Tracy pulled herself out of her car and slammed the door shut behind her. It had been a really long night. She had gotten yelled at by the captain for not finishing paperwork on time, Nick had complained about her interview of a witness, and her father had phoned to berate her on her career choice.
Then it got worse. They had gotten a call to a crime scene. A child, no more than three. They were the worst. There was no way to understand the murder of a child. So the rest of the night had been spent interviewing neighbors, and generally looking for clues. Nothing had turned up and it looked like they were facing a dead end.
So she had called it a night and come home. She trudged up the stairs and fumbled for her keys in her jacket pocket. Snagging them with her finger, she pulled her hand out, only to have them fly across the hallway. As she bent over to pick them up, her apartment door opened.
Whirling around, she was faced with Screed, the rat-sucking carouche, dressed in her yellow bathrobe and fuzzy orange slippers. He waved and grinned, then went back into the apartment. After a moment, Tracy retrieved her keys and went inside. He'd better have a good explanation.
Pulling the door shut behind her, Tracy surveyed her apartment. Her Venetian blinds were all shut and there was mist curling out from under the bathroom door. She could hear Screed singing, and the water was running. The rest of the apartment seemed to be normal ... except her small and rarely used dining room table was set and there was an amazingly mouthwatering aroma coming from the kitchen.
The bathroom door opened and Screed's singing suddenly became louder.
"A cook whose name wuz Davey, wuz cashiered from th' Navy," he sang, buttoning a denim shirt that had seen better days. "'E dipped th' bread inside th' head, an' served it up as gravy!"
"Screed!" Tracy exclaimed. "That's disgusting." She waved her hand at her home. "What's going on here?"
"Oi needed ta have a bit o' a wash, so's oi came over like," he said, plopping down in her armchair.
"Since when did you get permission to use my shower?" she asked. "Especially when I'm not home."
"Th' V-man said ya' would na' mind. Does ya'?" He looked concerned that he'd done something wrong.
*He* hadn't, but Vachon was going to get a talking to. Just because she let Vachon use her shower sometimes didn't mean that she wanted every slacker vampire in Toronto running up her water bill. She sighed.
"No, not really. Just let me know next time, will you?" she said and shrugged out of her jacket. "Now, I've had a really bad night, so I just want to get some sleep."
"But oi made ya' tommy tucker!" the carouche protested.
"You what?" Tracy looked around for another person. "What on earth are you talking about, Screed?"
"Oi'm na' a baddiwad lil' kitchen duchess," he said, pointing to the kitchen proudly. "Ya've got loop an' kleb, good an' hearty to put sum meat on yer scrawny carcass."
"Speak English, Screed," Tracy said tiredly.
She moved into the kitchen and lifted the pot lid. It looked like a hearty fish soup and the smell of bread came from the oven. Her stomach growled. Maybe bed could wait a bit.
"Oi ... cooked ... yer ... supper," Screed said, as if talking to someone who wasn't very bright. "Yer ... tew ... skinny."
"Smells good," Tracy said, ignoring his sarcasm. "There isn't rat in it, is there?"
"Like oi'd waste a bolshy squealer on yew," he laughed. "Na', it's all roit, devochka."
Tracy got a bowl from the table and filled it. Using a potholder, she pulled out a loaf of thick, crusty bread. Tearing off a chunk, she sat down at the table. Screed joined her with one of her coffee mugs in his hand. Tracy grimaced, thinking of what was in there.
"You can keep the mug," she told him.
Screed watched silently while Tracy ate. The food was wonderful. She would never have guessed that someone who couldn't eat food would still be able to cook it so well. When she was done, she leaned back in her chair and sighed.
"Fantastic, Screed," she said. "What's for dessert?"
Screed looked stricken.
"Wot?" he asked. "Oi did na --"
"I'm kidding!" Tracy said, smiling.
He fidgeted under her smile and looked down into his cup. His face became serious.
"Oi did na jest dew this fer fun," he said, looking up at her again. "Oi need a favor like."
Tracy raised an eyebrow at him, but didn't say anything. However, no matter how much he pleaded, she was *not* going to do his laundry.
"Oi need a place ta hideout fer th' sunshiney day," he continued. "Oi swear on me own six foot hole oi'll be outta here tanight."
Tracy's first instinct was to say "No. Nope. No way." But, when she looked closely at the vampire across from her, she could see that he was afraid of something. Granted, she didn't really know Screed very well, but he didn't seem like the type to be afraid for no reason. After all, he lived in the tunnels under the city and freely navigated the more unsavory parts of town, plus, he was hundreds of years old.
