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A Dark and Stormy Night

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A Dark and Stormy Night

The ravines that split Toronto down the routes of its rivers are parks today: no houses may be built, and no one is supposed to live there. Even so, there are always those who prefer to live rough in a quasi-wilderness rather than take their chances on the street or try the shelters. Now and then they are moved on; but usually a blind eye is turned—if only for the sake of convenience and expense—provided they cause no trouble with the people living in the nice houses with their pretty views.

This night was different. The police had their orders to clear the parks; and squad cars had been sent to move on all the known squatters and search out stragglers. Extra beds were made available in the shelters.

Officers Harris and Miller from the 96th Precinct had cleared this section, rousting the bums from their cardboard shacks. Volunteers shifted the homeless on to the shelter at All Saints’ Anglican Church. It was only when the police officers moved deeper, searching under the bridge with their flashlights, that they found the body.

_________

It was a dark and stormy night.

Dr. Natalie Lambert looked out of the tall windows in the living room, into the clouded dark, already threatening rain. This was a night she would have preferred to stay home. Driving would be hell when the storm broke—and there were bound to be at least one or two calls.

As she twitched the long curtains closed, a brush of fur across her shin made her glance down. A pair of green eyes were fixed on her face. Sydney looked anxious. “Poor boy,” she cooed sympathetically. “You do hate storms, don’t you?” And of course, he could tell one was coming. She could see no option but leaving him alone, though: she could hardly take him to the morgue with her. Putting him in his carry case for the entire shift, especially if she was called out, would in itself be unfair to the poor cat; and she hardly dared think of the havoc he could wreak if she let him run loose, especially if she then had to cage him again in a hurry.

With a sudden inspiration, she collected his tray from the bathroom, slid it to one end of the large closet in her bedroom, and made a nest at the other end with an old sweater. All the time, she was accompanied, nose to knee; so at least, she knew, the cat was aware of the new location.

“That’s the best I can do, old boy,” she told him. He nosed past to sniff at the sweater; and she half-shut the door. With luck, when the storm hit, he’d take refuge in the makeshift cave—and she’d not come home to find that he’d peed under the bed again, too scared to come out long enough to use the kitty litter.

In the hall, she brisked her skirts down with the lint-remover to get rid of as much cat hair as possible before putting on her raincoat. Sydney reappeared anxiously at the jingle of her keys.

“Gotta go, boy,” she said brightly, swinging her bag over her shoulder. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

In the car, she switched on the radio and caught the end of the weather report. There were still fears that the dying hurricane coming up from the Gulf would join with the cold front heading their way from the west. “An extratropical storm,” the weatherman said with pompous professionalism. She didn’t give a damn if he tossed his technicalities around. What it meant—as everyone knew by now if they listened to the news at all—was the threat of another Hurricane Hazel. Why else, after all, would they take trouble to clear the homeless out of the ravines?

Somehow, she was not surprised when her pager went off before she reached the office.

_________

With nights drawing in, Nick no longer had trouble getting in to work on time. He was already seated at his desk when Tracy came up from the locker room, surprised to see him working on a case report without being chased up by the Captain. Only minutes later, though, the call came in.

As soon as Nick saw the body, he could see the anomalies. This was not going to be a simple heart attack. It was equally clear though that, in the dark (which was not dark to him), it would be impossible to examine the scene without risking damage to evidence. He and Tracy cast their flashlights down to the river, up the slope of the ravine, along the bank, and overhead to the undersurface of the bridge above them; but nothing obvious struck the eye. For a while, the two detectives occupied themselves getting statements from Harris and Miller, and finding out where the homeless from the makeshift camp had been taken. Then Nick sent Harris up to Old Mill Road to wait for Dr. Lambert—or the Ident team, whichever arrived first—and keep away civilians. In that respect, the weather was on their side: with the storm looming, everyone was heading to the warm, dry, snug of their homes, with no inclination to linger curiously to see what the police were up to. (It was, of course, the only respect in which the weather was on their side. If Ident didn’t hurry up, there’d be little left for them to find once the rain got going.)

“You know, my mother has stories about a night like this,” Tracy said.

“Yeah?”

“When she was just a kid. You’ve heard of Hurricane Hazel.” This was a statement: to her it was obvious that anyone who lived in Toronto had heard of Hurricane Hazel.

Nick’s eyes turned to the dark river. Oh, he’d more than ‘heard’ of Hurricane Hazel. His memories of that night were...vivid.

Ignoring his partner and the body at their feet, he was drawn irresistibly back into the past.

Nicholas Hammond returned to Toronto in the fall of 1954. His departure the previous year had been reluctant. Although he had seen Katherine Barrington safely off to a new identity and a new life (with the little baggage that Aristotle had allowed her), it had grated in his soul—if he still had a soul—that Jeremy Stanton had got away with murdering her husband. Not only escaped prosecution but thrived, with Gordon’s company in his clutches and Gordon’s fortune at his disposal.

