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Malicious Mischief

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“Ciao! Bon voyage!” Schanke watched his partner lock his desk, zip his leather jacket and head for the time-card slots on the wall. “I mean, ‘auf Wiedersehen.’ That’s right, isn’t it? Auf Wiedersehen?”

Nick punched his card and turned to face the squad room with the irrepressible smile of a man on the verge of two weeks’ vacation. “Yeah, Schank, that’s German for ‘goodbye.’”

“Man, I still can’t believe you’re going all the way to Europe in September to hang out in some dusty library archives. Normal tourists hit Oktoberfest, you know.” Schanke looked to see that Captain Stonetree’s office door was still closed, then mimed playing an accordion. “A few sausages, a lot of beer -- women and song, if not wine.”

“I’m visiting an old friend . . . of the family,” Nick said. “She’s found a rare, antique book about allergies like mine. Besides, I’m not really a beer guy.”

“You’re not a wine guy, either.” Schanke snorted, remembering the burgundy in Nick’s refrigerator. But he let it go; it was cruel to tease Nick too much about all the things he could not eat on the goofy diet that he had to follow for his skin condition. Schanke liked to think he knew where to draw the line. He stood. “Hey, to each his own time-off! You have fun, and don’t even think about all the paperwork you’re stiffing me with.”

“I won’t.” Nick grinned and pulled his sunglasses out of his pocket. He usually put them right on, even hours before dawn; Schanke thought that they made him look more Miami Vice than Toronto homicide. But tonight, instead of immediately donning his shades and striding out of the precinct into glorious vacation-hood, Nick hesitated. He sat on the corner of Schanke’s desk and looked up at him. “May I ask a favor?”

“Anything, partner.” Schanke frowned; Nick’s expression did not suggest that he had added plants in need of watering to his Batcave. “Well, almost anything. What’s up?”

“It’s Janette.”

Schanke’s eyebrows rose. He had not seen the knockout club owner since she came in to give a statement in the Preston kidnapping last year, but he suspected that Nick’s Caddy was still regularly to be found parked outside her establishment. Nick claimed that Natalie Lambert was a ‘good friend’ and Janette Ducharme an ‘old friend;’ Schanke lived for the day he would see what his partner considered ‘girlfriend’ material. “Yeah?”

Nick shook his head, grinning ruefully. “She can take care of herself. It’s nothing.” He rose to go.

“Spill, Knight.”

Nick tapped his sunglasses against his hand. “The Raven has been edgy, lately, that’s all. Something’s . . . off.”

“You want me to drop in, look around?” Schanke raised his hands in surrender at Nick’s rattled look. “Okay, okay, not dropping in! What, then?”

“Just -- she knows you. If she needs official help . . .”

“Gotcha.” Schanke gave a thumbs-up. “Don’t worry about a thing. Oh, hey, didn’t you say you had to pack before you headed to the airport? Or are you gonna just buy some lederhosen when you land?”

Nick glanced at the clock over Stonetree’s door. “See you in two weeks, Schank.”

Schanke watched his partner cross the bullpen and pause at the exit to don his sunglasses. Nick glanced back over his shoulder with that wide vacation smile; Schanke waved once, then sank into his desk chair as the door closed behind Nick. If he envied his partner his two solid weeks, well, it was just that Schanke had spent his own piecemeal: a few days with Myra’s relatives, a couple when Jenny got sick, not to mention the time the kitchen flooded . . . it added up, but it just wasn’t the same. Schanke sighed and reached into his desk for a fresh piece of gum.

Paperwork called his name.


- ~ -

Janette’s fingers twitched as the producer blithered on. She wished she held a cigarette, if not a wineglass, but this was a business meeting, and mortal society had recently banished such comfortable accessories from professional deportment. Janette always changed with the times, to appear as she wished to be perceived, but she was not enjoying this new-fashioned abstinence. They -- the mortals -- were all going to die soon, anyway, as she saw it; so why not from lung cancer and liver failure, if preceded by some little joi de vivre?

Janette glared at Oliver from under her sweeping lashes; this impromptu invasion of her club was entirely his fault. She had other things to worry about. Deteriorating plumbing, recurring graffiti and increasingly fractious lodgers, besides the unique concerns of Toronto’s only vampire establishment.

“Publicity will ramp up to the exclusive interview, with magazine coverage and advertising, and then the documentary, and finally we’ll unveil the made-for-TV movie next spring,” the producer, Ethan Li, continued, as his assistant handed out promotional glossies stamped ‘Survival: The Lucy Preston Story.’ “We’d be just as happy to use another nightclub to film the movie -- the tax breaks are the same all over the province, you realize -- but I’m putting it on the line, here, Ms. Ducharme. We absolutely have to have genuine footage of the Raven for the documentary! This is where it happened.”

“I appreciate that, Mr. Li.” Janette folded her restless hands in her lap. Her long, black gloves all but disappeared against the matching fabric of her dress, even under the bright lights that illuminated everything just before opening and after closing. “Indeed, I remember it well.”

Off the Raven’s dance floor, ten chairs had been pulled loosely around three of the bistro-style tables, creating an impromptu conference room, while everywhere else Janette’s employees bustled with brooms and cloths and clinking glassware, preparing to open for the night. She sat at one end with Oliver Gagnon, the grey-mustached fireplug of a man from whom she leased the building in which she had built her business. Opposite sat the acclaimed television anchorman Steve Tate, brother of notorious talk-show host Jerry Tate, and the timeless blonde beauty Lucy Preston, model turned professional celebrity in the wake of her headline-grabbing kidnapping last year. Between came producer Ethan Li, an agent, a publicist, and assorted assistants. Aside from the assistants, who wore t-shirts advertising the movie, and Janette, in her evening gown, everyone wore blazers over collared shirts and slacks.

