The following story is based in the universe created in the television show, Kindred: The Embraced, which I don't own. This story has many characters which belong to bunches of other people. The story and new characters are mine.
Any similarities between characters and situations in this story and real life people and situations is ... well, weird. <g>
Please feel free to send comments and constructive criticism to me at email@example.com.
Merisa slapped him hard, and Alan nearly blacked out. Before her lover could cry out again, Merisa stuffed a cleaning cloth in his mouth. Even though screaming wasn't uncommon in the psychiatric hospital, it didn't usually come from the cleaning supplies' room and she didn't want to attract unnecessary attention.
Alan had dark brown, wavy, one-length hair that was usually kept in a small ponytail. He was sitting on the custodians' cold tile counter top, the sink a few feet away. Merisa was facing him, her legs encircling his waist, on his lap. The room was built of concrete blocks and was painted a sickening shade of green - the color most often associated with old classrooms and state institutions. It reeked of ammonia, bleach and stale mops.
Blood from the gash in his shoulder dripped down Alan's arm, staining his hospital-issue pajamas and dribbling onto the clean tile counter. Astonishment and pain invaded his mind. 'What the hell is going on?!' his mind screamed. What had started out as some harmless sex with his nurse had gone terribly wrong. Using the steel-strong muscles that came with years of playing soccer, Alan shoved the petite brunette nurse's upper body away from his.
Unwilling to release her prisoner, Merisa grabbed both his hands with one of hers and moved them to the side. She unwrapped her legs from his waist and slid off the counter top. With her free hand, she lifted him by his neck onto the counter top and laid him along its length.
Someone else had total control of his body. Being helpless was terrifying. Alan felt a primal scream sear through every cell of his being, then lost conscious control of his body as it twisted and flopped, desperately trying to get away.
Merisa had set their illicit union in the custodian's cleaning supplies room because it was large and easy to clean. She released his hands, leapt up and straddled him again. With his hands free, Alan pushed against his Psychiatric Nurse to no avail. She responded by slapping him again, harder.
"Be still, sweetie. It'll only hurt for a second or two," she whispered. She leaned to his neck, placed her mouth on his skin and sliced into his jugular vein with feral incisors. Taking blood this way was like shotgunning beers - the liquid came so fast that she couldn't breathe while drinking. Merisa simply relaxed the muscles of her throat and allowed the thick, crimson fountain to flow into her.
Although Alan's scarred face betrayed the impatience he had once had with chicken pox and zits,
his sea-blue eyes, thick lashes and full lips normally balanced the scales of attraction tremendously
in his favor. However, mortal fear drove the pupils of his eyes to their extreme, leaving only a
slim ring of blue showing. His lips were quaking and his lashes were blinking uncontrollably. Fear
was not handsome.
Alan cried in agony and alarm. He attempted to struggle, but Merisa easily held him in place with her legs and hands. As the last of his blood dripped into her mouth, she pulled her head up and bit her own wrist. The blood from her artery began spilling out.
Whispering in a sultry tone, she lied, "Drink this into your body, my love, so that we can be together forever."
Then Merisa, her normally hazel eyes alight with an unnatural clear green flame, pressed her wrist against Alan's mouth. Unable to think, and unable to move, the twenty-three-year-old man suckled, miserably, at Merisa's arm.
In his bed in the Herrold Psychiatric Hospital, Ward 7, Room 3, wakefulness crept into Alan's mind and he trembled at the force of his nightmare. During the flash of time before becoming completely conscious, he remembered what had happened. Frantically he tried to tell himself that it was only a dream.
Then, as he became completely awake, his body recognized what his mind would not - something was terribly wrong. Horror changed every one of his cells into tiny stinging red ants. In agony, yet too terrified to make a sound, he scrambled under the covers, pulling up the sheets and piling as many layers as possible over his body, tucking all linen ends under him and into his pajamas.
He shivered and whimpered as he struggled to get comfortable, get normal. What is wrong with me? Oh, my god, it wasn't a dream! No, no, this can't be real. Merisa. We were just gonna' screw. What did she do to me? What happened? What happened? What happened?!
He was chilled to the bone, his mouth was full of the coppery taste of blood, he could hear the scritch-scritch of a roach skittering across the linoleum floor, and he could smell a tidbit of week-old dried vomit that the janitor's mop hadn't removed. As the cacophony in one part of his brain reached panic levels, another part took over and moved his hand to the nurses' station alert button.
Thirty seconds later, Clare hurried in. "What's the matter, Alan?" she asked. Although the presence of another person was calming, Alan could only remove the covers from his eyes. When he just stared at her, she chided softly, "You know that button's only to be used for emergencies."
An entirely new set of feelings were soaring through his body. His fear was gone and some of the agonizing pain was subsiding. However, a new pain struck him and it had to do with the body of this young woman. There was something about her neck ... her thigh ... and her ... wrist that fascinated him. He sat up and reached for her. As Clare moved toward him, her gaze unblinking, Alan unconsciously licked his lips.
A little worried about being late, Merisa hurried down the hospital hallway. However, as she reached Alan's room, her exceptional Gangrel senses told her that Alan was fine. She stepped quietly into the room and smiled. Somehow, without training, Alan had mesmerized Clare. Merisa moved to the bed and showed Alan how to feed without being messy, then she sent Clare out.
His body somewhat comforted, Alan moved his two pillows behind his back and leaned into them. As Clare's blood coursed through his body and the seconds ticked past, a feeling of complete satisfaction filled him. "It's like I'd just had sex," he murmured.
Then, worried, he sat straight up and said to Merisa, "You let her walk out of here alive! She'll tell someone."
Understanding his concern and eager to calm him, Merisa took his hand and replied, "She doesn't remember what happened." Glowing with pleasure, Merisa felt like she'd just given birth. Her Childe had gone through his first Hunger successfully. She watched as his eyes returned to their entrancing sea-blue and thought how beautiful he was.
"Will she become like me?" the curious and frightened neonate asked.
"No," Merisa explained, "only if you had taken all her blood, then replaced it with yours."
Pushing a lock of thick brown hair from his face, he caught and held Merisa's gaze. "That's what you did to me last night, isn't it?"
Without blinking her hazel eyes, she replied, "Yes. You are Kindred now."
Had Merisa been a responsible Kindred, she would've explained the rights, responsibilities and some of the history of the Kindred to her creation. However, as she had done several times before, Merisa neglected this duty. She created new Kindred from unconsenting humans and left them to fend for themselves. Like a child with a new pet, she had no interest in being responsible for its care. Her actions breached Kindred Law and endangered The Masquerade.
Joe, a slim nurse, entered Alan's room. "Doc says you're okay. Time to make like a tree and leave," he dead-panned. Indicating the wheelchair he pushed, Joe said, "You'll have to ride out the door. Hospital policy."
Alan turned from the closed window. He was dressed in his street clothes which had been returned to him earlier. The young man's doctor had determined Alan was ready to be released. He was no longer suicidal and evidenced a new interest in life. "I'll need some help before I can leave," Alan said to the nurse. "Could you come here for a second?" The door closed behind Joe as he walked to Alan.
A few minutes later, Joe rolled Alan out of the room. Only a drop of blood spattered onto his collar hinted at what had happened.
Merisa met Alan at the door. "You're free now, Alan," she said to him evenly. Turning and walking away, she said, "I'll see you when I see you."
"Wait," Alan called out, "What am I supposed to do? Where am I supposed to go?"
"I don't know. What you do is entirely up to you. It's your life," she responded coldly.
The room glowed shadowy vermilion - flickers from the fireplace animated the rich burgundy-schemed upholstery, brocaded walls and silk-embroidered rug. The library smelled of old books, expensive brandy and tobacco. To human eyes, the room would be eerily dark, but to the eyes of a Gangrel, it was well-lit.
Cash could see thousands of leather-bound books - most with broken backs - in-between hundreds of precious knick-knacks. Large enough to comfortably seat forty people in couches, loveseats, winged bergre and Louis XIV chairs; the room also had several occasional tables which held small lamps and provided room for patron's amenities. An exquisitely carved mahogany table was slightly to the left of the middle of the library.
"Yes, thank you for coming," Prince Julian responded from the landing which encircled the second floor of the room.
Julian Luna was of Italian descent, a fact betrayed by the patrician details of his face and dark hair. Born in New Orleans in 1830, he moved to California's Sierra Nevada Mountains during the Gold Rush. After the death of his wife in 1856, he had given up on life and was Embraced by Archon, an elder of Clan Ventrue - Kindred businessmen - and the former Prince of San Francisco.
The Prince was taller than Cash, with a broader chest. The fact that his left eye was black and right eye brown was slightly unsettling - adding to the mystery of the man. He wore his jet black hair slicked back and short. He was clothed, as usual, in an imported handmade black suit and a dark shirt.
Cash, slender with taut muscles, always seemed to have his chin jutting out slightly as if in defiance. Like most of the members of his clan, he was dressed as a street-smart loner. Having only been Kindred for a few years, his twentyish looks weren't deceiving. Cash was average in height and his body language declared a "whatever" attitude, but his steel grey eyes revealed a quiet intensity. He wore his short mix of brown and blonde hair in moussed spikes. As well as being the leader of Clan Gangrel, Cash had been recently chosen to be Julian's personal bodyguard.
Humans and other Kindred thought of Gangrels as a rebellious bunch, street scum. Hot-tempered and loosely-organized, they rarely addressed the Prince in the appropriate manner - kissing his right hand. However, they're friendship was prized because of their intense loyalty. Although their physical features did not undergo change after the Embrace, their senses became extremely acute - second only to those of the Toreador Clan.
Cash heard Julian's voice come from above. He looked up through the darkness to see the only person he had ever feared - Julian Luna. A passionate man, Luna was capable of intense compassion and extreme violence. After being embraced into Clan Ventrue, Julian had become Archon's Enforcer. He was a vicious purveyor of justice and his brutality was infamous.
Still, Cash didn't fear Julian because the man could be brutal. Cash feared Julian because he'd managed to defy and enrage the Prince shortly after becoming his bodyguard.
Cash had stolen the heart of Julian's last human descendant. The Prince had been aggressively adamant that Sasha remain human, that she have no relations with Kindred. He didn't want her to have to deal with their harsh Laws and complicated politics. But Cash, despite Julian's command to the contrary, became Sasha's lover.
The Gangrel had been unable to resist the aggressive charms of the beautiful young human woman. Knowing Julian's protective obsession for Sasha and his legendary viciousness, Cash had been mortally concerned when he finally had the opportunity to admit the affair.
That night, many months ago, he had entered Julian's dark library feeling uncomfortably helpless, knowing that he had flagrantly defied the man who paid his bills and was his Prince. He also knew - perhaps unconsciously - that, because of his Gangrel blood which was fiercely loyal once committed, he couldn't challenge the Prince to whom he'd sworn loyalty. All he could do was admit his failure and hope Julian didn't kill him.
Lucky for Cash, Julian's dedication to the laws of The Masquerade prevented him from killing the Gangrel. As much as he loved his niece, Julian kept the peace among the Clans in San Francisco by enforcing only the established laws, none of which disallowed Kindred from having affairs with humans. Julian had a ferocious dedication to peace that overrode his anger at the Gangrel. Keeping the peace was the main job of the Prince of the City because war among the Clans could expose the Masquerade.
Tonight, Julian had two novels in his hands. Glancing up from the books and down at the Gangrel, the Prince said, "Set two chairs at the table. I'll be right down. We're going to discuss your training as a bodyguard."
"Training, Julian? What do you mean?"
The Prince didn't answer. Shit, Cash thought. Training? How freakin' childish! He grabbed two chairs and moved them to the table, grumbling silently to himself.
He hadn't exactly delivered astonishing results during his short time as Julian's bodyguard. Not only had he been instrumental in Sasha's embrace, but he'd been unable to prevent the deaths of Archon and Julian. The only reason Julian was still alive was that the man Cash had seen killed was not actually Julian, but a woman from Clan Assamite who had bodyshifted to resemble Julian.
Can't stew on old stuff, Cash thought. Gotta' move forward. This whole 'have to be trained' stuff bites, though. His blood burned to rebel, yet his head argued that he needed to learn. Wrestling with the conflicting desires, he sat down at the table to wait for Luna.
The Prince watched with his eyes and listened with his mind to the young Gangrel. Ventrue Clanmembers had a gift that was nearly telepathy. Although the exact nature of their ability was unknown, they were uncommonly aware of what others were thinking. Their other supernatural ability was to bodyshift to wolves or hawks. Ventrue were old-fashioned, often stuck in the culture and beliefs of the time of their embrace. They worked in the human world and were savvy in politics and business. Because they could be found in practically any occupation, they handled social and legal matters for a city's Kindred.
'Yes, boy, you are lucky to be alive,' the Prince of San Francisco thought. 'Sasha's death and Embrace, and the death of my Sire, Archon, are sorrows that hang heavy in my heart. However,' Julian continued to muse, 'I rule by the Laws of the Masquerade and you did not break those Laws by becoming my Sasha's lover. Thinking about what might have been will either pointlessly depress or enrage me, so I shall simply not think about them.'
Closing the book in his hands, Julian descended the stairs from the upper landing. He was cultured and polished, but most of all, he was controlled. Rarely could one see through his polite mask. Rarer still were the times when passion ruled his actions. He could say much with few words. Sometimes the movements of the muscles in his face were all that was necessary for him to communicate. His eyes could convey the most intense love and compassion, but they could also be paralyzingly unapproachable and deadly.
Right now, he needed to teach hundreds of years worth of security expertise and confidence to a punk kid. He studied the restless young Kindred. Cash was rebellious and impatient. The job of bodyguard required tremendous patience and cunning. Some of these things could be taught, should Cash choose to learn.
Cash had the street cunning of the Gangrels, but the most important characteristic he had, which Julian valued and required for the job, was loyalty. Gangrels couldn't be bribed or cajoled into betrayal. Cash might never kiss the Prince's ring, but he'd die defending the life of the wearer. Julian wanted Cash to be able to both defend the wearer and stay alive. Proper training, even though the youngster would balk at the idea, was necessary.
He considered how best to teach Cash about security and the responsibilities of being a bodyguard. Instruction in this dangerous subject could get Cash killed.
"Please be seated, I apologize for not taking the time to discuss this with you previously," Julian stated as he descended to the first floor and walked to the table. "You were thrown into a job for which you had no preparation during a time when you, your clan and myself were dealing with emotionally-charged and dangerous issues." The Prince stopped and stood behind the Gangrel Primogen, watching him fidget.
After a moment, Julian walked around the table and took a seat opposite Cash. "I know that Stevie Ray wanted a chance to prepare you for this job. As Stevie Ray's friend, I would like to see you, one of his Childer, succeed. You've got a reputation for being a solid street fighter and I know you're skilled in confidence games." Julian paused again.
He needed Cash, but he didn't want to admit it. Luna had taken care of himself for over one hundred sixty years. And, he'd protected the former Prince. He didn't want to give someone else that responsibility. He didn't want to trust anybody else. Especially not such a youngster.
"However, as Stevie Ray would have eventually explained to you, there is a lot more to learn. What he would have taught you and what I am offering - and I do speak from experience," Julian reminded Cash, " will not only increase your effectiveness as a bodyguard, but, will make you a stronger Primogen."
The Gangrel stopped fidgeting as he considered the respect and power that Julian had. How much of that, he wondered, could possibly come from training or work as a bodyguard.
Watching the young man's face carefully, Julian asked, "What is your most important weapon, Cash?"
"My Dragon's Breath gun," Cash replied without hesitation, glad that Julian had stopped the yadda yadda niceties.
The gun to which he referred was the modern way to kill Kindred by fire. It shot phosphorous-filled shells which burned Kindred from the inside out.
"At your age, I would've said the same thing," Julian remarked, softening the correction. "However, the most important thing you have is your mind, including your ability to communicate." A moment passed as Julian let the words sink in. "Secondly, your body, including your senses and physical fitness. Next, as a Gangrel, you can rely on your fellow clanmembers. Lastly, weapons."
The young Kindred sat silently, grudgingly soaking up the words of his Prince. Around him, shadows danced along the walls, caught in the chaotic rhythms of the fire from the fireplace. Only two minutes and Cash was becoming bored and sleepy. Julian's voice sliced harshly into his reverie.
"To continue as my bodyguard, you must learn much. You will read. Fiction and non-fiction books which teach of cunning, war and politics. You will learn to play chess. You will converse with myself and Daedalus about the books, chess and Kindred." Julian continued the litany of course work. "You will learn what questions to ask and when; what information is important and what may be discarded. You will evaluate and train other Gangrel. You will train in a variety of fighting disciplines and you will learn more about weaponry. Much of your life will change forever."
Cash's mind reeled at the thought of all the crap he'd have to do. Bugger. Bugger. Bugger. Hell! What a ton of work! How did Stevie Ray ever put up with all this stuff?
Julian took a deep breath. "This training will not only make you a formidable bodyguard, but will be an immeasurable gift to your clan."
This was the most important moment. The young Gangrel was being asked to mature very quickly, Julian reflected. Cash had to consider the challenges that lay ahead. Once he agreed to be taught, Gangrel tradition and blood wouldn't allow him to quit.
"Are you willing to undergo instruction?" the Prince asked.
Uneasy and uncomfortable, Cash fought through the restlessness to think clearly. I'm the Gangrel Primogen. I'm the bodyguard for The Prince of San Francisco. If I say, 'No' . . . hell, that'd be stupid.
"Okay, Julian. Yea. I'll do it."
"Here's The Godfather by Mario Puzo and The Prince by Machiavelli. You should be able to get through the first fifty pages of The Godfather today. Meet me at dusk to discuss what you've read. Then I'll begin teaching you chess. Afterwards, Daedalus will speak with you about different Kindred clans and our history. Your first martial arts lesson will follow immediately. You will then attend myself and Lillie to a reception as part of your regular bodyguard duties.
"You're going to be very busy for a while, Cash. Very busy," the Prince paused and allowed his eyes to show a modicum of tenderness, "Enjoy the book and sleep well."
His last words were a dismissal. Cash understood, took the tome, and left. Julian wandered down to the Nosferatu Primogen's home.
"Did he agree?" Daedalus asked from the shadows.
Members of the Nosferatu Clan were shunned from all human society because their appearance underwent a ghastly change when embraced. Theirs was the oldest clan. Considered to be the most practical and ruthless, they possessed the abilities to melt into the shadows and move with lightning speed. Nosferatu sires taught their childer the intricacies of Kindred history, etiquette and the ancient art of alchemy - a combination of magic and chemistry.
After centuries of being hounded by humans in the earliest years of their existence, they chose to allow the Ventrue and other physically acceptable Kindred to contend with the human world. The Nosferatu retreated to caves, sewers and tunnels. Because of their abilities and this pivotal decision, two important changes took place. They lost a great deal of their Kindred political power and they became spies.
Daedalus, the Nosferatu Primogen of San Francisco, estimated to be at least a millenia old, had an enlarged, bald skull from which blood vessels protruded visibly and oversized earlobes drooped as though melted. He had a gentle soul in matters which did not involve the Masquerade. However, he was a dispassionate executioner when the Masquerade was endangered.
During the last hour of darkness, the tall, broad-shouldered Nosferatu had been tutoring Cash about the history of the Kindred, starting with the first Kindred, known to the rest of the world as Caine, Abel's brother. Kindred evolved alongside humans, so their past was as rich and extensive as their omnivorous brethren - a lot of information for an unenthused Gangrel to absorb - but Daedalus was a patient teacher with unique insights.
Texts lush with information and elegant art were piled atop a Regency rosewood table near the stairs to his dwelling. The Nosferatu had Cash refer to them often as the two sat and talked.
"Something else about Gangrels that you'll need to consider," Daedalus said in closing to the young Primogen, "Because they do not betray their friends or clan, sometimes Gangrels keep the truth from ones who need to hear it."
Cash was startled. Some weeks back, he had lied to Julian about a Kindred named Zane, because Zane had been Cash's friend. Before that, Cash had kept information about the Sire of Starkweather to himself because she was a Gangrel. Starkweather was a schizophrenic patient at a local psychiatric facility where Merisa, a Gangrel psychiatric nurse had forcibly embraced him. The new Kindred had become a serial killer, putting the Masquerade in serious jeopardy until Julian killed him.
Did Daedalus know, Cash wondered anxiously. Legend held that the Nosferatu knew everything that went on in their cities.
Eyes down, the Gangrel asked the last question for the night, "What d'you mean, I'll need to consider' this information?"
Daedalus rose from the table and walked down a cellar hall to his favorite chair - an early Victorian English number upholstered in red velvet. It looked to Cash as though it were a throne. The tutor lifted a pipe, packed and lit it, turned and lowered himself into the chair. He trapped the Gangrel's eyes in an intense gaze. With the sonorous depths of his powerful voice; drawing on an eternity of experience and a personal loyalty to the current Prince, Daedalus said, "You will need to decide who has your first loyalty. The wrong decision could cost us the Masquerade or Julian his life."
Still a bit nervous from his lesson with Daedalus, Cash exited the cellar stairs, walked around the great staircase that led to the second floor and started to ascend it. He was stopped by one of Julian's business secretaries. The slender, handsome, young-looking Ventrue had stepped from a nearby office. Pointing to one of the first floor studies, he informed Cash that his next appointment was awaiting him.
Cash sauntered across the mansion's immense entrance hall to the lushly decorated room. 'This must be the fighting teacher,' he mused to himself. From a distance, he could see a slim figure standing at the farthest end of the room facing away from the door out a small window. The person stood ramrod straight, as if a string were tied to an imaginary connection between his spine, skull and the ceiling; he had long, stringy, light brown hair and wore torn, old jeans and a faded tie-dyed t-shirt.
When the bodyguard crossed the threshold, the person turned around. Cash noted that he was about half a foot taller than himself.
"I am Sensei Robert Michael Raine, Clan Toreador. You will call me Sensei Raine, Sensei Rob or simply Sensei."
Cash was irritated and taken aback by the abruptness of the stranger. This guy must think he's pretty damn hot, Cash thought. Struggling to reestablish his own importance, he asked sarcastically, "Toreador? I thought Clan Toreador was full of artists and dreamers."
The stranger didn't seem ruffled by the invisible power struggle. He asked, "What kind of lessons did Julian tell you I would be teaching?"
"He said I'd get martial arts lessons . . . ah hell, arts." Abashed, realizing he'd lost this verbal struggle, the young Gangrel looked at the Toreador facing him and growled, "Since when was fighting an art?"
"It has never been anything but an art. Practically any fight can be viewed as a dance."
Cash quipped, "Well, then I'm in trouble, because I'm not much of a dancer."
Ignoring the comment, Sensei Rob continued, "The fights which are unexpected and life-threatening are simply unchoreographed. The relationship between the players is much more tense and demanding. Each has to watch the other very carefully for changes in styles, steps, strategies and forms."
