A Starsky and Hutch, Forever Knight, and The Professionals Crossover first published in "Dark Fantasies 2". Comments about this story can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
METAMORPHOSIS, PART 1
The cellar of the isolated farmhouse was damp and cold. The RAF Squadron Leader huddled deeper into his jacket, trying to escape the chill permeating his bones. Occasionally he shivered, as he tried to doze leaning against the hard stone walls of his self-imposed prison, resting his aching shoulders. The cellar was sparsely furnished, having only one rickety table and two backless stools.
In the two nights he had spent in the cellar, he'd seen his host only once. The elderly French peasant had come down the first evening and left wine, bread, and cheese--enough for the future abandonment by his host. Using a multitude of gestures, the old man had finally made Hutch understand he was going for help. Eventually Hutch also began to grasp the idea that the peasant was giving him directions to the next village in case he didn't return. Endless diagrams were drawn on the dusty table.
Hutch hadn't left the cellar during the following day and night since the farmer had left. The flyer knew from his host's gestures and a few words that the "Boche" were hunting the downed pilot.
As his misery increased with the predawn chill, Hutch struggled to his feet to begin pacing. He limped very slightly as he moved around the darkening cellar. His right leg and side were badly bruised from where he had connected with some part of his plane as he bailed out of his dying Spitfire. He ached from the parachute landing, as well. Luckily he had come down in an open, freshly plowed field which had softened the impact with the ground.
He needed the exercise both to warm up and to alleviate the stiffness that seemed exacerbated by the cold and wet in his underground hiding place. Stamping his feet and waving his arms, he mapped the confines of the hideaway. While pinwheeling his arms, he found his mind racing back to his recent escort mission over the small railway switching yards.
* * *
It had been with relief that he had watched the bombers pull up from their bombing run over the heavily guarded railroad tracks near a small French town. Amid the antiaircraft barrage, the lumbering bombers turned in a slow arc toward the west and home. Hutch's Spitfire rocked suddenly with a near hit on the port side, but he continued his deliberate turn above the Lancasters. He was leading his squadron of fast maneuverable Spitfires as high cover for the bomber squadron. Now there would be little trouble from the ME109s and FW190s, because of the flack. However, the Jerry fighters would be waiting to jump the clumsy bombers just outside the artillery's range.
Hutch's fighter continued its dance as he fought the controls to complete the turn. The antiaircraft flashes were still lower than his plane so only the shock waves were directly affecting his craft. The deadly fireworks limned the Lancasters in an unearthly light as the American followed their lead toward the edge of the danger zone. In fascinated horror he watched one bomber take a hit directly amidships and begin to disintegrate as it spun toward the earth. It dipped and swayed among the close knit formation of the rest of the squadron. In trepidation, Hutch waited for the white clouds of the parachutes and saw with satisfaction that there were two or three in his range of vision. There were nowhere near enough to account for the whole crew, however. Finally the dismembered ship disappeared from his view.
In disgust, he saw that the air bursts had long since ended and with desperate eyes, he frantically began scanning the sky. He was moments too late--there was a strange whine and a sleek fighter appeared from two o'clock high then another zipped toward the vulnerable bombers. The high-pitched whine increased as the closer enemy aircraft flashed across Hutch's field of vision. Mesmerized he watched the plane's nose guns flashing measured bursts at a helpless Lancaster. In his peripheral vision he saw another bomber light up the sky as its fuel tanks were hit.
Flying completely on instinct while shouting the warning to the rest of his squadron, he shoved the yoke forward on the Spitfire and sent his plane rocketing toward the enemy craft, his .303s chattering a deadly hail toward the attacking fighter. Smoke was drifting lazily from two of the Lancaster's four motors as the dying bomber began dipping in a gentle spiral toward the ground below. The German fighter lost interest in its first victim and started looking for its next prey.
The radio was alive with reports from the rest of squadron. These strange planes were diving on the bombers from all directions and the bombers were dying rapidly. The rest of the fighter pilots were desperately trying to distract the super fighters and were paying heavily for their efforts.
On one level Hutch was concentrating on the mechanics of flying his own plane and trying to shoot down the enemy. On another he was puzzled at the sudden appearance of the craft and its strange design. There were two bloated appendages hanging from either wing, and most puzzling of all there were no propellers. The general design of the craft was puzzling as well. The wings swept back along the fuselage in a very streamlined manner with a long pointed nose.
As the first of his shells rushed past the enemy fighter, the Jerry pilot's plane climbed away from the Lancaster and ascended into the night sky lit by the full bomber's moon. Hutch pulled his Spitfire into an answering climb. Too easily the German fighter outdistanced the straining British plane. Before the American was completely aware of it, the Luftwaffe pilot completed his maneuver to come around behind the lagging Spitfire.
Immediately Hutch saw the danger and yanked his plane into a sudden roll. He no longer had time to worry about the abilities of the strange airplane since the Jerry pilot quickly followed him through turn after turn and roll after roll even as he executed a scissors dive. The red muzzle flashes and gleaming tracers from the stranger's machine-guns surrounded the fleeing RAF fighter as Hutch pushed his plane into another headlong dive. With dogged determination, the German pilot followed the American down, his plane's nose guns snarling a deadly rattle. Hutch pulled up and rolled the plane still trying to escape the bursts of fire. Eventually the outclassed British plane shuddered in its death throes. Smoke poured out from the cowling, obscuring Hutch's vision as he popped his canopy and leaped into the dark void. He had absolutely no idea which way had been up when he jumped and could only hope not to fall back into the slipstream of his dying craft.
* * *
The aching of his leg made him return to the only dry corner in the cellar. He eased himself down on the floor and made a makeshift pillow from some dusty rags he had found in a cabinet near the table. Closing his eyes, he turned his face into the wall for some rest. At first his mind replayed the appearance of the mysterious airplane. Finally he decided that when he got back to England and was debriefed, that subject was for the High Command to figure out. With that settled, he let his mind roam to better memories.
His mind drifted toward a restless doze. He let his subconscious bring him peace in his lover left behind in war-torn Britain. He remembered their last leave together...
They had wanted to take a few days and spend them at a beach, but beaches in England were now barbed wire and tank traps instead of peaceful sand or pebbles. Instead they had managed to get seats on a train to a small town outside London. Luck had been with them in finding a middle-aged woman willing to rent them a small room in the back of her home. It lacked privacy, but made up for it in the delicious food Mrs. Harris achieved even with shortages and rationing.
They had walked the countryside the first day. The second day they had found a farmer who would rent them two elderly hunters. Their hostess had packed them a picnic lunch and they set out to explore the nearby forest. Starsky had commented that he felt he should be in a Robin Hood movie as he sat astride his horse in the boneless fashion of the western rider. Hutch smiled and agreed that the towering trees lent themselves to that particular fantasy.
After lunch it had been a fantasy come true as the two entwined themselves on the ground beneath a large oak tree. Their loving had been hard and quick after a long abstinence; a simple frottage was all it had taken to bring them off.
Hutch mourned that it had been the last time since he had to leave immediately the next day to return to his base. The next time their leaves would have coincided was to have been this coming weekend and here Hutch sat in a crumbling French farmhouse. He was saddened at his loss and snuggled against the damp wall, seeking some comfort in his memories.
Gradually the cellar darkened into night. Hutch shifted uncomfortably in his niche. His disquiet wasn't completely physical; there was a definite mental uneasiness. He shifted restlessly then rose and paced the confines of the cellar.
Almost in a frantic hurry, he grabbed up the remains of his meager meals and stuffed them into his pockets. The long-necked wine bottle made an uncomfortable bulge in his jacket, but he didn't want to abandon the remaining dregs since he didn't know when he would next find something to eat or drink.
Warily he breached the door and it creaked ominously as he shoved it open. Looking around at the open farmyard, he noted that the old-fashioned, two wheeled cart still canted forward on its shafts. He moved into the dark night and slid around the corner of the thatched building that had housed him for a couple of painful nights.
Favoring one leg, he carefully made his way down the dirt driveway that wound lazily between tall hedges. As the hedges gave way to a paved road, he slipped off into the field planted with a tall grain crop nearly ready for harvest. He paralleled the obviously well traveled road. He knew there must be a village somewhere nearby, if he had understood his host correctly, and that was where he was going for help. The old man had been gone simply too long for his peace of mind.
