Question of Loyalty
Forever Knight Story
Implied slash, cursing, and of course, blood.
Nick, Schanke, Natalie, Feliks, Cohen, LaCroix, Aristotle, Janette
Ask me first. firstname.lastname@example.org
writing a longer Aristotle story, I had to come up with a back story for Feliks,
and I liked it so much I decided to work it into another story for fun.
story involves a lot of politics about sensitive topics like religion and racial
tensions in India and Pakistan, so if you have reason to be sensitive about
something of that nature, please know I don't mean to offend you. I merely wish
to portray the characters as how they would actually act based on politics in
India in the 1990's (and some other time periods).
full moon tonight. A sight anyone can see, and yet has so many meanings. We wish
on it, we mark our calendars by it, we see what is merely a rock caught in
earth's nefarious orbit as a projection of our darkest fears. What frightens
you, gentle listeners? Why do you have a shiver up your spine tonight?"
shivered. "How does he know?"
doesn't," his current client said, emerging from the grocery store.
"He just has a spooky voice. Turn that nonsense off."
know you do." Shasheed was actually a rather nice fellow, not the usual
obnoxious rich clientele the company offered him. "But please listen to him
on your own time."
turned off the radio and turned on the car. The engine made a strange noise
instead of starting normally, but it was an old car. He didn't even know
something was wrong until he felt the heat of the blast on his face.
Kilo, 81 Kilo come in."
Knight turned off the radio to answer the call. "This is 81 Kilo."
proceed to Broadway and Market. Reported car fire."
that. We're on our way."
G-d," His partner Schanke said, and Nick knew he didn't mean the car fire.
He meant the cession of the radio. There was no holding back the dark humor that
came with being a homicide detective. It was how most of them got through the
night. "Is he being especially creepy tonight or is it just me?"
and now you're superstitious? Look, I can only take one crank in the car, and
I'm counting your radio pal as that one. You have to stay sane."
shook his head and drove.
car fire was that - a car on fire. The fire truck was already there, as was the
ambulance and several uniforms were cordoning off the scene. Though the body bag
was already closed up and being loaded into the ambulance, the scene still stank
of charred flesh. Some of the victim's remains were no doubt melted into the
was not a fire," Nick said. "It was a car bomb."
know, twenty years on the force and I've never seen a live one?
stories, though," Schanke said, turning to the uniformed officer.
a guy with the paramedics. I think he was the driver." He gestured to the
sidewalk, where the EMTs were counseling a man wrapped in a blanket. He was in
shambles, visibly trembling, but his turban was tied so tightly that not even
the explosion disturbed it, just covered it in ash.
recognized an EMT from Mercy Hospital. "How is he?"
in shock. He has some minor burns - first degree only. He says he was on the
sidewalk when the driver turned on the car and can't remember anything after
just a question or two. He's not up to talking much."
knelt in front of the shivering man. He smelt of burned hair - his beard had at
some point caught fire and was put out. "Sir - I'm Detective Nick Knight,
Metro Police. Are you up for a few questions?"
- yes. I don't know." His hands gripped the coffee cup so hard some of it
spilt on his suit, which Nick noticed was expensive. "Mark - he's dead,
isn't he?" His words were punctuated by a thick Indian accent, but his
English was perfect.
... my driver. Mark Friedman."
Singh. I have - I have medical insurance, but I don't know if it covers - "
get you taken care of, Mr. Singh," Nick assured him, and he let the EMTs
help him up and onto the stretcher for the second ambulance, newly arrived. Nick
watched him go. "He's lucky he wasn't in the car."
He's uhm, what is - "
Shanke. He's Sikh."
he can afford a driver. Do you think he's a national?"
know soon enough." They walked around the back of the car, which was now no
longer aflame, more of a wet shell of what had been a car. The license plate
number was still visible, and though the frame was mostly melted, one could
still make out it was a special frame.
know this company," Schanke said, tapping on the name partially visible.
"It's a car service for bigwigs. Celebrities and ambassadors.
bad combo with a car bomb."
bad," Nick agreed.
hour later they had their first answer, which was that the survivor was not an
ambassador, though he was an Indian national. The car service confirmed it.
Shasheed Singh arrived in Toronto a little over a month ago and hired them for
their esteemed reputation, using the same driver for all of his traveling. He
was here on business and as far as they knew, his papers were in order.
just got off the phone with the Indian Embassy," Captain Cohen said after
calling them into her office. "Shasheed Singh arrived in Toronto last month
for a series of interviews for a local documentary on international politics. He
was a media star in India - had a political commentary show until it was
cancelled. Called India Today, New Delhi Edition. And here's the best
part." She dropped the papers in front of them. "The show had three
pundits, and of them was killed shortly after the taping ended in a car
accident. No arrests made and the case was closed, and Mr. Singh came to Toronto
to do the documentary."
about the other commentator?"
in India. They're getting in contact with him now. I suppose I don't have to
tell you both this is now an international concern until we prove
Singh wasn't killed," Schanke pointed out.
because he wasn't sitting the car when it was started," Nick said.
under tight guard at the hospital. When he's released, he'll make that decision,
probably with the embassy. I want every T crossed and I dotted on this one, both
handed Nick the file. "I have a sixth sense that says I should kiss my wife
and daughter goodbye before I disappear into the protective custody hotel. And
another one that you're willing to handle the autopsy results with a certain Dr.
decided to humor him and smile. "If she takes this one."
was in the lab, looking less eager to see him and more distracted by her work,
and not in a good way. "Hey, Nat."
yourself." She tried to smile, but it was forced. Every coroner had the
case that gave them the willies, and for Natalie it was charred flesh. She was
certainly handling it better than she used to.
worry - this one isn't going to jump off the table."
she did smile, for real. "If he did, he could tell us what happened, though
I don't think it would be a long story. Cause of death is incineration, and
fortunately for him it was probably instantaneous. The flesh on his front versus
the flesh on his back indicates the blast came from in front of him."
bomb set off by the ignition?"
will have to check the car, but that would be my guess.
plastic from a key chain melted into one of his hands, indicating he was holding
the key when he died. What about the other guy?"
he was on the sidewalk. Indian political commentator. A fellow pundit was killed
two months ago in a car accident, and their show was cancelled. They're calling
the third host now."
it is, Singh will go into protective custody and the Crown might call the
counter-terrorism team in."
have a counter-terrorism team in Toronto?"
had to use them, but I guess we do."
looked up from her work. "Why would someone want him dead?"
was a political show. I don't know much about it yet, but in the South Asia,
talking is enough to get you killed. Maybe his apartment will have some tapes.
If it is, then Mr. Friedman just got in the way of something bigger than
we all?" Natalie said.
following day, Mr. Singh was released from the hospital and transferred to a
police safe house while forensics worked on the car. Nick met Schanke at the
motel used for such purposes, and nodded to the uniformed officer on the way in.
Schanke handed him the file. "The latest."
is going to need a while on the car. They're not used to car bombs. Singh has
been resting since he got here; the hospital gave him something pretty strong
for pain. He should be coming around now."
moved from the second room with the equipment into the main room, where Shasheed
Singh was sitting up on one of the two twin beds, watching television. His beard
was trimmed but not shaved, and he looked to be in his mid-thirties at most. His
casual clothes were very neat and tailored. He had a patch on his face to cover
a burn, and a new turban, a green one. "Hello, officers." He was about
to rise to greet them, but Schanke put a hand up to stop him, and he gratefully
accepted the gesture. "Detective - I'm sorry, I've forgotten your
Knight. And this my partner, Detective Schanke. At the moment, we're in charge
of the investigation into the homicide of Mark Friedman."
terrible tragedy. All because he was my driver. The officer outside said not to
make calls without permission. May I get the number of his family, to
can be arranged."
don't have any doubt the bomber was after you?" Schanke asked.
you had anyone threaten you recently?"
in Toronto, but my publicist made sure no one but the embassy knew I was here.
As for threats on my life in India, there were no more than normal. I couldn't
point you to a specific group, Detective.
were too many of them. They cut down a bit after the show was cancelled, or so
I'm told. Someone else opens my mail."
us a bit more about your show, Mr. Singh." Nick didn't take notes, but
guest was very hospitable. "India Today was a late-night political
commentary program. The concept was three debaters - a Hindu, a Sikh, and a
Muslim. The only thing we agreed on was that we respected the right of the
others to have a different opinion. The topics were usually the news, that day's
or the day before, depending on how early an event came in. We didn't have much
prep time. The arguments could be very heated, and we all said things that got
us death threats, but we respected each other. I liked both of them.
and I were very upset over Jinesh's death in the accident - or we thought it was
an accident. I suppose it was made to look like one.
show had just wrapped taping and we decided to cancel it. We couldn't simply
replace him with another Hindu. I was at his funeral procession for both of us.
Hajji was unavoidably unavailable, and very upset about it."
us more about the other two commentators."
Channarayapatra and Hajji Ashraf. Yes, Detective, I will spell those,"
Singh said to Schanke, and did. "Jinesh was very religious, a worshipper of
Ganesh like his name implies. His whole family was. His brother is a sanyasi, a
monk, a very prominent one, and he considered that path himself, but decided
instead to study history at the University of Mumbai. Very knowledgeable,
probably would have gone to be a politician but he said he didn't have the
stomach for it. We used to joke about it anyway on the set. We were always
joking before we sat down to debate. We tried to joke afterward too, to ease the
tension. When he died, we suspected yes, it might be a terrorist, but the police
came back and said no. So we let it rest and went our separate ways.
was unlike any Muslim I've ever met. Very devout but not very religious the way
ignorant people would consider a man religious. Only in India. He is from
Pakistan, but still considers it part of India and believes the partition was a
mistake, so he says he's Indian. Very modern but could be a mullah for all of
his learning. He knows the whole Qur'an and the Hadith by heart. Doesn't drink
wine, doesn't eat pork. Wouldn't even put his watch on his left hand. Very
critical of Pakistan and fellow Muslims. I think he got the most threats, except
for that time I said Nehru betrayed Tibet to China. You can't easily say bad
things about Nehru on television and not get threats, but the others supported
my right to say it. Hajji is very good-natured when he's not arguing, a little
on the sarcastic side. I tried to call him from the hospital, but I didn't get
him. That doesn't surprise me. He travels a lot. He can be very hard to reach. I
told the embassy to keep trying."
name," Nick said. "Ashraf. Was he - "
said he was a descendant of the Prophet, yes. As-sahihi an-nasab - 'of true
genealogy.' He was very strident about this, but never presented his genealogy
charts. I don't know why. If he could prove it, so many people would be less
inclined to touch him, much less threaten his life. I don't think he was lying.
