Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Caroline V, Chapter VII

Follow the Money

“I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”
Caroline Malveaux

Thursday evening, 7 October 2015

GM: Despite Caroline having been dropped from her classes, Tulane caves to Malveaux pressure as people so often do and lets the Ventrue back in. But whatever threats or bribes Caroline’s family resorted to, she still remains unable to attend her previous daytime classes—and must physically enter Donovan’s parish to do so in any case. And despite her mother’s suggestion (perhaps more offered out of reflexive anger than serious consideration), holders of online law degrees can only take the bar exam in California, even if they can from there attempt to receive certification in other states. The legal profession is as tradition-bound as the Kindred themselves in some ways. Caroline is back on the registers for all of her old classes, but the old problem of how to actually pass them still remains.

There is also the matter of her job as a legal clerk. She’s expected to send in her resume, cover letter, and go through all the actual process of applying for a job before she’s given the position Thomas has already snagged for her with his colleagues on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Caroline’s ‘handler’ in this matter is her mother. Claire has done her best to maintain cordial relations with Orson, for she gains nothing by turning the Albino’s favored pawn against herself. She says she would not put it past him to seek independent confirmation of Caroline’s law school enrollment and job status—or, even more likely, to simply investigate Caroline for further indiscretions and incidentally happen to uncover the fact she is unemployed and not attending classes.

Caroline: Caroline works with her mother, calls on her expanding net of resources, and brings to bear the growing might of her unholy powers to turn the family’s eye and ire from her. Professors are waylaid and left with buried reminders to mark her as present, private investigators are identified, their minds broken, and their loyalties redirected, and even the influence of the Lord of the French Quarter is (much to Caroline’s unease) turned to the project of helping with her need for a ‘day job’ in an appropriately prestigious legal field.

GM: As in so many things, Caroline’s damned state proves her solution as well as problem. Tracking her professors to their homes, or following their movements until they leave the parish, and then raping their minds into marking her as present for classes proves trivially easy.

Caroline: Nights are exhaustively filled with meetings, liaisons, planning, and ruthless use of the extent of her gifts to bend the wills and minds of others as she pursues not only this project, but also the many others needed to arrange her death and set up her new life among Kindred society. Without the aid of her mother, without those new half-damned souls she brings in as ghouls, it would be an impossible task. As is, it is much like eating an elephant: a mountain that is devoured one bite at a time.

Like many matters, it would be worlds easier with the aid of Father Malveaux, but his continued animosity is just another push in the direction of Savoy’s oh so welcoming camp.

Friday night, 8 October 2015, AM

GM: Caroline continues to have meetings with Antoine Savoy. They are quiet affairs, and the Lord of the French Quarter arranges passage with anonymous cabs that take long circuitous routes to the Evergreen, including handing Caroline off to other faceless drivers mid-way through the trips.

“You’re still figuring things out, Miss Malveaux. Being seen too often with me will limit your options, so far as allegiances,” Savoy smiles.

Caroline: In spite of everything she’s heard, in spite of her lineage, in spite of the affair with René, the Ventrue cannot help but find herself associating with Savoy, and, perhaps even liking him. He may be a politician, but in a city of tyrants his appeal is undeniable.

GM: Like him or not, the Toreador is also happy to dispense advice and counsel that her Kindred relative does not exercise so free a hand with.

“It’s not entirely true that Father Malveaux is your family’s master, Miss Malveaux. Oh, Orson is his, to be sure, and it’s through the archbishop that he has his hold over the Catholic Church. But it’s Vidal who makes the donations to your father’s campaigns, and who owns the largest share in Malveaux Oil. The lesser Malveauxes are the good father’s, for the most part, but they’re just that—lesser.”

Caroline: “He owns my father and Matthew?” she asks.

GM: “Look up the name Sebastian Ortega, Miss Malveaux. You’ll find that he’s a regular and generous donor to your father’s campaigns. You’ll also find his name on a number of unaffiliated PACs and corporate boards that have consistently supported Senator Malveaux, as well as many of his other pet causes. Then look up the names like Hubert Gonzalez that are aliases for Vidal’s favored pawns. When you factor in their campaign contributions—and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you where those funds come from—you’ll find that our prince is your father’s largest donor by a good margin.”

Savoy smiles again. “Follow the money, as they always say.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers at the darkness surrounding her family.

“Is there anything you don’t know, Lord Savoy?” It’s a dangerously loaded question offered with a smile and a light tone.

GM: The Toreador only laughs again, then answers with a look that’s curiously frank and facetious at the same time, “Let’s start with where Mr. Ortega lives, Miss Malveaux. I know about a number of properties attached to his name, but I doubt he actually sleeps in them.”

“We do our homework as best we may,” Preston offers blandly.

Caroline: “I suppose there has to be some mystery to keep life interesting.”

GM: “And the usual wheels within wheels of him knowing that we know that he knows we know,” Savoy offers with another smile and vague motion of his hand.

“It’s largely the same story with your Uncle Matthew, in any case. Most of the company’s shares are owned by family members, but that doesn’t stop a tidy profit from finding its way to our prince’s various bank accounts.”

Caroline: “And with all of those family members under the thumb of Father Malveaux who is under the prince’s thumb in turn…” Caroline finishes with a nod. “How far back does that connection go? The Malveaux family and the prince?”

GM: Savoy scratches his chin. “Around the Civil War, I’d say. They were one of the few local families to cooperate with the Union, and Prince Vidal’s hold over the city was its weakest during that point. He had limited success subverting the occupying Union forces, but a native family was another matter. His interest in them waned but didn’t entirely fade after Reconstruction. Father Malveaux’s Embrace, of course, reignited it, as did the oil boom and their rise to their present wealth.”

Caroline: “He’s been in with the prince from the beginning, then?”

GM: “He’s a Kindred who knows his loyalties,” Savoy smiles. “He’s enjoyed our prince’s favor for well over a hundred years.”

Caroline: “Is that typically the way of things? Kindred find their allegiance early on?”

GM: “Early loyalty can pay dividends. Getting in on the ground floor of something, and all. But that would keep things far too stale if they could never change, wouldn’t you say?” Savoy grins.

Caroline: “I’ll keep it under advisement.”

GM: Among other matters that the two discuss are Marguerite Defallier and a certain mortal pawn of hers Caroline is interested in acquiring: Christina Roberts. Yes, she’s been friends with ‘Jill d’Agostino’, Marguerite’s current mortal alias, for around a decade now, and listens faithfully to the Toreador’s ‘advice’. Savoy furnishes the Ventrue with information, including his own indirect interest in seeing the harpy’s hold over the city’s escort scene weakened, but leaves it to Caroline how she wishes to proceed.

Caroline: The Ventrue is attentive to the information. Her own agent has already started staking out Caroline’s position, and the Ventrue is stalking her harpy would-be prey with all the certainty of a lion. Waiting for her moment even as she gathers information on her and her existing network.

GM: The matter of Caroline’s job is taken care of when Savoy invites the Ventrue and her distant cousin Thomas to dinner at Antoine’s—“my” restaurant, as the Toreador jokingly refers to it. Thomas greets him as “Chris,” and the three settle down to enjoy a sumptuous meal. The Supreme Court justice, in his old age, makes do with a simple glass of bordeaux and the Salade de Laitue au Roquefort: a wedge of iceberg lettuce with apples, walnuts, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, fleur de sel, and topped with a rich Rocquefort dressing.

The salad is nearly poverty-stricken in comparison to Savoy’s order of Louisiana gulf oysters baked on the half shell with Rockefeller sauce—a unique creation of the restaurant’s in 1889 named for how rich it is. Caroline’s food tastes as ash in her mouth, but Savoy seems to almost relish his meal when he orders the oysters twice, this time for his entree, and laughs how he “knows these are supposed to be appetizers!”

Much of the meeting seems like it’s been worked out in advance. Thomas only brings up Caroline’s job as a court clerk when their waitress takes desert orders. He says that “circumstances have changed” since the appellate court internship he’d snagged for Caroline, and he’s prepared to offer her old job back—with the understanding that she’ll be stuck doing a larger share of grunt work, and that if she gets fired again, she can’t count on his help getting a new job again. After the dinner, Savoy tells Caroline that she should file all the necessary employment forms, but otherwise doesn’t need to show up for work. The Toreador is frank about his intentions and declares, “I consider this an investment, Miss Malveaux. And a wise one! I’m confident it’ll pay ample dividends down the road.”

Caroline: Throughout her meetings with the Lord of the French Quarter it has become more and more difficult for Caroline to view him with the same suspicion and fear she once did. She knows that when the bill comes due it’ll be more than she wishes, but for now she’s grateful for the minor help in keeping her family off her back, and despite herself, can’t help but smile at his compliments and confidence.

He’s not wrong.

Saturday evening, 9 October 2015

Caroline: Caroline addresses another very pressing concern over the following weeks: money. Her trust fund and other income sources will be inaccessible once she’s legally dead. She needs to transfer those assets to new accounts, and to do it in such a way that her family won’t be suspicious of so much disappearing money. The Ventrue herself knows many of the legal mechanisms required to make her plans work, while her new ghoul Sarah Anne Widney knows many of the precise financial institutions required.

Caroline and her servants pursue a multi-pronged approach. She diverts some money from her existing accounts in ways that are not suspicious, such as apparently reckless spending funneled other ways.

GM: Autumn suggests a particularly simple trick where such “money laundering” is concerned: buy something expensive with a credit card, then mindfuck the sales clerk into taking it back, giving a cash refund, and forgetting the whole thing. Repeat the process at a dozen stores. It would be incredibly tedious for any investigator to turn up the minor irregularities in so many stores’ records, and the stores themselves ultimately wouldn’t care, since they haven’t lost any money.

Caroline: She and her ghouls identify likely targets in Rocco’s domain and shanghai them for “donations,” gifts, and some cases, outright blackmail. Few businessmen are capable of resisting her supernal charms and fewer still want incriminating photos of themselves disclosed to wives or the like. Caroline attempts to maintain a very low profile throughout this process, using her mental powers to identify victims as good candidates: anyone with money and no significant other. At a certain point, and faster than one might think, even these relatively “modest” events become self-sustaining. Caroline uses that off-grid money, independent of her identity, to leverage her and her servants’ financial awareness alongside insider knowledge gained from both victims and family in significant (but rarely obvious) shorts or early moves.

At the end of the day, turning $100,000 into one million is not overly difficult. Turning one million into ten million can be even easier. There are even more subtle options available: traders who are persuaded to buy just a little high on something, or sell just a little low, which results in large numbers created when one is already dealing with large numbers. The easiest method Caroline can settle on to make her misappropriated funds grow is by shorting stocks and companies, or jumping in early. There is a reason insider trading is illegal, but if one can get inside information from an outside source and then jump in… well, that’s a different problem.

Most of Caroline’s ill-gotten gains go into numbered overseas accounts registered under corporate headers. She’s had plans to start her own law firm and fictive corporations for some time, and it’s now that she finally starts to lay the groundwork.

She attempts to be relatively careful with all of the men she defrauds. Memories of women are not memories of her, but of women that are different enough. She also avoids going deep to the same well more than once—and passes up on some easier scores because of the smell or feel of another Kindred being involved as she gets close. The details are tedious, but in the end, transferring large sums of money isn’t difficult for someone with a Ventrue’s powers and a lot more knowledge available than the average thug on the street. As she recalls one of her own law instructors once remarking, faintly horrified, “Oh my god, I’ve taught you all how to launder money.”

GM: Weeks pass.

To Caroline’s relief, for once in her Requiem, the process appears to go off without a hitch. Her available funds have taken a hit after the $50,000 spending spree, and much of her initial efforts go towards recouping those. Remaining funds are drained (but not completely emptied) from her trust and transferred to anonymous new accounts far from her family’s prying eyes. No other Kindred come down on her for interfering with their domains. For once, things go off without a hitch.

