Note: This is pre-Divia. In fact, those last two episodes? LalalalalaIcan’thearthem!
* * *
Nick looked over at his partner and grinned the kind of grin that usually resulted in salt in his coffee later. Which didn’t bother him since he never drank any. “Soooo...” He spun the steering wheel, taking the Caddy around a sharp turn.
She glanced at him. “So?”
“You look very nice tonight. Big date after work?” He raised both eyebrows in a mild question.
Her eyes narrowed. “Maybe,” she said.
“Only a maybe? Must not be much of a guy.”
She gave him an annoyed look but shrugged. “He has his moments.”
“Uh huh.” His tone was skeptical. “Only moments?” He shook his head.
“Just drive, all right?”
“Uh huh.” His tone had moved all the way into smug, but he drove. One more tiny nail in the metaphorical coffin of Tracy seeing Vachon. Maybe they’d add up.
* * *
Natalie met them at the body. “Hey, Nick, Tracy.” She forced a smile onto her face.
“Bad one?” Nick asked.
“Oh, you might say that.” She blew out a breath. “Young woman, early 20s. Her throat was ripped open. Looks something like a raking implement. Not enough blood on site. She probably was killed someplace else and dumped here.” She gestured a gloved hand at the rundown buildings. “I won’t know more till I run a full autopsy.”
Nick nodded. “We’ll walk the scene in a minute. Tracy, would you mind checking with the unis to see if they have any witnesses?”
Tracy looked at Natalie, understanding. “Sure.” She walked over to the uniformed officers. Nick listened with part of his attention, the rest on Natalie.
She shook her head. “Looks bad, Nick. Not enough blood here. Her throat was torn up with an implement, but it could have been post mortem. Any new friends in town?”
“Not a one.” He frowned. “The local...scene is usually smarter than this. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
“You do that.” Natalie motioned techs over to help her move the corpse into a body bag and onto a guerney. She turned away from him in a definite dismissal.
Nick walked to where Tracy was nodding at an officer and taking notes. She turned to her partner as he arrived. “Benson says nobody in the buildings saw anything.” Her smile twisted bitterly. “Or heard anything. No strange people. Unless you count our vic.”
“Hopefully the techs can find something.”
“Not so far. She was dumped on wet ground, but no footprints or drag marks.”
“Maybe she was dumped before it rained.”
Tracy rolled her eyes. “It’s rained for the last two days. She didn’t look *that* bad.”
“Still, you never know. Odder things have happened.”
She eyed him, smiling reluctantly. “I suppose they have.” Her smile softened as her thoughts turned elsewhere.
* * *
As it turned out, the techs found exactly nothing. No impressions. No fibers from anything but the too-new-to-have-even-been-washed clothes on the victim.
Natalie’s luck was scarcely better. She found no semen or saliva. The throat wounds had been irrigated with saline. No other wounds or even bruises.
Nick and Tracy had no witnesses. Nick couldn’t find any new vamps in town not accounted for at the estimated range of death; the new kids in town liked the Raven for its safety till they acclimated, and the bar could account for most of them all by itself. Tracy couldn’t turn up any leads through Vachon either. Though both vampires had been amused to realize that they were hunting the same prey at the same time when they met at the Raven.
The case ended up tabled for a while. Until the next deaths.
* * *
Natalie zipped the body bag with force and anger. She glared up at Nick. “And you can’t find anything?”
He held up his hands in front of him. “Hey. Not the villain here.”
“No.” She sighed. “I’m sorry. They’re just so damned young.” She looked down at the ground, hiding brightened eyes. “And all four not likely to get any older, right?”
“Natalie.” Nick put all the compassion he could find from all his decades into his voice for her. She looked up at him. “This is almost the end of your shift. Let the techs bring him back. Let me take you home.” She nodded, the movement slightened by exhaustion.
Once in the car, she let her head fall against his shoulder. He cradled her near him in one free arm. “Hey, buddy, you’re driving.” He could hear the smile in her voice.
