"This is Nick. If you have this number, you know what to do."
"C'est moi. I need you here. Now."
The faint scent in the air was what first alerted her that something was up. Not an unfamiliar scent, but definitely one that did not belong here, in this near empty warehouse that was only starting to take shape as a club. Janette did not need to turn on the lights to find what she was looking for; she merely had to follow her nose. It led her down the stairs from her apartment to the lower floor, behind the skeleton shape of the bar, tucked up under the sink where the cabinet doors had yet to be installed.
She poked under the sink with her foot and the smell grew. It was emanating from the very dead body of a filthy young man.
A tap on the door had signified Nick's arrival, confirming Janette's suspicions that he had known where she was all along.
"So where's the body?" he asked, clearly wanting to be anywhere else but where he was at the moment.
"What body?" she asked. "How did you know where to find me?"
"I always know where to find you. Now, where is the body?"
"Follow me," she said as she headed for the staircase that connected her apartment to the main floor. She could feel him just steps behind her, both a new and an old feeling at one and the same time.
If she closed her eyes it could be The Raven all over again, with Nick's annoying partner sticking his nose into …. Shaking the cobwebs out of her mind, she pointed toward the bar. "He is there, beneath the sink. I did not touch anything after I poked him with my foot."
"Do you recognize him Janette? Ever seen him before?"
"I have only been here a short while and cannot possibly know all of the strays a place like mine attracts. However, I believe he might be a child to whom I gave a few of those ugly dollars Americans are so fond of," Janette answered. "He looked hungry, and it was a simple thing to fix."
"Would anyone want to get your attention for anything?"
"No one but he would want to get my attention for anything." She paused briefly. "Can you feel him nearby? It is still odd not to feel his presence settled on my shoulder."
"I haven't felt him at all in years."
"There is a storage area in the basement if you need a place to stow the body for a short while. Is there a group of us who takes care of these things in this city? For that matter, what do you do in this city?"
Nick left her question unanswered as he checked the scene carefully before lifting the body and moving it to the basement.
Something has changed. He can feel it. It's not just that she's dressed differently – that's circumstantial, he almost certain of it. No, this is something else. If he didn't know her better he might think she was comfortable. But if she's projecting comfortable to the world, then it's far more likely that she's happy. When was the last time he saw her happy anyway?
As they re-entered her apartment, she watched Nicolas take in the windows on all sides, with views of bridges and city in puzzle pieces around the space. This was new for her, this need for light and openness. He might fancy that she had learned this need from him. She decided not to worry about what he assumed.
"Have you chosen a name?" Nick asked.
"For the club?"
"Not yet," she answered.
"Are you going to convert the basement?" he tried again.
"Yes," she replied.
"Okay. I know when I'm not wanted. You have my number if you need me. I'll let you know if I learn anything about your mishap."
Then he left. He had not done that before. Usually, putting an end to things was what she did. She needed to think on this some more. Clearly there was something she was missing. For the moment, however, she had other things to think about.
Such as the fact that she knew the boy who had been killed. Oh, she didn't know his name, but she recognized him. He was one of the kids who poked around in the dumpsters nearby for food. And he'd been bitten and drained shortly after she had given him money.
Who was trying to get her attention?
Nick hit the remote on the garage door and closed himself into his home. There was no one here, had been no one since he'd left Toronto all those years ago, on Janette's trail. He had relocated to San Francisco on her heels.
Oh, he had been polite, not interfering with her plans, or even contacting her to let her know he was there. But she knew, she had to have known. She knew the way she had always known where Lacroix was. She just knew, and that was all.
He tossed his car keys on the table by the door and looked around, seeing his place as if for the first time. If Nat were here, she'd kick him in the ass. Darkness was all around him. His closed and shuttered windows were never opened any longer. If Janette hadn't set him on a wild-goose chase around the western world, he'd have sat down where he found himself and never contacted the world again.
"I have no interest in anything," he said out loud, in the middle of his empty living room. But then he realized he was lying to himself again. He was interested in something: someone was trying to get Janette's attention by playing a dangerous game. He was not only interested, he was energized.
Time to get himself a job.
Across town, Janette closed the shutters in her apartment just ahead of the sun breaching the horizon. Nothing more would happen today. Nothing that she could do anything about at any rate.
He watched from the dark alleyway behind the warehouse as lights were turned off and shades were drawn. She had someone she trusted to call for help. He'd have to think carefully about his next move.