Autumn is deeply impressed (“from a Masquerade perspective”) that Caroline was able to make such large sums of money disappear so seamlessly. Several nights later, she approaches Caroline and says she wants to learn more about law and finance. “This is where the real game is played, in a way. The elders with their offshore accounts, rolls of investments, and teams of lawyers juggling legal and extralegal strategies to keep them rich. Cleaning up bloodstains seems kind of… well, crude, next to that. The closest I came was falsifying identities, but even that’s small-scale.”

Autumn continues that she has a bachelor’s in journalism, or at least could—she was only one semester away from graduating. If Caroline could finesse Tulane into giving her the degree she’s already worked so long for, she could go to work at that law firm her domitor is starting up. Obviously not as a lawyer, as she hasn’t been to law school, but either there or at some other job where Caroline thinks she could get a hands-on instruction in the intricacies of financial law.

“I need a cover story with my family, anyway, to explain what I’m doing with my life after I graduate,” Autumn finishes. “We might as well make it something that’s useful to you. You can always ghoul more lawyers or stockbrokers, if you want to spend the extra juice, but none of them know the Masquerade like I do. You could do a lot, with someone who can fill both roles.”

Caroline: Autumn’s approval of her efforts means more to Caroline than she’d like to admit, even as the effort consumes so many hours and involves breaking into so many minds. Watching her accounts slowly fill is a frustrating experience- she’s never had to work for a living—but the satisfaction when her illicit accounts move into the high six figures, and finally the seven figures, pays off eat the end.

She’s independent of her family and their pale, cruel master. It’s a liberating experience. She listens to the ghoul’s pitch with some interest, but clarifies several points: her own influence at Tulane, in terms of ‘handing over a degree’ is limited, and she will not risk Autumn’s identity by involving her family. She does however encourage the ghoul to resume her last semester and promise her a place in finance and law when she graduates, even offering to help pay for law school in the long term, though the ghoul’s expertise will likely be in high demand for the time being.

GM: Autumn seems cagey about the idea of law school and presses Caroline about working as a paralegal, legal secretary, or some other job that doesn’t require more school. “Doesn’t being a paralegal take a bachelor’s and a shorter series of certification courses?”

In fact, Autumn seems rather too cagey. It’s not wanting to dive straight into the work… she’s afraid of something at law school.

Caroline: It doesn’t take a genius to put two together with the ghoul’s desire to avoid further schooling. “I need you to finish your bachelor’s… but I understand your reluctance thereafter.” And her tone makes it very clear that she does understand. Explicitly.

Still, she sounds more disappointed than angry, and it’s not entirely clear whom she is disappointed in. She doesn’t bring up the topic of further schooling with Autumn, and agrees that she can readily find a place for the ghoul among other college-educated workers: an office that large may even eventually need a simple supervisor.

GM: Autumn thinks for a bit. “Caroline, what’s the most important thing in the world to you?”

Caroline: Caroline considers the question.

“I don’t know that I have a good answer to that right now.”

GM: “Well… what used to be?” Autumn asks.

Caroline: Autumn’s question sparks a moment of pause in her domitor, especially coming so quickly on the heels of her success in building her own fortune, and on the eve of her ‘death’.

She’s spent virtually her entire life under the thumb of her family, guided by its expectations, but the demands of the Malveaux name, and with her life so wholly influenced and controlled by that name. The advantages she enjoyed, the opportunities provided, the respect she had: all the product of her distinguished family and its influence. For the first time she’s ‘free’ or as close to it as she’s ever been, death sentence, Ventrue expectations, and the harsh limits of Kindred society as a whole not withstanding.

What did she care about? What mattered to her? Faith? Family? Future? These were all assumptions, givens. She would uphold their name. She would believe in God. She would finish her schooling and start a successful career. But what did she really have? An absent father, a distant mother, and siblings all dysfunctional in their own ways. She had friends, connections, but how many of them had depth, and how many were products of her demands of success and the influence she wielded? What would her life have meant if Vidal had not swept her up into his plans? If he had not damned her with his blood and brought her over?

The most important thing in the world to her: not her family. She let Westley die to save herself, she flushed away her own child as an inconvenience and embarrassment, and she was all too happy to be left alone to pursue her own agenda. Not her faith, obviously, when she has so readily embraced one all too blasphemous. Not even her future: how many of her tears in truth have been shed over the loss of her classes, or a mundane job as an attorney?

Looking at it all through the prism of her new existence, so much of it feels so… empty.

GM: “Should I not have asked that either?” Autumn questions at Caroline’s pause.

Caroline: The Ventrue frowns. “No… you should never be afraid of asking a question. And it’s a valid one. I hadn’t ever really thought about it before, but the truth? What I cared about?” Caroline shuffles. “I lived a life of privileged and purpose… but one without meaning. One in the service of nothing, and to no end but its own.”

GM: “Sounds like the Embrace might’ve been a step up in some ways.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Yes… it was. Or at least, may yet be. It certainly created… perspective.”

Perspective. And pain. And suffering… and opportunity. To carve out her own path for once. She wars inside with her sire’s abandonment of her and the idea that it might have been done to create just that, an opportunity for her to stand on her own two feet, rather than a malicious attempt to set her up for failure. Especially of… she wonders how long ago he signed off on sireless fledglings not being executed on sight. How long the plan was in motion.

Is there a long game at work here? How long had he been watching her. In the back of her mind though, she can’t help but wonder how much the bond created by his blood is pulling at her thoughts, pulling her in another direction, towards thinking the best of him…

GM: “Well, I hope it turns out to be. But on school.”

Someone with a clear and cool head might wisely leave the matter be. Especially when Caroline volunteers to make things without more school.

“Swear on… the meaning you want to find,” Autumn says somewhat lamely, “that you won’t ever feed on me again, and I’ll go back to school.”

Caroline can see the desperate desire to please warring with the rational caution in her ghoul’s eyes.

She can just as easily see ‘feed on me’ replaced with ‘hit me.’

Caroline: The thought is interrupted by Autumn’s question returning the topic to herself, and Caroline feels a flush of anger as it becomes clear that the question that sparked such existential considering was just a precursor to worries about Caroline feeding on her.

It spirals off into irritation that the ghoul dropped out purposefully and she can feel, for just a moment, the Beast’s hackles rising as it senses any opportunity to slip free its bonds. The anger bleeds away though as she sees the fear in Autumn’s eyes, the genuine hurt. She bites back what would have been her original comment (“I promise that you won’t remember”) and sits in silence for a moment.

“You know that’s not why I offered.”

GM: “I know. I’d still like to hear it,” Autumn says.

Even if the Beast won’t give a damn.

Caroline: Those same demands from another lesser, another servant, another ghoul, might cause Caroline’s anger to surge again, but looking at Autumn Caroline feels only regret. Autumn, whose life she has destroyed, whose entire fate was altered by their meaning… for Autumn, she nods.

“I won’t feed on you again.”

GM: “Okay,” Autumn answers. There’s still some amount of caution in her eyes, but Caroline can see an even more fervent desire to believe. “I suppose the lawyers with the grad degrees are the ones who run firms anyway.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “It’s all fluid really past a certain point. The people that run everything are the people with the money. But if you’re serious about being able to get deep into the financial side of the Masquerade, a law degree and the benefits it provides, especially in terms of what it allows you to do legally, are pretty advantageous. There’s a reason I wanted one.”

GM: Autumn nods. “Like I said, I need some kind of cover story for what I’m doing with my life after getting my bachelor’s.”

Caroline: “We’ll find it.”

Monday evening, 11 October 2015

Caroline: Even more practical is the matter of outstanding Masquerade problems: Trenton and Paxton. In both she is flying without all the information, or even a body, but she aggressively builds her narrative around Trenton of the tragic suicide of a transgendered youth. Additional threads are put together should any investigation lead back to her to explain their online connection, but Caroline’s investigations reveal how reviled the boy was by his family for his lifestyle choices: they seem ready to seize on the idea that his gender identity flaws led to his death. By the time they even notice that Trenton has gone missing, many days have passed, the case is quite cold, and Caroline has had ample time to plant evidence, including a rather touching suicide note.

GM: Someone at Tulane files a missing person report over Trenton. The trail eventually leads to detectives from the Tulane University Police Department stopping by Caroline’s suite at Harrah’s New Orleans. One of the detectives remarks it’s a “Bitch of a commute time, lady,” next to her recently-listed address at Audubon Place. The suicide note they found in Trenton’s dorm room at once gladdens and baffles the detectives. On the one hand, they’re glad the missing boy turned out not to be murdered. TUPD deals with a lot less homicides than NOPD and is expected to have a commensurately higher clearance rate. Suicides among the student body are sadly more common. The missing car and body, however, are strange. What did he do, drive into the Gulf of Mexico? Or jump off a bridge before someone stole his car? The police puzzle for a bit, and return to interview Caroline several times—“as you’re our only real witness”—as well as the guards on-shift at Audubon Place at the time. Their stories of remembering the car leaving but not much else are frustratingly uniform. Eventually, however, Trenton Blake Nowak is declared dead in absentia, with the suicide note taken as evidence of imminent peril.

“Students are saying the kid’s dorm room is cursed,” one of the detectives shares with Caroline in parting. “Him committing suicide. His roommate getting sent to prison. Another student on the same floor going missing around the same time. You wouldn’t know anything about a Stan Weber, would you?”

Caroline: “Never heard of him,” Caroline replies easily.

GM: The detective gives Caroline a card.

“Give us a call if you ever do. His family, at least, is worrying.”

Caroline: “I suspect the same can be said of all you visit, detective.”

GM: “Not the Trenton kid. Take care, ma’am.”

Tuesday evening, 12 October 2015

Caroline: Paxton is a different problem. She investigates his family—the picture the PI showed her still haunts her, but more aggressively uses her in’s with her family’s investigators built by their spying upon her to pry at the details of the investigation they’ve discovered.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Joseph Paxton’s family reveals Lou was right in his suspicion that the picture Caroline saw wasn’t of Paxton’s kids. He still has children, however. They are an acne-ridden 12-year-old boy named Zachary and a 13-year-old girl with a small head, low ears, narrow eyes, and uncomprehending smile that the Ventrue almost-med student identifies as Down Syndrome. Both children are also moderately overweight. The PI who flashed the picture of two younger, cuter, physically unblemished girls hugging each other seems more likely to have melted hearts.

Paxton has a divorced wife by the name of Lucilia Plantaine, a long-time receptionist at Ware and Lebowski (after Paxton left the FBI, Lucilia apparently introduced him to Franz Hartz, who introduced him to the Malveauxes). Lucilia was relying heavily on alimony and child support payments from her ex-husband, who made better money than she did. The family’s financial situation is at once better and worse than the Christians’. While they do not need to pay off any immediate medical bills, their standard of living is likely to significantly decline now that their primary breadwinner is dead. This will likely entail dropping the kids from private school and enrolling them in the public school system. New Orleans’ already underfunded and poor-performing public schools were turned into charters after Hurricane Katrina and are consequently a dysfunctional mess. Special education programs and other “nonessential” services have been mercilessly slashed by the for-profit schools, which spells poorly for mentally handicapped students like Rowan. Lucilia might be able to keep her in private school if she goes deep enough into debt. Paying for Rowan’s care is another long-term issue, as she’ll never be able to live independently. Good community homes for mentally handicapped adults cost equally good money. Zachary can doubtlessly look forward to a smaller college fund, but that is also relatively long-term next to immediate issues like mortgage payments, groceries, bills, and other recurrent expenses that the family now has less money for. Orson did not look favorably upon Paxton’s divorce, which seems to have been initiated by Lucilia. Help from the Catholic archbishop does not seem likely.