Yet Nicholas could not stay and see justice done. Informing the police of Stanton’s perfidy had led nowhere; and, although he had clung around Stanton’s life for a fortnight, hoping to use his vampire abilities to find evidence that would force the Toronto Police to take action, it was to no avail. Stanton guarded his secrets too well. Even an attempt at hypnosis had only proved him to be a resistor. In the end, Nicholas had had to return to Chicago: term was about to start; and Professor Girard was expected back at the university to teach Introduction to Field Methods, Ceramics Conservation Techniques, and Recent Developments in the Archaeology of Central America.

Or so he had thought. The year had not gone as anticipated. After taking the Fifth at the Senate Committee Hearing, he had barely been allowed to teach out the year—and that only because a replacement would have been hard to find at such short notice.

So, he thought bitterly, once again he was forced to move on; and this time he could not even blame LaCroix. He had not seen his master (nor Janette, either) since the end of the war.

For a while that summer, he toyed with the idea of returning to Europe, where post-war privations were a thing of the past, and people were so much more accepting of eccentricity. Paris beckoned, with its glamorous nights and bohemian artists. Perhaps Janette would be living there again. He did not in the least miss LaCroix; but Janette was always welcome in his life.

Still, he hesitated to depart. The pull of unfinished business drew him north. With a new passport in a new name (and a new wardrobe and accent to go with them), he moved to Toronto, where he rented a large house with a convenient wine cellar. If the bottles with which he stocked it were not wine...well, who would know?

On October 15th, 1954, Nicholas Fleming was in Hamilton to see the former owner of the Lakeshore Tire and Rubber Company, which had just been taken over by Barrington Stanton Industries. It was, of course, well after dark when he drove back along the Q.E.W., heading for Toronto.


Nick stared at the black water below them, glinting only slightly from the streetlights on the bridge.

“Nick! Hey, Nick! Earth to Knight!”

Tracy’s voice brought him abruptly back to the present.

“I think Dr. Lambert’s here. I heard a car.”

Yes, there were voices up by the road. He realized Tracy could hear them only vaguely; but, to his ears the words were clear.

“Down here!” he called.

_________

The body lay halfway up the slope of the ravine, well above the water line—or, at least, the current water line. High above was the painted blue squiggle that marked high water in 1954. Dr. Lambert didn’t spot it as she looked over the bridge, searching for the group of police officers below; nor would she have understood its import if she had. The two detectives waiting for her both did, each for their own reasons, though only one of them might have made it out in the dark, had he been looking for it.

Peering over, she could see Detectives Knight and Vetter far below. She got back in her car and pulled along to the end of the bridge, where she picked her way round Old Mill Station to find a route that led back towards the river. Finally, she parked by the verge and switched off her windscreen wipers. As a uniformed police officer approached, she got out, recognizable in the glimmer of the streetlight.

“It’s down there, ma’am,” he said, pointing. She nodded, and went round to the trunk to get out her bag.

The slope was too steep for comfort, even though her low heels sank into the ground. As she angled across and back, zigzagging down to ease the climb, she felt her tights catch on an unseen twig. Leaves crunched underfoot: if they had to stay at the scene for long, it would be slippery getting back up.

“So, what do we have?” she asked. They filled her in briefly; and she squatted, fished in her bag, and began checking vital signs. The corpse’s clothes were damp to the waist; and it was no more than drizzling yet. She pressed on the chest, and got a dribble from the nose.

“He didn’t drown up here,” Tracy pointed out. Natalie looked up at her, not surprised that the detective recognized the signs.

“Someone dragged him up from the river?”

Nick Knight shone his flashlight down towards the Humber: the grass leading down showed no clear trail. He turned back. “Any sign they tried CPR?”

“I have no idea,” said Natalie drily. “Not until I get him back to the morgue—or a halfway decent light down here.” She looked down at the body. “You’d better treat this as a potential crime scene,” she added, with the caution of experience. “Call Ident. We’ll need photos before I can move him.”

“If this is murder,” Tracy started.

“I’m not committing myself,” Natalie said quickly.

“No, no, I understand, Dr. Lambert,” the younger woman assured her, “but if this is murder—“

“It’s quite possible that the body was moved quite innocently,” Natalie said firmly. “You mentioned people camping out down here. Someone might have pulled him out, tried to resuscitate him—“

“Not mentioned it to the nice police officers...?“

“Exactly,” said Natalie briskly. “Because who would, in their situation?”

If it turns out to be murder,” said Tracy, ever persistent, “we need to consider if he died here, or the body was dumped. I mean, why here? Why not dump him down in the river, and hope we’d take it for an accident?”

“That may have been the intent,” Nick put in. “He might have been interrupted.”

“By the bums,” Tracy nodded.

Up on the bridge, a van stopped. Natalie looked up, as the driver hesitated, then drove off. Some time later, though, the driver having followed her own route, the van reappeared rather closer to hand and pulled up behind her car.

The Forensic Identification Unit had finally arrived.