“Hey, lady, vampire reflexes.” He winked down at her.
“Fair enough.” Her voice sounded drowsy now rather than upset.
“Natalie, when was the last time you ate something?”
She sat up. “Aren’t I supposed to ask you that question?”
“Yeeeeahhhh.” He gave her a sideways look to make it clear he still wasn’t budging.
“Um.” She paused to think.
“That’s what I thought.”
“Hey!” She punched his shoulder. “I’m thinking here! Lunch. So there.”
“And what was lunch?”
“We-ell, it might have been popcorn.”
“Uh huh.” He turned the car smoothly into a drive through restaurant.
* * *
Tracy watched Vachon as he hunched down over the place they had found the last victim. Joey Matthews, age 18, number four not that she was counting except for the part where the numbers had started to drive her mad. The dark haired vampire sniffed at the ground, his eyes turning a yellow visible even in the dark. She bit her tongue to avoid interrupting him. She wanted to demand answers, but she knew Vachon would never keep them from her once he had them. Till he actually knew something, she had to be patient. Okay, as patient as she could. She clenched her nails into her palm out of his line of sight.
“You know,” he said lazily, “I can smell the blood when you do that.” She unclenched her fist, fast. He snorted. “Don’t stop on my account.”He blinked the yellow back. “I’m not young enough to lose control over that. Don’t try it with Urs, though, okay?”
“Okay.” She nodded tightly. “Anything?”
“Yeah. We...we might have a problem.” He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his eyes. “The boy scratched him. Not fighting--I can’t see any sign of a fight. Probably, um, in the process of encouraging--” He stopped.
“Will Joey turn?”
“No. No smell of a second vampire, not even a really new one. Joey...is just dead. I’m sorry, Tracy. I can smell the other one though.” He paused. “You need to let me take care of this.”
“Take care of it how? He’s been killing people in my city, Vachon. Don’t you tell me this is vampire business.”
“Even if it is?” He laughed, keeping the sound low. “What would a human jail do with him? How long would it take him to charm a guard and go wherever he wanted? Or kill anyone between him and the door?”
Tracy’s stomach turned. “So he can’t go to trial.” She took a huge breath. “I can’t pretend I’m okay with that. I have fought for the law my whole life. It matters.” Her face twisted. “If this is the only justice he will face, then this is what it will have to be. But you don’t get to pat me on the head and tell me it’s not my problem. I brought you in on this, and what you do? That’s on me. I can’t walk away and pretend I don’t know anything.”
“It would be safer for both of us if you could. I’m not trying to treat you like a child. I’m trying to keep us away from the Enforcers. You can’t be charmed into forgetting. So they *will* just kill you.”
And him too, Tracy thought, though he didn’t say it. “I understand.” She forced the words out of her throat. “But I still have to be part of this. You hunt at night. I hunt during the day. Tell me what I’m looking for. Please.”
He looked at her, not trying to hide his eyes changing again. He stared at her for a long while before he nodded.
“The first thing you need to know is that he’s old...”
* * *
Tracy tore the edges off the latest printout. Addresses for the oldest single owner Victorian style houses in Toronto. Quiet areas only. Large lawns. Well kept. No rentals, no apartments in the houses. A wealth of places to start, and all the daylight after work to use to search. She grabbed her car keys. One of the advantages of always driving Nick’s car on duty. She didn’t have to explain the crosses and stakes in the box in her backseat.
* * *
The fifth or sixth house might have been the one. Beautiful , secluded, large grounds, house set back off the road. Kept in condition by a group of men and women who went back inside and cooked lunch when done with morning chores.
Tracy shook her head. None of them looked scared though. Not even a little. Maybe she was just getting surveillance fatigue--eager for the right place so she could stop looking. She made a note next to the house address. She’d ask Vachon to look at it later.
She gulped the coffee in her travel mug. Meanwhile, she had other houses to look at. The better she kept moving, the less likely she was to fall asleep.