Nick spent the day profitably, creating a passable new ID for himself that was valid in California. None of his most recent past was available to him for references; in the past decade he'd rarely spent more than six months in any one place. He wasn't certain who would be available to assist him in setting up a life history, so he did the best he could for himself. It would be private investigator and not police officer this time. He would make it work somehow.
As the sun set, he pocketed his new ID, grabbed his car keys, and set off across town to check out Janette's new neighborhood.
It was exactly as grubby on the outside as he had expected. What he hadn't expected were the work crews, busily building out the main floor of the warehouse, creating a dance floor, and finishing the bar. The liquor was stacked in boxes by the main gate.
Janette wasn't wasting any time getting set up, he thought. Taking advantage of the moment, he identified himself and chatted briefly with the work crew, using his very rusty Spanish.
None of them knew anything. No surprise there.
He found the office at the back of the building on the main floor.
Janette was at a table, organizing receipts and pay stubs, filing things as efficiently as she could so that she could avoid attention when she paid her taxes. Always prevent what you can, she had been taught. She didn't always obey the law, but she did know how to avoid being brought to its attention.
The door beside her opened a crack, and Nick's voice asked "Might I come in?"
"If you must," she said, turning around to face him and almost laughing at the frown that predictably crossed his face. "Of course," she said, letting go of her attempt to tease. "I am not used to having company any longer. Please forgive my rudeness."
It was almost worth it for the smile she saw, briefly, on Nick's face before he shut down again. "I have questions, things I need to know about you and your life before I can get any further with this investigation."
Janette looked at him intently. "Unless I miss my guess, you already know where I've been and what I've been doing with myself these past years. Or was that not you I was sensing around every street corner, from Montreal to Halifax to Madrid?"
Nick started. Janette had taken him on a run around the world. First a trip across Canada, then a brief flight to Europe, and finally she returned to North America in search of only she knew what.
"You skipped Paris," Nick muttered. "I've been wondering about that, actually."
"Too many memories."
"So why didn't you stay in Los Angeles? No memories at all, and plenty of beautiful people, surely."
Janette smiled. Los Angeles had been her first stop when she had returned to North America. Nick was correct: there were many beautiful people in that city. "But the sun was too bright, the nights a bit too short."
"How long had it been since you'd seen San Francisco?" Nick asked, a looking a bit chagrined that he didn't know the answer to that question already.
"100 years," she said, looking at him knowingly. "It is a bit cleaner now, all sleek skyscrapers and office towers." She thought about the views from her windows upstairs and smiled to herself. "In truth, it felt a bit like home. Though I find I am no longer certain exactly what "home" is. Are you?"
It was the first sincere question she had asked him.
Things were not going as they should. He had not meant to help her find comfort again. Clearly he needed make a more dramatic gesture, get her flustered and off-balance. Emotional. After a moment, he smiled. He had just the thing.
Nick looked at Janette's face, trying to gauge what kind of answer she was looking for from him. The truth? That he hadn't had a home in decades? Or safe: France was a long time ago, after all. He decided not to answer her at all.
"Did you know that the boy you found yesterday had been drained of blood?"
"I suspected as much, yes."
"Any ideas since yesterday?"
"I did not do it. You said Lacroix has not been near you of late. If you also did not do it, then I have no idea who this might be. But if that child was drained, we are dealing with a vampire, yes."
"Unfortunately yes," Nick admitted. "And I have no contacts yet in this city, but I plan to remedy that this evening. Are you going to stay here all night?"
"If I do not, I shall let you know. Not that you will need any assistance in locating me."
Nick left her office, threw a mock salute at the work crew, climbed into his car, and drove away. Completely unaware of the shadow that followed in his wake.
Developing reliable resources on the fly wasn't as easy to do as Nick had pretended it would be. He considered and rapidly rejected most of the cops he knew; toyed briefly with the idea of tracking down Stonetree, and then called Merlin. If anyone would know who was where in the vampire world, it would be him.
After a dressing down from Merlin for creating his own ID without proper assistance (and the promise of a more carefully built new one to be delivered by Fedex), Merlin mentioned that he'd recently created a backstory for Feliks Twist. Feliks was, as far as Merlin knew, the new night curator for the Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park.
Shaking his head at how out of touch he had let himself become, Nick grabbed his wallet and keys, and headed over to the park. If nothing else, it would be an enjoyable evening, spent with an old friend.
He's going to see that lunatic, isn't he? What should I do now? Follow? Follow.
