Tracy skulked around the corner of the brick wall, her gun drawn and pointed out in front of her. She only had one more chance at this, then she was dead for sure. She'd managed to keep alive earlier by using her police training, but her opponent didn't care about playing by the rules. He was only interested in winning.
Pressing her back against the wall, she stopped and listened. This was a dark area, but that didn't matter to the vampire she was chasing. He could see her, no matter how dark it was. Heck, he could probably smell her blood a mile away. A breeze blew across her face, and then she was smacked against the wall by the force of the projectile hitting her chest.
She looked down at the rapidly expanding red spot, then glared at her assailant.
"You promised not to use any of your powers!" she complained.
"I lied," Vachon said with a cheery smile.
"You're a cheater, Vachon," Tracy said, and pulled off her plastic goggles. "I don't know why I ever agreed to play paintball with you."
"Because you can't resist a competition," he said, grabbing Tracy's discarded goggles and following her to the door at one end of the big room. "Come on, you expected me to cheat!"
"So? You didn't have to, you know," she said, pulling to door open and entering the brightly lit changing room. "We're probably pretty evenly matched if you don't..." she looked quickly at the other people suiting up for a game, "Take advantage of the situation."
"We are not," he said emphatically, stripping off his black cotton overalls and tossing them in a laundry hamper. "I've been doing this sort of thing for hundreds--" He caught himself and continued, "Many years. You aren't going to beat me at this."
"Just because you're a ... you know ... doesn't mean that you're unbeatable," Tracy answered back, dropping her paint-splattered overalls in the bin on top of Vachon's. "Just one little splinter, and ..."
"Hey!" Vachon exclaimed. "Just because I beat you at paintball is no reason to threaten my life!"
"Not because you beat me, Vachon, but because you *cheated*," she pointed out, then looked at her watch. "Come on. We still have a while before the bars close. Let's go have a drink."
They left the paintball arena, and headed out into the warm summer air. Tracy took a deep breath, then coughed as an old car, belching exhaust, drove by. Vachon patted her on the back until she swatted his hand away.
"Stop being patronizing," she said irritably and stalked off down the street.
Vachon caught up to her. "I'm not," he said, then looked at her appraisingly. "You're really mad that I cheated, aren't you?"
"Yes!" she all but yelled. "I could have beaten you, but noooo! The great Javier Vachon always has to win!"
"I do not," he said, steering her into a bar called The Moonbeam. "I let you win when we played tennis."
Tracy whirled to face him. "You did what?" she asked, her voice much colder than the air conditioning.
"I let ... oh," he said, frowning. "That was the wrong thing to say, wasn't it?"
Tracy just glared at him and went to the bar. She ordered a rum and Coke, then turned to see if Vachon had followed her. He hadn't. He was staring at a dark corner of the bar where a beautiful young woman stood, strategically framed in a small white spotlight. Tracy shook her head and turned away. <This is not a date,> she told herself firmly. <We are two friends out for an evening and he can ogle whomever he wants.> Nevertheless, she downed half of her drink the moment it was put in front of her.
"What a jerk," the bartender said.
"What?" Tracy said, looking up at the woman.
"Your boyfriend," the bartender said, nodding past Tracy.
"He's not my boyfriend. We're just friends," Tracy said, refusing to turn around and look.
"Uh-huh," the bartender replied, an unconvinced grin on her face. "Good thing, though, since it looks like you're going home by yourself tonight."
Tracy turned around to find Vachon and the woman locked in an embrace. When they separated, Vachon gently stroked the woman's long black curls back from her face. Tracy was glad she couldn't see his face as an emotion she refused to term jealously made her want to throw up her drink. Throwing a five dollar bill onto the bar behind her, Tracy got up.
She hesitated for a few seconds, her eyes locked on Vachon. When he bent down toward the woman, Tracy left.
He was waiting for her the next evening when she got to the precinct. Tracy got out of her car and walked by him, engrossed in the contents of her purse, trying to pretend she hadn't seen Vachon. Hadn't seen that he was leaning up against Lenny's green Taurus, wearing black jeans, the blue t-shirt with the rip along the bottom, and his black cowboy boots. Nope, she didn't see any of that.
