“Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.”
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: He said his name was Mason, and that he was a member of the Dirty Throws Krewe. Like every other Kindred krewe in the Big Easy, he said the Dirty Throws was composed entirely of neonates—most of whom tried very, very hard to stay below Prince Vidal’s increasingly unforgiving radar. The kid’s story, and a remarkable one it was, went something like this:
Everyone in town knows about the recent rash of poachings. (That’s a term elders use around here; it means somebody’s been feeding in another vampire’s territory.) Well, Mason claimed that he knew who was guilty of these indiscretions, or at least the most the recent spate of them. And the reason he knew was because the culprits had been his own coterie, the Dirty Throws.
Due to various personal problems Mason had with his krewemates, however, the rest of the krewe decided their only way out was to make a scapegoat of Mason. They intended to “turn him in” to the Guard de Ville (that’s the sheriff and hounds, the prince’s chief enforcers), in the hopes that their efforts would reward them two-fold: First, in the form of choice feeding grounds (a gift of thanks from a grateful prince, once word reached him), and second, they’d get the prince’s people to dispose of Mason for them. All in all, it wasn’t a bad plan.
Too bad Mason was on to them.
Scared as he was, not to mention entirely alone, Mason figured his only move left was to beat his treacherous krewemates to the punch. So he set up a meeting between himself and Alexander Wright, one of the Guard de Ville. Wright gave Mason a place and a time where they’d meet. The Brujah would then bring Mason safely to Donovan—the city’s sheriff and the long arm of Vidal himself—at a second, as yet undisclosed location. Once with the sheriff, Mason would turn his erstwhile allies in. Another solid plan.
Too bad the rest of the Dirty Throws were on to him.
When Jean-Marc first saw him, Mason was trying desperately to figure out how he was going to get to the meeting place in one piece tonight. If the Dirty Throws caught up to him before he could turn himself in, they would never let him survive. To Mason’s way of thinking, it was either them or him. The problem was, there was only one of him… and they could be anywhere.
That’s where Jean-Marc came in.
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: Louis Prima’s dulcet tones from the state of the art speakers are utterly at odds with the vampire before Jean-Marc. Then again, so is the rest of Clemens’. He sticks out like a sore thumb. Back hunched forward slightly, sneakered feet pressed anxiously together, shaky hands tucked into the pockets of his black and gold sweatshirt, he hardly looks the part of an immortal Cainite and lord of the night. He looks like one of Jean-Marc’s old classmates at Clark High, just another young black kid in over his head with gangs and the law.
He is in over his head with a gang and the law.
The more things change, the more they don’t.
“…that’s, that’s the story,” Mason breaks down, seemingly from equal parts hysteria and relief as his eyes sweep the well-heeled patrons. Even seated at the veranda rather than the 13-maximum serving lounge, the kid’s appearance (and definitely affect) should be enough to draw stares (or security), but the kine all ignore him like he’s one of them.
“Look,” he goes on, “I just need an escort to the meet site. Get me there, and Wright’ll see you helped. We’ll tell the sheriff, too, how you helped. Hell, you can come with me, tell him yourself if you want.”
Jean-Marc has never met the kid before in his life.
Mason just saw him, heard another vampire’s telltale lack of heartbeat, and spilled his guts.
It would be easy to spin something about people telling the truth when the chips are down. About trial and adversity allowing truth to triumph. But that isn’t how it works, is it? People don’t ever just tell the truth. They blurt it out in a rage or panic. They do it to save their hides. They do it as part of a transaction. They do it to hurt someone. Jean-Marc can name all-too many examples. Dinah. Doyle. Mason, here. Himself. Sometimes people even tell the truth to salve a guilty conscience. It’s harder to think of examples there. But people don’t ever tell the truth just to be truthful.
“Truth is like a king we pretend to idolize, or a God we pretend to worship, but we actually lock up in a cage, so he can’t get out and disturb our lives and beloved lies.”
Jean-Marc might suppose his soliloquy to Daronté was missing a few details. Sometimes people do let the lion out. Sometimes that actually is in their self-interest—so he’ll rip apart some poor sucker who isn’t you. Sometimes they’re just too stupid to understand the consequences, like the story—always, always a “story”—about the coed who got herself killed climbing into Audubon’s tiger enclosure. (One of Daronté’s “crack pipe nutters” by another name, her.)
But you don’t ever let the lion out just to see him roam free.
“They’ll reward you,” says Mason. “I just need an escort, in case the Throws try to fucking jump me.”
Jean-Marc: “Try?” Jean-Marc replies with an almost private arsenic smirk. The tabloid writer reluctantly folds his newspaper. He had been reading Deborah Carriere’s latest piece in the Times-Picayune, a tepid, yawn-pulling editorial about Rishu Pavaghi’s T-shirt shops misappropriating Vodouisant culture for cheap sales and cheaper laughs.
Oh how the mighty art fallen? Jean-Marc sardonically muses as he lays the folded newspaper beside his melting dram of Glass Slipper, a cocktail made of Old Forester Rye, Palo Cortado sherry, Ancho Reyes Ancho chile liqueur, Benedictine, and dashes of absinthe and Peychaud’s bitters. He regards the glass, and its yet untouched rim of Cajun seasoning salt.
He had come to Clemens’ to drink, or at least put up the pretense of drinking. But in truth, he had come to escape. Too long had he been trapped in his own penthouse suite atop Hibernia. Too long typing out code for Father d’Gerasene’s dark ecclesiastical dream. Too long staring at the black screen of his computer—and too long being stared at by the black, alien, ever-hungry eyes of the damned locusts that have invaded his penthouse. He swore the repulsive bugs were spying on him, for whenever he had tried to take a break from his digital labors, they had swarmed him; jumping, crawling, chirping, and chewing; till the tormented writer had returned to his assigned duties.
And so he had escaped his insectoid jailors, fleeing his erstwhile home for a slight reprieve to walk amongst the living. He knows he will have to return, at least ere the sun rose. But he had needed to clear his mind that was drowning in ghostly afterimages of terminal coding streams and scriptural passages till he could no longer tell them apart. No, he needed to taste the night. To drink in the sights and smells of the living, to remember what it was like…
Closing his eyes, he inhales, trying to breathe in the rich aromatic scents of the blended liquor.
But all he can smell is the blood of the man in front of him. Not that it’s really blood. Or a man. Regardless, it sings to him, calls to him like a private, wet, delectable sermon to his perverse soul:
Blood burns like the fire. Blood thunders like the storm.
Blood runs freely and stains the earth through eternity, for we only have the appearance of eternity, but the Blood remains.
I knew that I must become the master of the Blood or forever be its slave.
God damn it! Jean-Marc silently curses, his masquerading smirk souring at the unbidden mental recitation of the Maledictions. His Father might be proud, but Jean-Marc hates how the scriptures of the ‘Bad Book’ keep swimming in his brain like a swarm of rutting, spreading, consuming parasites.
Attempting to re-anchor himself, Jean-Marc steers his senses back to Mason. To his scent. To his words. To his story.
