Note 1: Nick, Natalie, Tracy, Commisioner Vetter, Tracy's mother, Janette, Fleur, Alyce, Henry of Brabant, LaCroix and Alyce are from the show "Forever Knight" which is owned by Sony TriStar. Xena and Gabrielle are from "Xena Warrior Princess" which is under StudiosUSA and was created by Rob Tapert and John Schulian. All other characters are mine and are fictious. Any use of real names is purely coincidential.
Note 2: The inspiration for this story came partially from listening to the Boston Camerata's "With Joyful Noise: Christmas Music of Eight Centuries". The "Gedonis Area" to which Nick refers in Chapter 11 is from the medieval part of this collection ("A Medieval Christmas" Elektra Entertainment, 1975).
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Nick stared out of his loft's center window at the city of Tucson. He was depressed. Very depressed. It seemed as if life dragged him along like a bad voodoo doll, letting him feel good for about ten minutes before dropping him like a bad habit. At least, some things never changed.
"I wonder why Nat and I ever left Toronto?" he sighed. However, he knew the answer to that query already. He would have left of his own accord with LaCroix, but Nat confronted him in the loft up there. After nearly killing her and being staked himself, Cybelle had transported them to the University of Arizona's medical center where the Duboises had helped their two friends to recover. Then, he had discovered that Tracy was back, and that they were partners once again. She had also figured out that he was a vampire. Things were definitely looking up at that point.
However, the last two months had been rough. There had been two unsolved homicides on the south side of town. The captain, Miguel Ramirez, was not a man who liked loose ends. Despite his usually affable nature, the superior was very testy towards his two newest detectives. Tracy grew more and more frustrated with each passing day. Nick imbibed twice as much cow blood as normal. Fortunately, Nat kept their spirits up as best as she could, given the circumstances.
Then, in the corner, his alarm went off. 8PM time to go to work.
"Let's see if there's any news about the case," he mused, throwing on his coat, and heading for the elevator.
Natalie leaned over the body of a 65 year old Hispanic man. He had been stabbed several times in the chest, leaving no doubt as to the cause of death.
She spoke into the microphone loudly, "Subject's name is Esteban Gutierrez. He is Hispanic, about 6' 1", 205 lbs, and seems to be in excellent health... I'm looking further." As her scalpel cut into the lung, she struck a pile of ash. "Scratch that last one," she thought to herself. "This guy's like a chimney. Geez.... I guess if the stab wounds didn't kill you, then the smoking would have done the work at some point."
Then, a eerie feeling came over her. It was the same thing, every time that Nick was about to enter the room. She definitely needed to find out what had happened to her as a result of their "last dance" in Toronto. "Nick, are you out there?" she asked anxiously.
"Yes, I am," he replied and entered the examination room. He looked about the room, and then, at her.
"Okay, what's up?" she inquired.
"Funny, I was about to ask you the same question," he informed her. Something was bothering her. But, with everything on his mind, the detective decided to let the matter slide, at least for now.
"I have an ID on that second John Doe if you're interested," she told him. "His name is Esteban Gutierrez. I'll have the report upstairs within a couple of hours."
He smiled. Having that information in hand would get Ramirez off of his back at least. "Sounds great," he stated. "I'll go tell Tracy. Well, see you in a while." He waved and walked out of the room.
Natalie stared at the door through which he had exited. Despite the
initial optimism of starting over, his mood had reverted back to the Toronto
norm. If she didn't know better, she would have claimed that LaCroix was
sending bad vibes at him. She decided that something needed to be done
about Nick's state of mind before he drove them all over the edge.
Miguel Ramirez leaned back in his office chair and sighed deeply. He was being way too hard on Miles and Brown. After all, they had spent long hours dragging the streets for clues. Was it their fault that there were none to be found? He couldn't buy that theory. Those two new detectives were like bloodhounds. Over the previous six months, they had cracked cases which the day guys had struggled over for a while. Certainly, if he gave them a little more time...
Suddenly, a knock sounded at the door. "Yes?" he answered.
"Captain Ramirez? It's Dr. LeBeau with the report on that John Doe. May I come in?" Nat asked.
"Si. Please do! The door's open," he assented.
Natalie opened the door and walked in. Given all of his huffing over the past two weeks, she was a little leery about Ramirez. "Well, I have the report right here," she explained, handing him a file folder. "His name is Esteban Gutierrez."
The captain took a moment to flip through the file's contents. "Nicely done, Doctor," he complemented.
"Thank you, Sir," she managed a smile.
He peered over the top of the folder at her curiously. "Would you like to take a seat, Dr. LeBeau?" he offered.
"I would. Thank you," she accepted and sat in the visitor's seat in front of the oak desk.
After a couple more minutes of studying her remarks, Ramirez shut the folder and looked at her. "This is our first serious lead in this case. Have you shared this with Detectives Miles or Brown as of yet?" he smiled knowingly.
"Nick only knows about the victim's name. I only finished the report ten minutes ago," she explained.
He put his hand up in front of her. "Look, Doctor. I know that I have been really antsy lately, especially to you new folks. I guess that I owe you all an apology....," he started.
"Well, that's okay. We're new to this precinct, and you're getting used to us," she assured him.
"That's true, but...I guess that you three have had such an amazing run since your arrival. You've spoiled me. Somehow, I knew that the three of you would have a great connection," he chuckled. "And I'm glad that you do. One last thing, I hope that you three feel at home here. You're top-notch in my book. Keep up the good work, and please, let the detectives know that as well," Ramirez complemented.
She nodded, managing not to let out a sigh in relief. Ramirez was very observant, and had obviously picked up on the interactions between the three friends on that first evening. Fortunately, he seemed to chalk it up to coincidence. "Thank you, Captain," she concluded, standing up and walking quickly out to the bullpen area.
Ramirez only sipped his coffee, and stared out of his window at the two detectives. Despite their idiosyncracies, he refused to mess with a good thing.....
Nick and Tracy watched their friend come out of Ramirez's office with a bemused look on her face.
"Hmm, I wonder what the captain said to her?" Tracy inquired.
"He probably grilled her for info," Nick shrugged. "She has some information on the case."
That was news. At hearing Nick say those words, she perked right up. "Really? Well, it's about time that somebody started making some headway."
Natalie reached their position. "Hey, guys. I just came from the captain's office. He...well...he liked the report."
Nick smiled, "That's great, Nat. At least, somebody's satisfying him these days."
Tracy stared at her partner and then, at Natalie. As with the coroner, she had noticed Nick's reversion into Mr. Mope and dealing with him in that state was depressing, if not bordering on unbearable. "What else did he have to say, Natalie?" she probed.
She grinned, "Well, you aren't going to believe this one. He apologized for being such a grump."
"No way!" Tracy exclaimed with surprise and then, remembering that they were still in the precinct, made sure that nobody was in earshot.
"He wanted me to tell you that he thought that we were a great group. We just raised his expectations a little too high is all, and that, we need to keep up the good work," Natalie related.
Nick looked up at her in disbelief. "Really?" he asked.
"No lie," Natalie confirmed. Then, she leaned close to them both and whispered, "He senses a connection, but he's willing to let it go at that."
Those words were certainly a relief to the two detectives. At least,
the grouchiness should start to fade away in short order. Maybe, if what
Natalie said was true, then things might actually be easier to handle here
in the Old Pueblo after all.
Meanwhile, across town at the University of Arizona library, a mixed group of administrators, faculty, and staff sat around a table, deliberating on a topic of vital importance. Just two months earlier, Dr. Harold Pumberbroke, the esteemed night curator of the U of A's Fine Arts museum, had passed away in his sleep at the age of seventy. While serving in that capacity for 35 years, Pumberbroke had proven to be a stabilizing force both in the museum complex and around the campus. Now, the group around the long cherry table in Dr. Caitlin Sommers' conference room would be in charge of finding a replacement. Somebody with the right experience to step into the venerable curator's shoes, but yet, have youth and enthusiasm to boldly strike out in fresh directions. For all of his finer qualities, the old man never had the background in Central American art. His successor would have to possess that talent.
The committee members all looked expectantly to the head of the table. There, David Dubois sat, carefully observing the proceedings.
"Okay, Dave," Roy Carleton, the History Department's representative, presumed, "We've been around the table a few times. What do you think?"
Dave glanced at each of his colleagues. Despite his youth, the other members, his former professors and some current associates, had voted him to be their chairman. He cleared his throat and stated, "Let's look at the grid, shall we?"
The committee turned their attention to the white chart behind Dave. For his part, the latter rose from his chair, and walked over to the display. "Let's see....We have Michaels, Nourani, Wright, Davis, and Harris left on the board," he summarized. "What do we know about them? Francesca, do you want to start?"
"Sure," Dr. Francesca Alvaro, the Modern Languages representative, agreed. "Nancy Bradley and I talked with the first two candidates." She produced two files and, after opening the first one, continued, "Concerning Alphonse Michaels, he is very knowledgeable about his field and such, but he didn't seem that interested in Pre-Columbian art. As for Naima Nourani, her specialty is Middle Eastern archaeology. I was very impressed with her telephone interview. She seemed to be very much in line with what we're looking for. Her only weakness is that she does not have the strongest background in Pre-Columbian art. However, she did express a willingness to learn more about it." Then, she turned to her colleague, "Did that cover everything, Nancy?"