After what he judged to be nearly an hour of struggling through tall grain crops and over or under dense hedges, he neared a small town that seemed dead to the world. He gingerly walked down narrow streets and went up the back door of the third house on the block. He remembered all the diagrams in the dust on the wooden table in the cellar which directed him to this location to be used if the peasant didn't return. He tapped lightly on the door, waited, then tapped a second time a little louder. A woman with her head wrapped in a black scarf carefully cracked the door. She noted his uniform and gestured him back into the shadows.
He waited long minutes before a man wearing a dark stocking cap came out of the door and walked toward him. Not a word passed between them, but the Frenchman signaled curtly for the airman to follow. Down dark alleys and around corners that seemed to appear out of nowhere the Frenchman led the American. Stopping occasionally to listen, the burly Frenchman finally led the way up the steps to a small church nestled among tall trees, showing the changing colors of fall. All this was discernible since false dawn was lending a dim light to the proceedings.
Once inside the man quickly genuflected to the altar and led his charge down the side aisle toward the confessional built against wall. He gestured sharply for Hutch to enter one. Hutch went into the darkened closet-like cubicle to hear the latch snap into place. He gently placed his hand on the door and shoved. There was no give in the wood. Panicking, he leaned his shoulder against the door and pushed harder. The heavily built door resisted all his efforts and his concentration was such that he barely heard the slide of the priest's screen in the wall of the confessional.
"My son, cease trying to destroy the Lord's House," a quiet accented voice came out of the dark. Jerking his head around, Hutch looked for the source of the voice. It was then that he saw the cloth-covered screen that separated the two occupants of the confessional. This had gone unnoticed before because of the dimness of the light. There must have been some source of light in the priest's area as the screen was now noticeable. Hutch slumped down on the narrow bench provided.
"You must wait here until provision can be made for your departure," the priest continued. Hutch nodded then answered in a subdued voice.
"Get some rest if you are able. I will return as soon as possible," the priest started to close the screen then stopped, "I will unlatch the door of the confessional if it will help your peace of mind."
"Thank you, Father. I'd appreciate it. Feel a bit claustrophobic in here."
"Peace, my son." Hutch heard the whisper of the screen closing.
Hutch leaned his head into the corner of the cubicle and dozed intermittently until the gradually breaking dawn let him look around his surrounding. His stomach gave a low growl so he reached into his jacket and extracted the wine bottle and what was left of the bread. He alternately gnawed on the hard bread and sipped the dregs of the bitter wine. Finally both were gone so he slid the bottle behind his feet under the narrow shelf that was stiffening his back and neck.
He rose and stretched in the cramped, stuffy cubicle trying to ease his throbbing head, shoulders and lower back. It was a futile effort as there wasn't room enough for proper stretching of his tall body. He slid down onto the hard bench. At the moment, he imagined that the bench must be made of solid concrete instead of wood. His thoughts were interrupted by the irreverent thump of heavy boots. Loud voices shattered the peace of the early morning. Hutch listened in dismay as harsh voices railed at a softer French voice. There was the unmistakable thud of something hard slamming yielding flesh. Even with his limited German, he quickly understood that the patrol was looking for him. There was another thud and this time a muted cry of pain.
Making a decision quickly, he shoved open the narrow door to his refuge. Uniformed figures turned sharply in his direction, ignoring the slumping priest. Hutch carefully raised his hands as troopers with guns held at ready moved between the pews toward him.
Rough hands yanked him around to face the confessional. He was quickly searched and efficiently divested of his sidearm and knife. His flight suit held no papers or means of identification in case of just such a contingency. There was no way to identify him from any other RAF pilot as was the policy of the Royal Air Force.
Guns with bayonets signaled for him to move toward the door. He put his hands on his head at an upward gesture of a rifle barrel. As he turned to go down the aisle, there was the distinctive rattle of a machine-gun. He whirled around to see the priest crumple face down on the stairs in front of the altar one hand reaching toward the altar. A Nazi soldier nodded with his chin toward the door. In dejection Hutch limped toward the door, but not fast enough to suit the German soldier, who jabbed him harshly from behind with a rifle butt that caused him to slam roughly into the ornate door jam. Catching himself, he staggered down the rough concrete steps awkwardly, his hands clasped behind his head.
* * *
The pub was hazy with cigarette smoke and dimly lit. At one of the back tables the dark-haired American observed the slim figure negotiating the crowded tables, holding two beers. Starsky leaned back and watched the man, noting not for the first time that the Brit was too slender for his normal sturdy figure. However with closely cropped dark hair and broad shoulders, he looked quite dashing in his uniform.
The beers sloshed dangerously as the man staggered when a shapely woman slammed into him while getting up from her table. Turning to apologize, her eyes widened with interest as he shrugged off her apology; her date glared and held out his hand. The couple went to the dance floor with the woman still staring over her shoulder at the man. She watched him until he sat down at Starsky's table.
"Just made a hit with some of the local talent, Bodie," Starsky commented as the agent settled down and passed the extra beer to the American.
"Yeah, she nearly took a bath in your beer."
The two men lifted their beers and drank deeply. Wiping his sleeve across his mouth, Starsky sighed in contentment having finally adjusted to the room temperature beer. "Any news?" he questioned quietly. Bodie shook his head slowly. He didn't need any explanation; he knew the American's question before it was asked.
"Guess he couldn't be lucky twice. Last time someone saw him go down in Channel."
Bodie nodded. Lucky twice wasn't usual.
"None of the squadron got back this time either," Starsky continued. "Did any of the bombers get back?"
"No," Bodie answered shortly. "And you didn't hear that from me. The High Command of the Air Force is about to have kittens. And you didn't hear that from me either!"
"What made this trip so special?" Starsky queried quietly.
"Nothing...Not a thing. It was a routine escort mission--on a routine bombing run over a bloody routine railway switching yard. Nothing that would explain why a whole bloody squadron would disappear. The radio reports were a garbled mess, something about mysterious planes out of nowhere." Bodie looked down into his warm beer, brooding.
Starsky nodded and felt around in his shirt pocket for his cigarettes, offering one to Bodie, who accepted. He struggled in his slacks for a lighter and lit both cigarettes. Both men sipped their beers solemnly.
Starsky tipped his glass back and then set it gently on the table.
"Wanna another?" asked the British agent.
"Naw. Drinking doesn't help." Starsky knew that from experience. Bodie was an expert on how much drinking did not help one forget.
Bodie nodded, taking a deep drag on his Players, and leaned back against the wall behind him to watch the dancers who were gyrating in time to the juke box.
"Let's get out of here. I can't stand the noise any longer," Starsky murmured as he crushed out his half-finished cigarette. Bodie stood up and led the way into the blacked-out city. There were distant flashes of artificial lightning visible behind the skyline.
"Hitting the fighter bases again tonight," Starsky quietly commented as the two men began walking down the deserted streets toward the small furnished flat they occasionally shared when their jobs for the war effort permitted.
"That direction could be bomber bases as well," Bodie remarked softly. "Just lucky they don't hit the cities yet."
The two men walked shoulder-to- shoulder up to the door of a block of flats. Opening the door, Bodie led the way up the stairs to their lonely rooms. Once inside the sitting room, they separated each to their own lonely beds. Both mourning lost loves. Bodie hadn't gotten any word out of France in months from Doyle. At first he had gotten drunk at every opportunity; now he grieved by wrapping himself in hard work.
At first, Starsky worried about Bodie, but the man had pulled himself together and was adjusting, something Starsky was afraid that he too would have to do. Silent tears leaked from his eyes as he turned toward the wall in the small spare room he had shared occasionally with Hutch during the past. Damn the man for not being more careful! Starsky punched his feather pillow.
The door cracked open and a familiar figure filled the space. "If you need to talk or anything, let me know," Bodie said quietly into the dark room.
"Naw, thanks anyway. It's just so futile. I wanted to keep him here with me, but if I hadda then he wouldn't have been my Hutch anymore."