_________

Natalie got into her car and pulled out to follow the ambulance taking the body to the morgue. Nick and Tracy headed for the Caddy, leaving the Ident team below in the ravine trying to salvage what evidence they could before the storm hit. The road above was cordoned off, and another investigator was searching along the bridge up on Bloor Street. There would, Nick thought, be an annoying detour for anyone heading home this way; but that was not his problem.

The dead man’s driver’s licence, found in his wallet once he’d been searched, gave an address on Anglesey Boulevard. Wherever that was. Nick leaned forward, hit the call button, and asked the dispatcher for directions.

Twenty minutes later, he parked in the drive of a mid-rise apartment building. No one answered when they buzzed Apartment 4G; nor was anyone in when the superintendent used his pass key. Nick remained to look around, while Tracy went with the super to check the garage.
She returned to confirm that Mr. James Edward Rastburn had not driven himself to his doom—though he might, perhaps, have taken the TTC.

The victim, if he was a victim, had lived alone. With gloved hands, Nick checked for notes or mail or addresses that might be of use. In the wastepaper basket in the living room, he found two envelopes; in the kitchen, there was a shopping list tacked to the fridge with a magnet.

“I think he worked at the Brewers’ Retail store on Macdonald Street,” Tracy called.

“Have you found an address book?”

“Not yet.” He could hear the ring of her cell phone. “Hang on, I should get this.”

While she spoke, he rummaged through the kitchen drawer nearest the phone on the wall, but came up empty. There had been no address book in Rastburn’s pockets; but surely the man must have had one. In the background, he could hear his partner’s voice: she seemed to be talking to her mother.

He went back to the living room. “Tell her you’re on a case,” he urged, “you’ll call her back later.”

She looked at him, clearly irritated by her mother’s call but—as always when one of her parents was involved—seeming unable to simply tell her not to phone her at work.

“Mum! Mum! “ she said, breaking into the monologue on the other end, “could you hang on a minute. I need to talk to my partner.” She lowered the phone, covering the microphone with her hand.

Nick looked at her quizzically.

“She’s scared of storms,” Tracy explained. “She wants me to go over there.”

“Trace...!”

“I know, I know. But her sponsor’s out of town.”

Nick stifled what he’d been about to say. “I understand you’re worried,” he began instead, “but—“

“Wait!” she interrupted him. “I have an idea.” Lifting the phone, she said hurriedly, “Look Mum, I can’t just come over and stay; but why don’t you go to a meeting? There’s bound to be one somewhere, even on a night like this.” She looked up at Nick, who threw up his hands and headed through to the bedroom. Behind him, he heard her say, “No, I’ll check where it is, and come and drive you there.”

There was an extension phone in the bedroom, which seemed promising. Nick started looking round for the missing address book. After another couple of minutes of protest on the phone, Tracy came to the door.

“Look, Nick, I’m sorry—but I have to do this. I’ve got to make sure she really does go to an AA meeting.”

“Yeah, I know.” The address book was still elusive: perhaps it had been taken by the perp (if there was a perp); perhaps Rastman had simply left it at work. Nick shut the bedside table drawer, and turned. “I’d better drive you back to the station so you can get your car.”

As they headed downtown, Tracy felt compelled to talk. “It’s not her fault, really. I mean it’s not just like being scared of the nasty thunder and lightning. It’s what happened when she was a kid, you see. It’s sort of...,” she hesitated, “almost like a kind of post-traumatic stress thing, if you know what I mean.”

“I suppose so,” said Nick. “At least, I know what PTSD is. What it has to do with your mother....” He took his eyes off the road for a quick interrogative look, and saw she was biting her lip.

“Well, it’s Hurricane Hazel. I told you she had memories. And a night like this—especially a night like this—brings it all back.” Tracy couldn’t help but remember the stories her mother had told her as a child. “When my mother was a little girl,” Tracy explained, “her family lived on a street named Raymore Drive. It was a perfectly nice, ordinary suburban street, except that it ran along by the Humber River. When Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto, my mother was seven.” To Tracy at that age, the story had seemed so exciting....

Her mother leant over to give her the mug of hot chocolate, with a big fat marshmallow floating on top, just starting to melt in the heat. Tracy sipped the sweet warmth.

“Well,” her mother said, sitting down in her armchair. “One story before bedtime, then. What will it be?”

“When you were small,” Tracy said promptly. “Tell me the Angel Hazel story.”

“What again?” It was not Barbara Vetter’s favourite: it brought back memories. On a chill autumn night, though, with the wind outside and the snug warmth in, its happy ending made it a great favourite of Tracy’s. She sighed. “All right, then,” she said. And began.

“It seemed to have been raining on and off for days; so it wasn’t too surprising that the weather forecast was for more rain again. I played outside in the afternoon; but your Gran made me stay in after supper. You see, it was October, so it was already dark. But that wasn’t why I was unhappy. I’d left my doll, Susan, outside; and your Gran wouldn’t let me go and get her. I always slept with Susan; and, without her, I just couldn’t seem to get to sleep. Eventually, my parents went to bed; and my mother came in to kiss me, and found I was still awake, and tucked me in and told me not to worry—that we’d find Susan in the morning, and bring her in and dry her out, and everything would be all right.”


