Nick pulled abruptly into a parking lot. "All right. Out."
Schanke looked around. "What, here? Aw, Nick, come on!"
"You said you wanted to get food." Nick pointed across the street to where a food truck lingered by the sidewalk. "There's your food."
"But it's freezing out! The least you could do is—"
"No, you're not eating in my car. Not after last time. It took me weeks to get the smell out."
"I promise, I'll eat so fast, the onions—"
"Whatever. The smell won't have time to get stuck in anything. Cross my heart. You'll never even smell it!"
Nick gave him a look. "I'll smell it. Out."
Still grumbling, Schanke hauled his none-too-thrilled self out of the car. "If you drive off and leave me, Knight, I swear I'll—"
"I'll be here when you get back. As long as you don't take all night," Nick added, grinning. "Get moving. And shut the door, you're letting all the heat out."
His partner slammed the door and walked quickly away towards the souvlaki truck across the street, shoving his hands into the pockets of his trench coat and muttering under his breath so loudly that Nick had no problem hearing him, even without vampire-enhanced hearing. "Don't let the heat out, he says. Barrel'a laughs, my partner. Real funny, Nick. 'Don't let the heat out.' I bet there are igloos warmer than that car. I pity the woman you get into that thing's backseat."
The car idled companionably while Nick waited for Schanke to eat his dinner. It was a familiar, comforting sound, almost like the purring of a cat. He ran his hands lovingly over the leather seats, the steering wheel and its column, the dashboard and dials, the accents of the door. Every dent in the dashboard, every scratch and stain in the upholstery, held some sort of memory... even if they weren't quite the memories Schanke assumed.
Leaning back in the driver's seat, Nick closed his eyes and let himself sink back into the embrace of the worn upholstery. His mind wandered back and forth—over the case they had just finished up, the case files they still had waiting for them back at the precinct, the new protein treatment that Natalie was working on that she was almost positive would help with his persistent craving for blood...
The fingers of his right hand drifted over a scratch in the seat next to him, and the texture of the imperfection sent his mind reeling back twenty years—a streetwalker in Chicago had made that mark. She'd been a witness in a mob hit case, the rare prostitute who had been willing to talk to police. It had been Nick's task to drive her to the safe house where she would wait until the arrest was made. Her name had been... Kristin? Christine? Something like that. He distinctly remembered the smell of her—not her personal scent, but everything that had masked it. Stale, bitter coffee, cheap pastries, cheap rose perfume, and the sharp tang of crippling anxiety and fear. The image of her long lacquered fingernails, too, was very clear in his mind: badly chipped, bright Technicolor-red--that color never seemed to go out of fashion—scratching at the upholstered seat nervously while she stared out the windows, her gaze wide and unblinking.
She'd gone into witness protection after the trial, Nick recalled. She had been a brave woman.
He opened his eyes and leaned forward, scanning the sidewalk for his partner. Schanke was talking animatedly with the truck owner, waving his hands, bits of onion flying from his half-eaten souvlaki as he gesticulated. Nick eavesdropped a bit on the conversation, grinning.
"...I'm tellin' ya, what kind of red-blooded guy doesn't like the smell of garlic? Can you believe this guy? Says he doesn't want to get the smell in his car..."
The truck owner made an approving comment about the Caddy, and Schanke immediately switched gears. "'62 ragtop. Listen, she's a hard-goer in the winter—he just will not have that heater fixed. But she's the smoothest ride this side of Heaven." Schanke took a bite and chewed loudly. "Hey, did you know the 1962 Cadillac has more trunk space than any other car made in the last thirty years?"
Nick rolled his eyes tolerantly at his partner's ability to memorize pointless trivia and slid back into his thoughts. He occasionally toyed with the idea of getting a new car. Something a little more modern, a little more fuel-efficient, a little less conspicuous than his big blue-green boat of an automobile. But every time he went to a dealership and made the sales people earn their commission by climbing into the trunk to test it, that was always the sticking point: not enough space. His car's trunk was large enough for him to stretch out and sleep comfortably and safely away from the daylight, or in a pinch, snugly fit himself and a second vampire... a small one, at least.
