“I have bled. Rivers of blood. Rivers of tears. But I can’t see how to atone.”
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, AM
Caroline: She has little time to think further on Lou. The investigator is still out there, and this room’s security is obviously in question. She needs to clean it up and move on. Tonight.
She heads into the hall after Lou has left and seeks out a supply closet, hoping to find one unlocked. At last, something her law background gives her some standing in. Evidence handling is something she’s familiar enough with… and by extension, mishandling and destroying. She wants to leave no trace here. Still, it’s rough going for a spoiled girl not accustomed to vacuuming her own floors, much less scrubbing.
GM: Indeed, while Caroline’s legal eye informs and guides her handiwork, much of her task consists simply of putting her hands to work. Rubber cleaning gloves she’s never had to wear feel strange against her skin. She starts by scrubbing the walls with a wet sponge, wringing it into a bucket, and dumping the red-hued water into her room’s toilet.
Much of Paxton’s blood is dry this long after his death. Caroline has to spray the walls with bleach (a smell she’s rarely inhaled) and methodically scrub the red off. She’s not sure what the hotel walls are made of, but it’s harder going than scrubbing the bathroom’s tile floor. Perhaps gratingly, she finds this is easiest to do on her literal hands and knees.
The real bitch is the carpet. Caroline scrubs and scrubs, but once that stuff is in there, it’s in there. The dull, dark stain seems immune to attempts to completely expunge it. She eventually hits upon the idea of ordering room service and spilling food and drink everywhere to cover up the old mess under a new mess.
Caroline: First, of course, she douses the bloodstains with bleach to damage any forensic evidence. To make it look good, she chokes down the room service, only to vomit it up almost immediately.
GM: Caroline regurgitates the food the moment it touches her stomach. The taste is beyond foul. Like choking down congealed bleach. The refused meals do not even have time to decompose in her stomach acids, which upon further reflection, Caroline imagines her body has likely ceased producing. She works with what she can. Ice cream with chocolate sauce in particular leaves a bitch of a stain.
Caroline: It’s another thoroughly horrible experience. Wine stains go everywhere. Chewed and vomited food comes up over walls, carpet, and furnishings. She knocks over the TV set and tears up the furniture and sundry too. She trashes the room like a spoiled movie star whose name starts with Russell and ends in Crowe. All that’s missing is a beaten employee.
Outside of the physical unpleasantness is the shame of it all. A Malveaux should do better. Still, she leaves the coup de grâce in the form of a lipstick message across the flatscreen:
Sorry for the mess :)
GM: She doubts this is the first time the staff has had to clean up such a disgraceful mess from spoiled wealthy guests, but there’s a certain ingenuity to hiding one offense behind another. There are worse penalties for murder than a lifetime ban from the Hilton.
Caroline: Not that she expects to get banned. The card isn’t in her name, after all.
GM: Besides, her brother Westley has likely done worse.
Caroline: This week, even.
GM: No, Caroline supposes after a moment. No, he likely hasn’t.
Caroline: With that sobering thought, she leaves the keys in the room and exits with her belongings. Nowhere is really safe, but one place will do for one day. She heads home.
It’s late—or early, depending on one’s perspective—and she’s sure she can find a space to hide where she won’t be bothered. Maybe the attic. She leaves a note for Aimee that she’ll be back that evening, then finds a crawlspace. It’s been another long night…
Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015
Caroline: As always, Caroline does not sleep. She does not dream. She closes her eyes, then opens them. A second, a day, a year, or a decade might have passed. The attic in which she’s found shelter is brutally hot. For a moment, there’s a feeling of being trapped in an oven. Images flash before her of flickering lighters and burning pyres. The panic passes after a moment of thrashing against the dark and she simply lays there. The lack of rest is mentally exhausting.
No wonder they’re all so cranky, she muses bitterly.
Caroline makes her way to the drop-down staircase leading into the house proper. The blast of cold air when she drops the stairs is like a wave from heaven against the heat. It’s a small matter to make it to her room without being seen by her roommate. The shower that follows is merciful. It can’t wash away sweat, but it gets grime, blood, and fatigue. It’s a simple human experience—or close to it. A fresh start. A moment to clear her head.
She’s not surprised, though, when she finds Aimee sitting on her bed as she emerges from the master bath in a towel.
GM: The shorter woman sits on the bed’s corner with her arms crossed, wearing a simple t-shirt and pair of sweats for pajamas. Her previous look of relief at being rescued from Orson’s clutches has given way to one of confusion, hurt, and just a bit of anger.