The tabloid journalist rolls the story’s details over his tongue as if he’s a sommelier detecting key ingredients. The Dirty Throws. A rash of poachings. The Guard de Ville. Wright. Donovan. Vidal. He was new to this scene, unfamiliar with its stage as well as its players, but the story… the story is all-too similar to countless confessions he’s heard before. A tale of thirst and desire, of haves and haves-not, of conquering temptation and sinful secrets, of betrayal and the looming shadow of threatening violence.
And like Father d’Gerasene’s unholy locusts, he can smell it. Hamas. But to the exploitive tabloid writer, there is also another scent to the story.
The arsenic smile returns.
“Mason, Mason,” he says, “you did the right thing in coming to me. I’m going to help you. It’s the least I can do, after all.”
Eyeing the packed veranda and the streets beyond, he subtly rolls his right arm, awakening his smartwatch. “Now, Mason,” he continues, glancing down only long enough to digitally hail a ride with his Jaunt+ app and press the record function, “let’s start with the happy ending to your sad story; you’re to meet the Guard de Ville at what location and time?”
Awaiting an answer, he folds a day’s labor of cash under the undrunk dram, then adds, “And how may I ask did you set up this kiss and tell-all meeting?”
GM: Jean-Marc supposes Mason didn’t “come to him” so much as “break down around the nearest stranger without an audible heartbeat,” but the kid doesn’t argue the point.
Besides. Jean-Marc’s version, his own spin on the story, lets Mason keep more dignity.
Who wants the truth, indeed?
Mason’s shoulders slump with relief at the journalist’s answer. He doesn’t have his own drink in hand, and not for lack of good options at the bar. Whether that lack stems from forethought, cash, or simple inclination to choke down piss, remains to seen.
“30 minutes,” he says.
“It was… getting down to the wire.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc seems surprised by the scant time. He doesn’t interrupt, but slowly rises, silently beckoning Mason to follow him. Inside, away from so many eyes and ears. He leads them into one of Clemens’ hidden stairwells, which the proprietor had installed as a surreptitious escape route in case a member’s spouse happened to walk in and otherwise see said member with an “unapproved” date.
GM: Mason hesitates for just a moment, but seems to realize he’s already cast the die.
There’s no use worrying what result it may turn up now.
“Huh. Like a secret passage…” he remarks.
“The meet site’s City Park,” he continues, following after Jean-Marc. “Figure it’s there because it’s no one’s territory, and more out of the way than the CBD.”
Jean-Marc: “City Park,” Jean-Marc repeats, “Any particular place inside the park?” His thoughts—in line with the stairwell’s intended function—are a-flutter with worry and blossoming contingency plans. He gives a nervous glance to the Jaunt app to see his ride’s current location and ETA.
GM: The ride’s some 5 minutes away. It’s not hard to find a Ryde or Jaunt in the CBD.
The distance to City Park is about 15 minutes by car.
Jean-Marc: Five minutes, he muses. Not too much time to kill…. but plenty enough time to fucking die.
GM: Too bad for the already dead.
“Yeah. The Singing Oak.”
The 1,000-acre park is one of the largest in the United States (some 1.5 times the size of Central Park), and would take considering time to travel by foot. But the Singing Oak is one of its southern-most points of interest. It looks just far enough away from the southern road to be free from prying eyes, while the Bayou St. John to the east gives some insulation from prying eyes in that direction.
“I guess not the Dueling Oak, ‘cuz, who knows if there’s any licks there fighting a duel right now, right?”
Jean-Marc: “Right, right,” Jean-Marc nods, filling away that helpful piece of information. He knows there are gaps in his education by Father d’Gerasene, but he didn’t know how large they were.
Large enough to fucking fall in…
“And how’d you set up this confessional with…” he pauses to recall the name, “Alexander Wright?”
GM: Mason nods. “I got in touch with Wright through one of his renfields,” he answers. “Let him know I had shit on the poachings. He gave me a number to text, said it was a burner. We set everything up in code.”
“Guess it’s not the ’90s anymore, right?”
“NSA spying and shit.”
Jean-Marc: “Yeah…” Jean-Marc vaguely agrees, his mind sizing up other treacherous but not fully perceived holes. “This, ah, renfield,” he asks, putting together the literary reference and silently blessing his sophomore Lit instructor, “he have a name?”
GM: “Yeah, DeShawn.”
Jean-Marc: The mental datafile gets dropped into another folder in Jean-Marc’s brain.
“And what about your krewe—your former krewe responsible for the poaching? Tell me about them. Names, what they look like, and what we should be looking out for when they come calling.”
GM: Jean-Marc might idly wonder if he’s the sole member of his Clark High class to recall the minor character’s name.
But then, it’s hard to imagine even his Abramson High classmates finding the literary reference nearly so applicable to their lives.
“Ha. Yeah. Former’s right, after this.”
“There’s three of them. Barely big enough to be a real krewe now, but, fuck. I don’t want to run into them in a dark alley.”
“Darryl’s big and black. He hits like a haystack. Caitiff. He’s got a chip on his shoulder. So he takes it out on other people.”
“Jazmine’s small and black. Really messy hair. Bites her nails a lot. Always looking around. She’s a kook. Dunno exactly what kind of crazy, just… there’s no fucking talking to her, sometimes. Does, just, random shit.”
“But sometimes she knows things, that she shouldn’t. It’s her I’m worried most about.”
Jean-Marc: “Like dropping the dime to Wright’s renfield.”
GM: “Or, what if she knows where to be.”
He shakes his head. “If it comes to a fight, she’s a pushover, just… fuck. She could fuck up everything.”
“Then there’s Kiara. She’s average height, black, always wears a beanie. She’s Brujah. Also kind of our leader.”
“Well, their their leader, I guess.”
“She’s smarter than Darryl, but she doesn’t pull shit out of thin air like Jazmine does.”
“Pretty good in a fight, but worse than Darryl.”
Jean-Marc: “Yes, yes,” Jean-Marc says, not wanting to interrupt but eager not to have Mason’s mind trip down a dark rabbit hole.
GM: “She’s stronger than fast, but still pretty damn fast.”
“That’s them, anyways. My good old krewe.”
Jean-Marc: “And you?” Jean-Marc quickly asks.
GM: “What about me?”
Jean-Marc: “Any particular talents to let the tabloids know about?”
GM: “Well, I can do some veiling. How I got in here.”
“Hell, if it was just Darryl and Kiara, I’d be a lot less scared.”
“I can also take a really hard beating.”
Jean-Marc: “Well, that’s good to hear,” Jean-Marc says, “though hopefully we can avoid one needed to be taken. But you said you’d be a lot less scared if it weren’t for Kiar—Jazmine. What’s it about her that makes you wanna shit a fucking brick? Or is it more the numbers game?”
GM: “Well, like I said, she knows shit. And she’s good at ESP. Scrying. I think she could still see me. And then she’d tell the others where to swing.”
“Like, that’s all I got, man. Veiling and taking a beating.”
“That’s everything in my bag of tricks.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, trying to process it all while part of him wishes he had just stayed home with the damned locusts. He tries to latch on to something he does know, does understand. And that’s about the burden of proof in the court of muckraking, that claiming someone’s laundry is dirty is rarely enough.
