Tinkers to Evers to Chances to Play
Janette enjoyed The Game with Nicholas more than she liked to admit. This Natalie was an interesting diversion, admittedly, but she knew, in the long run, Nicholas would come back to his own. She loved to remind him of that every now and then.
Tonight was just such an occasion. The Raven had a multitude of back rooms and one of them could well serve for an interesting tête à tête – at least until they found a retreat in the more private wine cellar. She smiled at that thought.
It was barely 4pm and she was just getting started. Nicola was due at 9ish – it was a night off for Nicholas and his dear Natalie was working. Perfect, she thought.
“Tonight I will remind Nicola… yes, he will remember.” She sipped from the wine goblet in front of her. One of the nice things about not being out on the floor was that her cup didn’t have to have any of that pesky wine in it. Her glass could flow as viscously as she wanted it to.
Nick was up and about, had been since about 2pm. While he often slept till sunset, some days he just couldn’t. On those days, he painted or composed or, occasionally, read. Today he was doing a little of all three, not managing to focus on any one for any useful amount of time. “Dammit all, what is wrong today?” he mused aloud.
He was a little at loose ends. He had an evening with Janette just after the Raven opened tonight and while it was usually lovely to see her, with LaCroix back in town, it was even odds whether he would interrupt and thus ruin their plans. On top of that, Natalie was working and he wasn’t which meant he couldn’t easily visit with her this afternoon, not without some excuse, even with the early winter sunset. It was an unusual situation as they almost always worked the same shifts – but added to that was this killer on the loose. He and Schanke had been working on the case. The killer was probably human as the killings lacked the markers usually associated with his kind – there was a fair amount of blood left at the scene, it was sloppy and it looked like whoever was killing was using tools. Even the youngest of his kind didn’t often use tools.
Another stab at a painting, another at something on the piano, even another try at reading something. Even Camus couldn’t hold his attention more than ½ an hour. Maybe if he wandered by the station and… No, Cohen had told him he needed a day off and showing up would just irritate her. No one needed that.
“Good lord, it’s only 5pm.” Thankfully it was winter, so it was already dark. At least he could stare out the windows. “What is...” The phone rang. He actually jumped at it, thankful for the interruption from his dark musing. “Yes, Nick here.”
“Hey partner. I was just thinking…” Nick could hear Schanke chewing, probably souvlaki again. At least he didn’t have to smell it over the phone.
“I was thinking about the case. When we picked up that last body, did you notice anything different?”
Nick thought for a moment. He had felt something different about it, but hadn’t really paid attention. He couldn’t put his finger on it now, but it might be the cause of his distraction this afternoon. Captain was right; he did need a day off.
“Yea, Schanke, I did.”
“[munch, munch] So? Was it enough different to make it copycat?”
It really did drive him crazy when Schanke ate while on the phone. Nick idly wondered if slurping would bother Schanke as much? Not that he’d actually do so, but it amused him to think about it. “I don’t think so, Schank. I think it’s more likely our killer is developing. The first couple were, frankly, sloppy. Blood everywhere and tool marks that we could probably trace to the manufacturer if we stumbled onto his hideout. We already know it was something like, what did Nat call it? A claw cultivator I think. She thinks it was likely stainless as there were no traces of metal in the wounds and as deep as those went, she thought there would be if it were iron.”
“Hey, do we know it’s a guy? [munch, munch]”
Shudder. “Statistically it’s almost certain. This level of violence isn’t normally associated with a female perp, Schank.” Well, except in his world. He’d seen what even a civilized Janette could do when provoked after all. “And with nothing to go on, working with the likelihood that it’s a guy is probably safest, don’t you think?”
“Right, right. I was just thinkin’ out loud. OK – well I gotta get back out and see what I can dig up. Enjoy your day off, Nick! [munch, munch] Gotta run!”
Nick hung up the phone, sighing. Schanke really was a good cop, but he could be so irritating…
It was coming up on 7pm. Janette went out to see that the Raven was being properly prepared for this evening. She had a new bartender and while he was hardly as young as he looked, he hadn’t done a lot of bartending.
“Is there anything you need, Ned?” A North American affectation if ever she heard one. She wondered what his first name might have been? Guiseppe, from his countenance, she imagined.
“No, ma’am. This is a well supplied bar from all I can tell.” At something north of six feet tall, Ned’s long hair still cleared the bar itself by several inches. He wore his vest and rolled-sleeve shirt casually, as if he’d worn that combination quite a lot. For a young vampire, he comported himself quite well. She was pleased with this neophyte and thought he might well outlast a lot of those of his age. Having been brought across so recently, he barely remembered Queen Victoria. For a woman who remembered the Crusades, that was a young man. The lovely twist of their existence was that they appeared, to the world, to be both of similar coloring and age.