“Only, of course, it wasn’t all right,” said Tracy. “It wasn’t right, at all.”

Nick nodded. He had his own memories of that wet October night. It had, indeed, been raining for days....

Nicholas Fleming drove back from Hamilton along the Q.E.W., rain slashing at the windscreen. The wipers flicked back and forth, back and forth—as they had done two days before, and the day before that. People had been complaining tediously; but mortals always complained of the weather. It was one of their commonest topics of conversation. Among the skills of passing for human was the mastery of the mortal commonplace; but, when it came to discussing rain, he was, for once, in agreement with LaCroix. Not that he’d ever admit it to him, of course, should their paths cross again.

Nicholas had listened to the radio the previous evening, but paid little attention to the weather report. The storm had seemed to stop earlier, but now was back. Even lingering; but, as it was the tail end of a hurricane, there would be more wind and rain than usual. He expected that. It was, after all, why he had taken the car: it took longer than flying, but would obviously be drier coming home.

As he approached the city, he saw a line of cars ahead. Something was clearly wrong. An accident? He pulled up behind the last car and waited. Ten minutes later, he got out and walked ahead. The line of cars was already getting longer, and nothing was happening. As he neared the head of the line, he could see trestles blocking the road, with uniformed policemen. One moved his way, asking him to get back in his car, please.

He focused his eyes and his mind, and saw the man’s alert face slacken.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“The road’s closed because of floods, sir,” said the policeman.

Nick nodded; but, although he returned to his car, he had no intention of waiting in a queue till given leave to pass. Instead, he pulled round in a U-turn, heading back the way he had come. He turned north on Dixie. It would, he decided, be simplest to bypass the problem by taking Bloor Street east across the city.

The second roadblock came as a shock.


Enthralled by memory, Nick drove automatically back to the police station. Assuming his attention to be on the road, which was starting to slicken with rain, Tracy never noticed his preoccupation but continued her mother’s story, coming to the triumphant climax a few blocks shy of their destination.

“The family was in an emergency shelter for a couple of days, and then moved in with relatives. Ever since, she never has liked storms.”

“No, of course not,” said Nick automatically, rousing himself to make the turn into the parking lot and back the Caddy into place.

_________

“The body is that of a well-nourished white male, approximately thirty-five years old, height 181 centimetres, weight 83.4 kilograms.”

Natalie cast a close eye over the now-stripped body of James Edward Rastburn. He was not the only case on her list; but his was the only suspicious death, which gave it priority. She inspected what she could see, noted the superficial details, and then asked Grace to help her turn the body over.

“He was lying face up?” her assistant asked.

“Yes. “ She had noticed the same thing. Leaning down to the recorder, she added, “Livor mortis is more pronounced in the lower extremities.”

Breaking off, she pulled down her mask, peeled off her gloves, and went to the phone.

_________

“The body was definitely moved after death,” said Nick, putting down the phone, “and it doesn’t seem likely he died in the river, either. Not unless you can figure out how he could have leaned up to do it.”

“A bathtub, sink, raised swimming pool or wading pool...?” Tracy was sitting at her desk with a copy of the Yellow Pages, checking the AA listings. Sticking a pencil in to hold her place, she shoved her chair back and stretched out her legs.

“Of course, he could have been pulled out as soon as he was dead, and left with his legs dangling.”

“Not where he was found he couldn’t,” Tracy pointed out. “He was lying crosswise on the slope. If anything, his head was lower on the hill. I suppose Dr. Lambert hasn’t had time to check the water in the lungs?”

Nick simply raised an eyebrow. A thorough post-mortem took time, so the answer was obvious.

“We need to talk to those bums,” said Tracy, thoughtfully.

“I thought you wanted to get your mother to that meeting?”

Tracy grinned. “Okay, you need to talk to the bums.” When he hesitated, she flicked her fingers at him. “Go, go. I’ve got to tell Reese I’m taking an hour’s personal time. I’ll catch him up for you.”

“Oh, thanks,” Nick said drily.

“Better me than you,” said the commissioner’s daughter.

“Undoubtedly.” They both knew that Nick’s tendency to disappear without warning was a sore spot with the Captain, even if he did usually return with the suspect duly under arrest.

With that in mind, he got up and headed round their desks to Reese’s side office, where he rapped and opened the door.

“Knight,” said Reese, looking up from a sheaf of reports on his desk. “How’s the case?”

“It looks like a body dump,” Nick said, “though Dr. Lambert hasn’t finished the autopsy yet.” Stepping inside, he closed the door.

Tracy pulled her chair back close to the desk, looked down at the AA listings, marked the next one with her pencil, and picked up the phone. A few minutes later, armed with the times and addresses of four meetings that had neither already started nor been cancelled for the weather, she slipped quietly to the back of the squad room and out the door. There was, after all, no real point in her barging in to interrupt the Captain...especially in the middle of Nick’s update report.

When Nick left Reese’s office, grabbed his coat, and himself headed for the back of the squad room, therefore, he discovered when he got outside that the parking space next to his own was already empty. He did not bother to go back to Reese to explain.

