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Out of the Night that Covers Me

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When Urs was killed by Divia, Nick flew with her corpse to the morgue, where he presented it to Natalie.  On the one hand, the cause of death was obvious after a fashion, for the bite and claw marks were deep and unfading.  On the other hand, neither of them could explain why injuries so superficial from a vampire perspective had proved fatal.  At any rate, there was no sign of regeneration:  Urs was clearly dead.  So Nick left with the intention of, sooner or later, telling Vachon—assuming, that is, that he didn’t already know, intuitively, as Urs’s master.

Natalie told Nick that she would deal with Urs’s body.  He didn’t ask questions; and perhaps he should have.  Then again, he never truly grasped that the mortal he loved was, first and foremost, a scientist.  Her quest to cure his vampirism was personal; her quest to understand vampirism ran deeper.  So she did not, as he assumed, take the corpse secretly to the roof to dispose of it by sunlight, nor fake paperwork and send it to a crematorium.  She stashed it in the freezer with the intention of examining it, secretly, in depth and at length.  From the perspective of a forensic pathologist, Urs was an unexpected opportunity. That she was also a person with family, of a sort, who might want some more ceremonial disposition of her body—well, that occurred to neither Nick nor Natalie.  Nick, at least, had the excuse of having seen centuries of dead vampires combust in daylight, leaving nothing to bury.

Divia burned, though it was later that same night.  Her funeral pyre was makeshift, but it was thorough; and Lacroix watched to the bitter end, with Nick at his side.  After that, he gathered what remained and flew over the lake, where he consigned his daughter to the wind.  Some flakes were carried to land; but most fell into the water, where they drifted with the currents until they sank, or were eaten by fish.

Her father’s cold, cold heart was moved with grief.  He looked at the ruins of the Raven, broken in their struggle, and saw shards of mirrored glass over the floor.  His own neck had been pierced, and healed in minutes; his heart was pierced, and would take centuries to mend.  He forebore even to call a cleaning company to deal with the mess, let alone pick up a broom himself.  It was a week before he left his rooms, by which time his staff had dealt with the matter.  He placed the club in the hands of Feliks Twist to be put on the market, and made arrangements with Aristotle.  It was only when he was packed, his new documents in his pocket, his Nightcrawler role passed to another, that he deigned to inform his son of his decision to leave Toronto forever.  A confluence of events took him to the loft as Nick drained Natalie: the rest is history.

In the aftermath of the mysterious disappearance of one of Toronto’s top Homicide detectives and the discovery in his apartment of the corpse of a colleague from the Coroner’s Office, public attention was naturally on the manhunt.  For those who had known Natalie Lambert and Det. Const. Tracy Vetter, there were personal distractions, some of which were important enough to be written up in the Metropolitan Examiner and shown on the TV news.  Still, life goes on, especially after the funeral.

About a month later, working through the caseload left behind, Grace Balthazar came across an autopsy report in an unmarked folder in the late Dr. Lambert’s filing cabinet.  “Accidental death,” it said in her conclusion.  Cause of death:  heart attack, following a fall.  There was no name; no next of kin.  Nor had the body been released.  Disliking loose ends, Grace investigated; and, several hours of overtime later, she located the unlabelled corpse of a Jane Doe.  If anyone had bothered to sign off on the expense of re-autopsying the unknown woman, subsequent events might have turned out differently; but the office budget was, as always, tight (though this year there were no lay-offs); and, despite the sensation of her murder, Dr. Lambert had been respected in her career.  The C.o.D. was taken at face value; and, in due course, the body was buried in a pauper’s grave, unembalmed, in a particle-board casket.  (This funeral, such as it was, did not make the evening news.)

After that, life went on.  Not only on the macro level, where Grace took in Natalie’s cat, Tracy’s mother stopped going to AA meetings, and two new detectives transferred into Homicide.  On the subcellular level, too, life went on.

The genetic material in Divia’s saliva had infected Urs’s body.  However, the shock of the girl’s vicious, violent memories had thrown her victim into a protective coma.  All had slowed to a standstill in the deep chill of storage; but, once Urs’s body had been transferred to the mortician in the safety of a body bag, placed in the dark comfort of a coffin, and then buried under a shield of earth, natural (or at least, vampiric) healing proceeded—admittedly slowly, at first; but then, after the eradication of the alien RNA, with its usual swiftness.