“And… just in case Wright asks, what kind of proof do you have that Darryl, Jazmine, and Kiara are responsible for the poaching?”
GM: Mason pauses with his mouth half-open.
“I can give dates. Times. They all match up.”
“And they can rip inside my head, if they want to, I’m not stupid enough to lie to the sheriff about this shit.”
Jean-Marc: It’s not much, Jean-Marc knows, but he’s published front page shockers with less.
GM: “You think that’ll be enough…?” Mason asks unsurely.
“I also know where their haven is. The johnny laws could look around there. Find evidence.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc checks his watch.
Not enough tick-fucking-tock time.
GM: Indeed not. His Jaunt is about a minute away.
Jean-Marc: “Where’s their haven, Jason?” Jean-Marc asks, only peripherally looking up.
GM: “Mid-City. Prince pegged us all as Anarchs.”
“And it’s Mason.”
The ‘misremembered’ name, so similar-sounding to Mason, flows smoothly off Jean-Marc’s tongue. Mason doesn’t seem to register it until he’s already answered the reporter’s question.
Jean-Marc: “It is, isn’t it?” Jean-Marc asks. “Because that’s what regular licks do when names get mixed up. But back when I mixed up Kiara’s and Jazmine’s names, you didn’t so much as blink or swallow back a correction.”
He taps at his smartwatch. “So my ride arrives in one minute, so that’s exactly how long you have to come clean with me. Fill back in the deleted scenes from the director’s cut of your story, and that ride will be heading to the Singing Oak with further help from yours truly. Otherwise, I go back to enjoying looking at my whiskey cocktail and reading similarly cockshit, gaping whore-hole stories in The Times.”
The arsenic smile is gone—even if the arsenic remains.
GM: Mason stares at Jean-Marc for a moment.
The jittery fear slides off his face. He gets a very calm look.
“All right. There is no Dirty Throws Krewe. There are no poachings, and I’m not meeting with Wright.”
“My name isn’t Mason.”
“I’m closing a deal at City Park with the representative of someone powerful.”
“It’s illegal. But it’s profitable. More profitable than reporting it to the Guard de Ville is.”
“I do still need an escort. I wasn’t lying about that. The poachings story was in case you weren’t interested. You’d walk away and you wouldn’t know anything.”
“If we go to City Park together, I can cut you in on it.”
“If you get me there in one piece, undetected.”
“If you’re not interested, guess I’m going by myself.”
Jean-Marc: “Warmer, but your story still has a chilly draft from its holes. 30 seconds. You know, I think I might order a Butler’s Burning Orchard, as I really think the smoked apple juice and pickled jalapeño bring out the Cointreau and rye whiskey.”
GM: ‘Mason’ glares for a moment.
“I can’t tell you everything here.”
“Especially if you’re not interested.”
“Something big is going down at City Park. Okay? I need an escort there.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc looks around at the stairwell empty save for the pair. “If I’m not interested, it’s because dead hookers give more arousing lap dances. ‘Something big.’ I’m not a fucking shit-pant infant you can crinkle an empty candy wrapper to and expect to giggle and coo in amazement. I’m not saying let me taste the candy, but you gotta show or tell me what it is. And we’re playing baseball rules, so lie to me a third time, and the 9th inning ends with zero runs for your team.”
He looks back down at his watch. “What’s the deal, who’s it with, and why do you need an escort, much less of mine?”
GM: ‘Mason’ glowers at him a moment longer.
“All right. Fine. I’m going to kill someone who’s meeting me there.”
“I expect to get rewarded. Pretty well, too.”
“I want you, because an extra lick will make the fight more unfair, and because you’re not involved with any of the factions.”
“Which matters, and why I didn’t go to licks I knew, is because the original plan was to take you with me to the fight, win with the extra help, and then skip without owing you anything. All you’d have had was a fake name in a fake krewe and a bunch of bullshit about poaching. And because you’re not part of anyone’s club, no one would care you’d gotten stiffed. Plus you’d have been guilty too.”
“Help me kill this guy, cover it up, and you’ll get rewarded. And have an in with my club.”
“Also, in case you get the bright idea to report this to the Guard de Ville, assuming you can even get ahold of them that fast, I’ve got an ace up my sleeve that I’m pretty confident will mean you come away with jack and shit.”
“So that’s the truth. You want to get paid to kill somebody?”
Jean-Marc: At said revelation, Jean-Marc is rocked back on the heels of his suede boaters. It hits him in a way that seems to wash away his typical skepticism, accepting the third story as the Gospel truth. But which Gospel?
GM: The primordial sin.
Jean-Marc: Tu ne tueras point.
(Thou shalt not kill.)
The sixth commandment.
GM: But it wasn’t the first sin either, was it? That was Adam and Eve disobeying. Eating of the forbidden fruit.
Then lying to God. That was the second sin.
Jean-Marc has a banquet of sin before him. To be fed lies, to kill a man (or woman? he said “guy”), for the reward of forbidden fruits.
All three of the first three greatest hits.
Jean-Marc: But the words of Bishop Timotheus also arise inside his name, words learnt not in any Catholic catechism:
Spill only the blood of the living.
The second tradition.
Yet, and yet… the fruit tempts him. He smells its aroma. Hamas. The allure of the forbidden. He’s never killed anyone before… but then he realizes that is a lie. He stares down at his tattooed inner forearm, at the stars, each one a life he snuffed out. But that was with his pen, or more actually, suicide-inducing click of his keyboard. This would be… different.
His Jaunt+ app pings, notifying that his ride has arrived. He regards the serpent before him, unclear as to whether he will taste of the fruit. But what’s the fucking harm in looking at the tree at least? He knows the rationalization is thinner than one-ply toilet paper, and just as bad at cleaning away the shit. But he takes his first step all the same. To the tree.
It might not be Eden’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but the Singing Oak of City Park might damn him all the same.
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: Darkened cityscape rolls past the Jaunt car’s windows. The CBD’s brutal glass and steel monoliths give way to Mid-City’s not-quite slums, not-quite respectable part of town. It’s in the middle of the city in more ways than one. The weather is pure New Orleans. Balmy with an overcast haze that threatens rain, and that distinctive low fog that rolls in off the Mississippi and settles in to the lesser trafficked areas this time of year. It seems to curl around the edges of nearby buildings as the car drives, always staying just out of reach, as though sentient and acutely aware that coming too close would be… unwise.
‘Mason,’ or whatever his name actually is, doesn’t move to talk. The kine driver doesn’t either. The Jaunt car carries Jean-Marc steadily closer to his contemplated sin.
What is it like, to kill someone, to watch the light go out in their eyes?
His ‘father,’ in blood and faith alike, surely knows.
Jean-Marc: The troubling, tempting question rests heavy on him like a suffocating blanket. He rolls down the luxury car’s window as if searching for air. The clean kind. He does not find it. But he leaves the window down, all the same, as if hopefully provides enough of a distraction and noise barrier for the driver, as Jean-Marc poses another, far more simple and less sinful question to his tempter.
“What’s the name of your date, again?”