"Yeah, I 'spect you do." Starsky paused. "'Night, Bodie."
"'Night." The door whispered shut. Starsky silently thanked the other man for his sympathy.
* * *
Hutch leaned wearily against stone walls, again. This time, however, he was more battered and bruised. Upon leaving the village, he had been taken to a small Luftwaffe base. He had been briefly questioned by the commander and then thrust into this temporary cell, knowing that he would soon be transferred into the heart of Germany to a prison camp. Discouragement and defeat were his close companions as he settled down on the bare cot.
He dozed fitfully and woke to tramping feet in the corridor outside his cell. The metal door banged open to admit the camp commander and another figure in civilian garb. "On your feet!" the civilian snarled, stepping forward to grab the groggy flyer by his now-tattered flight suit.
"You will not abuse him on my base, Herr Behrman," the Luftwaffe officer snapped. Hutch's German was barely sufficient for the conversation that followed.
"The Gestapo may have custody of him when you get him off this base. I have raised my objections and will continue to object," the irate officer said. "This man is rightly a prisoner of the Luftwaffe!"
The civilian gave a mocking salute and backed away from the dejected prisoner. "As you say, Oberst, he is not our prisoner until we have him in our headquarters."
The small cell became more crowded as two more civilians came through the door, clutched Hutch by the arms then hustled him from the cell. He tried to protest, but a hand covered his mouth as his hands were jerked behind his back to be handcuffed.
"We will return him when we have the needed information on the underground contacts."
Hutch was alternately dragged and shoved out into the bright sunlight of the new day. It had been late night when he had arrived at the camp. There was a gathering of Luftwaffe officers watching with disapproval as the Gestapo agents manhandled him into the waiting car. Once he was blindfolded and shoved on the floor of the Mercedes, the two guards had no reservations about kicking him occasionally in the ribs or resting their feet on their captive. It was a long drive and Hutch became more cramped and sore as the time progressed.
Eventually he was dragged from the car, his blindfold removed then taken to the basement of large a building somewhere in a large city. He assumed it must be Paris, but he couldn't be sure. They had been driving for a long time through city streets so he knew the city was a big one.
By this time the American flyer was dazed, aching and hungry, having been in the car for hours without any relief. There would be no relief forthcoming, he felt.
With little formality, he was roughly pulled out of the car and forced to stumble down narrow stairs to yet another cell. Vaguely he had noticed that the sun was now setting. His hands were released as he stumbled into the waiting cell. He ran his hand through his short, damp hair, the blond color darkened with dirt and perspiration. He used the bucket in the corner provided for sanitary facilities, but there was no food or drink. He wasn't sure he could manage to keep anything down at the moment, he was so dispirited.
He eased his aching body down on the moldy cot for yet another period of waiting. He had no idea what the Gestapo could have in mind for him but nothing good, he imagined. What did puzzle him was the interest the Gestapo had in him. He remembered something about underground contacts, but he had none...anymore. Obviously his only contact had betrayed him either willingly or unwillingly. Most probably the latter.
The chunky Gestapo agent did not leave him waiting long. With his bald head gleaming under the harsh light of the cell, he began questioning the American airman. "What is your squadron and where is it based?" The Nazi echoed the question in an endless repetition as he assistants alternately punched or slugged the man.
"Go fuck yourself!" Hutch muttered repeatedly, after tiring of giving the standard answer of military prisoners.
"Obscenity is not necessary," Behrman snapped and nodded at his assistants who obligingly punched the airman once more in the midsection. Finally as consciousness slipped away, Hutch heard the door to his cell open and close. He was left in an aching peace slumped on the floor where he had been unceremoniously dumped.
* * *
"We have only one question for the airman that you are so interested in, Herr Kessel," Behrman commented to the tall, crew-cut blond, pacing his tiny office. "We simply need to know if he is the last member of RAF Squadron 27. That is the squadron that was escorting the bombers over the switching yards. It is too soon for knowledge of the experimental fighters to get back to London. I don't even want, if he is a member of 27, for him to go to a Luftwaffe Camp. Information has a way of leaking back to London from those camps. So you may have him for whatever little games you like to play with your victims after I know for sure."
The slate gray eyes lit up at the last comment. "Heil Hitler!" Kessel responded as he gave the open palmed salute and left the dingy office. Once more Behrman contemplated his need for these types in his continuing patriotic work for his Fuhrer. He would return before dawn and see if Herr Kessel had the information he needed. Somehow the man always disappeared before sunrise.
It was too bad that he had to make all these young airmen disappear. However, word of the new secret weapon could not be allowed back to England so soon. He had told the Luftwaffe that it was too soon to allow the planes into combat. Their full production schedule would not start for a few months yet. He removed his round, steel-framed glasses and wiped his eyes. It was all so tiring. Yes, he must leave before Herr Kessel began his gory work. He admitted the necessity for such as Kessel, but he simply didn't want to view or hear his handiwork.
* * *
Hutch was rudely awakened as the cell door banged open. Two grim-faced individuals moved into the tiny room and yanked the aching, dazed American to his feet then frog-marched him from the room. He was taken to a larger room where he was stripped of most of his clothing, strapped to a metal chair and left. He shivered involuntarily as the chill of the room seeped into his bones.
In the long intervening moments, he began to have all types of fears. What sort of information could he provide the Gestapo? He was simply a pilot. Had the Gestapo figured out his and MI6's rescue of Starsky over a year ago? What would torturing him now accomplish? Starsky was safely working for the British government at a research facility in the wilds of England. He had absolutely no idea what his lover and friend was working on. His mind raced in circles and more circles the longer he sat in his underwear on the cold chair. He shifted uncomfortably in the hard chair that seemed to accentuate his bruises and his stomach felt as though a knife was being slowly twisted in his gut--a nagging ache from his earlier interrogation.
Seemingly hours later the door behind him clicked open to admit a tall, nearly albino looking man with bushy dark eyebrows. His gray eyes were nearly colorless and his almost white hair formed a widow's peak on his high forehead. He walked around his victim smiling coldly as he assessed the tense airman in the metal chair.
"Now, Squadron Leader, please make it easy on yourself," lazily commented the interrogator. "What is your squadron and where are you based?"
"I...I am not...not required to give...," Hutch paused to clear his parched throat and started over much to the glee of the observer. "I...I am not required to give that type of information. By the Geneva Convention."
"Ah yes...I have been hearing quite a bit about the Geneva Convention lately. It has absolutely no bearing on this conversation." The white-haired man paused and nearly leered at his victim. "I really don't think you'll be in any shape to complain to the Geneva Convention." He smiled coldly. "Make it easy on yourself. Tell me your Squadron number and where you are based. That's all the information I need."
Hutch simply shook his head, too terrified to do anything more. His companion laughed gently and leaned forward to run his hands through Hutch's limp, dirty hair. "I have a friend with just about this color of hair. It has always fascinated me." The Nazi moved his hands down to Hutch's neck, stroking his fingers lightly over the racing pulse in Hutch's throat. "American blood! I don't think I've ever had American blood. I wonder if it tastes any different from other blood."
Hutch shuddered and tried to draw away from the too intimate touch of the agent. He flinched as the Nazi leaned forward and licked the pulse point on his throat, then began thrashing in his bonds as the Nazi began to nibble gently on his neck. He nearly screamed as bits of his flesh were pinched between the interrogator's teeth.
Kessel leaned back from his struggling victim and laughed softly. "You don't like that, Yank! Ah, but you will. I guarantee it." He turned away and took a long finger-sized metal rod from the shelf. He held it up and turned back to the flyer.
"You haven't changed your mind, I hope," he whispered, moving across the room. Numbly Hutch shook his head, his fascinated gaze never leaving the rod.
Faster than a striking snake, Kessel brought the rod down across Hutch's hand lying laxly on the arm of the chair. The American screamed as bones shattered in his hand and wrist. As the waves of pain started to subside, his other arm was given a similar treatment before the rod was carefully put back in its proper place. Hutch continued to shriek for long moments as waves of pain from his hands and arms reached his beleaguered brain. Then he finally slumped back against the unforgiving metal chair.