Inclining her head, Janette exchanged a nod with Lucy. Of all present, only they two had met the deranged little man who had abducted two women and murdered one before running afoul of Nicolas -- Detective Nick Knight -- and a pitchfork. More, Janette suspected, of all present, only she and Lucy truly understood what the human woman had both lost and won by seizing on that trauma to re-launch her career.

“However,” Janette returned her attention to Li, “you do not seem to grasp just how different your project is from the lingerie catalogue shoot that brought Ms. Preston here in the first place. For one thing, at that time, the club was temporarily closed for remodeling. I was not losing any business.”

“We’re willing to roll in the daytime only, if that’s your condition--”

“For another,” Janette raised her eyebrows, “the catalogue made us the setting, not the subject. Your examination of the exterior compromises my security arrangements. I do not wish the details of my cameras, locks and alarms broadcast to every criminal in Canada.” Especially not now, she thought, again irritated with Oliver’s distraction. That felony kidnapping had been an anomaly and nothing to do with her; the recent rash of misdemeanor malicious mischief plaguing the Raven, on the other hand, insulted her control and her sanctuary. That was where her attention belonged. “We do not want to invite a copycat, do we?”

“Well, now, that’s a bit unfair, don’t you think?” Oliver’s eyes darted from Janette to Li and the celebrities. “These fine professionals know what they’re doing, surely. This is a once-in-a-lifetime publicity opportunity!”

The bright overhead lights flashed and then dimmed; the sound system activated. Janette stood, finding a smile for her unwanted guests as she raised her voice over the techno-ballad music. “Ladies and gentlemen, that’s ten minutes to opening. I regret any inconvenience, but we will have to continue this at a . . . more appropriate time and place.” Janette waved over her wait staff to sort out the clustered tables and chairs. Handshakes and business cards were exchanged as the entertainers and Oliver hastily got out of the way of her crew. Some asked for directions to the restrooms; others lingered, clearly hoping they would be comped for the night. Janette weighed the possibility of their snooping against the perils of antagonizing them, and allowed them to stay.

While vampires could not, theoretically, get headaches, her skull seemed to be experimenting toward that end. This may not have been the best time to give up her cigarettes, after all; Janette frowned. She cornered Oliver at the bar.

“Well, now, I see you’ve hired a new bartender.” Oliver nervously smoothed his gray mustache with one hand as he lifted a cocktail in the other. “I’d heard about your last fellow leaving to open his own little sports pub.”

“Yes. I wish him every success.” Janette nodded to Miklos and slipped him the signal to pour her the house special, barely cut. She needed it even more than usual. “It was quite a challenge to find a worthy successor, but all those tedious interviews paid off in the end. Miklos Farkas, meet Oliver Gagnon, the Raven’s landlord. He does not have a tab.” For appearance’s sake, Janette did not down the entire glass in a single swallow. She took two.

Oliver laughed and stuck his hand out and up to the tall, lean bartender. “Pleased to meet you.”

“And I you.” Miklos shook hands, any reaction unreadable on his craggy face.

“Oh, great accent! Where are you from -- Hungary? Romania? Bulgaria?”

Miklos did not blink. “Something like that.” When Janette twitched a suppressed grin, he acknowledged her with a barely raised eyebrow. He then excused himself to attend to the arrogant, recently-arrived vampire incautiously regaling some converts with bygone exploits, down at the other end of the bar. That one was just not fitting in; she trusted Miklos to reinforce her rules.

“He’s undeniably a superior hire,” Janette congratulated herself, looking down into her too-soon-empty glass. Originally, she had thought another human head bartender subject to persuasion would serve the Raven best, but the interview process had changed her mind. So many applicants! Some, so persistent! Yet only Miklos offered the dual expertise she sought. With Nicolas back in her life and trailing trouble, she needed a lieutenant, not a lackey. “But even so, Oliver, being in transition with a key employee -- among other things -- takes all my attention right now. How could you spring this absurdity on me?” Janette poured herself a second glass from the bottle Miklos had thoughtfully left just out of the man’s reach. “You had no right to promise them access!”

“I admit I was impolite, turning up without an appointment. I apologize,” he said. “Seeing Lucy Preston in person turned my head. I mean, Lucy Preston!” His eyes widened. “And the anchorman, too. But, well, now, I think you know that I have every right. It’s part of the ‘duty to operate’ clause in your lease.”

“The Raven is fully operational, Oliver.” Janette swept her hand across the dance floor, which was slowly but steadily filling under the strobing blue and red lights, as patrons arrived and found one another. The recent upsurge in petty vandalism presented no obstacle to business as usual, and her plumbing contractor was efficient, if not economical. “I am maximizing the value of your property, preserving the premises and contributing to neighborhood status. You can hardly ask more.”

“I’m sorry to have to put it this way, but, well, now, I’m not asking.” Oliver sipped his cocktail and then licked his lips. “My long-term property value will get a permanent boost from association with the kind of star Preston is going to become, regardless of whether your club or some other business--”

A scream stabbed through a rest in the pounding music on the still underoccupied dance floor.

Another followed.

It was a woman’s voice, in panicked shock, not physical pain; Janette’s experienced ear registered the difference. Dancers stopped. Drinkers looked around. Later in the night, it might not have attracted such attention, but the daytime world was still too close. Too few inhibitions had been shed.

Janette took a split second to set her glass toward the back side of the bar and catch Miklos’s eye, grateful for his competent attendance, before striding to the side exit, the same from which Lucy had been snatched last year. Bruno, Janette’s bouncer, joined her on the way, and a crowd assembled in her wake.

The young woman now sobbing in another’s arms just inside the doorway was presumably the screamer.

“Hold them back,” Janette murmured to Bruno, meaning the crowd, not the witnesses. Those two would have to be handled, but any complications that could be avoided, should be. Janette opened the door and stepped through.

