1. Vaccuum Sealed for Freshness
It was supposed to be a relaxing two week holiday in Miami. A nice little trip to get me away from all the crap I've had to deal with since the Embrace - vampire serial killers, zombies, hunters. Instead I ended up walking into another little disaster.
I arrived in Miami shortly after nightfall one Saturday night. Human associates of the Camarilla had carefully sealed me and my suitcase into a packing crate which had been loaded into the cargo hold of an American Airlines flight to Miami. This is how vampires are forced to travel across countries and internationally - sealed in lightproof boxes and carried on and off planes by trusted mortals. In addition, the Miami Kindred had ensured that no customs agents would be tempted to open up my crate to check for anything illegal. Everything's fine, officer, just don't wake the vampire.
The crate had been loaded into the rear of a van and transported to the Kindred-owned hotel where I'd be staying. As my eyes opened, I could hear the sound of crowbars levering the side off the crate. Then the wall of the crate fell away and artificial light poured in, hurting my eyes. I crawled out of the crate and pulled the suitcase out after me. One of the humans helped me to my feet and smiled. "Welcome to Miami," he greeted me. I stood and rose to my full height of just under six feet and stretched like a cat. There are worse ways to travel but being stuffed into an airless box and treated like so much cargo is pretty low on my list of favourite things to do.
We were standing inside the underground parking garage of the recently opened Casa Del Sol hotel. Why a Kindred would choose to name their hotel House of the Sun I have no idea. A well developed sense of irony, perhaps?
The human who helped me to my feet introduced himself as Steve. Didn't offer a last name. Steve No Last Name handed me a slip of paper with the address of the Miami Prince. Camarilla protocol dictated that I introduce myself to her at the earliest opportunity. It was a sign of respect when entering the domain of another Kindred and it allowed the Prince to spell out any specific ground rules that applied to their domain in addition to the usual laws surrounding the preservation of the Masquerade. I'd also take the opportunity to find out if there was any trouble likely to explode in the next couple of weeks. Something was always brewing somewhere. The Sabbat would be planning to destroy the Camarilla Kindred, the Anarchs would be plotting to overthrow the Prince and drive the Cam out of the city. And there was always the intra-clan intrigues that went on as elder vampires worked their lessers like puppeteers and made them do their bidding.
I picked up my suitcase and Steve No Last Name escorted me to the elevator. To be perfectly honest, I was feeling a little ansty. Alone, in a new city and with no weapons. I'd been advised before leaving home that it would be a good idea not to try bringing weapons into another's domain. I felt curiously ill at ease without the comforting weight of my .45 against the small of my back. I mentally shrugged. If any trouble broke out, I had my innate vampire abilities to fall back on.
Steve No Last Name was silent during the short ride to the lobby level. The elevator doors slid smoothly open and we exited into the hotel lobby. A large skylight that would let in massive amounts of sunlight during the day was set into the high ceiling and there were potted palm trees in each corner. My enhanced senses picked up the hint of fresh paint and the chemical fumes from the freshly laid carpeting. Steve No Last Name escorted me to the front desk where I was checked in by a pretty young blonde woman. The name badge pinned to her blouse identified her as Birgit. I could see the pulse of blood beneath the skin of her throat and felt my inner Beast stir. I needed to feed to keep the inner vampire happy. Go too long without a fresh shot of blood and I'd run the risk of the Beast slipping its chains and going berserk, taking me along for the ride. Which is not the optimum way to make a good first impression in a new city. "Have a lovely stay," Birgit said to me in German-accented English, bringing me back to the present. I smiled and thanked her. A porter arrived from the back office area and offered to take my suitcase up to my room. I looked sidelong and Steve No Last Name. He nodded and I let the porter take my bag.
I accepted my room key-card from Birgit and told Steve No Last Name I was going out to meet his boss. He handed me a key to the car that had been rented for me before I arrived. I prayed it was something better than the clapped-out Taurus I normally drove. I tossed the keyring from hand to hand and exited into the parking lot out front. I pressed the unlock button on the key fob and the indicator lights of the shiny black Mazda RX8 flashed. Nice. I got behind the wheel and started the car. Somebody had tuned the stereo to a hard-rock station and the modified sound system made it feel as though I was at a rock concert. I checked the address I'd been given. It was an anonymous office building from which the local Camarilla operated their legitimate and not so legitimate business activities. I consulted the handy map that was lying on the passenger seat and drove carefully into the stream of traffic.
Despite the relatively heavy traffic and motorists seemingly bent of committing vehicular homicide, it only took about fifteen minutes to reach the office building. This time of night, very few cars were left in the parking lot - likely they belonged to young go-getters pursuing the next big promotion. Either that or they were working late to escape annoying spouses. I parked the RX8 in an empty slot in the visitors' section of the car park, got out and locked the car. The reception area was empty so I walked to the elevators and pressed the up button. The Prince of the Miami Kindred had her office up on the top floor. Presumably so she could look out the windows at her domain while she savoured her power. Princes seemed to like doing that.
