The Trouble with Henry
Janette stood in the Raven's wine cellar, deeply committed to the task of choosing a vintage that fit her mood. Nicolas had dropped by earlier this evening, asking for information about a suspect he believed was a regular in the club scene. She had been able to provide a hint and Nicolas had left with the promise to repay her. His departing kiss had left her in a state between happy anticipation and self-imposed caution not to get her hopes raised too high.
Her contemplation was disturbed when Alma rushed into the cellar, a touch of panic in her eyes. "Janette! There's a body in the backroom!"
Janette replaced the bottle she had been studying and turned to take in Alma's slightly disheveled form. "Alma, I told you to resort to bottled during business hours! Now make sure nobody sees you when you dispose of it."
"But I didn't do anything!" Alma shot back. "He just died."
Janette regarded her, startled. "You didn't bite him?"
"I didn't even kiss him. We were just dancing – close – when he sagged in my arms and dropped dead."
"Did you crush him?"
"No," Alma whined. "I know how fragile mortals are."
"Show me." Janette followed Alma upstairs through the club and into a backroom. On the floor lay the crumpled body of a slightly obese man in his late forties. Janette shot a questioning look at Alma who merely shrugged.
"Henry was such a wonderful dancer," she sighed.
"Henry?" Janette bent down to examine his neck.
"Told you, I didn't bite," Alma stated, clearly miffed. "So what do we do? Call the police?"
"Are you crazy? We cannot have the police come in here."
"What about Nick? He could handle it with the proper discretion."
Janette shook her head. "I promised Nicolas that his precious mortals are safe in my club. This would look like a breach in trust to him."
"So I just dispose of the body as usual?" Alma hesitated. There was a reason why she hadn't done so already. "It might rouse suspicion though because he was with friends before I snagged him away. They might remember me."
Janette glared at her.
"It wasn't my intention to kill him. So I didn't take care if anyone saw me leading him to the backroom," Alma defended herself.
Janette thought for a moment. It might be helpful to find out the cause of death before deciding what to do with the body. Just to make sure Alma wasn't involved.
* * * *
Carrying a shopping bag in one hand and balancing her medical bag in the other, Natalie opened the door to her apartment. Both items slid from her arms as she noticed a visitor. "Janette?" she recognized the hooded figure clad in black leather who met her in the hall. "It's after sunrise. What are you doing here?"
"Finally," the vampire greeted her. "Do you always work this late?"
"I went shopping after work. Does Nick know you're here?"
"Certainly not! The entire purpose of my visit is to keep him out of this," Janette hissed before taking a deep breath to calm down. "I need a favour. There has been a death in the Raven."
"Janette, if you ask me to cover up a vampire kill, you better get Nick involved."
Janette's smile sent a chill down Natalie's back. "You see, had it been an obvious vampire kill, we would not be having this conversation. The problem is I do not know why he died. And I need to be sure it was something not related to my club before I involve Nicolas."
"Uh-huh. I usually don't make unofficial house calls, but I guess I could make an exception." Natalie picked up her medical bag. "Do you want to ride in the trunk?"
"That won't be necessary. I brought the body here." Janette indicated the living-room.
"You did what?!" Natalie stormed past Janette into her living-room to find the body of a middle-aged man stretched out on her couch. She jumped as she became aware of Janette standing behind her because she hadn't heard her move.
"I'm aware that I'm asking a lot of you. I didn't want to trouble you further by requiring you to come to the club. I assumed this would be more convenient for you."
"How thoughtful," Natalie remarked sarcastically. "You are aware that you've been tampering with evidence?"
"Following police procedure is Nicolas' pastime. I'm merely interested in keeping my club out of the headlines."
Natalie removed her coat and settled onto the nearest armchair. "I suggest you tell me what happened from the beginning."
Janette paced the length of Natalie's living-room while she related what she had learned from Alma.
"And you're sure that Alma didn't bite him?" Natalie asked for confirmation.