Ethan Li’s t-shirt-clad assistant lay face-down at her feet. Dead. Unconcealed. If any of those who dwelled downstairs were responsible for this reckless negligence, Janette would stake them herself -- and she would only end in the heart, not start there. They knew better. It was her first rule, her sole condition for sanctuary. At least it looked like the imbecile in question had bothered to slice the neck with a knife after this indulgence. From long habit, Janette knelt, intending to turn over the corpse, snap the neck and rip the skin to further obscure the cause of death, if needed. At the last second, she remembered her security cameras and looked up -- right into a lens.

Merde,” Janette sighed. What a time for Nicolas to be away on vacation.


- ~ -

“Welcome, Detective Schanke.” The uniformed officer lifted the yellow tape and waved him into the Raven. Amused by the displaced bouncer lurking behind her, Schanke flashed his badge at the big man, too, before tucking it back in his beige overcoat. The officer asked, “Didn’t I hear Captain Stonetree assign this one to Lipinski and Rosen?”

“I reminded him that Knight and I solved the original Preston case.” Schanke chewed his gum and rubbed his fingers over the growing bald spot on the top of his head. He had also called in a few favors from his fellow detectives, and promised to tow a rookie along with him as soon as Stonetree dug one up, when past performance had not sufficed to snag a celebrity-involved murder solo. But that was just it: in his absence, Nick would want Schanke to take this one in hand, personally, Schanke was sure. “Who’s in charge of the preliminary statements?”

The officer pointed him to one of her counterparts, holding a clipboard and coordinating other police collecting names and phone numbers. Triage, Schanke called it. When a crowd witnessed a crime, you could not legally or practically hang on to every onlooker long enough to squeeze out a deposition, much as you might want to.

Stepping down to the dance floor, Schanke noted that all the Raven’s lights were on, and the sound system off. He had seen it that way before -- at either end of the business night -- when Nick had stashed him here while that can of mixed nuts, Macavoy, hunted him last year. The shape of the bar and the decorations on the walls had changed since the remodeling, but Schanke still knew his way around. After pow-wowing with the uniforms, he took himself off to reconnoiter the larger crime scene, finally ending at Janette’s office in the back.

“Janet?” Schanke knocked. “I mean, Janette? Ms. Ducharme?”

“Enter.” She sounded tired.

Heck, she looked tired, he saw when he stepped into the windowless room. Her snazzy, modern, steel-and-glass desk was covered with papers where it wasn’t dominated by a giant computer monitor that he thought might weigh as much as its owner; fifteen sweet inches if it was a centimeter, he eyeballed. New since he was last here. On the paperwork, the logo of an insurance company caught his eye. The woman herself was ebony-and-ivory gorgeous as always, pale skin revealed by a black evening dress in all the right places as she leaned back in her chair, shining dark hair twisted up behind her head. But her eyes were tight, and her fingers twitched toward the crystal ashtray that was no longer there.

Schanke chewed his gum and sympathized. “So the coroner’s team has been and gone.”

“Yes. I tried to engage Dr. Lambert, but she indicated that she was,” Janette pursed her lips, “not free to speak.”

“What did you want to discuss with Natalie?” Schanke pried. If it were about the case, he needed to know; if it were about Nick, he wanted to know. While Schanke had no doubt that his partner and the Raven’s owner were really something, Schanke privately thought Nick would live to regret missing the bird-in-the-hand boat with the curly-haired coroner.

Janette shrugged. “I wanted to know how the man died. I presume that I’ll find out in the newspapers, like everyone else. Is there any chance that your forensic technicians will finish before dawn?”

“Nah, sorry. You won’t be reopening tonight, and maybe not even tomorrow, though I’ll see if I can nudge things along. May I?” At her wave, he took the chair opposite her. “Thanks. You’ve been through this yourself before, with what happened to Lucy -- Ms. Preston -- last year, but this time, you should know that we’re going to have to interview your whole staff. It’s gonna take days.”

“Can you do it here?”

“Portable recording equipment isn’t in the precinct budget. Don’t worry; we understand about swing-shift, and we’ll fit everyone in an orderly way. Y’know, schedule appointments and all that.”

A corner of Janette’s mouth flickered up. “I never doubted your professionalism, Detective Schanke.”

“Don,” he reminded her with a wink. “So, speaking, you know, off the record for just a sec, how are you holding up? With Nick on the other side of the pond, I mean, do you need anything? Man oh man! A woman like you doesn’t see dead bodies every day, after all!”

“Not anymore,” Janette sighed.

“What?”

“Never mind.” Her smile tugged her luscious lips wide and Schanke had to lasso his imagination. Janette continued, “Thank you for your concern, but I will be fine.” She hesitated. “Have you heard from Nicolas since he has been away?”

“Nah. That’s what vacation means, right? But honestly,” Schanke leaned forward, “the guy heads to some university in Berlin to look at a falling-apart old book, and he acts like it’s gonna be Disneyworld and Las Vegas and Niagara Falls all rolled into one. Not exactly supporting his Joe Cool image, you know?”

“Oh, Nicolas and that book . . .” Janette closed her eyes for a moment, shaking her head. To Schanke, the gesture looked wistful. “I suppose we all have different . . . dreams.”

“Myra -- my wife -- she has a different one every time the subject comes up. Hawaii. The Gulf of St. Lawrence. I can’t keep ‘em straight.” Schanke wished he could indulge all Myra’s trip ideas, and would have happily settled for any of them, but with the loan for the kitchen repairs, they just could not afford much besides fishing at the cabin for the time being. The mortgage was bad enough. “Okay, back to the case. All right?”

“Certainly. I gave my statement to the officer. Do you need anything more?”

“Your statement didn’t mention the vandalism.”

Janette swallowed. “What?”

“The graffiti covered by fresh paint. The damage patched by new carpentry. The window with the glass company’s sticker still on it.” Schanke ticked off his observations on his fingers. “Did you know that vandalism is the most underreported crime in Canada? People think that willful damage isn’t serious, but you and I know differently, don’t we? Anti-social behavior patterns escalate.”