* * *
Vachon pushed the elevator button. He knew Nick was home; he could hear the piano music from the street. Now was as good a time as any to talk.
The music stilled as he stepped into the loft. “Vachon.” Nick’s voice was neither threat nor welcome.
“Sir.” He bowed with careful courtesy, hoping that formality would smooth some of the unease between them.
“What brings you to my abode?”
“We have a similar quest.”
Nick quirked a grin. “I did notice that. Are you working on this because of Tracy?”
Vachon shook his head. “With Tracy.”
“With.” Nick’s smile faded. “It might have escaped your notice. But Tracy’s mortal.”
“It has not escaped my notice. Has it escaped yours that mortality won’t stop her?”
Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Which is why you should keep her out of this. Not to mention away from you in general. It’s not safe for anyone, her especially. If you don’t have regard for your safety, try thinking of hers.”
Vachon’s eyes narrowed. “That kind of thinking won’t keep her safe. All it does is guarantee that when she does end up in danger, she’ll do it alone. Do you really think that keeping her ignorant helps? Do you think she won’t take a bullet some night if she thinks she has to do it to protect you?”
Nick snarled at him, caught on a raw nerve. Vachon stood his ground. This had to be said and had needed to be said for a while. From the look of Nick, this might have needed to be said before someone else had died. Tracy was not going to die like that, out of sheer ignorance. Sooner or later, he would stop keeping Nick’s secret. Not yet. But not never either. Best Nick understood why before it had to happen.
“I haven’t told her. It’s not mine to tell. But that kind of safety...” He spread his hands as if letting something fall. He looked at Nicholas, his eyes compassionate and with no trace of yellow. “I’ve tried it too many times and had it fail.”
Nicholas shook his head, hard. “I have a life here to protect,” he said harshly.
“Do you think she would try to take it away?”
“Not on purpose.” The other’s own eyes are tired and half hooded. “But it would only be a matter of time. We work together, Vachon. It’s too easy for her to slip.” He waves a hand in the air. “It won’t be that long before I have to move on anyway.” His tone is bleak. “We can only stay in plain sight for such a short time.” He smiles quietly. “I’ve had that sort of conversation before. I’ve had it sometimes go very, very badly. Let me be for a bit. It won’t be that long.”
The younger vampire shakes his head. “I think you’re wrong.” He meets Nick’s eyes. “But I won’t tell her.” For the moment, he thinks. “Right now, we have another problem.”
“Yes, we do.”
“Can we solve it before the Enforcers notice?”
“God, I hope so.”
“I have some ideas of where to start.”
* * *
Nick peered at the house from the bushes. Vachon peered over his shoulder in turn. Nick batted at him when Vachon’s long hair started to tickle. Vachon backed up reluctantly. Which was fine. Reluctance meant slow, and slow meant no moving leaves.
He could sense the old one. The vampire smelled of dry dust and sand. Male, but with enough years for that trace to be etoliated. He wouldn’t be surprised if LaCroix was a contemporary of this one. Other life moved inside the walls, brighter, mortal, and interacting. Nick groaned to himself. A community, then.
He’d seen this before. Some vampires, particularly those aged enough to have learned sufficient self control, kept mortals with them in a near symbiosis. The vampires never had to go hungry. Neither did the mortals, and they had the protection associated with being claimed. They also had the accompanying lack of freedom. The Enforcers barely tolerated such arrangements and only when the mortals stayed isolated from their kind or ignorant of the nature of their protectors. Loneliness or regular enthrallment or both--not much of a life. Better than living on the streets maybe.
Something had to have changed, if bodies had started appearing. Possibly their keeper had gotten bored of his usual fare, orr of self control. Could also be dissention in the ranks. Kill a few for an example. Replace them later with more malleable people. Nick shook his head. If dissent were possible, that represented a slip right there.
Some vampires did not age well. Will and desire could be as much a factor as innate power. If he no longer cared about control...