Maybe he just can't prove it. He's a bastard son or something."
was the last time you spoke to Hajji?"
I left for Toronto, he had me over to wish me well on my journey. It was the
first time I'd seen him since Jinesh's death. He has a very nice apartment in
New Delhi. Like him, it's very modern. I asked him what he would do and he said
he might travel, but he meant in India. He never leaves India." He grabbed
the hotel pad and wrote down a number, then handed it to Schanke. "This is
his international cell phone and the phone to his apartment in New Delhi. Both
say they're out of service, but that's not that unusual. The service isn't that
reliable and he has to change numbers a lot."
you basically lived under constant threat because of the show," Schanke
But it's not as bad as politicians! At least we have that. Or we had." He
frowned. He was shaken, and deeply disappointed at the sudden course his life
had taken. "Maybe I will return to India sooner than planned, maybe I will
go somewhere else. I don't know anymore. I must do something for Mark's family.
They must be having such a terrible time. A terrible, unnecessary loss."
there anything else you can tell us specifically about someone who might want
you dead here in Toronto?"
not at the moment. I'm sorry, Detective."
card," Nick said, handing it to him. "Call here or the station if you
think of anything."
nodded. He couldn't leave the country without them noticing anyway, not while he
was under police guard. If he did want to leave, they could only hold him here
as a material witness, and the Embassy would probably fight it. It might be
worth letting him go, if he did try to flee for his own safety.
left Singh, knowing he was tapped for now, and returned to the station. Cohen
was waiting for them. "My office. Now."
and Schanke exchanged glances, wondering what they had done wrong, and followed
her. There was a tough-looking man in a bad suit sitting in one of the chairs in
front of her desk. He rose when she entered, regarding both of them with a
skeptical eye. Cohen walked around her desk. "Detective Knight, Detective
Schanke, meet Mr. Hammond. He's with the Crown Counter-Terrorism task force. The
Crown Attorney has decided to officially classify this a possible act of
terrorism, so you'll be reporting to him, as will every other member of the
precinct doing any work on the case. I expect complete cooperation." She
looked at Mr. Hammond. "Mr. Hammond, these are the best detectives in the
precinct and were the first responders to the scene."
shook hands, because Mr. Hammond offered and neither of them could refuse. He
did not look like someone who would be pleased with a lack of progress - or
maybe he would be used to it and that was why he was so tense.
Embassy has requested that two members of a SWAT team be placed outside Mr.
Singh's safe house. Expect them there."
sir," Schanke said for both of them. Nick muttered the same.
is a very serious case. Probably the most serious of your careers. And it's
about to get worse." He did not sit back down. "The Indian
Consulate-General just got back to us with information on Mr. Singh's colleague,
Hajji Ashraf. The reason it took so long is because he's been in hiding since a
bomb blew up his penthouse four days ago."
police conference room, an officer wheeled in a TV and VCR, and Hammond put in a
tape for the viewing audience of Nick, Schanke, Cohen, and several members of
the forensics team. The footage was a news program, with a reporter on the
scene, standing in front of a building in flames. It was hard to make out from
the smoke, but it was several stories, and almost all of the flames were
concentrated on the top story.
while firefighters work to put out the blaze. No casualties have been reported
at this time, though at least sixteen are injured, all residents of the
apartment. The police are not releasing the names of any injured, and say there
are still some people from the building who have not been accounted for.”
Behind her was the dim light of early morning. “The explosion occurred around
4:30 am on the top floor of the complex. The source of the explosion has not
been identified at this time.” There were two different sets of subtitles
beneath her. “The police commissioner has advised local residents to vacate
the streets until the smoke – “
muted the tape, but left it running. “This is from NDTV’s English-language
news team. The top floor only had one apartment. That it belonged to Hajji
Ashraf was not released to the press. At first they thought he wasn’t at home
because they didn’t find a body, but he turned up a day later in private
medical care. His publicist contacted them first, then him, to confirm he was
alive. Until the investigation is complete, they’re keeping this very quiet,
especially after Mr. – “ He had to check the sheet. “ –
this occur in relation to the car bomb on Market?” Cohen asked.
separated by less than 72 hours. We can assume the same organization was at work
for both bombings, and was possibly involved in – “ he looked at the sheet
again – “Channarayaptra’s ‘accident.’ They’ve reopened that case,
which was originally closed when evidence showed it to be a drive-by
accident.” This time he pronounced the name slightly differently, but no one
blamed him. He turned away from the TV and to them. “Our main job on this case
is to determine if the bomber has left the country already or not. Most flights
to the Southeast require people to transfer at JFK International in New York,
but if we flag everyone suspicious with a final destination of India or
Pakistan, we’ll have more civil rights groups on us than we already do for the
6 o’clock news, which first misidentified Mr. Singh as the driver of the car
and then misidentified him as a Muslim. So far the local press hasn’t
made the connection between Singh and Ashraf, and with any luck they won’t,
but the Indian press probably will. The only reason this whole thing hasn’t
exploded yet is because the Indian press is on another continent and hasn’t
come to Toronto in full-force. They will tomorrow, the next day if we’re
lucky. Our first goal is to establish if the bomb was made here or abroad –
forensics, this is an absolute priority. If it was made here, we have reason to
suspect a domestic terrorist, possibly someone here on a VISA or even someone
with citizenship. No one talks to the press – no one. About anything. If they
ask you how the investigation’s going, no comment. If they ask you if
there’s an investigation, no comment. Not a damn word. Understood?”
was their collective answer.
Here’s the duty rosters ...”
entered her office the next night to find Nick sitting in her desk, reading a
file. “Well, hello to you, too.”
needed somewhere to think.”
looked at the body bag on the table, labeled with a tag ‘probably suicide.’
“And he’s helping you?”
not putting up a fuss. I don’t know who he is – not my case.”
her bags down and removed her coat, not taking her eyes off Nick. He looked
paler than normal, his voice was edgy, and he was wearing the same clothing as
yesterday. “Have you been here all day?”
pen has too many windows,” he said. Meaning, he had been there all day, and
would probably be there all night. “If you don’t mind, could you possibly
“ – get
you something from the Loft on my lunch break?”
at her in that very charming smile, the one she absolutely could not refuse. Not
that she intended to refuse it. He was probably starving. Unlike the other
officers, he didn’t keep any snacks hidden in his desk drawer. Of course,
unlike the other officers, he was a vampire and a bottle of blood wine would
have been pretty suspicious if anyone decided to go through his desk, or if he
even decided to take it out when he thought no one was looking. She gave him
credit for not yet raiding the stash of blood bags in the steel cabinets across
from him. This was not the time to bring up protein shakes. “So how’s the
something we’re going to spend a lot of time on and not going to solve,” he
said. “I think the only reason we’re still working on it is because a
Canadian was killed and because forensics came back with results on the car
parts were domestic. It was constructed here. A fairly standard bomb wired to
the ignition, with a powerful enough blast to kill whomever would be in the
was supposed to be Singh.”
Unless the bomber got his car service companies mixed up and we’re completely
off, and this has nothing to do with international terrorism or Indian
politics.” He stood, taking the file with him. “They’re supposed to have
some tapes of the show Singh worked on in by seven. Lunch break at midnight?”
going to make it that long?”
was his answer, not that she expected anything else. He would never admit it
even if it was otherwise. He pecked her on the cheek and left.
Schanke alone in the conference room, watching a tape. Schanke beat him to the
punch. “You know, this case is making me look like a real backwoods idiot.”
Hammond say something to you?”
jeez, Nick, I can’t pronounce any of these names.”
really hard to pronounce.” He was eager to be alone, and Schanke almost
qualified because he smelled so much of garlic, making him less tempting to the
vampire than any other member of the force.
show. I can understand their accents, but I don’t know a lot about Indian
politics. And they have a lot of slang. You’re cultured. Maybe you can
don’t know a lot about India, Schanke.” And he was mostly telling the truth.
He had only been there once, on his way to Shanghai, and the Community there
made sure he didn’t linger. They were notoriously insular. “No more than
Ashraf’s last name meant. And what does it mean?”
being in India. And it means, if it’s true, that he’s a direct descendent of
the Prophet Muhammad through his only daughter, Fatima. It’s very popular to
try to trace your genealogy to Muhammad because it’s a status thing in the
Muslim world. Some people consider them holier than other people. They can’t
marry the unworthy.”
have any proof?”
proof as you have about your ancestor from the eighth century, if your entire
family tree was carefully monitored between now and then.”
know is, these guys are tearing into each other over this Kashmir thing,”
Schanke said, gesturing to the screen. “And Singh says they liked each other.
I would hate to see what would happen if they hated each other.”
is a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. It’s a very sensitive
topic.” Nick looked at the screen, but didn’t try to follow the
conversation. The one identified by the prompt beneath him as Hajji Ashraf was
speaking, sometimes lapsing into Arabic when stressing a point. “Any news on
probably in a bunker somewhere. The Embassy doesn’t know where he is and
wouldn’t tell us if they did. Also he’s supposed to be pretty badly injured.