“I had decided to tell Nicolas when he got back.” Janette reached toward where her ashtray used to be, but caught herself. “I hardly thought anything of it, when it began. First tire-slashing and keying -- my car, and my new head bartender’s. Have you met Miklos? It was his first night on the job. It was infuriating, yet . . . personal? Ordinary? Things happen near establishments that serve alcohol.” Janette’s sharp gaze dissolved into the distance, a lot like Nick’s sometimes did. Schanke wondered where they had each picked up that habit. After a few seconds, she shrugged. “But then came spray paint and strewing garbage. And now breaking windows and gluing locks. I knew it was getting worse, but truly, Detective -- Don -- I never imagined it leading to murder.”

“And it might not have.” Schanke nodded to reassure her. “This poor kid might have had enemies. Goodness knows, his boss has enemies! This whole interview-documentary-movie thing is fishy with forced publicity. Lucy doesn’t know of any stalkers, but I wouldn’t be surprised. And then there’s that Gagnon guy, who plugs into this at both ends, invested in the movie and the building.” Schanke took a breath before he accidentally mentioned anything Janette did not already know. “I didn’t realize that you didn’t own the Raven.”

“I do own the Raven!” Janette’s voice crackled, and Schanke took note of the nerve he had hit in her as a witness, even while he winced and felt like apologizing. She explained, “Oliver owns the concrete and steel and dirt; I own the club. Years ago, it seemed prudent to lease, for . . . many reasons. Now?” She laughed bitterly. “If he were the one who had turned up dead, then I would be a legitimate suspect, Don. As it was not him, I have nothing useful to tell you.”

“Not even what happened to the videotape?” The Raven had a security camera trained right on the side door. It would have caught the body dumping, if not the homicide itself.

Janette crossed her legs and smoothed her skirt. “As I told the officer, it’s sadly unfortunate that Alma did not remember to replace the tape in the closed-circuit videocassette recorder after closing this morning. I will reprimand her, of course.”

Schanke felt himself blush. “Alma works here?” That was the same name, but it could not be the woman whom he had almost . . . could it? Did Janette remember?

“Works, plays, whatever shiny thing catches her attention. She did not work tonight, or you might have bumped into her.”

Counting his blessings, Schanke stood. “I’ll be seeing you -- officially. Unofficially, if you need anything while Nick’s away, you know, ask. That vandalism is not kid stuff, completely aside from the murder.”

“Thank you.” Janette also stood, and they shook hands. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

At the door, impulse turned Schanke back. He reached into his pocket, broke his current pack of nicotine gum in half, and offered one of the halves to Janette. “I’m sure you don’t need it, but better safe than sorry, right?”

She took the gum and turned it over and over between her fingers. “I remember when a lit cigarette made one look liberated, independent -- sexy.”

“And now they just make us look dumb and sick and rude, I know.” Schanke sighed. “Boy, did we not know what we were getting into.”

“No one ever does.”


- ~ -

Janette stood in the parking lot behind the Coroner’s Building. She watched the occasional public servant pass through the two brightly lit glass doors at ground level, under the several dark floors of offices above. It would be silly to turn back after bothering to come here. The newspapers had remained silent on the cause of death, and she needed to know in which direction Nicolas’s doctor friend would lean in his absence. But Dr. Lambert’s laboratory could hardly be less inviting if it were decorated with crosses and lit by the sun.

What a strange temple of mortality, Janette thought, where they wallow in everything she preferred to ignore. She imagined she could smell aging, disease and stagnant death from here. How Nicolas could expose himself to it regularly and still embrace his mad dream of humanity, which, whatever he thought came in the middle, could end only one way . . . and yet that was Nicolas, take him with his wild hope or leave him entirely -- or be staked, like Lacroix. Janette shuddered; the fall night seemed colder, and she buttoned up her black leather coat. That mortality was not actually unique to humanity did not make Nicolas correct, she reminded herself.

“Can I help you, miss?” asked the security guard whom Janette had watched circle the building. “Car trouble?”

Janette flashed him a smile that should make him even more willing to assist her. “Thank you, but in fact I am here to meet Dr. Natalie Lambert, inside. I’m afraid I’ve misplaced the room number and directions,” she lied. “I was just wondering whether I should go searching, or . . . ?”

“No problem. I saw Dr. Lambert arrive earlier.” The guard unclipped the walkie-talkie at his belt. “Jimmy, what floor are you on? I’ve got a lost visitor here for morgue lab three. Could you . . . sure, that’ll work.” The man gestured her toward the entrance. “Someone will be here to escort you shortly.”

And indeed, in just a few moments, an imposing Black woman in a white lab coat appeared around the corner. “Are you the one here to see Dr. Lambert? I’m Grace Balthazar, from her team.” She looked Janette over. “Natalie didn’t recall any appointment tonight, Ms. . . ?”

“Ducharme.” Janette took the proffered hand. “I found that young man’s body at the club the other night. Dr. Lambert said that I might speak to her after the autopsy.” Grace cocked her head doubtfully, so Janette played her next card. “Dr. Lambert and I are both . . . friends . . . of Detective Knight.”

“Oh, really!” Grace’s expression opened. “How long have you known Detective Knight?”

Janette felt relieved. Not reluctant to employ vampire mesmerism, she simply found it inconvenient -- in this fastidious age, so finicky about random fatalities -- to encounter those resistant to her powers. And of course it was always worse with those in official capacities, not to mention those Nicolas knew personally. As Grace led the way, Janette sighed for old times, when minor obstacles had so tidily become meals . . . rather than pelting her with gleeful, oblique questions about Nicolas’s romantic history all the way down one hallway and around the corner into another. Janette put her hands in her pockets and clung to the packet of gum that Detective Schanke had given her.

Grinning, Grace delivered Janette to Natalie’s lab.