GM: ‘Mason’ regards him for a moment. The slow-witted kid stumbling over his words from shaky, trembling anxiety feels all but gone. The other vampire’s eyes and features are cool.
Perhaps Jean-Marc wonders if he’s done this before, but it seems an almost silly question.
All of them do this at some point.
He was given the Blood so recently. That’s probably the only reason why he hasn’t. Does he pretend towards greater virtue?
Is anyone who claims greater virtue not just pretending?
“Wilson,” answers ‘Mason.’
There’s plenty gays in New Orleans.
Derivations of ‘fat’ were more common insults back in middle school, but the other kids called him ‘gay’ a few times too.
Jean-Marc: “Ah, Wilson, that’s right.” Jean-Marc says, “I recall you saying you knew each other from that, hmm, what did you call it, a ren fair? There was a baron, a prince, and, hmm, that other character. Their retainers were all jousting it out, creating quite the spectacle. But I believe you said Wilson and you were cheering for different sides. Remind me, which one was Wilson rooting for?”
GM: “Yeah. Ren fair. He couldn’t get over his hard-on for the baron.”
Jean-Marc: “Ah,” replies Jean-Marc in that same trite tone as if ‘Mason’ had just revealed what type of fabric softener he uses. “I bet he also rooted for the Detroit Lions back in ’08. And you, you were cheering for which of the other two at the fair?”
GM: “He did. Don’t remember him rooting for the Houston Texans. I’m not gonna say that’s as bad as not rooting for the Saints, but they are our neighbors.”
“Don’t remember who I did at the fair, either. Maybe we can ask after we see him.”
Jean-Marc: “Maybe,” Jean-Marc says in nonchalant agreement. After a moment, he turns back, as if he’s a bored passenger trying to kill time. “And so does Wilson know you’re coming, or is this a surprise date? I do know how you love your secrets, after all.”
GM: “Little bit of both,” ‘Mason’ answers, just as idly. “He knows I’m coming, but not what the date’s going to be.”
Jean-Marc: “Oh, I dare say the shock might well kill the chap, so we best be careful.”
Jean-Marc gives a smile as wide as a whiskey barrel.
But it’s a hollow one.
He lets the silence slip between them again, or at least the buffeting, voiceless ingress of outside air. Yet, as they approach their destination, he turns back to his co-passenger. “So remember back when we were going to party with Darryl and Jazmine? There was that guy that sat at my table, the one I didn’t know, but you did. I don’t think I really caught his name. It wasn’t Mason or Jason… what was it again? I wouldn’t want to be rude if I saw him again and had to admit I didn’t know his name.”
GM: There’s a thin smile.
“Ah, sorry. Don’t remember the guy’s name. I bet Wilson will, though, after we see him.”
“He’s got a better head for them.”
Jean-Marc: “But not for sports team,” Jean-Marc titters back, his own hollow smile thinning. He gives his co-passenger—or is it co-conspirator now?—another look over, trying to drink and see if he tastes any new flavors.
GM: Technically, one could say it’s both.
‘Mason’ is dressed generically. Black and gold sweatshirt. Blue jeans. Dark sneakers. He stuck out at Clemens’, but it’s a getup you could wear anywhere on the streets (or to the park) without drawing much attention. He looks young. Late teens. (Though how much does that count among immortals?) Black skin. Average height. Thin build. Clean-shaven. Dark hair cut short. He looks nonthreatening, or at least did. It’s a face that looks more suited to the scared kid he was playing back at Clemens’, than the co-conspirator and fellow murderer he apparently is now.
“Mm,” he agrees noncommittally.
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc takes another visual draught, a deeper pull, willing the blood within him to reveal, to pierce. He’s not looking for a vision from Amoniel, but he’ll take what he can get. Taking, after all, is one of his specialties, or at least that’s what his grand-maman would say of her candy-thieving ward.
But that memory stirs something in Jean-Marc’s otherwise calloused hamas-rotten heart. The feeling of failure, the shame of breaking his grand-mère’s trust, and losing her favor. The blood within his veins, it reminds him of another ‘parent’ whose trust and favor he does not wish to lose. He was bad at being good, bad at following the Good Book. The least he can do is be good at being bad, good at following the Bad Book. And then, as if speaking of the Devil makes him appear, the words of The 11th chapter of the Rule of Golgotha flows like a fresh wound dripping in his soul. He shall be guided by two things: the teachings of the Dark Father and the prayerful spirit of his own heart. And what had the Dark Father taught him? What had his own dark Father d’Gerasene taught him of Longinus’ teachings. Once more, another rip of his soul drips a scriptural passage to splatter onto his consciousness, this one aptly from the Teachings of Longinus: We must not slay a fellow, except to preserve the word of God.
So who is this serpent beside him? No true Wolf of God, that much is clear. But who is he? Jean-Marc has to know, had to see.
GM: And money-thieving. Grandpa might say that too. But they never caught him, did they? Grandmère left everything to him.
The Bad Book has another verse on that. Maybe not the perfect verse. Jean-Marc is still learning. But it feels applicable.
We are not so innocent as mortal man […] he will scheme and murder and bribe to gain what little earthly power he can, and then expects his comrades to hail him as a just and forthright man.
The Bad Book doesn’t mince words. Hypocritical lying murderers. Those are the innocents.
Jean-Marc is no innocent. ‘Mason’ isn’t either, he’s made that plain. The lie’s heart has already been cut out. The tabloid journalist’s incriminating photos have been snapped. The rest is mere formality.
What’s left of the lie runs off ’Mason’s’ face like so much water.
His face is different. He’s still a man, dark of skin, but he looks maybe a decade older. Maybe a decade and a half. Late 20s to mid-30s. He’s got some stubble around his lips and chin, the shadow of a beard and mustache that aren’t, and he’s bald too. His face is narrower. The eyes are further apart. It’s a different face for a different man. He’s several inches shorter and thicker of built. The clothes are different, too. He’s wearing dark rather than blue jeans, a different brand of sneakers, and a windbreaker rather than sweatshirt.
Jean-Marc supposes ‘Mason’ was telling the truth about veiling, at least.
Jean-Marc: Those always make the best lies. You don’t offer someone a glass full of arsenic. No, you give them some shit-sweet iced tea with a few drops of arsenic. That’s how you get them to drink it all up and thank you for it.
GM: ‘Mason’ is packing, too.
Semiautomatic handgun inside his windbreaker. Nasty-looking knife. Smartphone and wallet in the pockets of his jeans.
Jean-Marc supposes the former are for if they won’t take a long drink and say thanks.
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc silently curses. Somehow he thought bringing his Herculean handgun would clash with Clemens’ dress code. That, and his Bermudu suit didn’t come with a holster option. He doesn’t even own a knife, save for a few to spread butter and his 19-piece Shun set he purchased last Christmas for himself from Williams-Sonoma.
Shit, he thinks, I didn’t even bring a knife to a fucking gun fight.
But there are other weapons. And like ’Mason’s’ blade, Jean-Marc’s wiles have proven just as sharp and nasty.
Here’s to hoping my wits haven’t dulled to shit.