But even the money is a distant concern to Paxton’s family right now. He’s been missing for weeks and they’re terrified over what’s happened to him. That sort of behavior is completely unlike the stubborn, duty-driven man who Caroline remembers murdering after his second escape attempt. The family went to NOPD and filed a missing persons report, but nothing has come of it. Lucilia seems to have resigned herself to the fact that she can’t hire better PIs than Orson. The obese receptionist has switched back from Diet Coke. Zachary got into a fight at school, which the out of shape preteen lost badly with a black eye and bloody nose. (Caroline has to wonder how Paxton viewed the gangly, unathletic child, and how the boy must have viewed his father—invincible, like all young boys view their fathers, but perhaps even more so.) Rowan’s epilepsy, a condition sometimes comorbid with Down Syndrome, has caused her several fits.

Through it all, Paxton’s family waits for him to come back or to hear the worst news—but far likely is that they will hear no news at all, and wait a full five years before the state of Louisiana declares Paxton dead in absentia.

Caroline even finds out, ironically, that Paxton had taken out a good life insurance policy. Between his career in the FBI and employment under Orson, it must have seemed like a real possibility he’d die early. His childrens’ and divorced wife’s odds of collecting without a body or even, at this point, death certificate, however, are quite poor.

Caroline: For now, Caroline tables the matter.

For now, she has no ready answer for the family.

Wednesday evening, 13 October 2015

GM: Caroline gets a phone call from Neil. He sounds like he’s trying not to be a nag, but he’s worried about Angela and reports the same thing as Summer (though lacking the younger Greer’s closer perspective as Angela’s roommate). She crashed hard after the influenza bug and cut down on a few of her responsibilities, but she’s now back to odd-hours meetings with Kappas. Anything Caroline has to tell him would be a relief.

“Things are just so crazy right now. There was another resident here, Jared Brown… he and his sister turned up murdered in the Ninth Ward,” Neil mentions in passing.

He does have some good news, though. “Your friend Lauren is out of the hospital. She has some scars, but it’s a full recovery. The aunt still wants to know who paid for everything after your firm wouldn’t comment. She’s really thankful.”

Caroline has already heard that Sarah woke up. Neil actually isn’t one of her doctors anymore, but he reports that she’s recovering well, from what he’s heard. She’s in physical therapy.

Caroline: Neil’s call brings a smile to her face, even with the trouble he’s in. She has few answers for him, other than that it’s ‘how the Kappa’s are’. Even her own mother remains relatively tied to the sorority and refuses to talk about it. Angela is no different: Caroline put out feelers and came up cold on her.

The call from Summer is both disappointing in its timing, and happy in its content. Caroline agrees to meet with her for drinks another time.

On the topic of Lauren, Caroline is grateful that Neil kept matters to himself, and also that she’s recovering. The poor girl is as much a victim of Caroline’s monstrous embrace and abandonment as Caroline, and that one of them will emerge from it brings a momentary smile to her face.

Sarah is another victim of hers, too, in a fashion. She’s glad the girl’s road to recovery is proceeding uninterrupted.

GM: Neil can’t hide his disappointment at Caroline’s answer, though he admits it was a long shot. Still, “I don’t know,” her ex admits. “It’s just starting to get to me. Some of that volunteer work she used to do at SAPHE was pretty meaningful. We had a fight over it.” There’s also another girl—drop dead gorgeous at that—who’s been making moves on him lately. Neil feels horrible admitting it, but it actually crossed his mind to, “See where things would take us.”

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t come out and say it outright, but her response leaves little doubt that she thinks he should consider the other woman: though she can’t tell him, the idea that Angela’s Kappa involvement could turn into a bigger problem for her before the year is out, and a desire to keep him from harm, goes a long way.

GM: Caroline’s advice appears to leave Neil even more torn, though he resolves that, “I’m not going to cheat on Angela. If I want to be with Becca I’ll leave her first. But Becca’s just… so sudden. I’m not sure if she’s only really after sex.”

Caroline: “I’d expect nothing less,” she answers with approval.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Paradoxically, as Caroline grows more distant from her family and her nights grow busier with the relatively mundane business of planning her death and establishing her position, she loses her excuses for many matters she had previously let fall by the wayside. Minor things… but not to her, especially as she is unable to run and hide from behind the insanity of her unlife’s pace. These are moments of shame she’ll never live down, that come to her in those moments before dawn as she waits for the darkness to overtake her, but perhaps can do something of.

Jacobson’s wife, who she never had time to visit, and who became so meaningless a pawn when Marco cut his ties with her, is added to the dossiers for her perusal, an examination of how she’s reacted to her husband’s death and the aftermath, and what she may require. Among those things is not a visit, but is a letter written anonymously to the widow of how she was saved by her husband’s bravery, and will not forget him. There’s truth within it, even coated as it is in murky untruths. It’s not hard for Caroline to imagine how awfully her life might have gone had not Marco and his fellow police officers overrun Eight-Nine-Six as they did. A prisoner of the Anarch gang, or humiliated by them, or simply beaten into a pulp: none would have bode well.

GM: Caroline finds that Jacobson’s wife Kelly is a fifth grade teacher at a local school, Benjamin Franklin. As a police officer’s widow, she is entitled to a survivor’s pension that is half of her husband’s full salary. Caroline is even able to calculate the amount to $30,459.50, as Jacobson was an officer II who’d been with NOPD for six years, had not been denied full merit pay, and held an associate’s degree (NOPD detectives require them, in addition to the simple incentive that degree-holding cops get paid more). Between Kelly’s salary as a teacher (not a lot, but still a regular salary) and her survivor’s pension, she seems relatively well-off. Financially, at least. Caroline recalls Marco’s words that, “No kids, so there won’t be any babies growing up without fathers, though he and Kelly had been trying.”

But cops take care of their own, and Kelly received far more than a simple survivor’s pension. She was notified in person of her husband’s death Superintendent Bernard Drouillard, the senior chaplain, and a designated department representative who became her liaison. Cops shrouded their badges with black tape and flags were lowered to half-staff. Support of all kinds, including prepared meals and transportation, was made available to Kelly 24 hours a day. The designated department representative assigned a team of officers to work on various aspects of the funeral: the chaplain arranged the service, the traffic unit supervisor planned and coordinated the procession, an the cemetery officer handled the internment. Further responsibilities taken on by NOPD included assigning a 24/7 watch of Kelly’s home until after the funeral, shifts of officers on casket watch who stayed with Jacobson’s body around the clock, a color guard for the funeral, ushers for the service, and a team of pallbearers to carry the casket—one of whom was Marco Rizaffi. The department also arranged the funeral’s location (Saint Louis Cemetery #2), made arrangements for parking, and hosted a luncheon after the service. At all times, Kelly was given full input into as many or as few aspects of the funeral as she wished to involve herself in, and the department did everything within its not-inconsiderable power to honor her wishes.

The funeral itself was attended by police throughout the city. Full military-style honors were made available to Jacobson, “as a hero who died in the line of duty.” Two officers stood vigil over the casket during 30-minute shifts. A flag was folded and formally presented to Kelly while a firing party emptied shots into the air. Mayor Borges did not personally attend, but Superintendent Drouillard gave an address. Further eulogies were delivered by Jacobson’s co-workers and superiors, and of course his and Kelly’s families.

New Orleans is not a sprawling metropolis like Chicago or Los Angeles, and the death of one officer has all the more impact in the smaller police department. It is an old city, too, and a Southern city. Old boy networks and respect for traditions remains alive and well here. So does corruption. Almost all of NOPD is “on the take” and receives money beyond their official salaries, in return for “doing things as they ought to be done.” There are no records of such, but it seems highly probable that Jacobson’s fellows put together something extra for his widow. Relatives, police, and families of police alike have almost certainly made Kelly enough food to last for weeks, and impressed upon her that she is free to call them if she ever needs anything, anything at all. More thoughtful well-wishers may have volunteered specific things to help out with.

NOPD paid for all of the funeral’s expenses. They wouldn’t go to such lengths to ease the burden upon Jacobson’s widow and then stick her with the bill.

Caroline also discovers that there was—and still is—a spike in Mid-City arrests and police violence. Two African-American youths were shot dead under controversial circumstances. Around half a dozen more individuals (several involved in Black Lives Matter) were savagely beaten, allegedly while resisting arrest. A 13-year-old boy lost his ear. Departmental unity goes and went both ways as Jacobson’s fellow officers turned their grief outwards into rage, and exacted the full measure of retribution that only the law can get away with.

Police, Caroline knows, absolutely despise cop killers. Their inability to catch Jacobson’s murderers is salt upon an already raw wound.

The Ventrue may feel somewhat at a loss regarding what else she can do against the combined (and timelier) efforts of the entire New Orleans Police Department. Materially, Kelly appears to want for little. She has, however, taken a leave of absence from her teaching duties. Caroline can hope the anonymous note provides the widow with some further comfort.

Caroline: It looks as if the NOPD has taken care of the widow. There’s little else she can do, much less without exposing herself. She exits the woman’s life.

Perhaps, more than anything, that’s the best thing she can do for Kelly Jacobson.

Thursday evening, 14 October 2015

Caroline: Another fairly direct victim her gaze falls to is the family of Emmett, though her motives are not so selfless: his cooperation may go further than outright domination when the time comes. She keeps semi-regular tabs upon them, as best she can, given their location in McGinn’s domain and his overly protective nature.

GM: Caroline’s investigation into Emmett’s family reveals that he has two living parents who are professors at Tulane University. They have not spoken to him in over half a decade. Emmett seemed on better terms with his older sister Eveline, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital New Orleans. She is married to an aerospace engineer (aerospace is a significant industry in New Orleans) named Daniel Merinelli and has two children with him named Noah and Maya.

Caroline may be discomfited to learn that as a result of her frame-up, Eveline has been arrested as an accessory to murder (which of course she is not) and will likely face prison time. Her medical license has been suspended, leaving dim prospects for when she gets out. The family is preparing to sell their house in Touro and to move to a smaller one in a lower-cost neighborhood. Although upper-middle class (husband and wife both made six-figure salaries), belts are tightening now that half their income is so abruptly gone, on top of paying their considerable legal fees.

Still, even beyond that, the family seems unusually cash-strapped given the circumstances… some further digging reveals that Eveline withdrew $10,000 in cash from the bank. She went to multiple branch locations and tried to space the withdrawals out over several days, but it doesn’t take a genius to see why the police would get suspicious in conjunction with Emmett’s drug-related charges.

There’s also another potential reason for the increased scrutiny on his family. Denise Bowden passes on the story, which has now made its way around legal circles and entertained countless incredulous professionals in the field, that Emmett went out of his way to get on the nerves of a judge in her own courtroom—and, “get this,” Denise scoffs, after the judge, Payton Underwood, had already signed off on a plea deal negotiated by his public defender. Underwood even warned Em once that he was in contempt of court, and he still kept trying to get on her nerves.

“I’ve never heard of anything like that,” Denise remarks incredulously.

Well, Em succeeded in getting on Underwood’s nerves. The results were predictable. She threw out the plea bargain that, as Caroline knows all-too well, judges aren’t actually legally obligated to honor. Then she threw the book at him for his crimes and the additional crime of contempt of court. She gave him the maximum sentence: death.

That’s justice in Louisiana.

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head at the sheer stupidity of his actions, but isn’t quite able to shake her own guilt at the cause of the family’s woes. She may not have made an array of poor choices that turned their circumstances into a train wreck, but she certainly had a part in setting it in motion.

Still, their proximity to certain individuals makes it difficult for Caroline to get leverage on them… that is until her pocket firm starts to gt up and running… beset by legal fees and with dwindling incomes and savings, the firm will soon extend an almost too-tempting offer of services.