 

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Urs awoke.  The faint rustle of her movements, echoing off the coffin, told her that she was in a small enclosed space.  At first, she lay there, wondering what had happened.  The sudden attack on Javier and then on herself seemed a nightmare.  After a while, though, the lack of ambient sound struck her.  She pushed up, only to find that the covering over her failed to move.  With greater force, she split it.  At once, unsettled soil tumbled through the gap.  Shocked, she realized that she had been buried—and moreover, buried in a coffin.

She set the implications aside and began to dig, shoving her first excavations into the lower part of the coffin, and then using her strength to push the soil behind her while pressing firmly to each side to create a secure gap through which she could crawl.  Near the surface, the ground was warm; and her thrusting arm broke up into sunlight.  Reflexively, she pulled back, shoved a handful of earth above her, and waited.  When it was cool, she cautiously enlarged the hole, looked out, and—seeing no one—emerged into the muddy glow of an urban night.

It was not the first time in her century of unlife that she had taken refuge under the soil.  There was, so to speak, a routine.  Briskly, she shook herself, dislodging much of the dirt that had grimed through the charity clothes in which she had been buried.  Then she ran her hands briskly through her hair, scratching the grit out of her scalp, and setting the curls somewhat aright.  With no possible reflection, she could not be sure exactly how she appeared.  However, she was as respectable as she could manage in the circumstances.

It was obvious where to go: the abandoned church where Javier was living.  Urs had questions; and she was sure he would have the answers.  It was mildly irritating when she made her way down to the basement and found it empty.  Still, his absence did not surprise her:  he had never been a homebody.  He might be at the Raven; he might be anywhere.  The night was still young.

She found the box of matches in its usual place, struck one, and lit the candles in one of the sconces.  Then she took a bottle from the case in the corner, had a good long drink, and settled down on the old yellow couch to wait.

Dawn came, and she slid into sleep, curled round till her head lay on the cushion at the back.  The candles burned low, wax brimming by each wick until it overflowed and ran down the side.  They shrank to pools of molten wax with tiny flames flickering in the centre.  Finally they guttered out, one by one, with faint rising threads of smoke.

Urs woke before sunset; and Javier still had not returned.  He might have been caught by the rising sun, she thought, and spent the night somewhere else, with someone else.

However, she had no intention of waiting in boredom forever.  She left the church, prowled for prey, and cornered a business girl coming down the back stairs of a rooming house.  It was easy to hypnotize her to turn back inside, and persuade her to supply a place to wash, clean clothes, make-up, a spare shoulder bag, and a modicum of cash.  Feeling more herself, Urs let the woman go on her way, late by less than an hour, and flew to the Raven.

At the bar, Brianna presided.  She looked surprised when Urs walked up, and even more so when she asked after Lacroix.

“He’s selling the club,” said Brianna.  “Didn’t you hear?  Where’ve you been, anyway?  It’s been almost two months since you last came to work—and, by the way, I’ve hired someone else; but, if you want a job, I’ll see if Mr. Twist will approve the expense.  You were always popular.”

“Probably,” said Urs, wondering how she could have missed two months.  Surely she could not have been underground all that time?  “I was really looking for Javier, anyway.”

“Haven’t seen him,” said Brianna briskly.  “In fact, he hasn’t been in since … well, more or less the same time you disappeared, in fact.  I was wondering if the two of you had moved on.  I mentioned something to Lacroix at the time; but he just—”  She broke off, looking closely at Urs.  “Now, Lacroix’s moved on, all right.  Packed up, things stored:  the sale is in the hands of Mr. Twist, as I said; but he’s put me in charge for the time being.”

“When was this?” asked Urs.

“Oh, about … six weeks ago?”

“And you haven’t seen Javier?”

“No. As I said, I thought you’d both moved on.”

Deeply puzzled, Urs ordered a glass of the house red, drank it down, and left.  There were other vampires in the club to whom she might have spoken, both patrons and fellow employees; but she doubted if they’d have more to tell her.

Uncertain what to do next, she passed the line of mortals waiting to be allowed into the Raven.  Here in the Entertainment District, there were too many people around for her simply to fly.  She walked up to the corner, where she paused—long enough for a streetcar to halt, in case she were waiting at the stop—before turning onto the main street.  She needed a convenient, badly lit alley between two closed shops; and she knew there was one a couple of blocks away.  Before she reached the next corner, though, she passed a newspaper box.  It took a moment to register, and a few more steps before it occurred to her that this might be a useful source of information.  She retraced her steps, and fed a pair of quarters into the slot.