Natalie, also wearing a white lab coat, sat at a desk across the room, a phone receiver in her hand; her jaw dropped. As Janette took in the green-tiled examination space and unoccupied stainless-steel table, she heard the medical examiner’s heart rate increase, and her coworker suppress a laugh.

Natalie said into the phone, “I’m going to put you on hold, all right?” Pressing a button, Natalie set down her receiver and stood. “Thank you, Grace. Could you please go check on that PCR boost for me?”

When the door closed, Janette raised her eyebrows at Natalie in amusement. “So this is where you work, hmmm? And Nicolas comes here nearly every night! My goodness. And yet he used to have genuinely superior taste.”

Natalie rolled her eyes. She pressed some buttons on her phone without picking up the receiver, and then crossed her arms. “You’re on speaker, Nick. Guess who’s here.”

Allô, Nicolas. Have you finished reading your magic book already?”

“Janette?” Nicolas’s voice came instantly from halfway around the world. She really had to get over being impressed by that. “What are you doing at the morgue?”

Janette leaned against the counter. “I presume you are caught up on this case, yes? In your absence, your partner has kindly kept me informed of what law enforcement niceties are permitted, but he cannot tell me the most important thing, can he? So I come to ask one who can.” She met Natalie’s eyes. “Are we to prepare for an incident with those who protect our secret?”

“As I was just telling Nick, the death certificate will record a homicide by an edged weapon, but --”

“Excellent!” Janette said. “Such a relief, that all this fuss and bother is nothing after all. I did not have time to watch the security tape before destroying it, and I could not tell for certain without a closer look at the mortal, or guess what you might do in Nicolas’s absence, Doctor.”

Natalie blinked. “You destroyed evidence unexamined?”

“Janette,” Nicolas’s voice chilled, “that young man’s death is not ‘nothing.’”

“Yes, of course.” Janette waved aside both objections. “But those are affairs for your mortals to resolve, are they not? I can now get back to my own concerns.” Such as Oliver’s delusion that he could interfere in the running of her club, and his attempt to avoid reimbursing her for the pipe maintenance.

“You’re not off the hook yet. As I was telling Nick,” Natalie repeated herself with a sharp look at Janette, “while the death certificate will say ‘blade,’ I could not exclude, to my own satisfaction, the possibility of vampire involvement. While the body was not fully exsanguinated, a significant quantity of blood remains unaccounted for. The serrated edge neatly destroyed any possibility of identifying, say, fang holes.”

“Since you’re there, Janette, could you look at the body?”

Janette’s eyebrows rose, an expression lost on Nicolas across the phone line. “Oh, I suppose.” She wanted all these inconveniences -- the vandalism and the murder alike -- to have come from, and return to, Nicolas’s mortal playland. She wanted his human chums to take their toys and get out of her home. But if the intrusion had come from her world -- if it were one of her downstairs tenants, perhaps one of the converts stirred up by that haughty drifter -- then she cared. Then she would act. “But only because I want the answer as well.”

“Can you do that?” Natalie asked, looking from Janette to the phone and back before going to unlock the huge steel door at the back of the room. “Identify that particular event without physical evidence?”

Nick said, “It’s just different evidence, Nat.”

While Natalie rolled a white-sheeted cadaver out of the cold room, Janette played at looking mysterious and supernaturally powerful. In fact, aside from the often uncomfortable awareness of blood kin, vampires had no sixth -- or seventh or eighth -- sense, just the hunter’s keen levels of the same five that had not resolved the case for Natalie. This would have been much easier if Janette could have examined the corpse when it was still warm at her feet, but she had had to take care of the camera, and the crowd, and . . . no use crying over spilt blood. If you’re hungry, lick it up.

Natalie rolled back the white sheet to reveal Li’s assistant.

Was she supposed to know his name? the question flitted across Janette’s mind and disappeared. That was the sort of care that tormented foolish, gallant Nicolas, not her.

Janette took her hands out of her pockets and approached the gurney. Wrinkling her nose at the stench of chemicals and decay, she inhaled, seeking and sorting lingering traces of scents beneath. There was something almost familiar, but the body had been washed too well, and too much time had passed. She could not name it. So she tried her eyes, hawk-sharp and honed by ten centuries of experience inflicting and obscuring such wounds.

There.

And there.

Blast.

“He was bitten,” Janette hissed, touching her thumb and forefinger to the faint remains of twin punctures.

“Janette, I need you to think about this carefully,” Nicolas said, obviously trying to pull her back from the revenge she was already well advanced in considering. Typical Nicolas. “Is this an escalation of the vandalism pattern, moving from your premises to your customers? If so, it’s all one case. It narrows the motives as well as the suspects. We have to find a way to bring this to Schanke.”

“Without telling him about vampires.” Natalie folded her arms. “Or setting him up to be killed by them.”

Janette’s hand twitched toward her pocket.


- ~ -

Whistling, Schanke sauntered up to the Raven and knocked. He had not been able to stop smiling since his interview with Lucy Preston. All in a day’s work and all in the line of duty, questioning one of the most beautiful women in the world. Myra would understand, right? He knocked again, patiently, knowing that the club staff would still be setting up at this point in the evening.

Schanke looked around and enjoyed the last of the orange over the horizon. He had not done anything so gauche as to ask the model-turned-actress for her autograph -- he had snagged one last year, after all -- but he had gotten the name of her agent after telling her about his and Nick’s appearance on Cop Watch. Unlike his old agent, Lucy could see that Schanke had real acting potential; and Lucy had told him that she had just barely lost a lead role to movie star Alix Logan, so she should know.

“Detective Schanke?” Miklos answered the door and ushered him in.

By now, Schanke had met all the Raven’s employees. (His interview with Alma, he did not want to think about.) It was weird how many of those who had requested to be interviewed at night did not seem to do anything, really. One guy had laughed down his big blue-blooded nose at Schanke the whole time, which made Schanke’s instincts itch like crazy, but the man had arrived in Toronto well after the vandalism had started, and he had no connection to the poor dead kid except that they had both been in the same club at the same time.