Saturday evening, 16 October 2015

Caroline: Mrs. Christian and her son also feel Caroline’s gaze fall upon them. While she’s not so brazen as to turn around an actively pay for bills or send them money, as she did with her first victim, Caroline does encourage her medical allies to trim bills to the bone, and using her connections to high society need not work hard to ensure that her son’s college prospects turn for the better: particularly out of the city. The prospect of someday feeding upon him makes her nauseous. She keeps tabs to make sure the family does not go under as a result of her visit: some small mitigation of the brutal assault she inflicted upon the poor widow and single mother.

GM: Caroline’s investigations into Marianna Christian turn up that her husband John was a moderately successful electrician and died around four years ago. He left behind a life insurance policy that helped support Marianna and her son Brandon while she put more hours into her job at one of Larry Simpson’s hotels. She enrolled in community college to presumably earn a degree that would lead to a higher-paying source of employment. She has an insurance policy to help cover the hospital’s costs, but it’s not enough. The family has modest savings, and seems unlikely to be put out on the streets, but Marianna it still seems like it’s causing them considerable distress. Marianna is fretting over bills and planning to sell her car. The Christians look as if they fall into an uncomfortable middle to lower-middle class demographic… too well-off to qualify for programs like Medicaid, and just poor enough they’re being reduced to selling off assets.

Claire, when approached by Caroline about helping Brandon Christian get into college, wants to know why she should pull strings for “some random black boy.” She purses her lips at Caroline’s answer, and says she’ll ask one of her friends to ask another friend to write him a letter of recommendation. It’s not a free ride scholarship, but it’s better than nothing. Claire isn’t inclined to use the family’s influence on “an investment without likely returns.”

Or, perhaps, one of her daughter’s victims.

Caroline: The argument with her mother over assistance for the Christian family turns bitter before Caroline takes her leave from the conversation. The topic was tender enough, shameful enough, before she brought it to Claire’s attention. Her mother’s relative reluctance to to get involved and dismissal of its meaning to Caroline quickly turns it sore.

The entire experience is demonstrative to the privileged heiress, how someone that has done nothing wrong can be so wrecked by events beyond their control, with so few safety nets.

She’s known, academically, how it could happen, but seeing it play out over time and knowing she’s at the root of it stings. It’s all the more frustrating for the limits on her considerable influence given the event’s sensitivity: throwing enough money to get rid of the problem for the family would be laughably easy were it not so tangibly tied to the Masquerade. In the end she plants the idea in one of Marianna’s coworkers to put together a GoFundMe for the family to help defray the remaining legal expenses—an idea inspired by another of her victims—the autistic Tulane student. Still unable to deeply involve herself in it, she watches as minor contributions trickle in from coworkers, fellow students, and neighbors and has someone plant the idea—in the mundane sense—to Larry that matching donations to the campaign makes good business sense, in terms of helping to retain employees and show his ‘caring’ and ‘concern’.

GM: Caroline’s indirect GoFundMe campaign, however, meets with considerably more success over the following weeks—remarkably so, when all is said and done. Or perhaps not so remarkably, when one considers how incredibly slow hospitals can be about sending out bills. Donations match and even exceed the amount needed for the Christians’ medical expenses, once Larry Simpson steps in. He even helps buy back some of the possessions they’ve already sold off. His employees love it. The Christians do even more.

So does Antoine Savoy, whose interest in the hospitality magnate appears more than passing.“You can’t just spend money on goodwill, you know!” he laughs to Caroline. “They’re all saying what a generous and caring boss he is, and it’s much more cost-effective than raising wages. I’m pleased to see him doing well.”

Caroline: “I’m just pleased you didn’t find it to be intrusive, Lord Savoy,” Caroline demurs. “Some Kindred, I’ve find, are very possessive, even in the face of a light touch.”

GM: “And what is there for me to find intrusive?” Savoy remarks amiably. “You didn’t tamper with Larry directly, did you? The neighbor who started that fundraiser didn’t even work for him.”

Caroline: “Of course not, Lord Savoy, but I need not tell you that not all Kindred would see it that way.” The meeting is over drinks that neither of them truly enjoy, though Caroline had grown more adept at forcing down the foul liquids, and takes a sip between comments. “All they’d see is ‘their’ money going out the door to something affiliated with another Kindred.”

GM: “We see that too, Miss Malveaux,” Preston comments.

“Pure guesswork that it was you, by the way,” Savoy winks. “The circumstances of the injury sounded like a Kindred attack, and the only Kindred likely to go hunting in Black Pearl are poachers or tenants without feeding rights in Tulane—not many of those. Knowing who lives and feeds where can tell you a lot of things, my dear.”

Caroline: “If you require fiscal compensation, I’ll be happy to arrange it,” Caroline replies sweetly to Preston, before turning her attention back to Savoy. “Knowledge is power,” she agrees, “though not on its own.”

GM: “Play nice, you two,” Savoy chides with an amused wag of his finger.

“Knowledge is leverage, I think, has always been a better quote. It’s all in how you play it.”

Caroline: “That’s fair… though depending on how much leverage you can muster, it may take very little power to make it go a long way… and a four-foot pipe wrench is easier and cheaper to maintain than bulging muscles.”

GM: The Toreador laughs. “You should share that one with the sewer rats, Miss Malveaux. I’m sure they’d be amused.”

Caroline: A smile peeks out from behind her lips.

“No doubt I already have, Lord Savoy.”

Monday evening, 18 October 2015

GM: Caroline is left with a brief window while her family “sorts things out” with Tulane. During that time, Summer Greer calls the Ventrue back to report her sister Angela is disappearing again during the middle of the night. Angela was really out of things for a while after the influenza outbreak, Summer says… Angela was already balancing her college courses, volunteer work, a part-time job, a boyfriend, being Josephine Louise’s dorm supervisor, babysitting her little sister (Summer calls it “staying on my case”) and, as Caroline is all too aware, maintaining a double life as a hunter. Getting sick on top of all that finally wiped Angela out.

“Not forever though, that’s my sis. Supergirl,” Summer half-sarcastically remarks. She continues Angela took some time off from the Kappas, quit her part-time job, and scaled back on the volunteer work. It’s only now that she’s resumed going out with her sorority again on weekend nights.

“She’s the same as ever there though. She just completely shuts down when I ask her about what she’s up to.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens with some interest—its the closest she can really get to the Kappas without digging in directly, and ultimately invites the other girl to meet her for coffee.

GM: Summer meets her at the French Quarter’s Arrow Cafe for some traditional Southern chicory coffee.

Caroline: Caroline is friendly enough, letting the Beast run over the freshman, in their conversations about the Kappas. She relates how her own mother is a prior Kappa, and how frustrating the wall it created between them was. More than talk though, she listens to Summer’s frustrations, and encourages her to offer up more than simply those about her sister. Caroline is, after-all, such a good listener.

GM: Many of Summer’s frustrations are heavily tied to Angela, given that she is required to dorm with and attend parties in her older sister’s presence. She still doesn’t have a boyfriend. Her sister still gets better grades and better everything than her. Summer’s complaints are largely the same as they were during the last time they talked, though to Caroline it feels like a lifetime ago. Summer still appears just as willing to appear her frustrations to a sympathetic audience.

The only real change is that Angela was sick and staying in bed more. Summer seems like she tried to help out and Angela rebuffed her, or at least that’s how she tells it.Angela’s boyfriend Neil also came over a few times, so Summer had to make herself scarce. Normally Angela goes to his place.She appears particularly ticked off over how “easy” holding a boyfriend in her living situation actually looks.

“So much for the college experience. It’s been exactly like high school,” Summer finishes annoyedly.“I don’t even feel like an adult. It’s exactly the same. Just the older sister instead of Dad and Stepmom.”

Caroline: Listening to the freshman’s complaints, it feels more than a lifetime ago. Simple problems, perhaps without simple answers, but with such low stakes.

“So what do you do when she goes out on her Kappa things?”

GM: “It’s in the middle of the night, usually. But… I did sneak off a bar last time,” Summer admits. “Not The Boot, one of the real ones in the Quarter. God are they so much better.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Why’s that?”

GM: “You mean apart from not apart from letting in more people than college kids spending their parents’ money?” Summer asks sarcastically.

Caroline: “College kids like you?” Caroline teases.

GM: “The Quarter has real clubs and bars. Frat Row’s are the little kid versions. And they don’t give a crap in the Quarter how old you are.”

“I didn’t even get checked for ID.”But besides not being kids, the people there are just a lot more colorful.“Like, I ran into a lady whose hair and face were painted silver, and wore everything in silver. She was like a walking statue.”She never talked either, just twirled around her umbrella."

Caroline: Caroline bets they are.

GM: “Or parousel, whatever.”

Caroline: “Have you ever tried following your sister? Seems like if she’s a load around your neck, you could be the same to her.”

GM: “Fuck no. I’m gonna enjoy it while she’s gone,” Summer declares. “’Nother funny character I ran into said she was a vampire.”

Caroline: That snags Caroline’s interest, even as she recognizes the possibility that’s it’s a fake given New Orleans’ history.

“A vampire, huh?”

GM: “Yeah, she wore goth clothing and had even filed her teeth.”

Caroline: “Freaks everywhere, I guess,” Caroline answers.

GM: Summer shrugs. “Better company than kids at The Boot. She was actually pretty nice. Not like you, though.” Her voice gets slightly thicker. “I feel like I’ve known you my whole life…”

Caroline: “I hear that a lot,” Caroline replies, trying to deflect the topic.

“Did she ‘have you for a drink’?” she asks in her best fake accent.

GM: “No, she gave me a massage. She said that’s how she’d ‘drain my energy.’ It actually felt really good.”

Caroline: “Oooooh, a vampire massage,” Caroline teases.

GM: “Shut up, it felt good,” Summer mumbles, but partly grinning.

Caroline: “Anything else about this vampire masseuse?” she asks.

GM: “She said she’d like to see me again. I don’t wanna feel like I’m leading her along, though. I’m not into girls.”

Caroline: “You got a goth vampire girl’s number? After she gave you a massage?”

GM: Summer rolls her eyes. “No, just the club. The Abbey.”

Caroline: She makes note of the name. Probably a wild goose chase, but it costs her little to check it out.

Caroline spends a few more minutes talking with Summer, mostly offering small pieces of advice and a sounding board for her complaints and plans. It’s surprisingly relaxing to have less troublesome problems to consider, and she knows too well the pain of not healing a rift before it’s too late, though she does not offer such trite advice outright.

GM: Summer nods along, agreeing with almost everything the vampire says. Her head is held fast between the Beast’s jaws.

She doesn’t have many plans, though. She’s mostly just waiting until the end of the year. When Angela will be gone.

“Maybe then everything can get better.”

Monday night, 18 October 2015, PM

GM: Caroline receives another phone call from the coed, mere hours after their meeting—not quite long enough for the Beast to release its grip—asking if she’d like to hang out again sometime. Summer really enjoyed talking with her.

Summer is not old enough to legally drink, and though some bars in the Quarter may not card her, the ones Caroline is more wont to frequent do. Three nights later, the two meet again at the Arrow Cafe for chicory coffee. Summer rants some more about the pitfalls of having to room with her older sister and how she can’t wait until Angela graduates. It’s largely the same words over the same topic, but the young coed seems grateful for someone who listens.

“Oh yeah, Angela was actually talking about you.”

Caroline: “About me?” Caroline’s hands are wrapped around a warm paper cup, and she’s equally grateful for both the gentle heat and the lid that covers how little of it she’s actually had to drink.

GM: “Yeah, it was about that Trenton guy,” Summer answers, having removed her own cup’s lid to blow on the hot drink. “Did he really blow his brains out in front of you?”