It didn't work. When she got to the door, he was there in front of her.
"What's up?" she asked, more cheerfully than she felt.
"Where did you go last night?" Vachon asked, his arms crossed in front of him.
"Home," she said. "And now I have to go to work, so if you don't mind..."
He remained where he was. "I looked all over that bar for you before the bartender told me you left. Actually, her exact words were 'stormed out,' but I figure she was just mad because I'd been in the women's restroom."
"And just what were you doing in there?" Tracy asked, reaching behind Vachon for the door handle.
"Looking for you!" he said and leaned back against the door, holding it firmly shut. "Aren't you listening?"
"Aren't you?" Tracy snapped. "I have to get to work!"
"If this is about--" he began, then looked behind her. "I have to go," he said suddenly, and slipped around her and into the bushes.
"Bye!" she called out. "Have a nice night!"
"Tracy?" her partner's voice called out from behind her. "What's going on?"
"Nothing," she said, turning to see Nick Knight, the homicide squad's golden boy, jogging toward her.
He stopped in front of her, grinning. "Getting a message from your... informant?" he asked.
"Oh, I'm getting the message, all right," she said, wishing she could slap that irritating smile off of his face.
Instead, she yanked open the door and ignored him as she walked to her desk. There was a note propped up against her computer monitor, and she recognized her father's handwriting. <Oh, I can just *tell* this is going to be my night,> she thought as she dropped her purse on her desk. She pulled the note toward her, but was stopped by the captain's bellow before she could read it.
"Knight! Vetter!" Captain Reese bellowed, even though he was less than three meters away from them "You've got a case."
"Goody," Tracy said to herself. "A murder. That'll cheer me up."
The scene was near where she and Vachon had played paintball last night, but Tracy tried to ignore that. The body was that of a young man, probably about 20-25 years old, and wealthy, from the look of his clothes. His head was turned at an unnatural angle and his long, curly, brown hair was fanned out around his head. The corpse was lying in a small pool of blood, but from the position of the body, they couldn't tell where it was coming from, other than his head, neck, or upper chest.
When the photographers had finally gotten enough pictures and Nick had bagged the victims hands to preserve any evidence under the fingernails, they could finally shift the body. As soon as they moved the head, the injury was obvious.
Half of his neck was missing.
"Yikes," Natalie Lambert, the coroner, said. "Looks like that hurt."
"I'll bet," said Tracy, bending down to get a better look at the corpse.
She'd gotten better about dead bodies ever since the time she'd been forced to work with Natalie in the coroner's lab. It wasn't an experience she wanted to experience again, so she had made sure that everyone knew that bodies didn't bother her --as much-- anymore. This one, though, was particularly gruesome.
"What do you think?" Tracy asked her partner.
"Um...dogs?" Nick said.
"Yeah, that's what I'm thinking," she answered.
She didn't really. She suspected a vampire, but she could never tell her partner that. He'd laugh at her, maybe even get her kicked off the force. She had her own sources for this sort of thing--except she didn't want to talk to that particular source at the moment. Well, she'd figure it out on her own, then.
"Dog bite?" Natalie asked, looking between the two of them. "That's what you want me to put in my report."
"You should put in whatever you think it is," Nick told her, smiling.
Tracy hated when they did this. Flirted over corpses. It was gross. Everyone but those two seemed to know that they were an item. Did they have to flaunt it?
"We've had an awful lot of dog bites lately," the coroner said, not smiling back. "Maybe you should be looking for a feral pack."
"Maybe," Nick said speculatively, then took Natalie's arm and pulled her aside.
<Let them worry about dogs,> Tracy thought. <I'll worry about the vampires.>
Tracy had purposely stayed at the precinct past dawn--"Catching up on paperwork," she told Nick--so that Vachon couldn't possibly be lying in wait for her. She hadn't, however, expected him to break into her apartment.
"*What* are you doing here?" she asked when she found him sitting on her couch, all of the curtains drawn tightly. "I don't remember giving you a key."
"You didn't," the vampire said, smiling.
"Great. Am I stuck with you here all day now?" she snapped, dropping her purse and jacked on the floor. "Because I need to get some sleep and I don't want to be bothered by the bored undead."
"What's with you?" Vachon asked, standing up and moving in front of her.
