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A Worthwhile Diversion

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“Excuse me, are you saving this seat for anyone?” The tired looking young lady gazed expectantly at Lucien LaCroix as he decided how to answer her. He glanced quickly around, trying to find another open seat to send her to before realizing the seat next to his own was the only unoccupied one within eyesight. 

“Not at all,” he found himself saying dryly as he moved his briefcase and related items out of the seat the woman had indicated. ‘When in doubt, be polite,’ he thoughtFrom his 2,000 year old mortal memories, he could hear the old slave, his tutor, saying the words. ‘It hurts no one and gives you the moral high ground should problems arise.’ He was sure the last part was the slave’s own addition, pragmatic guidance to his younger self. Not that he expected trouble from this pretty little thing; she looked ready to drop.

In the small, out-of-the-way stairwell turned temporary waiting area, there was room for only a dozen or so seats, and all were filled with dozing stranded passengers, surrounded by their luggage. Several travelers had barricaded themselves behind their bags and constructed makeshift sleeping accommodations on the floor, as well. 

The current crisis in London affecting European travel had stranded him and hundreds of flights around the world, and the few hotels in the region were full. He had not been able to get a room, even with his formidable wealth and powers of persuasion. Under the circumstances, for a vampire like LaCroix, the stairwell was the safest place to be. It was a small, quiet oasis in the now overburdened remote airport. The sun could not find him in the enclosed space, he had supplies to get him through a day or two, and if the need arose, he knew how to hunt discreetly, taking a little nourishment from many. He was old and powerful enough to go several days and nights without sleep, if necessary, to guard himself, and it might well become necessary now. In the hierarchy of needs, he had shelter and food. He lacked only something to occupy his mind while he waited.

“Thank you,” the tired voice intoned as the young lady sat wearily. “I think this was the last available seat in the whole airport, and I have a long wait ahead of me. I was hoping not to have to camp out on the floor.”

A part of LaCroix was intrigued. She had spoken to him in English without hesitation, even though he was a stranger to her and they were currently seated in an airport in Iceland. Her accent was probably Canadian, but possibly American. She was petite, dressed in jeans and layers of shirts, starting with a spaghetti-strap tank top over a sports bra, covered with a scoop-neck pullover, finished with a lightweight zippered jacket. Looking surreptitiously at her features, he found striking brown eyes and medium length brown hair cropped in a stylish bob. She appeared confident, if tired, and was not shy about starting a conversation with a total stranger. Either she was very bold or very foolish. He decided to discern which was true. After all, he had several hours, if not more, to wait before his next flight might depart. They both might well be stuck here for days. She promised to be an interesting diversion to help occupy his unexpected “down time.”

“Where are you headed?” he asked as she settled her travel bags around her. 

After all, I must appear approachable, at least initially.

“A little town in the Netherlands, eventually,” she replied in a matter-of-fact voice. “I’m actually trying to get to Munich today, to meet up with my mom’s cousin. I was flying to London, with a connecting flight to Munich, but now I’m not sure how I’ll get where I’m going. All connecting flights direct to Munich from here are already booked. I guess everyone is trying to get out of here.” She sighed and then seemed to remember her manners, asking him in turn, “Where were you headed?”

“London, actually,” he replied with a small smile. “I have a home there.”

There, that ought to catch her interest.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she responded quickly. “It’s even more difficult to get to London than to Munich today, according to the airlines.” Shifting in her seat in order to face him, she continued earnestly. “Have you heard anything about what’s happening in London? I keep hearing different things, and no one seems to really know what’s going on. Was it a terrorist plot? I heard that some people planned to put bombs in several different aircraft, or maybe take over the planes like they did in the States on 9/11. All the airports in the UK are shut down.” 

LaCroix was surprised at the sudden strong scent of fear from his new companion. The surge of adrenaline that accompanied the fear exhilarated him, and he looked around quickly, trying to determine whether another source of danger threatened close by. When nothing stood out, he realized the young woman was still speaking, relaying a long list of rumors and conjectures she had heard in the terminal. She was overtired and was becoming agitated. This would not do. He needed her quiet and compliant for what he had in mind.

He turned his attention fully to the young woman as she continued to speak, focusing on her heartbeat and attracting her eyes to focus on his own. He began to speak, adding hypnotic power to soothing words, reassuring her that everything was all right, and that she was safe (at least for the moment).

