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Nostalgia
By Klytaimnestra

Disclaimer: Thanks be to the Joss. The Joss is good. In the footsteps of the Joss do we gratefully warm ourselves, nor expect we thanks or remuneration. (Though feedback would be nice ...)



Last time I was here I killed the café owner.

I remember Dru giggling. "Eyes like sky, Spike." He did look astonished. "Dance to mommy, now all the birds have flown away." She started drawing a picture in the blood dripping on the counter where I'd tossed the old guy's body. I enticed her away with promises of schoolgirls in the convent down the street. Better to let it look like a burglary disturbed. Pictures of dollies doodled in blood on the walls tend to draw police attention.

The convent was closed up tight for the night, thank - whatever. One less spot I'd have to visit now.

I don't remember half the places I've killed someone. Most of the places. Some people think vampires have photographic memory. Never noticed it myself. There's an irritating sameness about my memories that doesn't help. Face after screaming face, all blending in together. Gradually the hairstyles and fashions changed, we stopped lurking in stables and started lurking in parking structures, languages varied depending on the country we were wreaking havoc in. I can't always place them by what I remember of the look of the building either. Union Station in Toronto looks exactly like the railway station in Chicago looks like half the Soviet architecture in Leningrad. Suppose it's St. Petersburg again now. Architectural styles vary less than you'd think. Anyway, one way or another I don't remember individual kills too well. Do you remember all the meals you've eaten? How about all the McDonald's burgers? Didn't think so. It's just a few of them stand out, even if you're trying to remember.

But I do what I can.

This one for example I remember because the convent was locked up, and Dru took a fit in the street, it was all I could do to quiet her down and get her under cover before dawn. She'd set her heart on a novice or two. Remembering happier times I suppose. She was a novice, once.

I steel myself and go in. I remember my last look at the place sixty years ago, casting a last glance round as we went out the door, to see if we'd left any traces. Besides the body, of course. It was lying splayed across the serving bar, one leg dangling off the edge, jacket crumpled up under his back, mouth open. You'd expect him to snore except his eyes were open. His cravat was askew; I'd pulled it aside to feed, then slashed it to cover the wounds. He looked like he'd passed out after an evening spent sampling his wares. But nothing to link us to him.

Still the same counter, minus the corpse. Bit of a surprise that. Usually after someone dies on a piece of furniture people will get rid of it. Especially if he bled all over it. Maybe it had historic value. I go up and stand just where I stood when I ripped the poor blighter's throat out, Dru's hand on my shoulder, leaning towards him eagerly, smiling into his terrified face as he died. I order a coffee with brandy.

The waiter serves me without comment. This is the hour of the night when men who don't want to talk wander in and stand or sit and drink, staring into space. I fit right in. All the losers, drinking to forget. Know them well. I used to hang about outside the bars for them to stumble out at closing time, defenses down, locked in their private tipsy misery, not thinking what much worse things might be lying in wait.

I remember a prosecutor in Cornwall, just lost a major case, stopped off for a Scotch on his way to tell the widow that the killer had got off. He felt terrible about it, told me all about it when I fell in step with him outside. In the end I carried the message for him. It didn't upset her for long.

I make a mental note. Cornwall. Lawyer, widow. What the hell was the name of the village, Gunn-something, Gunnelsworth? Gunnerston? I'd check a map. Pub had an odd sign on it, two-headed dragon. Might make it easier to find, assuming they hadn't changed it in sixty years. No idea what I was doing at that end of the country. Dru liked Cornwall, though, said she saw such pretty colours in the air there. Probably there on holiday.

Gunnislake. That was it.

I add it to my mental list and set it aside for now. I finish my brandied coffee and beckon the waiter. In his thirties, running a bit to fat, didn't look entirely unlike the one I killed here. All the same body type in these parts mind you. I give him my standard cover story, doing research into unsolved crimes, I'd heard there was one here about forty years back, the cafŽ owner was murdered, had he heard anything about it?

The waiter looks mildly puzzled, and I'm about to resign myself to staying in town to check out the newspaper morgue the next cloudy day or two. Then he speaks.

"Non," he says. "There was a murder here, yes. My grandfather. It was a family tragedy. He had just saved the money to buy the cafŽ after many years. He was so proud of it. He installed the counter himself." He nodded to the serving bar I'd left the body on. "He had opened for business only the month before.

"But they caught the murderer. A student from the universitŽ. My grandfather must have caught him after hours rifling the till. His fingerprints were all over the cash drawer, and he had a wad of money stuffed in his jacket lining. There was no question."

A disturbed robbery. That was what we'd tried to make it look like. Did I see a young man leaving hastily through the side door as we entered the empty cafŽ that night? I vaguely remember, or think I remember. The waiter bends and automatically wipes a trace drop of coffee from the table.

"My grandmother was left destitute," he adds as he straightens up. "The bank foreclosed on the café and they lost everything. My mother and uncle Anton had to leave school and take jobs in the factory. Still - " he spread his hands in a shrug - "all is well now. I trained as an auto mechanic, but once I had the money I bought back the café. I have restored it just as my grandfather built it. It is for him."

I swallow the last of my coffee while I find my voice. I have to know this. "What happened to the murderer?"

Again he looks faintly surprised. "They hanged him, of course." I can tell he's beginning to look at me suspiciously. If I'm a researcher, why don't I know all this?

"My sources were incomplete," I say vaguely. "Perhaps I'm thinking of someone else. What was your grandfather's name?" Which was most of the point of the conversation.

"Anton LeBeau", he says, and I nod, concealing my thoughts. I remember now. I remember snickering, 'LeBeau? Standards are low in these parts' to Dru when the owner came forward and introduced himself. And then I killed him. "And the murderer?" I ask, as if I'm trying to jog my memory. At least I hope that's the impression I'm giving.

"Pierre Clairvaux", he says. He can't have been born when I murdered his grandsire. Obviously the family has never forgotten, and passed the story on. "No one knows what came over him. He must have panicked. No one who knew him could believe it of him, but -" he shrugged again.

"Did he confess?"

The waiter shook his head. "But the evidence was so strong he did not have to," he said. He looked at his watch and I knew it was not long until closing. "Can I get you anything else?" he asks formally, already beginning to turn away, survey the others for last orders.

"Did your grandfather had a favourite drink?" I ask. "Did anyone ever say?"

He turns back and smiles. "Cognac. My mother says he had a special bottle he would take down only on Sundays, after dinner. It was the pleasure of his week, he always said. At home, with his family, after a week's hard work, and a good dinner, to have a good cognac, and relax the company of his family. I stock his brand in his memory."

"Bring me a cognac then," I say. He nods and returns in a moment with the drink. I thank him and pay the shot. After he's gone I sit and contemplate the glass. So much misery. And that's only one killing. One happy meal on legs, of thousands.

I raise the glass. Anton leBeau, here's to you, I think. I'm so sorry. And toss it back.

On my way out of the bar I find the owner again for one last question. "This Pierre Clairvaux - he was from around here?"

He looks blank. "No - Paris, I think. He came down for school." I nod and walk out into the chilled, foggy night. Prime hunting weather, once on a time. If the fog holds tomorrow I'll be able to check the newspapers for this Clairvaux, find out where his family was from. Then on to Paris, if the cafŽ owner was right. Then Cornwall, unless some other memory intervenes.

It's pointless, I know, what I'm doing. Finding out what I can about the consequences of what I've done. Suffering that pain in their memory. It does no good. I can't pay what I owe, but I can at least pay my respects. It's pointless, but it's something. Nostalgia. The pain of remembering where you've come from. People think it's a pleasant thing.