Kessel moved beside the suffering airman, grabbed him by his filthy hair, and roughly pulled his head back exposing his vulnerable neck. The agent fixed his now completely emerged canines in the airman's throat. Hutch was not unaware of the new pain, but it was minor compared to his hands and he didn't bother doing more than grunt. A lethargy settled over him and he relaxed into the welcome haze, never seeing the transformation of his host. The man's gray eyes were a glassy yellow and his sharp, unnatural fangs were longer than any man's.
Not without reluctance, Kessel brought his inhuman urges under control. He turned away from the American and changed slowly back to his human camouflage then went back to his workbench in the corner of the room where he reached for the metal rod. With it in his hand, he returned to the quietly suffering airman, noting that the man was nearly unconscious. Lightly he tapped the man on one of his mangled hands causing Hutch to whimper and jerk his head up. His eyes were glazed, but there was still a measure of intelligence there.
"Now, are you a member of RAF Squadron number 27?" the agent questioned sharply. He had waited until the man's breathing came back to something normal, but there was no response. Again he tapped the broken hands and wrists gently, and there was an answering sound somewhere between a whimper and groan, but nothing else. The interrogator sighed and smiled grimly.
"You force me to do this," he whispered in the American's ear. Hutch shuddered and shook his head, the motion sending waves of pain from his arms straight to his brain forcing another low whimper.
The interrogator hefted his metal rod and struck. This time he brought it down further up on the flyer's arms. Hutch merely moaned and thrashed against the restraints and pain, his head flopping from side to side as he instinctively tried to escape the torment. Kessel continued to strike Hutch's mangled arms and hands until eventually splinters of bone began showing through the bloody flesh. Finally Kessel stopped and stroked the bloody instrument then gently licked some of Hutch's blood, savoring the flavor.
As the reek of blood filled his nostrils, Kessel's unholy urges struck and the transformation of his eyes and teeth appeared. He grabbed the slumping head and lifted it to expose the jugular vein on the other side of Hutch's neck. This time the sharp pain never registered on his victim at all but Kessel was careful to pull away before all life left the human.
He didn't bother hiding his changed appearance as he whispered in the American's ear, "The old peasant didn't last anywhere this long. He wasn't nearly so much fun." The Gestapo agent laughed unpleasantly. "So quickly the old man betrayed you. I'm glad to see that you are holding out so well." He paused and ran his hand over the flyer's chest in a parody of a loving stroke. "Now." He paused, running his hand down to the damaged hands and arms. Squeezing lightly, he listened in fascination to the moan from the American.
"Now," he repeated, "is your Squadron number 27?" He squeezed the hand harder. As he noted the continued resistance along with the weakened condition of his victim, Kessel pulled Hutch's head back and made contact with his eyes and mind. "Now you will tell me what I want to know." The vampire's mind grabbed and held the human's in thrall. "Is your squadron number 27?"
"Yes...," Hutch croaked. When Kessel released his head, he let it slump down on his chest in defeat.
Drawing back, Kessel smiled and composed his features into a semblance of humanity. He turned and went out the door. Straightening his cuffs and settling his immaculately tailored suit on his shoulders, he turned down the hall to the waiting guards.
"I have the information needed for Herr Behrman. Tell him that the answer is 'yes.'" The pale Gestapo agent started to turn away. "Leave our friend where he is. I will come back later tonight and finish the interrogations."
The two guards looked at each other and shrugged, both thinking to themselves that they would never get used to this one. However, he seemed to get results and enjoy his work. Both men went back to the paper work that seemed endless in the Third Reich.
* * *
The creature known at this time and place as Herr Kessel exited the headquarters of the Gestapo and took a deep satisfying breath of the crisp night air. He saw and heard a movement in the shadows but he felt no alarm--his enhanced senses had quickly identified the being restlessly waiting for him.
"Nicolas," Kessel murmured, giving the name the gentle French slur that dropped the s and accented the middle syllable. "Have you come to your senses yet?"
"LaCroix!" Nicolas spat out. "Why do you continue to work for the Nazis?"
"Ah, Nicolas. They provide me with the best sport that I have had in ages."
"You are no better than the Inquisition!" The being known in Paris for the moment as Nicolas Chevalier moved from the shadows provided by the surrounding buildings into the waning moon light. He ran blunt fingers through his waving light brown hair somewhat nervously.
Confronting his mentor was always disturbing at the best of times, yet somehow he kept coming back to his abuser. It was an unhealthy relationship, he knew, but he couldn't quite leave the older vampire and what he represented--even now he could smell the tempting odor of fresh blood on LaCroix's breath. LaCroix had just fed on human blood and Nicolas was sorely tempted by the lush, sweet madness of killing and feeding on "human cattle" as LaCroix termed them. At one time he had fed on criminals and perverts, but now he only existed on animal blood, trying not to even kill the dumb beasts.
"Yes...the Inquisition. It would have been interesting to have been on their side. Very satisfying, I should imagine." The older vampire studied his protege. "You have been drinking all that bovine and equine blood, and it is beginning to warp your instincts. Come back inside with me. Don't you smell the human blood? Don't you want to indulge? Just this once?" The platinum blond man smiled winningly. "There's this luscious young man just waiting for your attention."
Nicolas turned away and controlled his lust. It would be easy to give in again to LaCroix; his nature almost demanded it. He clenched his fists and moved once more into the shadows.
LaCroix laughed mockingly as he lifted swiftly from the pavement to disappear into the clouds above the city. He would have Nicolas back in his thrall sometime, somewhere, he knew.
Nicolas started to depart as well when he remembered that LaCroix had offered him a taste of his victim. This admission told him the unlucky man still lived. Could he be saved? If he saved one victim of LaCroix, he might continue to atone for some of the atrocities that he had so enjoyed when he was LaCroix's lackey. This might be a start at redeeming his humanity, his soul. The redemption of his soul was becoming a consuming passion.
With hardening resolve, Nicolas turned toward the darkened building LaCroix had just left, and began walking down the steps from which the other vampire had emerged. It took little of his heightened strength to snap the lock on the door then move down the dimly lit corridor. Two guards looked up as he moved with inhuman swiftness toward them and though both made moves toward their weapons, he had them in a trance before the gesture could be completed.
"You have not seen me. Return to your papers," the vampire whispered then carefully turned up the cell block. Looking back after a few paces, he noted with satisfaction that both guards were back shuffling papers. The uniformed figures were completely absorbed in their task.
Nicolas cautiously checked each cell in the corridor as he walked hurriedly toward the one that reeked of blood and despair. With the use of some of his vampire abilities, his unnatural instincts nearly overrode his humane ones as he got closer to the source of the blood odor. Upon breaking open the next-to-last door, he saw a figure slumped in a metal chair. As his canines flexed in his jaw and his eyes started to glaze, he stopped and waited long moments until he could control the impulse.
He first took note of the damaged hands, but was relieved the man was breathing and even semiconscious. The unhealthy pallor of the prisoner was the next item to draw the vampire's attention. Yes, LaCroix had fed, but hopefully only enough to diminish his victim's strength. The man might be salvageable; he had possibly arrived in time.
Gently taking the prisoner's head in his hands, he looked into the glassy eyes. His mind reached for the human's and his voice spoke in a soothing tone, "You feel no more pain. Rest now. Sleep." He repeated the commands until the eyelids fluttered closed with some measure of peace.
It took only moments for his vampire strength to snap the leather straps that bound LaCroix's victim to the chair. He looked around for something in which to wrap the unconscious human and found a dirty blanket shoved in a corner. He gently picked up the man and wrapped him in the grimy, bloodstained folds of the tattered fabric. Then lifted him over his shoulder, bracing the weight with one hand.
Carrying his burden with ease, he went into the hallway and saw that the two guards were still diligently working on their papers. He paused and listened for any sounds in the hall. When he was sure he heard only the shuffling of papers, he casually carried the man from the building, easily retracing his earlier steps.
Once out on the quiet, deserted street, he suddenly didn't know what to do. He rose swiftly into the air and headed for the only haven he could think of, Janette's small supper club on a quiet street off the Champs Elysees. He flew swiftly toward that destination, hoping that LaCroix had business elsewhere.