Dr. Nancy Bradley, the English Department liaison, concurred. "Definitely. I would add one other thing on Michaels. He definitely seemed to be very hesitant about coming here to Arizona."
Dave scratched his chin as he weighed these reports. "Okay," he directed. "Lynn, what did you and Karl arrive at with Davis and Wright?"
"Well," Dr. Lynn Davis, the Sociology Department's chair. "It's funny, but, just as with Michaels, they seemed qualified enough, however, they lack the flexibility and the desire to adapt to our situation."
"Right," Dr. Karl Beemus agreed, "You know, I don't think that people really take the time to read a job ad over carefully before they apply anymore."
Dave picked up the copy of the ad in front of him, and gave it a quick scan. Karl had a point, because the qualifications which the members had elaborated on were included right there in clear black 12 point font. Certainly, this post was a pretty nice position for someone to get their hands on. He shook his head and chuckled.
"Sorry, David," Caitlin inquired. "What's so funny?"
"My apologies," he surmised. "I just thought that the fact that this was a night curatorship might have something to do with their sudden lack of enthusiasm."
The other members considered this observation very carefully. Yes, there might be something to that point. But, if the candidates weren't willing to adjust, then the committee would have to look elsewhere for their person.
"Now, about Alyce Harris," Dave noted, making the transition into the final candidate's synopsis. "Francesca and I talked to her yesterday. She seems very knowledgeable, is equally skilled in European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and American art and archaeology. In fact, her specialty is Pre-Columbian art. Would you like to add anything, Francesca?"
She nodded, "She likes to work at night. And, unlike most of the others, she would love to come here."
That comment stirred the folks around the table, and urged them to consider this last candidate's vita once again.
"She's at the Universite de Orleans," Lynn added.
Everyone seemed to agree with that synopsis. True, it wasn't University of Paris, or the Sorbonne. But, Orleans wasn't that far behind its brethren. Besides, if Harris were able to handle being the only specialist in pre-Columbian studies in that facility, a role that she had pulled off with flying colors for the previous five years, she could certainly do it at the U of A.
"So, are we ready to vote on who we want to bring in for interviews?" Dave queried his comrades. "If so, rank the candidates on your sheets, fold them up, and pass them to the front."
The group took five minutes to scribble out their numbers and to pass along their notes to him.
"Okay, thank you, everyone," he told the others. After giving the votes a shuffle on the table, he opened each one individually, read it, and wrote the numbers on the grid. When he had finished, the five candidates were aligned properly. However, interestingly enough, Harris and Nourani were ahead of their counterparts by a significant margin. In the committee's estimation, they would have to be the two finalists for the position.
"I guess that we have two people to invite in for interviews. Look for my email in the morning. Thanks again, everyone. I really appreciate the hard work. Have a great night," he concluded, and adjourned the meeting.
Caitlin tapped him on the arm. "David, I'll have Sue-Anne work on those arrangements."
"I appreciate that. Thank you, Caitlin," he expressed to his boss.
"Anything to make the process run smoother," she assured him. "You're doing a great job as Chairman."
"Thanks. I appreciate the complement. Well, I have three kids to get
home to. So, if you don't mind, Francesca and I will take our leave. See
you tomorrow night," he smiled. Then, he and his cousin left the room for
the Cherry Avenue Parking Garage where his Subaru waited.
About 7 AM on the following morning, Angie slid out of bed carefully. Her husband had come in late from his search committee meeting and, since Caitlin had given him the morning off, she wanted to let him sleep in. Slipping into her robe, she padded into the kitchen.
However, before she could start measuring out her coffee, there was
a knock at the door. "I wonder...?"
she queried. "Yes?"
"Angie, it's Natalie. Can I come in?" Natalie identified herself.
"Certainly," Angie agreed, opening the door, and allowing her friend to come in. "I was about to put on some coffee, or I can get you some juice, if you'd like...."
"Juice would be great, thanks," Natalie accepted the offer, and a tall glass of orange juice a moment later.
"Now, take a seat, and tell me what's going on. How's work been going?" Angie asked, noting her friend's concern.
"Oh, it's been rough the last few weeks with this latest case. But, I made some headway last night. Angie, you should have been there when I gave Ramirez the report. He actually apologized to me for what had happened. I feel really relieved that he still holds me as well as Nick and Tracy in high regard," Natalie explained.
The oncologist smiled, "I told you that it was just a case of nerves. I think that you'll all be okay."
Natalie glanced at her with an unsure look in her eyes.
"Now what?" Angie probed. "What else do we have to worry about?"
"Oh, it's Nick. He's getting depressed again. Angie, I can't understand it. He was so happy when we came down here, and that Tracy would be working with us. However, the last few weeks, he's been slipping back into his malaise again. I wish that we could do something for him....," Natalie commented.
Angie glanced towards the bedroom where she had heard Dave rising for some reason. "Honey, put something on. We have company!" she advised.
"Okay," his voice mumbled sleepily. When, he came out of the bedroom,
he was dressed in his sweats.
"Morning, Natalie. What's going on?"
"I was just asking for ideas on Nick's mood. Have you noticed it?" she probed.
He pushed his way through the sleepy cobwebs still obscuring his head. "Well, he has become more solitary recently. I guess that I have been so busy that I didn't really notice. My apologies," he noted.
"Natalie was just saying that we should do something for him, but what?" Angie inquired.
Dave's eye looked around for ideas. Yes, they should do something. But what? What would the theme be? And, was there time to put something together? Thanksgiving was only two days away at this point with Christmas following....
"That's it!" he exclaimed, jumping up and startling the two women.
"Dave, settle down, or you'll wake the girls," Angie admonished. "Now, what's cooking in that head of yours?"
"Natalie, you have the right idea. I think that we should have something
for him, and I think that I know what," he stated, walking over to the
music rack and choosing a CD. He walked back over to the ladies.
"Here," he urged.
The ME read the CD case. " 'With Joyful Noise: Christmas Music Throughout the Ages'? Okay, so it's historical Christmas music. What are you getting at?" she asked.
Angie looked at her husband and guessed, "Uh, Dave. You wouldn't be thinking what I think that you're thinking, would you?"
"Why not? I think that a Medieval-style Christmas would be a blast," he shrugged.
"You know, Dave, you might actually have something there! Let's go talk to Francesca and see what we can come up with," Natalie agreed. Then, after a brief yawn, she rose from her chair, and started for the door. "Thank you both for the suggestions. Let me talk to Tracy. I think that she will want to help us as well. Well, take care." She waved, and departed for her apartment across the complex.
Angie glanced at her husband and sighed, "Do you know what you're getting yourself into?"
He shook his head, "No, but I think that Nick hasn't had a real Christmas for a while. Besides, I think that we can get Cybelle to chip in as well. With two medievalists, a Celtic priestess, and an ancient Thracian Warrior Princess working together, I think that we can plan something simple yet special enough for our friend." He yawned grandiosely, "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going back to bed since I have to work until midnight and we have that panel coming up."
"Sure. See you later," she agreed and watched him meander back into
the bedroom. She smiled. Leave it to Dave to find what Nick really
needed. Sometimes, it just takes another viewpoint on an issue.
Chapter 3 (One Day After "Climax")
Dave stirred slowly under the covers. Monday was not a particularly good time for him on most weeks. Given the events of the previous week, this day would be particularly hard to deal with. Staring at the ceiling, he kept remembering the battle in the library. It was the first time that he had used his powers openly in Tucson. Would it cost him his job? He let out a deep sigh and shook his head.
For her part, Angie could not sleep either as she shared her husband's concerns. "How will this situation affect us?" she worried. "My, or rather Xena's, duel with Callisto really could have hurt someone. Why does it have to be so hard?" Then, she studied her companion. "He's really taking this hard. I hope that he doesn't lose his job over this situation."
Finally, the clock buzzed, telling them that they would have to face the world.
"Dave, do you think that we should get up?" she moaned.
"Do we have to?" he muttered half-jokingly.
She nodded, "Yes, we do. We have to make a living, y'know."
"Yeah, I guess," he yawned as his feet hit the floor. "Look out, New Week. Here we come!"
"You can say that again," she affirmed to herself.
The ride into campus was remarkably short. As with her cousins, Francesca's nerves were also getting the best of her. The tension was so thick that you could cut it with a knife.
"It's going to be okay, everyone," Angie assured them.
"Sure," Francesca agreed and forced an optimistic smile.
Dave stirred momentarily from his pessimistic reverie. "So, are you okay, Francesca?"
"Yes, I'm okay," she replied. "Having Gabrielle inside of me is a new experience. But, she is so nice and seems like a trusted companion."
"She is that...and more," Angie agreed.
"Yes, and my own prognosis, of course," Angie smiled. "Now, remember everyone, we did help to save the campus."
"And I took that trip," Francesca shuddered.
"Well, we do have that meeting this afternoon, Francesca," he advised.