Caroline: That certainly gets Caroline’s attention.

“What? No! Jesus, who’s spreading that rumor around?”

GM: Summer shrugs. “Maybe that wasn’t it. I just heard he killed himself around you or something. Is it true?”

Caroline: “After he left.”

There’s just a bit of a catch on the word he.

“Seemed pretty disappointed that I wasn’t interested in… well… that. The police stopped by to talk to me about it and everything, said he threw himself off a bridge or something. Left a note and everything. They said his family life was pretty messed up.”

The conversation is too close to topics she doesn’t want to talk about on more than one level. The memory of coming to, the lifeless body in her arms, blood all over her face… she grinds her teeth.

GM: “Oh. Well, that musta sucked. For you both.” Summer frowns. “I heard there was someone who tried a rape a girl in JLH. That was another guy, right?”

Caroline: “More for him I suspect, since I didn’t throw myself off a bridge,” Caroline offers in a muted tone. “And yeah, that one I heard about. Real creeper. He’d actually stalked my brother’s… well, not-quite fiance before that. I guess he had a taste for white girls.”

GM: “I think he’s in a movie or something on MeVid,” Summer says thoughtfully.

Caroline: “Is it security footage?” Caroline half-jokes.

GM: Summer laughs. “No, wait, I heard he gets arrested at the end. That’s gotta be staged.”

Caroline: “So you’re saying a happy ending? Yeah, it’s fake.”

GM: Summer laughs harder.

Caroline: “I heard he got the book thrown at him though. We’ll see how much he likes a year in jail.”

GM: “That can’t be all he’s getting for rape,” Summer frowns.

Caroline: “Attempted. Why was your sister talking about it though? The Trenton guy?”

GM: “She used to volunteer for a sexual aggression hotline. He was also trans and she’s queer except when she’s with her boyfriend, so I guess she felt bad about him. Seemed pretty broken up, anyways.”

Caroline: “Dangerous lifestyle. I’ve heard like half of all trans people end up killing themselves though.”

GM: “Huh, that’s a lot. My poor sis, she goes through so much too,” Summer says sarcastically.

Caroline: “You have to think there is some kind of screw loose in their heads. I mean, I sort of understand the gay thing, but ‘trans’?” The heiress shakes her head. “Wanting to cut on your body and take hormones?” Another shake of the head.

GM: “I dunno, I might be happy with my body, but I don’t think I can really speak someone else’s. I think people know what’s best for them.”

Caroline: “If half of them end up dead like Trenton?” Caroline shrugs.

GM: “You should debate my sister. She’d talk your ear off.”

Caroline: “Ugh. Let’s not and say we didn’t,” Caroline offers.

GM: “She’s all up in that stuff. She went to Decadence as a fairy princess or something.”

Caroline: “That’s dangerous,” Caroline offers with a degree of seriousness. “My old roommate got drugged when she went to Decadence. Ended up having to get shipped off for therapy and all kinds of stuff afterwards. I know that entire community wants to promote itself, but it’s not as harmless as they’d like everyone to think. The later it gets the more deviants come out.”

GM: “Sorry about your roomie. But that’s just every festival in the city from what I hear. That stuff happens at Mardi Gras, Halloween, and all the others.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

GM: “That’s when Angie puts on her Supergirl cape. I don’t think she even goes to Mardi Gras, just looks through missing persons reports or whatever.”

Caroline: “In this city that’s a full time job,” Caroline offers, though the tidbit offers an interesting bit about how the sorority’s hunters operate. “Personal thing or a sorority thing?”

GM: “Beats me, but she does that pretty often. Talks to a lot of cops too.”

Caroline: “Ugh, that sounds miserable. Once in a year is more than enough for a police visit. Some people want to be martyrs though.”

GM: “Or superheroes. It gets her whenever I call her Supergirl,” Summer smirks. “She says it’s her job to keep JLH safe.”

Caroline: “Right, how’s that going to work when she graduates? I don’t exactly think you can put ‘superhero’ on your resume.”

GM: “I’m not really sure, actually,” Summer remarks. “She wants to stick around for grad school, though.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head in frustration and disgust. “Of course she does.”

The police side is interesting. An opening under other circumstances.

“What about you? What’s your long-term plan, Summer?”

GM: Summer looks a bit uncomfortable. “I’m still, I dunno, figuring things out. I guess. I don’t have to declare my major yet.”

Caroline: “Don’t have to doesn’t mean can’t, and once your sister gets out of your hair I’m sure you’re going to have other things to occupy your time…”

The last bit is more mischievous than chastising.

GM: “Oh, god, finally. It can’t come soon enough, her moving out,” Summer declares.

Caroline: “So do what you can now, and make time for yourself later.”

“If you decide on something I could even see if I could pull a string or two, help get you a foot in the door somewhere.”

GM: “Oh really? I thought you were a student here.”

Caroline: “I am, but that doesn’t mean that’s all I am. One advantage of attending swanky shirt stuffing parties.”

“Every now and then they become stocking stuffers.” The Ventrue winks.

GM: “Nice. Well, I’ll keep it in mind.”

Caroline: Another wink, and a fake sip of a disgusting beverage.

Monster and manipulator she may be, but it feels good to at least offer to do something for someone.

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: Among the many projects Caroline engages in during her first weeks after her release, perhaps none is so important to her as the establishment of her new haven. She’s quick in staking out the limits of Rocco’s domain, and swifter still in identifying several potential sites of interest, among them the recently refurbished and restored Giani Building—still mostly vacant following its reopening.

The luxury apartments on the corner of the hound’s domain present an intriguing opportunity, especially when probing with Becky Lynne and investigations by Autumn reveal that the largest single stakeholder in the property, Ernest Phimlee, is not under the influence of another of the Damned. Caroline wastes little time before swooping in on the architect / developer to secure her own influence over him—and the rise of her dominion over the building as a whole.

By the time she has, and now quite tired of living out of hotel rooms, she’s able to put other pieces into play towards the same end. Ghouls are moved into the building as they are brought into the fold. Others, loyal by more conventional means, fall into place with comfortable positions in the building: Iraq and Afghan campaign vets filling in as on site security, Carla sliding into the cleaning agency for the building as a whole, and other less scrupulous individuals filling newly created maintenance positions. Several apartments see further renovation for Caroline’s needs, and it’s with relief—but not rest—that she puts the finishing touches on securing her haven against all comers, all too aware of just how many there may be.

Her new ghoul and financial manager, Sarah Widney, rents the apartment through a dummy LLC that exists solely to hold the lease and several other assets for Caroline. The setup is both legal and opaque to an outside observer, as even the name of the “corporation,” Elise Bennett, appears on leasing documents as just another name, rather than as a corporate ownership or holding to a casual examination.

GM: Caroline’s move-in to the Giani Building goes smoothly. Widney reports that she met with the building manager, and found him “pliable and eager to please.” Caroline even sees him a few times passing through the halls.

Pic.jpg Hugo Cleveland is a middle-aged man with a wide belly, receding hairline, and egg-shaped head who nods when he smiles, which is often. He lives on-site and tells Caroline that she should not hesitate to come to him for any needs she might have. His job is to make her stay at the Giani Building “as pleasant as possible.”

Autumn proves less than enchanted by the man. “Oh, wow, I guess property managers act like tools instead of scumbags if your rent is high enough. Who’d have thought?”

Caroline: Caroline gets a good laugh out of Autumn’s explanation of ‘landlords’.

“Something you’ll have to get used to, Autumn, when you have a certain amount of money or power, people become far less inclined to wave that banner, whatever their temporary powers may be.”

GM: Rent at the Giani Building starts at $1900 for the cheapest one-bedroom one-bathroom units, moves up to $4,000 for the better ones, and is not posted on public listings for penthouse suites such as Caroline’s. The Giani Building offers many amenities for rent within those ranges, including a shopping center, concierge, 24 hour surveillance, on-site maid, grocery, online, and meal service, as well as a childcare center. Most of these amenities are paid for separately from rent, however, which Autumn terms a “sucker trap,” since that fact is not mentioned on any of the apartment sites (though the amenities themselves certainly are).

Widney finds the building to her liking. Brian Fuller, Caroline’s new chief of security, is less pleased. It doesn’t have a gym.

Autumn is mildly surprised and amused when she picks up this is the first time Caroline is really living on her own; that is, outside of hotel rooms and her father’s or uncle’s houses. “Most landlords are douchebags. That’s the first thing to keep in mind. Granted, we have some of the worst landlord-tenant laws in the country here. Thanks partly to your dad. No offense.”

Autumn and Widney also go about the task of examining the building from a financial and Masquerade standpoint. Both ghouls are quick to point out two vulnerabilities that have likely already occurred to their domitor: the Giani Building lets out apartments, rather than sells condos, so Caroline could be legally evicted from her haven. Kindred powers combined with her own legal acumen make it easy for her to secure a favorable lease, but if it comes down to a conflict with other licks, Autumn is wary that Caroline does not own the deed to her haven. Widney seems less concerned by this.

The simplest way around this would be to buy it. At $4,847,700, however, the price tag eclipses Caroline’s net worth.

Widney brings up Lou’s building while they are discussing real estate, and asks what Caroline’s long-term plans are for it. Does she want to keep it as a source of steady revenue (a property manager can handle the day-to-day details), or does she want to fix it up and sell it?

There are no reports of the ghoul PI being spotted there since their last fateful meeting.

Caroline: Caroline makes clear to the ghouls that while the Giani Building may be a long-term investment—it may just as easily not. It’s functional and pleasant, but she’s by no means wed to it—and certainly not to the five million dollar price tag. For now she’s comfortable hiding behind the very favorable leasing agreement and the other bolt-holes she puts together in case of emergency.

As for the office building she bought to get to Lou, Caroline is content to keep it for now, renting out open space as available to cover the mortgage and renovation work in the building as a legal cover for some of her ‘off the books’ employees.

GM: Widney and Autumn both approve of the idea. Lou’s office is in a bad neighborhood, but gentrification is taking place in New Orleans as surely as it is anywhere else.

Autumn, though, says that might not be the case for Caroline’s landlord, “Because he’s that big a cock.” Her research revealed that Hugo’s boss and the owner of the Giani Building is Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC, whose mailing address is 161 Lakewood Estates—around 6 miles south of New Orleans in Jefferson Parish, and almost discongruently proximate to Diego’s own Terrytown. Ernest Phimlee is the spokesman rather than owner proper. The real owner of the LLC is a man named Rishu “Rich” Pavaghi. Locals know him as “the t-shirt czar.” A less generous writer on has described him as “the worst person in New Orleans.”

Caroline is familiar with him.

“…basically the kinda guy you Sanctified are supposed to prey on,” Autumn notes.

Caroline: “Maybe I will,” Caroline offers with a fang-filled grin.

Early-mid October, 2015

GM: As part of moving into the Giani Building, Caroline has her ghouls set up the details of a live-in or on-demand staff, hiring security guards, maids, drivers, PIs, and the like. These mortal employees believe they work for Widney, and legally, they do. Caroline does not make any ghouls from among their number, at least not yet. Widney takes care of negotiating the lease terms for their apartment units with Hugo, which ultimately fall under Elise Bennett’s corporate umbrella. She says there were some further legal hoops to jump through, and that Hugo was initially skeptical of essentially granting Widney permission to rent out whatever units Elise Bennett is itself renting. The two have managed to hammer out a more detailed lease agreement with the help of several lawyers, however, and Hugo made it especially clear to Widney that Elise Bennett is going to continue paying rent even for units that sit empty (as Canal@Camp Apartments LLC will be unable to rent them out for as long as Elise Bennett’s lease lasts).