The blast in his apartment was so strong it tossed him out a window and he
landed on a garbage pile. Probably the only thing that saved him from being
incinerated. Can you imagine living like that? With the constant threat of
sudden death over your head? This is making Myra’s threats about a heart
attack look positively rosy. You can live through a heart attack.”
live through a bombing,” Nick pointed out. “You just have to be extremely
lucky. You don’t think Ashraf was a little too lucky?”
he was it would be impossible to pin it on him. One of the reports says he lost
an arm. Do you want to make sure you don’t look suspicious that badly? To lose
Left or right?”
looked at the file. “Doesn’t say.”
hand is unclean. That’s what Singh meant about him not wearing his watch on
it. If he got his right arm blown off, things are going to be very awkward for
would he do?”
left hand. Just feel bad about it, I guess.” Nick’s greatest interaction
with Muslim culture had been his seven-year stint in a 13th-century
Saracen prison, so any recollection of customs was outdated and came with the
worst memories of his mortal life. The experience made him so desperate and
broken that he turned to someone like LaCroix for help. “What else do we
Nada. Niente.” Schanke leaned back, a very uncomfortable position to take in
want to sleep, the coroner’s office is pretty quite.”
I sleep in a morgue is ... well, I won’t be sleeping is all I can say.”
you feel insignificant? As if you have no effects on the events around you? What
is this desire we all feel to be the source of all events, or at least to have
some affect on them, however terrible they might be? Who out there is crying to
off his headphones and shoved the radio under his desk as Natalie approached. He
did not want to explain why he was listening to LaCroix. He didn’t think he
could explain it, but at that moment, it was a voice he wanted to hear, almost
as badly as hers. “Hi.” He grinned as she put a bag on his desk. “You’re
a lifesaver. You know that?”
generally don’t say that about coroners.”
have kissed her, but this was his desk, not the morgue. “Thank you.” He
didn’t make any further conversation with her, much as it might have been
polite to do so, and retreated to the upstairs bathroom, the one that was almost
never used, and sat down in the stall. It was not a protein shake. Natalie was
not that cruel. The bottle still had a little chill from the fridge, enough to
fully establish that this was old, dead blood, with no memories to offer him,
even if he didn’t particular want or need cow memories. He hated thinking
minutes later, a more satisfied vampire emerged from the bathroom. Yes, he would
still hear every heartbeat and briefly consider making a meal of every person he
passed in the halls, but the edge was taken off. Now, he could concentrate.
could return to the complex but hastily-typed analysis of the car bomb, his
phone rang. “Knight.”
It was, out of nowhere, Feliks Twist, his vampire accountant. Or accountant
vampire. He wasn’t sure which came first. “I would request your presence at
my home tonight.”
I would be honored,” he said, as he was never invited to anything, “but
I’m in the middle of a big case.”
am aware. That is precisely the point, in fact. Hajji is here and he would like
to speak to you, and only you. Not the police.”
impossible. “Hajji Ashraf?”
that’s his name at the moment I believe. His real name is Hajji Rahman bin
Isma’il ibn Īsā ibn Surat ibn Mūsā al-Khawlani, and he is
things could stun Nick Knight into silence. This was one of them. “... the
talk show guy?”
if you call it a talk show, he will be very insulted. That implies he had
Bollywood celebrity guests.”
he’s here? In Toronto?”
“He had a
great desire to leave the country and I had a great desire to see him, and
Aristotle was exceptionally good at arranging flights. He wouldn’t have said
anything about his presence to anyone but he just saw the news about his friend
sorry, you just took me by surprise. You’ve never mentioned him before.”
never asked.” The normally rather wordy Feliks was almost terse, at least for
him. “I’m sorry. I’ve been on six planes in the last four days, so I may
not be my usual self. Nonetheless the invitation stands, for you – and
obviously, no one else.”
one stops me, I can be there in twenty minutes.”
good. He’s in a very good mood right now all things considered, so you’d
best catch it while you have the chance.” He paused. “And he would be
kicking right now, but he has no legs.”
noise on the other end of the line, not in Arabic but in another language Nick
didn’t know, but it sounded like cursing.
my way.” He hung up and grabbed his keys, answering Schanke’s look in the
hallway with one word. “Lead.” He did not stop to explain himself further,
avoided Cohen and Hammond, and was out the door.
always greeted guests in the greenhouse, which had proper entrance doors like
the front of the house. It also was where his desk was, and his computer system,
and if not for the many sunlamps, Nick supposed Feliks might have lived in it.
One had to walk the path through the center very carefully to avoid them.
vampire (Nick had always assumed he was British) was always exquisitely dressed,
if in a bizarre fashion, with only the best oddly-colored clothing. Tonight he
seemed a bit more mismatched than usual. His hair wasn’t perfectly combed, his
face not freshly-shaved, and most significantly, his elaborate tie was a knotted
mess. Nick couldn’t guess which vampire was more tired when they greeted each
other. “Thank you for coming.”
you for getting me out of the station.”
against this, you know. He needs rest and I don’t think he can aid in the
investigation, but he insisted.”
moment it happened, of course. I knew he was alive, but I was terrified
nonetheless. Worse, he lost his phone in the blaze, and it was hours before he
could get to one to contact me. He really is very pleasant – just not in his
current condition. Please excuse him.”
as Hajji’s child, Feliks might be feeling at least some of the pain of his
master, if Hajji wasn’t good at blocking the link, or just unable to. No
wonder he was so strung out. “I’ll be quick.”
him into the main house, which Nick had never been in. As he expected, it was
done up in a lavish version of Victorian style, and all of the pieces were
probably original. The only thing out of place was the wheelchair, though the
blanket on its occupant’s lap matched the rug and the drapes. “Mr. Ashraf.”
Knight.” It was the Hajji from India Today, in the flesh, though much
of that flesh was missing. His right arm was little more than a stump, and it
wasn’t clear how much of his legs remained, but they certainly didn’t make
it down to the footrests. Bad burns trailed up his neck and his face, and one of
his eyes had no proper lid or bone structure that should have been around it. He
had no beard and very short haircut, but he’d had that in the show, too. His
clothes were very modern, like the silk suit he wore on the show, if worked
around bandages. He spoke through a thick accent. “So this is LaCroix’s
didn’t know I was famous.”
never been to India, have you?”
didn’t get a warm reception.”
have been Skandagupta. He loves keeping India Indian. And he’s four hundred
years older than I am and won’t spend a minute letting me forget that. Or that
I’m not Indian.”
publicity package says your family is Pakistani.”
convenient lie. It gives me authority to talk about Pakistan. I’m from
Baghdad, of course, when it was the jewel of the East. But I’ve been in India
almost my entire existence now – except for the last two days.” He accepted
a tea cup of blood from Feliks, and immediately questioned him a language
completely foreign to Nick, and Feliks answered him back. “You drink goat’s
suppose you make a very difficult guest to be hospitable to.” He emptied the
cup but did not accept a refill. “How is Shasheed?”
some minor burns, but he survived. His driver started the car while he was still
on the sidewalk. That saved him. He’s out of the hospital and in a safe
house.” Nick considered Hajji’s burns. He’d been injured five days ago,
and he was still very badly wounded. He must have been little more than a husk
after the explosion. “He’s worried about you, now that he knows what
I lived, though?”
what the Embassy’s told him.”
like him. It doesn’t come across that way on television, but I do. And I liked
Jinesh, to. That’s why we cancelled the show. We couldn’t just replace him
with another Hindu, like they’re replaceable, even in a country will millions
upon millions of them. I was very sorry I couldn’t attend his funeral
procession.” Because it was during the day, of course. It was so obvious now.
“I suppose you want to ask if I know who did it. Of course I don’t. He would
be dead now if I did. No, correction, I would have him captured so that I could
kill him when I can do it properly. Not from a wheelchair.”
Singh said you had hundreds of death threats.”
hundreds. Thousands. I once said woman wearing veils was un-Islamic, and had
nothing to do with the Qur’an or the Hadith. Muhammad’s wife wasn’t veiled
and neither was his daughter. You can look this up, but no, they don’t want to
listen. It was a Byzantine custom, veiling the face. The Turks picked it up when
they invaded Constantinople. But you tell that to a mullah, he’ll get his
thugs to beat your face in. This is the state of my religion now. This is what
they’ve turned it into. And to attack a descendant of the Prophet!” He shook
his head, albeit slowly. “But I can’t prove it, of course, without a lot of
forgery, and I don’t like forgery, more than is necessary. I’m six
generations away from the Prophet. Six! They should be kissing my feet.” He
growled. “But I shouldn’t get this way. Then I’ll be like them.”
generations from Muhammad and the reference to Baghdad placed Hajji at the
height of the Abbasid Empire, meaning he was at least eleven hundred years old.
It was probably the reason for his survival of a fiery blast.
your investigation going, Detective?” Hajji seemed a little amused at
well. Ordinary car bomb, made with domestic parts. And Mr. Singh hasn’t had
any death threats since he left India. The Canadian government sent in a
counter-terrorist expert, though I don’t know how much of an expert you would
consider him to be. I don’t think he thinks we’re going to solve this.”
don’t think so.”
it off, showing his disgust at Hammond’s qualifications.
sure the bombers are Muslim?”
course!” Hajji was adamant, some red showing in his pupils. Feliks whispered
to him and he settled down. “But I suppose I should consider other options.
I’m not well-loved by anyone, on the public front. And to hit a fellow Muslim
– not impossible, but less likely. Also the car accident that killed Jinesh
was good enough that we didn’t think it was a terrorist. Not their style. They
like to send a message. They want to create terror. We weren’t scared
after his death, just sad. Maybe his death really was an accident. I don’t
know. But the two bombings weren’t, and I want you to find the bomber, so I
can kill him myself.” He raised a finger. “And don’t say anything about
the mortal justice system. They’ll just extradite him and he’ll sit in
prison for years before someone gets around to killing him. A waste of
everyone’s time, money, and a waste of blood that I want.”
officer of the law, Mr. Ashraf.” He didn’t really know how to address Hajji.
believe you have a saying, or at least my Feliks has it – ‘the law is a
law is an ass, Effendim,” ('my
master') Feliks said, his tone very clear but very soft and affectionate.
better then,” Hajji said with a smile.
bomber can be found, it won’t even be your bomber. They were timed too close
his blood will tell me where the others are. And there were many people planning
this, of course. Something you won’t get from torture, from a man who wants to
die for his beliefs.”
not how the law works.”
told you would be obstinate.”