Although, to be honest, Nick could recall only a few instances when another vampire had ridden in his car. It was mostly the mortals from his jobs, the few friends he was able to make and keep in each life, before circumstances forced him to move on. His Caddy had been a constant in his life for the last three decades... a constant companion. He had plenty of other possessions that traveled around with him, of course: his piano, his collection of archeological specimens, various personal treasures he'd accumulated over the centuries. But the car was part of his public persona, one of the few things he could share with mortals without fear.
And they were always fascinated by it. They'd run their hands along its smooth paint job, marvel at the shiny chrome, wince and laugh a little at the dingier insides, ask about its quirks... almost as if it was some kind of exotic pet. Nick hadn't had a dog in a hundred and fifty years, but in a way, the Caddy almost served the same function. It attracted people, made them lower their guards and talk to him when they otherwise might not have. He'd picked up a lot of hitchhikers like that, over the years. Each one of them a walking, talking temptation.
He slid over to the passenger's side, searching the dashboard for a faded name, one word painted in blue and worn away by many years of exposure to sun and moon and street lights. Alex. A very young man had painted that there during a trip from California to Canada, while Nick was, as he fibbed, 'answering the call of Nature.' Alex had been little more than a teenager, full of artistic talent, with enormous blue eyes and a mop of blond hair that made Nick feel like he was looking into a trick mirror and seeing himself on a smaller scale. Idealistic, full of talent and plans, he had offered Nick a book full of drawings and his last few dollars in exchange for a ride across the border. He didn't say why, but he didn't need to.
Nick still had that sketchbook, somewhere in the loft. He had refused the money, though, instead choosing to supplement it with cash from his own wallet, more than Alex had ever seen in his life. "Hide," he told the boy. "Hide from violence and stupid wars, and do something worth doing."
Alex was a highly respected painter now. Not rich, not well-known, but happy. Nick had seen his paintings in small, avant-garde galleries and felt the tiny little glow of warm satisfaction that was, sometimes, all that sustained him from night to night. He hadn't killed. He had done something worth doing.
The newest addition to his car's collection of mementos was a shiny new patch on the back seat where a shredded section had been replaced, after Natalie's cat had escaped from his carrier during a trip to the vet. Her car had been in the shop, so Nick had offered, like the gentleman he was. Natalie had been horrified by the damage. "Oh God, Nick, I am so sorry! I'll pay to get this fixed, I swear."
"Don't worry about it. Really."
Natalie pried Sidney from where he had attached himself by the claws and bundled him back into his carrier. "He always hates going to the vet, but usually he just gets carsick in protest. He's never been destructive before."
"Maybe it was just being in the car with me that bothered him."
In reply, Nick knelt down in front of the carrier, where Sidney could clearly see him. The big Maine Coon began spitting and snarling, jabbing his paws through the bars to get at Nick's face. "He knows what I am, Nat," said Nick quietly. "And he doesn't like it."
"Well, he will just have to learn to like it," Natalie retorted, and picking up Sidney's carrier, she strode into the veterinarian's office with such purpose that Nick could almost see the indignant wheels turning in her head.
He let her pay to repair the back seat. He was a little worried what she might do to him if he refused. But he had to admit, he was glad to have his car whole again, patch and all.
"It's hardly the worst thing you've been through, old girl," Nick said aloud, smiling at the dials, patting the dashboard fondly. "Compared to getting smashed into a fire hydrant and wrapped around a telephone pole, an angry cat is nothing. Yeah... we've been through a lot together." He lowered his voice theatrically. "And you know what? I'll take you over the cat any day."
The tender moment was interrupted by Schanke wrenching open the passenger-side door and jumping into the car, shivering. "Yeesh!" He pulled the door shut quickly. "Brass monkeys, Nick, brass monkeys..."
"Really?" asked his partner absently. "I didn't notice."
Schanke stared at him. "He didn't notice," he repeated, rolling his eyes to Heaven. "Cold enough to freeze beer and he didn't notice. Whatever, man. I got my dinner." He clicked his seat belt into place. "So what the heck were you doing in here while I was getting frostbite?"
Nick wrapped his fingers lovingly around the steering wheel. "Oh, just spending some time with my best girl."