nick nodded and slipped out of sight into the darkness.
"Nick," Schanke said at Nat's elbow, and she nearly jumped out of her skin until she realized that he was scanning the water aimlessly, looking for his partner. "Do you think he --"
"No," Nat said quickly. "He couldn't possibly have beaten us here, Schanke. We would've noticed another boat, right?"
"Yeah. I just hate to think he might be --"
"He's not," Nat said. "The harbor police will be here any minute, and they can send divers to search for -- Oh look, there they are!" she added gratefully at the sight of searchlights flashing across the mouth of the little bay.
Schanke flashed her a quick grin. "And my partner's missing the action yet again, huh?"
"Yeah," Nat said. "You'll have to tell him all about it later."
It was late morning by the time Nat finally made it home and crashed into bed. There had been endless rounds of questions to answer, explanations, more explanations once Cohen got wind of one of her detectives and one extremely displaced medical examiner all the way out at Pickering ... and then the Marine Unit dredged up the wreck and Donnings' body, and suddenly she had actual work to do.
She only ran into Nick very briefly at the station. His story, inasmuch as she was able to gather, was that he'd come straight back here from the marina, and had no idea that his partner and the M.E. had gone haring off across the lake after the killers. "Seriously," Schanke said disgustedly to her later, stealing a candy bar from the open manilla envelope lying on her desk. (She was moving it to a different hiding place, but hadn't figured one out yet.) "All that time we were worrying about him, and he's actually right where he's supposed to be. Meanwhile, I'm the one that gets the lecture from Cohen about jurisdiction and not being a cowboy."
"Life's so unfair, isn't it?" Nat said absently. Nick had been doing his "aw shucks, too bad I missed the whole thing" laughing-it-off routine, but he'd been pale and withdrawn to her eyes, and she hoped he didn't go wandering off to the Raven later. Or, worse, to LaCroix.
Nat was pretty sure she'd pieced together the actual sequence of events on Donnings' boat to her own satisfaction, even without talking to Nick. She'd caught snatches of the on-site interrogations, enough to know that Mandy MacNair had babbled a lot about monsters with glowing eyes ripping off doors and sinking the boat, while Mrs. Renfro had quite calmly given a plausible account of Donnings accidentally blowing himself up with his own dynamite, no glowing-eyed monsters involved. Which Nat found very interesting indeed, since Nick, to the best of her knowledge, hadn't had a chance to hypnotize her at all.
A day's restless sleep left Nick still tired and aching. It felt a bit like being hung over, to the extent that he could remember what hangovers felt like. The thought of calling in sick was a distinct temptation; so was the urge to drop by the Raven. Just to talk to Janette, because it had been a little while since he'd seen his friend. Yes, nothing to do with the fact that cow's blood wasn't doing a whole lot after wiping himself out so thoroughly yesterday.
But in the end, he did neither: he showered, dressed and drove to work. Well, to the morgue, actually, because he didn't quite feel ready to face Schanke and Cohen yet.
The morgue was quiet, and when he peeked in, he found Nat standing on a chair, stretching to reach into a ventilation duct.
"Do I want to know?"
She squeaked and almost fell off her chair. "Warn a person next time, Nick!"
Nick grinned and gave her a hand down off the chair. "I'm sure there's an interesting story here."
Nat brushed off her hands on her skirt. "Let's just say that our nineteenth-century pirate friends gave me a marvelous idea for a bit of clever misdirection. Trust a pirate to know how to hide a treasure."
Her eyes were sparkling. Nick eyed her. "What is it with modern humanity and pirates? I can assure you, there's no mystique about it. Imagine a few dozen guys who haven't bathed in weeks, all trapped on a small wooden ship with no bathrooms ..."
"Is that the voice of experience talking?"
"Oh, no way. This is one story you aren't getting, because I won't hear the end of it for weeks."
Nat's cheery expression morphed into a delighted grin. "You were a pirate?"
"Nope. Not telling."
"You were, weren't you? Come on. Give! You can't drop a hint like that and not give me the rest of it. That's just cruel."
He let her twist a bit longer before capitulating. "I was press-ganged onto a privateer one time, back in the seventeenth century. Briefly. Very briefly."
Nat looked ready to explode from sheer delight. "You were a pirate!"
"See, I knew there was a reason I never told you." But her happiness was infectious. In spite of himself, he found his spirits lifting.
Nat laughed and shook her head. She dragged the chair back to its usual location. "Do you think there really is a safe full of gold buried out in Pickering somewhere?"
