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“I need to talk to you about these murders, LaCroix.” Nick didn’t bother with the niceties.

“My dear, Nicholas, it’s been too long. How are you this fine night?”

Nick shook his head. “Frustrated.”

LaCroix arched an eyebrow and said, “There are several humans here who would be willing to help you … ease, shall we say? … your frustrations. You have only to ask. I doubt you’d even need to use your considerable powers of persuasion.”

“Not that kind of frustration, LaCroix, and you know it.” He began to pace. “As I said, it’s these murders.”

“It’s not us, Nicholas, surely you must know that.”

“Of course I do. It may have been several years since I last partook directly from a human, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what our teeth marks look like. In spite of popular culture, I know it’s not two straight puncture marks. I also know one of us would hit the carotid accurately.”

“So what help can I give you?”

Nick sat and shook his head. “I really don’t know. You’re the Nightcrawler, so I suppose I thought you’d know the people who want to pretend they’re one of us, maybe have a suggestion.”

“It’s good to know that you’re willing to bow to my superior wisdom, my deeper knowledge.”

It was all Nick could do to keep from rolling his eyes.

LaCroix chuckled. “You aren’t stupid -- I never turned stupid people -- so I suppose you’ve tried logical items to make the marks.”

“Schanke thought it might be a barbecue fork. Nat tried all the standard ones, and even tried breaking the middle tines out of regular forks, but the punctures aren’t straight enough. I’m leaning toward some sort of implement made out of darning needles or thin knitting needles.”

“Couldn’t it be one in each hand?”

“Not according to Natalie. The pressure in both spots is virtually identical and the spacing is perfectly regular.”

LaCroix said, “Ah. Perfect regularity is not a hallmark of humans.”

“Exactly. There’s no saliva to test, either.”

“So why come to me?”

***
The first body had been found in a wooded area in the suburbs. It had obviously been staged.

“Christ, Nick,” Schanke said, not noticing his partner’s slight flinch. “How does a body end up looking like that?”

The sight wasn’t unusual to Nick -- well, hadn’t been when he was younger -- and he said, “Total exsanguination, Schanke. I doubt there’s more than a thimble full of blood left in her body.”

They stayed apart, letting the crime scene technicians do their jobs with precision. If Nick’s night sight allowed him to see a few extra pieces, he was generally able to direct the technicians to them unobtrusively. Failing that, he was usually able to give Natalie some idea of the details he’d noticed so that she could direct further investigation or find someplace to mention it in her report. This time, there was nothing.

Natalie cleared them to look at the body in situ before her people took it to the morgue. “The good news is that there’s ID on her. People will mourn…”

“But they won’t have the long period of wondering,” Nick completed.

“Why do you say that?” Schank asked. “Just because someone cleaned her up, doesn’t mean she’s not a street kid.”

Nick glanced at the identification and said, “Corinna Liu is too soft to have been a street kid. She’s also older than she looks, twenty-two.”

“Really,” Schanke said. “I’d have thought under eighteen.”

“I’ll see if we can find anything that will tell us more about her,” Nat said.

“At least we have a notification address. Schanke, call the lieutenant and let her know we’re going to check it out.”

Schanke glanced between them and smirked. “Sure. I’ll let you two ‘confer’ for a minute.” Nick swore he could hear the quotes.

Natalie kept her voice low. “Any place else you can tell me to look for forensics?”

“Not a thing, Nat. Nearer the road, there were a couple of foot prints that I don’t think your tools can measure. Could be an accomplice, but if so…”

“Why not help carry her there?”

“Exactly. It could be someone just looking and deciding it wasn’t any of his business.”

Nat shook her head. “I hate those, the ones where we find out that people knew but just didn’t care enough to call it in.”

“Too scared is more likely. There was one guy that we found later and asked. He said he couldn’t call in because we’d make him pay his parking tickets that were in arrears. And with this one, the distance from the road and the angle, it’s possible that he didn’t see her. The main reason I think he did was because the print’s on that rock.”

“Which argues that he wanted to get a better view of something.”

Nick nodded. “I’d better go help Schanke with the rest of this. No one likes notification duty.”

“Maybe she’ll live alone and the day shift can take that part,” Natalie said.

“When have I ever been that lucky.”

***
LaCroix said, “Again, why come to me?”

“That was the only scene where the body had been moved. There was one victim we missed, at least at the beginning, a male of African descent, but Nat found the holes.”

“And presumably no blood.”

Nick nodded. “If the bodies weren’t moved, where did the blood go? We had one copycat that we caught fairly quickly because there was still some blood spatter, minute traces, in a drain near the body.”