“Where the hell were you?”
Caroline: “You don’t even want to know.” Caroline rubs a towel against her hair. “That last night of Decadence kicked over a hornet’s nest, even before the archbishop was involved. I’ve been trying to stifle the response. I’m glad you made it home all right, though. No further threats from the archbishop, I presume?”
GM: Aimee blinks for a moment. “No, thank God, there haven’t been. And yeah, I do. I really do. You just disappear, get all your family worrying, and your uncle… God, Caroline, do you even know what that… what he tried to do? All because you went missing?”
Caroline: Caroline raises her voice over Aimee’s. “What do you think happened when I went missing that night?” Her words are hard, cold. “We got separated, I lost my phone, and you must have seen how ugly the crowds got. They were worried? You were worried? You were right to be.”
The pain, sorrow, and anger are not forced in Caroline’s voice.
GM: “Well… what happened?” Aimee still hasn’t uncrossed her arms, but her face softens a bit.
Caroline: Caroline lowers her voice, sitting down on the bed next to the brown-haired girl. She heaves a sigh and looks away.
“Someone attacked me. Multiple someone’s. Dragged me into an alley…” She lets the other girl’s imagination take over.
“When I came around later I needed time to think. Needed time away from everything. I’m sorry.”
GM: Aimee looks horrified. “Caroline… oh my god…”
Caroline: Caroline’s face is a mask of grief, true to the words she’s spoken, and even those unspoken. Her voice chokes. “I didn’t… I’m sorry it turned into such a disaster for you. I didn’t mean to worry you, I just had to go.”
GM: Aimee pulls her roommate into a hug. “No, no, no… Caroline, you don’t have anything to be sorry for. Anything.”
Caroline: Caroline accepts the embrace, her voice half a sob. “I know… threatened you… won’t do it again…”
And really, it feels good to cry. To have someone forgive her. To have someone tell her it isn’t her fault with no judgment in their tone. Lou was one thing, the first voice in the night that wasn’t accompanied by a boot on the back of her head, grinding her face in the mud. But even he was… guarded. Judgmental. Foreign.
GM: Distantly, Caroline can hear Aimee murmuring words of comfort and reassurance, all the sorts of things one is supposed to say.
Far more audible than the other girl’s words, however, is the beating of her heart. That steady thump-thump-thump, pushing the blood through her veins. Rich and hot.
Aimee says something about how it wasn’t Caroline’s fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, except the man who did this.
She smells just right, too. Not like that kid in the leather jacket, but the jock right after him. Her grief, her sympathy, Caroline’s Beast could just drink it up, it’s all so sweet, like a caramel glaze over rich juicy meat.
Who was he? Could she tell? They could report this. It wouldn’t get ignored, not from someone like her. Caroline’s family could hire investigators, they could destroy this guy…
Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.
The Beast laughs in Caroline’s head. This foolish kine, hugging her, lavishing her with sympathy. It’s like a sheep placing its neck right in the wolf’s mouth. She’s close enough to bite, she wouldn’t even notice…
Caroline: Caroline shoves her Beast down. She is not feeding on anyone she knows. Some monsters are worse than others, and that’s a line she won’t cross. Not tonight.
GM: Suddenly, Aimee gives a cry of alarm and pushes Caroline back. The Beast screams too, at the denial of its meal.
“Oh my god, you’re BLEEDING!”
Caroline: “What?” Caroline doesn’t see any wounds… despite a dozen wounds in the last nights that might have killed or maimed her only days ago, her body feels hale… until one hand finds her face, wet and damp. She knows even before she pulls her hand away. She buries her face in the cast-off towel she used to dry her hair.
GM: She smells before her hand ever touches her face. She could smell that coppery tang a million miles away.
“Stay there, I’ll call 911!” Aimee exclaims, grabbing her phone.
Caroline: “No,” Caroline calls, wiping her face. “It’s not blood.”
GM: “What?” Aimee answers, pausing as she frowns. “Caroline, that’s definitely blood. It even smells like it.”
Caroline: Inside she’s crying, but outwardly she’s struggling to end the waterworks. She can’t even share this? A moment of vulnerability?
“It’s… " Caroline blinks away tears. “Fine, Aimee…. just… don’t call 911. I’m fine.”
How the hell does she even begin to explain haemolacria?
GM: “No, it’s not fine,” Aimee repeats. “You’re bleeding. From your face. Oh god, was that also from…?”