It took only moments to arrive at the small club that normally catered to very exclusive patrons, landing lightly on the roof of Le Corbeau. After scanning the area with all senses alert, he then jumped down into the dark alley at the rear of the building. With ease he supported his burden until he had the back door open and slipped down the hallway toward the room he often used when dawn caught him too far from his own daytime shelter. He put his unconscious burden down on the plain pallet which was the room's only adornment, critically looking at the former prisoner, noting the clammy, pale skin and harsh breathing. It was obvious to even the most uninformed that the man was near the end of his resources and probably suffering from shock. With regret, Nicolas left the room and went to the bar at the front of the building.
Naturally the bar was dim and smoky, but he was not prepared for the change in the patrons. Normally Le Corbeau drew mainly the local vampires and a few humans looking for a different thrill. Tonight the bar was filled with uniforms, and a very loud group it was. Janette was sitting on a bar stool sipping her normal drink of blood and wine, a mix to which she had become quite addicted.
"Nicolas!" Her throaty voice drew him through the crowd waiting for more drinks. "What are you doing here?"
"I need to talk to you--alone," Nicolas whispered below the roar of the group at the bar, knowing her vampire hearing would sift out any background noise. She took in the desperate stance of his figure and leisurely set her drink on the bar. The bartender immediately took it and put it in the low icebox behind the bar.
She seemed to gracefully float to her feet, leading the way out of the bar toward the small room at the rear that served her as an office. Once the door was closed on the small room, she flung up her hands and hissed under her breath.
"See what my new clientele looks like!" she snarled as she began pacing the small room. "Suddenly my club...my club has been blest by the Third Reich." Nicolas waited, knowing that she would calm down shortly. Her emotions simply had to run their course.
"Well, what is it, Nicolas?" she questioned as she rumpled her long dark hair then smoothed it all in one motion. While Nicolas was trying to think of a reply, she settled herself in a leather chair behind the desk.
Hesitantly Nicolas began explaining his activities of the past hour. "You did what?!" Janette snarled. "And you brought it here!" She paused to catch her breath. "Nicolas, when LaCroix finds out what you have done, you will pay dearly for interfering in his pleasure. And he will find out, you know!"
"It is something I have to do," Nicolas replied with force. "I just couldn't stand by and watch another human subjected to his cruelty."
"You didn't have to watch--you weren't even there!"
"But I would know! It is getting to where I can't live with myself when I find about out such things. I had to see if I could rectify it."
"Now that you've done it, let's see what can be done," Janette conceded reluctantly, knowing when Nicolas was this determined there was no changing his mind. She briskly rose from her chair, led Nicolas out of the room, and down the hall to the cubicle that he used sparingly.
Upon entering the room, Janette looked at the man on the bed with cold, calculating eyes. She took in the ashy pallor and labored breathing for only moments. "My dear Nicolas, it looks as if you have saved a dead man. He isn't quite dead now, but he soon will be." Nicolas could only nod as he looked at the sprawled figure.
"The only way to save him is if you brought him across," she quietly commented as she noted the dejected figure, standing beside her, his dejection quietly breaking her heart. "As it is, he could possibly come over anyway, and as LaCroix's minion. I doubt that is the fate you had in mind when you took him from the Gestapo. If you feed unto his death, he will come over and look to you for training." She paused again and looked at Nicolas speculatively. "Are you ready for that responsibility?"
"I thought perhaps if we could get him to a human doctor, he could be saved."
"Look closely at what you have brought here. Even if they could restore the blood with transfusions, I don't think they could save his hands and arms. Do you really think he or anyone would want to live without either hand?"
Nicolas shook his head.
"Then do it! Now, Nicolas, before he suffers any more. I would not let a dog continue to suffer this way. Make up your mind."
Nicolas turned away and looked at the shuttered window, trying to remember what the daylight looked like. It wasn't possible--all he could remember was the pain sunlight now caused him.
"I have a contact that perhaps could get you out of the country and to England. After this you shouldn't stay anywhere within reach of LaCroix or the Nazis," Janette said quietly, turning her gaze again to the human. "Do it, Nicolas. Or give him the true death."
"It's a decision he should make himself," Nicolas answered without turning toward the woman. His tortured mind was dredging up bitter memories of a lovely woman who couldn't resist the savage urges of her new nature. This was a woman he had deliberately brought across to save her life. Was he now prepared to fail again? He wasn't sure if he could stand it. But he was the only hope this abused individual had. This time he would take greater pains to educate this newly made vampire. It might work if this man didn't harbor the bitterness of his previous experiment.
"He can't make a rational decision now. You have to make it. Think about it. If he simply can't live with what you do, then he can choose the true death later. You will only give him another option besides death. If death is what he desires, so be it," Janette interrupted his troubled thoughts.
Nicolas considered for a long time, running his hands over his face and through his wavy hair. It wasn't as if life as a vampire was impossible. Could he really prevent this one from ever killing? It could be something worth trying? Could a vampire survive and never kill? Yes, he could do it with that thought in mind. His previous failure still dogged his thoughts, but he was decided to give it one more try, the more he considered it.
"All right," Nicolas began taking control of his emotions. He had acted without thinking clearly this time, but Janette had made him see his options and now he was ready to do what had to be done.
"I will make contact with someone from the underground to get you both to England. You take him now. Make him feed from you a little then he can heal during the day and my contact will be ready as soon as practical. Possibly in the next day or two." She briskly began organizing her thoughts. "You can't stay here. It's too dangerous, both from LaCroix and from the 'Boche.' However, I have known of a place in the country. You can fly him there and wait for the underground."
"I didn't realize that you knew the underground existed."
"Nicolas! I have been making my own plans. I'm not sure how much longer I can remain here and watch what these animals are doing to my beloved Paris."
Nicolas could empathize with her feelings. He too, had been shocked at the German occupation of his country. He just hadn't taken it too seriously since he knew in the ways of human affairs that it was a transient thing. Janette reaction set him thinking of more than just his relationship with LaCroix and that perhaps it was time to get more involved in the human world. He sighed quietly. Then he heard his charge begin to moan and thrash on the cot as the stupor wore off. Looking up, he saw that Janette had left the room to give him a semblance of privacy.
For the first time in recent memory, he made a conscious effort at transformation. His canines lengthened and he saw his vision begin the slight reddish distortion of his killing frenzy. Then he leaped on the unconscious man and began to finish the job that LaCroix had begun. He never quite slipped over to his killing mode, but he was killing just the same. He remembered Janette's admonition and forced some his own blood from a small self-inflicted wound into the man's mouth. He wasn't sure if it were true or not, but most vampires believed that humans achieved immortality at a higher rate if they also tasted their maker's blood.
Then Nicolas returned to the business of finishing off his prey. The human under his fangs made a soft sigh and became an inert mass, as if the human was relieved to surrender his life. Nicolas raised his head and would have howled like a banshee, if it had been possible. He licked his lips, involuntarily enjoying the taste of human blood--the first for a long time. He lifted himself from his knees and felt his fangs begin to recede and his vision return to normal.
The door opened softly and Janette entered the room, taking in the scene before her at once. She was glad that she had fed recently since the smell of fresh blood reeked from the vampire standing in the middle of the room.
"Here...directions to the estate of Count Du Lac. He's one of us, but he's off in Africa fighting for France." Janette paused as Nicolas took the slip of paper and read it quickly. "There is good hunting nearby. The workers on the estate are either one of us or aware of the esoteric tastes of the Count and his guests. They will not reveal anyone to the Nazis, either."
At Nicolas' stiffening figure, Janette laughed dryly. "I just meant that the Count has a large dairy herd and several horses. Your new fledgling will need to feed immediately upon awakening. He will be ravenous with both the change and the healing so I have some supplies." She handed him pack that clinked slightly. Nicolas slipped it on his shoulders.
"I know how it is to awaken with that hunger," Nicolas answered grimly as he began wrapping the inert figure again in the soiled blanket, this time not to protect him from the elements but to give him a sort of dignity even for one who would never be aware of it.
"The man from the underground should contact you in the next few days. Your new minion probably can travel in a couple of days." Nic shuddered at her choice of words, but they were the truth as she saw it.