"Nothing's 'with me,'" she said, going through her tiny kitchen to avoid him. "I had a rough night at work. I don't exactly enjoy having to tell people's parents that they're dead, you know. And then my idiot partner and the coroner spent half the night holed up in her lab, probably making out, so I had to do all the paperwork to start the file. So I've had a bad night, OK?"
"OK," Vachon said. "So you've had a bad night. You started it out in a bad mood, though."
"No," Tracy said, putting her hands on her hips, "I started out in a good mood until you showed up and started yelling at me in your usual cryptic fashion!"
"I yelled at you cryptically?" Vachon asked, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "What exactly does that mean?"
"Oh, you know what I mean! Stop trying to be cute." Tracy went behind her couch and toward the bedroom. "Sleep on the couch for all I care, just don't bother me." She slammed the bedroom door shut, then opened it again. "By the way, I'm going to open all the curtains in here." She slammed the door again.
"Fine," Vachon called out. "Why would I want to go in there anyway?"
Tracy slumped down on her bed. Somehow, yelling at him didn't make her feel better. She'd hoped it would. And why wouldn't he want to come in her bedroom? Tracy knew she was pretty. She'd never had any problems getting a date in college and her first few years on the force. It was only since she went on the night shift that her social life had gone down the toilet.
Flopping back on her bed, Tracy stared at the ceiling. She could hear Vachon moving around her front room, probably trying to work out how to be most irritating during the day. Tracy was almost tempted to go to her father's house. Almost. She'd then have to deal with her father complaining about her career, and she wasn't sure she could be civil if that topic came up right now.
After a few minutes, Tracy noticed that it had gotten very quiet outside her bedroom door. She sat up when she heard Vachon sit down and lean against her door.
"Trace," Vachon said softly, "I know you're still awake. Will you just listen to me without interrupting?" He paused. "You can interrupt there to answer."
"Do I have a choice?" Tracy asked. There was a pause before Vachon answered.
"No, not really," he admitted. "But you could turn on the radio or sing or something. Of course, I could just open the door, since your curtains are still closed."
Tracy quickly got up and twitched back the curtain on the window nearest the door. After a moment, she shut it again. She was just being contrary. One minute she wanted him to come in her bedroom, then she didn't. Maybe she should just listen to what he had to say.
"I'm listening," she said as she sat back down on the bed.
"I know why you're mad, and I'm sorry," Vachon began. "My behavior last night at the bar was thoughtless and rude."
That sounded totally unlike Vachon. Had he been practicing all day or something? Or was he just saying what he thought she wanted to hear? Or was she just being totally bitchy?
"I can see how you might have been upset by my actions," Vachon continued. "But that woman was my sister."
Tracy sprang off the bed and opened the door. Vachon fell onto his back at her feet.
"What?" she asked the supine vampire.
"You said you wouldn't interrupt," Vachon said from where he lay.
"No I didn't. I just said I was listening," she pointed out.
She stepped over him and walked toward the kitchen. She was obviously not going to get to sleep any time soon, so she was going to need a cup of coffee. As she began her preparations, Vachon got up and walked over.
"Anything for me?" he asked.
"Uh, no," she said.
"It's ok, I brought my own," he said and pulled a flask out of his back pocket. "Can I have a glass?"
"No! I don't want blood in one of my glasses! I'd never be able to use it again!" Tracy exclaimed. "Besides, since when have you gotten so picky about glasses?"
"I haven't," he answered, taking a swig from the flask. "I was just trying to be polite."
They each pulled up a stool on opposite sides of her kitchen counter, waiting quietly as Tracy's coffee was made. When she had poured herself a glass, she looked at him.
"Your sister? But shouldn't she be--" she began.
"Dead? Yes. Several hundred years ago," he agreed. "But it was her. Esperanza. I thought at first that she was a ghost. But I could touch her, and she was really there." He shook his head. "She was cold -- a vampire. I could tell that right away. She asked me to leave with her to talk, and that's when I noticed that you were gone."
"I looked for you, like I told you, until the bartender told me that you'd left. Esperanza took me to her hotel and we talked for the rest of the night..." he drifted off, obviously thinking about the conversation.