"So, I have to pay attention. I didn't need you to tell me that." Cash glared, unimpressed, at the Toreador. Who is this guy to be talking to me this way? Cash wondered angrily. Sensei Rob looked like a hippie with his long brown hair and goatee. I could take this guy out easy, Cash thought.
As he considered the situation, he unconsciously cocked his head to the left, chewed the inside of his cheek, and leaned onto his left leg. He was aggravated and he didn't think much of 'Sensei Rob'. Every bit of his body language jibed with his feelings.
Noting the smug disrespect of the Gangrel Primogen, Rob knew he'd need to change the kid's attitude. He'd need to earn Cash's respect with more than words before the kid would learn anything. "Perhaps you don't need me at all. Let's spar a bit," he suggested slyly. Cash seemed eager to tackle him. "But, let's make it interesting. For every hit I get on you, you will spend a week doing exactly as I tell you during training."
"A fight ... and a bet?" Cash shuffled his weight back to both feet; his unspoken bluff called.
"If you don't think you're up to it ..." the Toreador softly taunted.
Cash snapped, "No prob. What're you betting?" Hackles up, he wanted to know what Rob could possibly offer that would equal his side of the bargain.
The sensei suppressed a laugh but couldn't stop an eyebrow from arching in amusement. He thought a second about Cash's question, then checked his wallet. "How's a thousand a pop sound? For every hit you get on me, I'll give you a grand. If you hit me ten times, you'll be ten thousand dollars wealthier and I'll give Julian a glowing report on your readiness."
'Rich hippie,' Cash concluded, intrigued. Cautions gnawed at the back of the Gangrel's mind. 'Perhaps sparring with Sensei Rob wasn't such a good idea after all. The Prince had sent the guy. Heck with it. All this talking and book reading. He wanted a good scrap. Anyway,' he figured, 'It'll be easy money.'
"A week for a grand?" he confirmed.
"A week doing exactly as I say for a grand," Rob corrected. "And," he added, realizing one of the Gangrel's concerns, "I won't be telling you to do anything kinky, nor to endanger Julian, your clan, or the Masquerade."
Rob smiled. "I'll meet you in fifteen minutes in the practice room. In the meantime, feel free to warm up and prepare as you wish. No mechanical weapons." Rob gave Cash directions to the practice room and they parted.
"Merisa!" Cash exclaimed as he walked into his room. "What are you doing here?" The stocky brunette Gangrel from the psychiatric hospital was lying brazenly across his bed.
"Waiting for you, my Primogen. I want to be in the seat of power tonight," she whispered seductively as she reached for him, "so to speak."
Cash backed up slowly, moving towards a chest of drawers. "Can't. I gotta' change and go fight some kung fu guy. Julian has me taking fighting lessons," he said sourly. "Plus," he replied as he turned and pulled some clothes out of the chest, "I, uh, well, you know about Sasha."
"Yeah. I know about your Brujah bitch. I was just hoping you'd come around from that little infatuation."
Clothes in hand, he turned around slowly. "Merisa," Cash said suspiciously, ignoring the slur against Sasha, "What are you really here for?"
The woman rolled around on the bed, agitated. "I need you to smooth things out with Julian. I Embraced a guy a couple of days ago."
Cash shook his head in disgust, "Not again. Didn't you learn anything from that Starkweather business?
"Hmmm ..." she murmured, unbuttoning her top. Her eyes lingered hungrily on Cash's lips, but she wasn't paying attention to his words.
"He was a stone-cold killer!" he continued angrily. "You didn't even try to teach him about being Kindred! You're gonna' destroy the Masquerade!"
"It's just so deliciously fun," she pouted. "Look, this one is a natural. Nothing like the others," she said as an excuse. "I even taught him how to feed. Anyway, Alan was only in for depression, so he shouldn't become a killer like Starkweather."
Cash's mind reeled with the words of Daedalus from earlier. 'Where are my first loyalties?' "What do you mean, 'the others', Merisa?" he asked wearily.
"Hmmm, couldn't we just curl up and have a late snack on one another?" she purred.
Worried and aggravated, Cash shook his head, "Merisa, you stupid bitch. Get out."
"But Cash," she attempted.
"Just get out. You've really done it, y'know?" Cash demanded. "I can't protect you anymore. Go away!"
Merisa pouted, slid across the bed to Cash and slowly rose, her fingers playing with his shirtbuttons. "I like it when you call me, 'bitch,'" she said.
"Jesus God, Merisa!" Cash exclaimed. He pulled her hands away with his left hand, dragged her across the room and with his right hand opened the door. "You know the Law," he stated as he pushed her out. "You'll die if I see you again!"
"But Cash," she said, "We're Gangrels. No one'll rat on me."
Looking at the ground, Cash struggled to keep the internal battle of values and beliefs from showing on his face. When he was ready, he looked up and into Merisa's eyes. His voice, eyes and face conveyed sad resolution. "Leave the city now or you'll die."
Merisa, uncomprehending, stared at Cash as he shut the door. When her Primogen didn't return, she left the Compound. 'I'll just catch him when he's in a better mood,' she decided.
"Lorraina. What are you doing here?" Cash asked as he walked into the practice room.
For the second time in less than half an hour, Cash found himself wondering why a member of his Clan would be waiting for him. 'At least Lorraina isn't nuts,' he mused.
The room into which he had walked was on the third floor of the mansion and was the size of a basketball court. It was a fully-equipped workout facility with weights, machines, a pommel horse, parallel bars, a boxing ring, climbing rope and much more.
Cash's second-in-command, Lorraina, was a tall, slender, blonde, streetwise woman. "Julian asked me to be the judge and umpire of a practice fight," she answered. She noticed that Cash was fidgeting more than usual. "What's up?" she asked. "You fighting?"
"Yeah," Cash answered. "Some hippie Toreador thinks he can teach me to fight. After I show him up and free him of ten grand, he'll tell Julian I got what it takes."
Although still curious about why Cash was upset, Lorraina's further questions were postponed by the arrival of Cash's opponent.
"Cash," Rob teased, "you showed."
"As if I wouldn't."
"I assume that Lorraina as judge and umpire is acceptable to you."
Having spent a great deal of time working out in the gym, Sensei Rob was comfortable in the surroundings. He suggested the rules, "How does ten points sound? A point begins when we're both ready and ends when one of us hits the other."
"Cool with me."
Lorraina checked out the combatants. Cash had on a comfortable pair of jeans and tennis shoes. His long-sleeved t-shirt was tucked in. Sensei Rob had dressed in a formal gi, was barefoot and had his hair pulled back in a low ponytail. He wore a black cotton belt.
"Okay guys, you wanna' do this on the mats?" Lorraina asked.
"I'd rather not," Sensei Rob responded. "Shoes aren't to be worn on mats. Also, since only hits, like punches and kicks count, and not throws, the mats won't be necessary." Rob grinned at the idea of slamming the kid into the floor. "The boxing platform should be fine."
The two men climbed into the arena and faced each other. Lorraina said, "Begin."
I want this over with, Cash thought. He shot out with a left cross to Rob's chin. The Sensei simply slid his head to the side. Cash followed with a right. Again Rob moved his head, feet still in the same place.
"Stand still, dammit," Cash griped.
Lorraina had watched as Cash put his all into hitting the Toreador, who moved effortlessly out of the way. This Rob guy moves like the Highlander or Reno Raines. 'Cool,' she thought.
Rob smiled, "One of the most important lessons about fighting is that you won't get hit if you're not where the attack goes."
Figuring to catch Rob while talking, Cash shot out again with his right. In the blink of an eye, Sensei Rob slapped the punch to the inside, grabbed the arm with his other hand and spun slightly to the right - bringing his left side to Cash's right - and elbowed Cash sharply below the ribs in the sensitive spot below his arm. Both Lorraina and Cash gasped as the Gangrel Primogen fell to his knees with the wind knocked out of him.
"Lesson number two is never underestimate your opponent. Just because I moved out of the way for your first two attempts, doesn't mean that all I can do is avoid being hit." Rob smiled broadly, "I believe that's one for me. Yes, Lorraina?"
"Uh, yeah," she stammered, "Cash, you okay?"
"I'm fine! I just, uh, let my guard down." Looking at the Sensei, he sneered, "It won't happen again." Cash pulled himself to his feet. His body would heal in minutes, but the ego bruise would last longer. Cash lashed out with his left fist.
Sensei Rob deflected it with his left hand with seeming effortlessness. In the same move, he punched Cash across the face with his right hand.
"Augh," the Primogen cried out, as prickly blackness filled his vision. "Damn!"
Lorraina felt for her broodbrother as the pounding continued. I sure hope Cash didn't bet money, she reflected ruefully. Point 14 saw Cash being kicked in his right knee. 'Geez, that must've hurt,' Lorraina thought. A knee shot would easily send an opponent to the ground and could break the leg.
Point Nine and Cash was a mess. Sensei Rob was untouched.The guy was barely sweating! As Cash rose from the floor after the knee kick, aching and embarrassed, he pulled all his strength together, determined to trick Rob. Without looking up, he sent his trainer-to-be an upper cut towards the jaw.
Even had he not been Kindred, Rob would've sensed that Cash was drawing in his reserves for a last punch. Rob took the kid's upwards-moving arm in one hand, spun his own body so that his back was near Cash's chest and, using Cash's upwards energy, threw the Gangrel over his head, onto the floor. He moved forward, turned, slammed a knee on Cash's chest and asked with glee, "Would you like me to punch you or kick you for this point? Or," he offered, "You could concede it."
Struggling for a breath, Cash gasped, "Alright. I concede."
"Get that, Lorraina? Cash is mine to train for 10 weeks."
"That was the other side of the bet?"
"Yeah," Cash groaned. Resignation written on his face, he allowed Rob to help him up. As a gesture of peace and respect, he put his hand out to shake. "I guess I need the work."
Rob stepped back, stood up straight, put his arms to his side and inclined his head, never moving
his eyes from Cash's. "Yes, you do. Tomorrow, we'll begin."
Sonny needed more opportunities. He wanted to be a community leader, maybe the mayor, a detective, a fireman. However, these positions were taken and would continue to be taken for longer than he could wait. So, in 1954, two weeks after his twenty-eighth birthday, he said good-bye to his family and drove to San Francisco.
In the bustling city of San Francisco, there were thousands of things to do and hundreds of opportunities to distinguish himself. Sonny decided that a good beginning would be through police work.
While waiting to be admitted to the police academy, he found work as a delivery person for a local alcohol distributor.
Sonny stood at the door to Frank's apartment. 'This isn't gonna' be easy,' he thought. 'If only Frank hadn't seen me at Archon's funeral. Things could just continue as they had.'
Only a few other Kindred had been present when Julian placed the ashes of his Sire into a two hundred year old plot. A few Kindred ... and Sonny. There was really no other way to explain his being in this small group of San Francisco's Kindred.
Once Sonny told Julian what Frank had seen, The Prince had told Sonny to admit his true nature to Frank. The Prince preferred the truth, especially when dealing with Kohanek. Hopefully, Julian had said, this knowledge would only further convince Frank that Kindred and humans could coexist peacefully. Perhaps, the Prince had continued, Detective Kohanek would eventually realize that the two types of beings could even help one another.
Sonny didn't like it. He knew Frank. He knew Frank didn't like Julian; and he knew Frank was extremely uncomfortable about the concept of Kindred.
He knocked on Frank's door.
"Yeah?" queried Frank irritably. "Who is it?"
"It's Sonny. Let me in."
"Sonny? I don't know who you are," Frank called from behind the door.
"It's me, Frank. I haven't changed."
Frank opened the door and, without meeting Sonny's eyes, gestured into his apartment. Sonny walked past his partner into the den. Two small lamps lit the cheap sofa and sparsely furnished room. Frank's phosphorous gun lay on the coffee table next to an open bottle of Jack Daniel's.
"That's a dangerous combination," Sonny commented, gesturing vaguely towards the coffee table.
Frank watched Sonny, his partner and almost certainly a vampire, walk into his home. He felt the weight of hundreds of confidences he'd shared with this thing, this thing he didn't know. The pain of misplaced trust seared his soul.
"I saw you with them," Frank stated evenly. "Explain that. You can't, can you?
"Frank . . ."
"I trusted you, you bastard!" he exploded. "You're one of them, aren't you?"
"Frank . . ."
"Dammit to hell, Sonny. Why didn't you tell me?"
"You done, Frank?" Sonny snapped. He paused, waiting for Frank to continue the tirade. Frank glared at his partner and slumped onto the couch.
"I couldn't tell you," Sonny explained. "It's against our laws. You know that."
Frank thought back to how he knew about Kindred and their Law to stay silent. Alexandra had been put to death for telling him about the Kindred. The memory of her and their lost love still ached.
Even so, he'd trusted Sonny with his life. "But I'm your partner. You could've trusted me," he argued.
"Yeah. Right, Frank," Sonny began sarcastically, "You hated Julian and felt just slightly less distaste towards Kindred.
"What was I supposed to say, 'Oh, by the way, you know that new supernatural thing you've discovered, the one you're terrified of and want to destroy, well, I'm one of them. I'm telling you because we're partners and I know it won't matter to you'? I don't freaking think so!"
"Look," Frank began in protest, "I don't hate Julian. I just don't like the way he goes about delivering justice. I don't hate Kindred," he stated. Then in a burst of anger, Frank exclaimed, "But hell, Sonny, you're vampires! You kill people for blood."
"No we don't Frank. I know Julian's told you this. We take blood directly from humans, but it's never enough to kill them. That's one of our most basic rules. No killing humans."
"Oh yeah, right. I'm pretty sure Kindred killed the coroner and a PI friend of mine. In fact," Frank said quietly, "I'm pretty sure Lillie offed the PI."
"It's not a perfect system," Sonny sighed as he sat in a chair facing Frank. "All I can tell you is that Kindred in this city have been punished for breaking Kindred law."
The detective in Frank took over as he slapped out a list of questions. "How old are you really? What clan are you? What's your real story? What's going to happen to you for telling me?"
"Frank, I can't tell you everything," Sonny said wearily. "At least not now. What I can tell you is
that Julian authorized me telling you that I am Kindred."
After seeing Julian and Lillie returned to the Compound safely, Cash stripped the uncomfortable suit off and slipped into jeans and an old striped polo. He got on his bike and hit the streets. He had to find this new Gangrel that Merisa had Sired and ... and what, he wondered. 'If I turn the guy over to Julian, both Merisa's life and that of her new Childe will be forfeit. It's the Masquerade. Loyalties? Who goes first? My clan or my prince? Wonder what Stevie Ray would do ...'
Cash knew that Alan's Gangrel blood would pull him to wilderness. Gangrels were more comfortable surrounded by Mother Nature. Cash figured it was why they preferred the freedom of the motorcycle to being stuck in a car. The most familiar area of wilderness in San Francisco was Golden Gate Park. The neonate, as new Kindred were called, would almost certainly be there.
As Cash entered the Park, he greeted a few of his Clan members. "I'm following a new Kindred," he told them, "If he tries to run, would you stop him and hold him for me?" They agreed and then returned to their own nocturnal pursuits.
It didn't take Cash long to find Alan. "Alan? Hey Alan," Cash called when he saw the neonate.
Alan looked at Cash, surprised. He seemed like a deer caught in a car's lights, skittish, yet unable to move.
"Don't be afraid. Uh, Merisa sent me to help you," Cash lied.
"Who are you?" the sturdy brunette man asked. "How do you know my name?"
"I'm Cash. Merisa told me about you and since she isn't around, I'm responsible for you. I'm your, uh, your Primogen." As he'd expected, Cash got a 'Huh?' look from Alan. In the most serious tone he could muster, Cash continued, "Everything's changed for you, Alan. Everything." He paused, took a breath, then continued. "Forever. Okay? She shouldn't have done it, but it's done. You're gonna' have to learn a lot of stuff real fast if you wanna' stay alive."
"What?" Alan's brows creased in concern. "I don't understand. Stay alive?"
Turning his gaze to the ground, Cash asked, "Did Merisa tell you anything?"
"Nah. Not really." Alan laughed bitterly, "I got the impression she was done with me." Grabbing a couple of blades of grass to hide his disappointment, Alan continued, "Weirdest damn one-night stand I've ever had."
Fidgeting uncomfortably, Cash stated, "What she did to you is against our Laws. Both you and Merisa could be killed."
"What?!" the young man exclaimed. "I didn't do anything! What ... whose laws?!"
"Kindred survive by keeping our existence a secret from humans. It's called The Masquerade. Humans can't know about us."
"But I'm ... I'm not human anymore. Right? I don't understand. Why should I die?" Alan asked, still confused. He began glancing around for an escape.
"Shit," Cash griped. "I don't know all the details. That's just the way it is. Look, I'm your Primogen, the leader of your Clan, Clan Gangrel. Stick with me. I might be able to work something out."
"Hi Cash," a woman's voice called. "Who's the new cutie?"
"Kimme," he said, looking up, "this is Alan." Kimme, one of Cash's closest friends, was almost invisible in the shadows cast by the trees under the cloudy sky. Her dark brown skin was an extra camouflage in the night.
Cash turned and looked meaningfully into the Gangrel woman's face, "Merisa forcibly embraced him."
"Oh shit," she murmured, "Not again."
"Alan's no Starkweather," Cash explained, defending Merisa. "But I, well, you know Julian's Law."
"Yeah, and I also know that Julian's merciful. He didn't have the Childer of Zane put to death," Kimme responded. "Zane attacked the women; Julian saved them and sentenced Zane to Final Death. Remember?"
"I remember!" Cash growled, aggravated that he hadn't thought of Julian's tendency to be merciful to humans. He had been thinking about his broodsister Merisa, about what would happen to her. 'A Gangrel turning another Gangrel over, augh!' It sickened his intensely loyal nature.
Cash continued, "Look, if I can get things cool with Julian, would you, well, sorta' step-sire Alan?"
"Yeah. Sure," she answered. "But only if you get Julian's okay."
"I'll handle that. Get the others and if Merisa's still in the city, bring her to the Compound."
The Gangrel Primogen sighed, "I know the Clan won't like it and they'll probably be pissed at me, but I gotta' turn her over."
Julian gazed at his bodyguard with curiosity. It was the first time Cash had requested an audience with his Prince. Usually, the Gangrel just barged in.
Cash had been practicing what he was going to say all the way from the park to the Compound and then while he waited for Julian to see him. His previous requests to Julian - mostly about Sasha - had failed, and he didn't want this one to flop. "I'm here to ask for someone's life," he stated without preamble.
Julian said nothing, merely indicating with his head that Cash could continue explaining his request. The two were in Julian's main office. The Prince sat comfortably in a leather, oxblood- colored, executive's chair behind an antique mahogany desk. Everything on the desk was old- fashioned, blending in with the desk.
Luna was a bridge between the old and the new. This was partly why Archon had abdicated to him. The former Prince knew that Julian would lead the Kindred into a new era, further away from the unfettered beast within.
Julian would also lead the Kindred into the modern era, technologically. He had always been interested in investing in the future. So it was no surprise that on the credenza behind Julian, sat a Pentium notebook with voice activation.
"The Kindred who sired Starkweather, Merisa Kline," Cash continued, "has sired someone else. He's cool. Not a killer. He'll be okay. Will you let him live?"
"You knew who sired Starkweather?" the Prince demanded icily.
Cash swallowed, "Yes." Then, in an attempt to stave off Julian's anger, he added, "She's a Gangrel Psychiatric Nurse. My Clan is searching for her. I'm having her brought here for judgement."
Julian was silent for a moment as he considered the words of the Gangrel Primogen. "Bring the neonate to me now."
Cash stood, went to the door and called Alan in. He directed the neonate to Julian.
"Do you know who I am?" Julian asked.
"You're the, uh, Prince of the City. You're kinda', like, in charge of all the Kindred in San Francisco, right?" Alan answered.
'He's Gangrel, all right,' Julian thought wryly. "Basically. Do you know why you're here?"
The man took a deep breath. "I, uh, I think I need your approval to, well, uh, to live."
One of Julian's assistants entered and handed the Prince a note. Julian turned to Cash. "Who will train him?"
"Kimme, a Gangrel. One of my best friends, I mean, and, uh, clanmembers."
"Fine. But, until he is formally presented, you will be responsible if he breaks any of my laws. Is that understood?"
Cash lowered his chin slightly in a nod.
"Lorraina is here with Merisa," Julian informed him, pointing at the note.
Cash could see a touch of sympathy in his Prince's face. "There is no need to call a Conclave for this beast," Julian said. "Her fate is sealed. As her Primogen, it is your responsibility. You know what must be done."
Cash stood and nodded at Julian. "Alan, Kimme will meet you downstairs. I've got something I have to do."
Julian followed Cash down to the Prison of Light where Lorraina had stashed Merisa. The prison was a tiny basement area of the Compound which had high intensity ultraviolet laser beams as bars. It was an uncomfortable place, not large enough for the prisoner to lay down without being burned.
Cash felt sick to his stomach even before he saw Merisa in the cell. Judging from her scars and tears, she had resisted Lorraina's attempts to bring her in. Burns on her hands suggested that she had tried to cross the bars. The Psychiatric Nurse was a pitiful sight.
However, she had Embraced at least two people against their will, had not trained either of them and there was a good chance that she had Embraced others. One of her Progeny had become a serial killer and she hadn't learned from that experience. She had no respect for the Laws of the Masquerade or for the Laws of Prince Julian.
Cash would cross a line with this act. Until now, his job as Primogen had included just fun stuff, like sending his Gangrels to get information or to kill condemned Kindred. Tonight, when he delivered Final Death to Merisa, he would be declaring his purpose and ability to lead the Clan even at personal cost. To remain loyal to the Masquerade and to his Prince, he would destroy the life of his broodsister.
"Merisa," Julian intoned, "You have endangered the Masquerade. Your life is forfeit."
Merisa glared, terrified at Cash. "I won't do it. I won't turn my head and expose my neck to your claw. I won't!"
"Lorraina," Cash said, "Go upstairs and get Kimme. I'll need the two of you to hold Merisa."
Lorraina sneered at her Primogen, sickened at the idea of participating in the Death of one of her own clanmembers. "Gangrels don't betray one another," she cried.
"She's the one that betrayed us!" Cash responded angrily. "Do it!" he ordered.
Surprised at Cash's resolve, Lorraina stormed out of the room. Although she wouldn't admit it, Lorraina knew he was right. Merisa had endangered them all.
The two women returned shortly. Cash instructed Kimme to hold Merisa's arms and Lorraina to pull the woman's head back by her hair. Julian stood, watching from the shadows with Daedalus, who had slipped in earlier. The Nosferatu was pleased that his student had made the right decision. Cash flipped the switch on the Prison of Light, and as Merisa ran to escape, he stepped to the side and stuck his arm out, catching her across the shoulders so that she fell, dazed.