On the drive back to the west end of the city, as the windscreen wipers whisked back and forth, his memory once again was drawn back...over forty years back...to that night of October 15th.

It was nearly midnight when Nicholas Fleming was stopped by the roadblock on Bloor Street. The line of cars was long; but, unlike the one on the Q.E.W , it did seem to be moving—albeit slowly, in fits and starts. He fretted, tapping his fingers on the wheel; but the alternative was to abandon his car on the road. This might not have troubled him in other circumstances; but the car had been rented in his current identity. Blocking traffic in an emergency situation would presumably bring Toronto law officers to his door; and, for all that—after his experience the previous year—he doubted their competence, it would still be a nuisance to have to deal with them. Well, unless he moved on. But he was not yet ready to abandon ‘Nicholas Fleming’ and the quest for justice.

Eventually, the Eldorado worked its way to the head of the queue, and the policeman on point duty waved him across. Once on the other side, though, he did not proceed home, but pulled off the road at the next turning and parked. Like any predator, he was driven by intense curiosity. He needed to know what was going on.

The rain drove down. He buttoned up his coat, and turned down the brim of his hat; but the wind was fierce, and he had to put up a hand to keep it from blowing off his head.

At the bridge, he hypnotized the policeman at the barricade on the east side of the bridge—the waiting drivers could continue to wait a while longer—and drew from him the information that the floodwater rushing down the valley of the Humber River had run so high that the bridge itself was in danger of washing away. Indeed, along the river there were houses stranded amid the floodwaters, with people desperate for rescue.


_________

When Tracy got to her mother’s new apartment, she found Barbara with a guilty, jumpy look, and a bottle of white rum sitting on the coffee table with a glass beside it. She almost leaned close to smell her mother’s breath, though Barbara insisted that she had not opened it. Yet.

Tracy checked all the same. The seal was unbroken and the glass dry. Nevertheless, it was clear that her mother had been tempted: she was sure there had been no liquor in the place last time she’d visited.

“It’s just...the wind is so loud,” Barbara said. There was a faint whine in the tone of her voice.

It left her daughter unmoved. After all, she had known Tracy was coming over. She had therefore left the bottle out knowing that Tracy would see it. Okay, it was perhaps yet another cry for help. But it was transparently, deliberately, a plea for sympathy—a sympathy that Tracy could not feel. A cop herself, drawn inexorably to follow her father into the Metro Police, she could never understand why her mother had found the life of a police officer’s wife so profoundly difficult that she had to turn to drink to fuddle her fears.

Abruptly, she thrust her hand in her coat pocket and pulled out the sheet of names. “Here,” she said, holding it out. “All of these meetings are starting in a half an hour or so. Pick one, and I’ll drive you.”

“You’re very hard, Tracy,” said her mother, with a note of reproof. “Surely, now you’re here, you can stay for a little bit. I’ll make us some coffee.”

“No, I can’t.” She could have offered Rastburn’s death as reason—a new case was surely justification—but didn’t bother. She was on duty: that should be enough. Taking time to drive her mother to the meeting was sufficient proof of filial love; if it couldn’t satisfy, that was too bad.

Barbara’s lips tightened; but she didn’t beg. She put rainboots on over her shoes, buttoned her coat, and unhooked a small folding umbrella hanging inside the cupboard.

Only when they were in the car did she speak again. “I could have died, you know.”

“Yes, Mum. I’ve heard the story.”

“We were perched on the roof of the house for hours, with the wind screaming and the rain coming down so hard it almost knocked us off. They were trying to launch a boat. It kept getting dragged downstream, until they had to give up for fear they’d capsize and drown.”

“I know, Mum.”

She pulled into the parking lot of the church, and personally escorted her mother into the building and down to the basement hall where the meeting was to be held. There was a fair turn-out, she saw. Perhaps the weather really was bad enough to drive you to drink.

“You don’t need to stay, Tracy,” Barbara said, trying to sound as though freeing her daughter of this duty were a gesture of generosity.
More making a virtue of necessity, thought Tracy; but she said nothing.

“If you can’t get a taxi, give me a call,” she said briskly, and went back out in the rain.

_________

Nick stopped the car where the crime scene tape swung wet in the wind. The Ident van was still there; but the forensics investigators were packing up, the rain dashing away the evidence even as they tried to collect it. He got out and went over, a familiar face; but they had little to tell him, at least not yet.

He went down the slope, across the earth churned to mud along the route that everyone had taken, down to the area they had carefully preserved in a state closer to pristine. The emergency lighting brought by the Ident team had been dismantled and removed; but, with his vampire vision, Nick could see details quite clearly.

From what Natalie had said during her preliminary examination, Rastburn had been dead about five hours, more or less, by the time she’d first seen him. That was long before the makeshift camp had been shifted by the police; and, even though they’d been a good hundred yards upstream, the men must surely have heard—or even seen—something that might be of use. A rustle in the brush, a car stopping on the bridge. He walked along to the remains of the camp to see the location for himself, and gauge what might have been visible. He found sodden cardboard and a shelter of branches, and turned to look south.

