Nick stared in frustration at the error message and suppressed the urge to hiss at his computer screen.
Taking a few calming breaths, he reached for the phone.
"Natalie's bed and breakfast," came the cheery reply.
"Nat, it's me."
"I know. I recognized your number on the display. What's up?"
"I think my computer just died."
There was a sigh of exasperation. "Nick, I know this is the morgue, but shouldn't you be calling tech support instead?"
"I'm not sure the problem is technical." He paused before admitting, "It might be me. I just don't know how to work with this thing."
"Did you ever take one of these computer courses they keep offering?" Natalie wondered. "I thought they were mandatory when you guys got the new software."
"They were all scheduled at daytime," Nick shot back.
"Did you do as I told you last time? Try ‘control-alt-delete' to reboot?"
"I've done that five times. Every time, I have to start the report all over again. I would have long finished it with ink and quill by now!"
He missed the typewriter he had shared with Schanke, which had vanished with the appearance of his new partner. Commissioner Vetter had made sure his daughter had the latest technical gizmos available. Now, this monster sat on his desk.
"I mean, aren't these things supposed to facilitate our work? I can't see how that is going to happen," Nick ranted on.
"I can understand that it must be hard for you guys to keep up with technical progress."
Nick frowned at her statement. He knew it wasn't true. Larry Merlin was a computer wizard; Felix was an expert at handling global transactions from his greenhouse. And then there was Lacroix, who was a member of some sort of online community and apparently well-versed in using the internet. It was just Nick who couldn't keep up, and he had no clue why.
* * * *
Entering the Raven, Nick headed directly to the broadcast booth where he sensed Lacroix's presence despite his radio show ending about an hour ago. He found the elder vampire busily typing on a laptop computer.
"Am I interrupting your conversation with the Mortician?" Nick asked.
Lacroix closed the laptop and turned his attention on his son. "It's nothing that requires an immediate response. To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
Nick stared at the laptop for a moment. "Where did you learn to become so adept with a computer?"
A slightly startled expression crossed Lacroix's features. "Learn? How did you become fluent in so many languages?" he asked in return.
Nick's face clouded with guilt. He had acquired the knowledge by draining his victims and perfected it through practice.
Watching his son's emotions, Lacroix let out a sigh. "Oh, Nicholas. When did you last have a decent meal that was not bottled? Was it before the industrial revolution? How do you expect to keep up with progress?"
"What you're proposing isn't progress. It's murder," Nick stated.
"It's dangerous to not keep up with the times, especially when we choose to live as close among mortals as you do, Nicholas. If we are not careful, we will be regarded as old-fashioned or, worse, exposed for what we are. We need to renew our knowledge on a regular basis. Otherwise we stagnate and become ghosts of our past. And how dull a life would that be, hmm?"
Nick had to admit that Lacroix's words made sense. Yet, "There has to be another way."
"Oh, there is." Lacroix rose from his seat and approached him. "There always is another way, Nicholas. The simple question is, are you willing to take it?"
When Lacroix stopped in front of him, Nick stared mesmerized at the inviting column of Lacroix's neck. He knew exactly what Lacroix was offering.
For a moment, it was tempting to bathe in the vast knowledge he knew he would find in Lacroix's blood. But the action would also strengthen their bond and bring him closer to his sire. Although they were on better terms lately, he didn't want to take that committing step. At least not yet. Fighting down a wave of desire, Nick retreated a step.
"Not today, Lacroix." He quickly turned on his heels and left the club.
* * * *
"Hey Nick, have you finished those reports?"
Nick looked up at Tracy with a sheepish expression. "I had a problem with the computer."
Tracy rolled her eyes. "Nick, you always have a problem with the computer." She shrugged out of her coat and pulled up a chair beside him. "Okay, here goes. Take a sheet of paper and start writing this down."
Nick obediently did as he was told and listened as Tracy talked him patiently through the steps required to file a report, taking notes as she went.
One hour later, Tracy triumphantly held five printed pages out to him. "See, you've made progress."
Nick mirrored her perky smile. He had resisted the temptation to take the easy way. "Progress indeed," he agreed thoughtfully.