Kimme and Lorraina lifted the condemned and, as Cash stood and let his right index finger claw
grow, they positioned Merisa. "We survive by the Masquerade," he said. Then he raised his right
arm and, as she screamed, "Nooo," he slashed down, across her throat.
Although the Gangrel Primogen would never admit to being concerned about his looks, Cash had spent almost an hour getting dressed for tonight, his first break from training. Dressed in black slacks and a brushed-cotton brown and tan plaid button-down shirt, Cash's slenderly muscular build was perfectly accentuated.
"Where did you disappear to?" Sasha asked coyly.
Cash looked at the Brujah woman hungrily. He had an intense need to get her out of The Haven to somewhere more private. He wanted to touch her so very much, but the Gangrel Primogen would get a lot of heat for pawing a Brujah in public. The two clans just didn't mix. Thousands of years of clan rivalry had created a hatred that was now a blood-inherited trait. Not only would his clan be pissed at the liaison, but they might turn their back on him. And Sasha had not been Kindred long enough to maneuver her way through Brujah politics or truly understand her power.
Still, Cash loved her and was determined to try and make things work out for them. He knew that the Brujah need for violence and desire to steal burned in Sasha, but she still loved him and seemed to also want to make their relationship work. It was a constant struggle between the external peer pressures of their Clanmembers, the internal blood drive to hate and the remaining enigma that was love.
"Work," Cash answered simply. "C'mon," he said, taking her arm and leading her to the door. Sasha pulled her arm away defiantly independent. 'Wrong move,' Cash thought. Even as a human, Sasha wouldn't be dragged around ... by anybody.
He looked back at her, an apology in his eyes then turned and walked out. From the murmurings of the others in the Kindred bar, he knew that she was waiting a petulant few moments before following him out. Sasha was such a proud woman. The thought of her sashaying to the door with her head held high was intoxicating to the Gangrel Primogen.
Soon, the two were riding their Harleys south on the Bayshore Freeway, losing themselves in the roar of the wind. As the cool night air whisked against her skin and the hog rumbled between her legs, Sasha felt a freedom without rival.
They came upon an all-night truck stop and pulled over to refuel their motorcycles and their bodies. Each found a suitable host in the parking lot among the truckers tending their vehicles and fed. Then, they went into the restaurant, sat in a booth and ordered beers and fresh pretzels.
Although a bystander would think they were simply sitting in silence, they were, in truth, reveling in the bliss that was their togetherness. Still in the meditative state induced by their ride and with fresh blood in their mouths, the two Kindred were sharing their pleasure-filled energies with one another.
Once the snack arrived and Cash had taken a sip of his beer, he broke the silence. "I'm gonna' be real busy for a while."
"You find another girl?" Sasha teased.
His usually intense look turned into an adorable puppy-dog shyness. He looked down, trying to hide a smile. "No. Security training."
Sasha reached across the table and touched Cash's hand. "I'm all yours. You don't have to be shy with me."
"I was wondering if you'd like to move in with me," he blurted out.
Pulling her hand back, she grimaced. "Live at Julian's? Like I need him looking over my shoulder all the time."
"Not in the mansion. In my apartment. He doesn't come out there."
"Cameron would shit."
Jealous, Cash flared. "Since when did you care what he thinks?"
"Hey, I'm Brujah, remember? You'd be pretty upset if Lorraina moved in with Cameron, wouldn't you?"
His expression changing back from jealous suspicion to the irrefusable puppy-dog look, he said, "I just want to be able to see you."
"Oh Cash," she sighed. Sasha hated the idea of giving up her new apartment in town, but she did want to be close to her lover. "I'm not giving up my place," she stated, "but I'll try living with you, for a little while."
The Prince of San Francisco walked into the Nighthawks Diner around 5:30pm. He had met Frank here infrequently since Alexandra's death. Although not friends, they had developed a working relationship. Frank asked Julian about matters that seemed to be Kindred-related because no one at the department believed him, and Julian helped him when he could. Luna met the detective today because Sonny had told him how upset Frank was about his partner being Kindred.
Before he could reach the table, he was addressed by the pretty waitress. "Hi handsome," she said smiling. "What can I get for you?"
Julian admired the beauty, wisdom and talent of the Kindred waitress. Must be Clan Toreador, he thought. She plays her part very well.
"Coffee, black. Thank you. And, could you bring us a pot and see that we're not disturbed?"
Dressed in a black suit with a purple-tinted, dark gray cotton button-down and black tie, Julian sat down, opposite Frank in the booth, facing the door. His hair was slicked back as usual, revealing a pronounced widow's peak.
Gazing dejectedly into his coffee, Frank said, "You really are."
Luna removed his sunglasses and looked at the detective with sincere concern. "What's that, Frank?"
"You're all around. Your kind. You're everywhere. I can't believe ... my own partner ... It's sick."
The waitress sashayed to the booth with coffee. "You two just let me know if there's anything else I can get for you."
"Thank you," said Julian. As she walked away, he slipped her a hundred dollar bill. "Your service is appreciated."
Turning back to Frank, he said, "It's life. It's the way things are."
The detective was dressed in old blue jeans and sturdy hiking shoes. His tee shirt was currently, although not originally, a gray-blue color. Over the tee shirt, he wore a long-sleeve flannel plaid number tucked into his jeans. An old brown leather bomber jacket lay over the booth at his back.
Frank looked up. "How long?" he whispered. Looking deep into Luna's eyes, he continued, "About Sonny?
"Sonny has been Kindred for over 20 years. He is one of my closest and most trusted clanmembers."
"Why me? Did I need to be watched for some reason?" Suddenly, understanding lit Frank's eyes. He demanded, "He's been working to keep me from finding out about how crooked you are, hasn't he?"
The Prince sighed. "No, he hasn't. Sonny follows the Kindred Commandments and my Laws," Luna stated quietly and calmly. "I don't break human laws and I don't allow other Kindred to break human laws," he continued, "Doing so endangers us."
"You don't follow human law when it conflicts with Kindred Laws," Frank accused.
"And you know that I can't," Luna snapped.
Frank thought about Zane and Goth. Human law could never have appropriately punished those Kindred villains - assuming humans could've even caught them and held them for trial.
Luna straightened his tie discreetly, importantly and revealed, "I had nothing to do with Sonny becoming your partner. That was strictly regular police business. However," Luna paused, "Because I have sworn to protect you, he has, recently, had to save your life from other Kindred.
"Am I'm supposed to be grateful?" Frank growled.
"Be what you want, Frank," he stated without hesitation.
Julian looked at the detective. Finally, he continued, trying to re-establish the detective's trust in his world. "Sonny hasn't changed. The only thing that has changed is that you know more about him now than you did before. You see I told you, we can work together - Kindred and Human. We can coexist peacefully."
"Thanks for stopping by," Frank replied. "I need to be alone with this for a while."
The look on Julian's face softened. As he slipped out of the booth, he mentally wished Frank well.
"Hmmm," Julian murmured. He couldn't help but smile at the excitement beaming from the Gangrel.
They were in Julian's richly-appointed study. A fire, symbol of life, death and family crackled in the hearth. The Prince sat in a plush burgundy winged-back chair. The antique brass chess set glittered on a tall, slender marble table in front of him. Cash was sprawled opposite on a paisley- patterned couch, revelling in the kill he'd made on the board.
Julian looked up at Cash, raised an eyebrow with a smile, then moved his queen to a square diagonal to Cash's king. "Hope you enjoyed the horsemeat while it lasted, because I've just taken over your kingdom. Checkmate."
"Huh?" the kid said. "What'd I do wrong?"
Relaxed in a manner he seldom was, Julian smiled and replied, "It'd be easier to tell you what you did right."
Daedalus, stately and noble in his black suit, walked in with a bottle in his hand. "May I offer a glass of pinot noir to accompany our gaming?"
"My dear friend," Julian said sincerely as he stood and offered his hand, "as usual your timing and choice of refreshment is impeccable." Daedalus moved to the Prince and kissed his hand.
Always uncomfortable in the presence of Nosferatu - even though he had heard that they were as well-known for their hospitality as their ruthlessness - and needing to move after staying seated while playing the game, Cash suggested, "Tell ya' what Julian, you rack 'em up again and I'll handle the wine."
Some of his usual imperious bearing returning, Julian tried not to wince at Cash's improper wording. "One 'racks up' for a game of pool. A chess board is 'reset,'" he stated quietly as he walked to the fireplace.
Ignoring the Prince, Cash looked to Daedalus for directions to the wine glasses. Although he'd prefer a beer, the youngster decided to make the social graces a part of his training.
Daedalus indicated an exquisitely molded mahogany breakfront cabinet with elaborate leaded glass doors to Cash's left, turned and walked to Julian who was gazing into the fire. "How is the pupil doing?" he asked in his majestic baritone.
With a mixture of pride, disappointment and pleasure, the Prince replied, "He has learned what each piece may do, but he has yet to learn strategy."
"It is a difficult game to master," Daedalus replied. Julian did not respond. He seemed to be lost in thought. The Nosferatu Primogen thought back to when he and Archon had taught the hothead Ventrue neonate, Julian Luna, how to think beyond the individual movements of each piece. Luna had learned the game while still a human boy, so learning the strategies meant breaking some old thinking patterns and creating new ones. Even so, the future Prince learned quickly.
Interrupting the reveries of both his elders, Cash handed Julian, then Daedalus a glass of the wine. They thanked him absent-mindedly and he slumped back into the couch. Holding the delicate crystal made him nervous. The thought that he might break the crystal or spill the wine on one of Julian's many exquisite rugs was terrifying, but the wine was good.
An excellent teacher, Julian had been considering how best to proceed. He turned to Cash and said, "Before we begin this time, Cash, I'd like to give you an analogy, something to compare what you already know how to do with what you're trying to learn."
"Shoot," the Gangrel said.
"Pretend you know there is an assassin in the compound. You know where she is, what things she is capable of and you will know everything she does when she does it. Consider how you would go about protecting me."
Daedalus lifted an eyebrow and brought his chin down once in a gesture of approval. Cash listened intently. Finally, the Prince was talking his language.
"Now, pretend that you not only want to protect me, but you want to kill the assassin."
Always the scrapper, Cash nodded excitedly at this idea. "Done."
"You will need to think about what she might do, given what you know of her abilities. Right?"
"Sure. Yeah. No problem. I've done that before."
"The major difference with chess is that there is more than one assassin and you have help. Also, there are absolutely no differences in the abilities of your team and the assassin's," Julian said. Then, with a chilling smile, he continued, "Until the killing starts."
The game began again, this time Cash plotted what might happen. Daedalus pointed out possible weaknesses in his strategies. As long as he thought of the game in terms of Kindred fighting, the Gangrel Primogen enjoyed the challenge. He lost to Julian and then played Daedalus with Julian giving him hints.
The Prince and Nosferatu Primogen were only doling out pointers, but Cash was picking up the information pretty fast.
As Daedalus moved his queen in for checkmate, Cash checked his watch. 'Time for the real thing,' he thought. 'Gotta' meet Sensei Rob in twenty minutes.' "Julian, Daedalus, I have to leave."
"Yes," Julian agreed, "You're meeting with Sensei Raine soon. How is that working out?"
"He's pretty good," Cash admitted. "I'm learning a lot. I don't like kissin' up to him all the time, but he insists that respect and discipline are important parts of martial arts."
Daedalus placed his hand on the young Gangrel's shoulders and stated in his deep voice, "Sensei Raine is a descendent of Archon's human children. You would do well to learn everything he teaches."
"Huh. Um, well, thanks for tonight."
Over the next two months, Cash's training moved along swiftly. Sensei Raine spoke highly of him and Daedalus was pleased with Cash's comprehension of Kindred history and politics. Julian discussed the machinations evident in the stories and concepts presented in The Godfather and The Prince with the Gangrel. Although Cash didn't agree with his Prince on all the points presented in the first two books, he understood them well enough to hold his own in discussions.
For a change of pace, Julian gave the Gangrel mysteries to read. These stories took Cash from the worlds of leadership and survival principles to worlds where he needed to solve a myriad of problems. Julian was impressed with Cash's ability to integrate the cunning and detection skills from all the readings into his own life.
Julian noted, as he walked into the Nighthawk Diner, that Frank was reading the same Agatha Christie novel Cash was currently working on, Death Comes As the End. After exchanging pleasantries with the waitress, he remarked from behind Frank, "That's one of my favorites. The one person you least expect," Luna paused and sat down across from the detective, "I don't want to ruin it for you, so I'll say no more."
"Oh," Frank responded, "I already know it's the oldest son." Frank leaned forward conspiratorially and dead-panned, "I'm a detective."
"So, how are you this evening, detective?" Luna asked politely.
Frank set the book down as Myranda, the waitress, arrived with the usual pot of coffee. Luna thanked her, requested privacy as he had before and slipped her the usual hundred to boost her income.
"I'm doing all right," Frank answered. "Don't figure I need to ask about your health."
"Thank you for thinking of me," Luna responded drily. Pointing to the book, he asked, "I'm curious. What clues told you the answer?"
"Yahmose has the most to gain - that's the first thing any detective looks for. Then, there're the psychological clues, like his frustrated ambition and the change in his wife."
"My bodyguard, someone I'd like you to meet soon, is reading the same book right now." Luna glanced down and suggested, "I was hoping that you could work with him at some point, maybe help him learn about detective work."
"Yeah? Well, be careful what you wish for. As much as I hate it, Lillie was right about you. I might not like you and your kind, but your death would almost certainly mean my death, and would probably mean a lot more trouble on the streets.
"Because of that, and only because of that, you understand, you need to know," he looked down, stirred his coffee, then looked back up into Luna's eyes, "The word just hit the streets. Your bodyguard better stop reading and get to work, 'cause you've got a real mystery to solve."
Luna waited for the detective to continue.
"There's a contract on your life."
Luna's face hardly registered that he'd heard the words.
'This guy would be hell to play poker with,' Frank thought.
"I hate to burst your bubble, Frank, but my life has been in danger for longer than you've been alive," Luna replied smoothly.
"Look, Luna, I don't know your past or what kind of danger you're referring to, but I'm telling you, this is serious," he warned, pointing his coffee spoon at the Prince. "Many may have wanted you dead for a long time, but they've never put out a contract like this before. It's specific and odd. Somebody has been contracted to remove your lousy head from your body."
Luna's face registered surprise for two seconds as his eyes looked into Frank's. It was uncanny how the Prince could express so much with just a look.
"So whoever wants me dead, knows I'm Kindred," Luna stated.
"Not necessarily. They may just be weird," Frank couldn't help but think how ironic it was to be discussing what was weird with a vampire, "or they may think that you're particularly hard to kill."
"Who else knows about this, Frank?"
"I just found out. So just you, me and my source."
"It is extremely important that you tell absolutely nobody about this; no human, no Kindred; not Sonny, not Lillie . . ."
His instincts kicking in, Frank interrupted Luna sharply, "Whoa, Sonny's my partner!" Even as the words left his lips, he knew how hollow they were now that he knew Sonny had been lying to him all along.
"You suspect Sonny?" he asked incredulously.
"Don't you watch The X-Files?" Luna asked, needling the detective. Frank rolled his eyes. "Trust no one," Luna finished.
"You want me to hush the word on the streets?" Frank asked.
"Only what you can accomplish without being noticed. I'll look into this and get back to you."
Frank cautioned, "Luna, San Francisco doesn't need any more vigilantes."
Daedalus entered just before Cash remarked that he had to leave to be on time for his martial arts lesson. The Nosferatu Primogen heard the serious concern in Julian's tone and looked at his Prince worriedly.
"As for tomorrow night, you will need to plan to meet me here again," Julian continued. "Whether we will play chess depends on what happens between now and then."
Cash left the room. Silence descended. Julian stood gazing into the fire while Daedalus set up a chess board. When the board was set, the Nosferatu asked his friend, "How can I help?"
"The human detective, Frank Kohanek, told me that his street sources heard of a contract on me."
"Julian, this is not unusual."
"The source says someone close to me will attempt to have me decapitated."
"Mmmm, bizarre," mused the Nosferatu Primogen.
"I need your help, Daedalus. I'm depending on the accuracy of our history which says that the Nosferatu are well-informed about what is going on in the city."
"The resources of Clan Nosferatu are yours, my Prince," Daedalus stated with dedication. "I will find out what there is to know."
"There is another favor which I must ask. Cash will continue to be occupied with his studies. I need someone completely trustworthy to assist him in protecting me."
"If my Prince will accept, I offer myself."
"Thank you, Daedalus."
Some time later, Lillie glided into Julian's study, the very definition of astonishing. The Toreador Primogen was dizzyingly intelligent and sexy.
"The club closed already?" Julian asked from his chair by the fire.
"It's after 4am, Julian. It closed two hours ago."
She breezed across the room and knelt to face him. "What ugly business detail has you so preoccupied that you would not know the time?" Lillie brushed her fingers on his face as her eyes sought his.
Julian took her hands in his, and, shaking his head slightly, brushed his lips across her fingers. "Nothing for you to be concerned about."
Then, the Prince looked up into her eyes. "You are going back out?" It was more of a statement than a question. Julian knew his ex-lover incredibly well.
"You have been mixing more than minds with humans recently, Julian. I believe I will sample their pleasures, too."
Julian softly cautioned, "Be careful, Lillie."
Cash dragged into Julian's study soon after Lillie left. He had showered and his body showed no visible signs of bruising or cuts, but it was obvious that he needed to feed and sleep.
As he handed Cash a mug of the Kindred's necessary sustenance, Julian said, "I won't keep you long, but I must apprise you of a developing situation and ask for your help.
"What I'm about to tell you is not a training exercise. This is real. Someone has paid for my death. There is word on the streets, Cash, that someone will attempt to remove my body from my head."
"Among Kindred?" Cash clarified. Because of his wealth and power, Julian's life was always in danger from humans; however, never before had a human contract been placed on him that specifically required decapitation. And no Kindred, with murderous intentions, would tell this information to humans.
"No. Detective Kohanek brought me this information. It came from a human source."
The brows of the young Gangrel knit together as he considered the threat this was to the Masquerade.
"I need your Gangrels to dig up everything they can about this."
"You got it, Julian." Cash stood up and started out, then stopped and turned back to the Prince. "I'd like to move Lorraina and a few others to the compound to help with this."
Julian grimaced at the idea of Gangrel ruffians carousing about his home, but nodded his head to allow it.
Hauling his slim form by sheer force of will, Cash entered his apartment with sleep on the mind. Sasha stood, hands on her hips, in his way.
"This is not working," she said flatly to the groggy Gangrel.
"Please, Sasha," Cash murmured.
"I never see you and I'm getting sick of this dump you call an apartment," she complained.
"Don't do this. You know I love you."
"Yeah, well, I'm tired of being alone on this fifty acre Ventrue park. I'm gonna' step out more."
Cash looked down, shuffling his feet. "I wish I could tell you it would get better, but it's not. Things are heating up."
"The training?" Sasha demanded.
"No, there's a contract out on Julian to cut his head off."
"Oh," the sensual Brujah said, concerned. "Who?"
"I gotta' find out." Cash stepped forward and placed his hand on Sasha's tiny waist. "Please stay."
Sasha murmured, "Oh Cash." The words slipped from her lips like velvet, as a caress, and she
moved to press herself against his body.
The doorbell rang. He answered the door in a daze, as if mesmerized by the humming of the microwave and the drone of voices and music on the tv. Standing in the hallway was Lillie Langtry, who Frank knew was the owner of The Haven and a Kindred of the Toreador Clan. Frank was not yet privy to the secrets of Kindred hierarchy and did not know that Lillie was the Toreador Primogen. Her crystal-clear azure eyes sparkled at the detective.
"Lillie," Frank said, shocked into consciousness. "What are you doing here?"
"May I come in?" the legendary beauty asked.
"Sure," the detective said sourly. "Make yourself at home. You, in that thousand-dollar dress, complement my decor perfectly."
The squared neckline of the bodice of her dark navy brocade dress dipped low, accentuating full pale breasts. Frank's eyes gazed over the curves of the Toreador's tiny waist and perfectly proportioned hips. The hem of the dress stopped well above her knees, allowing several inches of lean thighs to show. As the detective was finishing his appraisal of Lillie's calves and ankles, the microwave dinged.
Lillie walked in and set her purse and wrap on a stand near Frank's door. "Your dinner?" she asked.
"Yeah. Have you had yours?" he asked. "No offense, but I'd just as soon not be it."
"You have nothing to worry about from me, Frank. I am simply looking for companionship. However," she smiled, "You might like a bite from me."
"Hmph," he responded. "Have a seat while I get my supper. You want a drink?"
"Yes, thank you."
Frank dug around in his cabinets and checked his frig. "I've got orange juice, cola, milk, Jack Daniel's, some Miller Lite, and vodka."
"You're kidding, right?"
Suddenly standing immediately behind Frank, Lillie responded silkily, "Well then, I suppose I'll have JD."
Frank jumped, "You guys like to do that surprise thing, don't you?"
"I like for you to be curious about me - to want to know more. Because I want to know more about you." She took the tumbler of whiskey he offered, left the kitchen and sat on the couch. Frank watched from the kitchen as Lillie slowly crossed her legs, took a sip of her drink and leaned back into the cushions.
The 70's classic, Too Hot, by Kool & The Gang, began playing in his head. He shook it off, retrieved his meal and drink, and headed for the sofa. Sitting at the end opposite Lillie, he set his supper down. "Well, uhm, I'm gonna' be eating, so why don't you tell me why you're here," Frank suggested.
"It's such a nice morning, Frank. I'll just open the window and we can watch the sun rise together."
The detective, while chewing, nodded his head and motioned to the window. Lillie rose, glided across the room and opened the window. Kohanek felt his heat rise as he watched her. When she returned from the window, she walked past him on the other side of the coffee table and settled into the couch. She sat closer to him than she'd previously been, but she didn't make a move on him. In fact, the energy of sexuality which seemed to always radiate from her was tamed and they sat in companionable silence. For nearly twenty minutes, Frank ate and Lillie watched the sun rise.
"Luna send you to keep an eye on me?" Frank asked as he finished off the crumbs of his pocket chicken pie.
"He doesn't know I'm here," she said flatly. Then, her sexual energy on full, she asked, "Do you need someone to keep an eye on you, Frank?"
"I do okay on my own."
"I could help you do better than okay. Have you thought about what being with another Kindred would be like, or," she paused, "Do you still want to hunt us?"
"I've thought about both," he admitted.
"Frank, what would you gain by hunting us?" she asked seriously.
"I dunno. Peace of mind, maybe. If I could kill you all, maybe I would defeat the nightmares that all humans have."