The date at the top confirmed what Brianna had said.

Urs bit her lip.

Among the community there was one in particular to whom she felt inclined to go in Javier’s absence, especially if Lacroix had moved on.  She did not know Detective Knight, not really, except by sight.   However, she had heard at the Raven that he was of Lacroix’s blood, and—so rumour had it—the person to whom most of the Nightcrawler broadcasts were really aimed. From Javier, she knew him to be working as a police officer, indeed a Homicide detective (which seemed a rather useful occupation for a vampire), and the partner of Javier’s new human pet, Detective Tracy Vetter.  When Screed had been ill, it was to Nick that Javier had turned; and he had brought a mortal doctor friend of his to try to help, even if it hadn’t worked.  When Javier had been attacked, it had therefore been from Nick that Urs had sought help in the hope that he or Dr. Lambert could sew him up, dose him with some medication, and bring him back to normal.

It had been in the elevator on the way up to the loft where Nick lived that Urs had herself been attacked.  Those memories, which were her own, had not faded.

Urs landed on the roof by the skylight.  She could not sense a vampire nearby, nor hear a human heartbeat.  However, this did not surprise her:  she knew that Nick had to work the night shift; and it seemed quite likely that his doctor friend did the same. 

Tracy worked at a precinct downtown.  With some thought, Urs remembered Javier mentioning the 96th Precinct. Where this might be she had no idea; nor did she fancy the idea of flying around all night trying to find it.  However, through the skylight she could see quite clearly down into the living room area of the loft, where, behind a black couch, was a table with a telephone on top.  Where there is a phone, there is usually a phone book.

Unlatching the skylight, Urs flew down, dropped the newspaper on the table, and flipped through to the blue pages, looking for the listings for police stations.  She was so focused on finding the address of the 96th, that it took some time for her to realize that the room was tainted by a curiously chemical smell—one that, once she was aware of it, was so unpleasant that she could not believe Nick, or any vampire, would willingly live in a place pervaded by it.  It was not the smell of cleansers; or, at least, not of any cleanser that Urs recognized.

There was, furthermore, a closed quality to the air that suggested that no one had been home for a while.  Urs went upstairs, through the open door into the bedroom.  There, she discovered evidence that the room had been searched.  She returned downstairs with a keener eye: there were spaces where things seemed to have been removed.  Also, she detected a faint, almost imperceptible haze of powder over much of the furniture.  She walked around, looking carefully, though she did not touch anything (besides the phone book, which she now regretted).  There was, in particular, a small spot on the carpet that drew her.  It smelled faintly of blood.  Rather old blood.

Something was wrong; but she didn’t know what.

Urs picked up her newspaper, and flew back out through the skylight.  The neighbourhood being quiet, she circumnavigated the building, flying rather lower than she would usually.  An oddity near ground level caught her eye; and she landed in the courtyard to make it out.  Long strands of yellow, taped across all the doors.

Well, this was hardly an unknown crisis for a vampire.  Almost commonplace, in fact.  There was only one thing to do when the authorities got curious:  move on, as fast as possible.  The fact that Nick’s possessions seemed mostly to be in situ suggested that he had done just that.

One thing was obvious, though:  he was in no position to help her.

Still, there was one more person Urs thought she might try. It meant going outside the vampire community; but Javier had been indiscreet, and Tracy knew his true nature.  True, Urs had not, herself, had much contact; but Javier had not kept the relationship a secret—at least, not from her.  At Tracy's apartment she expected to find no one home, for Nick’s (presumably now former) partner would still be on night shift.  Precisely when this ended, Urs wasn’t sure; but it was irrelevant: she would wait.  If it meant staying past sunrise, it wouldn’t matter.  Tracy might be a resistor; but she was only mortal.

When she boldly flicked on a light in the living room, though, Urs found that the shelves on the far wall by the fireplace had been stripped of their contents, sealed boxes were piled by the living room window, and open boxes lay on the couch and coffee table.  Looking into the bedroom, she realized that the closet and drawers were open and clothes had been laid out in piles on the bed.  Glancing towards the kitchen, she saw that there were pale rectangles where pictures had been removed from the walls, and the counters were bare.

Was everyone in Toronto moving on?

