December 26, 1993
Janette smiled as she maneuvered her shopping bags through the Eaton Centre crowd. With the midwinter sun on its way, she had to head home now, but she had been one of the first at the mall’s early opening, and she had done very well indeed.
Boxing Day, Janette mused, might just be her favorite thing about Ontario. However the observance had begun, it had evolved into a holiday honoring the hunt — and of the hunt, Janette was a most ardent devotee. Granted, stalking discounts on haute couture shoes and seizing rebates on the latest electronics wilted beside chasing her natural prey across wild countryside or entrapping it within civilized customs, anticipating her just rewards in hot, heavy, heaving blood... no, there was no comparison. But in this ungenerous modernity, where medical discards were everyday fare and Nicolas’s monkish abstinence might someday be all their lot, she reveled in this opportunity to publicly unleash the vampire’s instincts to pursue, to catch, to possess.
The elevator to the parking levels had a line, of course. Janette set down her bags and leaned over the railing, looking both up and down at the other shopping floors. She suppressed a mischievous urge to fly out and inspect the suspended Canada geese sculptures.
Janette turned around, face to face with Nicolas’s doctor friend. “Natalie?” The medical examiner carried a professional case as well as a purse, and seemed to be wearing business clothes under her enveloping winter coat. “I did not suspect that you were the ‘doorbuster’ kind.”
“I could say the same of you!” Natalie’s expression was disbelieving as her gaze fell to the plain jeans and jodhpur boots beneath Janette’s black leather jacket.
Realizing that the woman had never before seen her out of an evening gown, with coiffure, cosmetics and escarpin to match, Janette allowed herself a fleeting grin. The nexus of fashion and survival was suitability.
“But no, you’re right,” Natalie continued, “I’m more than ready to be out of this crowd.” Natalie looked around. To Janette’s amused mystification, instead of halting at the civilities of mere acquaintances, the coroner continued chatting, only dropping her volume a little. “I was called to a... scene in one of the office towers. Happened the night before last, discovered today. Very strange! Someone who knew all the security... Anyway, Nick and Schanke are on it now, and I figured as long as I was here, I’d run an errand.” She held up a little sack. “Batteries.”
“For yesterday’s gifts?” Janette moved her bags toward the elevator as the line advanced. “How traditional.”
“I’m seeing my niece tonight. Her mother phoned with a plea to pick up what Santa had forgotten.”
“Did you work the holiday, too, then?” Nicolas had worked through Yule, as usual. Janette would otherwise have had him over for their private toast, a ritual instituted by Lacroix so long ago that she quite forgot its basis. She felt somehow incomplete starting the new year without it, even though only she and Nicolas now remained to share it.
“No, but they spent the big day with my sister-in-law’s family. Do you, um,” Natalie raised her eyebrows, “celebrate?”
“I rarely turn down revelry, whatever the excuse.” Though she kept her voice even, Janette knew that her eyes bubbled with laughter. To her surprise, she wondered whether Natalie could see and share it. “Consider it a professional obligation.”
Natalie grinned, and their turn came to pack into the glass-sided elevator. Squeezed in a corner with just her shopping bags barricading her from a buffet of enticing mortal flavors, Janette swallowed.
“Are you all right?” Natalie asked, doubtless hoping to acquire a new tidbit of vampire lore (or ‘data,’ the scientist would call it, Janette supposed). “I’m not wild about small spaces, either.”
“It’s not that,” Janette admitted. “Surely you know—”
The elevator stopped between floors. Some passengers groaned. Others grumbled. Janette looked out the glass wall into the airy bay under the skylights; while the sun yet lingered below the horizon, it was not far off. If they did not get moving again soon... Reaching into her pocket for her sunglasses and scarf, Janette determined to borrow Natalie’s overcoat to hide under, and to leave explanations to the coroner. Someone pushed the emergency button.
That was when the elevator dropped. Just a meter. Just an instant. But shocked gasps and terrified screams were echoed by adrenalin flooding the bloodstream of every mortal inside the car; Janette could smell it. She set her bags down around her feet and stared up through the glass ceiling into the elevator’s proudly exposed mechanism.
“Everybody stay calm!” Natalie ordered. “Elevators like this one almost never fall.”
“Oh, that’s comforting,” a man snapped. “We’ll die a rarity!”
Natalie glared at him. “Modern traction elevators almost never fall, and when they do, the compressed air in the hoistway slows them down. There are dozens of safety redundancies. And — this is important! — we’re not high enough here for a fall to be lethal. Everyone understand? We’ll be okay.”
“Let her talk,” a matronly passenger hushed the first man as he sucked in his breath. “How do you know, miss?”
