“You sure you don’t want to trade?” Nick patted his desk’s return arm. “All this space, the typewriter out of the way, a clear view down the hall?”
“Oh, no you don’t, Knight. I won that toss fair and square. I get the side three steps from the coffee machine and six from the men’s room.” Detective Don Schanke adjusted the angle of the swing lamp between their relocated desks so that it shone more on his. His yellow polyester tie glinted in the direct light. “Stonetree may have shimmied out of his promise that you and I had to partner up only for that so-called ‘vampire’ case” — Schanke mimed quotation marks with his fingers — “but don’t go thinking you’ve seized the upper hand in this joint venture, just because—”
“Just because you totaled my car?”
Schanke winced. “How is the Caddy?”
“I went by the garage yesterday.” Nick smiled slowly, watching the tension wind Schanke up, but finally Nick let him off the hook. After all, the perp in their first case cutting the brake line was in no way Schanke’s fault. The polka music and the fire hydrant, however... “I drove it in to work tonight.”
“Good! Great!” Schanke let out the breath he’d been holding. “The, uh, insurance paid for everything, right?”
Nick shrugged. His insurance company did not value his iridescent lime ’62 Cadillac convertible as highly as he did, but his own pockets were deeper than Schanke needed to know. Nick's insurance agent's exasperation with his auto repair claim had at least helped distract him from the other, irreparable, outcomes of that devastating case.
There had been so many victims. Some of them, Nick had known and cared about. He had visited the runaway, Jeannie, first in the hospital and then in the rehabilitation center. They had talked through memories of Topper and “Dr.” Dave, and Nick had tried to help her begin to imagine her future without them. He had written to Alyce Hunter's family, striving to speak as a friend, not as the law enforcement officer who had been able to save her one fewer time than she had needed. Nick had barely known Alyce before losing her, in his own burning home, on Lacroix's fangs.
But of Lacroix — who had once been like a father or a brother, now dead at Nick’s own hands — Nick had nothing to say. He had told Natalie, who could not possibly understand. He had not told Janette, who might understand all too well. She deserved to know, he admitted to himself, but no words fit. Nemesis and yet liege, tyrant and yet teacher. “I can’t be this anymore!” “How long is the longest friendship?” “Va au diable!” Nick had driven a flaming stake though that icy heart.
Then had come the silence.
For eight centuries, the metaphysical threads binding Nick to Lacroix had vibrated to the tunes Lacroix had called. Lacroix had always managed to make Nick into what he least wanted to be. Nick hoped to save lives; Lacroix had driven him to take them. Nick hoped to become human again; Lacroix had stirred the monster he still was. Once more. One last. Murderer into victim, victim into murderer. To whom could Nick turn himself in?
The “vampire” case, indeed.
“Knight. Schanke.” Captain Joe Stonetree loomed in his door, glowering over the squad room. He rocked his head back toward his office. “Got a minute?”
“Sure, Captain,” Schanke said, catching Nick’s gaze and raising his eyebrows as they both stood. Nick shook his head; the only things on his desk were follow-up paperwork and inherited cold cases, not likely to merit the Captain’s intervention.
“I know you’re just passing the shift-change baton before clocking off, Schanke, but I think you’ll want to hear about this one with Knight. Go ahead and close the door behind you.” Stonetree settled himself behind his desk. “I just got off the phone with Detective Emily Martin in Missing Persons. The Lam case is now in your jurisdiction.”
“Oh, man.” Schanke blinked hard. “That means whatshername, Nina—”
“Nisha,” Nick corrected. “Nisha Lam.” The dramatic reappearance of the lost teenager in Mercy Hospital’s emergency room had been all over the news, along with year-old footage of her family’s pleas when she had first vanished, and the even older school photo of the East Indian girl with a tight-lipped smile that had become familiar on posters and fliers.
“Right,” Schanke said. “So this means she didn’t make it.”
“Her stab wounds were worse than we released to the press. I hear it was infection that killed her, though. Dr. Lambert’ll have more for you.” Stonetree tapped his knuckles against the Kleenex box by his pencil jar. “Martin is bringing over all the files. Of course she’ll read you in, but you’ve got two developments to tackle right away. First, Miss Lam named her assailant. We’ve got people out looking; you can supervise if that’s where you want to dig in. Second, the victim’s mother had been sitting with her for days, but went home for a break just before the girl died. It’s too big a risk that the media will get hold of this; we can’t put off notifying the family more than a few hours, at most. Do you want to deliver the news yourselves, or watch their reactions over Martin’s shoulder, or use the hospital’s counselor?”
Nick met Schanke’s eyes. No one enjoyed death notifications, but more than one investigation had turned on those charged moments.
“Flip you for it?” Schanke sighed, half serious.
“Nah. You check in with the team hunting the perp, and then get home to bed so you can pick up the trail on day shift. I’ll meet with Martin tonight.” Nick put his hands in the pockets of his black leather jacket. “I’ll tell the family.”