Autumn is quick to seize on flaws with this arrangement. “So Widney was a butler ruined by Argabrite, and now she’s living large with all these people at her beck and call? What’s the story if someone asks where she got all this money?”

Indeed, it soon becomes plain to Caroline that her two ghouls do not get along. Widney considers Autumn unqualified and unprofessional. Autumn considers Widney dangerously ignorant of Kindred society, and resents her for appearing out of nowhere to assume so many responsibilities. While Caroline’s newest ghoul handles those, her oldest one falls into a critic’s role. Autumn spies on and runs background checks for Widney’s employee recommendations, and is quick to report any dirty laundry to Caroline, as well as to seize on threats to the Masquerade or her domitor’s Kindred interests. When Widney argues back, Caroline is distinctly reminded of how she sounded during her Requiem’s earlier nights—and Autumn is just as quick to drive home that the other ghoul doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Widney naturally resents the constant second-guessing and responds by laying into what she perceives as Autumn’s personal flaws.

At the heart of it all, both ghouls seem to regard one another as threats. Autumn fears obsolescence and resents Widney for swooping in to manage job functions which, though she would never admit it to her rival, she considers “higher” than espionage and Masquerade maintenance. The sorts of financial wizardry and employee hirings Widney has been handling are the basis for ultimate Kindred power. More than that, Autumn believes she’s smart enough to do that sort of work… she just doesn’t yet have the degree. That pride is there in other ways, too. Anyone, Autumn believes, can learn law and finance. Occult knowledge is much harder-won.

Widney’s emotions are harder to get a read on. She hates relying on Autumn, but is even more loath to go about her new duties ignorant. She keeps it together well—very well, all things considered—but like almost anyone thrust into this life, she fears she’s out of her depth. She tries to compensate by going to Caroline for information instead of Autumn.

Caroline: Caroline tolerates the infighting for only a short time, waiting to see how they shake out the relationship and giving them an opportunity to resolve matters without her interference. When they fail, and as their interactions grow more toxic, she steps in, cutting right to the point first with Autumn.

“Do you think I have room for only one of you two?” It’s early in the evening, and Caroline has time between her next ‘appointment’.

GM: “It’s not that. She’s putting you at risk, with how much she doesn’t understand about this life,” Autumn answers.

Caroline: “And who is she supposed to learn that from?” Caroline answers in turn, stone-faced.

GM: “It’s not that. There’s things she just doesn’t get. Remember how you were at first?”

Caroline: “Yes, I do.”

GM: “Well, someone giving you a lecture wouldn’t have fixed that. Not by itself.”

Caroline: The Ventrue crosses her legs as she looks up from behind her desk. “Have you given that lecture?”

GM: “Of course. She’s trying to get all her info from you, isn’t she?” Autumn half-asks, half-answers from the seat across from it.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t take the bait. “I don’t think you want me to answer that.”

GM: “Rhetorical. It’s pretty obvious that she is.”

Caroline: “And what does that make you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Hey, I’m still doing my job. I tell her how things work. That’s on Widney if she still goes to you.”

Caroline: “That’s exactly the point,” Caroline intones clearly. “If she’s coming to me then you aren’t, and similarly if you are not taking advantage of her presence to learn her own craft for yourself, you’re also selling short yourself at the same time.”

GM: “Have you told this to her too?”

Caroline: “Do I need to?” Caroline asks.

GM: “For sure. You think this is all on me?”

Caroline: “No, but I think you’re the more experienced of the two of you, with a firmer understanding of what this life involves and what is waiting out there. You know, better than she, how important it is that we circle the wagons here. How much I need both of your expertise.”

GM: “Definitely,” Autumn nods.

Caroline: “How are you going to impress that importance on others to come if you can’t impress it on her?” Caroline asks sharply.

GM: “Because you’ve handed her all this authority over day-to-day stuff and it’s gone to her head,” Autumn replies defensively. “In the Krewe, every ghoul knew what the hierarchy was. Widney doesn’t. Brian at least always listens, and asks a lot too, but that’s because he knows the information is important. Personally knows. Not because there’s any, I guess you could call it, chain of command.”

Caroline: “You need more power and authority from me,” Caroline offers.

GM: “That wouldn’t be bad,” Autumn agrees. “If you want to bring in more ghouls, there should be some kind of organization. All of the prince’s know the Hussar’s in charge.”

Caroline: “Is the Hussar in charge because the prince placed him there, or because he is the most capable?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Probably some of both. It was the same in the Krewe.”

Caroline: “And if I placed you in charge, could you keep that position without my attention?” Caroline again asks.

GM: Autumn seems to think before answering, “If all I had was your say-so, I probably could. The others don’t know anything about this life without me.”

Caroline: “Could they be effective with you only handing out that information as needed, or would you have to withhold information to control them?”

GM: “Both. They’d probably still want to know more, even if I told them the minimum needed to do their jobs.”

Caroline: “That’s not leadership—that’s control.”

GM: “You don’t think other ghouls and licks in charge don’t do that?” she scoffs.

Caroline: “And what tends to happen to the ghouls and licks caught in the middle of that environment?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They don’t like it, but they adapt.”

Caroline: “The ones that don’t die in mass.”

GM: “Not telling them information they don’t actually need isn’t what gets them killed.”

Caroline: “No, but it contributes to the atmosphere of fear, hate, and suspicion.”

GM: “Well… to be honest, that’s always gonna be there, even if you hadn’t brought in Widney,” Autumn says slowly. “I mean… I’ve seen everything that’s gone on around you.”

Caroline: Caroline sits up. “Meaning what?”

GM: “Well, every ghoul who originally served under you besides me is dead.” Her voice is quiet.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite snarl. “Something I’m trying to avoid in the future.”

GM: “I hope so too, goes without saying. But… it’d be really easy for it to happen again.”

Caroline: Caroline’s fingers drum on the desk. “For all of us.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “Which brings us full circle. I need everyone working together, doing everything they can, to not only keep our heads above water, but also to build on what we have. So, would I like for you to eventually have a leadership position? Absolutely. But you need to be ready when you step in, and in more than one way.”

GM: Autumn looks nonplussed at that assessment. “Can I be blunt? It sounds like you’re in denial. Widney isn’t going to be a ‘leader’ when she knows this little about Kindred society. Or about you. There’s not going to be a happy work-together atmosphere if she knew anything about your previous ghouls. Or just how common that sort of ‘turnover’ is.”

Caroline: The drumming stops. “That sounded disturbingly close to a threat. Perhaps you’d care to rephrase it.” There is a dangerous look in Caroline’s eye.

GM: “It wasn’t a threat,” Autumn clarifies hastily. “I don’t have anything to threaten you with. You’re the lick, I’m the renfield. I couldn’t stop you from midscrewing me into doing… anything. I’m not stupid. I just meant if you, not me, told her about the full realities.”

Caroline: “That they were murdered by more powerful Kindred?” Caroline spits. Both wounds are scabbed over, but not closed.

GM: “That it’s just what comes with the job, working for a lick who isn’t powerful,” Autumn offers, though there’s no small wariness in her eyes. “I haven’t said anything to them about that. I won’t, unless you tell me to.”

Caroline: “That’s right,” Caroline answers to the first of Autumn’s statement. “But today both of those deaths would have been avoidable.”

GM: “I hope so.”

Caroline: “We’ve wandered rather afield the topic. Widney isn’t going anywhere, nor am I going to ignite a power struggle between you two by crowning someone. You both need each other, and I need you working together. Identifying problems and finding solutions together, rather than airing them to me. If a dispute or concern makes it that far, something has gone horribly wrong.”

GM: “Okay, I can do things that way,” Autumn agrees. “Widney just thinks she’s already been crowned with how much day-to-day stuff she manages.”

Caroline: “So show her how out of depth she is. Introduce her around one day.”

GM: “That could just as easily get her killed.”

Caroline: “Meeting other ghouls with you would get her killed?” Caroline asks skeptically.

GM: “Showing her how out of depth she is. Just seeing other ghouls won’t do that.”

Caroline: “It would show how much more there is to this world… and how well you know it,” Caroline suggests.

GM: “I guess it could. But that’s still pretty far from seeing a lick kill one of us for shits and giggles.”

Caroline: “No Kindred is going to kill any ghoul of mine again for ‘shits and giggles’,” Caroline growls.

GM: “I sure hope not,” Autumn agrees. “But… you’re less than a year old, and don’t have any friends. Other licks can do whatever they want to us.”

Caroline: “Tell that to Eight-Nine-Six,” Caroline replies acidly.

GM: “Well… it was the prince who took care of them. You’re really lucky they broke the Masquerade in Central City like that.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes glitter from behind her desk. She allows the pause to continue for a moment.

“In any case, establishing your credentials with her and proving the value of actively involving you, rather than working around you, would go a long way.”

GM: “If she doesn’t try to go around me and get to know other ghouls and licks by herself. That’d end badly.”

Caroline: “It could, but understand this: tearing each other down cannot build either of you up in my eyes.” Her eyes are hard. “Figure it out.”

GM: “Are you going to talk with her about this too?” Autumn keeps her mild, but still asks.

Caroline: “I’m going to talk with everyone that matters.”

Early-mid October, 2015

Caroline: For all of Caroline’s earlier words, she aggressively pursues many of Autumn’s recommendations to address the ex-Krewe cleaner’s concerns. Rather than rent out a live-in staff, Caroline goes out of her way to integrate them into the building’s existing services. What staff she does move in all move in under their own or assumed names.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls are, for once, unanimous in their support of this idea. Autumn says that employees under Caroline’s thumb are less likely (though still could be) moles for other Kindred, and will be more inclined to look the way where the Masquerade is concerned. Fuller points out that the building already has its own security staff (smaller and less professional than the one Caroline wants), and that he doesn’t like the dynamic with two forces working for different entities in the same building with distinct and overlapping areas of jurisdiction. Security should all fall under the same umbrella, with a clear chain of command, so nothing “confuses” the men. Plus it makes his own job inherently easier when he directly runs the full show. Widney agrees that the more of the building’s operations Caroline controls, the better.

However, Widney is still just a tenant, and cannot hire or fire the building’s staff. Hugo wants to make Widney’s life more pleasant, but he is likely to draw the line at hiring and firing so many people at her recommendation. What does she care about all these employees anyway? Hugo can assign specific maids to service her unit if there are ones she prefers.

Caroline: Widney pitches that her boss isn’t a fan of the rent-a-cop security and is putting pressure on her to up the security in the building. Rather than hire people and have them in conflict or creating potential problems for him, she’d prefer to pass on some more capable names for him. Widney pitches it as a win-win in that she keeps her boss happy because she convinced Hugo to bring in people, he doesn’t have headaches, the building gets more attractive as a whole, and she is of course willing to make it worth his while. Her boss Caroline is in with his boss Phimlee, which in turn is likely to look good for him.

GM: Widney hammers out an arrangement with Hugo that she reports back to Caroline. The Giani Building’s manager agreed to some of the terms, rejected others, and proposed his own modifications to a few. He was also very clear that he wouldn’t take bribes of any kind. However, he did mention that he was operating off a fixed budget (unless he could convince his boss to increase it), and hiring more and better-qualified security employees would mean cutting back on the building’s other amenities and employees. If Widney’s boss wanted to provide the Giani Building with additional funds to enable the security increase while preventing other cutbacks, Caroline’s ghoul relays, Hugo said he was entirely amenable.

“‘No bribes’, huh,” says Autumn.

Widney supplies the first payment. A week later, Hugo has fired many of the rent-a-cops and hired ex-servicemen recommended by Brian Fuller, who he has also hired as the building’s security chief. He has also downsized the building’s maid service, firing some of the workers and outright lowering the wages of the undocumented immigrants, essentially demanding that they do more with less.