"No, you wouldn't. Humanity will always have nightmares, horrors they often create themselves." Lillie reached out and caressed Frank's face. "There's no need to be more frightened of me than of any human."
"Most humans I know can't change into wolves and most don't kill their employees when they become troublesome."
"We do have our limitations," she murmured. "And, like humans, we're not perfect."
"Why did you kill Benning, the Private Investigator?"
The question caught her by surprise and Lillie looked down, "Partly out of anger and partly to protect the Kindred. He wouldn't give me the negatives of the pictures he took. He told me that he intended to auction the pictures of Julian fighting the Assamite to the highest bidder." 'Although not exactly the truth,' she thought, 'it was close enough to the truth for Frank for now.' "I couldn't let that happen."
"He was a friend of mine."
"I'm sorry, Frank," Lillie said as she placed her hand on his. Then she caught his eyes with hers - their clear azure color almost hypnotic - and with a silky smile, said, "You'll find a way to forgive me, though, won't you?"
'Probably,' Frank thought as he looked away from her. He shook his head, amazed at himself.
"Come see me at the club tonight," Lillie continued. She played her fingers along his hand, then stroked up his arm to his chin, which she directed up so that their eyes met again. "Please."
She stood, walked to the door, and picked up her purse and wrap. Looking back at Frank, she turned the knob, opened the door and left.
During the last few weeks, Cash had started bringing his training to his Clan. He made Lorraina and Kimme his 'Firsts'. He began teaching them the martial arts that he'd been learning and he asked both of them to read The Godfather and The Prince. It wasn't in the Gangrel blood to be organized, so he didn't even attempt to take the hierarchy any further into the clan. He simply made it clear that Lorraina and Kimme were to be obeyed as he was.
Cash was standing across the street from The Haven when the gang of Brujah drove up. It was early in the evening and Cash wanted to talk to Lorraina about security before he had to resume his studies and training. There were several other Gangrels standing around, admiring one another's bikes, downing beers and blood, and hashing over all the latest news. They all turned and watched the Brujah pull into The Haven's parking lot. Cash could hear a couple of them growl quietly.
Sasha slid out of the car and stood looking at the Gangrel Primogen. Although she'd agreed to stay with him at the Compound, she had made it clear she wasn't gonna' lay around waiting for him to make time for her. Her mane of long, thick, auburn curls framed her petite face. Her lips were painted a deep red.
Cameron, the Brujah Primogen, stepped out of the car, touched Sasha's elbow gently, shot a vicious smile towards Cash, and led Sasha and the other Brujah into the club. Cash took the bait and, as the growl came from his throat, started across the street to tackle Cameron.
Stepping in from of him, Lorraina chided, "You came here to talk to me. Remember? Let's talk."
Chastened, Cash told her about the security problem. "That detective, Frank Kohanek, heard from a street source that Julian would be decapitated. We need to find out everything we can. Also, all this security and strategy training is taking a lot of time. It's good stuff, but I'm gonna' need some help keeping Julian safe. I want you and Kimme to move to the Compound for a while."
"I'll talk to Kimme and get started looking into this hit."
"Look, Julian's arriving and I need to go be with him. See ya' later on?"
"Yeah. Ciao." As Cash left, Lorraina turned to the other Gangrels. She told them what was going on and asked them to hit the streets looking for information. "Meet me back here around 3am with whatever you've got," she directed.
The Gangrels were revving up their bikes when Lorraina stepped over to her broodsister, the sturdy youthful-looking Kindred named Kimme. "Cash wants you and me to move to the Compound to help him watch out for Julian."
With long, straight dark brown hair and light brown eyes, Kimme was beautiful in a quiet way. About five foot five inches tall, she was built like a swimmer, with broad, thickly-muscled shoulders and powerful legs. Very different than her pre-Kindred build, Lorraina thought.
She had been a petite girl in her late teens when embraced. Naive and playful, her friends had called her "Kimmie." However, once embraced, the Gangrel blood rebelled at the cute name. She dropped the 'I' so that her name would be pronounced as though it were spelled, 'Kim.' She had needed to scrap quite a bit to get the rest of her clan to address her respectfully, hence the increase in muscle.
"Julian's gonna' let more Gangrels onto his property?" Kimme asked. "I mean, I know Ventrue and Gangrel get along, but, we're different. Will he mind the bikes? And, what about music?"
"Cash didn't say what Julian thought about the situation. He just asked that we move there for now. We'll deal with details later. You willing to help?"
Kimme thought about being cooped up on the Prince's huge estate; then considered the trust that
Cash and Julian were extending to her. "Okay. I've got some people I want to talk to about the
contract, then I'll pack a couple of things and meet you back here."
"Aaahh," Lillie gasped. "That tickled!"
"What?" whispered Frank breathily behind and below her ear.
"That!" Lillie exclaimed. "Your breath there!"
Frank nuzzled and tickled the Toreador Primogen as she squirmed and called him names he only heard on the streets.
Lillie grabbed Frank's head and pressed it into her neck, "Bite me," she commanded, "Please, Frank. Bite me."
Frank, overwhelmed with desire, bit hard into Lillie's neck. He was careful not to break the skin, knowing that Kindred blood caused nausea to a human. Lillie moaned deeply and arched into him. Feeling primal and unfettered, Frank was thankful that Lillie was Kindred - her body would heal from the bruises he knew his roughness was inflicting.
He lay on the bed on his back, staring at the ceiling. 'How the hell did I get here,' Frank wondered. "Lillie, did you mesmerize me?"
Wrapped in a delicately embroidered black silk kimono and seated at her mirror, Lillie looked back at the detective. "Are you saying that my charms aren't enough to get your attention, without resorting to supernatural means?" With a playful look of hurt, she said, "If being with me was that awful, I can make you forget."
"Well, no, I'm just having a hard time accepting that I just had sex with a vampire with full knowledge of you ... being a vampire ... willingly." He saw a dangerous look in Lillie's eyes and quickly added, "It was great! I just can't quite believe it."
"Frank," Lillie began seriously, "I didn't seduce you against your will. And, I didn't spend this time with you for any reason except that I wanted to know you, to be with you."
Kohanek admitted, "I had a ... a fabulous time, Lillie. You are an extraordinary woman. I hope you're telling me the truth, because I'd like to see you again. I'd like to know more about you, too." As he stood from the bed, his sculpted nude muscles still glistening with sweat, he asked, "What did you mean, 'you could make me forget'?"
Stepping behind an ornately decorated screen to dress, Lillie responded, "It's how we're able to feed without humans knowing."
Frank thought back over the experiences he'd had the last few months as he pulled on his underwear and pants. Suddenly, Frank asked, "Then, why didn't Julian have my memory of Alexandra erased? He told me that he agreed to keep me alive," he said, then added sarcastically, "The two don't seem to be mutually exclusive."
Piqued that Frank would talk about his former lover, Lillie snapped, "I don't know, Kohanek."
A tense silence pervaded the room while the two finished dressing. As they descended into the club, Lillie reflected on the many times she had descended these steps with Julian.
Frank was uncomfortable walking into the club with Lillie at his side. It just felt odd for some reason. He looked out over all the people and wondered how many would be driving under the influence tonight, how many would be victim of date rape, how many would catch some awful disease.
People were everywhere - eating, talking, laughing, dancing. The place radiated with the intoxicating auras of humans and Kindred. Lillie drank it up with all her senses. The smells of perfumes, meats, sauces, wines, sweat, hormones, hairspray, and Julian. The sounds of high-pitched giggling, throaty feminine whispers, bass booming out of the speakers, deep male voices arguing and Julian. Damn him, she thought.
When Lillie saw Julian, her heart hit a beat. Odd, since she hadn't fed recently and Kindred hearts didn't beat unless they had fed. 'Oh well,' she concluded, grimly amused, 'This is much better than finding out that hearts can actually break.' With perverse pleasure, she led Frank directly to her Prince.
As the crowd parted and the detective saw Luna, a variety of emotions tumbled about in Frank's soul - respect, disgust, anger and fear. 'What will Luna think seeing Lillie with me,' he wondered. Too late to change what had happened and too late to leave this scene.
Leaning against one of the bars of the club, Julian appeared to be holding court. He was surrounded by people - Lillie recognized them all as either well-known friendly human, Gangrel, Ventrue or Toreador.
Julian was listening as two Ventrue argued about the best investments. Mary Katherine had just flown in from Switzerland, where she had been the Ventrue Primogen until suffering a public "death" and Marcus was a stuffy, old-fashioned Childe of Archon. Luna was as interested in their investment strategies as he was in their support of him amongst the other Ventrue. Keeping their favor helped him remain in control.
Of the two approaching beings, Julian saw Lillie first. She always looks devastating, he thought. As he stepped away from the crowd, he saw she had Frank in tow. "Frank," Luna began, somewhat surprised, "Good evening." Then he glanced back at Lillie and knew.
Turning to face the Toreador Primogen, he said, "Lillie, a moment, please." The Kindred bodies behind Julian closed their circle and moved to give the Prince some privacy. "Be careful with Frank," Julian cautioned Lillie quietly. "I hope you're not using him."
"I like him, Julian. Plus," she paused and said coldly, "I don't have to hide what I am from him."
"So you are with him because of my relationship with Caitlin," he accused.
"No. We're good for one another. He needs the satisfaction of a Kindred lover and I'm lonely." Lillie turned her back on Julian and returned to Frank's side, clearly determined not to continue the private conversation with her Prince. "I need to handle some club business," she told the two men silkily, "Can you boys be civil to one another until I get back?"
Luna gave a nodded permission for her exit, and turned to the detective, his face impassive. To Frank, he said, "There's someone I want you to talk with about what you heard." Cash entered the bar as Luna directed Frank's attention to his bodyguard. "Have you and Cash been introduced?"
"Not formally, no. But we've met," Frank said, remembering that he'd finished the job of bringing in that murderous Kindred rocker, Zane, when Cash had been knocked unconscious.
The Gangrel Primogen looked across the bar at his lover who was chatting with some Brujah thugs. 'God, she's beautiful!' he thought as jealousy raged in his blood, but he held himself in check. He was here for his Prince.
"Detective Frank Kohanek, meet Cash, my bodyguard. I trust him completely. He is the only
other person - Kindred or human - that you may discuss this contract business with."
The cop pulled into a deserted lot across from what was probably a bar. Cash could smell the beer, sweat, urine and blood with his Kindred senses. His mouth watered at the thought of beer-flavored dinner. Due to the probable intoxication levels of the patrons, the Gangrel might not even have to use his mesmerization powers to feed. All he needed to do was get a human alone, take a bite and a sip and the drunk would probably not remember anything.
With a purely Gangrel smile of anticipated pleasures, Cash thought, 'With a bit of luck, maybe there'd be a brawl.'
Kohanek got out of his car and indicated the bar. "My source, Spots, hangs out there. I know it doesn't look like it from here, but there's a bar over there; a pretty filthy one. The patrons call it The A Hole. We'll need to wait here until he comes out. The regulars would be suspicious if I went in to get him."
"What does he look like? I'll go in."
"I don't like it, Cash. It's dangerous in there."
Cash looked at the detective and smiled, "It's my kind of place."
Frank explained that Spots was a black man, about forty-five years old with the same unfortunate illness as Michael Jackson. "He got the tacky nickname because of the discoloration of his skin. He plays pool and he's pretty good at it. Don't underestimate him, Cash. He's tough and smart."
"I'll probably be awhile. Don't wait here. I'll call you."
So that his arrival would not reveal Kohanek's hiding place, Cash walked his cycle to the other side of the lot, then drove it around the block before parking in front of the bar. Inside, he headed straight to the bar and ordered a draft.
The A Hole was, indeed, a filthy place. The bartop was sticky with spilled beer and spit that had been wiped over, but not cleaned. The room was filled with smoke and Cash detected the sweetish scent of pot. The dress code varied - an equal number of humans wore leather and metal as wore various t-shirts and jeans. Nothing was new.
There were two small tables behind Cash. Pieces of several other tables were leaning against the wall. 'Apparently there is the occasional fight here,' Cash thought with a mental grin.
Three men sat at the table closest to the Gangrel. They seemed to be engaged in a belching contest. A woman in a too-tight bluejean mini-skirt and sleeveless white t-shirt stood to the side and judged. At the other table, a lanky man and slim woman were engaged in some kind of cash transaction with an underage boy.
Everyone at the bar was staring into their drinks except the people farthest away from the door. They seemed to be watching the back of the bar. Cash could see a couple more small round tables back there, but most prominent were the four pool tables. Cash counted seven A-Holers sitting on lone chairs within sight, out of the way of the cues. Eight more were engaged in games. He headed to the back of the bar to the pool tables.
Easily recognizable from Kohanek's description, Spots was playing what looked like a game of nine-ball with a skinny, filmy-eyed male youth. The older man hit the 7, 8, and 9 ball in and slapped the youth on the back good-naturedly. A couple of onlookers guffawed loudly when the kid practically lost his teeth to the whack.
"Keep practicing, Skinny. You'll get better. In the meantime, get something to eat," Spots ordered. Skinny headed to the bar, grabbed a handful of pretzels and ordered a beer. Another person stepped up to Spots with a cue and a new game began.
Cash knew that in a bar like The A Hole, his new face had already drawn a lot of attention. Unwilling to draw any more, he found an empty stool and got comfortable. For nearly two hours, he drank and watched the games. Then one of the players, who seemed pretty toasted, walked out the back door. Cash quietly followed, and after the guy took a leak, the Gangrel Primogen dined on some of the man's beer-filled blood.
Another hour and two beers later, Cash decided to begin his introduction. Instead of challenging Spots outright, he took on one of the guys Spots had beaten. Cash bet the guy ten bucks. After running the table on him in a game of nine ball, Cash looked to Spots. He motioned to the snitch. "Play me?"
"Sure, kid. Rack 'em up. You ran the table on Hogg over there. Think your luck'll hold?"
Cash shrugged, "You seem to be doing pretty good at eight-ball. How æbout we just start betting a beer?"
Each man grabbed a ball and struck it down the length of the table to determine the first player. Spots won the legging, and knocked in the 3, 7 and 11 balls with his break.
"I'm Spots. What's your name, boy?"
The bar's patrons laughed. One of them called out, "Good thing you're betting beer. Don't bet your name that you'll beat Spots."
"2 ball in the corner pocket," Spots said, pointing across the table. "Where you from, Cash? Why haven't I seen you before?"
"I'm from here. I've just never been to this side of town."
A barmaid, with a psychedelic red-tint in her hair, brought Cash a beer. "I've seen him before," she reported. "He hangs out with a bunch of bikers."
"Damn!" Spots exclaimed as he knocked the 13 ball in. "Your shot. So," Spots asked, returning to the subject of Cash's identity, "Where're your buddies tonight?"
"We had a fallin' out."
The game continued and soon Cash lost. He prevailed on the older man to play again and this time, the Gangrel won.
"You're pretty good at this game, kid," Spots said, stifling a yawn. "I'm heading home for the night." As the older man unscrewed his pool stick and packed it in its molded plastic carrier, he asked, "The falling out you had with your buddies, that leave you without a place for the night?"
"Yeah," Cash admitted, lying.
"Well, my place ain't the Ritz, but you're welcome to come."
Cash pretended to consider the offer, "Okay. Yeah."
The two men left the bar and Cash followed Spots home on his Harley. When they arrived at the apartment complex, Cash told Spots that he was going to run back to a convenience store they'd passed for a snack; and he asked if his benefactor needed anything. Spots told Cash the number of his apartment and asked for a pack of Winstons. Cash drove to the store, bought the smokes, a strip of beef jerky and called Frank.
"I'll be right there, Cash," Frank told him.
Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock at Spots' door. Cash had been chewing on his jerky while Spots smoked and chatted. "Who is it?" Spots yelled.
"Goddammit, man," Spots said as he rose for the door. "What are you doing here?"
"I've got your Avon order," he said sarcastically. "Let me in."
Spots looked at Cash who had also stood up and asked, "You got any problems with the law, kid?" After Cash shook his head, Spots opened the door. "Get in here, man." Frank walked in and Spots shut the door behind him. "Why you botherin' me tonight?"
Frank flashed his crooked smile. "I'm here to introduce you to him," he said, pointing to Cash, "Although it looks like you two already know one another."
Suddenly confused and cautious, Spots demanded "What the hell's going on?"
"Cash works for Julian Luna. He needs you to tell him what you know about the hit."
"Geez, kid. Why all the cloak and dagger shit?"
Cash shrugged. "I like the bar. If I had caused too much of a stir getting your attention, I might not have been welcome back. Just outta' curiosity, are there ever any fights in there?"
"Nothing," Cash told Lorraina and Kimme. "He didn't know anything. All he could tell me was that the barmaid had gossiped about the hit on Julian. I haven't talked to her yet." Seated in chairs in Cash's apartment, Lorraina and Kimme listened carefully to their Primogen's description of his evening and investigation. "However, she recognized me. She ratted that I hung out with bikers. Wonder where she saw me." He paused. "What'd you all find?"
"Unfortunately, we got less information that you did, but we'll keep looking," Lorraina answered.
"Habit," Cash explained.
"Hi, honey," the waitress said as she walked up, "You want some coffee?"
Cash made a disgusted face, "You got orange soda?"
After she walked away, Frank asked, "What's up?"
"Julian asked me to meet with you tonight. He wants us to get to know one another since I'm responsible for his security."
The waitress returned with an orange soda in a glass on ice and one in a bottle. She also brought Frank a carafe of coffee. "I figured you didn't want to be disturbed as usual."
"Thanks, uh," Cash tried to read the Kindred woman's nametag, "Myranda. This must be for you then." He handed her the business card of a local talent agent, under which was concealed a hundred dollar bill. "I was told to give this to the nice waitress lady," Cash smiled.
"Thanks, honey," she said before turning to her other customers.
Frank watched the exchange suspiciously. "Her, too?" he growled.
"I don't know," Cash lied. "I think Julian found out she was an actress looking for a job."
"You're lying," Frank snapped.
Cash shrugged. Pointing out Kindred was strictly Julian's purview, so Cash changed the subject. "You know anything about the barmaid from The A Hole?" Cash asked Frank.
"Candi, the one with that awful red color in her hair?"
"She's been a waitress at practically every dive in town. No arrests to my knowledge. That's about it."
"Since she's the one who mentioned the hit to Spots, she's the next person to talk to."
"The more people you talk to, the more likely we'll spook the contract. Is that what you want?" Frank asked seriously.
"No. We want whoever's behind this. I've been thinking about how to talk with, uh, you said her name's Candi?" Cash paused and Frank nodded. "The way I want to get information is not, uh, police procedure."
"No way," Frank sighed, shaking his head. "I knew this was gonna' happen. I can't let you torture or kill this girl. No matter what. I don't care whose life is in danger. Forget it."
Cash growled menacingly. "What's wrong with you? Haven't you heard? It's against our laws to kill humans!"
"Yeah. I've heard. I just have a tough time believing it."
"Well, believe it! I'm thinking of having Candi picked up and getting the information we need by non-violent persuasion. If necessary, give her a bit of a scare, then erase her memory."
Cash swizzled the last of his soda noisily.
"Fine, but I have to be there when you talk to Candi," Frank stated.
"I'll have to clear that with Julian."
"You do whatever you've gotta' do. You're not talking to her without me there."
The two sat silently, lost in their own concerns, while the ceiling fans whirred softly. Other customers had come in and been seated as far away from the Gangrel and the detective as the waitress could manage. Her Toreador blood railed against the asymmetry, but she needed the money and especially the reference. If Julian had recommended she contact this agent, there was a pretty good chance he had arranged some kind of acting job for her.
Cash broke the silence first. "Look, I know we're working on something else, but I want to ask you about Stevie Ray's death. He was, well, he was like a father to me." Not knowing how much Frank knew about the details of an Embrace, Cash didn't want to reveal that Stevie Ray was Cash's Sire.
"Sorry about that," Kohanek said. "I saw it. What do you want to know?"
Surprised, Cash asked, "How'd you see it?"
"I got an anonymous tip that morning to be at that particular building at that particular time."
"You were tipped off about his death?" Cash asked incredulously.
"Yeah. The caller used some kind of device to disguise the voice, so I don't know if it was a woman or man. Sonny and I never got any leads as to who made the call. All I know is that Fiori and one of his henchmen did it. Sonny and I got to the roof right after they stabbed Stevie Ray. Fiori and his buddy simply backed away from the body, jumped off the roof and disappeared."
"Why didn't either of you take the stake out of Stevie Ray?"
"No time. He caught on fire before we got back to him."
"So, you and Sonny went to the edge of the roof to watch Fiori jump, then turned back and Stevie Ray was burning?"
"That's right. Except that I got to the edge of the roof first. I suppose Sonny held back so he wouldn't be able to corroborate my story about Fiori disappearing. He must've been hiding the fact that he was Kindred even back then."
Sonny wasn't quite sure what he wanted as a career when he first arrived in San Francisco, but he needed a job to pay for his new place, so he hooked up with a local alcohol distributor as a driver. Driving around the bustling city, Sonny was able to do a lot of thinking about his life and future. When he met people, he analyzed whether he'd like their jobs. He watched people everywhere he drove and considered whether their duties and job constraints fit his talents and character.
With the extra jobs unloading ships at the dock which he got through his supervisor, Mr. Fiornelli, he was able to afford a few of the city's finest conveniences and pleasures. Sonny wanted more of the fine things. He needed a job with a ladder, a chance to really do well, the opportunity to be recognized. After two years studying the city and its various possibilities, he decided to join the police academy and climb the public safety ladder. With hard work and some luck, he knew a seat on the city council or other public office would be within his reach.
Sonny received his acceptance letter two months before he was to enter the academy. He went to work the next morning thrilled to be so close to his goal. He began his route as a man in the clouds noting only the names and numbers of each delivery. Sonny never saw what happened to him that afternoon. One minute he was pushing a dolly loaded with cases of beer into 'The Haven' and the next he was flat on his back in a puddle of his own blood, pain screeching through his upper chest.
When his eyes opened again, a dark-haired man him tended his wounds in a back room of the club. 'Mr. Luna, that was the guy's name. Yeah. He's here a lot. He and the owner seem to have a thing going,' Sonny thought in a pain-filled stupor. 'The guys back in the loading bays said to never mess with Mr. Luna, that he was a hired gun for the mob.'
In terror, Sonny struggled to get up. An enlarged, bald head of something out of his worst nightmares loomed over him. A hand connected to the body of the disfigured face effortlessly pressed him back down and placed a drop of something on his lips. Within seconds, Sonny, still with a gaping hole in his chest, felt no pain.
He watched as the dark-haired man, Mr. Luna, argued with another man, an older man. Sonny overheard some of the words, "Who . . . delivery . . . named Sonny . . . he was . . . by our kind . . . hospital . . . too many questions . . . police not called . . . tonight . . . die if not . . . does he know . . . may I Embrace . . . you may, Julian."
