After it was all over, she would be clear that the first sign there was anything untoward occurring in the warehouse was the appearance of a homemade DVD in her postbox one afternoon. It looked innocuous enough; obviously made in a hurry with only felt tip pen used to mark the disk. "Upstairs Room, March" it read. She put it aside, attended to the rest of the mail, and forgot the disk was there at all.
Two days later, there was a second DVD, marked "Living Room, March". Upon its arrival, Janette recalled the other one. Then she settled down in front of her computer to watch.
"Upstairs Room" included footage of Janette getting out of bed in the early evening, sometimes with Nicolas, other times without. More often than not, it was footage of her leaving the bathroom, and heading down the stairs. The short sequences were date marked for 31 days. March indeed.
"Living Room" included footage of the two of them watching movies, organizing items from boxes as they decorated the living space of her warehouse. Occasionally there were casual touches between them, sometimes a slight bit more: a hug or a kiss that crossed the line from friendly into something a tiny bit more. These visuals too, were date marked for the 31 days in March.
It wasn't simply that someone was watching: it was that someone had clearly hooked into her home using the new security system installed when she first purchased the warehouse. The only person she could imagine using the security system in that way was the person who had it installed in the first place.
What on earth was Aristotle up to? Never mind what he was up to; he was a dead man.
She reached for her phone and called Nicolas.
She rolled over and reached for a bathrobe before moving the covers over and standing up. There was a small bit of dusk coming into the room through the blinds, and she negotiated the dimness like a pro.
The first time Nick spent the night in her bed rather than on the couch was notable mostly for how long it took for the two of them to decide that together was where they were headed. Hundreds of years earlier, it had certainly been a habit, but whether that's what it would be eventually, for the present moment, they were incredibly careful. It was a bit like courting, Nick thought. But it wasn't like courting in Florence had been, or Rome or Paris. This time he was getting to know who she was in this century; it appeared to him that she was doing the same.
The first time she let him spend the night in her bed instead of on her couch in the living room was the kind of awkward she had never thought to be possible between the two of them after so many years. But it wasn't uncomfortable or painful; it was merely new. He didn't even, how do they say, "have a drawer" in her room yet. It felt almost like adolescence (had either of them even had one of those? History was entirely unclear on the subject.).
Still, he kept his own apartment, spare though it was; and she had her own space. They were comfortable keeping things as they were. Slowly leading up to knowing each other well enough to be together intimately after such a very long time.
When she went into the bathroom, the camera lost track of her picture, until she returned shortly wrapped in only a towel.
Nick stood silently behind her, watching the screen of the laptop. The more intimate the picture on the screen, the more deliberately silent he got. After a time, he reached over Janette and popped the DVD from the drive.
"It's evidence," he said, for all the world acting as though all he'd have to do is look behind him and Schanke would be there to help him track down … whoever needed tracking down.
"What good is evidence now?" she asked. "Exactly who do you think will assist you in this crusade? It must be Aristotle, who else could it possibly be?"
"You want to kill him," Nicolas stated.
"But of course", she said. "You, however, no doubt have an alternative to simply taking action. Ça va, dites-moi."
So he did.
Sitting at her desk looking through paperwork before heading downstairs to supervise construction. Dressed casually. Nick comes up behind her, hands her a glass, brushes her neck with his lips.
Of course, Nick wanted to take over and do things the "right" way; and of course, Janette wanted to do things a bit more personally and brutally efficient. They agreed to let Nicolas try his way first: at least that way there might still be living bodies to interrogate on the other end.
Still, aside from Aristotle, they had no leads at all. And the only person who could help them get more leads off the security system and the recordings was also Aristotle. While Nick was heading over to Aristotle's offices, he wasn't entirely sure how to bring up the subject at all.
Instead, he took copies of the DVDs with him, as he headed up the stairs. The door was unmarked. But when Nick knocked, the familiar face answered the door.
"Nick? Back here so quickly? I thought once we did your apartment and Janette's warehouse I wouldn't see either of you again for a decade or three. How can I help you?"
Nick shoved his way past the man. Once inside, he tossed the DVDs on top of the laptop computers on Aristotle's desk. "What's this all about?"
Aristotle picked up one of the disks, looked at both sides, and then put it back down. "I don't recognize the disks; they're not the brand I ordinarily stock. What's on them? Can I help you perhaps track down who purchased them?"
Nick turned away from the desk, and stood watching the traffic outside in the early evening from the one window in the office that wasn't covered up. "That wouldn't be the first thing I'd ask of you, no." He turned around and faced the man responsible for holding so many of his friends' secrets. "Whoever made these had access to the security system you installed in the warehouse. Janette wants to kill you, no questions asked. I'll ask first: who has access to your equipment except you?"
Nick watched carefully as a variety of emotions crossed Aristotle's face. He didn't see outrage there, real or feigned. Truth be told, he appeared to be genuinely concerned.
Aristotle was watching Nick just as carefully: "Can I go look through my equipment and files? Maybe if someone has accessed my security from the outside I'll be able to spot it? That might also require my visiting your homes. If I come with you to the warehouse district you will protect me from Janette, yes?"
She moved slowly out of sleep very deliberately, slowly stretching arms and neck before rolling over and sitting up. The dusk was the only illumination in the room, though the darkness didn't appear to inhibit her movements.