No matter what the cause, Nick had to at least deliver a warning. The killings had to stop. This vampire might be careful enough to escape mortal detection himself. But humans were never that far away from the fire and the stake, and it wouldn’t do for the rest of them to burn for the actions of one. He pinched the bridge of his nose. It was a bad night indeed when he found himself agreeing with the Enforcer party line.
Nick walked to the front door alone, making no particular effort to be quiet. Javier waited in the shrubbery in case of trouble. Which hopefully wouldn’t come. He knocked on wood at the door.
A young woman came to the front door, her eyes wide and surprised. She smiled at him. He smiled back. “I’d like to speak to the owner of the house.”
“I’m sorry, we don’t accept solicitors.”
“I’m not selling anything.” He met her eyes. “He wants to talk to me.” She nodded, caught.
“I’ll just get Martin for you then.” She started to turn and almost ran into the man behind her.
“It’s all right, Alicia. I’m here. Won’t you come in?” He nodded to Nicholas.
“Thank you.” Nick walked in, trying to ignore that his action put Martin at his back. He tracked the sounds of the humans in the house, using the small noises to determine their locations. If enthralled enough, they might attack him on orders. Killing yet more mortals was not the goal of this night’s work, and being mindful of what they were doing would help him avoid that. Five lives. No, six. One particular life sounded...thin. Lost. He closed his eyes briefly. He could hear breath sighing in and out, barely moving a chest for a heart that only just still beat. He looked at Martin and how the other vampire looked warm and fed. “Will you please speak with me?”
“Of course.” Martin gestured urbanely toward a drawing room, furnished in Victorian style. “Alicia, bring a drink for our guest.”
“That’s...not necessary,” Nick protested, but Alicia departed nonetheless.
“Please, sit.” Martin directed him to a cushioned chair.
Nick took a seat. Alicia returned with a goblet of blood. Nick politely pretended to take a sip, despite the temptation, and set it down next to him.
Martin smiled, just as politely and with just as much pretense. “So, what brings you here tonight?”
Nick took a breath and went for blunt. “Some of the humans associated with you have been found dead. Drained of blood.”
The other vampire waved a hand in quick dismissal. “Many humans are found dead in this city. A few more should hardly be of note.”
Nick swallowed his anger, and tried a tack he hoped the other vampire would be willing to acknowledge. “Normally the corpses are not found drained. The police have located these bodies.” He left unsaid, “Because you were careless enough to kill them and leave them.”
Martin frowned. “You are on their police force, are you not?” He smiled. “We hear things, even out here. Surely you can take care of this troublesome matter.”
Nick resisted the urge to take care of it then and there. “The persistent appearance of bodies cannot be hidden from or dismissed by the mortal authorities forever.”
Martin laughed. “Mortal authorities? Really? I should care? We’ve been around for centuries, and we are supposed to bow to these children playing dress up in their little uniforms?” His smile grew more edgy. “Do you bow to them then?”
Nick glared. “I work within the society that exists. They are not children, sir. Their achievements--”
“Are nothing. They make a few steps in a hundred years, but humans are still the same at base. And believe me, they are base. You believe in their achievements. Would those be the guillotine or the atomic bomb?”
Nick shook his head. “You’re wrong. But it’s not my job to convince you.”
“What do you think your job is then?”
“To tell you it has to stop. You will bring the city down upon all of us who shelter here if you keep killing like this.”
Martin laughed. “But I like killing like this. It’s not as if they object.”
“I’m sure when you’re done compelling them, they don’t. That doesn’t make it right.”
Martin bared his fangs. “You have no right to school me, young boy.” He put as much contempt as possible in the last word.
Nick met his eyes steadily. “Someone has to.”
Martin gave him a twisted smile. “Then try.” He moved, quickly even for a vampire, throwing Nick into a wall hard enough that he embedded in the plaster.
* * *
Vachon heard the crunch of a wall being impacted and damaged. Swearing under his breath in Spanish, he broke through a window, glad as he went that the house was owned by the vampire they sought, not a mortal capable of leaving him outside.