“And it was obviously a copycat because there was blood.”

“And a place for blood to go. No place else had a drain, not even a hidden one that we know of. But the bodies aren’t being moved, not without being seen or …”

LaCroix gave an unamused smile. “Someone flying?”

“There are only three scenes, possibly including the first, where that’s a real possibility. We have eight bodies now, nine with the copycat, and we’re no closer than we were five months ago when it all started.”

“So tell me exactly what you suspect?”

“The killer is capturing the blood somehow. Drinking’s a possibility, but containers are just as likely.”

“Of course, whoever’s doing it would have to stir the blood to keep it liquid,” LaCroix said.

“Assuming they want it liquid, which is my first instinct.”

“Quite rightly, Nicholas. Why bother to take five liters from someone just to let it congeal?”

Nick said, “Considering the number of fetishes we’ve seen in our centuries together…”

“I saw more in the centuries before I turned you. But most involving blood are either drinking or…”

“Bathing. But in those cases, well, five liters at a time isn’t sufficient.”

The two vampires stared at each other, unblinking. Finally, LaCroix said, “If it is one of us, I’ll find out. I assume you’ve spoken to Janette?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll see her in an hour or so, unless…”

“No, I’m due to meet Schanke,” he checked his watch, “ten minutes ago.”

“Then allow me to tell Janette and we can reconvene tomorrow evening. You can even bring your less than charming partner with you.”

“Janette likes him.”

“Well, Nicholas, there’s no accounting for taste.”

***
The next evening found the three vampires and Schanke talking in a small room at the back of Janette’s club.

“Why’d you bring them in on this, Nick?” Schanke asked.

Janette smiled and said, “While I don’t allow filles de joie here, if I catch them, there are nights where private parties are held where the participants have, shall I say, specialized tastes.”

Schanke said, “And you?”

“The Nightcrawler has some less savory elements among his loyal listeners. Detective Knight,” it was amazing how he could mix amusement and vitriol, “thought I might have one who stood out.”

“Did you?” Schanke asked.

“Not really. While Nicholas is quite correct that not all of my listeners are entirely compos mentis, none of the persistent ones -- the ones who write -- have anything about blood in their rantings.”

“So, it’s a dead end?”

“Perhaps not,” Janette said, “There is one group who takes this room perhaps once a month for a private meeting. I have no idea why they come here, but their money is good, yes? And yet, these respectable women of a certain age have somewhat peculiar tastes.”

“As in,” Nick prompted.

“I overheard them discussing whether young blood could keep them young.”

“But how would that even work?” Schanke asked.

“When do they next meet?” Nick asked.

“Later tonight. They usually stay to listen to LaCroix’s show before I close up.”

Nick nodded. “As for your question, Schanke, that’s something we’d need to talk to Nat about.”

Schanke thought for a moment. “After tonight when are they meeting?”

“Another month, perhaps.”

“We can’t do anything tonight, Nick,” he said to his partner. “It’s too late to get a warrant.”

“You’re right, but we can at least follow up with Natalie and, if we come back here when we’ve completed our paperwork, maybe we can at least visually identify the ladies for future reference.”

“Sure, but you’re buying.” Schanke turned to Janette and said, “No offense, but I can’t afford your place on a cop’s salary.”

“And you’re too honest to take a free drink, I understand.”

Schanke looked like he was thinking about that.

Nick said, “Yes, he is. Anything tonight goes on my tab.”

Schanke said, “I think your friends want to say something without me around. Why don’t I warm up your car?” He held his hand out for the keys.

“Sure,” Nick said, as he tossed them.”

Once he’d shut the door, Janette said, “He is very perceptive.”

LaCroix rolled his eyes. “Even for a human, he’s dull.”

“I don’t think discussing my partner’s merits is helpful.”

“True,” Janette said with some amusement. “I can listen for at least part of the evening. As long as I hear something actionable…”

“That would make it much easier to get a warrant.”

“I’ve checked with some of my followers,” LaCroix said, “They’re positive that no new vampires have come to town and none of the known ones would cross you because then they might cross Janette or me.”

Nick gave a half smile. “I have my own reputation, LaCroix, but I admit having an elder, a sire, with your history and power can be helpful.”

“And I can have one or two follow the ladies?”

“Let me think about that,” Nick said.

“As you wish, Nicholas.”

***
“What about it, Nat?”

“Drinking blood, I don’t care what the popular mythology about vampires never aging may be, the fact is a human just ends up with a stomach full of blood to digest. There’s no benefit to it.”

Schanke said, “But isn’t there that, what’s it called, placeholder -- that’s not it…”

 

“Placebo,” Natalie said.