"If there ever was, it was probably dug up for a housing development or buried under a parking lot long ago," Schanke's voice said behind Nick, and his partner sauntered into the morgue, huddled in his coat.
"What's the matter, Schank? Real-life pirates aren't as much fun as the fictional kind?"
"What can I say? There's something about hours of paperwork --" he glared at Nick "-- that sucks all the wonder and mystery out of it."
And, okay, maybe Schanke had a point. While trying to avoid having to blatantly lie to either Cohen or Schanke, he'd also dumped the responsibility for the case's aftermath and cleanup on his partner. "Next case, the paperwork's all mine," Nick said. "Cross my heart."
"Yeah? I plan to hold you to that."
"At least you'll have an interesting bedtime story to tell Jenny," Nick said. "Kids like pirates, right?"
He winked at Nat, who rolled her eyes.
"Speaking of kids," Nat said, "what's going to happen to the MacNairs' daughter?"
Schanke looked somber. "Grandmother out in Winnipeg is going to take her in, apparently. Poor kid."
He looked depressed enough that Nick decided it was worth throwing him a bone. "You were right about Mandy MacNair, though."
Schanke brightened a bit. "True. Take it from an old married man, Nick: it's always the wife. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred. Never trust 'em."
"Does Myra know you talk that way behind her back?"
Nat snorted. "Behind her back? What makes you think he doesn't say things like that to her face?"
"True, true. Oh, one more thing." She rummaged in her purse and came up with the folded map. "The actual map itself is still in Evidence and will probably stay there, but I was thinking about giving this to the lady who owns the house -- Mrs. Renfro? It's hers, after all."
"I'll do it," Nick said. "I wanted to drop by and check on her, anyway."
Nat gave him a sharp sideways look, which he pretended to ignore. After a moment, she placed the folded map in his hand.
Warm lamplight gleamed from the windows of the Warwick house when Nick parked the Caddy outside. The door opened before he could knock, and Lily Renfro smiled at him. "Come in," she said. "I've been expecting you."
Nick entered very cautiously, taking a careful look around for any signs of crosses, garlic or holy water. The place was just as he'd seen it last night, though -- under construction, but devoid of vampire-hunting paraphernalia.
"I came to give you this." Among other reasons. He reached into his pocket, and handed her Nat's copy of the treasure map. As she unfolded and studied it, he added, "The original is -- well, you wouldn't want it. But this is what they found in the house. Whether or not it leads to a hidden treasure is anyone's guess."
Lily Renfro's smile sparkled with mischief. "Are you going to look?"
"I think I've had enough treasure hunting for now."
Lily smoothed the paper and then folded it again carefully. "So have I. Perhaps it may still exist somewhere out there. But too many people have died for it already. No ... I think my childhood dreams of pirate treasure may be safely put away with the other mementos of childhood."
Nick nodded, and the two of them studied each other for a moment.
"Oh, I'm being a poor host," Lily Renfro said. "Can I get you some tea?"
"No thanks." Nick offered her a regretful smile. "I don't drink it. Actually, I'll be gone in a minute."
Lily Renfro regarded him without the slightest trace of fear. "You're going to do to me what you did to that MacNair woman, aren't you? Scramble my brains? Not that hers didn't come pre-scrambled."
"I'm not going to scramble your brains," Nick said. "I simply can't allow you to remember what you saw on the boat."
"I didn't tell anyone," she said quickly. "I won't."
"That's not the point," Nick said gently. "Lily, you don't understand. There are those among our kind who maintain our secret -- at any cost. If they ever learn that you know about us, you and everyone you love will be in terrible danger."
"They won't learn," Lily said calmly. "I am an old woman, Detective Knight. I grew up on dreams of pirates and lost treasure, but I never expected to be touched by real magic. Let me keep it."
He stared at her. She really seemed to mean it, and he still saw no fear in her, only curiosity and wonder. Where he saw monsters, she saw miracles.
Seeing him hesitate, Lily Renfro smiled. "I'm seventy-nine years old. How long do you think I really have left to me, Detective Knight? And even if I am unable to keep my promise -- though I intend to -- how much credence do you think anyone will give to an old woman's ramblings about supernatural creatures with glowing eyes?"
He knew it wasn't the right decision. He only hoped it wouldn't come back to bite him later on. But somehow, tonight, he couldn't find it in him to steal her magic away. And sometimes it was such an infinite relief not to be alone with all of this -- to have someone he could talk to about it, just a little bit.
Lily was still smiling at him, and reluctantly, Nick smiled back.
"Maybe I will have that cup of tea after all."