"Is he still alive?" were the first words Janette had for Nick as he walked up the stairs to her private rooms.
"Yes, Janette, he is. But now I have a feed in on him as well as his equipment." Nick pulled out a bunch of hardware, carefully labeled so he could put it together without expert assistance. "What do you think we should listen to first?"
She had heard Nicolas say that police work was mostly boring and for the first time in many years she understood exactly what he meant. Most of the footage was completely static. Not only no voices or people, but not even any dust moving across the screen. Suddenly she was even more concerned about the person stalking them: anyone willing to spend so many hours watching what was essentially nothing was probably a bigger threat than she had thought. "Just kill him" indeed. It sounded naïve even to her own ears.
She settled in with Nicolas and the two of them watched footage of each other and themselves for hours upon hours.
Nick stayed with her until morning.
They were both together that day, doing nothing in particular. From time to time they exchanged smiles, touches to the shoulder. Comfortable.
All of their copious collected information was clear: this was someone who had access to Aristotle, was trusted by Aristotle. There was, however, no indication that the culprit was Aristotle himself.
So if it was not Aristotle after all, Janette considered, it was probably just as well that they went with Nicolas's way first and saved her from her own impulsiveness.
When had that changed, she wondered? Matters had shifted almost without notice to the point where she was just as happy to let Nicolas take care of her. And yet it was not like before: she didn't feel as though she was being treated like a china doll. She put the thought aside for further contemplation. She had enough to do.
Today was her day to work further on the ground floor of the warehouse, supervise arrivals and workers, and make sure things were done to her exacting standards. The last thing she wanted to do was worry about who might be out there watching her.
She simply decided not to worry. If someone came right at her, she could take care of herself. After all, there would be workers around all afternoon. She'd hardly be alone.
Still, there was a niggling voice at the back of her mind, wondering why anyone would want to stalk her at all.
She was alone this time, idly reading a book and checking the feed on the basement of the warehouse to make sure everyone was working.
Nick, on the other hand, spent the afternoon deep in the search program Aristotle had given him: he could now break into almost anything. The problem was that he didn't know what he was looking for when he got there. Having spent so much time in human law enforcement, he was at a loss when it came to tracking his own kind.
He continued poking around other networks, tracking ISPs as Aristotle had taught him to do. And that's when he saw it: a tiny footprint that looked entirely familiar because it was on his PI License, his Passport, his Driving License.
There he was, the object of his observation. He was the one responsible for the situation in which he found himself. Time to make a grand entrance.
It was torture. He knew it was. But he couldn't stop himself from watching. She was so lovely, even in jeans and a work shirt. He was certain that if she gave him a chance, he could make her happy. Knight had had so many centuries to figure out how to keep her; it was time for the master of identities to move in and show him how it was done.
And yet, even in her apartment, with the great Nick Knight captured and chained in the kitchen pantry, he couldn't stop watching her.
Evening drew toward midnight; and Janette moved through the warehouse up the stairs toward her apartment.
From the bottom of the pantry closet in the kitchen, Nick was unable to see anything. Damned silver handcuffs and chains anyway. They kept him from being able to move in even the smallest ways, given the size of the pantry. They did not, however, keep him from listening to what was happening in the apartment around him.
"You have no idea how much I hated watching you two! I've been patient and waited for years and years. Now you're getting close to him again? Why on earth are you doing that? He's never made you happy before; what's going to be different now?"
"Poor, sad Larry Merlin. Why on earth would I answer your questions? You have invaded my privacy, stolen my dignity and Nicolas's. And as for Aristotle, if he ever tracks you down I assure you, you will regret ever knowing the man. If you have a sensible bone in your body, tell me, what can I do to get you to leave me alone?"
Janette inched her way further into the kitchen as she spoke. Behind Merlin, Janette could see the pantry cupboard where Nicolas must be hidden.
"Do you know Shakespeare, Janette? As You Like It perhaps? 'How bitter a thing it is to look into happiness through another man's eyes!' Do you know how it's felt for me to watch you be happy through Nick's eyes? He…doesn't deserve another chance! It's my turn!
Sensing movement behind him, Merlin turned toward the pantry cupboard and opened it, showing Janette that Nicolas was not going to be able to save her.
Nick, however, had other plans. While Merlin watched, he looked abject and in pain; once Merlin had turned around however, Nick used the extra space to lift the chains far enough away from himself that he could wrap them around the heavy water pipe. In moments, the chains were a memory. Nick was free, and Janette was on the floor, run down by Larry Merlin as he flew out of the warehouse.
Faced with Janette on the floor, and Merlin gone, Nick made a new kind of choice for himself: he stayed with Janette. They had time, after all. The vampire world was small enough that they were certain to run into Merlin again.
"This is the second time this year that someone has been after us. What are we doing that earns us such attention?"
Nick was quiet for a moment. "Perhaps there is a reason to miss Lacroix after all; he might have been able to answer that."
The two of them lifted numerous boxes with the ease of vampires. Moving was efficient, and in only a few trips, most of Nick's belongings were in Janette's warehouse.
Just in case, Nick had retained the lease on his apartment. But he was fairly certain that for the next while, it wouldn't be required.
"Where do you want to hang your sun sculpture?" Janette inquired.
Nick smiled at her. For this time, in this century? They would be home together.