"We will have to cross the Channel. Is our contact aware of our travel problems?" Nicolas questioned, making an oblique reference to the fact that vampires were deathly allergic to sunlight and suffered a form of violent seasickness.
"He will have a slight idea. You will, of course, have to make him forget all the arrangements upon arrival in England."
Nicolas nodded and leaned forward to give Janette a peck on the cheek. She smiled back and admonished gently, "Be careful."
* * *
Nicolas was weary when he arrived at the estate designated by Janette, having flown just about as far as he could bearing the limp burden in his arms. Daylight was fast approaching and both would need shelter soon. The vampire looked around the area and decided the stable might be the best resting place for the coming day, knowing that when his charge woke to his new state, he would have to feed immediately. The horses in the stable would be the easiest for this initial feeding since they were probably more used to handling than the cattle in the pens outside. Nicolas wasn't sure that his newly brought over vampire could be satisfied with equine blood and wanted to take no chances with the human occupants of the manor by having his changeling too close to them at his first feeding. He had little experience with what he was undertaking and what he did have made him extremely uneasy.
Carrying his unliving burden, he searched for the best place for them to spend the day, finally feeling very lucky to find that the stable had an underground storage room. It was empty and looked pretty well abandoned. Janette could assure him of the trustworthiness of the estate workers, but he would prefer not to be found until the changeling was again in control of his faculties.
Using some of the stable residents' straw, he made two reasonable pallets for the day. He made sure that the cellar door was firmly closed and latched then he settled the cold and clammy youth on a straw pallet before settling for the day himself. Peripherally he was aware that the sun was starting to peek over the eastern horizon. Instinctively, he always knew just how long it was until sunrise.
* * *
The sun was barely dropping down behind the rolling hills around the Count's estate when Nicolas heard a rustle in the straw near him. The human was stirring into his vampire life. The older vampire was pleased since it meant that the changeling had a reason to live and was making an effort, a necessary attribute for any young vampire to survive. Those without a reason to live never made the effort to cross over or quickly found a way to the true death. Nicolas didn't want to go through all this just to have a vampire with a suicide impulse or simply a dead human body.
Nicolas rose and searched through the pack that Janette had sent with him. He found a half-a-dozen wine bottles containing a thick, viscous, red liquid that was not wine. He uncorked the first one and moved over to the thrashing near-vampire whose best friend or lover would not recognize him as his eyes yellowed and vestal fangs emerged.
Unceremoniously Nicolas sat on the heaving chest and with one hand stilled the rolling head while with the other he began forcing the rim of the wine bottle between the bluish lips. A few splashes of the blood quieted the thrashing and struggles of the new immortal. The young vampire reached with his rapidly healing hands for the bottle and began gulping the liquid, not yet rational, Nicolas knew. He reached for the pack and brought out a new bottle which he quickly uncorked. When the first bottle had been drained, he handed the other one over before his protégé could start to notice how weak he was.
When four bottles had been drained in this manner, Nicolas lifted himself from the supine body beneath him. The former prisoner raised himself up in the straw and looked around. His last conscious memory had been of the basement of Gestapo headquarters in Paris where he had been in intense pain. On top of this disturbing memory, his mind was nearly in overload from the sensory input it was receiving from the vampiric amplification. Shaking his ringing head, Hutch croaked out, "What...what's goin' on?"
Not knowing how to answer the man, Nicolas noted the language and began shifting his mental gears to English. As he had suspected, the man/vampire was English or at least English speaking.
"I brought you out of Gestapo Headquarters."
"Thank you...I think," Hutch murmured. "Where are we?"
"Somewhere outside Paris."
"Yes. I know you are and there are some explanations. But I don't know exactly where to start," Nicolas replied, studying the rapidly improving figure in front of him. If he didn't explain quickly, the being would discover his powers all too quickly. Newly made vampires didn't survive long if they weren't ready to feed and move almost at once.
"Introductions first, I think. I am Nicolas Chevalier." The older vampire paused and smiled benignly, hoping to allay any fears his protégé might have. "And you?"
Reaching forward with his right hand that Nicolas took carefully, Hutch answered, "Kenneth Hutchinson. My friends usually call me Hutch. I think you might qualify as a friend for what you did." Nicolas smiled at the naive comment.
"Perhaps... Perhaps not... After I explain." Again Nicolas had no idea what to say so after taking a deep breath simply plunged ahead. "When I brought you out of Nazi hands, you were nearly dead. There wasn't much that could be done for you."
"I can believe that. I remember...," Hutch paused and looked at his now almost completely healed hands. "I...I... but how?" He held up his hands and examined them. "I must have dreamed it.... Some drug those Nazi bastards have thought up."
"No. What you remember is the truth."
"Naw, a person can't heal that fast and leave no scars."
"You are no longer human."
Hutch was startled by the quiet comment. "I don't exactly understand what you are saying."
The vampire rose and paced the small space. "There's simply no easy way to explain this. But you have become what I am. I can't go out in daylight. The sun burns me badly and is deadly in very short order. I am sustained by the blood of mammals. I am very hard to kill. A stake through the heart, exposure to direct sunlight, fire, or decapitation are the only things that are fatal to our kind."
"I still don't understand."
"Think of your folklore. I can't touch a cross. Holy Water will burn me like acid. I can't set foot on consecrated ground. It's difficult for our kind to cross water. Think!"
All Hutch could think of were the many horror movies that Starsky had forced him to sit through. "You don't mean something like Dracula--vampires--all that Hollywood nonsense?"
"It's not nonsense," Nicolas replied soberly. "Before your Hollywood ever made a movie, we existed and still exist. You were so damaged that this was the only way I thought I could save you."
"I don't believe a word of it. I dreamed the torture...had to dream it. It's not possible." Hutch started to stand and confront his companion only to slump back down as his weakness hit him full force.
"You need to feed. Eventually your instincts will take over and force you to. Right now you have your senses and can make the decision of how you want to feed."
"Shit. I must be dreaming."
"No, Hutch, you aren't. I think a small demonstration is in order." Nicolas rose straight up in the air to top of the cellar. Hovering, he reached up to release the latch of the small trap door in the ceiling. Hutch stared and leaned back against his straw bed.
"Now I'm sure of it. This is some fever dream." Hutch sighed and looked again at his hands. "Somehow I don't think we're in Kansas anymore, Toto."
Nicolas slowly settled to the floor, grasped Hutch's hands, and with little effort lifted him to his feet. "Now you must feed. We can continue this discussion later. I want you to be the first vampire to cross over and not kill in the initial feeding frenzy or ever. So we have to start before it hits you."
Nicolas began rising slowly toward the trap door while instinctively Hutch followed suit, guided by the hands that gripped his wrists tightly. The vampire hunched his shoulders and shoved up the trap door, finding it was dark and quiet in the stable. Only an occasional thump and snuffle indicated that the occupants were indeed in residence.
Hutch began to struggle against his restraint as his augmented sense of smell told him that food was nearby. Nicolas spoke a soothing chant. "Easy. You will feed soon. Easy, young one. Easy."
Hutch calmed down and followed where the other's hands were leading him. In the first stall a docile bay mare leaned her long neck over the half door curiously staring at the entities invading her domain.
Nicolas opened the stall door and turned his mental focus to the mare. She whuffled contentedly and nudged his shoulder with her muzzle. Hutch began the transformation swiftly out from under Nicolas' calming influence. He lunged forward and fixed his virgin fangs into her jugular. Nicolas watched then began pulling Hutch from the quiescent mare.
"Don't kill her. There are many more for you," Nicolas whispered, relieved when the young vampire pulled away reluctantly. "Lick her wounds." Hutch's glaring golden eyes fixed on his mentor. "Lick her wounds. Your saliva will accelerate her natural healing." Hutch leaned forward and licked tentatively then with more vigor as he tasted the residual blood.
"Now to the next one." Nicolas led Hutch to the next stall and again calmed the inhabitant. This time Hutch was not so ravenous and almost delicately made contact with the large jugular. He fed contentedly for long moments then dissolved the contact himself and licked the fast-healing wounds.
"Next time you won't need two donors," Nicolas quietly commented as he closed the stall door.