'This must be the weirdest dream I've ever had,' Sonny thought.
Turning from the older man to Sonny, Mr. Luna said, "It's not a dream."
'Did I say that out loud? Everything seems so unreal.' In shock from the whole experience and unable to move due to his wounds, he watched as Mr. Luna walked towards him. A strange terror gripped Sonny.
"Don't be afraid, Sonny. I can make you well. You can be free in life. You can do the things that you've always wanted. Nothing will stand in your way. Or I can bring you to a hospital and you will remember nothing of what has happened tonight. Your life, such as it is, will continue unchanged."
"Cost?" Sonny uttered thinking, 'Probably is a mobster and wants me to work for him.'
Mr. Luna's eyes glittered with amusement. "You will become Kindred. We are another side of life. You will leave much of the daylight behind and your body will crave blood. You will be able to dominate the thoughts of humans and change your form. Although you will become stronger and faster than humans, you will not be permitted to kill them and you will not be permitted to kill another Kindred. You will be required to obey the Laws of certain other Kindred. This is who we are. Is this who you would like to be?"
Incredulous and suspicious at Mr. Luna's words, Sonny managed to utter, "Dunno'." The whole experience was overwhelming and he had no idea how to evaluate Mr. Luna's offer, especially on such short notice and in his current condition.
Mr. Luna's brow creased in concern. "I regret that you must be pressed into this decision. Sleep and dream. You must decide soon, but your subconscious will help you find the answer. You will know when you awake."
Sonny woke in what was obviously the bedroom of a wealthy woman. It took several moments for him to recall what had happened. However, the bandages around his chest, and the pain he felt when he struggled to the bathroom helped him considerably. As he returned to the softness of the bed and the comfort of the covers, Mr. Luna walked in.
A gasp escaped Sonny's lips. "My god!" he exclaimed with a trembling bass voice. "It was real." Mr. Luna remained near the door, silently questioning. 'What a glorious dream! No, a glorious reality! A better life!' "I want what you offered," Sonny said clearly.
After the Embrace, Julian brought Sonny to the Compound. Luna spent several days with his new
Childe, teaching him the basics of Kindred ways. He then arranged for Sonny to receive police
training in Sacramento. Eventually, after Sonny assimilated Kindred rules and culture, Julian
formally presented his Childe, Sonny Toussaint, to Prince Archon.
Lorraina responded, "You saying Stevie Ray was baited? I thought that Brujah scum, Eddie, may he burn in hell," she added, "killed him."
"Yeah, but there's more," Cash explained. "Someone told Frank to meet Stevie Ray there. Kohanek nearly saw the murder. Why would a Brujah want Frank there?"
From the crowd of Gangrels, someone yelled, "More heat on Julian?"
Cash reasoned, "How? As far as Frank knew, Julian was losing control of his mobsters."
"Yeah," Kimme continued, "Frank was all over Julian. Scoping the death of Julian's bodyguard wouldn't help him."
Another voice called out, "Maybe somebody wanted Frank to stop the murder?"
"Right," Lorraina said sarcastically, "No Brujah wants to save a Gangrel."
From Kimme's side, Alan said, "Maybe Eddie wanted Stevie Ray picked up by the cops to get at Julian."
"Like that hadn't happened before," Cash replied sarcastically. "Plus, Stevie Ray hadn't done anything."
Lorraina suggested, "What if it wasn't a Brujah that called Frank?"
"Who else woulda' known?" Cash asked. "Brujah don't tell their plans to other Kindred."
For possibly the first time in history, a group of Gangrels were silently contemplative. The sounds of the city could be heard clearly. Glasses clinked inside the bar. People laughed and cursed. A sporty little car sped by, begging for attention. In the distance, tires squealed in protest to heavily-applied brakes. The streetlight above the Clan buzzed.
Cash broke the silence, "See if Stevie Ray had a private crib like mine." He paused to glare at Lorraina. "The one nobody was supposed to know about."
As the group began breaking up, Cash remembered his suspicions about the hitter. As an added precaution, he called out, "And, heh, don't move on anybody! You find something, you bring it to me." He thought about the cold look Julian could produce from his eyes and brought forth that feeling as he looked at each of his clanmembers, "Understand?" He demanded menacingly.
As each Gangrel nodded or mumbled their assent, Cash freed him or her with a nod. "Kimme, Lorraina, hang back."
"Nice trick," Lorraina teased, referring to Cash's authoritative style.
"Bite me," he retorted. "If Stevie Ray's death was linked in any way to this contract on Julian, we've gotta' keep it quiet."
"All right. Chill," Lorraina said, backing down.
"I need you to pick up Candi, The A Hole barmaid, tonight, after we're done with Julian at the show. We'll meet at Golden Gate Park. I've got a feeling that thing's are going to start happening."
"This is beautiful, Julian," Caitlin commented during the break after the fourth dance, a Viennese Waltz. "Whatever possessed you to get tickets for this?" They were seated in the first row, upper level of the Center for the Arts Yerva Buerna Gardens.
Julian looked admiringly at his companion, "I love beautiful things." Caitlin smiled and looked away. She was the youngest city editor in the history of the San Francisco Times. Julian had given her the job when he bought the paper, both actions taken in an attempt to control the flow of Kindred-related information to the public. Julian continued, "I'm fond of ballroom dancing. It's a shame so few people know how to do it these days. A lost art."
"It certainly doesn't look lost on these kids."
"The Brigham Young University Ballroom Dance Company has held the title of U.S. National Formation Dance Champions for the past fourteen years."
"There's a story in this," Caitlin murmured. "Do you mind if, afterwards, I poke around and ask questions?"
"Not at all. I'll introduce you to the Directors."
Surprised, Caitlin fired off questions, "How do you know them? What's your interest in BYU? I thought your family was Catholic."
"Always the investigative reporter," Julian scolded. "First of all, I support the arts. You should know that from the article you did about me. Secondly, for the most part, my religious values do not affect my financial decisions. And lastly," he pointed at a line of type at the bottom of the program which read, 'Proceeds will benefit the San Francisco Food Bank.'
"I should have known," Caitlin whispered as the second part of the program started.
The dancers moved hypnotically through a samba, Argentine Tango, foxtrot, waltz, quickstep, bolero and through intricate routines to big band, opera, show tunes and pop. The costumes were perfection. Women's dresses had fairy-tale gossamer skirts and vividly ornate bodices. Men's suits were perfectly fitted, beautifully detailed, and amazingly well-chosen for each particular dance.
The "Blue Danube" turned out to be a comedic routine and Julian's heart ached with joy as he watched Caitlin laugh unself-consciously. He could feel the woman swaying slightly with the music and the movements. The jasmine scent of her was all that occupied his thoughts.
This was a wonderful break from the tension of the last few days. He had arranged, through Cash and Daedalus, for this outing to be secured. He wanted to feel safe enough to relax with the human woman who had entranced him.
The performance ended and everyone stood, applauding. "Do you mind, Julian?" Caitlin asked. She was anxious to get started asking questions - to get started on her story.
Julian saw Lillie in the center of the lower level. "Go ahead," he encouraged Caitlin, his eyes on Lillie. "I'll be right there." The reporter made her way down the row and through the crowds.
At Lillie's elbow stood Cameron, the Brujah Primogen who had killed Archon. Cameron and Lillie were standing among several Toreador Kindred, human dancers and show sponsors. Although the Toreador Primogen cared for Frank, the human detective, her social calendar did not currently have much room for him. The politics of Kindred life and her desire to be involved in the city's cultural life called for her involvement elsewhere. Settling two situations through one, she allowed Cameron - who might one day be Prince of the city - to escort her to plays, art shows and symphonies.
Julian felt Cash's presence behind him, "Cash," Julian turned to his bodyguard, "did Lillie come with Cameron?"
The Gangrel Primogen looked terribly uncomfortable, yet strikingly handsome, in the tuxedo that Julian had required him to wear again. "Yeah. You want me to get 'em for you?"
"No," Julian quickly answered. "There's no reason they shouldn't be together. However, it would be prudent to make certain that Cameron is not moving up his plans to become Prince and," he continued in a quiet voice, "that Lillie is not involved. You will look into it?"
Lillie and Julian had been lovers for many years. Each had been with others, but Julian's love for the human editor, Caitlin Byrnes, was different. Julian was inexplicably drawn to her. Scorned, Lillie tried to blackmail the editor into leaving Julian, attempted to have Caitlin killed; then finally, in a fit of depression, attempted to have Julian killed.
Julian, knowing some of this and suspecting all of it, had forgiven Lillie even though her actions had endangered the Masquerade. He was generous with his lovers. However, Lillie was as ruthless as she was beautiful. It was possible that she had the contract on his life. The thought made his soul ache, for although Caitlin was the love of his life, Lillie was very special. Betrayal from her would be devastating.
For now, Julian chose to set these thoughts aside and concentrate on Caitlin. He saw her talking with some of the dancers and went to her side. When the youngsters were called to help break the set, Julian guided his lovely date to the Sponsors' Reception. He introduced Caitlin to the local sponsors, the BYU directors and the organizers, then he absent-mindedly chatted with various benefactors as he watched her politely inquire into every aspect of the show and its background.
'She is definitely a reporter,' he thought. She glided from one person to another and back, gleaning information, confirming it, getting reactions. She was able to do all this questioning without irritating people. In fact, they seemed pleased to talk with her. He had made a good decision making her city editor, Julian concluded.
Julian waited until Caitlin's journalistic energy began slowing down to suggest that they leave. Soon, the impeccably dressed couple approached Caitlin's door. As she opened it and invited Julian in, Caitlin caught a glimpse of her lover's bodyguards getting out of the car to begin their careful inspection of the grounds.
With Cash following Lillie and Cameron, Lorraina and Kimme were left with the task of protecting the Prince. Kimme pulled out a cellular phone and called two other Gangrels to help.
"Since when do we use cells?" Lorraina asked scornfully.
"Since neither one of us can leave to get the others," Kimme replied. "Cash didn't like it either, but Julian approved the idea." She paused as something caught her eye. "Something's moving in the shadows behind the house," she said as she moved off to investigate.
"Well, where's my phone?" Lorraina demanded as she followed Kimme.
As soon as Julian closed the door, Caitlin pressed up against him, kissing him passionately.
"What was that for?" he asked pulling away from her.
"For a fantasy evening," she replied, then kissed him again.
Julian's right hand caressed Caitlin's cheek near her ear, then moved her face from his, turned her away from the door and led her into the den. "It's just beginning," he purred into her ear. "Do you know how to waltz?"
"You've finally succeeded in surprising me, Julian. I'm practically throwing myself at you and you want to know if I can dance." He waited. "No," she admitted. "I've been too busy working on my career."
"Dancing will become an important part of your job as city editor. You'll be expected to know how to dance when you attend the Governor's Ball and other similar affairs."
"I assume you do know how," she teased.
"Just enough to sweep you off your feet," he replied silkily.
Julian placed her arms in the proper position for ballroom dancing and described the basic steps. He explained, "The most important thing is to follow my lead. Pretend that you're one with me and our movements will flow together."
The headstrong, super-controlled career woman had a lot of trouble letting someone else dictate her every motion. However, eventually, with Julian whispering encouragements and compliments against her hair, she was able to let go. The movements of the two bodies dancing together was more softly seductive than a blazing fire, a bottle of wine, a love sonnet, or a tear-jerker movie. Giving all her self-control to Julian, Caitlin glided with him around her den.
The oneness she felt was more sensual than anything she had ever experienced. When he slowed and wrapped his arms around her, she melted into his passionate embrace. They were everything to one another. They were one together.
Julian turned Caitlin so that her back was to him. Before she could protest, he began freeing the tiny black pearl buttons from their hoops on the back of her dress, kissing the skin on her neck and back as it was bared. "Are you cold?" he whispered against her neck, concerned about her trembling.
"No," she replied. "I've just never felt this way before. Julian, you overwhelm me." She turned to face him as he slipped the silk dress from her shoulders and arms, revealing a matching set of black satin underwear and garters.
"And you continue to surprise me," he murmured, surprised to see the restrained editor in black garters. "You are so incredibly beautiful." He reached out to her and Caitlin caught his hands and moved them to his sides. She pulled the ribbon at Julian's neck and the bow tie fluttered to their feet. After removing his jacket, she returned the favor of the torturous ecstasy he had given her by unbuttoning each button slowly and kissing the skin beneath.
Before untucking his shirt, she unclipped his elegant gold cufflinks and carefully set them on the mantle over her fireplace. With deliberate slowness, she pulled his shirt from his pants. Nuzzling her face into the black curls of his firmly muscled chest, she stroked her fingertips along the warm skin of his sides and back.
Julian lifted her and walked to the bedroom where he lay her down gently on the bed. He closed the curtains, first noting that his bodyguards were in place, then turned to his human lover. Laying down beside her, he noted the study in contrasts that they were. She was so pale and blonde and he olive-skinned with dark hair.
Caitlin, on her back, had her eyes closed, soaking up the pure contentment she felt when Julian lay down beside her. He laid his hand oh-so-softly on her stomach, delighting in the feel of her skin against his. She turned towards him as his fingertips moved softly along her torso, tracing intricate designs and stoking the fires of her passion. With his arm now around her, Julian crushed her body against his and kissed her. She slid her arms around his trim waist and up his back, returning the passionate embrace.
Their love-making that night was intensely tender and fiercely exciting.
After Caitlin fell asleep against his chest, the Prince detached himself quietly and carefully, slipped on his clothes, penned a note and left.
The note he placed on her nightstand read, 'Would you like to dance?'
The flames of an ever-present fire licked the stones inside the hearth as Cash entered Julian's study. Having just returned from his time with Caitlin, the Prince had his back to the door, staring out his window. Whether or not he was actually seeing the beautiful gardens that this room overlooked was questionable. Not wishing to disturb his Prince, Cash waited, respectfully, until Julian acknowledged him.
Julian turned to face his bodyguard, "Is it Lillie?" He asked sadly.
"I don't think so, Julian."
"I asked if it's Lillie," the Prince hissed angrily. "I need to know if she is involved in trying to have me killed. I don't want guesses. I need answers!"
Cash stood his ground, looking into his Prince's eyes without blinking, "I followed her back to The Haven. Cameron went in. They had a drink. He left. She went upstairs, made no calls and went to bed."
His eyes full of sadness, Julian looked down. "I don't want it to be Lillie. I know she's been treacherous before, but I've been able to find reasons to forgive her . . . in the past."
"I'll have hers and Cameron's phone records checked, but my gut tells me that it's not them. Trust me."
"You've only been my bodyguard for about six months, you've had professional training for less than three, and you want me to trust you with my life?" Julian demanded. "I've been in charge of my own safety and that of Archon's for longer than you've been alive," he seethed."You just find out what I need to know."
Cash looked down and bit his lip till it bled. Reining in his anger was one of the hardest lessons he'd learned in the past few months. "Kohanek wants to watch us question Candi. Okay with you?"
"Yes, but don't let the girl see him. In fact, let Frank ask the questions. That's his job."
Pissed, Cash thought, 'Julian's aggravated about Lillie. Fine. But he's not being fair to me.'
In a rare burst of coherent speech, Cash defended himself, "Julian, I'm not gonna' argue with you.
You're my Prince. But, I'm a fast learner and you, Daedalus and Sensei Rob are great teachers. I
didn't come into this position totally unprepared, just ignorant of the details. I'll find out what
there is to find out and I'll bring all the information to you. I can and will protect you." The
Gangrel Primogen turned and left the room.
"Back off! I just got here. I was waiting to talk with you."
Cash opened his frig, grabbed a beer and popped the top off. He took a big swig, "Julian's pissed. He's afraid the traitor might be Lillie."
"I don't think it is, Cash."
"Well, neither do I, but Julian wants proof, and he chewed my ass off about it. Where's Lorraina?"
"She's picking up Candi. We're supposed to meet her."
Detective Kohanek pulled his car into the deserted parking lot near Golden Gate park. The sky was clouded over, so no stars were visible. Even the light of the full moon was muted. Cash had called and said to show up here for the questioning of Candi. The park was huge, so Cash had told Frank to simply park and wait.
Frank recognized Cash's motorcycle, parked unattended, several yards away. There were two other bikes next to it. Frank walked towards the bikes, hoping that the Kindred hadn't already done something awful to the barmaid. He saw Cash leaning up against a tree.
"Thanks for not sneaking up on me."
"You're welcome. C'mon. Julian said you could do the questioning, but not to let her see you."
"That makes sense. It wouldn't be easy for me to pack up and disappear if she can identify me."
The night was chilly, but the stroll kept Frank warm. "So, how fast could you cover this ground, top speed?" he enquired.
"Pretty fast," Cash answered, dodging the question. "Just so you know, I've got two lookouts. We've already made arrangements to keep Kindred away." He pointed to the west. "Candi's on that bench."
"I'll want to check her bonds first; make sure you didn't get too rough."
"Whatever," the Gangrel replied.
Candi was terrified. She couldn't remember how she'd gotten here, and she didn't know where here was, although she was pretty sure it was a park of some kind. 'Someone must've slipped me something,' she decided. A cloth was stuffed into her mouth and tied into place by another cloth that went around her jaws to the back of her head. Her feet were tied to what seemed to be a concrete benchleg and her hands were tied behind her back. There was a tether of some kind between her wrists and her feet which went along her back and around the cold concrete bench.
If I agreed to some kind of kinky toss, this guy had better be ready to pay big, she thought. When she had first regained consciousness, she struggled against the bonds. Eventually, a female voice warned, "Be still. This will be over soon and you can go home. Provided you cooperate."
Terrified about what she might have gotten herself into, Candi had continued to struggle for a short time. The voice did not speak again, and Candi only succeeded in scraping her wrists and ankles.
After what seemed like hours, she heard voices, male this time. They were coming closer. Someone checked the ties on her wrists and ankles. The hands felt masculine.
She squirmed and tried to yell, but the gag kept any sound from escaping her lips and the tethers prevented her from doing anything but unbalancing her. Masculine hands caught her and set her upright. A man whispered into her ear, "You scream and you're dead. Understand?"
She nodded her head. Someone removed the gag and she coughed. "Water?" she requested.
"Coming," another male voice said. She heard whispering and a set of footsteps walked away. "Right now," the man continued, addressing her, "I want to know who is going to kill Julian Luna and who hired them to do it."
Candi's face contorted in terror as she shook her head. "I don't know what you're talking about," she stuttered.
The face that belonged to the voice moved close to her ear. He whispered, "Candi, I know you're lying."
The bound woman began trembling. She didn't hear an approach until the person was directly in front of her. Plastic touched her lips. "Drink," a new female voice said. Candi swallowed what she could as Kimme, torturously, let much of the water overflow onto the woman's face and shirt. Cash signaled for Kimme to stay and listen.
"Tell me what you know about the contract on Luna's life," Frank whispered harshly into Candi's ear. She felt him twist his fingers roughly into her colored hair. "Now!" he demanded.
"Okay. Okay. The killer," she paused to swallow. "It's this young chick, Stacie. She came into the bar a week or so ago, got drunk and started talking about how she had been hired by a cop to chop off the head of Julian Luna."
"A cop?" Frank demanded. He looked at Cash, astonished. He was the only cop that had wanted Luna dead.
"That's what she said. I thought she was stoned or nuts. I don't know anything else. I swear."
"You know what Stacie looks like," Frank hissed. "Describe her."
"Look, I'm really scared. Luna's reputation . . . You won't let anybody hurt me?"
"Tell me everything you know. As long as this Stacie and her employer are on the streets, your life isn't worth spit. Tell me what Stacie looks like and where I can find her."
Kimme and Cash listened carefully to the woman's description. With their street knowledge and contacts, they would have the young assassin in no time.
The last thing Candi experienced was the sensation of a different male telling her, without words, to sleep, that she'd been dreaming.
As Candi's body slumped into slumber, Frank caught her and Kimme cut the ties. Frank lifted the barmaid and headed back towards the bikes. "How're you gonna' move her with the bikes?" he asked.
Cash shrugged, "Just like we'd bring home a drunk buddy." Despite his instinctive dislike of cops, Cash couldn't help but think that he and Frank made a pretty good team. He also recognized that Frank's interrogation wasn't all that different from the way he would have done it.
The two Kindred and two humans met up with Lorraina, who had been patrolling, keeping an eye out for uninvited onlookers. Kimme took Candi and placed her on Lorraina's motorcycle, then tied the barmaid's hands around Lorraina's waist to steady her sleeping body. Lorraina started the bike and pulled out of the parking lot.
Cash, Frank and Kimme were left behind. "Do you know this Stacie?" Cash asked Frank.
"Doesn't sound familiar, but I can ask around."
"No. Let us. We already blend on the street. What cop do you think she was talking about?"
"I don't know, but I don't like the idea. How many cops are Kindred, anyway?" Frank asked, "assuming we're looking for a Kindred cop."
"Even if I knew, I couldn't tell you,"Cash replied as he straddled his bike. "Speaking of cops, how're you keeping all this from Sonny?"
"Carefully," Kohanek replied. He hated that he couldn't share this with his partner. "With a lot of excuses and lies that he's gonna' eventually see through."
Stacie watched as the one who had protected her, who had saved her from the killer named Julian, walked through a door in an old building in a broken-down part of town. Her protector had lied to her. He hadn't needed to go to his home. He just wanted to get away from her.
Although distorted from the barrages of time, the words, "The A Hole" were visible, having been painted in a garish fluorescent orange, on the door. The Gangrel waited, her anger stewing, as she watched the door from a deserted lot across the street. After what seemed like a lifetime, she saw her lover come out the door. He was alone. Stacie followed him back to his home then returned to the bar. She wanted to see and experience that which kept him from her.
Stacie had been in bars before, but this was just about the roughest place she had ever seen. It stank terribly, but deliciously in an odd way. Kinda' like the way gasoline or a fart smells, she thought. There were only a few other people still in the bar at this hour. She grabbed a stool and ordered one of whatever was on tap.
Seconds later, a clear plastic mug was sloshed in front of her. Someone arrived at her left elbow and paid the bad-dye-job redhead bartender before Stacie could get her money out. The someone was tall, male and not too bad to look at. Another man sat down to her right.
She let the two buy her drinks and parade their meager intelligence and wit in attempts to win her body for the night. Although perfectly willing to let them get her drunk, she wasn't about to let either of them paw her. She simply needed them to reaffirm that she was desirable. She needed to recover from being shunned earlier.
After getting the beautiful young woman toasted, the two men began their approaches. Possibly working together, they alternately touched her shoulders, hair, legs, hands and whispered propositions in her ear. Stacie made it clear to the two that she wasn't interested, but they were toasted, too, and continued their assault. Finally, she stood up from her barstool to leave.