“I had to
announce myself to the city elder. He was very amused at my television
personality,” Hajji said. “I only ask of you the same thing I asked of my
dear colleagues, that you respect that my beliefs are different from yours.”
wasn’t sure what to say. He couldn’t press the point, knowing Hajji was in
agony and not in the mood for a fight, and the final request was too reasonable
to refuse. Plus Feliks’ eyes were practically pleading for him to agree.
“Fine. You’ll cooperate with the investigation?”
the mortals, until my face is healed. I can’t have wounds closing up in front
of them. I will help you if I can. And if you give me Shasheed’s number, I
will call it from a place that cannot be traced.” Of course Hajji was an
expert at covering up around mortals. He was a television personality.
the back of the safe house line on his card and handed it to Feliks. “Call me
if you think of something.”
be in touch.” Hajji’s smile, even in his weakened state, could not hide his
until his shift was over and he was finally given permission to leave the
station before heading to the Raven. He was chancing it with the daylight, but
Janette was also there, and being caught for the day with her would not be the
worst of worlds. She at least kept something to his taste in stock. “Nicolas.
What a surprise. LaCroix said you are so very busy.”
But he always had a smile for her. The Raven was closing up for the night. The
music was already off and the main lights on so the floor could be washed. “Is
he here?” LaCroix sometimes slept at the Raven if it wasn’t a show night.
were more in touch with your senses, you would know,” she said. “You look so
very tired. Is it because you are looking for him or because you don’t want an
point, I could go either way.”
seemed pleased, but not by her answer. “He is here. He said you would be. He
is waiting for you in the lounge.”
course he is.”
“But if I
do, it might take awhile, and I’ll be stuck here for the day with you to
big liquor bill if it’s anything like last time. Don’t let him throw you
into the bar again.”
Janette, “I’ll try.”
in the VIP lounge, which was empty. There was nothing on the table except two
glasses and a wine bottle. “Just when I thought I had a case that had nothing
to do with vampires,” Nick said, sliding into the seat across from his master,
but not making any move to accept a glass of wine.
do seem to dominate your existence, even your façade of mortality,” LaCroix
said. “Though I believe a ‘Good Evening’ is in order, or some nonsense
opening that acknowledges your elder.”
Feliks’ attitude toward his own master, it struck a chord Nick didn’t like
in comparison. “I suppose I don’t have to ask why you didn’t tell me Hajji
was in town.”
would I? You don’t know him, nor would I feel an obligation to announce his
arrival if you did. If he hadn’t involved himself, his presence would have
gone entirely unnoticed.” And then, LaCroix said something downright odd.
“How is he?”
It was hard
to make out. There was not affection, certainly – it was clear who LaCroix had
affection for – but nor did he regard Hajji like other vampires, an annoying
fly in his personal space or someone to be respected but kept at a distance.
“How do you know Hajji?”
the question and I will answer yours.” LaCroix took a sip of the wine, which
smelled close to live blood in Nick’s uneasy opinion. “A fair exchange.”
in a wheelchair. He’s missing most of two legs and almost all of his right
arm. And half his face must have been blown off for it to be as good as it is
now, five days later, which is still bad. How did he escape the blast?”
way we all do. Running, flying, tearing apart everything in his past – or
maybe it simply flung him out the window. Who knows? A terrible thing to go
through – and not easy for his children either, I imagine.”
grimly. Feliks did not look well. “My question.”
the glass down and filled it again, knowing full well all it would do on the
table is tempt his son. “Before the Arab world was so callously invaded by a
bunch of unwashed barbarians from the North based on some superstitions about
devil-worshipping desert dwellers destroying their holy cites, the Abbasid
Empire was at the height of learning. As I’m sure you belatedly realized.”
ignored it and bade him to go on with a nod.
particular, the court at Damascus – and later Baghdad – was accomplished in
the areas of art and literature. And mathematics. Aristotle can tell you all
about that; they made his name famous even if he claims it isn’t his
name, per se. In particular, the court produced some of the greatest poets I
have ever had the pleasure of hearing. One of them was Hajji, who could have
been more than a poet if he wasn’t a bastard son and a homosexual. I didn’t
know him as a mortal. I met him through his master, a Babylonian mystic who is
now, unfortunately, deceased. His fledgling was a rambunctious but oddly
delightful little fellow – much like you for a time. Ah, remember those first
not much more to tell. We parted ways when I returned to Europe and they
traveled to India. Hajji is quite established in the Indian community, being the
third oldest vampire there I believe, and would never leave – or so we
thought. I wouldn’t have guessed his first steps out Indian soil would put him
in Ontario, but I also would never have guessed that my daughter would be an
innkeeper and my son a constable. So, there you have it.”
don’t you ask him? He’s your friend,” LaCroix said with his devious
smile. “Rather impolite to go asking around behind his back.”
a neutral answer. “I don’t want to bother him right now.”
don’t know the whole story behind it, not being there and never having the
gall to ask, but my understanding is that Feliks was once a rather good rifleman
doing what younger sons with no inheritance and a mysterious lack of interest in
marriage did in Britain – buy themselves a commission and go abroad. There was
a time when the Mughal Empire thought it was a good idea to have the British
around; some even welcomed them into their homes. The rest, I believe you can
imagine for yourself. Now are you done digging up other people’s history?
I’m not so offended when you do it with mortal ruins, but I must warn you
against asking after the Community.”
wants to be involved in the police investigation.”
his prerogative. At his age, he certainly knows how to do it without exposing
us,” LaCroix said. “Nicholas, you know your thoughts are mine. Do not get
between Hajji and his prize. Charming as he may be sometimes, he still would not
hesitate to cut you down and he is not without allies in his quest. I have only
requested that he not kill you in the process.”
of you.” He couldn’t imagine Hajji a capable fighter, but his condition
wouldn’t last long. “Good night, LaCroix.”
suppose you won’t be staying the day. All sorts of police work to be doing.
Good night, Nicholas.”
It was too
late to hang around with Janette. He had to get back to the Loft before sunrise.
He had plenty of time on the way home to think about the mysterious twinge of
regret in LaCroix’s voice as he left, and what it could possibly be about.
was Nick’s only time off, he invited Natalie to the Loft before his shift,
eager for her company but not the shake she brought him. Still, tonight he was
willing to gulp it down (and hold it down for a considerable amount of time) to
have someone around who wouldn’t taunt him for his work or make demands of
him. Something about LaCroix had shaken him, but he wasn’t sure what. It
wasn’t anything he said, precisely, just a feeling he had.
Ashraf is a vampire? And here in Toronto?”
his head out of the sink. He felt so awful, losing the shake, that he didn’t
hesitate to get the taste out of his mouth with cow blood. “I was as surprised
as you are.”
severely doubt it. He said they taped the show at night, so I guess it just
worked out. He wouldn’t have lived through the bomb otherwise.”
said the police didn’t find him at the scene.”
didn’t track him down for a day. He must have found some haven and recovered
before contacting the police to say he survived. He’s still missing most of
his limbs so he can’t be seen in public without them. All the more reason to
leave India.” He returned to the table, taking the glass with him. “He wants
the bomber – the one who went after Singh. He wants revenge.”
a very human reaction to almost being killed and having your one friend killed
and the other almost the same. Do you actually think you can find this
follow the forensic leads, we might have a chance. Some of the pieces would be
difficult to obtain. That’s assuming the bomber hasn’t fled the country yet,
and is waiting for another chance to get at Singh.”
you don’t keep him updated – “
“ – he
won’t help with the case. And he may just publicly involve himself when he’s
healed enough to stay updated. He worked in the news. He knows how to play all
guess you’ll have to work around him. It shouldn’t be hard if he’s in a
help. A son.” He paused. Was LaCroix jealous? He’d
been over and over the point that he expected obedience from his children, and
always laughed off Nick’s lack of affection and constant betrayal of their
past. As LaCroix had so uncomfortably pointed out, there had been happy times
together – him with Janette with LaCroix watching after him, or when Janette
was feeling too smothered, just him and LaCroix, traveling together. Happy
together. There was a time when Nick would have been horrified if LaCroix was
injured (and not at his hand), and done everything in his power to soothe his
wounds. Hajji could then provide LaCroix with only painful reminders of what was
past and what Nick repeatedly insisted would never be again. That didn’t
and put away the spray bottle. “Sidney doesn’t care for it, either. Sorry.
Had to get you out of La-La Land somehow. Should I ask what it’s about or is
it a long story that requires historical footnotes? Because Cohen will hang you
out to dry if you’re late today.”
know.” He went to clean the glass and collect his badge and gun. “More just
wondering about what could have been, not was and was very traumatizing.”
treated LaCroix the way he wanted me to treat him.”
stood up. “Nick! You’ve gone on and on about how he’s a monster.”
I’ve said the same thing about myself. We’re both monsters, Nat.”
don’t want to be that person.”
essential difference between me and him doesn’t change how we’re related.
