February 13, 1995
"Damn," Schanke cursed under his breath as his ball pen ceased writing.
"Problem?" Nick inquired while his partner rummaged through desk drawers in search for a replacement.
"It's not fair! Just because some lunatic chose St. Valentine's Day for a serial last year, the department rejected all requests for leave. I mean, we're the good guys! Why do we get punished when some crazy guy cannot handle the holiday? Now we're here with an enhanced force filing reports because all is calm in the streets. Not even a burglary. Man-oh-man, I could be in Vegas instead."
Nick had listened patiently to Schanke's diatribe. "How's Myra taking it?"
"She was vexed at first, then she insisted that I make sure to get off during mating season so that we can go up the St. Lawrence again. Still, it's not the same."
"So what are your plans for tomorrow?"
Schanke sighed. "I don't know. I promised Myra to be home before midnight. But other than that ---"
Nick glanced at the clock which showed 11:45 p.m. "Schanke, go home. Get some flowers and a good bottle of wine. You don't have to leave town in order to spend a romantic evening with your wife. Candle light and a cozy fireplace should work fine --- at least they do for me."
Schanke watched as his partner's face took on a far-away look. "Is that what you've planned for Nat?"
Nick snapped back to the present, quickly responding, "No. Nat's been invited to spend the holiday with the Luces. They didn't want to be alone after what happened with Cynthia. Besides, Nat and I are not---"
"Yeah, yeah, just friends, I know," Schanke teased, doing airquotes.
"Schanke, do me a favour, just go home. I'll cover for you."
"Absolutely," Nick assured him.
* * * *
"Can I help you, sir?"
Schanke eyed the brunette woman in front of him. "Yes. Twelve red roses for the sun of my life."
"I'm awfully sorry, sir, but we've run out of roses. The gentleman at the desk just bought out the entire stock."
Schanke's face fell. This was the only store he knew of in the area with extended opening hours. He turned his face toward the front desk, where a tall man in a long black leather coat stood, apparently waiting for his order to be wrapped.
"We have some beautiful asters though," the saleslady offered. "Or maybe some tulips?"
Schanke was still staring at the man. Something seemed familiar about him and suddenly he knew where to place him. "Excuse me a moment," he told the saleslady before stepping forward next to the man.
"Hello, Mr. --- Nightcrawler." Immediately he found himself caught in a piercing gaze.
"Good evening, Detective Schanke."
"Also here to get a last minute bouquet for your --- er?" Schanke was at a loss. He had no idea if the Nightcrawler was married.
"My lover?" Lacroix provided. "Yes."
Schanke blushed slightly. "Sorry, I didn't mean to pry."
"That's quite all right, Detective. I assume you have a romantic evening planned yourself with your wife?"
Schanke nodded, relieved that the other apparently didn't mind talking about his private life. "Yes, candle light, a good wine in front of the fireplace. I was hoping to get red roses to start with, but I see that I'm too late. How many have you got?"
"Fifty?" Schanke's eyes bulged. "That's quite a lot. Do you think you could settle for, maybe forty?" By the look he received, Schanke knew his question was futile.
"I suppose you would mind sharing your wife, Detective Schanke?"
"Of course!" Schanke exclaimed, taken aback by the rude question. What was that supposed to mean?
"Then you know the sentiment. I do not like to share either. You see, my lover is quite unique. What a man would I be if my gifts were not as unique but shared with the common populace?"
Schanke gave the man in front of him a strange look, but continued to ask, "Does Nick know that you're seeing someone?" After all, the Nightcrawler had told him that he and Janette were the only family Nick had. Any addition would certainly cause a change for his partner.
"I believe he does," Lacroix replied with a raised eyebrow.
That moment, another saleslady appeared from a backroom with a large bouquet of red roses wrapped in cellophane. Lacroix handed her several bills in return for the flowers.
"Detective, good luck with your romantic endeavour."
"Likewise," Schanke mumbled as Lacroix strode toward the exit without sparing him another glance. "Okay, I'll take twelve red tulips," he told the saleslady.
* * * *
Two nights later Schanke dropped by the loft in order to deliver a bottle of red wine as a thank you in return for Nick covering for him. He knew his partner loved the stuff although he had apparently no clue about the proper storage.
His evening with Myra had turned out better than he had expected. In fact, by the time he returned home, Myra had already been expecting him. Not only had she arranged a sleep-over for Jenny at a neighbour's house, she had also prepared the living-room with pillows in front of the fire place.
The rattling noise of the elevator brought Schanke back to the present. He pulled the door aside and stepped into a scenario similar to that he had just reminisced about. The loft was aglow with several candles, in front of the fireplace were the rumpled remains of blankets and pillows scattered about.
Nick, dressed in his robe, was busy gathering two empty goblets and several green bottles from the floor as he looked up startled. "Schanke! You're early. What's up?"
"I'm not interrupting anything, am I?"
Nick placed the bottles in the disposal bin and rinsed out the goblets. "No, just cleaning up."
Schanke nodded, while his mind drew conclusions. Apparently Nick had had company and it wasn't Nat. He held up the bottle of wine. "I just wanted to give you this and thank you for covering for me on Monday. Myra and I had a fantastic time."
Nick eyed the bottle with an air of uncertainty. "Thanks, Schanke. You didn't need to bring this. I'm glad you had a good time." He placed the bottle on the kitchen table and leaned onto the back of a chair.
Schanke's eyes bulged when he saw a vase filled with a large bouquet of red roses on the table. "Nice flowers," he commented which drew a sheepish smile from Nick.
Then it all fell into place. Nick's obvious efforts of keeping Nat at a distance. His devotion to the radio show. The Nightcrawler's evasive answer if Nick was adopted. 'In a manner of speaking,' he had said. Then, at the flower store, he had called his lover 'unique'.
Schanke had to agree. His partner was quite unique. It didn't matter if he was a little different. He was the best partner he had had in years.
"I guess I'll see you later at the station. Enjoy the wine." With a glance at the two goblets in the sink Schanke added, "Maybe share it with whoever you're seeing. Just don't store it in the fridge."
Inwardly smiling about Nick's baffled look, Schanke stepped into the elevator and headed to work.