As the ride closes in on its destination, Jean-Marc is left wondering whether or how to pray—and to whom? Somehow, the Hail Mary’s his mémère taught him just don’t seem to fit the bill. Not anymore—and maybe for Jean-Marc (if he’s being really honest—which he rarely is) they never did.
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: The route to City Park is an extended chore, as ‘Mason’ insists on overshooting cross streets and then doubling back to pick them up two, sometimes three or even four blocks further down. It’s seemingly his attempt at being circuitous, in the event that the duo and their driver are being followed, but Jean-Marc is unconvinced it accomplishes a whole hell of a lot more than wasting a fair piece of time—valuable time, with how little ‘Mason’ said they had left. Maybe that’s another lie too. The only person who seems actively happy at the detours, and the fact they make the digital meter run for a while longer, is the Jaunt driver.
All the same, the drive gets Jean-Marc and ‘Mason’ to City Park, and that’s where they want to be.
Jean-Marc: Or at least, that’s where ‘Mason’ wants to be. Jean-Marc is less sure. Still, the Evangelist is sure he’s glad the ride is over. Indeed, there’s no deceit in Jean-Marc as he scowls at the rising rideshare fee—especially since the Jaunt+ service adds a premium tax. As Mason exits the car on his side, Jean-Marc egresses on his, but he leaves his rear door open and stands in its threshold. Not for long, but long enough for him to pull up the Jaunt+ app and pay the detour-inflated price. That long, and just a few seconds longer as he makes a few smooth taps and swipes to pull up his contacts and call Hound Wright’s number—only to mute the called line and hide the call from his smartwatch’s face. The recording button similarly continues in the digital background.
Closing the door, he doesn’t deign to watch the driver pull away, just waits a second before he calls out to Mason, not shouting, but in a clear voice all the same. “Okay, all right, we’re here at the Park with the Singing Oak, all because you, ‘Mason’ or whatever your real fucking name is, say there’s this lick named Wilson you want to kill, all so you can get paid. So before we go any further, before anyone pisses in the eye of Timotheus’ second tradition, I have a few final questions. And this time, can we spare the bullshit? It’s muggy as hell out here in the Park, and I don’t have the patience to hear any more phony bullshit about beanie-wearing Brujah.”
“First off, who’s paying for the hit—and how do I know you won’t stiff me like that Jaunt ride?”
“And please, please, don’t say ‘trust me’, because your balance in the trust account is in the bleeding red. You lied to me more times than Clark High got shut down for lice infections.”
GM: The car pulls off into the night.
The UMe smartwatch shakes briefly as Jean-Marc mutes it, then only silence as the call goes through.
“How much was the Jaunt ride?” asks ‘Mason,’ eyes on his co-conspirator.
Jean-Marc: “It cost enough,” Jean-Marc replies sourly, but then rattles off the real number. “Figured I needed to give him a tip too, lest my account gets dinged, and we can’t have that at all.” He then regards ‘Mason.’ “But far more important is how much are you—we—getting paid?”
GM: ‘Mason’ reaches into pocket, opens his wallet, and hands Jean-Marc the same amount of cash.
“There. You weren’t stiffed.”
But the journalist’s hungry, preternaturally truth-ferreting gaze seizes upon the opening. In the brief moment it takes ‘Mason’ to remove the cash and then close the wallet, Jean-Marc immediately catalogs everything. It’s one of those RFID-blocking wallets that make digital theft harder, though it seems redundant in ’Mason’s’ case. He keeps a lot of cash in it. And a ticket stub to a music concert at the House of Blues.
In the French Quarter.
“Happy?” asks ‘Mason.’
Jean-Marc: “Happier,” Jean-Marc answers all-too truthfully, with a genuine smile—if less than genuine meaning. In his past life, a ticket to a music concert in the French Quarter would be all but meaningless, but in this ‘life,’ the ticket stub speaks as loud and clear as Satchmo’s trumpet.
Sliding the bills into his lapel pocket—and thus not revealing his own RFID-blocking wallet’s interior—he says with an only slightly reduced smile, “But don’t think I didn’t see what you just did there. I asked who’s paying and how much, and gave me some Hamiltons. So how—”
GM: “I’m not giving you any names for me or my boss until the job is done and you’re in too deep to have second thoughts.”
“As far as payment, though.”
Jean-Marc: He stops, pausing and taking a look around the Park to ensure they still remain the only visible, nearby occupants. “Okay, fine, fine, no more names—for now. But first, you said you had a way to make sure the Guard de Ville isn’t on to us. How? Because I know you think Wright is a thug with his fingers up his ass, but that zigzag Jaunt won’t mean squat against Vidal’s hounds.”
Technically, ‘Mason’ said no thing, and Jean-Marc has no clue of the vamp’s opinion of the hound, but the tabloid muckraker spices it up for his true UMe audience—and an audience of one Brujah whom he hopes is still listening and is now further rilled up. Not into a frenzy, but a poke at the Beast all the same.
GM: “Two ways,” says ‘Mason.’
“The first I’m keeping to myself.”
“The second is that Singing Oak isn’t where we’re meeting Wilson. Anyone who was snooping back at the bar can have fun searching all 1,000 acres of City Park while we do the deed and get out.”
“Know what else would’ve helped?”
“If all they’d heard was a bunch of bullshit about fake poaching by a fake krewe.”
Jean-Marc: “Ah, that is fuck-all clever…” Jean-Marc says in not-untrue admiration. “So where in the Park is this midnight rendezvous really happening, then,” he gazes around, “or is it not happening in the Park at all?”
As if to confirm that last suspicion, he raises his smartwatch-donned wrist and taps the device’s screen as if he’s waking up his Jaunt+ app. “Because that would be wicked smart indeed if we then hailed a ride somewhere completely different.”
GM: ‘Mason’ gives a thin smile.
“Good guess. This way. I don’t want us getting picked up at the mouth of the park.”
Jean-Marc: “Nor do I,” Jean-Marc agrees, make one tap and swipe, as if to put his smartwatch on sleep-mode—but in reality uses the one-press function on the call to share his location with Wright (assuming and hoping the hound hasn’t hung up).
“But one last question—the most important question,” Jean-Marc says as he half-hustles to catch up—but not too quickly either. “How much?”
GM: “Domain,” says Mason. “We’re fucking killing someone here, so I asked for some posh feeding grounds. Big enough to keep a real herd and feed more ghouls.”
“Blood for blood.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a low whistle in appreciation. Even the Testament of Longinus makes clear how valuable that prize is. Yet, a few seconds later, Jean-Marc pauses again mid-step.
“So… how’s that going to benefit me? Let me guess, I help out, and I get to be, what, your esquire or tenant?”
Jean-Marc was indeed a newcomer to the All-Night-Life, but Father d’Gerasene as the new Regent of Esplanade Ridge had dutifully explained the intricacies of feeding rights among the Damned.
GM: “Yep. You get a slice of that,” says ‘Mason.’ “And an in with my club. They’ll see you can get a job done and keep your mouth shut.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, as if in thoughtful consideration. “Speaking of getting the job done, what do you know of this Wilson other than his hard-on for the Baron?” He then thrusts out a wrist—the one not wearing his smartwatch—and reveals a tattoo on its inner arm. “See these stars?”