Both Singh and Hajji said the same thing – that they got along because they
agreed to disagree.”
will never agree to that. He just wants you to agree with him.”
assume. But I don’t really know. I’ve never asked.” He gave her a
reassuring smile. “They’re just thoughts, Nat. A way to pass the time before
I have to spend hours going over phone records.”
know, some people just collect stamps.”
don’t usually collect things younger than I am,” he said, and escorted her
waiting for him at the bull pen. “No time for breakfast, partner. You probably
just should have left your car running.” He simply turned him around and they
proceeded out the way they came. “Forensics compiled a list of possible
distributors for the more exotic bomb parts, and we have to have to hit them
before they close.”
had to pass through the gamut of reporters waiting outside for anyone who looked
like they might have something to do with the case, a group Nick had assiduously
avoided on the way in. The best strategy was to just ignore them as if they had
no idea who they were or why they were there and proceed to the caddy.
gonna be so glad when this is over,” Schanke said. “Whether it’s solved or
not. I have never seen so many reporters. You know Hammond had me come in at
noon today? We can’t all be lucky like you and have a sun allergy – which
he’s not buying, by the way.”
just thinks I’m a lazy cop?”
thinks you pulled the wool over Cohen’s eyes on that one. Said it to me
himself. I guess not solving any cases makes you a very frustrated person.
Speaking of, I don’t think we have a chance in hell in solving this one.”
laughed. “And you’re usually so positive about work.”
terrorism? You don’t think this is a little out of our field?”
is still homicide, Schank. We’d be following the same leads if Singh was a
truck driver from Newfoundland.”
None of the
leads were particularly promising. Ordinary electronic stores had long customer
lists that required a warrant to seize, and manufacturers weren’t used to
being asked to present them on such short notice to anyone. A late-night call to
the Crown Prosecutor (it seemed Hammond was good for something) got them the
warrants they needed and they returned well after midnight will piles and piles
of inventory listings and customer information to sift through. While Cohen
assembled anyone who was available to begin coming up with lists of customer
names to see if anyone matched all of the stores (assuming, of course, the
bomber bought local), Nick and Schanke had one excuse to get out of the office
again, and it came via Mr. Singh.
In the safe
house, all of Singh’s calls were taped. So far, the only ones he received were
his parents and sister, the only ones given the number. Singh was sleeping when
Nick and Schanke arrived, and the on-duty officer played the tape for them in
other room of his most recent call. “Came in about half an hour ago. I told
Singh to use English if he possibly could for these calls, and he agreed. The
call’s blocked on the other end with some very sophisticated encryptions. No
way to tell where it came from. It’s not a major lead, but I thought you
and put on their headphones, gesturing for him to turn on the tape.
Hajji: Namaste, Shasheed.
(laughs) None other. Ap kaise hain? *
Singh: You have to speak in English. The police are listening.
Hajji: Oh, then hello, Mounties!
Singh: They’re not all Mounties, Haj. You know that.
Hajji: Where’s your sense of humor? I heard you only had
minor burns. My apartment was blown up and I’m in a wheelchair! You know that
lovely tapestry you bought me for my birthday? Gone. Such a waste.
Singh: I’m sorry to hear that. How did you get this number?
Hajji: How do I get anything? My secret and mysterious
ways. I wanted to see how you are doing, old friend.
Singh: Not good, but very lucky. Not so lucky for my driver.
Hajji: Yes, a terrible tragedy. It’s all over the news
Singh: They said you were in hiding.
Hajji: I am not in hiding. I am simply somewhere
where I don’t want to be found. Hiding implies I am frightened of them.
Singh: You’re not frightened?
Hajji: I’m too angry to be frightened. Anyway, I don’t
want to use up all of Canada’s precious tape. Can I be of any service to you?
Singh: Not unless you know something you haven’t told the police.
Hajji: The same police who told us Jinesh was killed by accident? Yes,
I’ve spoken to them. Been completely cooperative. My faith is limited. Maybe
you will have more luck.
Hajji: Assalamu Alaikom
Singh: Waheguruji ki fateh. ***
Hajji: We’ll be in touch.
stopped the tape. “The call ends there. The stuff at the end, Singh said they
were just blessing each other. For luck.”
call is completely untraceable?” Not that Nick had any doubt, but for reasons
outside of police jurisdiction.
no background noise, either. Besides, isn’t this guy in India?”
Nick said, annoyed with Hajji. Clearly he was going to keep his promise to stay
involved in the case, whether Nick liked it or not. Hammond would be eager to
point fingers at the first suspect they could find, and Hajji would probably
have little hesitation at killing him, whether he was involved or just a bad
guess on the police’s part. Hajji was infirm, but he wouldn’t be for much
Schanke said, snapping him back to reality. “Your car radio’s going off.”
So it was.
He reached through the window for the receiver. “81 Kilo responding.”
scene at 40 Spring Streets, Radio Supplies.”
be there. Over.” He looked at his partner. “Weren’t we there tonight?”
like two hours ago.” It was one of the suppliers, a ham radio operator who
owned an electronics store that specialized in small pieces and wiring.
record time from the safe house to downtown, aided by the lack of traffic so
late at night. There was one officer outside the store, looking particularly
green. “It’s a mess in there, Detective.”
true. The stench of blood wafted out, nothing Schanke could detect but something
that Nick found uncomfortable in that it was so pleasing. He was all
professionalism as they stepped into the tiny store. A second uniform was
standing behind the cashier. “The body’s in the office. We haven’t even
marked it yet.”
tiny office, crammed with electronic supplies, was a body on the floor, not far
from the toppled desk chair. It was covered with a tarp and they were just
starting to draw the chalk outline around it. Nick lifted the tarp as Schanke
knelt beside him. “Our suspect’s been busy.”
someone else. Someone who wanted revenge.” Nick looked with dissatisfaction at
the body of the man they’d interviewed only hours before, now face-down, his
eyes still open and staring at nothing. His throat was slit, and it was even
money it was to cover a bite, especially in that fashion. Considerable blood had
poured from the wound, leaving the man in a pool of his own blood still building
long after he was dead.
you don’t see this every day.” While Nick was focused on the blood, Schanke
had moved on to the computer, which was on and opened to a document program.
commend you for your efforts so far. It seems Mr. Simmons was not involved
knowingly, though he did have a dark-skinned customer with a Pakistani accent
who bought the wiring you were seeking three weeks ago. He paid in cash, which
is why it’s not so clear on the records, and Simmons had yet to recall the
incident when you interviewed him tonight. I would also add that though Mr.
Simmons has a girlfriend with whom he has yet to get to second base, as you
would put it, he also has a remarkable stash of child pornography in a box
labeled ‘A/C output’ in the storage room.
No name was
typed. They would dust for prints, but wouldn’t find any. And before he
checked, Nick knew the second paragraph was true.
read it in his blood.
nearly the end of his shift when Nick was finally free to head to the
coroner’s office. Before that was an hour-long strategizing session about how
they would keep the newest murder from the press and whether to contact the
Pakistani Embassy. Nick also waited for Schanke to go home before catching up
on her desk, now cleaned of blood. “Vampire bite?”
tell. His throat is pretty torn up. More than enough to kill him, and then some.
If I had to guess a reason, I would say yes,” Natalie said. “But I
wouldn’t be happy about it. Do you know who did this?”
“I have a
very strong suspicion.” He hoped it was Hajji, and not Feliks. “The
stuff about the child pornography was true. We found the box with a layer of
dust on it. Hadn’t been touched in months, so it wasn’t placed there. We
haven’t checked the girlfriend story yet. She’s out of town. I don’t know
– maybe Hajji’s trying to appeal to my sense of justice by bothering to see
notice if the man he killed had a past that would make him a less sympathetic
corpse. But he wanted something else from the blood: the description of that
Pakistani customer. Hajji would recognize the accent, even if Simmons
wouldn’t.” He frowned. “What doesn’t make sense is how he got to him so
think he’s tailing you?”
have noticed. And Simmons is the only person he went after so far. All of the
others have been called. The only people who knew our itinerary tonight were the
members of the task force, and aside from Schanke, none of them have left the
raised an eyebrow. “Do you know any vampires who can make themselves
some that can make themselves unnoticeable, so everyone just walks past them,
but I would have sensed him. Or Feliks.”
at the unintentional admission. “His son. And my friend. He lives in Toronto.
He’s involved, but I can’t imagine him doing this.” He looked down at the
body of Simmons. “I would have known if he was here tonight, and I would have
known if he was in the office where Simmons was killed. He wasn’t.”
ask how you know?”
smells of insecticide and perfume.” He couldn’t and didn’t want to offer
any extra information, and had the excuse of the sun on the way. “I have to
you’re aiding a murderer.”
I’m going to stop a murderer,” he answered.
Nick had devised his plan of attack. The only conclusion he could safely draw
about the investigation was that it was being monitored from a computer, the
most likely method. And Feliks wasn’t good enough to hack into the central
mainframe. He preferred to do his work legally for the most part, albeit making
use of numerous loopholes in international finance. Larry Merlin, a simple call
told Nick, was in Paris. That left one person who unfortunately carefully
screened his calls, but might be sympathetic to Hajji. It was worth a try, even
if Nick would be on traffic duty for a month for being late.
why Aristotle didn’t have a receptionist. Maybe he was just that much of a
recluse, and refused to bring anyone across for that purpose. He certainly
wouldn’t trust a mortal with a job that put him anywhere near his computers.
“Nicholas! Hold on; I wasn’t expecting you and the orcs are wailing on my
archers right now.”
knew which button would pause Aristotle’s computer game, he would have pushed
it. That and he would prefer not to pull back a stump, as he suspected he would
if he touched a single piece of computer equipment without permission. “This
fine.” He paused the game, but didn’t shut it off. His other computers
seemed to be doing other automated tasks. He smiled and looked up at Nick,
absolutely refusing to take him seriously. “If you want me to get LaCroix’s
radio show cancelled, the answer is still no.”
hack into the police mainframe?”
But that was months ago. They’ve probably changed their passwords since then.
Not that it would be hard, now that I’m familiar with the system ... I would
need a few hours, depending on what you wanted me to do.”
Aristotle was not the type to lie to his face unnecessarily. “You weren’t in
the mainframe last night. Or any other night since Hajji arrived.”