Caroline: Caroline finishes wiping her face, the wet towel helping. She looks up. “Look, no bleeding. I’m okay. Really.” She sighs. “It’s complicated, but I’m okay.”
GM: “Okay… how complicated?” Aimee asks, slowly, as she she sees no further bleeding. “Is it new since Decadence?”
Caroline: Caroline really doesn’t want to lie to her, but this one secret that is too dangerous to let out casually.
“Sort of. It’s a family thing. Hormonal. Goes way back to my great-great-something. Worse now because of…”
She wipes her face again. It’s a barely plausible lie.
GM: “I’m sorry, Caroline. I’m not a doctor, but bleeding from your eyes is something you should really get looked at.” Aimee dials 911 into her phone. “Hi, emergency services?”
Caroline: Caroline doesn’t really mean to move that quickly, but this is rapidly spinning out of control, and she doesn’t have time to deal with a concerned EMT. She snatches the phone out of Aimee’s hands in a blur too fast to even follow.
GM: Caroline effortlessly grabs the phone out of her roommate’s seemingly butter-coated hands. Are all mortals really this frail?
Aimee looks down at her hands, then looks at Caroline. The confused look on her face gets even more confused.
“Hello? Ma’am?” sounds a muted voice from the phone." Ma’am, are you still with us?"
Caroline: “Yeah. I like, stubbed my toe. I think I broke it. Do you think I should like, see a doctor? It really hurts,” Caroline replies into the phone.
Her glare towards Aimee is far more serious than her flippant respond to the operator. She mouths words that look suspiciously like ‘are you kidding me?’ to the other girl.
GM: “You stubbed your toe,” the operator responds, in an ’I’m really trying to stay professional here’ tone. After asking Caroline a few basic questions, she replies, “It sounds like you’ll be fine, ma’am. Call us back if it gets any worse.” The line clicks off.
Aimee wrestles with Caroline for the phone.
Caroline: Caroline fails to relinquish it. “What the hell, Aimee? 911? Really? Am I bleeding out on the floor?”
GM: “Not now, you’re not,” Aimee retorts. “That was a crazy amount of blood, and we don’t even know you’re bleeding! And how did you move like that?”
Caroline: “Like what?” Caroline asks.
GM: “That fast. You just… grabbed it from my hand.”
Caroline: “I’m secretly the Flash. From that campy TV show you watch,” Caroline retorts. “Now you know my secret identify.”
GM: “Well, the Flash doesn’t bleed from his eyes,” Aimee retorts back.
Caroline: Caroline shrugs after a moment and stands up. “Adrenaline, probably. It’s been…” Another sigh as she throws the phone on the bed. “…a long week. I’m just a little on edge.” She sits down again.
GM: Aimee sits next to her. “Caroline, I just want to help. You should see a doctor anyways, after…”
Caroline: “I will. Later. It’s not serious, Aimee. Trust me. I know something about it.”
It’s not a lie, really. She will see a doctor later.
“I know you were trying to help. I’m sorry I overreacted, I just—you don’t know how my family is. Orson in particular.” She looks at Aimee sideways. “Or maybe you sort of do.”
“I had to make a lot of promises. Give a great many assurances just to get him to let us walk out. Things like ‘nothing happened when we went out last night.’ The last thing I need is for him to have another reason to go sniffing around. As it stands, he still wanted to send us to a convent, and was prepared to go to… extreme lengths to see it done.”
GM: Aimee grows quieter at the mention of Caroline’s uncle. She bites her lip.
“Well… okay,” Aimee says at length. “But see a doctor sooner rather than later, okay? I mean, there might be STDs, or… god forbid, you end up pregnant.”
Now that Aimee mentions it, can she even get pregnant now?
Caroline: “I know.” Caroline is very quiet. She suspects she knows the answer to that question.
GM: “I can come with you, if you want. You know I won’t say anything…” Aimee offers.
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “I just need to work it out on my own.” She looks at Aimee. “But I will work it out. There’s just…. a lot that needs to be done.”
She lays her head on her roommate’s shoulder. “You’re the only one, Aimee. The only one that knows anything. As far as everyone else is concerned, I just made some bad decisions, ran off, drank too much. You made it home all right the other night?”
GM: Aimee nods in response and gives her shoulder a squeeze. “Yeah. My… memory’s kinda hazy, but there was a lot going on.”