Autumn rolls her eyes as she reports all of this to Caroline. “Louisiana, right?”

Widney later sits down with Caroline to talk about finances. Fuller is self-sufficient, but Widney and Autumn both rely on Caroline for salaries (informal in the latter’s case). The soon-to-be former heiress has around $50,000 a month to play with, thanks to her ongoing financial manipulations. It’s considerably more than her prior trust fund. This amount is before monthly expenses like rent and mortgage payments (on Lou’s building), and the $4,000 that could sustain both her ghouls in decent comfort. The money is mostly pulled from stocks, bonds, rent from Lou’s building, her trust fund, and assorted other “stable” investments she can largely leave to Whitney, and parked in overseas accounts.

Widney is concerned, however, that it is not enough to pay for a full-time staff of the scope Caroline wants. The ghoul can think of several ways to pay for them. First, cut back their hours back to part-time, and let them draw money from other jobs. Second, ghoul key personnel who will serve out of simple devotion, and don’t pay them anything. Let them work other jobs, as per the first suggestion. Not paying the key ghouls will open up a larger budget to pay with. Still, even the full (unavailable) $50,000 budget split into $4,000 monthly salaries comes out to 12.5 people.

The third option, Whitney says, is to acquire a business or organization that has access to inherently larger sums of capital than any individual. Have her staff work for it, either in fact or only nominally as listed names drawing salaries from the payroll.

A way partly around this, too, is for Caroline to place ghouls in supervisory positions of existing organizations and let them bear the payroll costs for her staff. Caroline has already successfully done this with Fuller, Widney adds: he’s loyal to Caroline, draws his salary from the Giani Building’s employee payroll, and supervises a large force of security guards who are likewise paid by Canal@Camp Ampartments LLC. Widney thus recommends that she replicate the same strategy on Hugo (in other words, ghoul him). Caroline could also do the same with Hugo’s own boss. While he determines bigger-scale things like the building’s budget and major projects, he is also largely uninvolved in daily management.

Widney also specifically brings up Autumn, who she spends a significant amount of time discussing. Does Autumn have a job, or otherwise doing anything to bring in money? Does she have any appreciable assets in her name? What does Caroline plan on having her do once she graduates and that drain on the ghoul’s time no longer occupies her? What were her previous living arrangements and expenses before the recent move-in to the Giani Building?

Once they are finished with the topic of Autumn, Widney also says that she would be very interested to see how other vampires manage these sorts of financial and logistical issues, which are quite distinct from any others she’s dealt with (“The closest thing are the finances of drug lords and crime bosses who can’t do everything through legitimate channels.”) In fact, Widney believes she could learn a great deal from whatever models Caroline’s elders have presumably been successfully employing for centuries. Could she arrange for the prince’s or seneschal’s ghouls to “show her the ropes”?

Caroline: Caroline firmly closes the door on the question of Autumn’s usefulness and what she brings to the table. “She’s a subject matter expert, the best available and the only one you should trust besides. Don’t be foolish enough to make this a war between you. She’s been a member of the keepers of the Masquerade in New Orleans for years. She both knows and is known in the ghoul community. Don’t assume she’s around just because it’s comfortable. Most Kindred would give their left hand for someone with that kind of knowledge and experience—and I very nearly did. She could be worth more to you.”

On the topic of trying to arrange a meeting with someone else to learn from, Caroline is similarly lukewarm. “I’ll reach out, but don’t hold your breath on it. Those kinds of details are valuable, and there isn’t exactly an internship program. It’d also be dangerous. Most of those same older ghouls you’d be interested in learning from are little different than powerful Kindred in their respect for life, and just as many of them would view you something they could use to gain powerful power or influence with by planting all kinds of mental programming in your head when you were alone with them.” She lets that morbid thought sink in.

Her come around though takes a different tack. “You also shouldn’t sell yourself short. They may have been at it for decades, even centuries, but that’s as much a disadvantage as it is an advantage. The world is changing, and not being tied to older models both keeps you from falling into mistakes and patterns they’ll use means you can work with things that didn’t exist when they were putting their empires in motion – and avoid the weaknesses of them. For instance, they rely very heavily on ghouls. Far more so than we can afford to. Almost if not every guard the prince uses is a ghoul for instance, and it’s much the same among others. They also use ghouls… and people… disposably and tend to keep them very much in the dark. That’s not how I view you.”

She slides a folder across the table for the ghoul, and gives her a couple minutes to look through it. Inside are profiles on a number of attorneys, several potential leasing agreements for office buildings, and an array of potential organizational diagrams. “I think your suggestion on using organizations is valid. That’s something I’ve been putting together for a while. I also think, for non-sensitive tasks, we could also look at a model of contracting rather than trying to keep everyone in-house all the time. I’d be interested in your inputs.”

The two talk late into the night, eventually bringing Autumn and Fuller in as well as part of brainstorming ideas. Caroline lays out her own plans, takes criticisms, and makes changes according to them. It’s only the first of many planning sessions. One major takeaway is from Widney’s observations on finances. Caroline is comfortable, and can continue to grow her own nest egg, but many of her plans are going to require additional funding. Quickly. They set to work determining where it is going to come from at speed.

GM: Widney might only be 30, but she could easily pass for a decade older. The ruthlessly bound and under-control hair. The unchanging, wide-shouldered pantsuits. The lines along her mouth, that are only exacerbated when she does not smile. Widney is currently not smiling.

“How long has she been in this ‘line of work’? If she is so valuable, why would her previous domitor have dismissed her? It is just as important you do not overestimate her, ma’am, as it is that I do not underestimate her.”

Caroline: “I caught her, and I influenced her, and for that her old domitor was going to execute her,” Caroline answers. “I took the alternative.”

GM: Widney does not dwell on the topic, but respectfully disagrees with Caroline’s next assessment. “I’ll work with what I know, as I always have. It would nevertheless be of considerable use for me to know what’s come before—and to know what mistakes the others are making.” The abstract comment on ghouls planting ‘mental programming’ gets a mostly noncomprehending look.

Autumn scoffs at Widney during the next group discussion. She seems to take no small pleasure in it. “Wrong. Ghouls aren’t as behind on the times as you think. The Krewe brings in new people fairly often. There’s higher turnover with ghouls, plain and simple, and it’s not as big a deal to make a new one. The Krewe has a ton of ghouls who can navigate technology and the modern world better than Harlequin probably can. I mean, I’m one of them. Elders might not be able to keep up with the times themselves, but they’re usually a lot better at spotting and ghouling the people who have. I mean, you think you’re the first financial advisor a Ventrue ghouled? No offense, but that’s nothing new.”

Caroline: Caroline throws Autumn out of the meeting. She doesn’t speak to the ghoul for three nights, forcing all her interactions through Widney instead. She doesn’t beat her. She doesn’t cut her off of her resources. She doesn’t threaten her. She simply ignores her.

When they do speak again, Caroline’s point is quite clear. “You offer a valuable perspective, but when you offer it in that way, you force yourself to the outside. Find a more productive way to express yourself.”

GM: Widney is all-too dutiful in reporting Autumn’s communications, especially their lack thereof after the nature of the three-day arrangement becomes clear to her. Widney does not outright call Autumn unprofessional, but is simply attentive in mentioning “Rabinowitz has yet to talk to me about this or that.”

Caroline can only imagine what those three nights were like for Autumn when she next sees her. Loving someone, so consumingly, and not being able to simply say “whatever” to their silence. Knowing that love is not only a lie, but one she forced upon herself. Caroline can only imagine the tempest of emotions swirling through her ghoul’s head, tempered by the knowledge half of them aren’t even real. Her expression simultaneously hardens and quavers like a tectonic plate breaking up under magma.

Her eventual reply is a terse, “Okay.”

Caroline: And just like that, Autumn is welcomed back into the fold, with a bloody wrist and all.

GM: Autumn stares at the wrist for a moment, almost angrily, but it’s only for a moment before the look cracks and she prostitutes her pride over Caroline’s pale wrist. Relief, anger, ecstasy, humiliation, love, and self-disgust all might be why the tears flow from her eyes as she rapturously drunks.

Caroline: Caroline softly strokes the ghoul’s hair and holds her long after the pale wrist has been withdrawn. “It’s okay, Autumn. It’s okay.”

GM: It’s another lie she—they—want to believe.

Monday night, 11 October 2015, AM

GM: Not overlong after Caroline’s final confession with Father Malveaux, Rocco informs her that one of his duties, as her landlord, involves seeing to and assisting her spiritual development. This process will start with finding Caroline a new confessor, as Rocco is not an priest. The newly-released fledgling has several options:

There is Father Elgin, who she has already met several times.

Mother Doriocourt is Donovan’s childe and one of Rocco’s fellow hounds. Caroline likely vividly recalls her from that first night at Perdido House, though they have yet to speak to one another.

Father Morrow is a pious Nosferatu who resides in Tremé, an Acolyte-controlled district of the city, with a reputation for being nonpartisan.

Father Polk is the sire of Roxanne Gerlette, and also considered Father Malveaux’s understudy.

Father Malveaux, of course, is not an option any longer.

Rocco will make introductions between Caroline and any of these Kindred whom she wishes to meet. the hound and Caroline’s confessor will also instruct her in the tenants and theology of the Lancea et Sanctum. To date, she has been unable to learn her covenant’s belief system from a consistent and reputable source. That will now change.

Rocco: Rocco, adamant that Caroline’s lineage is reason enough to see to her proper education, makes it clear that he finds it his personal mission to make sure she succeeds. Notably, he suggests Mother Doriocourt as the best fit for Caroline’s spiritual well-being. He speak very highly of her. He is fine with Caroline looking into her other options, though.

Caroline: Caroline is polite but forceful in rejecting Doriocourt as a suggestion. Her faith has taken a battering, first in the rapid sweep towards conversion to the Sanctified’s own twisted brand of Christianity, and again (and again) at the hands of Father Malveaux.

Between her poisonous relationship with the sheriff and Father Malveaux both Caroline strikes Doriocourt and Polk from the list of those of immediate interest. If all else fails she might come back to them, but it seems unwise to stick her hand into the tiger’s mouth once more. Similarly, given the nature and direction of Malveaux’s piety, she’s leery of Father Morrow’s reputed piety. Not hostile, but wary. Of the choices, Elgin seems like the best one.

She approaches the master of Elysium demurely after one of his sermons, when the Midnight Mass has concluded. She spends long enough on introductions and talk of the sermon itself to avoid appearing impolite before broaching the subject, her tone almost tentative, “Father, I find myself without a confessor. I had hoped that I might persuade you to fill that void.”

GM: Gus Elgin’s sermon and its subsequent discussion address the Church Eternal’s dogma regarding ghouls. Traditional Monachal doctrine is quite clear that only mortals guilty of serious sins should be fed the Blood. The exact criteria for what constitutes a serious sin, however, appears to vary widely by Kindred. The strictest Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should explain the spiritually corrosive effects of their vitae to would-be ghouls, and clearly offer them the choice of power at a risk to their immortal souls.

Many Kindred consider this impractical: most vampires do not have the power to erase memories (if the mortal demonstrates sufficient moral strength to decline the vitae), and point to dozens of examples of Biblical temptation that are less direct. More Sanctified believe that would-be domitors should play the role of Faustian tempters: they should reveal their true natures as vampires, and offer mortals power, but the latter should be left to judge for themselves whether accepting such power is a sin against nature (which the Church Eternal of course believes it to be).

The most spiritually indolent Sanctified consider ‘testing’ the moral character of their ghouls purely a formality: if they can bend a mortal’s mind into drinking vitae ‘willingly’, or if they force-feed vitae to a mortal and the mortal becomes an addict, then clearly their moral character was always weak. Almost all Sanctified, however, are in agreement on two points: a ghoul imperils their soul by imbibing the blood of the Damned (the Bible has several verses that specifically address this very subject), but ghouls are not yet damned as the Kindred are. They are still alive. They may still atone for their sins.