Now he regarded Nick more seriously. “Why do you ask?”
supply store owner was murdered last night, hours after we interviewed him about
whom he might have sold some wiring to. And I know we weren’t followed around,
so the only way someone could have gotten the address was from the computer.”
slit the throat to cover the bite?”
handed us a child pornography case from the victim’s blood. It’ll go to
vice. But he didn’t know that when he attacked the victim. I didn’t think
Hajji was that mobile yet.”
because he has no feet doesn’t mean he can’t fly. You have no other
than Feliks, and his perfume would have been all over him.”
to say it, but it’s true.” He removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
“What do you intended to do about it?”
to talk to one of them.”
can’t go around killing people who aren’t even suspects for information! The
pornography thing was just a lucky break, and that doesn’t mean Simmons
deserved to die. We have leads and we’re following them. The justice system
just takes time. I told him – “ He cut off. “Hajji can’t be reasoned
with. I understand he’s in a lot of pain. But Feliks – “
Aristotle’s voice suddenly had an edge to it unlike anything he’d ever heard
before, immediately calling his attention because it was so vampiric in the way
it drew him in, and Aristotle always spoke in such a human manner. “Don’t
try to come between Hajji and Feliks. Not only will it not work, but Feliks will
never forgive you. You can kiss all of that free and sophisticated accounting
goodbye. He’ll cut you off.”
listens to reason.”
listens to his master first, reason second. If Hajji went so far as to ask him
to kill you, he would try, damn LaCroix’s protection. And Hajji is usually
very reasonable, when he’s not almost quadriplegic and very aware of the
incompetence of the mortal justice system at dealing with terrorists. If you
lived in a place like India, you’d know how he feels. I’d tell you to stay
out of his way, but I know you won’t do it. So just try not to get killed –
and don’t talk to Feliks about Hajji’s decisions. He won’t take your side
against his master and he’ll be insulted for being asked to do it.” He
sighed. “Please listen to me on this on, Nick. I’ve known Feliks for 150
years. He is reasonable about most things, but he’s also very passionate.
You’ve just only seen him be so about plants. He has other things he cared
about, and Hajji will always be the first thing on the list. I can’t deal with
you feuding with another vampire into Toronto. It’ll end badly for
was pleading, he really was. Nick softened his stance. “I won’t talk to
I’ll keep your other warnings in mind.”
really is a nice guy, Nick. You know, when he’s not bent on revenge for the
assassination of his friend, being blown to bits, and the attempted
assassination of his other friend, which would make even the most reasonable guy
a little angry.”
He had to
admit it would. “Thanks, Aristotle.”
anytime I can talk you out of getting yourself killed, feel free to stop by.”
* "How are you?"
I want to talk about loyalty. We have two types, the loyalties we should have
and the ones we obey. Family, Friends, Relations, Religion. Some arbitrary
system of justice. Where do we draw the line between loyalties we proclaim and
those that, when pressed, we will act on without any hesitation? Where, dear
listeners, do your loyalties lie?”
off the radio as he pulled into the station. Trust LaCroix to not let him think
in peace. Of course he could always not turn on the radio, as LaCroix would so
eloquently point out if he mentioned it.
He was not
as late as he thought he would be, now that the trip to Feliks’ house was put
on hold until he figured out what to say to Hajji. His only option now was to
catch the bomber before Hajji did.
force was already assembled in the briefing room, including Schanke.
Knight.” Hammond didn’t look pleased at his late arrival, but Nick didn’t
respond and took his seat. “As I was saying, we have to consider the
possibility that our bomber murdered Simmons, leaving the note about the
Pakistani customer to throw us off the scent after discovering his stash. Or
maybe he knew about it before.”
Pakistani Embassy called, just to make our lives easier, when a reporter said
our suspect was Pakistani. Whether he got this information from last night’s
findings or just said it to be inflammatory, we don’t know, but we don’t
have time to investigate. We have to find the bomber or establish that he’s no
longer in the country before we have dueling ambassadors in here making it
worse. Now let’s narrow it down to equipment suppliers who reported sales of
our items around the same date as the purchase at Mr. Simmons’ store and work
from there.” He added, “And watch your backs, all of you.”
should get Myra a card. ‘Sorry I’m late for Jenny’s graduation,’”
Schanke said as they walked up to the third electronics store.
finishing grade school?”
was going to do it for high school, as that’s the next time I’m gonna see
her if this keeps up.”
makes you feel any better, I think Hammond is going to have me stay in the
office all day tomorrow and yell at me for not driving around with you.”
tried the sunscreen?”
tried the sunscreen.”
that thing Natalie gave you that made you psychotic.”
the bell. “And I still got sunburned, as I recall.” He raised his badge to
the man who answered the door of the closed warehouse. “Metro Homicide.”
minutes later, after the man thoroughly went through his records, they had an
address, and called it in before proceeding to one of the shadier areas of
Toronto, which contained a lot of immigrant housing, legal and illegal.
address is a month old,” Schanke said. “Do you think we need backup?”
at the street. The only store still open was the all-night convenience store,
which a neon sign saying it sold only Halal food. Beside that was the address,
an inconspicuous doorway to a larger housing project behind it and above the
store. “Call anyway.”
81 Kilo requesting backup on a potential location – “
approached the door, knowing he was immediately marked as a cop and there was no
way he wouldn’t be. He rang the buzzer for the second floor. “Hello?”
answered it, her accent South Asian, but nothing Nick could place. “No more
not reporters, ma’am. We’re Metro Homicide and we have a question about a
package that was delivered to this address.”
the worn intercom button. “And if you don’t open up, we can get a
on.” The door buzzed, indicating it was open, and they climbed the old wooden
staircase to the second floor. There was no noise on the other side of the door
that was unusual, and Nick heard several heartbeats, but only one was racing. He
who answered was in a robe. She looked according to her accent, either from
Southeast Asia or the Philippines, and she was not happy to see their badges,
but didn’t stall them either. “Please come in.” Her English was a bit hard
to understand but the words were technically correct. The living room was very
modestly furnished, with cheap Persian carpeting and few adornments on the
walls. Little heads poked out from the hallway, then dashed away when Nick
looked at them. “Can I get you anything?”
thank you. We just have some quick questions.” He watched a little girl go
running by, completely draped in black from head to toe, with only her eyes
showing. “How many families are living here?”
two. My cousin – our family is very large.”
at Schanke. She was lying, but not maliciously, just to protect herself. “Do
you rent to many people?”
people stay here. Our rents are reasonable. They sublet.” She added, “It’s
allowed on my lease.”
want to know about one person.” Schanke pulled out the order form for parts to
an alarm clock. “A package from this store was delivered to this address,
under the name H. Smith.”
no one here by that name. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone here by that
careful look at the logo of the company and the date and see if it jogs your
memory,” Nick said as politely as possible, giving her time to do it. Was she
debating on telling them, or just didn’t know? It was clear ‘Smith’
wasn’t a real name, and like everything else, the order was paid for in cash.
It just required a delivery. “Please.”
for a long time before deciding. “There was a man, an immigrant. He only had
temporary papers. He worked in the store below, trying to get a work visa. He
got a lot of packages from relatives. His name was Hamid Jinnah.”
where is Mr. Jinnah now?”
her head. “I don’t know! He left last week. The store – they might know.
He worked at the store.”
did he leave? Did he give notice?”
last Thursday. It would be eight days now. And yes, he gave notice. This was
only temporary for him.”
went somewhere else before leaving the country, if he was in Toronto to plant
the bomb. “Is there anything else you can tell us? Did he leave anything
took everything with him. The room is already rented. The man is good Chinese
– not a terrorist.”
took the paper back. “You’re sure?”
officers. I didn’t know Hamid well. He didn’t talk to women. There is
nothing else I can say. I wish I could help you.”
to leave, but Nick stopped at the door. “One more thing – why were you so
afraid of reporters?”
don’t want the attention. We are poor – not everyone has work papers. You
specifically. Has anyone been to see you?”
just become you came. A man, alone, had a notepad and a press pass, but it was
in Hindi. I don’t read Hindi.”
did this man look like?”
pale – not from India. Black hair, longer than yours, and a moustache.”
Nick had a
sinking feeling. “And he spoke to you in English? Did he have an accent?”
spoke Urdu. I wouldn’t have spoken to him at all if he didn’t talk his way
in. He was very polite.”
give his name?”
Anderson.” She pronounced it Lefttenant, like the British did.
tell him what you told us? About Mr. Jinnah?”
“I don’t remember.”
don’t remember?” Schanke didn’t believe her, but Nick did. He knew the
tone of a hypnotized woman.
go, Schank. We have to catch up. Thank you for your time, Miss.” He waved to
her and pushed Schanke out. They had to catch up with Feliks. How was he a step
ahead of them? Did he have a police radio?
hurried down to the store, where the man behind the cashier had a blank look on
his face when they mentioned the reporter, his memory clearly wiped. He was able
to answer their questions about Hamid Jinnah. “All trouble! Showing up late,
taking long breaks, not good with small change. He never bothered to learn the
money. He said he was here to send money home to his parents in Pakistan so I
took him on, but good riddance!”
leave a forwarding address?”
wasn’t pay week, so he had to, so I could send him his final check. Here.”
He opened the drawer beneath the register. “It’s on the top for some reason.
Well, lucky for you.” He handed them a slip of paper with an address. “And
tell him I will not be a reference for his visa! He is a bad worker! It should
go to someone else.”
their backup had arrived. “New address,” Nick explained to the uniformed
officers. It was a cheap hotel on the other side of town, and they had to make
time. If they didn’t, and Jinnah was still there, they might be too late to
capture him alive.
As if his
life couldn’t get more complicated, Nick was letting Schanke inquire at the
hotel manager’s desk when he felt it.
couldn’t follow it, and he didn’t have time. If LaCroix wanted to interfere,
he undoubtedly would. Nick had no time to go chasing after him. Instead he
turned to the uniformed officers. “Stay in the car until we call for you.”