She had begun to calm, and LaCroix hoped she might even drift off to sleep. Once she became accustomed to his “suggestions,” she would provide him with much needed distraction and entertainment. His plan unraveled when he mentioned her continuing flight to Munich. Her heart began to race, and beads of sweat appeared on her forehead and upper lip. “What’s wrong?” he asked curtly. “I thought you were looking forward to meeting up with family in Munich.”

“I was, I mean, I am,” she stammered, “but I’m not sure I can fly right now.” 

The look of distress on her face as she admitted this concerned him. 

Why isn’t she responding to me? She’s not a resistor. She is terrified, but not of me. Strange. This may be a riddle I can sink my teeth into. 

He asked the young lady, “Why not?”

She turned away from him then, busying herself unnecessarily with rearranging her luggage. 

She has a secret, and she’s not sure she wants to trust me with it. How perceptive of her. I am not one to be trusted, just because I let her have my spare seat. Score a point against foolishness. Still, something about continuing her trip has her in a near state of panic. Oh, she’s an enigma. I wonder how much of a challenge it will be to discover it.

In a piercingly quiet voice sure not to be overheard by any neighboring travelers, he asked her, “Are you afraid of flying? Many people are, you know.” He had even known a vampire or two who avoided their gift of flight, saying they were much more comfortable keeping their feet firmly on the ground. Fortunately, none of his children was plagued with that particular fear. 

“No, I’m not afraid to fly,” she insisted. “I’m just afraid to fly when some mad bomber or terrorist might be on my flight.”

“Indeed.” He felt himself slip into his radio persona. As the Nightcrawler, he had cultivated the ability to both shock and soothe the egos of his listeners, at a whim. It was time to shock.  “I think I understand. The situation in London has triggered this reluctance, then, is that it? Do you think, for some reason, that the terrorists are after you personally?”

“No. Look, leave it alone. You wouldn’t understand.” She pulled off the zippered jacket and shoved it angrily into her carry-on as an apparent excuse not to look at him as she spoke.

He persisted, his voice oozing condescension and sarcasm. “My dear, I have lived a long time, and I have been traveling all of my life. If there is a hazard of travel, I have experienced it.” Continuing in his most persuasive voice, he added some humor to seem self-deprecating and worthy of confidence. “I have been shipwrecked, been in automobile accidents, train wrecks, and have even been thrown out of a chariot!” He half-smiled as he continued, “I’ve been thrown from more horses than I care to recall, will have nothing to do with bicycles or roller skates, and only rode a motorcycle once, which is the only reason I have not yet fallen off one.”

She turned quickly to face him now, truly angry. “Have you ever been blown out of the sky? No? I didn’t think so.” Her eyes flashed warnings at him.  “Just leave it alone.”

Now it was time to soothe, to seduce the secret from her. He appeared contemplative. “Well, not recently. There was that one time with the volcano, but that was a very long time ago.” She glared at him. This approach wasn’t working. It was time to try something different. “I apologize. We are likely to be stuck together for quite a while, hours at least, days more likely. I am worried and tired, and I have no idea how I am going to get to my home. You are obviously in some distress about the rest of your trip as well. My attempts at humor haven’t helped. It was not my intent to mock you.” 

Oh, yes it was! Can you see through me? Or will you feel guilty for overreacting and confide in me? 

“That’s fine. I understand. I’m really tired, too. I appreciate you trying to help.” She seemed to almost physically deflate. “It’s just that this is really hard for me, and it’s kind of hit me from out of the blue.” She laughed a little sadly, then. “Pun unintended, I assure you.”

He nodded encouragingly and looked at her steadily and expectantly. 

“I just don’t think I can travel until I know that the situation in London is under control.”

He continued to gaze at her. 

She’s on the brink. I need only wait.

“It’s a stupid thing, really, like an irrational fear, but you have to realize that ten years ago my dad died when a bomber blew up the plane he was on. I don’t think my mom could take it if the same thing happened to me.”

Is that all? This is the big secret? How disappointing.

“I can see where that might be a problem.”

“You’re laughing at me.”

“Not at all.” 

But I am. 

“Your situation is somewhat unusual. One does not often meet relatives of a victim of an airline bombing, especially while seated in an airport.” He needed to keep her confidence. He needed to keep her calm. Besides, he was mildly curious to learn of which incident her father might have been a victim. With a nod of encouragement, he continued, “Tell me about your father.”

“Well, my dad was a police detective in Toronto. That’s where I’m from.”