She smiled at Ned, one of those avaricious smiles Janette did so well. “I’ll be unavailable after 9 tonight, so please let me know if you have need of anything before then, yes, Ned?”
Ned nodded, “Certainly, ma’am. I doubt we’ll need much. We have the new shipment in for those who prefer the rarer vintages and we’ve enough wine for the less discerning. We should be good for the night.”
“Excellent.” She leaned into the bar, stirring her goblet’s contents with her finger and sucking every last drop off of it. “Excellent.”
Nicholas knew that if he stayed in his apartment for one more minute, he’d explode. Since he wasn’t working and couldn’t take in the theatre with a 9pm assignation, he thought he’d stop by Natalie at work and make up some excuse about the case. He could distract her for a little bit and if he drove he might eat up a whole hour between getting there and driving back to the Raven. He’d figure out what to do after he got there.
As he drove, he tuned in to The Night Crawler. He knew it bothered Nat, but she didn’t know LaCroix as he did. He could find the amusement in what simply seemed boorish to her. “Maybe he’s so down he brings me up,” he remembered telling her. Perhaps there was something to that.
As he pulled into the building that housed the morgue, he began to wonder about the killer. He was using a gardening tool to kill, but he was using it in such a way as to terrorize as well. What was his end game? Nick had to hope they’d find him before that was realized.
He walked into Natalie’s morgue, “Good evening, doctor!”
She looked up from the body she was working on, “Well, you seem chipper tonight, Nick.”
“And you look lovely, as usual!” Not that anyone who didn’t know her would be able to tell. Between the smock and the head covering, the mask and the gloves, about all you could see of Natalie was the dark honey gold ponytail that stuck out below the mask strings in back.
Natalie dropped her mask, took off her gloves and leaned back against the counter, “So what brings you tonight? Isn’t it your day off?”
Nick nodded, “According to the Captain, yes. But I’ve never been able to turn off my brain in the middle of a case, Nat. You know that.”
She noticed he spoke with a grin on his face. She wondered if that was one of those internal things he didn’t notice or if it was for her benefit. “So what did you think I could add to your thoughts?”
“I don’t know, I was hoping for a conversation to jog my thinking?” He leaned back against the counter behind him, arms crossed, ankles crossed, “Got any thoughts on this one?”
She shook her head, “It Is A Puzzlement!” she uttered, clearly both quoting and making friendly fun of him. “I really don’t, Nick. I mean we have 3 similar killings, though this last one was less messy. Hence the perfectly clean smock!” She grinned at that old joke between them. “Perhaps the perp is refining his skills?”
“I said the same thing to Schanke when he called earlier tonight.”
“Sorry, Nick. Not helping much am I?”
“Nah. I’m just at loose ends. I don’t think it’s one of mine, but something was different about this last one and I can’t put my finger on it.”
“I’ll take another look and see if anything speaks to me. I could have missed something.”
“I doubt that,” he grinned broadly now, “you don’t miss much, Natalie.”
She wiggled her eyebrows at him, “High praise from someone who worked with Pinkertons.”
“I see this is going to get us nowhere, eh?”
She nodded, “I’ll take another look at that last body, but I think you’re right, it’s going to take something more to break this case.”
“Alright, I’ll leave you to your bodies. Let me know if you find anything interesting.”
Nick stood up, walked over to Nat and gave her a hug, which she returned enthusiastically. They had an understanding of sorts now, one that she hoped to build on. “Sure, Nick. Have a great evening.”
He wondered, as he left, if she would object to his “dinner” with Janette if she knew. One could never quite tell with those two women whether it was détente or open war. He wasn’t even sure if they know which it was from moment to moment.
He arrived at the club just after eight, but with nothing else to do, he figured a few drinks at the bar would amuse him until Janette was available.
“Nicola! How long have you been here?” She swept in, as usual, making the space feel like she owned it somehow. Of course, she actually did, but that didn’t seem quite like the reason.
“About half an hour or so. I knew you would show up if I sat here long enough.”
She walked up to him and gave him her hand, “Oh dear, Nicola, do tell me you are not drinking pure wine?” She spoke quietly; the club was a mixed crowd after all.
He leaned over to kiss her hand and smiled up at her, “Yes, Janette. That’s hardly new.” His voice didn’t sound as defensive as his words did.