Gary, the one from the left, grabbed her hair and said, "C'mon, baby, don't do this. We can have some fun together." Stacie grabbed the man's wrist and, with her Kindred strength, squeeze- popped a couple of the bones. Gary yelled and released her hair. Free from his grasp, she punched him across the room.
Stacie went down as Joey, the guy from her right, smashed a barstool on her head. He went to help Gary up, not noticing that the beautiful young woman, with blood streaming down her face was standing up. Stacie let out a screaming howl of anger and hurt, startling everyone in the noisy bar.
"You dare attack me!" she screamed. "I'm a trained assassin! I'll be taking the life of Julian Luna, the most powerful killer in the city. I could kill the two of you in seconds! Get out and never attack a woman again!" With her last words, she picked up a thick stick that had just recently been a barstool leg and broke it in half with one hand. "Leave now, or you'll wear the scars from these sticks forever!" Stacie warned.
The two men raced out the door while the few remaining patrons stared, aghast, at the girl. The redheaded barmaid backed up as Stacie turned back to the bar. "Beer," the Gangrel demanded. Immediately, one was drawn and set in front of her. Somebody plugged in the old jukebox, and people turned back to their own business.
"Men," Stacie said to the air.
In the tradition of good bartenders everywhere, Redhead responded, "Mmmmm," as if in agreement, and refilled the girl's mug.
"I'm gonna' take the head of Julian Luna for one of our boys in blue, and the fuckin' cop won't even sleep at my place," the drunk Gangrel murmured.
The barmaid wondered what kinda' drugs the girl had taken. First the super-strength bullshit, now this ridiculous tale.
"Oh, he'll feed me and take care of me and screw me, but he won't eat breakfast with me. He won't be seen with me!"
"Mmmmm," Redhead replied, "Men."
The two Kindred were in Daedalus' underground home. While Cash was seated, the Nosferatu was painting one of his angst-filled pictures. It was about 4am, less than an hour after Cash had left the interrogation at the park. Although the youngster was exhausted from all the running around, he was continuing his studies by discussing Kindred politics and history as scheduled.
"The Prince can trust no one," Daedalus answered. "Most clans are loyal to whoever serves their interests best. However, Gangrel are held in high regard because of their intense loyalty. Once set, their loyalty cannot be bought or persuaded. This is not so with Toreador, Brujah, Ventrue or even Nosferatu."
"Julian can only trust me and my clan?" Cash asked doubtfully.
"Julian can trust me and you completely. He can probably trust the human detective, the woman reporter and your clansmen. For everyone else, there is doubt."
Cash picked up where Daedalus left off. "So, he can't trust Sasha even though she's sworn never to betray him, because she has Brujah blood; he can't trust Lillie nor her clan and he can't trust any other Nosferatu." Cash paused, then continued, his curiosity overwhelming his need for tactfulness, "Why should he trust you?"
Daedalus turned from his painting and eyed Cash hard. "It is a good question to ask, Gangrel." The Nosferatu returned his attention to the painting. "Julian is good at keeping the peace. This is good for my clan. Also, I have pledged myself to him personally as his friend and protector. And, Cash, Julian knows that should I have wanted to, I could have killed him at any time. However, it would not have served the purposes of the Nosferatu or the Masquerade.
"That is all for tonight. Leave me now."
Completely worn and tired, the last thing Cash needed to see this morning, as he trudged to his apartment from Daedalus', was Cameron kissing Sasha; but there they were, their bodies illuminated in Cash's apartment window by a brass lamp hanging by a chain from the ceiling. Enraged, Cash shapeshifted into his wolf form and crashed through the window. Cameron was knocked onto the floor by the animal's lunge.
Sasha screamed in shock and fear. Only Kindred for about eight months, she'd never seen this. 'What the hell was this?'
Growling furiously, Cash sank his teeth into the Brujah's neck, as his claws dug into the man's chest. Cameron knocked Cash's jaw just in time to keep from being killed.
Although his grip on Cameron's neck wasn't lethal, Cash remained a wolf and continued to tear with his claws. Knowing that it would be terribly painful, Cash ripped at the Brujah's neck, worrying the wound by shaking his head viciously and tearing.
Cameron grabbed Cash by the scruff of his neck and, screaming in pain, yanked him away. Although bleeding horribly, Cameron sat up in time to punch Cash in the throat as the wolf leapt at him again.
"Cash!" Sasha yelled, as her lover shifted back to his human form, pulled his gun and pointed it at the Brujah Primogen.
Julian's security, followed by Cameron's bodyguards came crashing through the door.
Cash jumped behind Cameron and yelled, "Stop or he's ash!"
The Brujah Primogen waved to his thugs to holster their guns and stand down. The Ventrue security stepped back and, although uncertain about where to point their guns, kept them drawn.
Cameron, his voicebox re-knitted, calmly asked, "What's this all about, Cash?"
"Get out! Get the hell outta' my place!" Then, addressing the security, said, "I found this Brujah in my quarters. Get him off the property."
Dripping blood and flesh, the Brujah Primogen brushed at his ruined clothes. He turned to Cash and said, "I will remember this."
Guessing at what had transpired, Julian's security guards allowed Cameron to stand and walk out without interfering. "You need anything else?" one of them asked Cash.
The Gangrel shook his head and thanked them for their help. He closed the door and turned to glare at Sasha. She was still standing by the window, too stunned and frightened to move. Walking to the kitchen, Cash ripped his blood-stained shirt over his head and threw it across the room.
Sasha sat down on the couch. She was wearing a short, sleeveless black dress with big buttons and a low square neckline. Next to it, her skin was eerily pale.
Cash walked out of the kitchen with two beers, opened one, handed it to Sasha and sat down at the other end of the couch. After she had taken a swig, he asked, "Well?"
Sasha's temper flared, "It's none of your damn business!"
"My apartment," 'and my woman,' he thought. Aloud, he said, "My business."
Not wanting to fight, she quietly replied, "He was just saying, 'Goodbye.'"
"From what? No, never mind. Just tell me this. Are you mine?"
"He doesn't come here again," Cash stated. He took a long drink and relaxed. Silence filled the room.
Sasha slid across the couch and softly touched Cash's face. "I was frightened," she said. "What was that?"
"I'm sorry," he said. Cash motioned for Sasha to come closer and they snuggled. "I was angry and jealous. I, uh, I bodyshifted to wolf-form. You can, too."
Although she wanted to learn eventually, Sasha knew she needed to be still, close to Cash for a while.
Remembering his discussion with Daedalus, Cash asked, "Does Cameron know about the hit on Julian."
"He didn't say anything to me about it," she replied.
Kimme unlocked the apartment door. She and Alan entered. It hadn't taken long for the resourceful young woman to find out where Stevie Ray's private place was. She simply reviewed his regular haunts and made a list of apartment buildings which were reasonably close to them. She eliminated any that were popular, very expensive, or showy.
Alan had turned out to be an excellent student for Kindred Law. He was presented to Prince Julian within a month of his Embrace and allowed to become an individually responsible member of the Kindred community. He and Kimme had remained close friends afterwards, while he reveled in his new freedom.
>From both human and Kindred lovers, he tasted the pleasures that freedom from fleshly concerns gave. Then, unexpectedly, he and his former teacher had fallen for one another and been inseparable.
The Seven Palms was the third apartment complex the couple had checked. It was set back from the street and the front lawn was covered with disheveled bushes, vines and trees. The clerk was a dark-haired man in his late thirties. Wearing tight leather-looking pants and an open leather vest, he proudly sported three earrings in his left ear, double-pierced nipples and several tattoos.
At first, 'Rings' as Kimme dubbed him, wouldn't admit that he remembered Stevie Ray. Then Alan twisted his finger into one of the nipple rings and threatened to rip it out.
"Amazing thing, memory ..." Kimme commented as the clerk related how often Stevie Ray came in and when the last bill had been paid.
"Y'know," Kimme said to Alan as they stepped across the threshold into Stevie Ray's private apartment, "I'll have to remember your technique for getting information the next time you show up with the scent of another woman on you. That nipple ring twisting looked pretty painful"
With a deliciously wicked smile, Alan pressed Kimme against the wall with his body and moved his hand to her breast. "Only if I get to twist yours, too."
He leaned in to kiss the full lips of his thickly-muscled beauty and she pushed him away. "Come on. We've got work to do." Kimme pointed into the kitchen, which was immediately to the left of the door. "You start in there and I'll start in here," she said, indicating the den area.
With a growl that almost sounded like a pout, Alan headed into the kitchen. Kimme could hear him jerking open drawers and dumping out contents. She knew he was aggravated with her. 'Not my problem,' she thought.
The den had a television and a bean-bag chair. No pictures. No lamps. No phone. Not even a tv guide. The lone window was covered with a heavy dark quilt. Kimme looked around the tv, chair and quilt. Then she headed to the bedroom.
"Nothing in the kitchen 'cept a couple of science experiments in the frig and this bag of Oreos," Alan said, as he sauntered up behind his girlfriend. "Want one?"
Kimme ignored him and walked directly ahead to the bedside table. The stained, but sturdy, structure still had a tag from the Salvation Army on it. It had no drawers. On top of it sat a bare-bulbed lamp and an old-fashioned dial telephone.
Alan shrugged and went to the right. There was a quilt on this window, too. No dresser drawers. A rusted, disposable razor sat on the porcelain sink next to a generic brand of shaving cream. At the top of the sink, behind the faucet, there was a toothbrush and a new tube of Crest.
Not surprisingly, there was nothing in the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. A couple of torn and yellowed floral-patterned towels hung on slim silver-colored metal bars. Just outside the bathroom, there were two cardboard boxes. From their scent, of which Alan was sorely aware from where he was standing, one had dirty clothes and the other had clean.
The bed was a double, with what looked like three different sheets and a blanket spread in a disheveled pile on it. Kimme sat on the bed and picked up a pad of paper which had been left laying on the pillow. Tears of blood dripped from her eyes onto the paper as she read the scribbled notes.
Sonny meeting with Eddie - don't tell Julian Eddie afraid of Julian will talk to me
There was a single line drawn after the last phrase under which Stevie Ray had written a couple of paragraphs clearly defining his concerns. Kimme remembered seeing her Sire making notes on other occasions. When she teased him about being like a Ventrue businessman, he had shrugged and told her that there were things to be learned from all the clans.
"My Prince told me to keep notes in case something ever happened to me. I hope that this doesn't turn out to be my last one. But, if it is, I will remain true to him and write my concerns.
"I am certain that Sonny wants Julian dead so that he can become Prince. I have no proof, and my Prince does not accept intuition. Plus, Julian loves his Childe, Sonny, and would be devastated to discover such a betrayal, so I have never told my Prince about this suspicion.
"It is possible that this meeting is what Sonny says - an effort to establish peace between the Ventrue and Brujah. As keeping the peace is my Prince's chief duty and I am his bodyguard, I must do everything possible to make peace happen. So, I will go.
"If it is a setup and I am killed, Archon and Daedalus will protect my Prince until Cash has time to find out what really happened."
Alan walked over to where Kimme sat. "What is it?" he asked. Kimme simply handed him the pad.
As Alan read the notes, Kimme walked back into the den. She leaned against the wall next to the window, touched the quilt hanging there, closed her eyes and soaked up the sensations of her Sire's being. Stevie Ray had built the Gangrel Clan in San Francisco after the last Clan War. In less than ten years, he had created a dedicated group that was intensely loyal to him. He had taught them how to drink, play pool, barfight, ride Harleys and, generally be responsible Kindred of Clan Gangrel.
When she opened her eyes, the sadness had passed and her soul was filled with anger. "I'm gonna' kill him myself, right now," she said as Alan walked out of the bedroom, pad in hand.
"Kimme, perhaps you didn't see the look in Cash's eyes last night," Alan warned. "We've got to take this information to him. He's our Primogen now and we have to respect his orders."
"I wanna' kill him," Kimme growled, still referring to Sonny.
"I know you do. But, Cash is the one responsible for Julian's safety and he may have other information that we don't know about. We could mess everything up if we just went and killed Sonny."
Seeing that he wasn't getting through, Alan grabbed Kimme by her shoulders and intensely repeated the words she had taught him, "No Kindred may kill another unless a Blood Hunt is called."
Perfectly contented with his life for thirty years, Sonny had never expected to be eaten by the craving for power. It started when Julian, now Prince, had assigned Sonny to entrap the Brujah Primogen, Eddie Fiori. Like a contagious disease, Eddie's need had become Sonny's need. The ambition of his youth began to drive his thoughts and actions.
Unlike Eddie, Sonny could be Prince. He was the Childe of the current Prince and respected by the other Primogens. 'Eddie was a brutal fool,' Sonny thought. 'I am intelligent, cunning.'
Since Julian had sent Sonny to play the part of a traitor, the Prince would never suspect that Sonny had such true intentions. Although Sonny's original plan had failed - for Julian to be killed during a frenzy after the death of Stevie Ray - Sonny was not deterred from his bid for Prince.
He had to work hard to convince Eddie that he was still willing to double-cross Julian after that stupid showdown over Sasha. 'With both clans facing off,' he had argued, 'I had no choice but to stand with my Sire.' The fool believed him.
But it was clear to Sonny that Eddie was going down fast, so he knew he would have to come up with an alternate plan soon. Once Eddie was out of the picture, Julian would know Sonny's true treacherous thoughts. Although there wasn't a Kindred Law against thinking about killing the Prince, it could cause some serious trouble.
Getting close enough to kill Julian wasn't a problem. Sonny could come and go as he pleased around the Compound. Nobody questioned his presence near the Prince. Julian treated Sonny like a son, trusting him completely. When the Ventrue and Brujah readied for battle the night after Sasha's embrace, Julian had welcomed Sonny on his right.
The problem was that Kindred Law forfeited the life of a Kindred who brought Final Death to
another Kindred. Fulfilling this Law wasn't always possible - proof and politics often got in the
way - but a murderer would not become Prince. If Sonny killed Julian to become Prince, the
Primogens would never respect him and they wouldn't support his attempt to become Prince.
Most importantly, neither would the rest of the Ventrue Clan. So, Sonny needed an assassin.
She walked to the mansion and went inside, her cold beer in one hand and Stevie Ray's notepad in the other. "Hello," she called out. "Anybody around? I need to find the gym." Marcus, one of Archon's Childer, stepped out of the library and gave her directions.
The door to the exercise room was open, so Kimme walked in. Cash was less than twenty yards away from her and facing her direction. However, his eyes were on another Kindred and he did not acknowledge her entrance. Cash bowed to the other Kindred, whose back was to Kimme.
"You've done well, tonight," the other Kindred said. "I've never had a student before who learns the moves as quickly and uses them as effectively as you."
"Thank you, Sensei," Cash responded.
"You've also done an admirable job of overcoming your Gangrel blood's contempt of authority to behave respectfully. This will help you, not only with other Martial Arts teachers, but with your Clan, the other Primogens and with Julian."
Cash swallowed - his pride insulted - yet he responded, "Thank you, Sensei."
"You're welcome. You are dismissed for the evening."
Cash bowed to Sensei Rob again, left the exercise mat and walked to Kimme. She was watching with thinly disguised revulsion. "What a suck-up you were to that guy!" she hissed at Cash.
"Do not speak to me in that tone again," Cash said quietly. Kimme was surprised into silence.
"What d'you have for me?" Cash asked.
She handed Cash the blood-stained notepad. He removed the pad and the beer from her hands. After taking a swig from the bottle, Cash led Kimme to a bench about ten yards to the right of the door which faced the length of the exercise room. He handed her back the bottle.
"Thank you," Cash said, his words laced with a tone that would be the only apology she would get for his earlier outburst.
Cash read the letter, then closed his eyes and breathed deeply. "Thanks for bringing this to me. I know you wanted to do Sonny yourself. I know I do. But it's not our right. It's Julian's."
"Julian," Cash called out, as he entered one of the Prince's extra study rooms. "Kimme and I were told you would be in here."
Julian was seated in a chair facing away from the two Gangrels. He stood and turned towards them. "You bring sad news," he stated.
"Yeah," Cash replied. "Kimme found this in Stevie Ray's apartment." Then, remembering that Julian didn't know anything about Stevie Ray's apartment, Cash backtracked. "I had a hunch his murder and the contract on you were related, so I sent the clan looking for a private crib like I had that Stevie Ray may have kept."
"You left the investigation of the contract on my head to follow a hunch?" the Prince asked with quiet irritation.
The Gangrel knew he needed a way to get past Julian's sharply-honed ire. He decided to use his words and voice. "My Prince," Cash stated stiffly, unaccustomed to using the honorific, "Please read the note."
Julian took the notepad and, as he read the message, sank into the nearest chair. He sensed that it had been written by Stevie Ray. The words were incriminating. Sonny had almost certainly arranged for Julian's previous bodyguard and friend to be killed. And, had it not been for Archon's calming influence on the morning of the murder, Sonny would have almost certainly have secured his Sire's death.
The Prince considered the concept of his Childe, a man he treated like a son, trying to kill him. He had trusted Sonny Toussaint with his own life. He had groomed the man to be at his side. How could it be possible that Sonny was the one who wanted his head?
"Thank you for this information," he said to Cash and Kimme. "I will need to be alone."
As if an afterthought, Julian reminded them to stay away from Sonny. That Sonny, as a Ventrue, might sense - might know their suspicions. The Prince also cautioned them about being around anyone other than those Cash knew were trustworthy.
Cash and Kimme left the mansion and went to their quarters. It was so early, nearly 7:00 AM and they were both emotionally and physically exhausted. Lorraina was sprawled on the bed that she and Kimme had been sharing. Alan was asleep on a huge, overstuffed couch. The two woke when Kimme entered the room
Lorraina had returned from dropping Candi off three hours earlier. Kimme quickly summarized where she had gone after the interrogation and what had been found. Something of a hothead, Lorraina jumped out of bed, ready to leave immediately to kill the Kindred who had setup her Sire. Kimme and Alan had their hands full calming Lorraina down.
Sasha was asleep in Cash's bed. He could hear the turbulence with the others, but trusted they would stay out of trouble. To calm himself, he warmed some blood in the microwave - definitely not his favorite way to feed - and had some breakfast. Then, he curled up next to his Brujah lover. Within an hour, all four Gangrels were in restless slumber.
After saying goodbye to his partner for the day, Frank went back inside the police station instead of heading home. He glanced about and saw badges, uniforms and shoulder holsters with police-issue handguns everywhere. More common was the sight of piles of paper. Sweat, frustration and sadness was in the air. Men and women were walking and running in every direction. 'Organized chaos,' he thought.
'Okay, Sonny,' the detective said to himself, 'who are you?' Frank headed to the Personnel Department. As it was only seven in the morning, the staff had not yet arrived. The door to Personnel was unlocked, so he walked in and turned on the light. The files were in the last room on the right. That door was locked, so, after checking to make sure no one was looking, he let himself in with his set of lockpicks.
He hadn't had time to do any research until today. The detective hated puzzles with missing pieces and the fact that Sonny was Kindred was a huge missing piece in the puzzle that was his partner.
'Not for damn long,' he thought. 'What there is to know about you, I'll find out.'
He pulled the file entitled "Toussaint, Sonny," closed the cabinet, locked and closed the fileroom door, turned out the light in the Personnel Department and closed the door behind himself as he re-entered the traffic of the police station.
She stumbled across Sonny's path one night while he was on duty. Frank was following up on a missing person's case by hanging out at The Haven. Frank had seen the woman, who was later reported missing by her father, at a hospital with a stamp from The Haven on her hand.
While Frank was at the club, bothering the patrons, Sonny was following a suspect in one of their other cases. A pretty young thing with a gash across the side of her neck walked right into him. If he hadn't been so intent on the suspect, he would've felt her presence. She was obviously disoriented, probably a tossed-out neonate, so he dropped the surveillance and walked the girl to his car.
'Fate has handed me a sweet deal if I handle it right,' he thought. Stacie was seventeen. She was wearing simple clothing with the words "Herrold Psychiatric Hospital" stamped on the breast pocket. Sonny held her as she cried her story about being attacked by one of the nurses. She wanted to go home, she cried. She wanted to stop feeling the way she did.
"I'm sorry, Stacie. You can't go home. However, you will feel better," he paused, then continued ominously, "But you're going to have to trust me." He cut his wrist and shoved the gushing wound into her mouth. "Drink," he ordered. She gagged, in the same way as she had the first time a man had rammed his penis down her throat. Then, as now, she swallowed.
Diagnosed as Manic-Depressive, Stacie had been placed in the hospital four months earlier. With the appropriate medication, she would have been able to return home soon. But something terribly wrong happened. She made friends with the wrong person and now, she was sucking blood from the arm of some stranger.
Sonny appraised the young woman. Since her Sire was almost certainly the same one that had sired Starkweather, she was Gangrel Clan. The blue cotton drawstring pants and the too-small v-neck shirt revealed a beautifully sculpted body. Her youthful breasts protruded invitingly against the thin cloth. She had tough, slim muscles, and the ease with which she moved indicated that she was very athletic. Yes, Sonny decided, she would make a fine assassin.
"My name is Sonny and I'm Kindred. You are now Kindred. You have entered a world that will be more exciting than anything you've ever felt before. However," he continued, "being Kindred is dangerous right now. The strongest Kindred in San Francisco is a ruthless killer and I'm trying to stop him."
Stacie simply sat in shock. "You'll be safe with me," Sonny continued. "I'll take care of you."
Over the next few weeks - while everyone else concerned themselves with Zane, Goth, Eddie's Assamite killer, and the Manzanita Brujah - Sonny filled Stacie's mind with horrible lies about Julian and his supporters. Sonny supplied Stacie's every physical and emotional need till she was completely dependent on him.
He purposefully neglected to inform her of the Laws against Kindred killing Kindred, although he did suggest that killing humans was a terrible thing. Anyway, she had no reason to kill, since Sonny fed her from his own arm. He told her that there was a blood bond between himself and Julian that prevented Sonny from getting close enough to Julian to kill the killer.
Detective Frank Kohanek knocked on the door of Julian's mansion at 11am. He'd read the file on Sonny and come immediately to the Compound. An eternity seemed to pass. No one answered the door. Frank pounded on the door again, ringing the doorbell a couple of times in case everybody was in the back and couldn't hear knocking.
A man who looked to be in his mid twenties opened the door. "How can I help you?" he asked. The door lackey was dressed in a dark suit, eggshell-colored oxford shirt and a paisley tie. Kohanek thought he looked like any of a thousand other career-driven drones from one of the business districts.
"I have to talk to Luna, privately, immediately," Frank stated, flashing his badge.
"Please come in, Detective. If you'll wait here," the suit said, indicating a small sitting room to the left of the door, "I'll see if he's available."
Frank turned from stepping into the room. "I have to see Luna, available or not. Just get him."
Ten minutes later, Luna asked, "How can I help you, Detective?"