The doors hissed open and I got into the lift and pressed the button for the top floor. A few floors up the elevator stopped and the doors opened. Somebody else hailing a lift. A young man in a business suit entered and nodded at me. The doors slid shut and I looked carefully around the lift car for cameras and saw none. I smiled and turned to the young man. Before he could move, I had his head tilted back and was clamped onto his throat. I fed for several seconds and let him go just as the elevator stopped on the top floor. I exited and glanced back at the hapless young man. He was swaying back and forth and as I watched, slumped to the floor, dazed. The doors slid shut and I walked along the tiled floor to the closed door with the CEO sign on it. I stood before the door and rapped on it. A young sounding woman's voice bade me to enter.
Opening the door and stepping through I was greeted by a sparsely furnished office. The large space felt larger due to the windows that formed the rear wall. The office was furnished with a large desk of polished ebony and a few chairs. A bar stood off to one side with a trio of polished stainless steel stools topped with red leather cushions. A hulking great Kindred, dressed in a suit that did nothing to conceal the handgun under his arm stood to one side. He glared hard at me as I entered. He'd likely be the Sheriff, the vampire whose job it was to assist the Prince with the muscle of ruling and rid the Prince of any undesirables.
The Prince was, surprise surprise, standing with her back to me, gazing out the windows. Her slender arms were folded behind her back. She turned to face me and I admit to being somewhat surprised by her appearance. She stood just over five feet tall and her youthful heart-shaped face was framed by chestnut brown hair that fell to the collar of her blue suit. Her hazel eyes sized me up. The Prince of Miami didn't look a day over eighteen though I knew she was over two hundred years old. Somebody had put the bite on her before she was barely out of her teens and I bet a lot of people had paid the price for underestimating her abilities based on her little schoolgirl features. I pictured her in one of those schoolgirl outfits with the white blouse and red and black plaid skirt that are so popular on porn sites and had to bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling.
I bowed slightly and said, "Morgan Greenfield of the Toreador. I've come to ask for permission to operate in your domain."
The Prince gestured with one fine-boned hand to a chair in front of her desk, "Please, have a seat." Her voice was sweet and melodious and I was again reminded of a schoolgirl. One of those squeaky clean Catholic girls who turn out to be wild animals once they let go of their inhibitions. I sat in the comfortable leather chair and she sat behind her desk. She glanced at the screen of her laptop computer before looking at me. Behind her and to the left, the Sheriff crossed his arms over his massive chest and frowned in my direction.
"I am Sandrine of the Ventrue and the gentleman behind me is Louis of the Brujah, my Sheriff. Louis, be a dear and bring us two goblets of warm blood," the Prince said. Louis left silently, his posture suggesting he wasn't very fond of being treated as a butler.
"I don't think he likes me much," I observed as my fingers traced over the finely carved engravings in the arms of my chair. The Prince nodded. "Louis doesn't much like anybody but he's an excellent warrior and has saved my life on more than one occasion. Tell me, Morgan, what brings you to Miami?"
"A holiday. I needed to get out of town for a while and away from things back home," I said. Sandrine nodded and replied, "Yes, we've heard of the recent troubles in your part of the country. And your role in dealing with them. You may not be aware of this, but your stock in Kindred society has risen steadily since your Embrace."
"Really?" I tried to keep the satisfaction out of my voice. After working a crap office job and feeling like you'll never amount to much of anything, being told by the most powerful vampire in a city you've never been to before that your star is on the rise was...gratifying.
"Oh indeed, our intelligence apparatus likes to keep tabs on events throughout the country," the Prince waved a hand at the laptop. "The Nosferatu have quite the impressive dossier on you." As she spoke, the office doors opened and Louis arrived pushing a drinks cart with two blood-filled goblets. He was still glaring at me. The Prince took both goblets and handed one to me. Sandrine sat back in her chair and sipped from the goblet.
"So, you have come to Miami for a holiday?" her tone of voice suggested she thought there may be more to it than that.
"Yes, that's right. I'm not here to cause any trouble if that's what you're worried about," I shot a glance at Glaring Louis. If anything, he glared harder.
"Most excellent," Sandrine said and took another sip. I tasted my own goblet of blood. "Though I should warn you that the current political climate is not the most stable of late. The Anarchs have been making noise about throwing the Camarilla out of Miami. But that's standard practice with them. Last month, the Sabbat managed to assassinate the Malkavian Primogen," she nodded at my expression. "Yes, although the Sabbat didn't get much of a chance to celebrate. Every Malkavian in the city united to hunt down the killers and exacted bloody vengeance."