“Yeah, the placebo effect. Couldn’t that make them have a benefit because they believe it does?”

Natalie looked at Nick and said, “It’s certainly possible, but I’d still expect to see something which would give us trace.”

“Straws?” Schanke said.

Nick winced. “I suppose. Or maybe they’re taking it away for bathing. I keep coming back to no one can take a bath in five liters.”

“No, but,” there was a thoughtfulness to Natalie. “What about direct transfusion? There are experiments with young blood helping older animals. And with a direct transfusion, If you want both to live, it’s artery to vein and you only take a pint or so.”

“But they are going for the carotid,” Nick said. “Surely, it would be easier to bleed them out from a vein?” The question was mostly for Schanke’s benefit. He knew how quickly a vein could bleed someone dry.

“But what about the two holes?” Schanke asked.

“Actually, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, it could easily be that one’s a valve to help control the blood flow. It might make it easier to type the victims, too.”

“That’s a point,” Nick said, “were the victims all different blood types?”

“The copycat was an AB positive, but the others have been mostly O positive with two O negatives.”

“No other type?” Nick asked.

Natalie shook her head. “I should have seen it. O positive isn’t quite universal donor, but it will work for most people as long as you’ve typed the positive factors.”

“That might…” Nick kissed her cheek. “Thanks, Nat.”

Schanke looked at him. “Did you get something from that?”

“Maybe. It depends on the women in the club.”

***

The women were walking into the private room Janette rented them.
“They’re obviously not young women,” Nick said over a glass of “grape juice.” While it wasn’t as good as blood wine, Janette had taken to blending some blood fruit juices for some of their clientele. Schanke was having a gin and tonic, hold the gin.

“Yeah, but from the way Janette described them, I thought they’d look older. You know, more my age than yours.”

Nick smiled a little as he drank more of the blood and grape juice mixture. The difference in their ages was much greater than Schanke could guess.

Janette sat down with them a glass of bloodwine in her hand. “Alison was early this evening, and we talked a little over a drink. They’re all women in the sciences. Two of them are biological researchers at the university. Three are doctors -- one of whom specializes in blood disorders. Alison herself is a surgical nurse. The others have other specializations, la chimique I think she said.”

“Is that enough for a warrant,” Schanke whispered.

Nick said, “I doubt it, but it’s enough to take to the lieutenant and get recommendations on next steps -- maybe even get a couple of constables to follow them.”

“Then finish your drink and get going, partner. We’ll need to have people in place when they leave.”

Nick drank up and said, “Janette, would you please tell LaCroix that I gratefully accept his offer if we’re not back by the time the women leave.”

Bien sûr, Nicholas.

He kissed her hand as they took their leave.

In the car on the way back to the station, Schanke asked, “Do Janette and Natalie know about each other?”

Nick’s lips twitched and even he wasn’t certain if it was annoyance or amusement. “They’ve met. Natalie knows Janette and I were… that we had a relationship. Janette knows I’m interested in Nat.” He gave a small shrug.

“All right. I don’t even pretend to understand how you got so lucky.”

***
The Lieutenant wasn’t happy about their methods, but didn’t disagree that it was a lead worth pursuing. They were assigned three plain clothes constables on each shift. Nick made a mental note to ask LaCroix’s aid for the ones they couldn’t cover.

***
As much as he wanted to be wrong, it took less than two weeks of surveillance to get a warrant at least partially based on how close six of the bodies were to different women’s homes. It was sheer luck that put them at the right door to hear the ninth victim struggling in a garage. They barely made it through the door before the victim’s carotid was pierced with a two pronged tool that had a valve on one prong and a line of plastic hospital tubing on the other.

It took a better part of a week to complete the interrogations and the paperwork, but these women had indeed been using transfusions of young blood in the hopes it would at least slow down their aging.

An hour before dawn on the night they closed the case and sent it to the Crown Prosecutor, Nicholas heard the elevator start down to pick someone up. He stood where he could see the door and didn’t know whether he was relieved or unhappy to see that it was Janette rather than Natalie.

“I thought you might want some company for the day, Nicholas. If not, there’s still time for me to return to the club.” Her eyes held a great deal of compassion. “I know it upsets you when humans prove themselves to be less than your grand ideal.”

He stared at her for a moment and said, “There’s some cow’s blood in the refrigerator. I can warm it for you.”

Vache. Perhaps when we wake.” She sat down and he came over to sit with her facing the still uncovered windows. “You still hope to see sunrises, Nicholas?”

“There’s always hope, Janette. And thank you for coming today. I needed a friend.”