It occurred to Urs to wonder whether Javier might have brought Tracy over—to replace her, even, if he were the one who had buried her.  Presumably her attacker had been the same mysterious, violent girl who had scored Vachon’s face and bitten his neck.  Could he have thought Urs killed?  If so … if it had decided him to bring Tracy over, then that made at least some sense of the situation.

However, in that case, they could not have moved on yet, for Tracy had not finished packing.

Urs lifted the boxes off the couch and sat down, dropping the new shoulder bag on the floor, kicking off her shoes, and curling up.  She unfolded the newspaper and, for the first time, looked at more than the date and headline.  Sitting back, she began to scan through it, partly to pass the time until Javier and Tracy returned, partly to find out if there might be anything more to learn about her lost two months.

Most of the stories she read only in part, skipping the lower inches when it became clear the subject would be unhelpful.  On one of the back pages, however, she read about the ongoing manhunt for the renegade Homicide detective, Nicholas B. Knight, suspect in the murder of the police pathologist, Dr. Natalie Lambert.  She put two and two together, most particularly taking into account the drop of blood that she had smelled on the carpet.  Barring the assumption that Nick was now living abroad under a new alias, her conclusions were not far wrong.

Urs skipped the Sports and Entertainment sections.  On the front page of the section for local news, though, she found an article about Police Commissioner Richard Vetter.  The similarity of name led her to read past the substance of the article (that he had decided to run for Parliament in a by-election and would, if he won, be resigning his post and moving to Ottawa), which would ordinarily have been of no interest.  Javier had spoken, more than once, that Tracy came from a police family:  this might be a relative.

It was the second column of the article that made her chill blood freeze.  From there on, she read each word of each paragraph with close attention, trying to glean as much as she could from a story that, to the reporter, was old news.  The “recent death” of the Commissioner's only daughter, Tracy, was one thing.  But the story then dwelled in detail on the circumstances, before drawing conclusions about her father’s motivation for moving on.

Urs looked at the small photo of Tracy that filled the bottom of the final column.  It showed her in uniform when she had graduated from the Police Academy.   A few years younger, but the likeness was obvious.  She had apparently been shot by an escaping criminal:  there were witnesses, and in numbers too large for this to be any cover story devised by Javier, who had his limits, especially when it came to patience.  Furthermore, Tracy had died in hospital, which meant more witnesses.  And no doubt there had been an autopsy and a grand ceremonial funeral.

Urs put down the paper and looked round the room.  Yes, it made sense.  Tracy would have paid the previous month’s rent; and the landlord would hardly return the last month’s deposit.  Tracy’s family were now in the process of getting around to clearing the place:  packing up her kitchen, her knick-knacks and stuffed animals and books, her computer and disks.  Her clothes—she got up and went in the bedroom—were being sorted, Urs supposed:  what to keep, what to sell, and what to give away.

She and Tracy were much of a size.  In the living room, Urs found an empty box and filled it with such of the dead woman’s garments as took her fancy.  There was no underwear, which must have been thrown out already.  There were shoes; but they didn’t fit.  The box was topped with a coat, unseasonal but useful.  Then Urs left by the window and took all back to the church.  There she moved one of the other sconces near the couch, lit its candles (more for comfort than light), fetched out another bottle, and drank it as she reread the paper.  When she finished, she blew out the candles, and settled for the day.

She felt the sun rise outside; yet sleep did not come.  So … Javier had moved on.  (Brianna was right.)  Not the Inca, not this time.  Javier had told her of his death; and Urs had hoped that it might mean a longer stay: stability, security, friends outside the crew.  But no:  Javier had moved on.

Of course, he had moved on!  Tracy’s fate was not inconsistent with her job; but it would nevertheless have grieved him.  And Urs, who had herself experienced his urge to rescue damsels, knew that he would, moreover, have felt guilt over her death, sure that he should somehow have been on hand to save her, if not when she was shot, then while she lay in hospital.

Well, when it came right down to it, Javier always moved on.  What was more, he would not take pains to store his property.  Unlike Lacroix, he travelled light.  There would be no elaborately constructed identity into which he could step:  house and job and background, all supplied for a price.  Javier would stuff his pockets, sling a knapsack, and take off whenever, wherever, he fancied.  There was no way she could trace him.  That she knew, with a certainty born of decades of evading the Inca.  

Other vampires might talk of a deep bond with their masters.  (She sought for a moment in her heart and blood, and had no idea what she ought to feel.)  Javier had always treated her just the same as the others, in every way.  All gone, now:  the crew broken up, gone their own ways.  Except for Urs, who had been dismayed at the thought.  And Screed, who was dead.  She had no idea where they were now, nor whether she would be welcome.