The Prince put down her empty goblet and, changing subjects, asked, "Tell me about yourself."
"I imagine most everything you'd want to know would be in your dossier," I replied.
"True but I'm always curious as to the nature of a Kindred's Embrace," she said and went on, "I myself was the eldest daughter of a minor noble family in France. I was born in 1782 and was attending a rather grand celebration to see in the turn of the new century." I nodded. They had new year's eve parties back then?
"I was approached by an extremely handsome man who rather swept me off my feet and made me feel like I was the most important thing in the world," Sandrine's eyes lost focus as she went on, "He drew me away from the rest of the gathering and, as the clock struck midnight, Embraced me into the Ventrue. For the next century and a half, I stayed by his side as he taught me the ways of our kind and we brought new parts of the world under Camarilla control. He was slain by a hunter who almost killed me as well." Sandrine's eyes hardened and she continued in a low voice, "That hunter murdered my Sire and I tracked him down, fought him and when he was lying on the cold, wet ground, bleeding from multiple wounds, I turned him into the very thing he had dedicated his life to destroying."
"Yeah," I replied, "We've done that ourselves. You shoulda heard the guy scream," I smiled and said, "After we turned him, we dumped him in a Sabbat neighbourhood."
"After I Embraced him and showed him what it was like to be one of us, I destroyed him," Sandrine stared off into the distance, remembering her Sire and her old life, most likely. Then she shook herself and said, "But I do tend to ramble. I was interested in the circumstances of your own Embrace."
I shrugged. "I guess it's a fairly common thing, these days. I met a guy in a bar and he...seduced me. Of course the stupid bastard hadn't asked for permission from the Prince and ended up executed for it." Sandrine nodded. Under Camarilla law, a Kindred had to get permission to sire another vampire. The Anarchs claimed it was population control and railed against it. But their entire existence centred around railing against things.
I continued, "But rather than having me killed as well, the Prince ordered another Toreador, Amy to act as my guide and mentor in the ways of our kind. That was a little over three years ago."
"Ah, Amy. I haven't seen or heard from her in many years," Sandrine said.
"You know Amy?" I probably shouldn't have been so surprised.
"I knew Amy while she was still a mortal living in England during the eighteen hundreds. My sire and I were planning on bringing her into the Ventrue; her family's fortune would have been a boon to us. Unfortunately, one of the Toreador Embraced her instead," Sandrine shrugged as if to say What can you do?
Sandrine glanced at the grandfather clock ticking quietly off to one side and stood up. Behind her, Louis made to follow her. Without looking around, Sandrine said, "No need to trouble yourself, Louis. I just felt a sudden urge to be out and about this fine night." Behind her, Louis opened his mouth to say something then closed it with a look of resignation. I was betting that even after two centuries, Sandrine was still struck by the sudden impulses of teenagers. She turned to look at me and asked, "Morgan, do you have any plans for this evening?" I thought for a few seconds. I'd gotten enough blood to last the night unless I was forced to kill something and hadn't thought much about things beyond getting permission to operate.
"Prince..." Sandrine cut me off, saying, "Please, call me Sandrine."
"Sandrine...I don't have any immediate plans," I said and stood.
"Excellent. There's a new bar that has recently began operating. I would quite like to take a look at it. Would you like to join me?"
Now, I'm not an expert in Kindred protocol but when a Prince invites you to hit the clubs, you don't refuse if you want to keep your existence privileges. I nodded. Sandrine said, "I'll just go and put on something more appropriate." She stepped quickly to a door that led, presumably to a private bathroom. Louis stood, arms folded, still glaring at me. "You know, keep frowning like that, and it'll leave some massive wrinkles," I said. Glaring Louis just stood. Glaring. If anything, his eyebrows came in even closer together until it looked as though he was possessed of a monobrow. I began to wonder if maybe he was mute. Then his mouth opened and he muttered, "You think you're pretty funny, huh?"
"Oh my, it speaks!" I said cheerily.
"I've seen your kind before, young, brash, think you can just come in here and..." he trailed off as the door opened and Sandrine reappeared. She was now clad in a black, backless, short, figure-hugging gown and black high heels. Mascara and eyeshadow drew one's attention to her eyes, and a mortal would have a damn hard time looking away from them, once she met their gaze with hers. She twirled quickly, hair flying around her face and I could see a dragon tattooed over her bare back. "How do I look?" she asked.
"Damn, girl," I said. Nothing else came to mind.
"I'll take that as a compliment," she said and gestured for me to follow. I fell into step beside her. "Don't wait up, Louis," Sandrine said over her shoulder as she pushed the doors opened. He said nothing. I could still feel him glaring into my back as the doors closed behind us.