LaCroix had only one way of dealing with collateral damage, and it was
eliminating it entirely.
a problem as always, but Schanke wasn’t a resistor. As long as he wasn’t
injured or killed, he would make it. That was assuming they were not beaten to
the punch on finding the suspect – or that he wasn’t the bomber after all,
just a false lead. Nick suspected Hajji wouldn’t care, and would test his
He had to
keep Hajji off Jinnah and off Schanke for interfering, Feliks off himself for
trying to stop things, and LaCroix from whatever he was trying to do. LaCroix
did like to hover, but not when other vampires were involved. Vampires who
only one elevator and it was busy, no matter how much Schanke pressed on the
Nick said, removing his gun from the holster.
says I never get any exercise.”
to lose him on the stairs, but he couldn’t do so without being obvious. It was
only four floors. The hallway was dismally lit and eerily silent, at least to
human senses. Nick could detect shouting, but not in a language he recognized or
understood. He took his position against the wall by the door, directing Schanke
to do the same on the other side. “Metro Homicide! Open up!”
surprise, the door did immediately open, but before they could barrel in, Feliks
slipped out and closed the door behind him. “Please give us a few minutes.
We’re in the middle of something.”
why I should.”
he says he has a bomb.”
Schanke shouted, to which Feliks shushed him.
Schanke! Do you know how long we’ve been working to try to talk him down?”
He ignored Schanke’s gun, that was pointed right at his head. “I don’t
know if he really has a bomb, of course. But if a man who makes bombs and is
surrounded by the requisite equipment says he has one, you have to take his word
for it.” He raised his finger to Nick. “And no bomb squad. This is not a
briefcase to be carefully examined for several hours. It could be strapped to
is the bomber?”
that was rather obvious, don’t you think? And yes, he is willing to die for
his cause and that nonsense. His English isn’t very good, and your negotiators
won’t know what to do with him. Let Hajji handle it.”
Schanke said. “Who’s Hajji?”
seemed merely annoyed at Schanke’s presence. “Please! Keep your voice down.
And Hajji is a very skilled negotiator, I assure you. Nor does he want to be
blown up again.”
can’t kill a suspect.”
not until the bomb’s disposed of, if there is one, certainly.”
you?” Now Schanke was at least whispering, if whispering loudly. “How do you
Detective Knight is quite the media celebrity for a police officer, isn’t
he?” was Feliks’ neutral answer. “No offense meant to your established
career, Detective Schanke.”
appropriately put Schanke off-guard. “None taken. So – we wait for this
Hajji – hey, is this the same – “
same Hajji Ashraf you’re thinking of. And at the moment I believe he is
discussing the 23rd Sura of the Quran with Mr. Jinnah.”
how you talk to a religious fundamentalist,” Feliks said. “With religion.
And Hajji is very, very good at it.”
after he’s done?” Nick asked.
find the bomb and dispose of it. Assuming there is one.”
not going to let him – “
Feliks said, looking Nick in the eyes, but not appearing threatening – just
firm. “I know. Your code of justice won’t allow you to do anything else.”
He paused, listening to something they both couldn’t hear. “The bomb is in
the top drawer of the dresser beneath the television.”
either of them could question how he knew that, he opened the door and ran in,
tearing out the entire drawer. The young man in a T-shirt and jeans threw
himself at him, but missed him entirely and landed on the floor. Feliks was much
faster, retrieving a device of sticks of dynamite tied to an alarm, and in one
swift motion, opened the door to the porch and tossed it out the window. There
was a brief silence as it fell, then exploded – in the empty cement pool four
stories below, closed for winter.
still ringing from the blast, Nick turned to the other man in the room. Hajji
was in a wheelchair, but looking considerably better than their last meeting.
His face was restored except for some red welts near his ear, which was still
missing part of the earlobe. His right arm, presumably growing back, was hidden
in a sling. Both his feet were in casts supported by Velcro covering, to hide
the stumps inside. He did not hesitate to stand, grabbing the attached cane with
his one arm and proceeding towards Jinnah. “Out of my way, Nicholas. The
police will be here soon and I have no time to argue with you.” But instead of
moving directly to Jinnah, he limped to Schanke, and grabbed him by the head so
their eyes met. “Sleep.” He added, “Someone catch him.”
dropped like a stone, and Nick was absorbed in catching him before he hit his
head on the floor and tossing him on the bed. When he turned, Hajji had caught
up with the stupefied Hamid Jinnah, and shoved him against the wall – an
impressive feat for a man who could barely stand. “I would say this is for
Shasheed, but I think I’ll enjoy it so much more if it’s for me,” he
hissed, baring his fangs.
didn’t make it to Hajji in time, but not because of Felix, who couldn’t have
held him anyway. LaCroix put a rather strong arm around him, easily choking him
if he needed his lungs, and took several steps away as Hajji fed. “I would
allow you to interfere only if no harm came to you.” LaCroix’s voice was as
unforgiving as his grip. “Assessing the situation, I decided not to take a
to Feliks, who looked sympathetic but would never go up against LaCroix. Instead
he was there to catch his master when he stepped back after draining Jinnah, who
slumped to the ground. Hajji needed help back into his wheelchair as he wiped
the blood from his face. “Paper and a pen.”
Nicholas’ ‘back-up’ will be here soon,” LaCroix said. Nick bit into the
hand over his mouth, but he ignored it.
but I have to get these names down before they leave my head.” He looked to
Felix, who had the hotel pad and pen ready and took a seat at the desk. “The
man who was assigned to me was Mahmood Kalam. Indian, from Uttar Pradesh,
studied in Lucknow. His cell number is ...” Without stopping, he quickly
recited no less than thirty names, nationalities, locations, contact numbers,
and physical descriptions of an entire terrorist organization. LaCroix released
Nick, who had nothing left to do that would interfere with Hajji’s plans. The
Arab vampire was actually quite calm as he spoke. “The main sponsor is a Saudi
charity. The training center is in Afghanistan.” The vampire was no longer in
evidence, aside from traces of blood on his cheek.
supplied one, and Hajji stood to finish the job on Jinnah, and cover the bite
wound. A good coroner would question why such a major cut was made after he was
dead for several minutes, but it would eliminate evidence of a supernatural
creature. He seemed stronger after draining Jinnah, and probably was, but limbs
took a long time to grow back and he happily accepted when Feliks helped him
back into his wheelchair. “Detective Knight. I suppose you want to make up
some kind of story. In your description, at least give me a beard. Not that
I’ll be making public appearances. And you can let your partner take credit
for disposing of the bomb, if you like. Feliks was never here. It was just
Schanke can be convinced of that,” LaCroix said before Nick could cut in.
to the city elder. “We’ll be in touch.”
shrugged apologetically to Nick and wheeled his master out. Presumably they
would find someway to avoid the police that were ascending the stairs in a
rather noisy fashion.
believe that is my cue,” LaCroix said. “When he wakes, your partner will be
in a very submissive state. He will take quickly to suggestion for the first few
minutes. Use them wisely.” He nodded to his son, not waiting for an answer,
and flew out the open window.
part of the story to fabricate and convince Schanke of was the bits of it with
some truth. They came in on a mysterious man attacking their suspect, who then
cut his throat while they disposed of the bomb. There was a scuffle afterwards,
knocking both Schanke and Knight out long enough for the mysterious intruder –
a thin, young Indian man with a beard – to escape. The trickiest part was
making sure Schanke remembered nothing of Feliks’ presence, or that the
unknown assailant was actually in a wheelchair, or that Schanke himself had not
thrown the bomb out the window, where it would injure no one when it hit the
bottom of the pool. Schanke, of course, got caught up in being called a hero,
and Nick was very happy to let him. There was a lingering guilt about leading
him on for so long, when Nick knew full well who was hunting the bomber, then
hypnotizing him to fit a false story, however inspired by actual events.
Schanke’s quick thinking saved both of them and quite possibly everyone on
that floor of the hotel, and there were plenty of people to be grateful. After
telling the story a few times, Schanke became more convinced of its
truthfulness, and Nick pleaded exhaustion to his captain.
a terrific job too, Detective,” Cohen said. “You caught the bomber and may
have identified an entire terrorist network. You’ll be getting commendations
whether you want them or not.”
at her. “As long as the ceremony’s at night. Am I released?”
Knight. You look like you need some rest.”
contradict her. There was no need to. “Captain.” But he didn’t head back
to the Loft. There was a stop at the morgue, where Hamid Jinnah’s body was
still in the bag, freshly arrived. No one was around, so he kissed Natalie on
the cheek. “Nat.”
close is the story I’m hearing to what really happened?”
were two more people involved, and Schanke wasn’t the one to throw the bomb.
But the person who did is not going to go after the credit.” It was the only
part of it he felt good about – letting Schanke have the credit. “I
couldn’t stop Hajji. LaCroix was there to make sure I didn’t.”
out the big guns, wasn’t he?”
attacked Hajji, I might have won because he’s still injured, but Feliks would
have attacked me, and Feliks is no match for me. If I hurt Feliks, Hajji would
have torn my head off. So LaCroix felt he was saving my life.”
a complex circle, isn’t it?”
and Feliks are father and son. They would do anything for each other. Sometimes
it goes for vampires as much as humans. And sometimes it doesn’t, just like
relationships are based on blood.”
other things.” But she was right. He could not separate himself from LaCroix
– and LaCroix could not separate himself from him. “I am sort of glad I
didn’t have to fight Feliks. He’s a friend. I want it to stay that way.”
still tried to save Jinnah, even after you knew he killed Friedman and tried to
kill Singh with that car bomb.”
didn’t have any sympathy for him. I just believe in due process. Metro
Homicide’s version of it, anyway.”
version of it,” she emphasized. “Now try not to get into situations where I
might feel inclined to be thankful of LaCroix.”
me, I feel the same way.”
not hear from nor seek out Hajji or Feliks for a full week. The first few days
were caught up in medals, plaques, and speeches of commendation for Schanke,
Nick, Captain Cohen, Mr. Hammond, and the entire police force on behalf of the
city of Toronto, the Crown, and the Indian Embassy, which sent on what were
assumed to be Hamid Jinnah’s notes exposing an entire multinational terrorist
organization responsible for one murder and two attempted murders of a news
team. Mr. Singh thanked them personally and happily returned to his family in
India. Hajji, to the rest of the world, remained recovering in a private
facility in India. The search would go on for the other terrorists, but most of
them wouldn’t be found because their governments wouldn’t fully cooperate.