"The Search Committee meeting! I had forgotten!" she realized.
"I think that you have a good excuse," he shrugged it off.
The Ford Taurus pulled into the lot by the library. "Okay, here's the library. Everyone out," Angie directed.
"Have a great day," he told her as he kissed her and Deirdre.
"Good luck," Angie added.
"Thanks," Francesca accepted and waved.
The two cousins walked up the red brick walk and stood before the glass doors.
Dave stared nervously through them into the foyer.
Francesca chuckled, "You have to go in there eventually."
"I know," he sighed.
"Dave, you did nothing wrong. Remember that. We were attacked, not the other way around," she reminded him.
"I hope that Caitlin sees it that way," he dreaded.
"I think that she will," she reassured him. "Now, go on."
"Grazai," he smiled wistfully.
"Primo," she nodded, turning toward the Modern Languages Building across the lawn from the library.
Then, he was alone. "Well, I guess that it's time to face the music," he thought and entered the library. Quickly taking the stairs two at a time, he reached the third floor, and entered his office. As expected, the message light on his phone was blinking away at a manic pace. He guessed that his email would be clogged as well. "Ah, the pleasures of being missing for a week," he mused, settling into his chair.
No sooner had he done so, then a sharp rapping sounded at the door.
"Yes?" he answered.
"Dave? It's Winnie," Winnie Henderson greeted. "Can we come in?"
"Who's `we'?" he inquired anxiously.
"Mike Rancuso and myself," she responded.
"Sure. The door's open. Come in and take a seat," he relented. He watched as his two co-workers entered and took their seats. Mike shut the door behind him before he took his position. "So, what's up?"
"`What's up' you ask," Mike started. "You are...at least as far as that little display that you put on last week."
"How did you do those things? And who were those people?" Winnie pushed.
Dave shook his head despondently. He knew that he would have to answer these questions eventually. But, he had hoped to talk to Caitlin first....
Mike probed further, "C'mon, tell us something. First, you have that confrontation. Then, you disappear for a week?"
Dave shook his head, "I'd better talk to Caitlin before I say anything."
"And yes, she wants to see you ASAP," he indicated.
"Well, I guess that I better go deal with that...and take my medicine while it's still fresh," Dave declared. "So, if you'll both excuse me..."
"Okay," she agreed. "C'mon, Mike. David, good luck."
"Thanks, guys. I'll talk to you shortly," he informed them as the latter left his office.
After locking his door, Dave walked up one more flight of stairs and walked through the door of the Dean's reception area. Sue-Anne McAllister, Caitlin's assistant, saw him immediately.
"Hi, David. Are you all right?" she inquired.
"I'm getting there, thanks. Is Caitlin available?" he replied.
She nodded, "Give me a minute." She picked up into the phone, and talked into it briefly. "She wants to see you. Go right in."
"Thanks," he indicated, and walked through the oak door directly in front of him. In the office, Caitlin sat behind her impressive pine desk, observing his progress.
"Please, close the door, David," she indicated. When he had done so, she continued, "So, I guess that the first question is how you are doing...."
"I'm fine now. But, it's been a long week," he answered.
"That is an understatement. Do you know that there have been local, state, and federal authorities crawling all over this building? I hope that you didn't do anything to incite that attack....," she stated firmly, while rubbing her temples.
He shook his head adamantly, "Absolutely not. With all due respect, you must be kidding if you think that I want to invite that kind of trouble. Believe me, I want no part of that."
"But, you are different, after all," Caitlin surmised. "Just because of who you are, you're a target. If you were anyone else, I would be drawing up your release papers right now. However, you have 15 years of great service to this university, and I witnessed your role in those events...."
"Well, at least somebody knows. I remember Alti messing with my legs, and then, nothing until I was in the foyer with you and the detectives," he explained.
The dean stared across the desk at her employee. "You mean that you don't...?"
"No, I don't. By the way, who broke the locks on the library doors?"
Caitlin looked at her young friend, "Umm, either you, or that person...Alti? shattered the locks. Then, she came flying out of the room. You honestly don't remember...."
"No, I don't," he repeated his earlier answer. "What did I...I lost it again, didn't I?" He shuddered and shook his head.
"Losing it would be an understatement. You shifted personalities out there. With your abilities, you can't afford a dark side like that," she told him.
"I have been dealing with this problem for twenty years. Trust me, unless the situation gets really dire, I don't lapse. Alti was ripping apart my psyche, my legs, my hip and my head. Under those circumstances, I lost control....I couldn't help it. I am trying to treat it, but....," he started. Then, the thought occurred to him. "Wait a minute, you mentioned my abilities."
"I did. David, we saw you leap that Roman attacker, not to mention blast that woman into the foyer," she explained. She reached into her desk drawer, pulling out a piece of paper. "I sent this memo to everyone right after the incident."
He read the directive and discovered that she had determined to keep the situation within the library. "Wow," he gasped. "I really appreciate this gesture, Caitlin."
She waved it off. "You're a good librarian and an excellent co-worker. Everyone agreed enthusiastically to this measure. Besides, having someone with your talents around here has its benefits. Now, onto other business....Any other questions?"
"About the curator search. How is that proceeding?" he probed.
She raised an eye brow and smiled, "The committee conducted the interviews while you and Francesca were missing. Thank you for setting that process in motion. Well, since we are both on the committee, I can tell you that we have a recommendation. You can look at our notes if you'd like." She handed him a file folder.
He scanned the materials very carefully, scrutinizing answers to the key questions. Both candidates had excellent interviews. However, it appeared that one had an edge. Harris was the committee's choice.
"Normally, you and Francesca wouldn't get a vote. But, since you did talk to her, and recommended her for the interview stage, I trust that you won't mind if we forego our 2PM meeting, and make the decision since everyone else is in agreement," she suggested.
"I can't speak for Francesca, but I would definitely go along with the committee's recommendation," he agreed.
"I thought that you would likely do so. Francesca and I just spoke, by the way. It's unanimous. Would you like to sign the committee report, Mr. Chairman?" she cracked.
He whipped out a pen, and signed the document in the appropriate place.
"Excellent. We'll have an offer out to her by noon," she informed him. "She had indicated that she would be willing to move quickly. I guess that they worked it out for next week."
"Next week?" he gaped. "That's a little soon, isn't it? I mean, don't get me wrong. I would love it if she could start tomorrow, but that seems almost too fast."
"Apparently, everything is set. It's the end of the term there, and we need her here rapidly. By the way, would you pick her up at the airport when she comes in? Her flight will be a week from today at about 8:30PM," she informed him.
"That's Christmas Eve. Well, I did have plans. But, if she doesn't mind, we're organizing a Christmas feast over at my place. An old-fashioned European Christmas dinner. Have the curator mention that invitation in his response, would you?" he explained while rising from his seat. "Now, if you will excuse me, I have some collection development matters to attend to."
"Go to it," she assented. "Thank you for coming up here, David. You're a good librarian and I know that you're trying to contain that anger. We are here to help you. Remember that."
"I know, but thank you," he smiled over his shoulder as he walked out of the office.
Caitlin watched the door for a second before resuming her progress on
the reports stacked on her desk.
At least, she knew that he was trying to make progress in all regards. With that thought, she kept working on her projects.
Natalie stared fearfully into her bathroom mirror. Despite the feast and celebration from the previous evening at Nick's loft, she wondered what Ramirez would say to her, Tracy, and Nick concerning their disappearance. Her mind had wrestled for the previous two days with possible explanations, but nothing thus far had sounded good to her.
"At least, I've had time to ponder this issue," she conjectured. "Dave, Angie, and Francesca are dealing with it right now." Then, she realized that she needed to check in at the UMC. They would be worried sick about her. "I'd best get over there," she directed herself. "Best to make sure that everything's okay, and to give Angie moral support in case she needs any."
Having come to that conclusion, she grabbed her keys and headed for
Angie sat down in her office. Her computer's inbox languished under the weight of email. The desk had a pile of reports waiting on it. Her phone's message light flashed incessantly at her. Then, she heard a knock at the door. "Yes?" she answered.
"Angie? It's Lori. May I come in?" Lori Applegate inquired.
The oncologist slouched nervously in her chair. "Sure," she agreed.
Lori entered the office and quickly closed the door behind her. "I'm glad to see you. We were all concerned when you and David disappeared, leaving the girls behind," she told her friend.
Angie shook her head, and explained, "I know....Believe me, it was a serious emergency."
"Your brother-in-law explained everything. Is David okay?" Lori assured her.
"He is now. We weren't sure for quite a while," Angie commented.
"Well, we had our share of excitement here too...with Xena and Callisto," Lori continued.
"Really?" Angie deadpanned. "It must have been exciting."
[From deep within her mind, Xena smiled.]
"Too much so for me," Lori shuddered and flushed. "Those two fighting..." Then, she collected herself. "Dr. Fishburne will be glad to know that you're okay. He was really worried, you know."
"Does...Does he want to see me?" Angie queried.
Lori shook her head, "No, not right now. I think that he's satisfied with the FBI agent's story. Well, time's moving on, and I'm sure that you have some catching up to do."