She looked disappointed, “When will you stop at this pretending? You must know this can’t go on, Nicola.”
He nodded, “I know. Sometimes I think I’m so close, other times? I think I must rejoin you and the others.” That was true, but not as easily as he spoke of it. It was only in his most depressed of moments that he began to think there was no hope. Most of the time, he sided with Natalie about his possibilities.
“Come, I have a room for us in back. We can share more freely.” Nick had very little confusion in his mind about what she intended, and any action was better than the frustration he’d lived with all afternoon. It was mostly a question of which sin she would ask him to commit first.
He picked up his glass and followed her into the back rooms. She chose the last of them, reducing the chance of interruption, which suggested exactly which sin she was most interested in. No one came back here whose diet wasn’t primarily liquid to begin with. She closed the gauzy wine colored curtains as she drew him into the space.
“Nicola, I wonder at your interest in their world,” she began as she sunk into the rich, blood red upholstery, patting a cushion next to her. “I wonder what attracts you so to it.” She sipped again. Her glass was, of course, filled with a liquid more suited to her preferences. Nothing so thin as wine.
He joined her in on the cushions, where she leaned in to allow his arm to encircle her. “Their world is not so far from ours, Janette.” He took a sip of his wine which somehow, back here, felt lacking. “They have an interesting point of view.”
“They live such brief lives, Nicola. How do you relate to someone who’s whole life is but a fraction of the time the short-lived New World has even existed?”
“It is exactly that new perspective that so enthralls me, Janette.”
She turned to look at him, tipped her glass up to her lips and drank deeply. As she looked over the glass at him, he could hear her sighing. She reached out to lay the glass down on the small glass table that he had missed when he first came into the room. He smiled down at her. He sipped his own glass and put it down. She reached up to run her hand across his brow; he could feel her breath against his cheek.
“Janette,” he could easily fall into those eyes. He could cross back to her world so very easily. “I…”
She smiled, recognizing his wavering. He’d done it before and she knew it when she saw it. “Nicola,” she breathed, “There is great joy in who we are. There is great delight in remembering what we can do when we set our minds to it.” She was breathing more heavily now and holding her hand against his chest. He smiled down at her and took her other hand in his. “Cherie,” his voice was husky now, in a way only Janette really knew. He bent down slightly to kiss her, tasting that which she had been drinking as he did. While part of him remained enthralled, part of him was drawn out of this reverie as he remembered that someone had died for her to have this aperitif. Still, he lingered, the draw, both of her and of it, was powerful. “Janette, ⎯”
Just as he was trying to tell her that hers wasn’t the only world he could know, he heard an unmistakable voice.
“Yo, partner, you back here? Ned said you were back here, Nick!”
Janette’s eyes narrowed and her grip on his chest would have become painful were he merely human. He feared for Schanke’s well being.
“Janette,” he whispered, “I really must. He won’t give up.” She nodded curtly, removing her hand from his chest.
“Back here, Schank. What do you want?” He stood up as he spoke and came to the curtains, where he could speak to his partner.
“Hey, I found something I thought you’d want to know. Nat said you were probably at the Raven. So here I am!” He noticed Janette through the curtains, “Hey boss lady!” He waved at her. She was going to kill him if Nick didn’t get rid of him fast.
“What’d ya find out, Schank?” Nick used a voice that usually meant “Scram” – not that Schanke was ever very good at understanding that.
“The third murder? There were some forensics left this time! He actually left fingerprint on the glasses near the body. It doesn’t match anything in the database, but it’s a start!”
“Schanke, do we even know if those glasses belonged to the victim?”
“Well, sure. We know he wore glasses, because his license said he had to. We know those glasses were found next to the body. What else?”
Sometimes Schanke jumped to conclusions. Other times? He fairly flew… “Schanke, what makes you think they didn’t belong to the perp himself?” Before he could continue, Schanke jumped in, “Exactly! That would be even better!”
Nick rolled his eyes, “Schanke, they could also belong to a passer by, someone who walked by the next day!”
“Then why would they have the murderers fingerprint on them?” He looked honestly confused.
“Schank, they could have nothing.to.do. with the murder. Until we can be certain whose glasses they were, we have no idea whether they matter or not! Did you really have to interrupt for this?”
“Well excu-u-use *me* for wanting to keep my partner up to date on the case!”
Nick wanted to hit his head on the wall, “Schanke, thanks for the thought, but I’m off today for a reason.”