The bridge loomed, with its string of streetlights spangling its top span, their glow glinting on the supports. Below, the concrete was dark; and the gorge was deep in shadow. Not promising. It got dark early enough at this time of year that, at the time the body was left, it was quite possible that no one would have seen much. Still, sounds carried; and the river was well below the noise of the street.

At a sudden thought, Nick pulled out his cell phone and called Natalie’s office. By now, if she was not finished the autopsy, she must be close to done, he hoped. At least, she might be in a position to answer one particular question.

The phone rang, several times. As he waited, he glanced northwards....

Leaving the policeman to come out of trance in his own time, Nicholas withdrew to the privacy of the side street, locked his hat in the Eldorado, and took to the air. The force of the gale shook him, took him, and flung him along through the sky. He could barely keep control of the direction of his flight. As he rose higher, he could see Bloor Street below him; and he turned to look west, where the cars queued impatiently on either side of the bridge. The water was high...so high under the span. In shock, he realized that the bridge was indeed in peril, and could be washed away.

It was taking all his force to maintain his position; and, as he slackened his effort, the wind tossed him northward. He let it take him upriver.

At the bridge, the Humber ran through a gorge; but, as Nicholas flew, he saw it broaden out across the floodplain. Over the wind, there were faint cries; and he swooped down to see a man clinging to the branches of a tree. Around was water, too deep and too fast. Upstream, a mass of debris was charging down: would it collide? would the roots hold? For a moment, Nicholas thought of flying past, leaving the victim to his fate. But he knew he could easily blank the man’s memory....

The wind had already taken him yards upstream. As he turned, the force of the hurricane smote him like a blow from a mace. He lost position; and saw the floating mass strike, the branch break, and the man flung into the water. He strained to mark the spot; but even vampire vision could not find any sign.

He turned, and let the wind sweep him north.


His face shuttered in memory, Nick stared upriver.

“Nick? Is that you?” The voice jarred him from reverie. “I haven’t finished the autopsy yet—this is a hell of a time to be interrupting me. What’s so urgent?”

“Sorry,” he said quickly. “I was just wondering. The body was moved; but was it carried to its location, dragged, or maybe even tipped over the bridge? ”

_________

Having left her mother, Tracy headed for the Coroners Building, arriving as Natalie was clearing up after the autopsy. Grace pushed the gurney with Rastburn’s body into the cold storage locker; and Natalie took off her lab coat and dropped it in the laundry bin. The table had been hosed clean; and Tracy leaned back against it without heeding its recent occupant, except to ask if anything useful had been found when Natalie had opened him up.

Natalie pulled out her chair, and sat gratefully down, leaning back and stretching her legs as she swung round to face the detective. “Well, he drowned,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye. Both knew this to be stating the obvious. “I’ve sampled the water in his lungs for analysis; but I got a strong whiff of chlorine. Stronger than bathwater, I can tell you that—and obviously not river water. I’d suggest looking at swimming pools.”

Tracy looked intrigued. “That should be useful,” she observed. ““Most outdoor pools have been drained by now. Any idea how he got down there?”

“Nick asked that,” Natalie said. “He called earlier. Well, there was some vegetable matter in Rastburn’s hair—dried leaves, that sort of thing—and a bit on his clothing, too; but nothing like as much as I would expect if the body’d been dragged down the slope. And, of course, we saw no drag marks, though I suppose more might be seen by daylight.”

“After this rain?”

“Probably not,” Natalie agreed. “Anyway, Ident will tell you what they’ve found.”

Tracy nodded.

“I can tell you for certain the body wasn’t dropped from the bridge. Nick asked about that particularly; and, as I told him, there’d be obvious trauma—broken bones, at the very least—and I found nothing like that. I think it must have been carried, though whether by one or more people, I can’t say. Again, Ident may be able to tell you more.”

Natalie got up, and lifted down the coffee maker on the filing cabinet.

“I’m going to make a cup. Want one?” She lifted the pot, and went to fill it at the sink.

Tracy hesitated. “Is there much more you can say?” she asked.

Natalie turned, holding the pot under the tap to fill. “Not so much right now,” she said. “I’ll get the report to you once it’s written up.”

“No,” said Tracy regretfully. She’d wasted too much time driving her mother. “I’d better go see what Ident are willing to say.” She went to pry what she could from the forensics investigators; and Natalie, deciding it was more than time to take a break, turned off the tap, put the coffee on to brew, and got her brown bag lunch out of the specimen refrigerator.

_________

Having heard what Natalie could tell him about the body, Nick put the phone away in his pocket and headed upslope to the Caddy. By now, the Ident van had driven off. There was, he decided, little more that he could do here. It would be best if he interviewed the only witnesses they knew about, at least until they could find out more about Rastburn’s life and job.

He drove west on Bloor to All Saints’ Church, pulled into the parking lot, and got out and looked for an unlocked entrance. It was late; but with guests on the premises there must surely be someone in charge.