To a mortal, the tattoo of the heraldic lion displaying a newspaper would be invisible in the dark—especially the black row of stars in the inked rag. But Jean-Marc is no mere mortal, and nor is his would-be co-murderer.
“Each of them is for someone who’s died by my hand.”
Technically, ‘by his hand’ is accurate, though he doubts Mason would appreciate the truth of how the star-symbolized mortals died by suicide in the wake of Jean-Marc’s life-ruining tabloid evangelism.
“But I typically study my marks real hard and real slow, like a good fuck. But it sounds like it’s going to be a quick and dirty bang instead. Still, tell me what you know of this lick, and I’m not talking about his attitudes towards beanies.”
GM: ‘Mason’ looks over the stars.
It’s a long ‘list.’
It’s technically accurate, but dishonest in presentation.
Perhaps that makes it more true than unvarnished truth.
“Good,” he says, then starts walking again, away from the park’s entrance and its parked cars. “Wilson works for the Baron. At this point he’s more useful to our boss dead than alive.”
“They call him Spook Wilson. He’s a Malk.”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nods, not yet revealing that he’s met or more technically seen Spook once, during what seemed a genuine, even amiable, conversation with an older Gangrel and fellow Crone by the name of Fayde.
“Hoping that’s not all you have, ‘Mason’,” Jean-Marc says, withdrawing his arm.
GM: “You’ve got a lot of questions,” remarks ‘Mason.’
Jean-Marc: “That’s how I got so smart—and long-lived.”
There’s a smugness to his reply. If he was a better man, it would only be an affection.
Then again, if he was a better man, he wouldn’t be here.
“But fine, enough with the questions. Just tell me how you want to do this, as this is your gig, really, and I’m just the side-act.”
He had wanted to say ‘front-page story’ and ‘back-rag piece’, but that would be showing too much of his true face.
It’s like a fucking hot black bra. We hide it, but deep down we want it to be seen. We seek it, but as soon as we find it, all we want to do is take it off and throw it to the side.
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
GM: Despite (or perhaps because of) his paranoia, ‘Mason’ leads with surprising alacrity, his loose-laced Nikes scuffing first the sidewalk and then the foggy grass as he and Jean-Marc walk down City Park at its southern tip. At this hour, one normally expects the park to be dead quiet, with little activity to speak of. And for a moment, everything around the pair is silent. They stain to see or hear anything that would belie that norm tonight. Giddy wisps of dread swirl alongside the fog.
‘Mason’ is the one to hail their next ride on his phone, muttering something about “fucking Gangrel.” The pair slink down the grassy park’s wide paved roads. They steal underneath long-shadowed magnolias, Louisiana cypress, and Southern live oaks. ‘Thieves in the night’ would too kind a descriptor for this dark errand’s undertakers. They arrive at a black car. It’s a Ryde rather than Lyft. ‘Mason’ gets in without a word. He doesn’t talk. More cityscape rolls past.
Soon they’re driving through the Seventh Ward. Dinah once told him how Jude’s parents, ‘his’ paternal grandparents, used to live there. It was a good place to live if you were black. Once a quintessentally Creole neighborhood settled in the 1800s by les gens de couleur libres (free people of color) seeking to escape the overcrowded French Quarter, these darker-skinned Creoles were highly educated, skilled in the building trades, practiced Catholicism, and spoke perfect French.
Jean-Marc can’t comment on ‘his’ paternal grandparents, but he thinks Grandmere would have liked the Seventh Ward a lot.
Although Jim Crow and its “one drop rule” disenfranchised the Creoles as thoroughly as any Protestant and English-speaking former slaves (a group long held in contempt by the black Creoles), the Seventh Ward did not take things lying down. They had money. They were educated. Creole attorneys for the NAACP painstakingly fought to turn over Jim Crow laws one at a time. The neighborhood held the only high school in the city for African-Americans until 1942. As bad as Clark High might have been, Jean-Marc supposes it beats the alternative of “no school.” Culturally, the Seventh Ward’s vibrant community spawned many jazz greats like Buddie Petit, Lizzie Miles, and Barney Biggard. Financially, its affluent residents and family-owned businesses made it the most prosperous African-American business district in the country during its heyday, stretching all along Claiborne Avenue and into Tremé. Residents fondly remember the St. Bernard market at the corner of St. Bernard and Claiborne as well as Chez Helene at 1540 N. Robertson. Chez Helene gained national fame when “Frank’s Place,” a critically acclaimed sitcom inspired by that Seventh Ward restaurant, aired on CBS in 1988.
But what Jim Crow couldn’t do, the I-10 finally did.
Jean-Marc’s seen the old photos. Heard the old stories, too, from current and former residents. Or friends of residents, in Jim’s case. It was a topic that made his (real) grandfather angry. Once, he’d told Jean-Marc, the neighborhood had Southern live oaks just like the ones in City Park. You had this beautiful stretch of greenery bisecting Claiborne Avenue and running down the whole of the Seventh Ward. It was great for the community, Jim had said, in so many ways. He used to play baseball games with some kids there.
Then the city chopped all the trees down, bulldozed over the grass, and built an interstate highway.
It destroyed the neighborhood overnight. Property values plummeted. Smog and noise and the endless thrum of traffic replaced the chirp of birds, the laughter of playing children, and the conversations of families over summer picnics. Businesses and churches no longer wanted to be there. Suddenly an area that had been prosperous was quite undesirable. Homeowners moved, and finding their homes neither saleable nor rentable, eventually abandoned them. The irony of destroying this thriving business district in order to facilitate access to the suburbs was not lost on residents, or on Jean-Marc’s grandfather.
Mardi Gras wasn’t for black people originally, he’d said. It was for white people. The Zulus and the Mardi Gras Indians used to celebrate the black Mardi Gras along Claiborne Street, not Canal Street or St. Charles Avenue.
And the trees, Jim had added—those Southern live oaks? The ones not chopped down were uprooted and placed on Harrison Avenue, a newly developed all-white neighborhood.
“Pillaging,” he’d called it.
Tonight, the Seventh Ward is a shell of what it used to be. Gunshots echo in the distance. The Ryde passes two police crime scenes replete with yellow tape and cruisers with flashing red and blue sirens. Jean-Marc looks out the window and sees a filthy-haired homeless men sitting outside threadbare camping tents. One squats over the ground as he defecates. Hollow-eyed crack fiends amble into ruined homes near the freeway, doubtless to shoot up. Gangsters cruise by in their flashy cars. The ceaseless roar of interstate traffic overhead swallows it all.
The real irony, Jim had observed, was that the whole thing came after the Civil Rights Act.
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc’s face sours as he watches the change of scenery and the flood of stories it resurrects. There’s a part of him—perhaps the fourth of blood that flows from his maternal grandfather—that burns and galls at the injustice, the loss, and the resultant blight that filled the vacuum. The other part just sighs and takes it like a dog being kicked in the stomach. After all, it’s better than the face.