"Yes, I do," Angie agreed ruefully, eyeing her desk. "See you for lunch?"
"Sure," the office assistant agreed. "See ya."
"Bye," Angie concluded. After the door closed, she sat and stared at the walls of her office for a long minute. "I guess that I should feel lucky," she thought and sipped her coffee."
" 'Exciting' you called it," Xena's voice cracked in amusement.
Angie quickly checked the window blinds and locked the door. "Xena, I guess that you heard her," she assumed.
"Yes. Those people don't realize that you and David saved their lives," Xena shook her spectral head.
"I wonder how Dave's making out at the library?" Angie inquired.
"I guess that we'll find out this afternoon," her "Roommate" supposed.
Another knock came from the door. "Angie? It's Natalie LeBeau. May I come in?"
"I'll see you later," Xena advised Angie, and faded from view.
"Just a minute, Nat," Angie informed her visitor, and unlocked the door. "Come in. What's going on?"
"Well, I was wondering the same thing about you and Dave," Natalie replied. "Has the Inquisition hunted you down yet?"
"No, Dr. F's satisfied with Steve's explanation of the events. Dave's nerves flared this morning. I sensed that he talked with Caitlin, but she calmed him down. He's been keeping himself busy since then. Would you like a cup of coffee?" Angie noted.
"None for me, thanks," Natalie declined, taking the visitor's chair. "I'm still having trouble thinking of possible explanations for Ramirez. The nightmares have continued."
The younger woman studied her visitor carefully. Nightmares? Of course, the trauma which she and Francesca had suffered would take time to work itself out. "It must be Alti's doing," she diagnosed. "Believe me, that woman is enough to give anyone nightmares."
"That's for sure," Natalie agreed. "Tell me, Angie. What do I say to Ramirez?"
Angie stared at Natalie. "What do you mean? You explain to him that you were kidnapped. Tracy's covered because she was working with Steve Petersen. Nick, on the other hand, is the one with some explaining to do. Then again, he was injured, so we do have a cover story."
"But, Ramirez is going to have kittens over his failure to report in," Nat disagreed slightly. Still, her friend had offered her the explanation which she had been seeking. As long as Nick came up with a good story, they might get out of this scenario unscathed. "What about the case that we were working on?"
"What about it? The TPD wrapped it up while we were gone. The report was apparently filed three days ago," Angie informed her. "Face it, Nat. We're covered."
"I hope that you're right," Nat doubted.
"Sure, I'm right. By the way, I know that this is a bad time, but Dave's still planning that dinner for Nick....," Angie started.
"He's kidding, right? Christmas is only a week away! To do the research,
plan, and pull off the dinner?
We can't pull off a full-scale production!" Nat protested.
"I think that he might be convinced to reduce it to a smaller scale. Maybe, we can do a pork roast...and come up with a few minor things? A stuffing? Perhaps, a drink, or a dessert? Dave's got the music all picked out, and I know that he wants to do something for Nick."
Natalie grinned, "I know that Nick would appreciate that thought. Not many people have reached out to him in that fashion over the centuries. Especially after everything that we have gone through over the past week, I think that might not be such a bad idea." Then, she stood up and put on her coat. "Thanks, Angie."
"For what?" her friend asked.
"For making me feel better. I'll talk to you later," Natalie concluded and left.
Angie smiled, and then, started in on the pile of reports sitting on
Nick sipped a glass of cow blood and stared out his front window. The desert sun had set, signaling that it would soon be time for the shift to start. How would he explain his absence to Ramirez? More problems...just the kind of mess that they had come to Tucson to avoid. But then again, it wouldn't matter where he, Natalie, or Tracy went, these issues would surface again and again.
He knew that Natalie had gone to see Angie Dubois at the hospital. Apparently, that visit had gone well. Dave had sent word that he had survived the meeting with Caitlin Sommers with his job intact. Hopefully, his own session would proceed in a similar fashion.
Noting that the time was now at 6:30, he pulled on his shoulder holster,
and put on his coat. Time to face the music.....
Tracy sat at her desk two hours later, and shuffled the reports sitting there in front of her. Sargeant Novak had told her that the captain wanted to see them as soon as Nick reported in. It had been quite a week after all. What would be one more chewing out? Unless of course, it meant that they were all fired. No, she told herself, she had to think positively.
Natalie entered the area, and walked quickly over to her friend. "Hi, Trace. I just got a call from Ramirez. Where's Nick?" she inquired.
"He's on his way hopefully," Tracy moped. "I would like to get this lecture over with and get on with my life."
"Wouldn't we all?" Natalie agreed. Then, she saw the object of their vigil walk through the door and into the bullpen. "Well, speaking of Nick, here he comes."
The other woman smiled at the use of the phrase. He certainly could cause a stir.... "Hey, Nick!" she called and motioned to him.
He sighed, "She's way too eager for this conversation." He walked over to the desk, and sat in the chair opposite to Tracy.
"Uh uh, Partner," she advised. "Ramirez wants a word with us and Natalie. Let's go."
"Procrastination won't get us anywhere, Nick," Natalie chimed in.
He threw his hands up in frustration. Of course, he knew that Natalie was right, and that he had no choice. "Okay," he agreed.
The three colleagues walked to the door. Nick knocked three times. "Captain?" he queried.
"Miles? Is that you? And are Detective Brown and Dr. LeBeau with you?" Ramirez's voice responded.
"Yes, it's me and the ladies are with me. Can we come in?" Nick requested nervously.
"Absolutamente! Please, come in!" the voice from within the office bade them.
Nick opened the door, allowing his companions to enter ahead of him. After he followed them, he closed the door, and sat in the last available seat.
Ramirez waited for them to settle into their chairs. Then, he asked the obvious question. "Are you three all right? I mean, Dr. LeBeau and Detective Miles, you two vanished so quickly."
"It was a difficult time," Nat replied. "But, I'm okay." She definitely wasn't going to tell him about all of the details if she could help it.
"And you, Detective Miles? Dean Sommers reported that you were injured and down on the floor. Yet, you vanished as well. I am glad to see you in one piece," he continued.
"As with Natalie, I made it through the past week. I received medical attention from outside of the area," Nick explained cryptically.
"Well, that counts for something," Ramirez stated. "Nick, Natalie, I must be frank with you both. I was not pleased with your silence over the past week. When members of this precinct are out of the building for extended periods of time, I expect updates. Natalie, I know that you were kidnapped. Detective Miles, on the other hand, could have found a phone, computer, or something to get a hold of me, or Chris Novak. Comprende?"
They nodded silently.
"Bueno. By the way, my congratulations on your instincts, Detective Miles. It seems that you were dead-on accurate, eh? Ramirez accessed.
Nick grinned at Tracy knowingly. That comment made all of the guff which he had taken from her worthwhile.
For her part, she shook her head, and muttered, "Whatever."
"That being said, the incident at the library caused us a great deal of difficulty with the State Police and the FBI. You should be grateful that Agent Petersen interceded on your behalf and was able to work with Detective Brown to find you and Dr. LeBeau," he continued.
Tracy shot Nick a smug smile and a shrug.
"By the way, that was a Roman legion, wasn't it?" Ramirez wondered.
Nick shook his head, "It was a new theatrical production. Right, Tracy?"
"Right, Nick," she agreed, mentally dancing on her feet.
The captain shook his head in disbelief. Frankly, he didn't know what to think, but since it was gone, he hoped that it would not return to his precinct area. "Whatever. You three have many reports to read," he directed. "You'd best get to them. Dismissed."
"Thank you, Captain," Natalie expressed appreciatively.
"You're welcome, Doctor. It's good to see you safe as well," he concluded and went back to his work.
The three left the office, and headed back to the desk outside. They had gotten off pretty lightly when everything had been accounted for.
"Well, that's a relief," Nick commented.
"Thank Steve," Tracy replied. "He stood up to both the Arizona State Police and Ramirez for us."
"I'll bet. Well, here's hoping that we get to work with him again," Natalie commented.
"I'll second that," Nick agreed. "Good friends are hard to find."
Natalie cleared her throat. "Well, before this scene gets too mushy, I'm heading back down into the depths. Stop by later if you'd like," she informed them and walked toward the stairs.
The two partners watched as the ME descended the stairs. Then, they started in on those reports. Being gone for a week left a lot of work to catch up on, after all.
However, before he picked up his first report, Nick turned to Tracy. "Tracy, I wanted to thank you...."
She looked at him curiously. "Thank me for what?"
"Well...For going along with me last week. Then, for letting them help me. Finally, for coming after us. I know that Natalie appreciates it, and I do too. Thank you," he stated.
She smiled warmly. Being in the desert was helping him to open up. "You're welcome. That's what friends and partners are for. You would have done the same for me," she assured him.
He nodded appreciatively before returning to his work. Tracy studied
him for a second before doing the same.
Meanwhile, it was a calm night in Orleans, France. Most of the lights around the Universite de Orleans were out as people slept peacefully in their homes. However, within the school's museum, a light burned in the curator's office. Dr. Alyce Harris leaned over an ancient Incan text, deciphering its exact meaning. After six months of work on that particular manuscript, she had the project almost within her grasp. The timing of that accomplishment could not have been better for she had just accepted the offer for the Night Curator at the University of Arizona. At least, she would be close to her research down in Tucson.
She decided to take a break from the manuscript. Even after years of reading these texts, her eyes still tired from a few hours' effort. Walking across the room, she opened the door to a dorm refrigerator, and retrieved a slender brown bottle. Popping the cork, she poured its contents into a wine glass, and drank deeply. The crimson liquid eased its way down her throat, and assuaged the hunger growing within her. "Much better," she thought.
She stared out of the window toward the riverbank. The Loire had such
breathtaking evening views. Yes, she would miss the ambiance and charm
of this city and region. However, America had its advantages as well. It
had been six years since she had been on the other side of the Atlantic.
Once, she was Alyce Hunter, a mere mortal. But, that was before she met
Nick Knight, and his master, Lucien LaCroix. She was developing a fondness
for the dashing detective and had gone to his place to talk to him. However,
a killer had followed her there. The latter tried to kill her, but he was
murdered by LaCroix. Then, the 2000
year old vampire had drained her as well. Everyone had presumed her dead and buried.
However, Alyce survived the experience. Seeing that she had no future in Toronto, the abandoned fledgling stole back to the museum, packed a few things, and secured the next flight for Paris. She had seen an ad in The Chronicle for Higher Education pertaining to the curatorship here in Orleans. With her knowledge and a boost from her vampire abilities, she got the position. There had been several interesting projects and over fifty exhibits which she had assisted in constructing during her tenure. But, as she reminded herself, her time there was over. It was time to move on.
She looked around her office. Most of her things were already packed away in moving crates. Her small apartment downtown was in a similar condition. Tomorrow evening, her possessions would be on their way to the American Southwest. She would leave later that night. She checked her desk once more and found that it was indeed cleaned out. The shelves were empty as well.
Then, a knock came from the door. Alyce hid the glass and the half-empty bottle back in the refrigerator before asking, "Who is it?"
"Dr. Harris, it is Dr. Martin. May I come in?" Dr. Francois Martin, her superior answered.
"Of course." she agreed and opened her door. "How are you, Sir?"
"I'm well, merci," he smiled. "Once again, I wanted to wish you well on your new endeavor. Are you sure that I cannot convince you to stay?"
"I wish that I could," Alyce stated. "But, this is a great opportunity to get closer to my research area. Don't get me wrong. I love this city and will miss everyone here...."
"Yes, I understand," he replied. "You have been a fine curator here, Dr. Harris. As the only expert on Ancient American art, you carried that era and a great share of the museum's work as well. You will be sorely missed, trust me."
"Thank you, Dr. Martin. I do appreciate that sentiment. By the way, I have finished translating that manuscript for you," she informed him.
He smiled appreciatively. This young lady was nothing if not a hard worker. Glancing at her desk, he noted the papers on the oak desk beside the manuscript. "When can I expect the final copy?" he asked.
"Within the hour," she noted. "I just need to enter a few more lines into the computer file. I'll give you a printed copy and the MS when I am finished."
"Very good," he complemented. "I knew that I could count on you. I'll see you shortly."
"Thank you. I will be up to your office shortly." she concluded, and went back to her computer.
The elderly administrator studied the outgoing curator. Yes, she would
indeed be missed. Turning on his heel, he walked briskly from the office
and up the stairs toward his own sanctum.
Three days later, Angie, Francesca, and Natalie sat in the latter's apartment, drinking their tea, and looking over the mass of food and accouterments on the counter in front of them. Somehow, despite the loss of a week and all of the craziness since that point, they and Dave had managed to perform the research, run the errands, and acquire all of the materials.
"I sure hope that Nick likes this dinner," Francesca stated.
"I'm sure that he will," Angie assured her. "Hopefully, he will understand if we have a stripped-down version of the real deal."
Natalie stared out the window into the gray afternoon sky. Nick had been so depressed lately. It was hard to read his moods in any case. If her instincts were correct, he would enjoy the meal and the companionship. However, there was the chance that this festival would remind him of his family in a negative way as well. In any event, she appreciated the efforts which Francesca and the Duboises were putting into this venture, especially given the events of the previous month.
"So, what do we have, Nat?" Angie inquired, breaking the ME's daydreaming.
"Huh? Oh, let's see. We have a pork roast, a pheasant, some roasting potatoes, two bottles of red wine, a bottle of pink zinfindel, and, admittedly as a modern touch, cherries jubilee," Natalie reported.
"Dave and I have some music as well," Francesca added. "Although, we couldn't find anything from the Low Countries on such short notice, he was able to pull some medieval Christmas music from France and England."
"Okay," Angie smiled enthusiastically, bouncing Deirdre on her knee. "So, I guess that we need to start cooking. Francesca, you want to do the pork, or the pheasant?"
"I'll take the pheasant," her cousin agreed. "I have some white wine back at my apartment for this task." Rubbing her hands together, she exclaimed gleefully, "Wait until Mama hears about this! She'll be so jealous!" Then, after composing herself, she continued, "Okay, I'm going to need about three hours to roast our friendly feast here. When were we planning on starting this event?"
"I think about 10:30 PM. The girls will be asleep unfortunately, but since Caitlin asked Dave to invite the new curator, we need to wait until then. Her flight gets in at 9:30," Angie explained.
"Well, I'll help Angie set up the apartment. Then, if it's okay, I will go to Nick's about 9:15PM," Natalie suggested.
They both nodded. "Sounds like a plan. Well, shall we get to work?" Angie agreed.
Francesca stood up and picked up the bag containing the pheasant. "Well, I'm off to warm up our friend here. Chow," she concluded and walked out the door.
Natalie shrugged, "I hope that this works, Angie. I also wanted to say thanks to everyone for this meal."
"It's our pleasure," Angie advised. "Hopefully, a get-together like this one will help Nick somewhat."
"By the way," Natalie inquired, sipping her tea. "Do you have any idea about this new curator?"
Her friend shrugged, "No, I'm afraid not. Dave hasn't told me anything about her except that she's coming in from France tonight." Then, another thought flashed through her head. "Wait a minute, I heard something about her being a specialist on Mesoamerican archaeology. She should be a welcome addition to the museum faculty," she added.
That comment caused Natalie to remember another curator whom Nick had known briefly back in Toronto. What was her name? Oh yes, Alyce Hunter. She was at the Museum of Natural History specializing in some Central American cultural studies. Apparently, Nick had also been fascinated by her...then again, there was definitely a spark between them. Due to her interest, Alyce had stumbled across a picture of Nick on a turn of the century dig and figured out that he was immortal. In any event, she was murdered by LaCroix during the struggle between him, a serial murderer, and Nick.
They had presumed her to be dead and buried. But, what if she had survived? What if LaCroix had allowed some of his own vampire blood to seep into her? If she did cross over, it would make for an interesting situation.
"Earth to Natalie," Angie interrupted her thoughts. "What are you thinking about?"
"Oh, nothing. I was thinking of somebody that Nick knew back in Toronto. But, she's been dead for years," Natalie explained.
Angie raised her eyebrow suspiciously. There seemed to be something to her friend's concerned meditation, but decided to go along with the explanation. "Okay, if you say so. Let's get to work, shall we?"
Natalie followed her lead and moved toward the nearby pile of decorations....
Three hours later, Dave parked the Subaru in the short term parking lot of the Tucson International Airport.
"Okay," he thought. "It's 9 PM, so I still have time to get to the proper gate."
After locking the car, he walked into the main terminal building, and
looked at the monitor. "Flight 780 out of Dallas....780, 780, 780...."
he mumbled, running his finger down the multicolored display. Then, he
discovered that Dr. Harris's plane was coming into Gate 17. "Just
enough time to grab a mocha on my way there," he thought as he headed for
the main concourse.
Alyce studied her notes intently from the last translation which she had performed in Orleans. The syntax seemed a mystery all of a sudden, and she couldn't concentrate clearly. "C'mon, Alyce. You're just nervous is all," she chided herself. Up until ten hours before, she would not have believed that vampires could have the nervous butterflies. She checked her watch. 9:15PM. "Well, we should be on the ground soon in any event."
As if on cue, the captain's voice came over the loudspeaker,"Attention, Ladies and Gentlemen. We are about 75 miles outside of Tucson. I would appreciate it if you would return to your seats and fasten your seat belts at this time. We'll be on the ground in about 20 minutes."
She nodded to herself. It wouldn't be long now. Sure enough, the plane touched down on the runway a short time later and wheeled itself up to Gate 17.
For a long minute, all was still and then, the other passengers jumped
out of their seats. The curator scanned her area to be sure that she indeed
had her satchel and the packing tube which had been donated by Martin to
the U of A's gallery. "Okay, time to face the music," she thought, picking
up her things, and leaving the plane.
Dave saw the airport personnel open the doors and watched the first passengers walking into the terminal. However, at that moment, his psychic senses picked up on a strange icy feeling emanating from the plane. "What the?" he wondered. Then, he remembered where he had felt that sensation before: from Nick, Janette, and LaCroix. A vampire was aboard that plane. "Wonderful," he groused. "The last thing that Caitlin would want is an open fight between me and an immortal here in public. Well, the best strategy is to get Dr. Hunter and move onto baggage claim...."
He held the sign with Alyce's name on it in front of him and waited for her to come out.
About five minutes later, he saw a slender Caucasian female with medium black hair wave to him, and start to walk towards him.
"Dr. Harris?" he asked.
"Yes. And you must be David Dubois, I trust? I remember our phone conversation. How are you?" she replied in a friendly manner, and extended her hand.
"I'm fine," he smiled and shook her hand.
At that contact, both Dave and Alyce felt a strong charge. Their senses
telling them things about each
Alyce felt that he was not normal. This man had a strange psychic aura
about him. Obviously, he had a telepathic talent. But, there was something
lurking beneath the surface....something very dark and angry.
This man was an enigma to her.
Dave sensed the vampire within her. But, it was more than that. The coldness had a particular vibration to it....Again, he was reminded of Nick's aura. Could she be one of LaCroix's blood children? He needed to find out...and quickly.
"Wow, talk about deja-vu," she tried to cover her disconcertedness.
"I'll say," he concurred cautiously. "Can I get your things, Doctor?"
"Thank you for the offer, Mr. Dubois. No offense, but these items are...heirlooms and artifacts. I would appreciate a hand with the luggage, however," she replied pleasantly.
"As you wish," he agreed. "By the way, you can call me, David."
"Thanks. And please call me, Alyce," she informed him.
"Sounds great," he smiled. "After we get your bags, did the museum mention anything to you about tonight?"
"Actually....yes, a dinner of some sort with you, Dr. Alvaro, your wife, and some friends?" she remembered. "I would like to come and meet everyone."
"Would you like a coffee or something?" he offered.
"Thank you, but I'm fine," she nodded. "Well, shall we?"
"Yes, I'm eager to meet everyone," she concurred as they headed for
the baggage claim area.
Francesca sat at her kitchen table with a glass of Chablis and watched the pheasant slowly roast in the oven. The whole apartment was filled with the aroma of the olive oil and spices seeping into the bird.
"Excuse me, Francesca," Gabrielle's voice asked from thin air.
The professor nearly jumped out of her chair. Of course, she liked her friend's company, but having that other presence around all of the time was still a new experience. "Oh, Gabrielle! Yes?" she responded.
The Bard smiled, "I just wanted to see how the preparations are going. This is a really nice thing that you are all doing for Nick."
"Well, he is our friend," Francesca shrugged. "Besides, he helped to save my life. If this little get-together makes him feel better, then it's worthwhile." A sigh escaped her lips.
"But?" Gabrielle inquired. "There's something else troubling you."
"Well, Dave and I were a little disappointed that we couldn't do more research for the preparations. We wanted to have a real honest-to-goodness medieval Christmas feast for Nick," Francesca revealed.
Gabrielle nodded, "I see. Well, I think that you are putting together a wonderful feast. And as far as the appropriate holiday custom, the spirit that you're creating is fantastic! He's sure to like it. I remember one Solstice night when Xena and I were helping people. They didn't have much either. But, it was our attempt at the celebration which counted, not the details, nor the execution of it. Besides, your cooking skills are great. This is a feast which would work with my family in Potadeia, or at the inn in Amphipolis."
Francesca blushed, "Thanks, Gabrielle. I mean it. With the music and everything else, I think that we should have some fun."
"That's the spirit! Well, Xena and I will see you all tonight. Take care," Gabrielle concluded and faded from view.
"She's something else!" Francesca chuckled and opened the oven door. Yes, the pheasant was basting beautifully. It wouldn't be long now.
Christmas Eve brought an eerie silence to the precinct. Tracy took in her surroundings and saw only a skeleton crew working around her. Sure, some detectives and uniforms were out on patrol, but for the most part, everyone was gone with their families.
When she had come back from the dead, Tracy had known that occasions such as these would be hard to bear. Over Thanksgiving, she and Nick had volunteered to work an extra shift together. Yet, Christmas was different. One was supposed to spend it around their loved ones. In her case, to everyone, save Nick, Natalie, and the Duboises, Tracy Vetter was dead and buried. She imagined that her parents would take her not being there with them really hard. Her father would work himself through the holiday. However, her mother might drink more than usual...not a healthy thought. A heavy sigh escaped from her lips as she resumed her typing.
A short while later, she received a tap on the shoulder.
"Yes?" she asked and turned to see Captain Ramirez looking at her intently.
"Detective Brown, are you going to work here all night? It's Christmas Eve, you know," he inquired.
"I know," she nodded. "I'm going to head home in about an hour."
"Do you have a place to go for dinner?" he asked. "If not, my wife and I have an extra place at our table..."
"Oh, I couldn't!" she protested.
"Si. Yes you can. How about Detective Miles and Dr. LeBeau? The three of you are welcome if you wish to come and share our table," he invited. He scribbled down his address and phone number. "If you decide to come, just call first so my wife knows to set another place."
"Well, okay. I do appreciate it, Captain. Thank you," she accepted. "Let me check with the others and I will let you know." Watching Nick at a Catholic Christmas table, if he did accept, would be worth it in itself....
"Bueno," Ramirez agreed. "I'll be in my office for about the next thirty minutes. Let me know..." With that, he walked back into his office.
Tracy finished typing the last line of the form that she was working
on. Then, she picked up the receiver and dialed Natalie's number. No answer.
"I know that she's not working," she pondered. "But, where could she be?
Hmmm...I still have 25 minutes. I'll give her some time and try her again....
Back at the Dubois' apartment, Angie and Natalie finished with the last preparations for the dining area. The table was covered with a fine white cloth and the places were set with Natalie's plates and silver set.
"Those dishes are really nice, Natalie," Angie complemented.
"Thank you, Angie. They were my mother's dishes. I'm grateful that Cybelle and Dave were able to bring them here for me. Besides, consider it my contribution to this affair," Natalie smiled and looked around the candlelit room. "You and Dave have done a nice job with this apartment."
"Well, we try, thanks," Angie blushed. Then, a thought occurred to her. "Nat, what is Tracy doing for the holiday? I thought that you were going to ask her to help out."
Natalie slapped the side of her head. "Oh no! How could I have been so careless? She doesn't have anyone to be with! I have to try to reach her," she realized. "Can I use your phone?"
"Absolutely," Angie agreed and took a seat nearby.
Natalie dialed Tracy's home number first...and received no answer. "I wonder if she's still working....?" she queried to herself and dialed the number to the precinct phone.
"Brown," Tracy answered.
"Hi, Tracy. It's Natalie. I was trying to reach you....," the ME explained. "I was wondering if you've eaten yet?"
"No, I was going to make something at home. Why? You can come over if you'd like....," Tracy offered.
"Actually, I was hoping that you'd join us over at David and Angie's apartment for a medieval Christmas feast. I'm sorry that this is sort of a last minute thing....," Natalie counter-offered. "I'm going to get Nick in a few minutes. I can drop by the precinct if you'd like...."
"No, that's okay. Your complex is out on East Fifth, right?" Tracy asked.
"You've got it," Natalie concurred. "See you in just a bit, okay?"
"By the way, Natalie, the Captain has invited Nick and us to his house for dinner tomorrow. I was thinking of accepting. What do you think?" Tracy informed her friend.
"I think that will be a wonderful idea! I don't think that Nick will want to go, but I would like to accept. Just let me know the time when you get here, okay? And please thank him for us!" Natalie concluded. "Bye."
"See you soon," Tracy agreed and hung up. A smile formed on her face, and she felt a warm feeling inside of herself. She should have known better than to think that her friends would abandon her on Christmas. Putting her coat on, she crossed the bullpen to the Captain's office and knocked on the door.
"Si?" Ramirez asked. "Come in!"
"Captain, it's Detective Brown," Tracy detailed as she entered the office. I wanted to let you know that Dr. LeBeau and I will be joining you for dinner tomorrow. She wanted to thank you for the invitation."
"It's no trouble at all, Detective. Dinner will be at 4 PM. By the way, what about your partner?" he inquired.
"I'll ask him, Sir. But, I think that he already has plans," she explained. "Well, until tomorrow then...."
"Si, hasta manana! Bring your appetites! My wife loves to cook!" he advised good-naturedly.
Tracy grinned at her boss over her shoulder. Then, she left the precinct
with a pleasant gait, headed for her Nissan, and headed east for the feast.
Nick reclined on his leather couch and sipped on a glass of cow blood. As always, Christmas proved difficult as he watched others spending time with their loved ones. As Tracy had felt earlier, Nick's loneliness threatened to overwhelm him. It had been so long since the last Christmas when his whole family had been together.....
The icy winter wind cut across the Brabant countryside putting the chill into all who dared traverse the night. Only the sturdiest of peasants trudged their way through the bitter darkness and then, in the most extreme of circumstances.....