Hutch licked his lips and slowly regained his human appearance. "You still have a lot of explaining to do."
"Yes, but let's go up to the chateau and clean up. You, my friend, frankly stink."
"Yeah." For the first time the American airman smiled and followed his mentor out of the stable and up to the castle a few hundred yards away.
The manor servants had been alerted to the arrival of guests of the Count and quickly took them to rooms, supplying clothing for them to wear. The servants didn't even seem to think it odd to have one nearly naked man and companion appearing in the late evening. Janette had lived up to her part of the bargain admirably so far. Somehow she had notified the residents of the estate of their coming arrival. Nicolas wasn't sure he really wanted to know all of Janette's methods.
* * *
Swirling the shaving brush around and around in the mug, Hutch looked at his visage in the mirror. Another myth dispelled, he noted as he moved the brush to his face and spread the lather over his cheeks and jaw. Taking up a wicked cutthroat razor, he skillfully removed the stubble that had accumulated over the past week. (Was it only a week? It seemed much longer.) He carefully left a pencil-thin growth over his upper lip. Reaching for a towel, he rubbed the remaining flecks of soap from his face.
Slouching back from the mirror, he studied the face that stared back at him. There was no obvious change except the thin mustache. The blond hair and blue eyes remained unchanged and looked quite benign. Running his tongue behind his upper teeth, he could feel the retracted canines that signified so much change in his life. Last night...was it only last night that he had first drunk the sweet blood of the mare in the stable? It seemed like an eternity with all that he had to absorb. And according to his host, it had to be learned quickly.
After cleaning up last night, he and his mentor had spent the rest of the night discussing the ramifications of the change in his life. Nicolas had explained in detail the dos and don'ts of his changed future. It was hard to imagine living only during the night and spending the day sleeping or at least indoors. He knew that many people did that by choice or at least he thought it was by choice. Now he wondered...
A shorter, stockier figure appeared in the reflection behind him. The older vampire was holding out a wine glass that Hutch reached for automatically as he turned to study his companion. The man was a couple of inches shorter with light reddish-brown hair that tended to curl and deep blue eyes. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties. Another myth dispelled--Nicolas looked nothing like Hollywood had depicted vampires with slicked down, black hair, pasty complexion, and glistening fangs. Maybe the fangs glistened, but he hadn't seen Nicolas' yet.
"Breakfast," Nicolas said as he turned and walked back toward the sitting room of the suite that the two men shared. In the artificial light, his hair glinted with moisture from his recent ablutions as he sat on the winged leather chair.
Hutch studied the liquid while seating himself in the couch beside Nicolas' chair. He knew what was in the heavy wine glass without looking. He noticed his reinforced sense of smell was getting more acute as time went on. The tangy odor brought hunger pangs so he lifted the glass to his lips. After taking a sip he looked at the glass then raised an eyebrow at his companion.
"Bovine," Nicolas answered at his unspoken question. "I wondered how fast your senses were progressing."
Taking another sip, Hutch rolled the taste around on his tongue. "Think I prefer the horse from last night, but this isn't too bad...all part of the training, I take it."
"Not really. Just thought a change of pace might be appropriate. And the Count's staff takes regular donations from the dairy herd. Makes it much easier than going out and getting it for yourself, right?"
"So I don't have to hunt down an animal every night?"
"No. And after these first few nights are over, you can feed more sparingly. Right now your system is still recovering from the healing process plus the normal effects of being brought over. Once that recovery is complete, feeding every couple of days or even once a week will keep you going. You'll weaken noticeably if you let it go longer, though."
Changing the subject, Hutch asked, "You never explained yourself last night. I'm curious about why you bothered rescuing me since we've never met. You've put yourself in considerable danger and inconvenience for a perfect stranger."
Hutch was voicing some concerns he never thought of the night before when he was trying to adjust to his new situation. He had taken the stranger at his word, but now he was just a bit suspicious. The whole situation was puzzling. Did vampires go around hunting for victims to change over or was it some fluke? He added these thoughts to his previous comments.
"All perfectly valid," Nicolas answered and rose to walk over to the fireplace where he picked up an unremarkable statue and fingered it unconsciously.
Hutch waited with as much patience as he could while watching the vampire pick up the delicate figurine and turn it over in his hands then set it back down. Before answering, Nicolas picked up another piece from the mantle and rubbed it then turned back to face the American.
"I was brought over in 1228 by a vampire called LaCroix. He promised me eternal youth and wealth, but told me little about the limitations of the life. I assumed for hundreds of years that his lifestyle was the only one available to my kind." Nicolas paused and turned back to the mantle.
In that quick flash, Hutch saw a suppressed emotion in the expressive blue eyes that might have been a terrible sadness, but it was gone before it registered. Hutch nearly rose to give the entity emotional support, but Nicolas had his emotions under control as he turned back to regard the flyer before continuing.
"LaCroix taught me that all humans were cattle for our kind to feed upon. I never doubted it and reveled in my new powers. We accumulated wealth and moved from country to country enjoying our depredations on man and avoiding the human conflicts." Nicolas moved back across the room and settled again into the leather chair.
"I'm not exactly sure when the change began to take place. Somewhere my training and upbringing started to overcome my vampiric nature or what I believed was vampiric nature." Nicolas paused, smiled and looked at Hutch. "I do have a right to the name that I am using now. I was knighted in 1224. So over a hundred years ago..."
Hutch looked up at Nicolas and shifted his weight in his chair, not sure he could believe what he was hearing. Of course, this tale wasn't any more fantastic than remembering his own fangs slicing open the neck of the horse the night before. Maybe he'd still wake up and discover this was all an elaborate dream.
Noticing Hutch's distraction Nicolas again smiled and nodded before he continued his recitation. "I began experimenting and found I could live on any mammal's blood. Now I avoid killing humans if possible. At first I set myself up as mankind's judge. I killed only the criminals and those useless to society. Now I find that I can't make myself their judge, jury, and executioner no matter how much I think they may deserve it." The elder vampire paused then continued almost to himself. "I once made a terrible error in judgment."
"That explains your motivations in general, but what about rescuing me from Gestapo Headquarters in Paris? I imagine that if you wanted to rescue people there were hundreds or thousands that needed it just as badly as I did?"
"Ah, but there aren't hundreds or thousands that were victims of LaCroix."
Startled, Hutch jerked his head up from the cup from which he was about to take a sip. "LaCroix! He was the guy..."
"Yes," Nicolas interrupted hurriedly. "He was your interrogator. He's working with the Nazis now."
"Jesus Christ! And you lived and worked with that monster for...what hundreds of years?" Hutch rocked his head from side to side, not quite believing what he had just said. "Hundreds of years!" He repeated it under his breath.
"Yes." The word was uttered softly and without inflection.
Hutch was up and pacing the room. "So you rescued me because your old friend had nearly killed me."
"Yes...not just nearly, but in reality had murdered you."
Hutch looked at his hands and shuddered. He thought he only half-remembered the pain inflicted on him. If he only remembered half of it, it was enough to set his teeth on edge.
Nicolas rose and walked over to the slumped figure on the couch and knelt beside the airman. Gingerly he placed a hand on the shuddering man's knee and quietly said, "I am trying to make a start at a new life. I am trying to make up a little for all the crimes I have committed against humanity."
Hutch shoved the older vampire's hand from his leg then jumped to his feet and walked quickly to the shuttered window on the other side of the room. He muttered, "Son of bitch!" Then slammed his hand into the window frame that splintered under his vampiric strength. He looked back at the slumped figure crouching by the settee, then without thought hurried from the room into the wide hall. Almost running, he dashed down the elegant spiral staircase and out into the night. Not knowing where to go, he simply headed into the stable and paused by the stall of the bay mare who leaned her head over the half-door and nickered at him.
Unconsciously, he placed a hand on her velvet nose and rubbed it. He leaned against the stall and would have wept if it had been possible, but he was finding out that vampires were not allowed the release of tears. He found rubbing the animal's face and neck almost soothing as he thought about his rescuer. Last night he had liked and admired the formidable person. Now it was disconcerting to find he was becoming dependent on this creature for food and advice as well as spiritual comfort. Knowing that Nicolas had gone through the same change, had kept him going; but that had changed--or had it? The shock of waking up from death to a kind of living death had been hard enough to understand. Now his newfound peace was shattered by finding that this competent and sympathetic person had been as great a monster as the thing that had tortured him.