Miklos added, “Janette is inspecting the restrooms; we had plumbers in again today.”

“Thanks, man.” Schanke clapped the bartender on the arm and headed across the dance floor, nodding greetings to people carrying things around, doing whatever they did to keep the alcohol flowing, the music pounding and the lights strobing all night long. He stopped to let his eyes and ears adjust when the ten-minute warning came. Bachman-Turner Overdrive, this was not.

“Woo-hoo!” Schanke exclaimed when Janette stepped out of the ladies’ room wearing a gauzy red gown, the kind of dress that Myra would sigh over in a catalogue but refuse to buy. Janette’s hair was loose and sort of floating, like the dress. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you in color before.”

Janette smiled and turned around. Taking that as the traditional exhibition of a new outfit, Schanke allowed himself free rein to appreciate. The Raven’s owner could give Lucy a run for her money in the beauty business; maybe Nick knew what he was choosing, after all. Janette said, “You make me sound like a vintage film.”

“I just thought black was the uniform of this whole goth-techno-neo-whatever club scene.”

“Fashion marches ever on.” Janette took his arm and steered him to the bar. “Do you have news for me about the case?”

“Yeah! Yeah, your intuition was right on about clearing the TV and movie people. They would have done a lot to snag this kind of publicity -- and they sure got publicity up the wazoo! it doesn’t look to have hurt your club, either -- but every one of them alibied out. The subordinates stuck to their stars, and the stars attracted eyes. No opportunity.” Miklos brought Schanke a mug of coffee and Janette a glass of red wine. Schanke thanked him, then continued, “And over in the vic’s personal life, no motive. He was a classic kept-to-himself, everybody-loved-him, regular Joe with no assets and no time for a social life.”

“How sad, having no time for a social life! Because naturally one builds a social life at clubs . . .”

Schanke laughed, thinking of the difference in his own social life between when he was the vic’s age, and today, with Myra and Jenny at home. “Some of us are lucky enough to outgrow that phase -- no offense.”

“None taken.” Janette sipped her wine; Schanke looked away, slightly embarrassed by how openly she enjoyed it. He wondered whether he had ever looked like that with a cigarette. Janette asked, “Do I understand, then, that this means the murder does escalate the vandalism, meaning a personal motive against me and my club?”

“Of the avenues still open, that’s the one I like best. We’re looking at your competitors and past employees now. Anything else you can tell me--” Schanke wondered why Janette was looking at him as if he had something in his teeth. Then he realized how what he had said sounded to a civilian. “That is, I ‘like’ it for investigation! Not for it fingering you as the perp’s bull’s-eye, obviously. I don’t like that at all. In fact, I’d like to put you in protective custody until we nail this.”

“Out of the question.”

Schanke set down his coffee and looked at her. Janette’s eyes roamed over her club, maybe counting her patrons as they arrived, maybe tracking all the little communal things that made her business work. Schanke gauged her reaction, then set his hand loosely on her arm. “I can’t force you. But I’ve got to point out that right now you’re putting every one of your employees and customers in this whacko’s line of fire. I know something about being hunted. I think you do, too. Let’s get you the heck out of range until you know where to aim your return fire!”

Janette’s eyes widened. “Well put, Detective.” She kissed his cheek. While he was still reeling at that reward for eloquence, she continued, “But I think we can triangulate best from here. You see, I’ve determined that the murderer must be one of the . . . occasional fetishists whom I mentioned, remember?”

Schanke thought of the coffin downstairs and nodded.

“If the same individual is responsible for the property mischief and the murder, then it must be a regular. That’s a small number of suspects.”

“How do you know that? And when were you going to tell me?”

“How? Chalk it up to club culture,” Janette answered primly, patting his hand and then lifting it to withdraw her other arm. “When? Tonight, naturally.”

“’Club culture’ is not going to stand up in court.”

“When I ‘return fire,’ there won’t be enough left--”

The rest of Janette’s remark disappeared under the claxon of an industrial fire alarm.

The audio-video system turned off. The lights came up. Small red bulbs began flashing near the always-illuminated exit signs.

People screamed and bolted. As Schanke moved onto the dance floor to help direct the evacuation, part of his mind noted the oddity of many of the Raven staff standing still, looking confused, rather than leaving or helping customers leave. Another part thanked his guardian angel that there were not yet enough people in the club to create a crushing stampede for the main door.

Janette’s hand closed on his arm and yanked him back.

“What?” he yelled. Schanke gestured to his ear; as he couldn’t hear her, she certainly couldn’t hear him.

Janette leaned close and shouted, “No smoke! No fire! Trust me! If there were fire, I would smell it!”

It was her place and she was the target; he flashed over the possibility that this was a diversion. For what end? In his experience, bad guys never de-escalated -- certainly not from homicide back to malicious mischief. So, theft and a new perp? Or -- oh please no -- the original perp triggering a disaster panic for multiple murders? Schanke glanced quickly around. The rest of the Raven’s employees had begun moving, and no motions caught his eye against the flow to the exits, or slinking along the perimeter.

Anything more could be figured out from a safe distance. “Come on!” Schanke grabbed Janette’s hand, prioritizing keeping her with him as he headed for the exit with the fewest people pressing through: the notorious side door.

Halfway there, the ceiling sprinklers burst.

Schanke could see more open mouths and heaving chests, but he could not hear anything besides the alarm and the blasting water. It sheeted down everywhere at once, drenching them immediately and continuously, just like in the movies; but that was wrong! Schanke knew, from his profound boredom when staying here during the Macavoy mess, that the Raven’s fire-suppression system was a top-of-the-line contained-release type that went on at the point of the fire only, triggered by high heat. No smoke, no heat . . .