Caroline: Caroline nods, hand still resting in Aimee’s shoulder. “That’s one easy of saying it.”
She sits up after a moment. “I’m going to be in and out for a few days. I need a bit more time… just away from everything. Cover for me in class?”
GM: Aimee nods in turn. “Yeah, I can talk to our professors… but, uh, you should probably call your job yourself. I don’t know how understanding they’re going to be.”
Caroline: She nods. “I’ll take care of them. Thank you, Aimee.”
She stands up. “I should get dressed. Things to do. I picked up a new phone, so you can reach me there if you need me. If I don’t answer right away, I’ll try to get back to you working the day.”
GM: “Don’t you think it’s… a little late?” Aimee frowns. “Whatever you wanna do, it’ll probably still be around in the morning.”
Caroline: That’s the problem, Caroline thinks.
“I have to meet with some people. They aren’t available during the day. I’ll be lucky if I can catch them in tonight. It’s okay. I slept most of the day… I don’t like sleeping in the dark…”
GM: “Well… I’ll be up for a few more hours doing homework and watching Webflix. Nothing that important, though. Would you feel better having me along?” After all, Caroline might be scared to meet people alone after what she’s been through.
Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “Family matters. It’s better if you’re at arm’s length… for now. Having you here for me is enough tonight.” She puts on a weak smile.
GM: Aimee nods and gives Caroline a farewell hug. “Well, okay. Call me if you need anything?”
Caroline: “Of course.”
Once Aimee is gone she stands, starting to slip her mask back on. Lots of confession of late. Crying on shoulders. Honesty. Weakness. It won’t really do the rest of the night. Self-pity is easy, and also probably fatal around Kindred.
Once more dear friends, once more.
She moves to her walk-in closet, walking down racks of expensive clothing. What armor to wear tonight?
Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015
Caroline: She waits until she’s in the car—her car—to call Wright. A bag sits across the back seat. It’s loaded with implements that might be useful. She was caught unarmed and almost unaware last night. Not again.
She punches send as the sleek sports car rolls through the night.
GM: “What you got t’ report?” the hound asks without preamble.
Caroline: “My efforts to locate René continue, subject to the limitations imposed upon me. Checking in.”
GM: “‘Continue’ as in how, girl? That code for jack squat?” Wright asks.
Caroline: Caroline bites back a sharp retort about helping break a bunch of thugs out of police custody, among other things.
“I have a potential lead on someone else witness to the night’s events. I’ve also brought in a third party ghoul, as you suggested, to gain the lay of the land.”
GM: “Specifics, girl. Who’s. When’s. Where’s. Don’ make dig this out. If you fuck up we still got to bring your sire in.”
Caroline: “Mystery skullfucker would be rapist murderer, who likely picked up another victim after René ran him off. I have a lead on who that victim may have been, but need to follow up with the medical examiner. It’s a long shot, but a possibility. Best lead I have, unless the ghoul, an investigator Malveaux mentioned, finds something. To go further in any case though, I need to speak with Donovan.”
GM: Wright questions Caroline for some further length about this ‘mystery skullfucker,’ which sounds like news to him.
“…huh,” the hound finishes. “Leave no fuckin’ stone unturned, I guess. Follow up on that. It don’t work by tomorrow, try somethin’ new.”
Caroline: News to him indeed… given they asked almost no questions earlier. Caroline cannot help but notice the change from his apathy a night ago. Pressure from above? Because she rocked the boat?
GM: “Oh, and when you talk about my boss, dumbfuck? You call him Sheriff Donovan. Thas’ your nightly dumbfuck tip on how to be less of a dumbfuck. You’re welcome.”
Caroline: “Much obliged. All the same, it stands. Likely the lord of the French Quarter as well, before I dance all over his domain.”
GM: “You ain’t talkin’ shit with Savoy,” Wright declares, his tone final. “Christ, girl. Do not let the sheriff hear you floatin’ that idea either.”
Caroline: “So no investigating the crime scene then?” Caroline asks. “Perhaps Sheriff Donovan can issue a dispensation then, so I can wander through the French Quarter on my business?”
She shivers a bit as she continues to talk about the steel-eyed man.
GM: “What did I just fuckin’ say?” Wright snaps. “Christ in a motherfuckin’ sundress, girl, you toss that kind of oh but but but,” and here Wright sarcastically raises his voice to a whiny girlish pitch, “attitude ‘round the elders, you are gonna fuckin’ get it.”