The homeless who had been brought for their safety to All Saints’ had long since been fed, given showers, and provided with mattresses on the floor of the basement. Nevertheless, over the protests of the deacon in charge of the outreach program, Nick insisted that those who had been at the camp near the bridge be wakened so that he might question them. To avoid any disturbance of the other homeless men, he interviewed them in the deacon’s office.

The three sleepy, grumpy men were not as informative as he might have liked; but, his hearing attuned to their heartbeats, he did not think they were being any more deliberately uncooperative than might be expected in the circumstances. They had simply not much cared what was going on outside their own circle, each looking with caution more at the others than the dark. One admitted that they might have decided to shift camp under the bridge for the sake of keeping dry; but, long before the rain had started, the police had come along.

They had, of course, heard cars and trucks: it was a busy street. Vehicles might have stopped, but not on the bridge itself, because it wasn’t allowed. There had been sounds of people up the slope more than once—and this had certainly drawn their attention, lest they be molested—but no one had come near them, which was all that any of them really cared about.

“Right, thank you,” said Nick finally. He could think of no more questions he could ask at the moment. Turning to the deacon, he asked that he try to keep track of the men so that they could be relocated if there proved to more to ask; but this request was met with incredulity. Both the deacon and Nick knew that all three men would be off in the morning, unlikely to return—not only to the church but to their old camp, now that they knew the police had an interest.

“Thank you for your assistance,” he said finally, taking what names they were prepared to give him.

He drove back along Bloor, and turned at Honest Ed’s to go south on Bathurst—a route he took so often that the Caddy could almost drive itself back to the precinct....

Some way further north, the Humber River broadened with the floodwater as it took a hooked bend round to the west. From the height at which he was flying, Nicholas Fleming could see a flurry of activity through the obscuring downpour. Lights in the windows of several houses to the east side of the river, and even more lights to the west, made it easy for him to see men thronging the bank, frustrated by boats they couldn’t launch. Two were hauling a motorboat further upstream. Yet further north, a small bridge spanned the river; debris at its base held back some of the flood.

“I’m going to wade,” he heard one man cry, and saw a fireman step into the deep. His coat belled downstream as the river filled it. Great loops of rope hung over one shoulder. He reached perhaps ten feet offshore before the force of the water took him off his feet; but his mates drew him back to land by a rope round his waist; and he knelt, spluttering. The rope from his shoulder was thrown out towards the nearest house, but could not reach. It was tied to a spar of wood and thrown again. Again it fell short, and was dragged downriver with the wood, until hauled ashore hand over hand. Through it all, the people on the roofs screamed for help. Or simply screamed.

It was like a scene from a movie, Nicholas thought. Some Cecil B. DeMille epic of disaster—the fall of Rome, the inundation of Atlantis.

The river roared, the storm howled, the people screamed.

The bridge broke.

Under the weight of the flood, it collapsed into spans and spars, its hulk hurtling round the bend of the river to crash into the nearest house. It spun free through sheer momentum, and hit the next. The force of its impact ripped the buildings from their very foundations.

They floated away. They floated.

The sight of houses adrift on the waves was incredible, even to Nicholas. At first, their movement seemed slow. Then as the force of the river overcame their bulk, they hit houses further downstreet—the street he could not see, for it lay already underwater.

Far below, a fireman heaved up a great ladder and thrust it out and over—yards over—the water in an attempt to span the gap to the nearest roof. It was an impossible feat of strength for a single mortal (and, even through the storm, Nicholas’s senses showed no other vampire in the area, so the man was indeed mortal). Yet the ladder rose up, fell forward, and clashed down successfully on the eaves. On the roof, a man scrambled down to grab the end and hold it firm.

Upstream, a boat was launched. Fighting against the wind at his back, Nicholas held position to see what would happen. The current swept it down; but the motor was powerful, and its occupants strove to keep on a diagonal course towards the houses. A swerve at full throttle put them within distance; a dangerous grab caught the roof. With awkward care, a man handed first one woman and then a second into the boat. Children were lifted in; a baby handed to one of the crew. One man started to climb down next; but the crew waved him back. Nicholas could hear shouted protests: no one wanted to remain behind on the roof: the danger was clear: the house was shuddering on its foundations, threatening to break free at any moment.

“She’s overloaded already!” he heard.

The crew let go the roof; and the boat was immediately taken by the river. As it moved away, though, a twist of current swung the stern back towards the house; and, alert at the chance, one of the marooned men leaped across, straining forward, hoping to make the gap. He fell short, flailing in the water. In desperation, he stretched—and managed to get a hand on the starboard gunwale near the stern. His grip was deadly tight: he hauled himself close enough to get his other hand beside it.

The boat dipped dangerously down. There were screams.

In his fascination, Nicholas flew lower. Would they pry the man loose and leave him to the flood, or take the risk and the time to try to haul him on board? He knew LaCroix’s solution to such a dilemma would always err towards the pragmatism of self-preservation; but mortals could be wonderfully quixotic. It was what he loved about them.

With whatever reservations, the crew opted to try to save him. They cut the engine; and two men leant over to grab his collar and arm. Yet the current dragged the boat swiftly downstream; water slapped over the side as they struggled to get him aboard; and the very weight of the rescuers further threatened the boat’s stability.

Each wild roll wrung screams from the soaked, terrified people on board. The women tried to keep hold of both the children and the side of the boat, while the children grabbed anything that seemed firm. All eyes were on the struggling crew, with desperate hope they would hurry.

Only Nicholas, from his high vantage, saw one foot trip, one hand slip. For a moment, a precious unseen moment, a child lay flung across the gunwale, scrabbling for a hold. Then, dragged inexorably by her centre of mass, she pitched into the river. Tossed in the current, she parted instantly from the boat. Behind, the crew hauled the man in, restarted the engine, and began to fight the long diagonal back to shore. One blonde head was lost unnoticed...in the dark, in the rain...as the storm howled down and the river thundered like Niagara.

Nicholas left them to their peril. His vampire eyes had marked the spot where the little head bobbed, the little hands paddled. She strove valiantly, but in vain against the force of the river. At any moment, she would be gone—struck by tree or bridge or house, nose filled to choking by the slapping waves of water.

He twisted into the wind, braced up to meet it. Again, it hit him mace-hard; but he dived with the strength of a vampire, aiming himself into the blast. He knew he had to fly well downstream if he was to save the child in the water before she drowned.


_________

Tracy returned to the precinct with the knowledge that, as far as the forensics investigators could tell, Rastburn had been carried under the bridge by two men who had come downslope on the south side of Bloor from a car parked on the access road in King’s Mill Park.

“There’s not a lot we can do until people get to work in the morning,” Nick told Reese.

“Next of kin?” the Captain asked.

“In Aurora,” said Tracy. “I called the York Regional Police. They’ll notify them.”

With that, the investigation of Rastburn's death had to be left for another day. Reports filled the rest of the shift. When Tracy left, the first faint glimmers of dawn were lightening the sky. The ground was wet from the storm; and she ran the wipers for a bit to clear the windscreen before leaving the lot. She did not, however, go directly home.

It was early, but not so early that people weren’t getting up. Indeed, by the time she reached her mother’s, the roads were starting to fill with early commuters. As she had expected, Barbara Vetter was already awake, in the middle of making herself breakfast. She opened the apartment door in her bathrobe.

“I thought I’d take you up on that cup of coffee,” Tracy said brightly, breezing in with a smile. “How was the meeting?”

Her mother closed the door.

“You may have noticed that the storm fronts didn’t merge, we didn’t get another Hurricane Hazel, and we’re all still here this morning.”

“Yes,” said her mother, and went into the kitchen. Tracy followed her.

“Do you still take cream and sugar?” her mother asked. “Or have you decided to copy your father again, and started to have it bitter and black, instead?”

“Nope, still the ol’ cream’n’sugar gal,” said Tracy lightly. “Double-double, if you can spare it.”

Her mother silently got out the sugar bowl.

“We’ve got a new case,” Tracy said. “Oddly enough, over near the Humber. Not up near Raymore Drive, though.”

“Would you like anything with this?” her mother asked, pouring the coffee into two mugs and pushing one along the counter to her daughter.

She added a spoonful of sugar to her own, as Tracy got the carton of half-and-half out of the fridge.

“What were you going to have?”

A few minutes later, the two were seated at the small table in the nook, Barbara nibbling a croissant while Tracy worked her way through microwaved oatmeal, with croissant and muffin to follow.

“You’ll get fat,” her mother said, with gentle reproof.

“I work it off,” Tracy said. She pushed the empty bowl away, split the croissant, and started to spread it with jam.

“It’s been a long while since you’ve told me the story of Hurricane Hazel,” she began. “Looking back, I don’t think you ever really liked to have me ask you to tell it.”

Barbara waited to see where this was leading.

Reaching the little girl, Nick grabbed her by the scruff of her pyjama jacket collar, and hauled her up in the air, hoping the sodden child would not simply slip through her clothes. He fought the wind downstream, and left her on the far bank of the river where she would, he hoped be found safely before morning. He thought to muddle her memory—but she was so young it didn’t matter. Whatever she said, no one would believe it; and, by the time she grew up, she’d forget it herself.

“You nearly died,” Tracy said. Now an adult, she found the thought sobering. “The Angel Hazel saved your life.”

Her mother shifted, looking a little embarrassed. “That silly name,” she said. “’Angel Hazel’ indeed!”

“It’s what you called him in the story.”

“It’s how I thought of him as a child. Swooping down—“

Flying down,” corrected her daughter.

“He was just a man, darling,” her mother said. “He couldn’t really fly, you know.”

“As you always pointed out at the end of the story.”

“Well, yes.”

“He saved you.”

“He swooped in and saved me,” her mother agreed. “On the end of a crane, probably, I expect. I know there were people rescued by crane that day. It was in the paper: I checked.”

It made sense. Tracy knew it made sense. But she had always preferred to believe that her mother had her own personal Guardian Angel Hazel.

It certainly made a better story that way.


THE END