Furthermore, any ghoul who renounces the Blood and sincerely asks their domitor for freedom—not out of anything so paltry as fear their life, but sincere desire to seek atonement for their sins and commit themselves to a new life in Christ’s service—is to be immediately released from bondage. They have withstood temptation and proven their moral purity.

Of course, the Masquerade must still be preserved. If their domitor cannot arrange the erasure of their memories, then the newly-liberated ghoul must regrettably die. Their former domitor should not inform the ghoul of this fact, lest by choosing death and freedom, the ghoul re-imperil their soul by committing the sin of suicide. Gus Elgin encourages the erasure of such a ghoul’s memories as a “humane” alternative. The Masquerade must always come first, but if possible, pious and God-fearing mortals should be permitted to live natural and fruitful lives. The Sanctified are not meant to prey upon such individuals.

“A significant void that we must indeed seek to fill,” the pudgy-jowled Nosferatu answers with his typical dim smile. “I know little of your soul, Miss Malveaux, and would request that you first illuminate me as to its shape and contours. Tonight’s sermon is as good a means as any by which you may do so. May I ask your thoughts as to the spiritual questions raised? How have you offered the Blood to your own ghouls, and of what sins are they guilty that you would so demean their souls?”

Caroline: It’s a tender subject, but Caroline indulges the priest.

“My first ghoul was actually forced upon me by Father Malveaux. A friend in life, when she discovered my nature he thought it best to ghoul to, to force upon me a fuller understanding of the implications of my own failures.” Her expression tightens once more. “It ended poorly for her. Thereafter… they have been of my own choice.”

She considers the question in the framing of his own sermon.

“I confess, Father, though I was largely ignorant of the spiritual implications of bringing others into the blood. I have always endeavored to offer the choice, weighted though it might be. I’ve probed for weakness, for lack of moral certainty, for anywhere I could sink in my teeth. I’ve torn from them secrets and desires, and always found them wanting… in more ways than one.” She looks down. “And too often to their doom. Some have been murderers. Others were killers of a less refined taste. Most simply those lost from the flock, seeking something more in a godless world.”

“I think I felt better offering them a choice of the blood, a certain lessening of moral culpability, even if I didn’t understand spiritually why.”

GM: “You are still facilitating a great sin, Miss Malveaux,” Elgin corrects. “But it is in as such a role as tempters that we are meant to serve… as well as guardians of the innocent. I shall be certain to commend Father Malveaux on his choice of penance when next I speak with him.”

The Nosferatu peers past Caroline towards some approaching figure. “I fear that my duties as host must again impose upon me. Think further upon my words, and meet me tomorrow night in the belfry of the Marigny Opera House at 2 AM, if that is amenable to your schedule. I am usually available to take confession on nights other than Fridays and weekends.”

Caroline: “I’ll make arrangements to be there Father Elgin, thank you,” Caroline replies, more than a little relieved as she takes her leave.

It’s not until later that she has an opportunity to reflect on what she’s said, and how it fits into Kindred theological perspectives. The imperiling of the soul of a ghoul, a role as a tempter into damnation. So much of what she’s done as one of the Damned has been because she’s had to, or at least something she can justify as a requirement. The active bringing of others into this life however, the dragging into damnation of ordinary mortals for her own ends, is perhaps the first entirely willing and intentional act in keeping with the dogma of the Sanctified. It sparks a moment of pause and introspection.

A shot in the arm of the fledgling’s furiously fading faith? Only time will tell.

Mid-October 2015

Caroline: Meg’s bulimia is a problem that Caroline approaches with her own interest. On one hand, it’s a problem she hopes to resolve for Jocelyn. On another, it’s an opportunity observe the effects of her gifts in the ability to alter behavior. With Jocelyn’s permission, she semi-regularly begins mesmerizing the ghoul, planting ideas and reactions in her head to fix her disgusting habit.

As much as anything, it’s a controlled experiment for her: with the rarity with which she bends the wills of her own ghouls so overtly, Meg represents perhaps the best option for examining ways in which her abilities actually function over time—and how long they last.

She soon discovers that simply making demands lasts only the evening. Nor is memory alternation an answer—even at her most successful, she struggles to reach more than into the beginning of the evening. What she does discover, however—what she knew was possible from her own experiences with Aimee—is that with time, effort, and patience, she can plant an idea, a demand, in the back of Meg’s mind. A tripwire that allows her influence to seep back in at any time. The key then becomes finding the right action.

The poor ghoul, pathetic as she is, doesn’t warrant punishment. She deserves help. Like many, she has a ritual with her purging. Once Caroline unwraps those secrets she’s able to more effectively direct the ghoul towards changing her habits. The other key is ensuring that she plants a demand that can be satisfied even if the ghoul is out in town engaged in other activities. Ultimately, she settles on something relatively mundane: each time Meg heads to the bathroom to purge she instead sends Jocelyn an affectionate message. For now it’s a band-aid, one that prevents the ghoul from exercising her more disgusting habit, but Caroline hopes over time that it breaks the habit, the chain. She’s careful to continue to watch for the ghoul’s next destructive behavior.

GM: Jocelyn consents to Caroline playing around with Meg’s head so long as the ghoul doesn’t remember the commands, which the Ventrue can easily explain that Meg won’t. “She needs to think she’s getting better on her own,” says Jocelyn. “Knowing one of us ordered her to stop could get all kinds of screwed up.”

The most basic applications of Caroline’s sanguine voice (a term by which she has heard Becky Lynne refer to the discipline, in addition to “lordly words” and “the voice of the Ventrue”) meet with unsurprisingly little success. Longer-term applications fare better, but as Caroline indeed discovers, Meg is free to stick fingers down her throat once the sun goes up. Meg initially finds loopholes by using methods other than her fingers to induce vomiting, prompting Caroline to change the verbiage of her commands.

Caroline’s longer-term implanted commands to make the ghoul forget her bulimic urges altogether fare better. Jocelyn reports that Meg isn’t vomiting at all during these weeks (and is filling her phone with syrupy text messages).

Caroline is also correct in her assessment that the sanguine voice is ultimately a band-aid on the problem. Meg clearly has underlying mental health issues, and bereft of her outlet through purging, Jocelyn reports that the ghoul cries constantly about how fat and ugly she is, and goes through episodes where she lies in bed and does nothing but send text after text after text. The Toreador says this is “still a net upgrade, I guess. Better for her teeth.”

“Maybe it would work better in conjunction with therapy. I mean, your average shrink would probably find a ton of ethics issues, but being able to just hot-wire people’s minds like this has gotta be of some help.” She muses, “I’ve heard there’s actually a few Kindred shrinks out there. Malkavians, surprise surprise.”

Caroline: “Sounds like the blind leading the blind to me,” Caroline replies. “And I can’t imagine they’d be as interested in ghouls as other Kindred.”

“You might try working with her a bit. A lot of this is driven by a desire to please you, to make you happy, to be beautiful for you. You could do occasional shoots with her, providing things you wanted her to model. Telling her not to do something, or trying to convince her she’s not fat is probably less effective than actively showing her over time that you want her to look a specific way.”

GM: “That’s true. She can get pretty clingy, but a few shoots couldn’t hurt,” Jocelyn muses.

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “Might even help.”

Tuesday night, 19 October 2015, PM

Caroline: Mercurial Fernandez. The story of the autistic ’artist’s descent into the criminal justice system rubs Caroline the wrong way for reasons she can’t quite put her finger on. The beatings he suffered at the hands of the authorities, loss of things he loved, torture at (her own hands), loss of his ‘life’, destruction of his reputation, and seeming ruining of his future (to say nothing of the horrors he’ll endure in prison) leave a bitter taste in her mouth when she considers them and his own seeming ignorance and helplessness in the face of those abusing him. A more astute observer might observe parallels the Ventrue does not with the effeminate black boy.

There’s relatively little she can—or more precisely wishes—to do, especially with her family sniffing about him. The very resources she might nominally muster on his behalf are those happy to see his destruction (by her mother’s account). Still, Caroline is not helpless to watch his suffering and if she cannot wield the Malveaux hammer, she’s happy to be more subtle. Among those more ‘subtle’ avenues towards his well being. She has information on Mouse’s arrests—including details about his broken fingers and bloody beaten face during his alleged ‘invasion’ of the female dormitory—dropped in on Herman Lewis, remembering well the rants and complaints she once heard from Marco made in the past about the belligerent former convicted murderer. Mouse may have signed a plea bargain that denied him his right to appeal, but she has little doubt that he’ll have plenty to raise complaints about from within the Parish prison.

GM: Caroline actually hears about it from Jocelyn first, of all people, when she starts to look into things. Mercurial Fernandez is dead. It happened around a month ago.

She was following him at the instruction of her priest to see if he’d lapse into sin again. He’s dead. There’s a viral MeVid video filmed by his brother (from inside jail!) floating around that alleges Mouse was beaten to death by prison guards after he protested OPP’s horrific conditions and started organizing inmates to file a class action suit.

Jocelyn isn’t really sure what to feel.

Caroline’s calls to her own relatives paint a rather less cheery picture. Mouse was literally raped to death in his cell and expired from his injuries during the night. The notorious jail’s notoriously lazy and ineffectual medical staff can rarely be asked to treat inmates before morning. He managed to kill his violator, though, by repeatedly stabbing the man in the throat while he slept.

Cécilia does not celebrate his death, but is, admittedly, relieved that he will no longer be a part of her life.

There’s a GoFundMe for donations to pay for the funeral. Mouse’s brother claims to be destitute from court fees and attorney’s bills.

Caroline: Caroline’s response mirrors Jocelyn’s. She regrets what they did, and expresses as much to her paramour, but the fact that he died attacking his cellmate in his sleep says unpleasant things about the truth of his character—not that she’s judging him for attacking his rapist. She’s simply observing that clearly he had more violence in his heart than they might have thought.

The entire thing is just… unfortunate. Not really sad—she doesn’t feel that deeply for him (she didn’t know him beyond a single night of hurting him)—but another dead body, another person she’s met dead, adds to a sense of dread. She’s hurt a lot of people. Killed a lot of people. He’s just another name on the periphery. There’s little room left in her heart to mourn those that far down the list.

Little, but some small measure. She has Autumn investigate the truth of the family’s claim of being destitute.

GM: Autumn soon reports back. She reports that after Mouse’s mother died, her estate was heavily stolen from. Fizzy sold the house and what was left. Fizzy belongs to a street gang called the RidaHoodz, many of whom were arrested recently. They have heavily commercialized Mouse’s death to the extent of selling tickets over Kickstarter to attend his funeral.

Autumn reports that Mouse has no surviving immediate family besides Fizzy. He’s telling the truth about his expenses, but he also came into a windfall with his mother’s inheritance and selling her house.

“He seems less destitute than he had a major payday interrupted by some major expenses,” finishes the ghoul. “Could probably survive without the Kickstarter funeral tickets.”

Caroline: Caroline is more than a little disgusted by the commercialization of Mouse’s death by his brother. She mentions to Jocelyn that those involved might make ideal victims—though they fall a bit out of her own tastes.

GM: “I guess he’s in prison anyway,” Jocelyn says. “So he’s probably already having a shitty time. I read an article about how OPP is the worst jail in America. I dunno there’s really anything more we’d even need to do to him.”

“There’s probably some college students wearing those stupid t-shirts, though.” The Toreador rolls her eyes. “I swear those things are worse than MAGA hats. I don’t know how they’re even selling.”

Her eyes glint.

“Bad luck for whoever we see with one on.”


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