Caroline: Caroline bites back a rather nasty comment involving a racial slur. Silence reigns on the line.
GM: Wright hangs up.
Caroline: She scowls and re-dials his number.
GM: “You’re welcome for not smackin’ you around for that too, dumbfuck,” Wright says without preamble. “You want me to shut my mouth, let you run yours ‘round the licks who won’t be so nice?”
Caroline: “You’re going to cut off my head if I don’t find and overcome a powerful Kindred on my own.” Caroline’s tone is flat. “And quickly. No one could be bothered to explain even hunting restrictions until I wandered into a street fight with four other Kindred. You’re suggesting disrespect in place of ignorance.”
She bites her lip. “But I do appreciate your corrections. All the same, if it’s suffering for lake of manners or death for lack of production, you understand it is an easy choice.” Silence for a moment. “Will you set up a meeting with Sheriff Donovan? Or at least tell me how to?”
GM: “Okay,” says Wright. “Since you asked so nice. No, I won’t. He’ll just say no to you explorin’ the Quarter, an’ I ain’t gonna waste his time askin’.”
Caroline: “And what about his domain?”
GM: “‘His domain’ what?”
Caroline: “I understand it’s polite to ask before you wander around it.”
GM: “Girl, what the fuck are you talkin’ about? You are not still askin’ about the Quarter.”
Caroline: “No, I’m talking about Riverbend.”
GM: “Dafuck? Girl, I am not a fuckin’ mind-reader. You are talking what about Riverbend?”
Caroline: “It’s Sheriff Donovan’s domain, right? It’s polite, then, not to wander around it without permission. Or so I’m told.”
GM: “Yeah, Riverbend his turf.”
Caroline: “I want to ask him for permission.”
Wright, infuriating as he is, is not what is causing her to flush. That blood he made her drink… she blinks it away.
GM: “What bid’ness you got in Riverbend?”
Caroline: “Mortal allies. Family. Resources. Potential witnesses.”
GM: “This is like pullin’ fuckin’ teeth. Specifics, girl. Who’s an’ when’s an’ why’s.”
Caroline: “My uncle, the archbishop. My mortal home. Doctors, medical examiners. School connections. Victims I have to follow up with, per Malveaux.”
GM: “An’ how long are you askin’ for permission for?”
Caroline: “Sorry, I was trying not to waste your time. Yesterday you seemed disinterested.”
Dangerous, that, but a potential in.
“Days? I don’t know. More if I capture René. Most of my ties are here. However long I have.”
A task becoming more difficult all the time. No French Quarter. That makes things easy.
GM: “I’ll call you back. You stay out of Riverbend ’til then.” Wright hangs up.
Caroline: “Where the fuck am I supposed to go?” she rages at the empty line, snapping phone down in the passenger seat.
The car continues to roll under her, but she turns towards downtown obediently. Presumably they won’t fault her if she literally is driving through. On reflection, who is she kidding? They’ll blame her for whatever the hell they want.
She looks back at the bag behind her seat. Then shakes her head. Not yet.
Tuesday evening, 8 September 2015
GM: Caroline goes hunting at the Victory, a higher-end cocktail bar with a red-walled, vaguely Middle Eastern or Indian-themed lounge. The Buddha’s image serenely stares down at Caroline as she nuzzles against the neck of a yuppie businessman. His blood tastes flat and sour over her tongue, but there aren’t many college students… and after quaffing enough from him and several of his friends, it’s still enough to satisfy.
“God, you’re such a sexy slut,” one of the men purrs, slipping a hand up her panties.
Caroline: She’s never felt like more of a whore than as she passes from one skeezy businessman to the next, seeking release from the Beast’s desire. A sip here, a hand on her ass. A sip there, a man reaching under her skirt. And no satisfaction for all of it. She moves from one to the next, seeking release with no satisfaction to be found.
When she finally moves on, she feels like she needs a shower again. Thin sour blood pitifully courses through her. Still, it’s something. The Beast stirs, calling her back to Aimee’s sweet-smelling skin. She ignores its whispers as best she can.
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM
GM: “Donovan says you’re meetin’ with his herald,” Wright states over the phone. He gives Caroline an address in Riverbend, then hangs up.
It’s in Audubon Place. Same neighborhood she lives.
Caroline: Caroline can’t put distance between herself and the Victory quickly enough. She navigates through familiar streets to the meeting.
GM: After driving through the same walled perimeter patrolled by Blackwatch mercs and their snarling attack dogs, