Chance’s hotel room…
Chance spent most of the night turning the small hotel bathroom into a darkroom in order to prove to himself that his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him when he took those pictures of Nick and Janette. He spent most of the next morning taking the equipment down, once he had the grim proof in his hands.
And I thought my life was weird, he reflected thoughtfully, laying the stack of pictures carefully on the dresser and turning back to the bathroom.
He was in the middle of disconnecting the red light from the bathroom socket when the phone rang. Chance chuckled. His life seemed to give new meaning to the saying, “Timing is everything.”
The phone rang again. With a sigh, he gently eased the light down onto the counter and went to answer it. “Hello?”
“Is this Chance Harper’s room?”
“Yeah, that’s me.”
“I’m Natalie Lambert, a friend of Nick’s…”
“The M.E.? The one he was talking to the other night at the precinct?”
Nat laughed curtly. “To quote you, Mr. Harper, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'” Her voice sounded sad. “Nick sent me to pick up the Caddy.”
The caddy? Oh, the car.
“Yeah, of course. Actually…” He glanced back towards the bathroom. “Could you come up here for a moment? I’m kind of in the middle of something.”
“Sure, I’ll be right up. Suite 713, right?”
When Natalie knocked on Chance’s door a few moments later, he was draining the bathtub. Leaving the water still swirling down the drain, he went to answer it.
“Dr. Lambert?” They shook hands and Chance gestured for her to enter the room. “I’ll only be a minute. I just have to finish concealing the fact that I used the bathroom for a darkroom.” He flashed her a lopsided grin and she laughed. “If you’re in a hurry or anything, I can just give you the keys…”
Nat shook her head. “It’s all right. I can wait. Actually, I have to confess to being rather curious about you.”
“Nick told me what happened the other night. I’m dying to know how you can be so calm about the whole thing.”
Chance chortled under his breath as he carefully packed his developing equipment back into its bag. “You get used to it after a while,” he replied lightly.
“What do you mean?”
“I just have this really strange luck, that’s all. ‘Expect the unexpected’ is kind of my motto.”
Expect the unexpected…like falling in love with a man I met when he woke up in my morgue…
“That’s why I became a photographer,” Chance continued. “Because I have this knack for being in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on how you look at it.”
Nat smiled. “I guess a person can get used to anything.”
She sounds like she’s talking from experience, Chance thought. He grinned at her. “Have you got it too?”
She laughed shortly. “I’ve got something, that’s for sure.” An infuriating vampire named Nick who hasn’t learned a thing in eight hundred years… Her eyes drifted to the stack of photos on the dresser. “Are these your pictures?”
He nodded. “I shot that roll last night.”
“May I look at them?”
“Be my guest.”
Natalie picked up the sheaf of photographs and began to leaf through them. “These are really good,” she remarked, impressed.
Concerned by the M.E.’s sudden silence, Chance looked up from what he was doing. He was startled to see Nat staring fixedly at one of the photos, her face devoid of color.
“Dr. Lambert, are you all right?”
“You were at the Raven,” she stated flatly, ignoring his question.
“Yeah, Nick took me there last night for my shoot. Why?” Before she could answer, a look of horrified realization came over his face. Uh, oh.
“Damn him,” Nat swore softly, something she didn’t do very often. Her face betrayed very little of the intense anger she was feeling, though her lips were drawn into a thin, grim line. “No wonder he was too tired for me to bring the Caddy over to the loft,” she continued bitterly, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “Janette must have worn him out!”
Angrily she threw the photos onto the floor, where they spread out in a fan-like pattern, getting out of order. Chance bent to pick them up, mentally noting that he would have to reorganize them later. He wisely decided not to ask for details, but there was one thing he had to know…
“Dr. Lambert–” he began.
“Natalie,” she corrected him sharply.
“Natalie…I know this isn’t the best time to ask this, but what exactly are they doing in that one?”
Nat hesitated before answering, not sure whether or not to reveal Nick’s secret to the other man. She tried to push away the intense feelings of betrayal that were crowding her heart and focus on the fact that Nick trusted her. But why shouldn’t you tell? a bitter voice at the back of her mind taunted. How would that be any worse than what he does to you on an almost daily basis?
In the end, logic won out. After all, Chance had the photograph and he would probably figure it out for himself eventually, she reasoned. And probably get himself in a lot more trouble with the Enforcers that way, no doubt.
“They’re sharing blood,” she told him flatly. “It’s the vampire equivalent of necking, literally.”
Chance’s eyes widened a little at the mention of vampires, but not nearly as much as Nat had expected. He really does have a remarkable ability to take things in stride, she marveled.
“So, Detective Knight and this woman, Janette, are vampires?”
She nodded, the bile rising in her throat at the mention of Janette’s name.
Chance whistled thoughtfully. “And I thought I’d seen everything,” he remarked with a grin, hoping to lighten the mood.
Apparently it worked because Nat returned the smile. “Have you ever seen an elephant fly?” she quipped.
“No, that one’s still on my ‘to do’ list.”
The coroner laughed. It was so nice to be around a man with a sense of humor for a change. “Well, in the meantime, shall we go get the Caddy?”
Chance nodded and retrieved the keys from the dresser drawer he’d tossed them in last night. “Sounds like a plan.”
in the parking garage…
Nat spotted the car first. “There it is.” The caddy, which Chance could now see in the daylight was more of a mint-green than the blue he had originally thought, was parked at the other end of the garage. It stood out nicely against the white and red vehicles surrounding it.
Chance pulled the keys out of his pocket and they began walking towards it.
Suddenly, a face appeared behind the windshield and the engine roared to life. An unfamiliar young man was driving the Caddy out of its parking place.
“Hey! That’s not my car!” Chance yelled, running in the direction of the vehicle. Seeing him, the driver gunned the engine and sped, tires screeching, out of the garage and onto the street. The photographer pursued him on foot for as long as he could, then finally had to turn breathlessly back to where Nat had been watching the scene in shocked dismay.
“Nick is going to kill me!” she moaned, adding silently, quite possibly literally!
“I’m sorry, Natalie.” Chance looked incredibly contrite. “With my luck, I should know better than to borrow someone else’s car.”
Nat shook her head, her eyes flashing. “It’s not your fault…” The frustration of losing the car, compiled with the betrayal of Nick’s activities, had finally brought her to the breaking point, and she exploded. “It’s Nick’s own damn fault this happened! If he hadn’t had to stay with his precious Janette, the Caddy would never have been out of his sight! And it’s not my fault he cares more about that stupid car than about me!”
“You’re in love with him, aren’t you?” Chance asked softly.
The kindness in his voice made her burst into tears. Why couldn’t Nick seem to see that, or how much what he did had hurt her?
The photographer embraced her gently, his arms offering support but asking nothing in return. They stood there like that in the middle of the parking garage until Nat had exhausted her store of tears. Then, Chance gently brushed a strand of damp hair off the coroner’s face.
“Do you want to go back inside?”
Nat nodded. “We’ll have to call the precinct, or go down there to report the car stolen.”
“I think there’s probably a pay phone in the lobby.”
She nodded again, and they turned back towards the elevator up to the hotel, neither one of them realizing that they had taken each other’s hands.
When Nick arrived at the precinct that night, he found Nat waiting for him by his desk. Chance was at Schanke’s desk, talking to him as the detective filled out his report.
Nick went up to Nat, a smile on his face. “Hi, Nat. How was your day?” he asked. Her answer was a cold, stern look.
Schanke and Chance looked up at the sound of his voice, but Nat intercepted him before he could reach the other desk. “Come with me, Nick,” she said as she grabbed his arm and pulled him aside.
Sensing tension all around him, Nick felt himself tense with nervousness. “What’s wrong, Nat? What’s going on?” he asked.
“I’m not sure how to break this to you, Nick, but the Caddy’s been stolen.” Nat spoke without looking at him directly.
“What? How?” Nick asked. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Nat briefly told him how the Caddy had been driven off before her eyes. When she was finished, he whistled slightly. “What is it with this guy and cars?” Nick tried to joke, still sensing tension from her. “He has more bad luck with them than anyone I’ve ever met!”
She didn’t return his smile, or his joking manner. Instead, she faced him with angry eyes. “Your car has been stolen, and you just stand there and joke about it!?” she snapped. “You know, Nick, I really think you ought to get your priorities straight. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get to the morgue.” She pushed passed him, exiting the precinct in a rush. Nick just stood there, blinking in confusion.