"One can never be sure where Alma is concerned, but I didn't see any marks."
Natalie moved to the couch and checked the neck as well as both wrists herself. "Nothing," she observed. "From what you've told me, I would guess a heart attack. But to be sure, I need to go in."
"Cut him open and examine his organs."
"Oh," Janette looked slightly sick. Pulling herself together, she suggested, "Then go ahead."
Natalie rose from her crouched position next to the couch. "I'm not going to perform an autopsy in my living-room!"
"Should I move him into the bath tub?" Janette suggested.
Natalie glared at her. "I would prefer not to do an autopsy in my home at all."
Janette tilted her head in thought and assessed the other woman's strength. "Do you want to try dragging him to the morgue or wait until I bring him over after sunset?"
Natalie pinched her nose. She was not keen on having Janette and a corpse in her living-room all day in addition to running the risk of being discovered performing an unscheduled autopsy at the morgue. There had to be another solution. She went to fetch her medical bag and retrieved a syringe and a test kit. "If it was a heart attack, there should be elevated troponin levels in his blood," she explained. "Could you help me remove his jacket?"
With Janette's help she removed the man's suit jacket. "I've undressed many men over the centuries, but never a corpse," Janette remarked.
"O yeah? Welcome to my world," Natalie returned and pushed up Henry's sleeve in order to draw blood from the crook of his elbow. She emptied the syringe into the test kit and checked her watch. "If two bars become visible within 10 minutes, the test is positive. That means it is likely that he had a heart attack."
Janette licked her lips. "Blood doesn't lie, does it?"
Natalie used the brief interval to put away her groceries. As she returned to the living room she found Janette bent over the test kit, which showed two red bars. "This confirms my assessment," Natalie stated. "So I guess you're off the hook. The usual procedure would be to perform a toxicology analysis to see if he had any substances in his blood that may have triggered the event, but I don't have the necessary equipment here."
"That won't be necessary. The important thing is that his death is not related to my club."
"May I ask what you intend to do with the body?" Natalie asked. "You aren't going to have it disappear, are you? He probably has friends and a family who will wonder what happened to him. Do you have any idea of the suffering his loved ones have to endure by the uncertainty of not knowing?"
Janette waited patiently until the mortal had finished her tirade. "Rest assured, Natalie. Henry will not simply disappear. His friends have seen him at the Raven. I'll make sure that he turns up on the other side of town."
"So I'll have him on my table sooner or later?"
"Do not worry. Henry will not trouble you again. I must ask you, however, to let me stay here until sunset."
Natalie didn't like the sound of that, but nodded. "You may stay, but I prefer not to spend the rest of the day with a corpse on my couch. I'm going to stay with my brother. When I return after sunset, I want all traces of Henry gone."
"Bien sûr," Janette smiled. "And thank you, Natalie."
* * * *
Natalie took a deep breath before opening her apartment door. She dreaded a glance into her living-room, although she didn't doubt that Janette had departed with the body. Turning on the light, Natalie relaxed as her eyes fell on the empty couch. On the table she found a huge box of chocolate wrapped with an orange bow.
Janette had been true to her word. Natalie never encountered Henry again. In the newspaper she noticed a report of a fatal car accident. The driver had lost control of the car and crashed into a hydro pole. The car had caught fire on impact. The badly burned body of the victim was identified as Henry B. of Toronto. Forensics found remains of a nitroglycerine spray for sublingual administration in case of an angina attack. It was assumed that an acute myocardial infarction caused the driver to lose control over the vehicle before he could use the spray.
Natalie shivered inwardly at the efficiency with which the accident had been constructed. No suspicions were roused, no questions asked. Involuntarily she realized that Nick was capable of covering up murders as efficiently, if necessary, and had probably done so in the past.
In this case at least she could be certain that no foul play was involved. Henry had died of a heart attack and instead of letting the body disappear as she suspected with extreme unease was the usual course of action, this mode of disposal provided closure for his friends and family. For that she was grateful.