“Right. Right. Don’t let me get in the way of your Recreation. Far be it from me to intrude! I’m leaving now, this is me, leaving.” He turned to walk back up the hallway.
“Schanke?” Nick called plaintively.
“Don’t let me intrude!” he said as he walked rather quickly down the hall and out into the bar.
Nick turned around, back into the space where Janette sat, looking for all the world like the cat who had caught the proverbial canary.
“Do you see how your mayfly humans think? It must be done NOW!” She leaned back, suggestively and smiled, “Do you not prefer the way we approach life? We can take our time and really savor it.” She held out her hand to him, he reached out and took it, being drawn again to her.
“They do tend to rush, don’t they?” his voice low again.
“Yes, and it’s such a pity too. If they slowed down just a tad, they’d enjoy their short little lives so much more.” She dragged a finger along his throat, just where his heart would beat if it did anymore. “Come, Nicola, sit.” She patted the cushion next to her, but he was beginning to have other ideas. He straddled her knees, sitting down on her thighs and leaning in to kiss her. She was only to happy to return the gesture and he they fell down onto the canapé, she lightly landing on top of he, in a deep embrace.
Some moments later, she sat up, wiping the edge of her lip where it bled ever so slightly, “Nicola, I had forgotten how insistent you can be.”
“You make it easy, Cherie.” He sat up next to her, one leg still behind her, one on the ground.
“Shall we ⎯”
“Nick?” This time is was the Captain. He could hear her coming down the hallway, “Nick? Where are you Nick?” What in heaven’s name could Cohen want with him at this time of night? And what was Ned thinking, sending her back here?
He turned, whispered quickly, “Janette, please go tell Ned I’m not here. This is ridiculous. I’ll have to find a way to deal with the captain.” She nodded, looking sufficiently displeased that Nick knew Ned would remember this dressing down for some time. That meant Nick could meet Cohen in the hallway. A better setting for meeting his boss then what looked like a boudoir.
Nick emerged from the curtained space, “What do you need, Captain?”
“Nick, I’m sorry to bother you this late at night and on a day off too – but Schanke is missing. He’s not answering the radio or his phone and Myra is getting worried. You weren’t answering your phone either, but Natalie thought you might be here. Have you heard anything?” She looked supremely uncomfortable, as if she would rather be just about anywhere else.
It was unusual for Cohen to worry; Myra not so much. He had to wonder whose concern she was expressing. “He was here not half an hour ago, captain. Why is Myra worried?”
“He checked in, said he had a new theory about the killer and hasn’t been heard from since. That was over an hour ago, Nick. Since he told Myra he was on his way home, she got a little worried.”
“He was here on some theory about the glasses they found near the body having a fingerprint that he was convinced somehow was the perp's? Could he be buried in the files, trying to find a match?” It was the most likely scenario.
Cohen smiled, “Sorry, Nick. It never occurred to me to look for Schanke in a research environment. I’ll give that a look. It makes sense now that you mention it. I’ll go out to the car and give the desk sergeant a call – he can go look for Schanke and see if he’s in the basement. Reception’s lousy down there,” she smiled, looking a little chagrined and headed back out. She passed Janette in the hallway where they both nodded and continued on.
“Nicola, Ned now understands you are *not* to be disturbed.” She was clearly in a mood tonight and so far, none of the interruptions from his job had changed that. He knew Schanke wouldn’t go after the killer alone, so he could devote his attention to Janette. She took his hand and led him back to their curtained space, closing the gauzy pieces of fabric with one hand while pushing him toward the canapé with the other. “Now, where were we?”
He sat, she straddling his knees this time and they found themselves in an embrace once again. As he fell down onto the soft surface, he thought it might be his lip that was dripping a bit of blood when they sat up next time.
“How very pedestrian.”
Nick and Janette both sat up very quickly, whatever mood they might have had having been completely broken by that voice.
“And you respond by acting like a pair of school children caught at playing grown up games? Even worse.” He stood there, towering much taller than his actual 6 foot frame might suggest, in black from tip to toe, with a glass of pale green liquid in his hand.
LaCroix was clearly in one of his Moods. There was no dealing with him when he was and as he had found them, he would likely not go away easily.
“What do you want, LaCroix?” Nick asked with more than a little jaundice in his voice. He leaned against the upholstered back, arms spread like wings behind Janette as she sat up and reached for her wine glass.
“I was going to invite you two out for a discussion, but clearly that’s beyond your abilities this evening.” He stood there, looking down his nose at them as if he disapproved. In actuality, he was probably more pleased then he’d been in decades. Nick looked to be behaving much more as he should than he usually did and his children were clearly together, if only for the moment. It was a start.