Golden Gate Park at dusk was one of the best things about living here, Nick thought, as he cruised down Kennedy Drive toward the Conservatory. Not quite a forest, but as close as it got these days to the forests he remembered from his youth.
Nick parked near the entrance, noting that the clock was now made of spider mums, and smiled to himself, knowing Feliks was almost certainly there. Who else would use something so crazy to create something so precise?
He found Feliks in the cultivating garden, muttering to himself and trimming buds with a certainty that made Nick envious. When had he stopped doing the things that he loved?
"Nicholas, how lovely to see you. Follow me into the other room will you please? There are some roses that need deadheading and plants wait for no one."
Feliks was reassuring, like an old watch or a well worn pair of boots. It was always lovely to know that some things were the same, even as the world had changed on Nick over the centuries.
"Now, are you interested in your accounts? They are as well cared for as always. You haven't removed anything from them lately. Do you need American bills?"
"I'm not here about my estate, Feliks," Nick said. "I've been told you might know who's in town right now? Anyone from the old crew perhaps?"
Feliks, lost in his roses, didn't respond. Nick waited him out as long as he could. "Feliks? Did you hear me?"
"Yes, yes, I heard you. So impatient you are, Nicholas. It's bad for your mental health, you know. You should cultivate patience. I have a meditation practice you might use. Unless you've recently developed a need for plants in your home that is. I might help with that as well if you wished."
"Feliks?" Nick prodded.
"I think I heard Briana was here, though she might have gone to Seattle recently. Alma never made it out of Toronto, poor girl. Who else was there? I didn't get out much you know."
"Please think, Feliks. Someone is going rogue and killing, leaving bodies behind to be found by whoever encounters them. So far we have one, but I've no doubt there will be more sooner rather than later."
Feliks muttered to himself and then walked deliberately to the back of the building and into a small office, as cluttered as any place Nick had ever seen Feliks in. He pulled out a smartphone, finding what he needed quickly, and handing it over to Nick. It was a list of names.
There was a name on it that Nick recognized. And with hollow certainty, he knew he had found his killer.
The drive home was less pleasant than the one out toward the ocean had been. The Western Addition had its virtues, price amongst them, but it wasn't as nice a part of town as the Outer Sunset was. Then again, at this time of night, even Geary was almost empty of cars.
Which is why he noticed the Volvo, staying five car lengths behind him, gaining no cover from traffic. Nick turned down Divisadero and slowed, watching in his mirrors, seeing the Volvo turning also, shortly after he did. The Volvo's lights were off.
If he continued in this direction, turning down Clay and pulling into his driveway, the Volvo would no doubt follow suit. Deciding abruptly that home was the better of his options, Nick headed into his garage, thumbing the remote with his right hand.
He entered his home, briefly pausing to grab a very few mementos, grateful suddenly that in his dark mood, he had failed to furnish this place with anything of sentimental value. As he entered his bedroom to grab his laptop, he smelled kerosene, wafting in from the open window.
Deciding he had all he needed, he left the house through the basement tunnel, and took to the air to make the trip to Janette's loft apartment. He looked down from his vantage point above his home, and in the smoke just starting to cover the coming dawn, he spotted him. Miklos. Setting fire to his home, smiling and talking to himself.
It was a good thing most people never looked up when they were checking out their environs. Nick was gone before the fire had fully taken hold. He raced dawn to the Mission, and a safe place to spend the day.
Even if he didn't like it, he had his answer.
Miklos had hoped to watch the fire for a longer time, enjoying the spectacle of one of Janette's closest friends being annihilated. But he'd been a bit too efficient in setting the blaze, and ash was already flying into his face as he lingered across the street. Ah well, he would still see her face when she heard, and that, he grinned, would be the best anyway.
He got into his Volvo and slowly drove away from Nick's home, as the fire engines roared down the street behind him. If they followed standard procedure, they'd work to contain the fire so as not to lose more than one home rather than attempt to put it out. Miklos was satisfied. No one would discover Knight's body until it was too late.
Janette awakened to the familiar scent of Nicolas, as he climbed the stairs to her loft apartment. He did not enter her bedroom, instead waiting in her kitchen area. She knew he was there, and he knew that too. No need for niceties like knocking on doors and announcing oneself.
But someone was knocking on the door at her private entrance. She grabbed a robe, and passed Nick heading into her room to hide. "If it's Miklos, wait for me, Janette. I can help," Nick said, moving deeper into her bedroom, where he could listen but not be seen.
Miklos? Why would she need help with Miklos? Janette tied her robe and made her way to the door to open it.