The vampire world is smaller than that of humans; but it spreads just as wide.  It may take a long time, she thought.  But, some day, our paths shall cross and I will tell him I am alive.

She slept eventually, dreamt of death, and woke to hope.  That night, after acquiring more funds, she went shopping at the Eaton Centre, where she bought some smart new shoes and a pair of flashy boots, visited a lingerie boutique, and—as an afterthought—purchased a knapsack into which to pack her new possessions.

There were two bottles left of Javier’s stash.  Urs wrapped them securely in clothes and packed them in as well:  they would hold her until she arrived at whatever city proved her destination.  She was on her own; but she had been there before, a century and more ago, without the strength that Javier had given her.  She would grieve, but she would live.  She would manage.  (She slung on the knapsack and squared her shoulders.)  She would thrive.  She had dug herself from the grave, and the world lay before her.

There remained one duty for her to fulfil before she could leave.  It was not one that tugged at her conscience particularly; but she knew that it was something that Javier would want her to do.   She flew to the lakeshore … to pay her respects.  It perplexed her what to take.  It was obviously unsuitable to take flowers to the grave of a carouche.  In the end, she went empty-handed.

Javier had described, in some detail, the suitability of the location he had chosen:  isolated from houses, away from public beaches, at a sufficient distance from any road or path, yet near the water so that his old friend would feel at home.  (Javier had always had a touch of sentimentality:  it allied with the quixotry.)  Urs found the locality, cast around for the scent of disturbed earth, and spotted the mound.

Mounds.  One seemed slightly older, a little more settled, with a few weeds and shoots of grass beginning to blur the bareness.  A couple of yards away, parallel, and clearly paired with the first grave, there was a second: fresher, barer, browner—and unexpected.  Urs felt a frisson of apprehension at the sight.  She walked up and bent over, digging in her fingers to take up a handful of the soil.  She raised it to her nose.  It smelt faintly of corruption.

She looked at the first grave, Screed’s grave.  With a sudden horrid decision, she took off, flew inland to a more residential area, surveyed it from a suitable height, and alighted by the garage of a house with a well-kept garden.  Into this she broke, and emerged with a spade.  She returned to the beach, and shucked the rucksack onto the ground.

For a long moment she looked down at the newer mound, biting her lip.  Then she set spade to soil.

It was not far down.  Perhaps three feet.  Whoever had dug the grave—and, with a leap of intuition, Urs knew it had to have been Tracy—had gone down far enough to cover the body decently, but not the traditional six feet.  Not enough time, perhaps; not enough strength; or simply not enough heart.

The scent grew stronger as she dug; and she knew when to stop, set aside the spade, and use her hands.  She uncovered the face, gently, and cleared the soil back sufficiently to be able to lift the corpse up to the starlight.

He had been buried at night, and remained well enough covered for protection from the sun.  His flesh was that of a vampire and, though not incorruptible, remained in better condition than that of a mortal.  He was quite recognizable, despite the slashes on his face and the deep bloody bite on his neck.  He was … as Urs had seen him last, torn by clawed nails and sharp fangs.  Save that then he had been in torment, and now he was still and cold.

Urs did not wonder at the cause of death.  Tracy had not removed the stake.

“So, you took that way to end the pain,” Urs said to his corpse.  “Why didn’t you wait?”

He was silent; and she supplied the answer.  Because I didn’t come back, she thought.  Because I was attacked by that girl before I ever spoke to Nick; so he didn’t come, either, nor his doctor friend.

For a moment, she wondered who it had been, then, who had buried her, if it had not been Javier (which it clearly had not been).  Then she thought:  it must have been Nick.  I was attacked in the elevator on my way to the loft:  he probably heard the fight, and found me, and thought me dead.

Javier was dead; but she had survived.  She had survived; but, then, of course, she had only been scored and poisoned.  A stake is a stake; and Javier had struck true to the heart.

Gently, she laid him back in the ground, covered him with broad sweeps of her arms, and then, taking up the spade, tackled the shifted mound of earth.  Finally, lips pressed, she tamped the soil down firmly.  It’s as well I didn’t bring flowers, she thought.  The colour might have caught the eye and drawn attention.  Let the two of them remain, unknown, till the grass has grown and hidden them.  I will remember.

Before she took flight from Toronto, she even thought to return the spade.