And then there was foam. Engorged, white, chemical foam -- a big-ticket last line of defense for the unlikely event of a super-hot electrical blaze -- suddenly floated on the lake that had abruptly covered the dance floor. It coated people like the remains of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man in Ghostbusters.

Janette slipped in the slick goo; Schanke caught her as she lurched. He pulled her in to his side for balance. She kicked off her shoes, shouting, “Shut-off valve! This way!”

Before Schanke could stop her, she headed deeper back into the building, the stupidest thing anyone could do in a fire, ever, period, finite, amen. But where was this supposed conflagration, that had rocketed through all three stages of the Raven’s pretty darn over-the-top fire-suppression system? Schanke swallowed hard and headed after her, though the Egyptian-handled doors to the windowless offices and storerooms.

The water was gushing down on this side of the doors, too. It did not get any easier to see or hear. So when he came around the third corner to the nook with all the pumps and valves, he could not quite make sense of what he was seeing. Janette and a man in overalls seemed to be colliding over a huge wheel on a pipe as Janette reached for a control panel low on the wall behind him. Schanke grabbed the man by the shoulders and pulled him away from Janette. For form’s sake, he shouted that he was the police, but he knew nobody could hear him.

Janette, her path cleared, seized the metal wheel on the pipe and turned it all the way around. The water stopped. Then she pressed a code into the wall pad. The claxon stopped, too. For a few seconds, the silence seemed even louder than the noise had.

Meeting Janette’s eyes over the shoulder of the man in his grip, Schanke blinked a few times at the optical illusion that they glowed golden. “Don’t those valves usually take two burly firefighters and a big wrench?” he joked.

“Special valve,” Janette lisped oddly. She closed her eyes for a moment, and when she re-opened them, the light no longer hit them at that weird angle.

It was only then that Schanke realized that the man he held was sobbing in terror. Taking pity on the guy, Schanke tried to turn him around and let him sit on the pipe, but the man just collapsed, huddling in the ankle-deep water. Shock? Schanke repeated his statement about police authority. “Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

“His name is Roy Campbell,” Janette said. “He applied for my head bartender position, but he spent the interview whining about the collapse of cod stocks off Nova Scotia. Now he’s wearing the uniform of my plumbing contractor! As to what he’s doing . . .” She squatted in front of the now-hyperventilating man and cupped his chin in her hands. With the new angle, Schanke suddenly registered what all the water and foam had done to Janette’s flimsy dress; he lifted his gaze and peeled off his dripping overcoat. Janette looked deep into Campbell’s eyes. After a moment, she purred, “What have you done to my club?”

“Faked fire. Rigged valves. Broke regulators. Smashed windows. Jammed locks. Paint--”

“That’s enough.” For some reason, Janette snapped her fingers, and Campbell stopped mid-word. “Why?”

“You gave a good Canadian job to an immigrant---”

The next word that the man spoke gave Schanke a start. He had not heard that particular bigoted epithet since his grandfather died. Which was weird, maybe, ’cause the dregs of society he arrested didn’t exactly wash their mouths out with soap, and the old neighborhood was no ivory tower. Maybe some kinds of stupidity fell out of fashion even among the monsters.

Maybe Jenny would never have to hear that word at all.

Janette snapped her fingers again. “You’re too tired for this, Mr. Campbell.” Bizarrely, the man hunched over his knees and fell asleep. Janette was one of the more persuasive women Schanke had ever met, but this was ridiculous. The guy must be some kind of cuckoo all around. At least that helped explain why he rubbed out the poor production assistant who never did anyone any harm; it really was the kind of random that clicks only in a psycho’s skull.

Schanke was looking forward to wrapping this up by the time Nick stepped off the plane. His partner owed him, big-time. Not that he would not have done it anyway, but he itched to hear a great big “you were right” along with the “thank you” on this one.

When Janette stood, Schanke handed her his overcoat. She glanced down, then belted it on over her ruined dress. “So he is the vandal. But it makes no sense! He is not the murderer.”

“How sure are you of that?”

“Very.” Janette’s gaze was level, and as convincing as if Schanke were as cuckoo as Campbell.

“Oh,” Schanke sighed. So he still had to find the murderer, protect Janette, haul in Campbell, interface with the Fire Department . . . “Right pocket. Can you hand me my gum?”


- ~ -

“No, thank you, Oliver,” Janette sang into the phone. “My lawyer will collect the papers today.” She replaced the receiver, stood, stretched, and turned to the somewhat bedraggled assembly packed into her heavily-curtained, top-floor hotel suite. Janette herself wore new black jeans, an embroidered silk blouse and darling boots, courtesy of her credit cards and insurance agent. Alma and some of the other flutter-heads who dwelled downstairs still wore what they had during the sprinkler-system tsunami.

“Is that it?” Alma yawned. “Can we go back to our rooms and sleep now? It’s almost dawn!”

Janette shook her head, too pleased to be annoyed even by Alma. “Most of you will be delighted to hear that I have just purchased the Raven’s building and lot outright.” A sigh of relief rolled through the room, accented by a few cheers and claps. Janette held up a warning hand. “But keep in mind, even with Larry Merlin’s help, this strips away one precious layer of anonymity and deniability. We must be that much more cautious! Neither the Enforcers nor Nicolas’s precious mortal justice will pick us up if we fall.” Not to mention those few of Lacroix’s enemies who had outlived him, some of whom would settle for revenge by proxy -- on her or Nicolas. “Does everyone understand?” Assenting murmurs piled up. “Alma?”

“Why single me out? I’m not the one who lost it on site!”

“This time,” someone said.

“Hey!” After a moment, the blonde vampire muttered, “Yes, I understand.”

“Excellent. That brings us to the one who did ‘lose it.’”

For safety, the glass doors to the balcony had been covered with blankets and quilts, as well as the customary drapes. In front of them stood Miklos and Bruno, holding the hawk-nosed newcomer by the arms between them. This was the vampire who had stirred up her little flock with loose talk of the old days; this was the one who had flouted her decree; and this was one who had underestimated Detective Schanke. The captive met her eyes self-importantly, precisely her height in her new boots.