No. It can’t be. 

“He was helping transport a prisoner and the plane he was on was sabotaged and bombed.”

LaCroix kept his face impassive as she continued to speak.

“Everybody on board died except this one little baby.”

And one Spanish vampire....

“The bomber had a thing against the police, and he bombed a bunch of precincts, including the one where my dad had worked, and a bunch of people, not just police, you know, were killed or hurt in the explosions. Do you remember hearing about it? It was pretty big news at the time. Of course, it wasn’t as big as 9/11, but for Canada it was a pretty big deal.” She looked at him expectantly.

He hesitated before responding. He was beginning to think that this course of conversation might not be such a good idea. Could she possibly be who he thought she might, and if so, did he really want to pursue it when painful memory might well be the end result? The face of the old tutor appeared from memory again (twice in a matter of minutes, when I haven’t thought about him in decades - no, a century or more), chiding this time,’Cowardice is unbecoming. You are a Roman citizen, boy! Act like one!’ In that moment, he decided to proceed, to follow the lead no matter how painful the result. He plunged ahead, “Yes, I do remember it. I was living in Toronto at the time. I had an old friend who .... Tell me, who was your father?”

“No way! You were living in Toronto then? So, you must remember all about it!” she enthused. 

She had dropped her defenses. If he wanted her, she was his. But now everything had changed. LaCroix risked becoming lost in his memories of the incident. 

Nicholas had been so distraught.... 

With effort, he pulled his attention back to the present. “Oh, yes. As I recall, it made quite an impact on the community.” 

After all, vampires are not immune to such events.

“Yeah, well, it made a slightly stronger impact on me and my mom.” Her sarcastic tone told him he needed a more conciliatory tone.

“Of course. My apologies if I seemed insensitive.” It was time again to soothe, to use the velvet voice of the Nightcrawler to make her want to talk, to tell him anything and everything he needed to know. “The loss for you would have been much more significant, of course. You are affected by it, even today, ten years later. It was one loss among many, in a large metropolitan area, yet for you it is the only loss that mattered. You treasure your memories of him, I am sure.”

 Just as I treasure my own, of my lost children.

“I particularly remember the media coverage of the events. I hosted a late-night radio program at the time. It was called Night Watch. I was the Nightcrawler.”

She interrupted him with a dry “Nightcrawler? Like the worm?”

“Not really.  It was more of an appellation for creatures of the night. It seemed appropriate to the show.”

“So, Mr. Nightcrawler, you were saying about the media coverage,” she prompted.

“Please, Nightcrawler was my on-air personality. My name is Lucien LaCroix.”

“Well, M. LaCroix, I’ve only ever been Jenny, but last year I started going by my full name, Jennifer Schanke.” 

They were the words he had both wanted and feared to hear. As they shook hands, LaCroix said, perfunctorily, “I am pleased to meet you.” After pausing for just a moment, he continued, “Was your father Don Schanke, by any chance?” If he were still mortal, he would have held his breath, but he had been immortal for so long he had forgotten such conventional responses to anticipation. He merely watched her closely as she responded with growing excitement.

“Yes, why? Did you know him?”

“Briefly,” It occurred to him that a bit of explanation was in order. After all, some of the people who got to know a homicide detective were not the type of person that such a detective would want his daughter to know. LaCroix hurried to set any potential fears to rest, “but not in his professional capacity, I assure you. He was the partner of an old friend of mine.”

“Which one? Nick Knight?”

His heart, due for its intermittent beat, skipped it. “Yes. Did you know him?”

“Not really. I only saw him a few times before he disappeared. Do you know what happened to him?”

Oh, yes, intimately.

“No. I had just moved away from Toronto when I heard the news.” It was not entirely a lie. He had managed to relocate before Nick’s disappearance made the headlines.

“Yeah, that was so weird, wasn’t it? Mom said he must have just walked away from everything, that the grief from losing so many people he was close to in such a short time was just too much for him.”

Too much for him, too much for her, too much for me....

“She always liked him. Such a shame. It must’ve been really hard for you, if he was your friend. I’m so sorry.”

This child, whose own loss had been catastrophic, was reaching out to comfort him in his loss? “Thank you. Do you remember Nick at all?”

“Not much, really, just that he had the most beautiful smile, and really blue eyes, that you could just fall into, you know?”

Yes, I remember. So expressive that he could hide nothing from me. The windows to his soul, as though he still possessed one. 