But Toronto was safe.
no leads on Jinnah’s mysterious killer, and after two days Cohen let them hand
the case to someone on the day shift and gave them both a week off, with pay.
Schanke celebrated by hiring a babysitter and taking Myra to his cabin in the
north. Nick stayed at home and watched movies with Natalie. He didn’t venture
to the Raven, not ready to have the conversation with LaCroix he knew was
after the fight in the hotel, Feliks called and very politely invited him to his
house. Hajji wanted to thank him for his work, or that was the reason given, but
the real reason was undoubtedly that he felt bad about how Nick was handled and
wanted to make amends. Nick had no choice but to agree, and would have if even
if he could have refused. He’d had a long time to think over what both Singh
and Hajji said of each other – that they respected each other’s rights to
believe in different things. One of those things could easily be justice. Hajji
had his, and now did Singh, their Hindu partner Jinesh, the driver Mark
Friedman, and any other victims of the small terror cell operating out of
Pakistan. Simmons was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and Jinnah would
have been extradited to India, then tortured and executed. Even if Nick didn’t
agree with Hajji, he knew his way was simpler and more cost-effective.
was the small fact that after eight hundred years, Nicholas de Brabant
understood that it was better to be on the good side of older vampire if he
could possibly manage it, which he often couldn’t manage to do.
a small limp which he seemed to ignore, Hajji was completely restored to the
animated person who appeared on the tapes of India Today. He even had cow
blood for Nick, who was served in a tea cup. Hajji did not drink wine, waving
off the convenience of it as a preservative for blood. “I have always found a
way around it. The Prophet did not drink alcohol and neither do I. And before
you say it, he would have drunk blood if he was a vampire. Or just exploded,
because he was so holy. Who knows?” He waved off his son’s offer for a
second cup. “Sit down, ibni. You’ve been on your feet for two weeks
now and I am no longer an invalid.”
to ask,” Nick said between sips, “who was your leak? I never figured that
easy,” Feliks said. “Mr. Hammond is not a resistor.”
counter-terrorism officer? My boss for the week?”
a resistor. Could quiz him on anything in the parking lot if you wanted to,”
had a radio. I would think you wouldn’t use a public frequency, but you do,”
Hajji added. “I suppose the death of that radio salesman could have been
prevented, but I was very hungry from my injuries, and LaCroix insisted that I
be discreet during my stay. Feliks couldn’t be spending his hours finding
victims and then hiding their bodies for me. We had more important things to do.
So this foul bottled stuff it is.”
said you told him to keep me out of this.”
how he put it?”
precisely, but I assume – “
him off by laughing. “You assume incorrectly and give him very little credit.
What actually happened was I asked him to tell you not to stand in my way, and
his response was, and I quote, ‘Nicholas will do whatever he damn well pleases
and I would only request that you not take his head off for something foolish
might do,’ Then he mumbled something about disobedient children and how he
would take his revenge on me if I killed you and I said I would kill you if you
hurt Feliks and we both happily agreed that it was better to avoid an actual
fight by any means necessary. I was not surprised at all by his presence. He is
very protective of you. As a father should be.”
Nick took a
moment to imagine LaCroix coming to his defense so readily and so rudely, but
somehow, he didn’t think Hajji was lying just to amuse him.
be so shocked. He’s your father. He loves you. He is just a very poor
communicator of that fact. ‘Unable to express his feelings’ is what the
psychologists would say. One of many reasons not to go to a psychologist.”
time I spoke to one, lobotomy was the cure for all my ills,” Feliks said. “I
took up gardening instead. Much less dangerous.”
think a room full of sunlamps is dangerous, but I am glad you did not opt for
the lobotomy,” Hajji chuckled. “Still, burns! He has burns on his arms!”
He grabbed Felix’s arm and held it up, forcing the arm of the robe to slide
down. “Okay, they’re gone now, but those fucking begonias.”
his hand back and carefully straightened his sleeve. “They need a lot of
attention this time of year.”
buy you oven mitts.”
can’t operate the clippers as well. I refuse to wear them.”
rolled his eyes. So Hajji thought his son was as loony as they rest of them did,
but he obviously loved him for it. He didn’t seem like someone who would bring
across people he would find boring. “Children are always stubborn. I was very
stubborn. Still am. And even though my master is no longer with us, there
are still two vampires in India old enough to call me a child. One of them does
so on a regular basis.”
other?” Nick was curious.
it off. “He’s an Old One. We haven’t seen him since 1832. He very rarely
emerges from wherever he lives, but when he does, we are all very polite to him,
so we can beg secrets out of him. He taught me how to put people to sleep, even
Resistors. He taught Feliks mathematics.” He paused. “Wait. You went to
Cambridge, thank you.”
what did he teach you?” He stared at Feliks, his eyes very focused. “He
taught you how to block me!”
about one particular item. He also knew a great deal about how to care for
Feliks gloated. “And he seemed rather honored that I asked him something so
mundane. Vampires are always coming after him to learn secret powers. He
probably hadn’t had an normal conversation in centuries.”
laughed, and Hajji glared at him. “Don’t encourage him!” But he meant
quite the opposite.
in fact very hospitable, and Feliks treated his master as if it was his
master’s house he was in, not his own. In their presence, it was easy to
forget the revenge-driven vampire Nick had been introduced to two weeks prior.
Like his child, Hajji was a light-hearted fellow, even if he was very serious
about his convictions. And Feliks treated him like a prince.
showed him out – through the greenhouse, of course.
me to thank LaCroix for saving me,” Nick said.
hadn’t said it, or even really mentioned LaCroix, so Feliks said, “You’re
very observant. And I’m grateful, too. If you’d attacked Hajji, I would have
attacked you, and I’m fairly sure you would crush me in an instant.”
you were once in the army.”
Lieutenant. Not earned, of course. A purchased position to get me out of
England. I wanted to go somewhere exotic and the army paid my way. Also I was a
very good shot, if I do say so myself. That said, it’s not as if I had a Baker
rifle in the hotel room, nor would it have stopped you.”
in the doorway. “The name you gave the landlord. Lieutenant Anderson.”
yes, I rarely get to use my real name anymore. Aristotle was going through his
Dickens phase when he named me last. It’s grown on me, but I’ll never admit
that to him, or he’ll come up with something worse than ‘Twist.’” He
shook his head. “Thank you for coming, Nicholas. Hajji won’t be staying more
than a few months, if that, but it is important to me that he likes you. And you
“I had to
interfere, but it wasn’t personal.”
that. But for Hajji, the whole thing was personal.”
understand. Thank you for having me over.” Though it lightened his heart to
repair his friendship with Feliks, he still had one thing on his mind that he
dreaded, but knew he had to do.
not at the Raven. The radio show was just wrapping up when Nick arrived at
CERK’s studios, avoiding the incoming early-morning crew and slipping into
LaCroix’s studio. He was putting away the evening’s selection of CDs, acting
as if he didn’t sense Nick a mile away. Nick hadn’t decided if he did it to
be rude or polite, but didn’t question it.
it all went well.” LaCroix sat down in the booth’s only seat. He had no
notes for the show, just speaking off the top if his head, but tonight he had a
book of poetry with him. Nick leaned against the wall. “A making of amends.
You have so few ties to the Community in your desperate attempts to become
mortal, you ought to work at keeping them up.”
served me cow.”
from a culture that prizes hospitality above nearly all other virtues,”
LaCroix said. “He would not serve you something that would offend your senses
if he could possibly avoid it. One of the few things from his mortal life that I
admire him for maintaining.” LaCroix, an avowed atheist, notoriously scoffed
at any religious beliefs among vampires, saying that had no need for them. Or
maybe he just said that to Nick. “He healed quite fast, but then again, he has
little patience for anything intolerable, like being an invalid.”
you only met him once, but you speak as if you know him well.”
quite friendly with his master. We traveled together for a time. When I met him
later, he knew my affection for poetry and was quite eager to show off his
Arabian find. He really is a very talented poet, but the lyrics come off as
romantic nonsense in English – a terrible language for the fluidity of
Arabic.” He looked up at Nick with his piercing eyes. “But poetry is not
your interest tonight.”
was reading his thoughts, there was no reason not to speak them. “You
understand that I had to try to stop Hajji.”
understand that you felt compelled to do something of that nature, however
lethal it might have been.”
understand that you stopped me to protect me,” Nick said. “Even if I had
fought Feliks and Hajji somehow, it wouldn’t have been a victory.”
The old man
never gave him an inch, did he? But Nick resisted the urge to spit it back in
his face. LaCroix was the one who asked him to control himself in his
investigation, to take time to understand Hajji’s perspective and how he might
feel compelled to act. “Thank you for being there.”
looked down. No, he didn’t give an inch. “I gave you my eternal protection,
Nicholas. I suspect you delight in challenging me to prove my point.”
When he didn’t want him, LaCroix was there. When he really needed him, LaCroix
was there. But did he ever intentionally invite his protection, and the
often-accompanying wrath? “I know you’ll be there every time.”
thank me for not making every time quite so often, if you would.”
nodded. “Good night, LaCroix.”
no snappy reply, no parting bon mot. Nick waited, and suspecting the silence
meant he was dismissed, turned to leave. The last thing he heard was a
surprisingly soft, “Good night, Nicholas.”
turned to look through the glass, LaCroix was still looking down, avoiding his
eyes. But he smiled anyway.
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