"How?" Tracy asked. "How did she become a vampire?"
"It was a few years after I left for America; she looks a little older than I remember her. A vampire came as a guest to our village and slowly, killed them all, except my sister. Apparently, he was taken by her beauty." Vachon had lifted his flask to his lips, but stopped without drinking, lost in memories. "She was the prettiest girl in the village; all of the boys loved her, but she hated them. She hated our village and wanted to leave more than anything. When I left to go to sea, she was angry that I, as a man, was able to leave, but she couldn't."
"But she got out," Tracy said, and Vachon put down his flask.
"That's what she said."
Vachon didn't look as happy as someone who had discovered a long--very long--lost relative should. He had the crease between his eyes that she had only seen a few times before, when he was genuinely worried about something. And the corners of his mouth were turned down. Not exactly frowning, but definitely not the normal Vachon grin.
"So what's wrong?" she asked, sipping her cooling coffee.
"What? Nothing," he insisted.
"You're lying, Vachon. I can tell," she pointed out.
"How?" he demanded.
Tracy resisted the urge to say "because your lips are moving" and just satisfied herself with raising an eyebrow. After a few seconds of challenging her stare, the vampire broke eye contact.
"I don't know. Something's not right," he admitted. "How did she know where to find me? Why after all this time?" He shook his head. "I just don't know."
Tracy thought about her newest murder case. It *had* been near where they were last night. And it was fairly obvious it was a vampire kill. But from Vachon's new-found sister? No, that was just too neat, too easy. Besides, Vachon obviously had enough on his mind without worrying about this right now, too. She would do a little poking around of her own first to see if she needed vampiric help.
"Is it possible," she asked slowly, "That you feel guilty?"
"I'm not N--" he stopped himself. "I don't feel guilty. Why would I?"
"You left," Tracy said simply. "And you never went back. You could have, you know. You could have rescued her, your family, made them live forever, if you wanted to. At least let them know that you were alive."
"No," Vachon said firmly, but then he slumped. "Maybe. I don't know." He gave her a lopsided smile. "Is this that responsibility thing you're always on my case about?"
"The very one and the same!" Tracy said brightly.
Tracy was in a markedly better mood when she arrived at work later that day. Eventually she had fallen asleep on the couch watching a movie with Vachon, and when she had woken up he'd gone already. Which meant that it was past dark and she was late for work. But it hadn't bothered her.
When she got to her desk, Tracy saw a note from Nick and the one from her father from yesterday. She hadn't opened it all night and she wasn't going to now, since she was actually in a good mood. She put the one from her father in her desk and opened the one from her partner.
"I went out to see if I could get any info on the feral dogs from last night. I have my phone. Call if you need me. Natalie says she should have the tox. tests for the Greeson case back tonight. She'll get them to you ASAP.
"He expects me to sit and wait for test results?" she muttered. "No way."
She wanted to check out the Raven tonight, so it was actually good that her partner was out searching for a non-existent pack of dogs. She knew that Vachon liked to hang out at the dance club, and she was fairly sure that the other pale, red wine drinkers there weren't just in need of a tan and a white wine spritzer. What she would do when she got to the club, she wasn't quite sure. She couldn't just start questioning anyone who looked weird. The entire place was weird.
She'd come up with something. If nothing else, she could just eavesdrop. She was a detective. It was time to do some detecting.
Tracy surveyed the club from the top of the stairs. It was below street level, so it was cool, a nice change from the steamy heat outside. Since it was early still, there wasn't much of a crowd. Maybe she should have waited until later. Well, she was here now. She could always come back if she couldn't find out anything.
Descending the stairs, Tracy looked over the few people who were there. Every single one of them was dressed in black, except for one blonde woman who was wearing red. A balding man was behind the bar, talking to the woman in the red dress. She was about to discount him as just a bartender when she saw him take a sip from a glass of what appeared to be red wine. It didn't move right, though. It was a little too thick for wine, and Tracy repressed a shiver. Vachon claimed that he could smell fear and Tracy was pretty sure that at least half of the twenty or so people here shared that talent.
She was about to take a seat at the middle of the bar when she spied a familiar head of hair. Going up behind him, she tapped her partner on the shoulder.