Looking back on it now, it seemed he didn’t get a chance to use it much, and that made it shine really bright when he did.” 

I remember it shining with joy and pride, when all was well between us, when we were a family. That smile could light a room and charm birds from the trees. My golden child.... 

"There were so many police killed by the bombs after my dad’s plane went down, that we didn’t get as much attention as we might have otherwise. There were too many families that were hurting, and my dad was one of the few who had set us up financially, so we didn’t need as much help as some of the others did.”

No, that was my Nicholas who did that for you. Survivor’s guilt transmuted into financial security for his mortal partner’s family. How I scolded and mocked him for that!  

“Nick checked in with us, though, and mom always appreciated that, even though she has a lot of family in the area. But when he disappeared, it seemed like it was just mom and me, you know?”

Yes, I know. I’ve lost more than you. I’ve lost everyone who mattered to me. My beautiful children .... With Nicholas ... gone ... I am alone. I have only my memories now, and I will add these few to my own and keep them close.

“Thank you, child, for sharing that with me.” With the ease of a long lifetime of practice, he kept an enigmatic expression on his face. He would not share his grief with this little one, regardless of her connection to his son.

“Hey, no problem. I wish I could tell you more, but I was just a kid, and I don’t remember much about him. I really don’t remember much more about my dad, either, just how things felt when he was around, and some of the stupid things he used to do or say. Mom tells stories about him, and that helps, but as I’m getting older, I wish I could have more adult perspectives on him.”

This was interesting. “Like what, for example?”

“I don’t know, exactly. Things like his opinions about life. Like, why did he become a policeman? Was he happy being a homicide detective? Was he good at it, really? People you ask always tell you ‘he was great’ and you don’t get to hear why they think that, so there’s always a doubt, you know? I know he and mom had problems sometimes, and I remember he even left us and stayed with Nick for a while, but then he came home, so I wonder, what did he think about marriage, and about family. Were we as important to him as the job obviously was? I know that sounds awful, but I can’t ask mom about those things, and I still want to know.” She sat back, lost in her own thoughts.

LaCroix considered carefully, sifting through his vast memory before deciding to provide a bit of quid pro quo. He owed her some of his memories in exchange for hers. “If it helps, I can tell you that your father was a truly gifted detective. He had the perseverance to follow clues and keep digging until he found answers, even when the answers did not make sense to him. He could ‘see through a brick wall’ in time, and had remarkable instincts. I also know he was a devoted father.”

Jennifer looked at him with a skeptical expression, and he rushed to reassure her. “Yes, indeed. I recall there was a time when he was completing a questionnaire for your school class about fatherhood. It was quite good. In fact, I memorized it." He paused for effect. "He wrote that ‘a father provides love, discipline, guidance, protection, and support.’ My own son disagreed.”

He thought freedom should be included. I disagreed. Oh, Nicholas, where would your freedom have left you? Where did it take you when I finally gave you your deepest desire?

“He said that a father should be willing to sacrifice everything for the benefit of his child.”

In the end, didn’t I do exactly that? And did it benefit you, mon fils?

“We argued about it, naturally. We rarely saw things in the same light in those days. I still believe that your father was in the right about fatherhood, though. Only you can decide whether he lived up to those ideals.”

“I guess you’re right,” Jennifer responded. She yawned, surprising herself. 

Despite himself, LaCroix grinned. He had decided. This one was bold, not foolish, but also very young.  

I remember my promise, my son. I will not harm the child of your mortal friend. If my old tutor was right, a part of you lives in her, so long as she remembers you. How could I allow that to come to harm?

With only the slightest of hypnotic nudges, LaCroix suggested that Jennifer get some sleep, and he watched over her as she rested. He then watched over her things so she could brave the lines at the airline counters to check on various travel options.  When evening came, Jennifer saved LaCroix’s seat and returned the favor. By the next afternoon, Jennifer had found a continuing flight to Munich. LaCroix had made his own plans, as well. His flight would depart late that evening.

As they were saying their goodbyes, LaCroix decided that a parting gift was appropriate, a blessing of sorts. He caught her eye one last time. “I did not know him well, but I think your father would be proud of the young woman you have become.” When she finally departed, dragging her widely varying assortment of bags, he watched her go with a sense of satisfaction. Although the circumstances had been trying, he found he felt refreshed. She had not provided the diversion he intended, but it turned out to be a worthwhile one, nonetheless.