When he reached the drawing room, he found Nicholas trying to get enough leverage to pull himself out of the wall. He crossed the room and pulled him free. “So, how’d the diplomacy go?”
“I would never have guessed.”
A sibilant whisper drifted into the room. “So, young friends, let us pay our own game. Hide and seek. But I think you might want to not find me. My little pets will take turns pointing the way and being *in* the way. You’ll get to discover which each time you meet one. Try not to hurt any of the poor things.”
Vachon eyed Nick. “You do realize it’s not that far from dawn.”
“You do realize he could follow us home.”
Vachon sighed. “Hide and seek it is then.”
* * *
The pair moved, moving to avoid encountering anyone with a heartbeat. The humans might have been compelled to attack them, and that was a scenario unlikely to end happily for either side. They searched the entire house, traces of the old vampire maddeningly close the whole time.
* * *
A low laugh came from a near doorway.. “Oh, I think I should give you some incentive to keep moving...” A form blurred by them, breaking open a wall with one fist, letting sunlight hit the two younger vampires. Martin disappeared again, as Vachon and Nicholas scrambled to get out of the daylight, swearing and smoking.
“He’s insane!” Vachon spat for emphasis.
“You just noticed that?”
* * *
Tracy Vetter arrived at the house address Vachon had left on her voice mail. She parked the car, reaching for the cross bow and bolts she had moved to the seat beside her. The bottle of holy water, extra bolts, and cross fit in the large pockets of the coat she used to conceal the bow. She fingered the cross around her neck for a moment, squared her shoulders, and turned to the old house.
Closer in, she frowned, hearing the crash and crunch of breaking walls. She ran toward the side of the house, to a hole busted in one wall. She crouched low for cover, using whatever shadows and shrubs she could. Maybe a vampire could spot her anyway, but a vampire seeing her was not the only concern.
She listened, tracking the sound of whatever wrecking ball was taking out the abode. She moved to a spot ahead of the projected trail, one with a clear view inside. She cocked the bow, took a stable stance, and waited.
* * *
Vachon thanked his luck that Nick wasn’t the one in sight when Tracy made her shot. Martin seized up with a scream and clutched at the arrow in his chest. The wound gave off streamers of smoke. Nick pulled Martin into the shadows out of Tracy’s line of sight. Vachon screamed, “Tracy! Hold!” He prayed Tracy would trust him to have a good reason for that. She didn’t need to walk in on Nick beheading Martin to make sure he was dead. He followed the two of them out of her view.
* * *
Tracy made herself wait. Any longer, she promised herself, and she would go in there, vampire speed and strength be damned. As it was she actually had to count off the seconds.
Finally, Vachon limped outside. Tracy started to run to him and checked herself. Instead she covered his approach, watching the house intently.
“It’s over, Tracy.” He sounded exhausted, and she looked at him with concern. He smiled a tiny smile. “You got him.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “I just need to...take care of him. Would you please go on home? There are things I have to do that...well, that I don’t want you to see. Please?”
She nodded slowly. “If it’s safe now.”
“Safe as houses.” He tried to grin and failed.
She snorted and started back toward her car. She turned once. “Vachon!’
He shook his head. “You did the real work.”
She shrugged. “Not exactly something I’m going to celebrate.”
“I understand.” He crossed over to her and hugged her. He shook her gently. “Go home, Detective. The worst is over.”
She nodded and got in her car, finally so tired that home and bed sounded like a sweet, sweet fantasy. Car in gear, she left.
* * *
Vachon returned to the house, where Nick was disposing of the remains and working on compelling the remaining humans there to take care of each other.
He looked hard at Nick. The older man raised his eyebrows and waited. “She saved our asses tonight.”
“Yes, she did.” Nick looked at Vachon with a grave expression.
“She was a hero.” Vachon paused. “Don’t ever ask me to lie to her for you again. Ever.” He turned and walked away.