Inside of the main castle, Sir Henry de Brabant led his family from their private chapel toward the main dining room. He was glad of the feast day for it meant a break in the world's affairs at least for a day. Between watching potential encroachment from other nobles in addition to keeping an eye on the respective affairs of the secular and spiritual states wore on him. And there was talk of yet another crusade on the part of the young king, Louis IX. The boy's mother and his regents filled the royal head with grand ideas that worried Brabant and the other nobles. What would happen to them? And to their sons? Most importantly, to their family lines? Brabant stole a quick look at his son, Nicholas. The boy was fast becoming a man. If he was sucked into the religious fervor sweeping the countryside, who knows what would happen to him in the Holy Land? How would the conflict and the events change things? Brabant felt uneasy. Something told him that if his son went on pilgrimage then somehow, the road would change him forever.
Nick, for his part, noticed his father's anxious gait and glance. It was obvious that the county's affairs were too much for one man to handle alone. Soon, he would be full grown and could help his father run things. For now, he maintained his silence, lest he alarm his mother and sisters.
The count's wife, the Lady Alais, rubbed her husband's shoulder, "My Lord, what vexes you?" she asked low, so that their children might not hear the question.
"Worldly affairs, My Lady," he sighed. "The world grows more complicated everyday. Running a county vigilantly saps a man's energy."
"Can you please relax? At least for the holiday?" she begged.
"For you, Dear Alais, most certainly," he agreed. Then, as the trope rounded the corner, the aroma of the feast awaiting them ahead wafted to his nose. "Ah, dinner awaits us..."
The family entered the dining area and took their seats. At the Count's signal, each course was brought in turn. There was pork, beef, and pheasant piping hot and seasoned with the newest spices from Constantinople and Outremer. Red and white wine from Burgundy flowed into the glasses. A grand fire blazed away in the fireplace. A minstrel played the motets symbolizing the different aspects of this feast.
Nick was thoroughly enjoying himself. As usual, the servants had prepared a first-rate meal for their lord and his family. The food's spices tickled his palate. The minstrel's tunes helped remind the young man of his devotion to God and Jesus, and that in Their company, he felt safe. No matter what happened, Nick knew that his good nature would overcome any evil in his path.
"Nicolas?" Fleur, his youngest sister, inquired. "Isn't this wonderful?" Receiving no answer, she repeated her act. "Nicolas?....Nicolas?"
Back in the present, his sister's voice echoed inside of his head, causing him anguish. Ever since the confrontation with Alti two weeks before, his flashbacks had been more intense than usual. This one was no exception.
Nick paced the diameter of the loft's ground floor. On the third lap, a brilliant white light cut through the darkness. "Who?" he asked.
The light formed into the shape of a young woman with brunette hair and a white dress. She wore a simple garland in her hair. "Nicolas, Dear Brother, it is I," she stated.
"Fleur?" he asked anxiously. "I must be dreaming!"
She sighed, "No, you are not dreaming. I do not have much time, so I must tell you my message...."
"Yes. What is it?" Nick inquired.
"That you are doing the right things and that your friends and family love you. Someday, we will be together again. Persevere along the road on which you have traveled for the past eight centuries and someday, you will reach the destination. Your faith will guide you...." she indicated.
"How do you know?" he probed. "How will the Lord know?"
"He knows, Nicolas. Your faith has always been strong despite what befell you so long ago. Love others and you will continue to be loved in return. Remember that and you will one day find that which you seek. Mother and Alyssa send their love. Now, I must go," she explained and started to fade from view.
"Wait! Don't leave me alone," he pleaded.
"I am always with you, Nicolas. Remember ... Remember ... Remember......" her faint voice concluded as she disappeared from view.
Nick stared at the spot where his sister's spirit had stood for ten minutes. Then, he heard the lift hum to life. He turned to see the door open, allowing Natalie to walk over to him. "Nat, what's new?" he asked.
She studied him carefully. "Nick, are you all right?" she asked.
"Sure, why?" he replied.
"Because, you seem a bit twitchy," she told him. "What happened?"
He shrugged, "Nat, I saw a ghost tonight. It was Fleur."
"Fleur...As in your sister?" Natalie inquired. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure. She stood exactly where you are right now," he explained.
"And did she say anything to you?" she demanded.
"Only that my faith would help me and that if I keep loving others, then I will be loved in return," he explained. "She also told me that she is always with me."
Natalie smiled warmly. Despite his problems, she knew that Nick's family looked down upon him warmly and would do what they could to intercede for him. "That's wonderful, Nick."
"It was nice to see her again, Nat. I do feel a little better now," he indicated.
"That's nice. By the way, Dave and Angie were wondering if you would come over to their apartment for a little while. He had some things to show you," she explained.
"Okay. We can take your car over there. Let's go," he agreed and put on his coat.
Natalie nodded happily. Oh was he going to be surprised....
The baggage claim area was unusually quiet for an incoming flight from Dallas. Alyce watched the conveyor belt carefully as Dave retrieved a baggage cart from the nearby dispenser.
"Anything yet?" he asked.
"No, not yet," she shook her head. Then, the mechanism clicked into gear. "Ah, it shouldn't be long now."
"Well, just let me know, and I'll put the bags on the cart," he assured her.
She smiled briefly and returned her gaze to the belt. About five minutes later, two leather-brown suitcases, a duffel bag, and a satchel popped through the little door and zipped towards them. "Here we are!" she indicated. "All of those if you would."
"Okay," he agreed and lifted each bag off in turn. Then, they loaded the cart and headed toward the parking area.
"I hope that you don't mind coming over to my apartment. The curator, Caitlin, and I thought that it might be a nice welcome for you to town. My wife is looking forward to meeting you as is Francesca," he explained.
"I appreciate the hospitality, David. After being in the air for so long, I would really like to just take it easy and get to meet some people with whom I will be working with at the University. Will there be anyone else there?" she concurred.
"A few friends, newcomers like yourself. I think that you should all get along just fine," he nodded. Carefully placing the items in the trunk, he climbed into the driver's side of the Subaru. "Comfortable? It takes a minute for the heat to crank up."
Alyce chuckled. Despite the fact that she didn't feel the heat or cold, his manner was starting to ease her nervousness somewhat. "I'm fine," she told him. "The winters in France can get brutal, much more so than here. Believe me, this is balmy weather compared to Orleans."
"I'm sure," he grinned and started the car. They pulled away from the parking lot, heading north on Campbell toward the apartment.
Natalie parked in her designated space. "Well, here we are, Nick." she told him.
"Indeed," he agreed. Looking across the lot, he noticed that the Subaru was not in its usual spot. "I thought that Dave wanted to talk to me. It doesn't look like he's home."
"He'll be here," she advised and saw a familiar red Nissan pull into the space beside them. "Well, look who else is here!"
Tracy got out of the car. "Good thing that she told me about the surprise for Nick in advance," she thought and collected herself. "Hi, Guys. What's new?" she inquired.
"I thought that you were working late tonight," he queried.
"Oh, Ramirez let me off early. So, I decided to come over and see Natalie," Tracy informed him.
"We were just going to Angie's apartment for a second. Why don't you tag along with us?" Natalie urged.
"Sounds great!" she smiled.
The three friends walked up the walk and knocked on the door.
Francesca opened it. "Hi, Everyone! Please come in!"
Nick's senses tingled. Something or someone familiar was coming closer. Another vampire. "Not him, not tonight," he sighed.
"What is it, Nick?" Natalie whispered.
"Let's get inside. It's probably just my imagination," he told her.
Both Natalie and Tracy glanced knowingly at him. Usually Nick's senses didn't lie to him. Something was about to happen. But, since he wasn't disrupting the festivities, they would not do so either. They walked into the room and were absolutely stunned. The table had a fine white cloth over it and ten chairs encircled it. Fine decorations were strung along the walls and a medium-sized Christmas tree sat in the corner. But, the smells snapped him to attention.
"What the? I haven't smelled anything like that in 500 years!" he declared.
"It smells like chicken," Tracy guessed.
"It's pheasant," Nick told her. "But, who would know how to cook it over here?"
"How about me?" Francesca laughed. "Our friend there has been in my oven all afternoon, and I have been running up my phone bill with my mother."
"Your mother?" Tracy asked. "Where?"
"In Venice," the professor explained. "She gave me the old family recipe. Nobody in America, not even my Aunt Beatrice has used this recipe. Trust me. We also made roast pork."
Nick smiled, "And the wine?"
"A fine red vintage," Francesca explained. "By the way, we prepared a special glass for you as well."
"They had an extra pint down at the morgue if you get my drift," Natalie added.
"Where's Dave?" Tracy probed.
"He's meeting the new curator at the airport. I expect them any minute," Angie explained. "Please make yourselves comfortable. Nick, he has something to show you later as well." Then, she turned her eyes toward the door. Her psychic senses picked up an unusual presence in the Subaru with Dave.
From within her mind, Xena advised, "I'm ready if need be."
Angie nodded ever-so-slightly and glanced at Francesca.
Her cousin signaled that she was ready as well. If need be, Gabrielle would be there in a heartbeat.