He said, “This isn’t how other vampires do things.”

“You think I care about other vampires? How adorable!” Janette patted his cheek. She had seen many schemes in her many centuries, and the lessons she had learned from Lacroix were not only the ones he had meant to teach her. “The Raven is mine. My realm, my rules. You forfeited my protection.”

“Like I need your protection! It’s a big world.”

“Yes, it is. Enjoy it.” Janette stepped around Miklos and Bruno to slide open the balcony door behind the hangings. “Everyone get back.”

“What, now?” The newcomer’s eyes widened. “No -- it’s -- the sun’s coming up! You can’t!”

She stepped back.

Miklos and Bruno pushed him through the drapes. Everyone present heard him scream and launch himself into the air. Everyone present felt in their blood when the sun topped the horizon. Whether he had reached shelter or imploded, no one could say.

After a reflective silence, Miklos asked, “What was his name?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Janette rubbed her hands on her jeans. Detective Schanke had caught his criminal; she had disposed of hers. Everything was back where it belonged. Yet the separation was somehow less satisfying than she had expected. “All right, Alma, you can go to bed now. Everyone out. Shoo! You may play tonight; tomorrow night, though, it’s back to work on the refurbishment.”

“I bet I know who she’s playing with,” someone snickered.

Another asked, “Oh, is he back?”

“Go! Go!” Janette herded them out the door. This hotel had long, windowless halls, as well as proximity to the airport and other advantages she had considered in her disaster-recovery plan, but she still could not wait until she was back under her own roof. And truly her own, now, no compromises or disguises. It was the sort of thing she would not have dared were Lacroix still alive; she was getting quite as bold as Nicolas in some ways.

Janette raced through washing her face and brushing her hair. She was still tidying the disarray the others had left behind when she heard the knock on her door.

“Welcome home, Nicolas.” She got him inside before letting him engulf her in his arms, and burrowing against him herself. He was still a vampire, not that she had expected anything else. His longed-for ‘book of miracles’ had not cured him . . . killed him . . . however one looked at it. At least, not yet. Later, he would tell her all about this latest failed hope, and she would console him. For now, though, being together -- being known and understood -- was succor enough for them both. “I missed you.”

“You wouldn’t have,” he laughed down at her and kissed the tip of her nose, “without all this fuss. What are two weeks? You wouldn’t even have noticed I was gone.”

“Perhaps.” She traced his jaw with one finger. “I am happy to have you back, just the same.”

“Didn’t Schanke take good care of you? I can’t wait to hear his version of all this.”

“And Dr. Lambert’s? Yes, well, there are a few events for which you should hear my version, first.” Janette moved to the small but adequate in-room bar. “Can I offer you anything?”

Nicolas took off his black duster, revealing a blue dress shirt and slacks. He sat on the couch. “Cow?”

“I seem to have some of that vintage left. How odd that no one else has claimed it.”

He laughed again, accepting the glass she handed him and letting her seize the circle of his arm for her own position once she was similarly supplied. He nuzzled her hair. “Seriously, are you all right? At first, there didn’t seem any need to fly back early, and then everything happened at once.”

“I am fine,” she said. “I get to remodel the club again, and purchase a whole new wardrobe. The sound system and computers are a sad loss, I admit. At any rate, both the mortal and vampire scofflaws have gotten what is coming to them.”

Janette related the events from her perspective, filling in blanks for Nicolas that she would not -- could not -- for his mortal buddies. He stiffened in response to the decision to cast out the ingrate meddler who had endangered her club, but applauded her graduation from renter to owner, and exchanged anecdotes of how very convenient it was that Detective Schanke was not a resistor -- although Nicolas seemed to feel that only he should be permitted to mesmerize his partner. When it was not turned full-force on her, Janette found Nicolas’s possessiveness endearing. Nicolas chided her for not reporting the initial vandalism, though.

Janette cocked her head. “You know, that’s almost precisely what Don said when I told him.”

“About the vandalism?”

“Mmm-hmmm. It’s all about nipping criminality in the bud, or some such thing.”

“We know something about going from bad to worse, don’t we?” Nicolas kissed her temple, then dislodged her so he could refill both their glasses.

Behind his back, she looked at the ashtrays left from the meeting.

“So, really, did everything work out with Schanke? I know that he tried his best to do what he thought I’d want, but I never imagined all this. It threw him in your way a lot more than you’re used to.”

Janette accepted her refreshed glass and thought about how to answer. She was not accustomed to spending so much time with one individual mortal, true, but she was nevertheless surrounded by them. It was not as if she were unaware of their foibles . . . or their potential. Don Schanke was not the least of them. “From now on, Nicolas, when you are out there playing cops and robbers, I will feel better knowing that this is the friend watching your back.”

Nicolas’s smile tickled her lips.

The traces of cow blood as they kissed bothered her less than she pretended. The tantalizing scent of Nicolas’s own blood underneath more than made up for his dietary eccentricity. Before things got too interesting, however, she pulled back and pressed a finger against his mouth. “One last thing from the case.”

“Oh?” he nipped her finger.

“Your partner needs a vacation, too. Can you get him one?”

Nicolas planted another swift kiss on her hand, then withdrew into the corner of the couch and contemplated her. His eyes were suddenly sad. “Reward gets doled out just like revenge?”

“You know that, Nicolas.” She set down her glass and took his hands. “Two sides of the same coin.”

“The coin of your realm.”

And Nicolas believed it was different in the mortals’ world, Janette knew. Or, at least, he believed that it should be. That grace transcended elsewhere than in his own irretrievably noble heart. She stretched out on the couch and pillowed her head on his thigh. “Tell me.”

He stroked her hair. “This copy of the Abarrat is missing pages . . .”


End