"What's wrong?" she asked.
His face became shifty.
"Nuthin'," he answered.
"Liar," she said. "Why don't you go to Vachon?"
"'E's ... on th' lam like." He began to fidget under her gaze. "We laid our peepers on sommat we shouldn't o' an' now we gotta lie low."
"He's gone? But what did you see that's so bad?" she asked, confused.
"Aye, ya' don' wanna hear." He shivered slightly. "Oi'm roit spoogy."
"Spoogy" didn't appear to be good, but Tracy decided not to pursue it. If it was something that meant both Vachon and Screed needed to leave town, then it was probably a vampire problem. Maybe the Inca ... No, she'd seen him explode. She'd even been splattered with little bits of him. It had been really gross. She sighed and looked at the hopeful face of Screed.
"Oh, all right," she said. "You *did* make me dinner. Though you used up all my hot water, I bet."
"Naw," he said, smiling his goofy smile. "Oi left plenty fer a larf."
When she woke up in mid-afternoon, Tracy was hesitant about leaving her bedroom. Screed had bedded down on the couch in front of the television; she had fallen asleep to the sounds of cartoon violence. He was probably still asleep, and she didn't want to wake him.
After a few moments of hesitation, though, Tracy decided that it was her apartment and she would go where she liked. After all, she hadn't invited Screed to spend the night.
Pushing open her bedroom door, Tracy quietly headed toward the kitchen for breakfast. Screed was curled up on the couch, cuddling a pillow. Every few moments a limb would twitch, as if he were dreaming. <Probably about chasing rats,> she told herself.
She managed not to wake him as she poured a bowl of cereal and sat down at the table to eat. Before he had fallen asleep, Screed had even taken the time to wash the dishes and put away the leftovers. He was definitely a better houseguest than Vachon, who seemed to sow chaos and guitar picks in his wake.
She had nearly finished her bowl of sugary grains when Screed suddenly moaned loudly and his eyes snapped open. He looked around, unmoving, for a few confused moments before his eyes landed on her. When he saw her, he relaxed and let go of the pillow he clutched to his chest. He sat up and weakly smiled.
"You ok?" Tracy asked her houseguest.
"Yah ... jes' a dream," he answered shakily.
"Nightmare?" Tracy asked sympathetically. "I get them sometimes, too, because of work." He didn't look like he wanted to talk about it, so Tracy changed the subject. "It's still about four hours 'til sunset. Watch TV if you want, but I've got to run some errands. Do you need anything while I'm out?"
"Nah. Oi've got me brekky, an' oi would na' ask any more o' ya'," he said, and smiled.
"I don't mind," she said. "Are you all packed for your ... trip?"
"Oi've got all oi need roit here," he said tapping his bald head.
Tracy shrugged and got up to put her bowl in the sink. She wasn't sure why she was suddenly so concerned about the scruffy carouche. She had never really known him except through Vachon. But after seeing Screed frightened and then the nightmare ... Well, he seemed more ... human. Vachon was just so unflappable and hard to talk to, while Screed, though a devotee of slang, at least spoke and didn't just stare at her all the time. Plus, he was a good cook.
Tracy lugged her groceries up the stairs and stopped at her door. From inside, she heard thumps. She put her bags on the floor and unlocked the door when she heard breaking glass.
Throwing open the door, she saw her living room in a shambles. The couch was overturned, the window broken, and her endtable smashed. Two figures struggled in the darkened bedroom. Drawing her gun, Tracy advanced on them. As she got closer, she could see that one of them was Screed. The other one, who seemed to be doing better in the fight, was a *very* pale man with long blonde hair. His eyes glowed yellow and he snarled as Screed desperately fought him off.
Looking around her bedroom, she saw her crucifix on the floor next to her desk, from where it had fallen during the struggles of the two vampires. Keeping her gun trained on the two fighters, Tracy edged her way into the bedroom toward the desk. She had almost reached it when, with a terrific crack, Screed's head hit her mirror and he slumped to the floor. The unknown vampire looked at the crumpled carouche then suddenly stiffened. Tracy knew she'd been noticed.
As the vampire turned toward her, Tracy dove the last three feet to the cruxifix and grabbed it. A strong grip closed on the back of her neck and she was lifted to her feet. She twisted around to face the vampire and shoved the cross in his face. With an anguished howl, he dropped her. He backed off, snarling at her.
"Keep going, buddy," she told him, still holding out the crucifix.
She advanced on him, herding him toward the broken window. Finally, with one last snarl, he flung himself out of the window and into the air.