Along the way, he tries to fill the space, as if he’s once again making chit-chat. This time, though, he’s not prying for information, as he believes ‘that dog won’t bark no more’ as Jim used to say. Rather, he points out occasional places they pass, noting how he used to eat at such-and-such place, smoke roaches behind another, and popped a few cherries here and there. The stories are false, mingled with bits here and there of stretched truth. But his goal isn’t to monologue a veridical or fraudulent life. Rather, it’s to give some aural clues as to their travel, like digital breadcrumbs for the hound to follow. He has no reason to suspect his smartwatch isn’t transmitting their location, but it helps to have a backup. Then again… Wright could have long ago hung up.
Occasionally, he takes out his bespoke breath-mint tin and rattles the Bêtises de Cambrai spearmint candies and artisanal mint julep-flavored Tic Tacs. At one point, he opens the tin and offers one to ‘Mason’. He doesn’t expect him to accept, but one has to entertain oneself the best one can.
During such diversions, however, he does glance up to the Ryde driver’s phone to see their destination, assuming it’s the terminal one this time.
GM: The best lies are the ones seeded with truth.
Jean-Marc has a decent well to draw on. Jim might not have made his home in the Seventh Ward, but he spent enough time there that Jean-Marc thinks he’s able to talk authentically about baseball games amidst the trees, or local residents’ forlorn efforts at spray-painting tree images onto the overpass’ supports. ‘Mason’ listens without talking much, his false face making occasional sounds and expressions of acknowledgement. There’s a lot of “mm-hmms.”
He declines the candies and Tic Tacs with a vaguely annoyed look. There’s only one person to pretend for around here.
The Ryde driver’s phone, meanwhile, says they are headed to Louis Armstrong Park.
Right on the border of Savoy’s and the Baron’s territories, and technically within the latter’s.
‘Mason’ has a wary look in his eyes as he stares out the Ryde’s windows, especially at the sounds of gunfire. The driver mutters, “This city is goin’ to hell, you know that? Completely to hell.”
‘Mason’ gives a faint sneer.
“‘Going’ means it hasn’t gotten there yet.”
“That’s what you should actually say. ‘This city has gone to hell.’”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a half-smile. He doesn’t dispute the driver’s assertion, but it makes him pause and consider its implications, as it either means the Sanctified are doing really well, or really shitty at their divine mission. He’ll have to ask Father d’Gerasene the next time he sees him. That thought gives him a chill, a rush of mixed anticipation and dread.
He tries to squash that flutter of thoughts and emotions into a tight mason jar. “Louis Armstrong Park. I once bought a nice frankenbike there.”
Jean-Marc doesn’t reply. He may not have much experience against the easily provoked undead, but he knows not to poke an asset—at least when it doesn’t serve the Evangelist’s interests.
GM: The Ryde finally drops the pair off at their destination. ‘Mason’ gets out.
“You’re getting a negative review,” he snaps at the driver.
“The fuck? One star for you too, asshole,” glares the man.
“Won’t matter,” sneers ‘Mason.’ “Tah tah.” He slams the car door.
The vehicle angrily drives off with a honk.
Jean-Marc: Exiting the car, Jean-Marc raises a brow at the heated exchange, but otherwise stays silent. He places the tin back in its muffling pocket.
GM: “Fuck him,” snarls ‘Mason.’
“And your stupid tin. Who the fuck were you pretending for?”
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc gives a teflon shrug. Maybe it’s disarming, maybe it’s infuriating. He then looks around, making sure no one else in earshot. He then adds in a much quieter voice. “Not saying I’m a Janus kid, but the Masquerade has its uses.”
He then looks around again. “Speaking of which, I hope we’re not meeting Wilson here. This isn’t the City Park; lots of eyes and ears around here. Most unfriendly.” He tries to inject a bit of fear in his eyes and stance. It’s not hard to do, given the circumstances, but he also hopes it will disarm ‘Mason’ a bit, help him to feel more in control and less in need of false bravado. Because that just gets you killed.
GM: “Keep your head,” says ‘Mason,’ his voice calming a little. “We’ll be in and out, and it’s easier street from there.”
Jean-Marc supposes it’s easier to feel safe with a fake face in fake clothes, too.
Jean-Marc: Meanwhile, Jean-Marc stands out like just like a sore thumb, but a broken one. At least, he did.
Reaching out, he silently recites an excerpt from the Rule of Golgotha:
_That with the power of Damnation comes limitation. The Damned hide among those who still enjoy God’s love, making themselves known only to exemplify fear and cull the unrepentant. _
He’s not sure if it’s a prayer or a headline, but he lets the silent words all the same wash over him even as he reluctantly releases some of the precious blood within him. The taste of Damnation, but also the power. As it flows through and over him, he becomes like Longinus in the sand, like Monachus and Maron in the clay jars, and Daniel in Mauritius’ chest. Hidden and overlooked.
He slides his tooth over his tongue. Is it drier now? Perhaps.
Turning back to ‘Mason’, he says, “So what’s the end-game plan? Because I sorely hope we’re not hitching another ride.”
GM: Headlines almost always get attention.
Prayers are up for debate.
“You’ll see,” says ‘Mason.’ He promptly moves off, scuffing his way to what would be a comfortable lead in more comfortable circumstances.
It feels like it’s been longer than 30 minutes.
The park’s entrance spells out the surname of the Crescent City’s jazz great in wide, bright letters. ’Mason’s’ footsteps thump against the concrete before they move onto grass, becoming softer and half-audible.
Jean-Marc: It does indeed feel like it’s been longer than 30 minutes. Then again, feelings are like orgasms. Some are real, some are fake as hell. Still, as Twain said, assuming is good, finding out is better. Thus, while Jean-Marc follows behind Mason—but not too closely, mind, as the lead here works to his favor—he wakes his smartwatch, checking not only the time, but also to see if his call or location-sharing is still active, before dowsing the latter app.
“So about that 30 minutes… I assume now that was just another pig with lipstick lie, or are we running late?”
GM: “Both,” says ‘Mason’, not turning to face him.
Jean-Marc finds the call not only still ongoing, he’s received a new text.
Bringing more guests to your boy’s party. Hope he don’t mind.
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc nearly chokes as he swallows down his smile. Quickly swiping the call and text to a hidden screen, he then hustles to catch up to ‘his boy’.
“Aren’t you worried about Spook bringing back-up too? I mean, he’s a Malk.” Jean-Marc gives their surrounding a meaningful look.
GM: “Shhh,” ‘Mason’ calls back, lowering his voice.’ “He’ll be up just ahead.”
The pair pass a bronze statue of the park’s namesake, trombone held in hand. ‘Mason’ doesn’t quite run, but doesn’t quite walk either as he slinks towards the Mahalia Jackson Building. He rounds the corner.
GM: Jean-Marc catches up just in time to watch ‘Mason’ freeze. Both hands jerk up from his sides a moment before, drawing swiftly up to his face as though to cover an open mouth or panicked eyes.
Two figures await the would-be murderers.
The first is a black man wearing a green jacket and a beret covering a mop of tangled dreadlocks. He’s stepping back with raised hands and huge eyes.