Janette looked at him from under heavy lids, “LaCroix, if you don’t mind, your children are communing this evening.” She took a sip from her glass.
“Oh, is that what you’re calling it these days? How droll.” He sipped from his glass, as if mirroring her gesture.
Nick sighed, “Is there something we can do for you, LaCroix? Or are you simply here to be difficult?”
“My, you are combative this evening, aren’t you, Nicholas?”
“I am wondering when someone put in a highway past this room, to be honest. You are the third person who has wandered by in need of our attention tonight.”
He threw back his head and laughed. It was short and harsh, more of a bark really than a laugh. “Nicholas, sometimes you amuse me without even trying. I will leave you two to your own devices. I’m off to do my nightly show.”
The two of them looked at each other. LaCroix was on the prowl and would likely come this way again before the night was over. “Shall we retire to somewhat more private quarters, brother dear?”
Nick smiled, “I promise you, my intentions are anything but brotherly Janette.”
She smiled, reached for his hand and started toward the stairs that would take them to the basement. That floor would be empty at this hour and there were some lovely rooms that afforded far more privacy than the ones on the main floor.
They spent quite some time in the basement, enjoying each other as only vampires can. There was even a good bit of blood spilt while they were doing so. As Janette hadn’t seen her reflection in almost 1000 years, she was used to fixing herself without a mirror. Nick was just getting used to seeing himself in a mirror again, so the two of them straightened each other out before they ascended the stairs. It was now nearing one in the morning. The Night Crawler would be in the middle of his show, so they were unlikely to be bothered by LaCroix.
As they came upstairs, Janette reached for Nick’s hand once more and nibbled on it, bringing his mind back to the last few hours, even letting out a small moan. “Janette ⎯”
Before he could finish, he heard the one voice he never expected to hear in the Raven.
“Nick?” She was standing at the doorway to the back hallway and could see his back, but not what Janette was doing. He froze, this was an impossible situation, one he never imagined. Well, not at the Raven anyway. This shouldn’t have been possible.
He began to turn around, wondering what he was going to say. She wouldn’t likely understand that his relationship with Janette, over 800 years old, was nothing like any relationship he might have with her.
As he turned, Janette came around his left side with a bottle of wine, walking past him as if she had just come up from wine cellar alone, “Oops, sorry Nicola. Ned needs this.” She walked on by, smiling at Natalie, “Good evening, Natalie isn’t it?” and swept past onto the floor, leaving Nick to deal with Natalie alone.
“Ah, Nat – what brings you here?” Good thing he could switch gears as fast as Janette. Oh and he would owe her for that. He knew that.
“Um, Hi. I, uh…” She looked positively trapped. What had brought her here? What had brought her to the back rooms? Nick was in the middle of asking himself that when she caught herself and started again. “I came because Schanke had a break in the case. He asked me to let you know so you could be there when the arrest was made.” It all tumbled out almost as a single, unbroken word.
“Ah – well that explains how you knew where I was. What did Schank tell you?”
“He told me you were here having dinner with Janette.” She smiled, “Not that I believed the dinner part – neither of you are big with the eating.”
“We were having a drink and a chat. When you’ve known someone for nearly 800 years, you want to catch up from time to time,” He looked a little chagrined, but she seemed to buy it. And it was, for broad values of “chat”, true. Mostly.
“Ah. I see. Well.” She wasn’t buying it and was clearly going to kill Schanke when she found him again. “So, Schanke asked you to meet him at the precinct.” She looked down at her feet.
“So. I should do that.” Nick was a bit uncomfortable, but mostly he wanted Nat out of the Raven before LaCroix found her.
“I’m headed back to the morgue. My lunch break is almost over.”
He nodded, “Yea, I’ll head over to the precinct and catch up with Schanke.”
“Dinner and a movie tomorrow night?” It was their usual Thursday night-off ritual. He rather liked it.
“Sure. Nosferatu?” An old joke between them.
“No, I think something more like “The Hunger,” don’t you?
Natalie did like her “classic” movies. “Sure. I’m always up for Bowie.” Nic wasn’t sure he wasn’t one of his kind anyway.
It had been quite the day. Between Janette and all the interruptions, he was thinking a nice, quiet “day” at work was just what the doctor had ordered. Time to go be a good partner and help Schanke take the bastard down. Yes, a nice relaxing ‘day” at work was just the thing.
He walked out of the Raven, smiling to himself.