"We need to talk somewhere totally private. I've got a lead on who we're looking for."
"I'll need," Luna paused to consider his words, "sustenance. Would you like something?"
Frank's face wrinkled in disgust. "Just a pail to vomit in," he said sarcastically.
The suit brought Julian a tall, dark blue ceramic mug. "We will need to go outside to be alone." Luna explained to Frank.
Unable to watch the vampire drink, Frank stood and walked around the room, making sure not to look into the mug. Luxuriously furnished, the small room had forest green crushed velvet-upholstered antique Danish Louis XVI-style chairs, matching solid cherry end tables, and delicate lamps of brass and crystal.
The appointments also silently spoke of great wealth. An exotically beautiful collection of angel figurines made of gold, silver, crystal, wood, ceramic and other media was in one cabinet. Another cabinet held an equally exotic collection of young animal figurines.
Julian stood and, indicating his readiness to Frank, led the way out of the room and through the front doors. Frank followed Luna to the right along the curved driveway, until they reached a path that led away from the front of the mansion to the fountain. Luna often stood at the opening between the carefully manicured bushes and watched the spray of the fountain. It, like the flames of a fire, could bring great peace to his soul.
The Prince continued walking past the fountain. There was no longer a path, just an open field. Frank followed silently, knowing that only Julian knew when and where was safe. When the Prince reached a point in the field where the nearest obstruction to sight was two hundred yards in any direction, he stopped.
"What do you have for me?" Julian asked.
"You told me that you didn't have anything to do with Sonny being assigned to me."
"That's correct. I didn't."
"Well, it's never been a secret around the station that I've been trying to bust you. I've been working on you for about five years."
"Your point?" Luna asked.
"The only people who would want to be my partner would either also want to nail you or they would want to keep me from nailing you. You say that it's not necessary to have anybody watch me; that you're not the mobster I've thought you were; that there's no need for anyone to keep me from digging into your affairs." Frank paused.
Luna was listening with his incredibly impassive mask firmly in place. He nodded slightly for Frank to continue.
"Sonny pulled major strings to get to be my partner."
Luna's eyes closed and he looked down for a moment. Frank, his detective skills kicking in, sensed intense sadness from the man across from him.
"You okay, Luna?" Frank asked.
"Sonny's been like a son to me," Julian admitted in a rare moment of weakness. "I Sired him. I made him Kindred."
Without thinking, Kohanek spit out, "Probably why he wants you dead." Then, seeing the pain in Luna's eyes, he recanted, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Luna. I didn't mean that."
As Kohanek watched, the look in Luna's eyes changed from the damp weight of sadness and pain to the dry chill of emotionless judgement. "Thank you for your help, Frank. For your own safety, cease your investigation into this matter immediately. Kindred will continue the work."
"No way, Luna. Sonny's my partner. If he's been using me to get to you, I want to take him down myself."
"Although commendable, your feelings will get you killed. Take a vacation," Luna directed. "Sonny will be able to sense what you know."
"Fine," the detective said tonelessly. "You know his abilities better than I."
Luna began to walk back to the mansion but was stopped by a gesture from Frank. "About Lillie," Frank began. Startled, Luna eyed Frank hard, "I should probably have talked with you first."
"Oh," Luna sighed, relieved that the detective wasn't reporting a betrayal of the Toreador Primogen. "We were lovers for a long time; but it's over now. Neither you nor she owe me an explanation or need my approval."
"However," the Prince paused to make sure he had Frank's total attention. "There's something you should know about the women of Clan Toreador, Frank. They have the ability, like sirens, to enslave men beyond reason. Lillie is the Primogen, the head, of Clan Toreador in San Francisco, and she is very skilled in their powers."
The two men walked back to the mansion and Frank left. He didn't see Lillie look out at him
from her window upstairs. Lost in his own concerns, he drove straight home, went upstairs
quickly, locked his door and checked his phosphorous gun. He cleaned and loaded it. Then,
moved it with him to the different rooms as he showered, ate and finally unfolded his tired body
under the covers. One hand rested on the shotgun as he fell into a fitful sleep.
He wondered about the barmaid, Candi. She was the one with the information, not Spots. 'But,' Frank reasoned to himself, 'She didn't know that she knew anything. Cash erased her memory of the interrogation and told her not to mention to anybody else what she'd seen and heard regarding the strong, angry woman. She was probably safe, but Spots had heard Candi's story and leaked it. As a guilty snitch, he was in danger.'
The night air was cold and dry. It was terribly quiet. The street lights made pools of ugly yellow light on the neighborhood streets and sidewalks. The sky was overcast, only allowing the twinkles of a few stars through when the wind pushed the clouds out of the way.
Frank turned his dark sedan towards The A Hole, hoping to find Spots there. He was blind to everything but the traffic immediately in the path from his home to the hidden bar. Frank felt responsible for the old pool player who had been his snitch for several years.
So his partner was taking the night off, Sonny thought. Probably going to spend it with Lillie, he thought. She had a thing for Frank, and the only man ever to decline her charms was Julian.
He had known Frank had been keeping something from him the past few days, but hadn't concerned himself with Frank's secret life. He knew Frank had slept with Lillie - that much practically yelled itself into Sonny's mind - and he knew Frank was working with Julian on something. 'Probably has to do with Lillie,' he thought.
'With that Toreador on his mind, no wonder Frank had been acting odd lately. Frank's nuts to be having an affair with another one of the few women Julian loved. Next,' Sonny laughed to himself, 'Frank would be chasing Sasha.'
'Since Frank's probably playing, I think I will, too. I could use a beer and a couple of healthy games of pool. Haven't been to The A Hole in a couple of weeks and it's time I check up on Frank's snitch.'
Sonny left word at the precinct that he was going to check with an informant and drove leisurely home to change clothes. He had been a regular at The A Hole ever since he moved to San Francisco. It had been on his delivery route in those early days and reminded him of the seedier side of his home town. Once home, Sonny slipped into a pair of old jeans, a t-shirt from the bottom of his dirty-clothes hamper, old tennis shoes without socks and a beaded bluejean jacket.
Before leaving his house, he called Stacie. Sonny had put her up in an apartment close to San Francisco State University. The noises from other people her age would be comforting and it was only minutes from his house. He had told her that she couldn't live with him while Julian was alive, because her life would be in too much danger. In truth, his life would be in danger if someone found her at his place.
Stacie wanted him to come over. She always wanted him to come over. Sonny went just often enough to feed her and keep her dependent on him. He would not be able to visit her tonight. However, it was time for her to begin her work.
"Tonight is the night you need to begin watching Julian, so you'll learn the way he moves, the details of his security. Are you ready, my love?"
"I've been ready, Sonny. I'll take care of it."
Reassured that his scheme was moving along as planned, he drove to The A Hole. The VW he drove, bought in the same year as the beaded jacket, was one he kept for just such occasions. With the top of the little car down, the cold, dry air stung his face as it hit. However, because he was Kindred, the pain disappeared as soon as it appeared. 'What glory the experience was!' Pain, no pain, pain, no pain . . . .
Frank pulled into the abandoned lot across from the hidden bar. If Spots didn't come out soon, he was planning on going in after him. 'I got a bad feeling about this,' he thought. He settled into the comfort of being on a stake-out and waited.
After less than an hour, Frank saw two men walk around the side. They must have come out the back door. Suddenly, one of the men tackled the other. The attacker wasn't hitting or using any kind of weapon on the other man. In fact, he was extremely close to him.
In a way, it looked like a rape, except the attacker's hands were on the victim's shoulders, holding him up. The attacker's face seemed to be buried against the victim's neck while lowering him to the ground. Frank watched as sallow light from a lone street lamp struck the attacker's face. Appalled, he recognized Sonny. Having dropped the body, Sonny immediately bodyshifted into a blood-soaked wolf and ran off.
Frank jumped out of his car and raced across the street. He leaned over the body to check for a pulse. The neck was ripped open exposing what was left of all the major veins and arteries. It was too late for Spots. All the blood vessels were limp. There was nothing left to move through them.
Starkweather, the Kindred serial killer called Nightstalker, had left many bodies in this condition. Only the desensitization of this past experience kept Frank from heaving his meager supper onto the pavement. There was no question for the cop anymore. Sonny must be the cop who wanted Luna dead. Even though Frank had suspected it after seeing the Personnel information, he hadn't really believed it until now. Somehow, Sonny must have found out about Spots and decided to take revenge on him.
Realizing that he didn't have much time before someone drove past or walked out and saw the gory, incriminating scene, Frank shook his jacket off and wrapped it around Spots' head and neck. Frank then lifted the body, adrenaline giving him added strength, and moved it to his car.
Frank decided to bring Spots' body to Luna to prove that Sonny had killed the snitch. He'd find out once and for all if Luna and Lillie and Sonny and Cash had told him the truth about Kindred not being allowed to kill humans. Sonny had touched Spots' shirt while killing him. Kindred had the ability, when they touched an object, to see, through the eyes of the wearer, the last event that happened to the wearer. Spots' shirt was proof against Sonny.
Feeling sick about the death, guilty about not protecting Spots and disgusted that he was about to betray his partner, Frank raced to Luna's mansion.
As Stacie drank from his arm, Sonny told her that Julian had murdered one of the other rebel Kindred, Eddie. With Eddie out of the way, Julian would be coming after him soon. Stacie became hysterical. She could not lose her Sonny to this horrible killer. She demanded that Sonny tell her how to kill Julian so that she could do it herself.
Like the quintessential Cheshire Cat, Sonny smiled to himself. He had done impressive work with the girl. She was reacting just as he had predicted. During the time that Cash was being trained to be a bodyguard, Sonny taught Stacie about Julian's patterns and habits. He taught her how to observe from concealment, how to shoot the Dragon's Breath gun, and most importantly, how to use the Gurkha blade.
"When will I be ready?" Stacie asked one evening. She had drank her fill from her lover, Sonny, and wanted to chat. He rarely stayed with her much to talk and the naive Gangrel was becoming antsy.
"Soon, hon. Be patient."
As he prepared to leave, she pleaded, "Stay with me tonight."
"You know I can't," Sonny explained. "It's too dangerous."
"Just this once. Please. No one will know," she cried. Stacie wrapped her arms around the Ventrue detective. "Don't go. I need you."
Sonny, who was becoming tired of this babysitting, pulled her arms from around him. Firmly, he said, "No. I have to go."
Stacie's fiery Gangrel nature took over. She grabbed Sonny's shirt and jerked him to her. "You would stay if you wanted to!" she accused.
He shoved her back, "Back off! I'll see you tomorrow."
Not to be left alone again, the neonate leapt to the door. "No!" she yelled as she pushed Sonny back. "You'll be with me tonight. I'll take care of you!"
Partly out of aggravation and partly due to instinct, Sonny punched the woman. "Geez, Stacie," he immediately recanted, not wanting to lose his assassin, "I'm sorry. I can't stay. That's all." He stepped over her stunned form and walked out the door.
The Gangrel stole a moment to gather her thoughts, then she got up, grabbed her keys and pocketbook and ran after Sonny. By the time she got to the parking lot, he was pulling out. She ran to her car, intending to catch up to him and apologize. But, as she pulled out of the lot, she saw he wasn't heading towards his home. Angry and curious, she followed him till he stopped at a bar.
As Frank drove away with Sonny's Personnel File, Julian saw his former mistress watching from above. He walked the stairs and went to her. Putting his arms around her lithe body and snuggling his head against her neck, he asked, "Lillie, are we still going to hear your new singer? My schedule for tonight includes a trip to the opera house with you attempting to convince me to invest in your latest protégée."
Without leaving Julian's embrace, yet ignoring his questions, she asked, "What was Frank doing here?"
"He and I had business to discuss."
Lillie pulled away from her Prince, "Don't get between us, Julian," she warned, her azure eyes flashing with Kindred brilliance. "That's not fair."
"It had nothing to do with you, Lillie. I promise."
"You're telling the truth," she said, surprised.
Julian's head nodded down once and his eyes closed in assent. He lifted the left hand of the Toreador Primogen and held it against his cheek. "Tonight then."
Several hours of restless sleep later, Julian rose and dressed for his appointment with Lillie. The couple stepped easily into the Prince's Bentley limousine. Julian was the very image of a hero from the pages of a modern romance novel. He wore one of his hand-made imported black Italian suits and a deep burgundy button-down with a black, burgundy-flecked tie.
Lillie was stunning in a black backless dress - the edge well above her knee - which had a "priest-collar," black pearl clasp at the back of the neck and perfectly fitted darts. A round-cut emerald, glittering in a simple gold base, clung to each silky ear lobe. Sheer black satin hose led down to black suede pumps.
As soon as the doors were closed and the car began moving forward, Julian asked, "Lillie, when was the last time you spoke with Sonny?"
She looked at Julian, with curious amazement. "Sonny? I don't know. The only time I see him is when he's at the Compound, when he's with you. I don't think I've ever just spoken with him. Why?"
Ignoring her question, Julian asked another, "How's Cameron?"
"You're not jealous, are you, Julian?" Lillie asked, smiling.
"No, I'm concerned about my safety - and yours," The Prince responded.
"Cameron's not stupid. He's not ready to make his move on you. He does want to be Prince. That's a given. But, unlike Eddie, Cameron is smart. He's willing to wait. He waited nearly ten years to strike at Archon. He's not going to make an attempt on you until the time is right, and," she continued, "the time is not yet right for him."
"You are so beautiful, Lillie, yet your heart is so cold that you could sit here and talk to me about my death with such lack of emotion."
Lillie shrugged and looked out the heavily tinted windows at the falling night. "My protégée will be singing for just the two of us tonight. She is nervous about meeting you, since I've told her that you are her best shot at financing. I like to see how my performers work under stress and pressure."
Julian uttered the appropriate words while Lillie went into the details of the new singer's past and
expected future performance. Now confident that Lillie was not involved in the Hit, his mind was
concerned with the location of his bodyguard. Cash should've been with them. Julian had given
the Gangrel a copy of his schedule so Cash would know when to be around. Annoyed, he
considered how best to teach the kid responsibility.
The chauffeur, who obeyed only his Prince, reached for the door handle. Cash grabbed his arm, twisted it back so that the man's chest was forced forward, and kneed him in the back. The chauffeur fell forward, away from the car. Although astonished and aggravated at this behavior, Julian recognized Sensei Rob's training in Cash's moves. In the instant it took for the chauffeur to respond, Cash pulled his gun out and pointed it at him.
"Our Prince is in danger," Cash shouted. "There's a Kindred up on the building across from here who's been clocking the limo since it left the Compound."
The chauffeur looked to Julian for help. The Prince opened his window and growled, "It's Daedalus. He's been shadowing my moves ever since I heard about this contract." Julian pulled on the door handle and the door began to open.
Cash slammed it shut with his foot, allowing himself to fall onto the concrete out of shot of any gun his Prince might be carrying. "No, Julian! It's not Daedalus! It's a woman who's been following you tonight." Turning back to the chauffeur, Cash shot a phosphorous-filled bullet past the man's ear and yelled, "Get in the car and drive to the Compound! NOW!!"
Again, the chauffeur looked to Julian for guidance. Cash turned to his Prince, "Julian, trust me. There's someone else there. I can't protect you here. Let me do my job."
Eyes now Kindred green, Julian stated coldly, "You're overstepping your bounds, Gangrel." Turning to look at his driver, he nodded his head, "Drive us home." As the chauffeur turned the motor over, Julian commanded Cash, "You will meet me in the gym as soon as we return." Then, the Prince's face disappeared into the darkness of the car.
Cash watched, self-respect mixing with dread in his mind, as the window rolled up. He couldn't help but think he was either the most stupid bodyguard in Kindred history or the most unlucky. He shook the negative thoughts. Sensei Rob had taught him to trust in himself and go with his instincts. 'Wish Sensei Rob could handle the backlash for me acting on my instincts,' Cash thought sourly.
Cash got on his bike and began following the Bentley to the Compound. Though his senses were alert for any uninvited tag-alongs, his mind was elsewhere. 'Geez, the gym? Guess that room would be easier to clean after Julian rips open my chest and eats my heart.
'Lorraina, please come through for me and find whoever was spying on Julian. That person can prove my story and maybe save my life. What was I thinking, contradicting the Prince in front of others? Pointing a gun at his driver. Hell, I slammed the door on Julian's fingers!'
A smirk crossed his face at the thought. 'I had to do it to save his life,' he explained in mock seriousness to himself.
Sitting in silence, The Prince of the city, Julian Luna, was losing his cool. Cash's actions were nothing, but they had sparked flames of other issues which had been searing for release. 'My own Childe!' He tried to not think about it. 'The embarrassment, shame, betrayal ... the pain and the fury ... it was overwhelming.' His entire being seethed with emotional turmoil. The energies emanating from his body were frightful and dangerous. Both Lillie and the chauffeur were silent.
Sensei Rob was performing floor stretches when Cash stepped across the threshold of the gym. Julian had removed his expensive suit, replacing it with the pants of a black gi. Barechested, the Prince was performing a kata.
Sensei Rob motioned for Cash to come speak to him. "You need to dress for practice," Sensei Rob stated.
"I'm fighting Julian?" Cash asked incredulously. Then, more quietly, he asked, "Is he gonna' kill me?"
Sensei Rob stopped his stretching and looked at the Gangrel. "He's pretty mad, Cash. But," the Sensei smirked, "I think he just wants to kick the shit out of you."
Cash turned to look at his boss. Where Cash had slender, wiry muscles, his boss had bundles of thick ones. Julian was in excellent shape. "Will we be using weapons?" the Gangrel Primogen asked Sensei Rob.
"No, and I'll be refereeing the fight."
"Am I allowed to do my best to defeat him?" Cash asked the Sensei.
"You'd better. He'll respect you for it. Plus, if you don't, you'll just be pounded to a messy, bloody pulp that I'll have to clean up. Now, go get dressed."
Lorraina lugged the unconscious form of the Kindred woman from the steps. 'Fast little bitch,' she thought. 'Almost didn't catch her. Now, all I've got to do is throw her on the bike and bring her to the Compound without anyone seeing me bring her in. Yeah. Right.'
"May I be of assistance?" Daedalus asked, stepping out from the shadows.
Startled, Lorraina tried, in Gangrel fashion, to show she hadn't been surprised. "You sure move fast. You were on the roof of the opera house just a second ago."
Nodding his head in acknowledgment, Daedalus said, "And so do you. You found and captured this Kindred before me. Impressive."
"I need to get her to Julian, but I can't let anyone see her. I can carry her on my motorcycle, but I won't be able to get her past the Compound guards without being noticed."
"I will meet you at the corner, two blocks from the Compound. You will give the woman to me and I will bring her in without anyone seeing."
"Done." Lorraina lifted the woman and walked to her bike.
The two men arrived at opposite corners of the mat. "Julian," Cash began, trying to avoid the fight. "There really was someone else out there tonight. Lorraina went after her. Daedalus was on the roof of the opera house. He was directly above us."
Julian looked up at Cash. The thought, 'This rings of the truth,' crossed his mind. Then, the anger returned. Pent-up for months now, Julian allowed the fury over Stevie Ray's death, Sasha's Embrace, Zane's disrespect, Lillie's betrayals and Archon's death to surface and engulf him. He ignored the boy.
Cash continued, "This other person was across the street."
Julian replied quietly, "Do not speak again."
The opponents, one terrified and unwilling, the other furious and unstoppable, stepped onto the mats. Sensei Rob spoke, "Rounds will either last two minutes or when I say, 'Stop.' Is that understood?" Julian and Cash turned to face Sensei Rob and bowed. "Begin."
The white hot fury inside Julian almost blurred his vision. Since he wasn't in mortal danger and he'd recently fed, he would probably not Frenzy, killing everyone in reach. However, he was angry enough to knock some respect into this Gangrel punk.
"You're mad at me. I know," Cash said. "I understand. Here. Here. Hit me," he offered, indicating his chin.
The skills which came from decades of being Archon's Enforcer made Julian suspicious of the offer, but he took it anyway. Feinting to the right, he backfisted Cash across the face with his left.
Blood shot out from the bodyguard's mouth as his head slung to the right. Cash stumbled back, blinking and shaking his head. 'What was I thinking?'
Taking advantage of Cash's disorientation, Julian stepped back to his left and kicked to Cash's chin with his right foot. Cash dodged the blow, stepping to his left and punched Julian in his exposed kidneys.
Shocked that he'd been hit, Julian backed away from his bodyguard warily.
'Cool,' Cash thought, interpreting Luna's moves, 'Julian's afraid of me.'
"Not very damn likely, Gangrel," Julian snarled. However, there was an added tone, something like the beginnings of respect, in his voice. In the blink of an eye, Julian stepped forward on his left, weight balanced between his feet, and sank low to place a punch in Cash's solar plexus.
The Gangrel curled inward from the punch, then threw himself in a roll to the left to avoid being hit again while he was trying to regain his breath. Julian followed the roll and kicked Cash in the stomach before he could get up. Again, Cash's body curled inward. Julian kicked him again. When the third kick came, Cash grabbed Julian's foot. Holding it off the ground, Cash swept Julian's other leg with his own. As Julian hit the mat on his back, head near Cash, the Gangrel Primogen smacked his Prince on the nose with a backfist.
Julian roared in pain and aggravation and both men leapt to their feet. "Time," Sensei Rob called out. Julian and Cash continued to circle each other. "Time!" the Sensei yelled again. Tension filled the air as the word finally cut through the violent emotions. The two turned and bowed to the Sensei then went to their corners of the mats.
After a thirty-second break, they began again. Julian deflected a spin-kick from Cash and knocked the boy back with one of his own to the head, then continued into a second. The Gangrel, dazed by the hits to his head, lunged at Luna. Julian dodged and caught Cash with a flurry of punches to his face, and upper and lower chest.
Julian let Cash slip to the floor and stepped back. "Get up, boy. I'm not through with you, yet."
Coughing and spitting blood, Cash pulled himself to his feet. Using the cunning for which his Clan was renown, he filled his mind with thoughts of defeat and pain, knowing Julian would perceive them. Cash also swayed and allowed himself to appear unprepared.
As he expected, his Prince launched a punch anticipating no resistance. The Gangrel whacked the punch to the outside. Then he elbowed Julian up across the face, then back down, and punched him twice in his ribs. "I'm not quite through, either," Cash replied.
Julian dodged the next punch, and grabbed Cash's arm. The Prince stepped towards Cash and
placed his other arm behind the captured arm's elbow. Using a Judo move, he was about to break
his bodyguard's arm when the word, "Enough!" boomed through the room. Julian shoved Cash
away and turned to see Daedalus standing in the doorway.
"She's the one?" Cash asked Lorraina.
"Yeah. I caught her climbing down the stairs. She must've seen you send the car home and got spooked. She had these." Lorraina handed a pair of binoculars and a phosphorous pistol to Cash.