Her apparel is plain and worn. A brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and poor condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with red that’s faded to black. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Any other individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Pale flesh drawn taught over bone, faintly glowing red eyes, and twitching calloused hands that end in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption.
The woman herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in their wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her brown-gray eyes burn with slow-simmering anger. Not the controlled aggression of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the ferality of a wild bear staring out from behind its cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tamed.
Jean-Marc: Jean-Marc similarly freezes. He recognizes the black man with the dreadlocks and beret as Spook Wilson, but the feral woman—or monster that barely resembles such—is unknown to him. The fear she evokes, though, is all too easy to discern.
In the wake of that blatant fright, a scriptural passage from the Teaching of Longinus pierces his mind:
We are Heaven’s wolves, and in our presence only the faithful do not tremble. We are holy lightning, and when we strike, only the faithful do not burn. In the places where we walk, evil is destroyed. In the places where we walk, God takes those worthy of His love to His own side.
As Jean-Marc trembles, he knows he is neither faithful nor worthy of God’s love.
He remains similarly convinced that this monster before him is not one of Wright’s ‘guests’ brought to the ‘party’.
Holy mother of God lightning, why didn’t I just fucking stay home with the locusts…
GM: Before anyone can react, the woman’s hands explode through the torso of the man standing next to her, punching out completely through his back. The tips of her gore-soaked fingers end in knife-sized claws, black and utterly inhuman. The man gives a crisp wheeze and lurches forward onto the woman’s forearms. Red dribbles from his lips. The woman roars in his face, displaying rows of saw-like fangs.
Then, with impossible, inhuman strength, she pulls her hands free horizontally. The man all but explodes open as she rips through layers of muscle, fat, and bone. Apart from his spinal cord, he’s been torn completely in half. Blood froths from his mouth before he topples backwards. His head grotesquely swings towards his buttocks, his spine no longer able to support the weight of his upper torso.
His beret slips from the side of his head, falling limp to the gore-spattered ground.
His body hits the grass next with a heavy thump. His bloated, clammy features look like they’ve been dead for days.
Blood and shredded bits of meat coat the woman from head to toe. She throws back her head and roars again, a ghastly sound like a rabid bear with far too many chunks of meat lodged in its throat. Burning, hateful red eyes meet ’Mason’s’ and Jean-Marc’s, and then she’s gone as if she were never there.
Yet Jean-Marc strains his wide, horror-struck eyes.
Shadows gather about the woman, drawing her into the night, making her one with it. But he sees past them.
He watches—he hears the gory crunch as her body collapses in on itself, flesh and bone hideously realigning. The woman’s face splits in half, her eyes swelling to enormous size and turning pis-yellow. White, quill-like points explode from every inch of her flesh, then sprout feathers.
What’s left is the biggest, ugliest bird of prey he’s ever laid eyes on. Molasses-brown feathers, almost pitch black against the moon’s obscured glow, are torn and ragged like the bird was swallowed by the Devil, chewed up, and spat back out. Jagged scars crisscross its legs and beak. Where its pupils should be black, they are instead a hellish red, and burn into Jean-Marc’s gaze like smoldering coals. The bird knows he can see it.
The raptor give a final nails-on-chalkboard screech, flaps its wings, and soars into the night sky.
‘Mason’ looks wildly around, his face bone-white.
“Oh. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK!”
His wide, wild eyes look at Jean-Marc, then suddenly narrow.
‘Mason’ takes a single step back, regards Jean-Marc for another moment, and then takes off in a bolt. His legs move grotesquely, preternaturally fast, like a centipede’s, but the tabloid journalist’s unerring sight proves sharper still. He watches as the would-be murderer flees the scene in a literal blur. Flees Louis Armstrong Park and all its terrors.
Then, all that remains is quiet.
As Jean-Marc stands there, watching the blood pool on the ground beneath the clump of ash that used to be a dead man, a low, familiar rumble begins somewhere in the distance. This peal will soon be followed by a sharp crack, and then by hard, driving rain. He knows this because he know the city’s voice. This is one of her favorite songs, and he’s heard it many times before. He knows how she lives, breathes, communicates. And what she is trying to tell him now is simplicity itself. It’s the headline of his latest story:
There’s a storm coming.
Thursday night, 17 March 2016, PM
Jean-Marc: Before the night-black heavens break, the storm within Jean-Marc unleashes its own torrent. As he wretches, the bitter odor of vomit mingles with the copper-heady scent of blood. Against that visceral backdrop, Jean-Marc’s harrowed mind similarly pukes up an intrusive verse from the befittingly named Torments:
“Nearly satisfied, I walk through the corridors where the stench of death is sharp and all-encompassing.”
The muckracker winces, and shakes his head, as if trying to dislodge the unbidden scripture as well as the gory after-images of what he has just beheld.
But both torments remain—as does the blood. He stares at the latter, knees buckled, as the the following verse of the 29th chapter of the Torments falls from his mouth like the emesis on his bearded chin:
“…wrath of God…”
He barely hears his own recitation, but the blood beckons him, grounds him, and brings him back to his visceral senses. His nostrils and tongue all but reach out for the bloodied grass, but his eyes, however, catch glance at his smartwatch. To his call, his audience, and his purpose. This time, the latter half of Torments 29:2 spills silently, but intentionally from his lips:
My work is almost done.
With that pseudo-benediction, he forces his still watery knees to hold his weight before backing away from the the simultaneously gory yet scene. After ensuring his call to Hound Wright is still live, he then swipes to another app. A GPS-tracking app, one specifically tied to a series of Bluetooth tracking tiles. He lingers the slightest of seconds to note where Leslie is before zooming in on the map-racing dot of his latest tile. A tile he had expertly slipped into ’Mason’s’ pocket of when he had offered the twice-distracted Kindred a mint. Having previously scanned his clothing like a TSA agent, Jean-Marc had noticed his tempter’s left pocket had a hole leading to a lining-pressed pouch filled with lint, some loose chain, and an old streetcar ticket. In other words, the perfect hiding spot for Jean-Marc’s tile.
Regarding the tile’s GPS-precise dot on his digital map, the Evangelist smiles, thin and long as a Christian Louboutin stiletto. Who the fuck, indeed, was I pretending for, ‘Mason’? he sardonically purrs.
The song of a cricket haunts the humid air, causing Jean-Marc’s indulgent schadenfreude to pass. After all, Hound Wright and his ‘guests’ are on their way. He will wait for them, still supernaturally unseen or unnoticed, but he needs to spend his remaining time preparing the story he will tell Hound Wright. Duplicity isn’t the issue, not when the truth is far more damning to the would-be-violator of Timotheus’ second tradition. Rather, the muckraker well knows the issue is how to best play to his audience. Which juicy details to squeeze till their last drop, and which to gloss over. To come clean, but come off clean too. Moreover, the Brujah hound is not known for his patience, so the tale will need to be punchy but pithy, a quick jab versus a long haymaker. Assembling the story in his mind, he mentally takes out the bleeding-red pen of an editor. It’s a tight deadline, but he’s had worse.
My work is almost done.