Taking some deep breaths to steady his emotions, he began to think rationally. Yes, Nicolas had been a monster, but he said he had changed--had he? Yes, Nicolas had demonstrated his changed attitudes by rescuing him,--and at some danger to himself. The rescue was proof that the being was trying to change. It had never been said, but it dawned on Hutch that if LaCroix caught up with Nicolas over this, things might be a bit uncomfortable for his mentor.
"No matter what you think of me, you should come back into the house. One of the servants told me that someone from the underground would contact us tonight." The older vampire had entered the stables completely unheard by Hutch's amplified hearing.
Hutch nodded and turned toward Nicolas, "I'm sorry I overreacted. It was just hard to imagine that you were ever that way."
"Apology accepted. I, however, never forget what I have been and could be again. You have the same possible nature...I can understand your feelings. There is so much to assimilate and there has been so little time. If I had my way, we would spend weeks on this estate working through all your concerns. I know everything is all raw and new now. And compounding it all, you did not ask to be brought over. Perhaps I made a mistake, but it was not an intentional one."
"Okay," Hutch answered as he began walking toward the wide door of the stable. He glanced at his host with new eyes. Maybe Nicolas hadn't always been a completely benevolent person, but he was obviously an honorable man no matter his guise. He had rescued Hutch for his own reasons, but Hutch found he could live with those reasons. "Underground contact...as in maybe we can get out of this country?"
The two went out of the stable carefully shutting the door behind them. Hutch noticed that although the moon was waning, he could see very well. It seemed almost as bright as day to his new sense of vision.
"Yes...As in getting you back to England."
As anxious as he was to get away from the threat of simply being in occupied France, Hutch dreaded returning in this changed state. He sighed as he contemplated numerous complications and there were probably many more he hadn't thought of. The sigh did not go unnoticed by Nicolas.
"I think you are beginning to comprehend the problems."
"Do vampires read minds?"
"No, but it's logical to assume it has just dawned on you some problems you will have with your job and friends."
"No kidding..." Hutch began.
"It will be difficult to keep your changed nature from intimate associates. Most of us when we cross over are either declared dead and must change our venue, or we have killed our best friend, lover, or a member of our family. However, you do not have that guilt to live with. Also I don't know of anyone who has been brought over for many years and certainly none who have not killed in their first hunger. It's not very common at all to change a human. Then many of these young vampires go completely insane after having killed friends and lovers." Nicolas paused and looked at the tall blond beside him. "I think you are a unique case."
Hutch thought about the vampire's words. Yes, he wasn't sure he wouldn't have gone completely insane if he had killed Starsky or even his unbeloved father. He had been lucky that Nicolas, no matter his motives, had helped him and seen to it that he killed no one in his metamorphosis.
Walking up the steps to the chateau, he saw that there were dim lights in the library. Both men hurried faster through the doorway where a maid came toward them. Hutch knew immediately that she was one of them though he didn't know exactly how he knew.
"Monsieur," she murmured to Nicolas, turning away from the American. She glanced uneasily at Hutch then continued in the soft, melodious language of her country while Hutch waited impatiently. Nicolas listened intently then sent the woman away.
"There is a human waiting for us in the library. He arrived just after I followed you out to the stables. He wouldn't give Jeannine his name or any information."
"So what do you want to do?"
"We'll just go see what he wants. If there is trouble, you stay out of it. Violence can bring on the 'killing frenzy,' which I think you should avoid at the moment. When you're older, you can control it. But now I'm afraid that you would kill that man before you even perceived what had happened."
Hutch nodded and followed the shorter man down the wide hallway to the library. Nicolas opened the double doors and entered almost stealthily.
A fire crackled cheerfully in the oversized fireplace opposite the door. The small man turned when he heard the footsteps on the parquet floor behind him. He was a stooped, aging person holding his worn beret in his work-gnarled hands. Nearly tugging his forelock, he said, "Monsieur le comte?"
"Je ne suis pas Comte Du Lac. Mais je suis un ami d'un ami du comte," Nicolas paused as he felt rather than saw the changes starting in the being behind him. "Pardonez-moi," he said quickly to the peasant and turned to thrust the young vampire from the room. In the hall he quickly saw that the transformation was nearly complete. Hoping the American had as much control as he had before, Nicolas shoved him toward the wide spiral staircase.
"Go upstairs and feed! You need to feed more often at this stage. I'll tell you what this man tells me, but later!" Hutch's fangs began to retract when he was no longer in the room with all that throbbing blood though it still rang unpleasantly in his ears. He would be glad to go back to his room and finish his interrupted breakfast.
With a quiet sigh of relief, Nicolas turned back to the library. He entered and reassured the peasant man that all was well with his friend. Quickly he questioned the old man who wouldn't give his name, but assured him that he would be contacted again at the town where he would direct the vampires. Not liking the secrecy, Nicolas could understand the need for it. If you didn't know who was meeting you, you couldn't reveal it under interrogation. Or if you didn't know the members of the resistance in the next town over you couldn't tell it if the Gestapo threatened even your family and friends. He just felt very vulnerable, especially with the burden of his young untried vampire.
After the old man left, Hutch came down the stairs looking much improved. Nicolas had almost forgotten that in the first few days of a vampire's life nearly constant feeding was necessary. That usually spelled the true death for many young. The need for blood was so strong that caution was often thrown out the window and humans naturally took advantage of the situation. One couldn't blame them since normally the young vampire was feeding on the humans near him/her.
"We must leave shortly since we have to make our next contact by tomorrow evening. We will take two horses; our friend assures me that they will be returned to the Count's estate by a very circuitous route, but returned nevertheless."
Nicolas began to mount the stairs as Hutch made no effort to answer. Once back in their suite of rooms, Nicolas gathered a few necessary items of clothing from the wardrobes. Standing in the center of the sitting room, Hutch watched without seeing as the older vampire made preparations for travel. "We might fly, but I don't think you're up to that just yet," Nicolas commented as he stuffed jackets into a pack.
"I would have killed that old man," Hutch murmured, dwelling on the previous scene as he began to pace the floor. "All that blood--I could feel his heart beat--nearly taste the blood as I opened his vein. This has to get better. It will, won't it?" Nicolas walked over and put his hand on the blond's shoulder.
"It will get easier in the next few days. Eventually you can walk among humans and barely notice the pull of the blood when you are not starving. Right now you are starving most of the time." Nicolas turned to the bell pull near the fireplace and tugged on it. Then he continued, "I'll watch for the symptoms, but the best thing is never to allow yourself to feel hunger until you have fully made the transition."
At a light tap on the door, Nicolas turned and left the American standing beside the window. He opened the door and spoke to the young female vampire, Jeannine, in quick low tones.
"The horses and our other supplies will be ready in a few minutes," the older vampire said quietly to his protege. "Gather up anything you think you will need."
Hutch sighed and moved into the bathroom to assemble a few toiletries that he added to the small packs while Nicolas was putting in a few items of his own.
A short time later the two vampires were riding horses into the woods behind the Count's residence. The path was very visible to the inhuman eyes that guided the animals. As they rode without speaking, Nicolas handed Hutch another wine bottle and gestured for him to drain it. Hutch took it without enthusiasm, but instinct took over and drinking all the bottle held was no hardship. The night was nearly over when they entered a small village and Nicolas made immediately for a barn behind the one inn. A woman was waiting for them and took the horses quickly into the stalls. She was a middle-aged motherly type who efficiently stripped the animals of their gear. She spoke urgently to Nicolas who nodded and led Hutch to the large grain storage bin.
Both men crawled into the bin that smelled sweetly of moldering grain. But the straw was clean and the two made themselves comfortable. Nicolas took out more wine bottles from the packs and both made a hasty meal before the sun rose. Hutch immediately fell asleep as he would for a few more days almost in synchronization with the sun. Nicolas checked the large bin for holes that might be a problem before he slept for the day.
* * *