It was indeed Miklos. He looked horrible, as though he hadn't showered in a week or more. In all of their time together she had never seen him unshaven as he was today.
"Janette," he said, in a broken voice. "I'm so sorry. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I didn't want you to find out from a stranger."
"Please come in, Miklos. It has been a very long time. How did you know where to find me? And what is this about bad news?" Janette led him over to the kitchen space, where she found a bottle and two glasses and poured generously.
"It's Knight," said Miklos. "I heard it on the news just now. I know you don't watch..." He paused before continuing with, "There was a fire. At his house. No one survived."
"I see," she said. She listened for Nick in the other room; what was she supposed to say now, she wondered. "You do know I have been angry with him for quite some time, do you not? I am not certain it matters to me at the moment whether Nick lives or dies."
Suddenly, Miklos's hands were reaching for her neck. "You have to care about this! About him. It has to hurt you, no? How can his death not hurt you unbearably?"
Janette sidestepped his reach, but not before he had his hands on her arm, and was squeezing quite hard. She struggled in his grasp, wishing for high-heeled shoes, or something convenient she could smash into his face.
"I have been all alone, because of you! You promised we were your children, that you'd take care of us, of me, and then you abandoned me to that monster. He was your master; you had to have known what he was, what he'd do. I have had nothing but pain and loneliness for all of these years, because of you. Now it's time for you to learn how that feels." He shifted his weight, briefly, but just enough for Janette to squirm out of his grip.
She called out "Nicolas, he is here and I need your assistance!"
When next she could see clearly, Nick had Miklos pinned to the wall, teeth bared ready to kill him where he stood.
"He's mine," she screamed. "I must be the one who kills him." She took Miklos from Nick's grasp. "If it's my fault, I shall make it right. You may hold him for me."
As she released Miklos's dead body to the floor, she sat down beside it. Whatever this had been, for whatever reason, it was now over.
And she was alone with Nicolas.
In the end, they used Miklos's Volvo to move both bodies from her warehouse to the smoldering ruins of Nick's home, making sure that they were both burned enough to stymie recognition. They left the car there, parked down the street. When the police arrived in the morning to investigate the arson, they would find two bodies, and a car belonging to one of them. It would make for an easy resolution of the case and they hoped that whoever drew the investigation would be feeling lucky enough not to pursue the matter any further.
Nick, having paid cash for the house using an alias, was willing to take the loss, both of house and name.
As Nick and Janette took to the sky, heading toward her loft, neither of them noticed how close to each other they were in the air.
"I haven't watched a sunrise in years," Nick said, as he watched the sun while Janette closed the shutters in her apartment. "Am I to stay here today? Or shall I find a corner in the basement and leave you in peace?"
"You should probably stay," Janette replied. "We have much to discuss, and I owe you a thanks for resolving my … issue. Besides, the crew will arrive shortly to start work again; I would not want them accidentally finding you in the basement."
Janette looked thoughtful for a moment. "How do you think I ought to set up the basement? I'm not exactly in the mood any longer to have a proper dungeon." She watched Nicolas expectantly.
"Do you remember when I had you protect Schanke all those years ago? I always wondered what he thought about the lower levels of the Raven. How much of it did he actually see anyway?"
Janette laughed. Honestly laughed out loud. "Your friend was a boor, but he was also rather sweet and innocent. If I had not reached the basement when I did, he might have seen someone emerge from a coffin unexpectedly. I think I may have left bruises on the man's arm I was gripping it so tightly."
"Do you ever miss those days?" Nick asked.
"Not really, no," she replied. "Things were complicated there, with you and Lacroix constantly arguing. I wish I had left things somewhat differently, however. Said some au revoirs rather than simply disappearing poof." She watched Nicolas's face as she spoke. Now we're getting somewhere. "Do you?" she asked, "Miss those days, of course?"
"I miss feeling settled. I miss having a community. I miss having a goal to occupy my time." He paused, choosing his words with care. "I have many regrets from those days, the damage I left behind. Finally, in the end, I missed you most."
"Oui," Janette said softly. "What are you going to do now that I've stopped wandering the world in search of the impossible?"
"I don't know how to answer that question any longer, Janette. If you leave and wish me not to follow you, I'll attempt to honour your request."
"If you wouldn't mind," Janette said, "I'd like you to stay here, so we can get to know each other again. How does that sound to you?"
Nicolas smiled softly. "That sounds like a plan to me." And he kissed her hand, and grabbed an extra blanket to keep him warm on the couch in her living room.