“I work with Metro PD. We once solved a murder staged to look as if an elevator fell; it didn’t.”
But this one might, Janette saw. Someone had tampered with the apparatus. With the eyes of a flying predator, she could make out cut marks, bent metal and a conspicuous gap. Sabotage. Janette could think of no way to tell Natalie without panicking the others.
“So what do we do?” asked a teenager. “Jump up just before it hits the ground?”
“I’m afraid that’s an urban legend. The odds of timing a jump just right are astronomical, and the opposing forces don’t calculate out, anyway.” Natalie kept talking, soothing and distracting. Janette could tell that Natalie believed the reassurance she was peddling, but, then, Natalie neither knew about the damage nor feared the coming dawn. Janette examined the adjacent wall for its weakest point, just in case. Natalie said, “If there were enough room, the best thing would be to flatten against the floor, distributing the force of the impact as widely as possible.”
“But as there’s not enough room?” demanded the first man.
“I suggest bending our knees deeply.” Natalie demonstrated; Janette saw out of the corner of her eye, while keeping her attention on the straining mechanism above. “If there is another jolt, that will—”
The elevator fell. Again. The screams came. Again. Longer, louder...
Seeing the machine about to fail, Janette had grabbed Natalie under the arms, lifting her and leaping into flight. As the confined space plummeted, Janette’s skull and shoulder bounced off the ceiling, reminding her that while her pain threshold was higher than a mortal’s, that did not mean her body would hesitate to inform her when she mistreated it.
The elevator stopped — again — as suddenly as it had fallen. “Ow,” Janette complained, lowering them back to the floor. She trusted to the self-absorption of pain, plus the pile of spilled consumer goods, to distract the other passengers from any understanding of what she had just done. Rationalization would set in. Glancing around, Janette saw no injuries worse than sprains and strains, and no one watching her except Natalie.
Natalie, unharmed, took a moment to catch her breath. She searched Janette’s face. “I thought I said not to bother jumping.”
“Those odds are for your kind, not mine.” Janette pursed her lips. “You might say ‘thank you.’”
The elevator door opened, first wedged by a tool, then pulled by human hands. The interior threshold did not meet the floor outside, but it was close enough for the passengers to stampede out without assistance, distributing a few more bumps and bruises in the process. With sunrise imminent and officialdom bearing down, Janette ruefully abandoned her curiosity, her purchases, and her car; she ran for the nearest exit and flew home.
At least she had enjoyed the chase, however much she missed the satisfaction of the kill.
* * *
The Raven was open Boxing Day night. As Janette moved among her customers, dressed in her favorite black gown, she heard that the murder and elevator mishap at Eaton Centre were all the talk among those who had bothered with the news, and family holiday gatherings among those who had not. She instructed her deejay to turn up the volume.
Shortly before midnight, the incongruous sight of Natalie Lambert crossing the dance floor, her arms full of Janette’s purchases from that morning, arrested attention. It was a slow night. Janette waved her patrons back to their amusements and summoned her bouncer to carry the merchandise to her lounge.
“Thank you,” Janette said. “Do I owe you an apology for my departure?”
“I saw the clock.” Natalie shook her head. “But boy, were the investigators sorry to lose a witness! No one else seemed to remember what you really did, but no one forgot that you were there.”
“It was no accident, you know. The apparatus was tampered with.” Janette sipped wine-cut blood from her goblet. “You may tell Nicolas that he may interview me, if you like.”
“Nick and Schanke suspect that the earlier murder cleared the way for the perp’s access to the elevator on the holiday. They’re looking into terrorism, as well as grudges against the mall, and all the individuals involved. It’ll take time.”
Janette drained her goblet. “I suppose that you need to be off to see your niece, now.”
“That was hours ago.” Natalie grinned. “She’s tucked in bed, fast asleep.”
Janette ran the tip of her finger around the rim of her empty goblet, thinking of other times, other places, other... company. Her still unmade salute to the renewal of the turning year, and to her own immortal bonds, itched at the back of her mind. Was it not time to make it wholly her own, without Nicolas or Lacroix? It was not something Janette could impart to Alma, goodness forbid, or her other strays. Not precisely a friend, not wholly an opponent, Natalie was growing disconcertingly toward the regard due an equal.
“Might you like to stay a little while?” Janette found herself asking. “I offer a toast. For the season.”
Natalie raised her eyebrows. “I presume that would be two different vintages?”
“That can be arranged, yes.”
“Good.” Natalie took off her coat. “I’d be honored to share your ‘revelry.’ And I owe you a ‘thank you.’”
Janette smiled. What Natalie could not entirely understand, she could witness; she could feel. It would be enough to launch the hunt anew.
— End —