"Having a quick pick-me-up before you look for the pack?" she asked?
Nick whirled around like he'd been electrocuted. He stared at her with his mouth open for a few seconds before snapping it shut.
"What are you doing here?" he demanded, jumping up and pulling her away from the bar.
"No, what are you doing here?" she asked. She peered around him to see if he'd left a drink on the bar. "Do you do this every time you're out looking for clues?"
"I...I got a tip," he said.
"Well, so did I," she replied, crossing her arms across her chest and shrugging. "You could have called me."
"I was going to, once I found out if there was anything to it," he said. "Besides, you didn't call me."
"I tried," she lied. "Your phone isn't picking up."
It was a pretty safe bet, since her partner had a tendency to forget to charge his battery. If nothing else, they were underground and the phone was unlikely to work. As he fumbled in his jacket pocket for it, Tracy swept around him and seated herself at the bar. The bartender approached.
"What would you like, my dear?" he asked.
Tracy smiled. His silky, deep voice almost made up for the bald spot.
"Just a club soda with lime, please," she replied, smiling winningly at him.
"And, Nicholas, what for you?" the bartender asked as her partner sat down.
"What she's having," Nick answered, waving his hand irritably. He turned to Tracy. "You're right. My phone says it's out of service. Sorry."
"'Nicholas'?" Tracy asked. "Come here often?"
"Oh, we got to talking," he said, trying to brush it off.
He was lying. It was obvious. Nick was a terrible liar.
"Ah, I see." She took a sip of the drink that was placed on the bar. "So, find out anything about the wild dogs?"
"We have wild dogs in Toronto?" the bartender asked, putting drink in front of Nick. It was slightly pink and had a maraschino cherry in it. "How...entertaining."
"That's not what I'm having," she said, pointing to the drink.
"It's a kiddie drink that Nicholas likes better," the bartender said, smirking, then moved off down the bar.
Nick glared at the bartender's retreating back. He pointedly ignored the drink.
"He's just being irritating," Nick said.
"Obviously," Tracy said, grinning. "Is he your... informant?"
"What?!" He stared at Tracy. "No, no, of course not. It was someone else. A woman. Her," he said, pointing at the woman in the red dress.
Tracy stood up. "Let's go talk to her, then." Nick grabbed her wrist and pulled her back down with unexpected strength.
"I already spoke with her. She saw a couple of loose dogs in the park, but across town," he said, keeping his voice down. "Why don't you go check it out."
"Why don't you? I've still got my tip to check out," she pointed out.
"We really should both go," Nick said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a twenty dollar bill. Dropping it on the bar, he said, "Come on."
With a grin, Tracy followed him. She might not have found out anything this time, but at least she'd been amused. She would come back during her dinner break. It would be more crowded then anyway.
It was fairly obvious to both of them that Nick had lied about the dogs, but, nevertheless, they diligently searched the park for two hours. There were no dogs, but plenty of raccoons, possums, and rats. After Nick admitted that they were unlikely to find anything, they went back to the precinct. An annoyed Natalie was waiting for them with two file folders in her hands. She held one out to each of the detectives.
"Greeson," the coroner said, handing one to Tracy, and then said, "Williams," handing the other one to Nick.
"I'll take that," Tracy said and snatched the Williams file out of her startled partner's hand. She handed him the Greeson file. "You're so much better at the toxicology results than I am."
She sat down at her desk as Nick and Natalie moved around the corner. Michael Williams was the victim from last night. Flipping through the pages of the report, she saw just what she expected to see: bites, trauma, massive blood loss. Not mentioned, however, was the very little amount of blood at the scene. Tracy was sure it was a vampire.\
Checking the page that had the analysis of the material underneath the victim's fingernails, she saw the notation, "Contaminated, unusable." But she'd seen Nick bag those hands herself. Maybe if it were vampire flesh under the nails, it would appear to be contaminated. She didn't know, having not done extensive research in biochemistry. Neither had Natalie, of course, which is why she thought the sample was messed up.
Tracy could ask Vachon if he knew anything about vampire biology, but then she'd have to admit that there was a vampire-related case, and he always pressed her to stay out of them. She couldn't stay out of this one, though, or her partner was likely to get hurt, looking for the non-existent dog pack.