Nick's senses jumped to full alert as well. Apparently, whatever had set his senses off earlier had just arrived. He concentrated on the car's headlights through the window. He discerned Dave's aura in the car, but there was a cold spot as well. The vampire wasn't LaCroix, but he knew that it was one of his blood siblings. It wasn't Janette or Francesca either. So who could it be? He could also pick out his friend's cautious mood concerning his passenger. Well, in any event, they would know in the next few minutes....
Dave opened the door. "Hi, Folks! How's everyone tonight?" he asked.
"We're fine," Tracy advised him. "How are you doing?"
"I'm getting better, thanks. Still dealing with the aftereffects of our adventure," he replied. "Nick, how are you?"
"Fine. Is this what you wanted to show me?" he grinned.
"Partially, yes," Dave chuckled. "I do have something else as well as we're eating. But, we do have another guest. Dr. Harris, would you like to come in?"
"Yes," Alyce agreed. Then, her senses picked up on the presences in the room. "No, it can't be! Nick?" she thought and walked into the apartment. Sure enough, there he was.
"Everyone, this is the new curator....," Dave started.
"Alyce Hunter?" Nick and Natalie wondered aloud.
"No, she's....," Francesca started.
"Nick Knight?" Alyce wondered aloud. "It's you!"
"But how?" Natalie asked. "LaCroix killed you."
"No, he brought her across," Nick corrected her.
"Well, obviously," Tracy jumped in.
"Why didn't you let me know about your situation?" Nick asked his newfound friend.
"Because you didn't want to bring me across...and you and Dr. Lambert seemed so happy together. What happened to your partner...the overweight man...Schanke wasn't it?" Alyce sighed.
"He died last year," Natalie explained. "Tracy took his place. And there's room for everyone where friendship's concerned."
"Amen," Dave concurred. "Believe me, we're all unusual enough around here. What's one more in the group?"
"You knew?" Alyce queried him.
"Since we shook hands at the airport," he revealed. "I also knew that you're no threat. Believe me, I have seen some threatening vampires in my time. You're not one of them."
She looked at Nick who told her, "He's faced LaCroix in the Raven and has lived to tell about it."
Francesca and Tracy looked at everyone.
"Wait a minute!" Francesca demanded. "Her name's Alyce Harris."
"In a manner of speaking....My real name is Alyce Hunter. When I left Toronto to go to Orleans, I became Alyce Harris. Everyone thinks that I'm dead and buried up in Canada," she detailed. "I'm sorry about the confusion, Dr. Alvaro. Everything else on the vita was correct. You can trust me."
"Please call me Francesca," she agreed, apparently satisfied at the explanation.
"Well, I have a few questions left," Tracy stated. "Nick didn't tell us about your role in the Raven affair, David and Angie. What happened that night?"
Dave shot Nick a glance. "Should I?" he thought.
Nick nodded, "Go ahead, tell her."
Natalie sat down. "This ought to be interesting," she thought to herself pessimistically.
"Well," Dave began. "We responded to LaCroix's challenge during one
of his Nightcrawler broadcasts.
He wanted to face Xena alone at the Raven."
"So, what does that have to do with you?" Tracy demanded.
"I took Janette on...and fought her to a standstill before backing off," he continued.
"Xena did face LaCroix. Tracy, Alyce, can I trust you both with something?" Angie jumped in.
"If you keep my secret, I can keep yours," Alyce agreed.
"Sure, at this point, why stop?" the detective shrugged.
"Okay, everyone cover your eyes," Angie advised and pulled the sword from its scabbard.
A second later, Xena stood in her place. "Okay, you can look now," she instructed.
Tracy uncovered her eyes. "Xena! But...but...what about Angie?" she stammered.
"Angela and I share the same body," Xena explained.
"But what about the bank robbery?" Tracy pushed. "I have to arrest you, you know!"
The Warrior Princess stared at Dave and rolled her eyes. First, Steve Petersen and now, Tracy. What was it with these twentieth-century authorities anyway? "I had nothing to do with the robbery. I stopped it," she explained.
"And what about the guard?" Tracy continued.
"He was already dead," Natalie explained from the couch. "A gunshot wound to the head approximately ten minutes before Xena appeared. Witnesses, the bank video camera, and ballistic evidence will support her innocence, Trace. Face it, she's a hero."
"Well...." Tracy stewed. "I suppose that since you did help us against those creeps recently, I could give you a chance." She turned to her friends. "You knew about this too, didn't you?"
"Uh, yeah," Nick admitted. "But, I had my reasons for keeping it from you until now."
"You could have told me two weeks ago as I was pulling your tail out of the fire!" Tracy protested. "I suppose that's par for the course in any event."
"That's not fair, Tracy," Francesca disputed. "Look, things were happening too fast for him to stop and say that `Oh, by the way, Angie's Xena, so please don't arrest her.'"
"And I suppose that something happened to you as well? Next, you're going to tell me that you're Gabrielle, her sidekick," Tracy scoffed.
"Well, now that you mention it," Francesca agreed. She concentrated and, after a medium teal flash, the Warrior-Bard appeared.
"Does this satisfy you?" Gabrielle inquired. "Look, Tracy, we're not the villains here. I'm here keeping Francesca alive as Xena's doing for Angela."
"We just want to survive here, fighting only when necessary....." Xena added.
Tracy looked at everyone. Getting used to a new vampire and two women warriors was definitely going to take some time. At least, Gabrielle was on the straight and narrow. She would keep her friend on the same path.... "Okay, you win. I won't say a word," she conceded.
"Well, now that we have that episode out of the way, can we proceed to the table. Nick's other surprise is waiting...." Dave urged.
Except for Xena and Gabrielle, everyone took their places around the table. The two warriors walked into the bathroom and a moment later, Francesca and Angie walked out to join the others at the table.
"So, what's with the two empty chairs?" Tracy asked.
"For our other two friends," Angie told her and motioned with her hand as the spectral images of Xena and Gabrielle sat down with them. "I'm glad that you could join us."
"We're happy to be here," Xena replied cheerfully. "Dinner with friends is always nice."
"On that note," Dave announced and stood up. "I want to make a toast. To friendship. Look, Folks, it's been a tough month. But, we've all hung together and gotten through it all. Let's keep supporting each other no matter what. Nick, I wish that this could be a little more elaborate, but given the situation last week, well, it's the best that we could do...."
"Thank you. This is just fine. It's the thought that counts. The food and companionship is here. There aren't any medieval minstrels for hire as far as I can tell...." Nick assured him.
Angie handed Nick a remote control. "Press play, Nick if you would," she suggested.
"Okay," he agreed and did so. The stereo in the corner opposite to the Christmas tree came to life and played a preset tune.
"You shouldn't have....," he told them. "But, I love it."
"What is it, Nick?" Natalie asked.
"The 'Geodonis area'. It's one of my favorite Christmas songs from my childhood," he explained and leaned back to listen to the music.
The group ate in silence, choosing to allow Nick to experience the carols one after another until the CD selection finished.
"Thank you," he smiled to his hosts. "I haven't had this type of celebration in a while." A single red tear creased his cheek. "Excuse me, I have something in my eye."
Natalie handed him a tissue. "It's okay," she told him.
"Don't worry about it," Dave advised. "That's what friends are for. Now, everyone, please dig in!"
Around the table, everyone did so. The mortals enjoying the cooked meats
and vegetables. The two vampires consuming their raw chunks of meat in
the blood glaze. The two spirits watched these events with joy. The meal
was a true celebration of the holidays between friends from both near and
Two hours later, the last dishes were cleared from the table and the group sat in the dining room, drinking either coffee or wine, and enjoying each other's company. No matter what happened tomorrow, it had been a good Christmas already.
"Thanks for allowing me to share in this wonderful meal," Alyce told Dave.
"It's really no trouble," he assured her. "Welcome to Tucson and the University of Arizona."
"From all of us," Nick added.
"Right," Natalie concurred, rubbing his shoulder. "At least now we'll have a chance to get better acquainted."
"I would like that very much. Thank you," Alyce beamed.
Across the room, Tracy walked out of the kitchen with a fresh cup of chocolate-raspberry coffee. One thing about Dave and Angie, they certainly appreciated good coffee. She savored the hot liquid.
"It's something, isn't it?" Xena asked. "The coffee, I mean."
The detective turned to her right and saw the spectral image of the Warrior Princess. "Xena? Sorry, you made me jump."
"I wanted to thank you for your trust," the Thracian warrior expressed.
"Well, if Nick and Natalie think that you and Gabrielle are all right, then I'm willing to give you a chance," Tracy replied. "Besides, you did save their lives."
"Thanks for that at least," Xena stated. "Now, go and be with the others." With that, she disappeared.
Tracy walked back over to the others and sat on the couch beside Nick
and Natalie. Together, the group talked, laughed, and enjoyed
themselves far into the night. For such interactions make the holidays
more worthwhile for mortal and immortal than presents ever could.
(**I hope that you enjoyed this tale! To everyone on the list, thanks again for all of your support! Look for the stories to be posted on my site at http://Dante_6.tripod.com/stories/dubois.html or http://dante6.fanspace.com/dubois/dubois.html. Best wishes for a wonderful holiday season!**)