"This is who you saw, Cash?" Julian asked his bodyguard.
"Yeah, I think so." Cash looked to Daedalus, "You were on the roof of the opera house, right?"
"Yes. Although I also saw this woman watching, I would not have been able to stop her from doing harm to Julian from where I was. It is good that Lorraina was there. It was also good that you saved our Prince from harm."
Julian listened, stunned, his fury evaporating like so much morning mist. He began experiencing a feeling he hadn't felt in a long time, if ever - He felt protected. He listened as his bodyguard handled the situation.
"Did anyone see you bring her into the Compound?" Cash asked, looking at Lorraina.
"I brought her in, concealed," Daedalus answered.
"So the only ones who know she's here," Cash asked, "are you, Lorraina, myself, Julian, Sensei Rob and possibly the chauffeur and Lillie?"
"That's the way I figure it," Lorraina answered.
"Julian," Cash said, turning to address his Prince, "I'd like to seal off this room immediately and put Gangrel guards at the doors as soon as possible. Do I have your permission?"
The Prince nodded.
As Sensei Rob started to walk out the door, Lorraina put out her arm. "You're not going anywhere," she stated.
The Martial Arts Master looked at her arm disdainfully, then up into her eyes. "I am not a part of this. I am leaving."
"No," Cash interjected, "You're not. No chances will be taken with the life of the Prince. Anyone that has seen this woman must stay here."
Sensei Rob looked to Julian who nodded his head and ordered him to help lock the doors. Daedalus, expert at getting into and out of places, offered to double check all the possible exits and entrances.
"Lorraina," Julian asked, examining the spy, "Would you escort our guest to the chairs beside the boxing ring, across from the doors? I would like a moment alone with my bodyguard."
Cash turned to face Julian. The Prince said, "I underestimated you, Cash. I didn't trust you. I was wrong. I ... apologize."
"Don't," the Gangrel Primogen said shyly, doing his best not to shuffle his feet. "You didn't know me."
"I've been bottling up a lot of anger in the last several months, and I have been taking it all out on you."
"S'okay," Cash replied, looking down.
"You took care of yourself well, Cash."
"I, uh, I like a good scrap."
"And, you needed to overcome your fear of me," Julian replied perceptively. He dabbed at the blood still dripping from his nose, where Cash had backfisted him on the floor, and indicated the bruises, which were rapidly healing, on his face. "I think you've overcome that particular concern," the Prince added with a trace of humor.
Rubbing his arm, where it had nearly been broken, Cash nodded his agreement. Then, in a gesture indicating the self-assuredness which was becoming a part of him, Cash crossed his arms comfortably. "Let's have a talk with the spy."
Julian and Cash stepped out of the dressing room after quick showers. Without the gel in it, Julian's black hair fell softly over his brow and behind his ears. Cash had taken a blow-drier to his hair, so it had some of its usual lift. However, without the moussed-in-place spikes, his bangs also framed his face more softly. The Prince had donned a scarlet gi and his bodyguard was in black.
"She is Gangrel," Cash said as the two men walked out, "Probably from Merisa, the psychiatric nurse. With your permission, I'll meet you over with her in a minute. I need to get my Gangrels in here." Julian nodded his understanding and assent.
Cash motioned for Lorraina to follow him. When she indicated that she was guarding the spy, Cash pointed to Julian who was approaching the two. He also pointed to Daedalus, who had completed his check of the room and was standing a few yards behind the spy. The Prince's safety was covered. Even Sensei Rob, still piqued that he had to stay with the group, was near.
Julian walked casually up to the woman and stood in front of her for a moment, watching her, intimidating her. He didn't waste any time asking for her name. He simply read it from her mind. "Why were you following me, Stacie? What were you doing with this gun?"
Although startled that the hated killer knew her name, Stacie remained silent.
Seeking a weak emotional place from which to work, Julian said, "The one who made you Kindred, the nurse named Merisa, has paid for her crimes with her life. You were not the only one she Embraced forcibly."
"You did not tell her to Embrace me?" Stacie demanded.
"No," Julian stated, shaking his head slowly. "We only Embrace the willing." Taking a chance at the reason for Stacie's anger, Julian said, "I'm afraid Sonny has lied to you about many things."
"He told me you'd kill me and that you were trying to kill him. I had to save him."
Unfortunately, Luna's hunch had been right. Sonny had lied to Stacie. The Prince sat down beside the woman. "What do you know about me?"
Because the Gangrel blood in her overruled the need to be diplomatic, she exclaimed, "You're a ruthless dictator; you kill for no reason; you enjoy killing; and you're trying to kill Sonny."
"Stacie,"Julian said softly, taken one of her hands in his, "Killing other Kindred is against our Laws. It is only done when a Kindred has broken one of our Laws." He paused, "For example, Merisa broke the Law forbidding the taking of human life and Embracing without my permission. By doing so, she endangered all Kindred and her life became forfeit."
"And you killed her," Stacie finished.
"Actually, no. I ordered her death by our Law. Cash killed her," Julian said, pointing to his bodyguard. "Cash is the Primogen of your Clan." Seeing the confused look in the woman's eyes, Julian explained, "He's like the head of your family. You and he and Merisa and Lorraina," Julian pointed out Cash's second-in-command, "are Clan Gangrel. I am Clan Ventrue."
"Sonny didn't tell me any of this. You're lying."
Julian shrugged. "You will believe what you wish. Sonny is also Clan Ventrue. I Embraced him about thirty years ago. This makes me his Sire and he my Childe."
Stacie's jaw dropped. "I believe you," she stated. "Sonny told me that there was a strong blood connection between the two of you; that he could not kill you because of that." Quietly, she continued, "I was watching you tonight to learn your patterns. I," she was almost whispering now, "was going to kill you when Sonny told me the time was right."
"I know. One of my Clan's gifts is the ability to, well, know some of the thoughts of others. So, I would sense if Sonny intended harm to me. More importantly, if he killed me or any Kindred, his life would be forfeit and he would be killed." Julian paused a moment, put his hand under Stacie's chin and lifted her face so that her eyes looked into his. "As would you, had you succeeded."
The woman jerked herself away from Julian's hands. Julian motioned to Sensei Rob to keep an eye on her. The Toreador Martial Artist walked forward. Julian thanked him for his patience and assistance, and walked to meet Cash.
Cash met Julian as the Prince crossed the floor, "I just got off the phone with Kimme and Alan. They're gathering the Clan. Lorraina has gone to get Lillie and the chauffeur. We need to move everybody else. I was thinking that you could say I was holding a Clan gathering here or something like that and for everyone to stay upstairs, in their apartments or off the grounds."
"The Gangrels are coming here?" Julian asked suspiciously.
"Yea. You're not worried about their loyalty?" Cash asked.
"No. I, well, that will be fine," the Prince replied even though the idea of a bunch of bikers running around his mansion was troublesome. "Your Clan will be providing protection for me, guarding Stacie and helping to capture Sonny?"
"Yea. A couple of 'em will tail Sonny and make sure he doesn't get away. We'll have to move fast, 'cause Sonny'll notice when Stacie doesn't show up. We need to get him to come here. Will Stacie help?"
"She doesn't want to believe me, but I agree that we must move fast." Julian continued bitterly, "We'll just have to convince her that calling Sonny is in her best interests."
"I'll talk to her. I'm her Primogen."
Cash walked over to where Stacie was seated and motioned for Sensei Rob to give him some space with the woman. "My name is Cash," he began, "I'm the head of our Clan. The things that have happened to you, being attacked by Merisa and then being kept from the rest of your Clan by Sonny - all that is pretty shitty. We Gangrels are close. In fact, the rest of our Clan will be showing up shortly."
"Why should I believe anything you're telling me?" Stacie challenged. "Sonny took good care of me."
"Look around you, Stacie, can't you tell there are differences between the Kindred in this room? Sonny's been lying to you. He's the one looking to kill.
"Julian's trusted Sonny with his life and has treated him like a son. If you'd just look, you'd see Sonny's betrayal is killin' him!"
Stacie glared at the man she'd been taught to hate. Luna was seated on a bench, leaning forward with the long, masculinely delicate fingers of his hand covering his face. A beautiful woman stood at his side, whispering into his ear and caressing his shoulders.
"So, what if Sonny was lying," Stacie said. "What d'you want me to do?"
Cash took a deep breath. He had to be totally convincing. If Stacie refused to cooperate, her life would definitely be forfeit. "Call him here. Tell him you've killed Julian but need his help to get out of the mansion."
"What will happen to him?"
"He will be judged for his crimes against the Masquerade," Cash replied honestly.
"You mean he'll be killed!" Stacie protested.
"Maybe. Look, there's stuff you don't know. You know what he wants is to be Prince, don't you? But he can't while Julian is alive. And he can't kill Julian because of our Laws. That's why he needed you to do it. You were gonna' be his scapegoat!
"Thing is, we have proof that Sonny broke the Law tonight." Cash waved Lorraina over. "He killed a human man earlier. The man had heard about your boast in The A Hole bar and ratted."
"Oh my god," Stacie whispered. "You know about the bar?"
"Yeah." Addressing Lorraina, he asked, "Can you bring me Spots' shirt?"
Lorraina returned swiftly with the blood-stained shirt. "Hold it in your hands," Cash told the would-be assassin, "and look into it. You'll see the last thing Spots saw."
She gazed into the shirt, seeing and experiencing the attack through the now-dead eyes of Spots. She screamed and shivered at the horror.
"Alright," she sniffled, "but I want to talk with Sonny before anything is done to him."
"I'll check with Julian, but it should be okay."
Cash stood, then warned, "You should know, if you try to warn Sonny, I'll kill you."
Excited, yet worried, Sonny drove up to the Compound. Stacie said she had killed Julian. But that hadn't been the plan. The time wasn't right. She was just supposed to watch him tonight. But she was a Gangrel and she might have let her passions take over. He congratulated himself again on having done such a good job of conditioning her to hate Julian.
Stacie had told him that she and the body were in a small main floor dining room. She didn't know what to do now that Julian was dead and wanted Sonny to come rescue her. Some rescue, he thought. I find her with Julian's body and turn her over to the Conclave.
'Although some may suspect that I'm involved, they won't be able to prove anything and the way will be paved for me to be Prince. And because of what the Primogens will suspect about my ruthlessness and cunning, they'll respect me. For Kindred justice to be satisfied, they'll order Final Death for Stacie and I will claim Julian's place as Prince.'
A Gangrel named Rick, one of Stevie Ray's first Childer, met Sonny at the head of the driveway. Cash had told his clansman that the rest of the clan was meeting in the Exercise room. 'This meeting,' Cash had explained, 'Is for the newer clanmembers and I don't want you to be bored.' He asked that the experienced Gangrel handle any traffic that came to the mansion since, he added in a smug conspiratorial tone, Julian and his people didn't want to be around with the entire Gangrel Clan converging on the Compound. Cash had added that Rick was to watch out for himself and, of course, stop anybody who ran out of the mansion. 'Gotta' keep the security up on this museum,' he had joked.
Rick opened Sonny's door for him. "Where're Julian's people?" Sonny asked. Rick explained about the Gangrel meeting. "That's a first," Sonny replied.
"Cash said it's for the new members, reviewing the Laws and such," Rick said. "These young ones just don't respect the Masquerade."
"Yeah, well, I'll stay outta' their way," Sonny said as he climbed the steps to the main floor. After entering the door, he strode down the second hallway on the right to the only small dining room on the main floor. Stacie stepped out of the room as he walked up.
"Oh, Sonny," she cried, "I'm so glad you're here! I didn't know what to do and I'm so confused." Although she was holding back the full truth of the situation, she did not lie.
"Where is he?" Sonny asked. He needed to see the body. He needed to know, by seeing it with his own eyes, that his Sire and Prince was dead. Stacie pointed to an elongated lump on the floor past the table at the other end of the room. There was at least a quart of blood soaking into the white cotton tablecloth with which she had covered the body. Stepping a few yards into the room, Sonny could see his Sire's handmade, imported shoes, socks and pants' legs sticking out from under the cloth.
Convinced that it had been done, he grabbed Stacie and, pushing her to the door of the room, yelled, "Daedalus, Cash, somebody, come here! This Gangrel has killed Julian!"
As Stacie screamed, horrified that Sonny had lied to her, Julian appeared at the door.
"Sire!" Sonny yelled, shocked. He looked back at the lump on the floor.
"We caught your would-be assassin, and now, my Childe, we've caught you." Foiled and furious, Sonny pulled his phosphorous gun. From his place just beside the doorway, Cash shoved Julian out of the doorway as Sonny fired. The shell burned into the wall. "You set me up!" Sonny screamed at Stacie.
Kimme and Lorraina, who had scrambled out of the way when Julian and Cash hit the floor, each pulled their pistol on the Ventrue traitor from either side of the doorway.
Sonny fired a warning shot at them, then pushed Stacie away from him and shot her. "You deceiving bitch!" he yelled.
Cash, now untangled from his Prince, rushed Sonny, knocking him to the ground and disarming
him. Lorraina and Kimme were right behind their Primogen, knocking the gun out of the way and
Sonny got up and moved to the other side of the formal dining table, away from his Sire. Spots' body, whose pants, socks and shoes had been changed to a set belonging to Julian, and the body of the unfortunate Stacie had both been removed.
Julian addressed his Childe, his voice full of pain. "How could you do this to me, Sonny?"
The proud Childe of the Ventrue Prince responded with silence.
Slowly, Julian circled the table. As he walked past the places on the floor where Stacie had died and Spots had lain, the sadness was replaced with anger. He became a predator stalking his prey.
Sonny walked opposite, keeping the table between him and the Prince.
All but two chairs had been removed from the room. Richly appointed, it was clearly a room in which the Prince was meant to dine with humans on formal occasions. The table was no obstacle for the Kindred, but it was a barrier that Sonny needed, emotionally.
"Speak up," Julian commanded, circling as he spoke, "I want to know why!" Suddenly, he leapt the table, grabbed Sonny by the shirt collar and leaned into him, pinning his back.
Although Sonny's arms were free, he did not resist. "Why?" Luna growled. "Your silence will gain you nothing from Kindred law. The Conclave already has what information it needs to decide your fate."
Sonny arrogantly looked away from his Sire, keeping his chin low. Flagrantly exposing his neck would be suicide.
"You thought to become Prince by playing the sides against each other," Julian said. It was no longer a question.
The traitor slowly turned his head back so that his eyes met Julian's. "Yes."
Cash opened the door, "Julian," he respectfully began. His young voice was full of concern. Remembering the pummeling from earlier, he was careful to be respectful to his Prince, especially in front of another. "I cannot leave you alone with the traitor. I will remain in here with you," he said.
Without looking away from Sonny, Julian replied, "You've learned your job well, Cash."
The Gangrel Primogen stood near the door, his gun in his underarm holster, hands loose at his sides. The guards remained, as he had instructed, a few yards down the hall on either side of this door. Cash had tried to prepare for all the possible things that could still happen. The guards were close enough to the room that they would hear and be able to respond to any disturbance in nanoseconds. Should Sonny have other conspirators who might attempt a rescue, the guards were positioned far enough away from the cell to give Cash time to control the situation.
"I trusted you with my life, Sonny," Julian stated, "You could've become Prince eventually with my blessings."
"I got tired of waiting and I didn't need your blessing," Sonny sneered.
Julian released his Childe and took a step back. Sonny straightened. With lightning speed, Julian slapped Sonny's chin up with one hand and slit his throat with a claw from the other.
Cash, attentive to the slightest moves of his Prince, was immediately there, catching Sonny as the Ventrue traitor sagged in amazement.
"He's still alive. It's not deep enough for death," Julian growled. "Let him drain until the Conclave has decided his fate."
Sonny's blood dripped onto the hardwood floor. The guards kicked the door open, concerned over the noise of a slash and the gushing of blood. As Cash instructed the guards to clean the room and move Sonny to the Prison of Light, the Prince stepped out of the room to the hallway.
After handing the traitor over to the guards, Cash stepped out to check on Julian. "You okay?"
"Yes, Cash, I'm fine. Call the Conclave. We'll meet in an hour."
All but three chairs were filled at the Conclave table when Julian walked in, followed by Cash. The two took their places, leaving only the chair for the Ventrue Primogen vacant.
"You have been apprised of what has happened." Julian stated. "I seek the Conclave's judgement on Sonny Toussaint, of Clan Ventrue. As the current representative for Clan Ventrue, I recognize the threat he is to the Masquerade and call for Final Death." He looked to Cash.
The fact that Julian sought the vote of the Gangrel immediately following his own vote was not lost on the other Primogens. Cash had earned the Prince's respect and he was being rewarded.
"As Primogen of the Gangrel Clan, I too call for Final Death," Cash stated solemnly. Then, with Gangrel anger in his voice, he continued, "Sonny arranged for my Sire, Stevie Ray, to be killed and he seeks the life of my Prince."
All eyes looked back at Julian, who said, "Clan Nosferatu?"
Daedalus, seated at Julian's left across from Cash, said, "Sonny's actions and intentions clearly endanger the Peace between the Clans. However, it is only because he broke the Laws of the Masquerade by killing both a human and a Kindred that Clan Nosferatu supports Final Death."
"Toreador?" Julian asked.
"As much as calling for the death of one of my Prince's Childer pains me," Lillie said in a soft voice which tried to convey sympathy, "as Primogen of Clan Toreador, I too, say he dies."
As the Conclave looked to the Brujah Primogen, Cameron waited to be recognized by the Prince. "Brujah?" Julian asked.
"This Ventrue broke the Laws of the Masquerade and," Cameron respectfully inclined his head towards Julian, "He seeks to destroy the Peace among the Clans by killing my Prince." 'The only good Ventrue is a dead Ventrue,' he thought. "The Brujah Clan calls for Final Death."
A stony mask descended over the Prince's features as he considered the words of the Conclave. This was the outcome he wanted, the outcome he needed to maintain the Peace. However, it sickened him. He would have to kill again, and he would have to kill his own Childe. He stood slowly and stated formally, "Sentence to be carried out at dawn."
Gangrel and Ventrue guards sealed off the grounds as the sun began to rise. Everyone who was to be in the sun took a break to feed. The limousine with the Brujah Primogen pulled onto the grounds shortly after 5:30am. No other would be allowed into the Compound until the sentence had been carried out, the body burned and all traces of the event removed.
Cash, Lorraina and Kimme guided Sonny from the Prison of Light. The traitor was weak from loss of blood, but he could walk. Part of Cash wanted to rip the Ventrue to pieces, squeezing the blood from Sonny's organs while the traitor slowly died. However Sonny's Final Death was Julian's right.
The four arrived in the garden where the Primogens were already waiting. Although Sonny continued to walk, burns began developing on the exposed parts of his body.
There were four extra items in the garden. The first was a tall marble table upon which rested the second and third items - Julian's antique oak sword case and a long black coat. The coat, known as a Slayer's Cloak, was heavy and waterproof. It fit the wearer closely to protect from the gore of death. Lastly, there was a slim, oval-shaped piece of wood pressed vertically into the ground. Ironically, the piece of wood resembled a headstone.
As they walked closer, Cash could see the case was open, the deadly Gurkha sword in full view. It rested in thick burgundy velvet. Cash had watched as Julian sharpened and oiled the blade earlier that night.
Julian stood in front of the Primogens. He wore black slacks and a white turtleneck. With his deep, resonant voice, the Prince of San Francisco proclaimed, "Sonny Toussaint of Clan Ventrue, my Childe, for your crimes against the Masquerade, you have been sentenced to Final Death." Julian pointed to the headstone. "Kneel and make your peace."
Cash could smell the fear dripping off the Ventrue traitor. No matter how hard he tried to stay composed, Sonny was shaking. Cash knew that it was partly from the burning of the sun, but part of it was the fear of Final Death. Sonny stepped forward and knelt at the headstone, facing his Sire and Prince. He looked at each of the Primogens and finally into Julian's eyes and then bowed his head.
The Prince lifted the cloak from the table and wrapped it around himself. The neck of the cloak was raised, so that its edges pressed underneath Julian's chin. It clasped, like the rest of the cloak, along the Prince's right side. Covering everything except for Julian's head and the tips of his shoes, the formal Slayer's Cloak had been washed of the stains, but it still retained the smell of blood.
Now formally attired for his duty, the Prince ceremoniously lifted the blade from its case, stepped
forward and sliced Sonny's head from his shoulders.
The voice of his Sire, Archon Raine, spoke to him from beyond. "Thousands wouldn't receive assistance from your charities, Childe, had you taken another path. You feel the pain of your life. Accept the joy."
When Julian left his study, he instructed a secretary to summon Cash to his office. The Gangrel appeared shortly and took a seat facing the Prince's desk.
"I am impressed with you and your work, Cash," the Prince said from behind his antique mahogany desk. "You exceeded my expectations and even my hopes remarkably well."
Not knowing quite how to respond, Cash remained seated in the oxblood-color leather winged-back chair, waiting.
"Please consider continuing your studies informally - particularly the Martial Arts work and strategy."
"I've already talked to Sensei Rob about the fighting. Will you and Daedalus keep playing chess?"
"Certainly. You may also want to consider challenging other opponents to see how they operate." Julian lifted a check from the top of his desk and handed it to Cash. "You have earned a raise and a few perks."
Cash tried to hide his excitement when he saw the amount, especially when he saw the notation in the 'Memo' section which said, 'Monthly Salary.' 'This would buy a lotta' beer!'
Like the businessman he was, Julian listed the perks quickly and succinctly. "As always, gas at the Compound is free and the cost for bottled blood is covered. This mechanic," he handed Cash a business card, "will perform any work and order any part for you for free. If you don't like this person, I'll arrange it elsewhere.
"When you find the right person, and after consulting me, you may create a Childe of your own." Although the Prince doubted that Cash would recognize the value of progeny, he wanted to make this gift anyway.
Cash knew that one of Julian's assistants would give him all this information, neatly typed, by the end of the night, so he wasn't too concerned about hearing every word. He lapsed into thinking about work stuff.
"What about Gangrels as security?" he interjected.
"You mean continuing to have Kimme and Lorraina live here?" Julian asked with some concern.
"Something like that," Cash answered. "You need Gangrels in security."
The vision of a loud, riotous biker party going on in his backyard while he was trying to have dinner with the mayor occupied Julian's thoughts.
"I don't know, Cash."
"Look, we don't like being cooped up on this stuffy estate any more than you want us hanging here. We'd have places in town to party and crash at."
Cash's perceptiveness surprised the Prince. "You're right. Gangrels would make an excellent addition to security around here. I'll let you handle the details." With these words and a small hand motion, Cash was dismissed.
The Gangrel bodyguard rose from his chair and in an uncharacteristic gesture of deference, inclined his head; then turned and walked swiftly out.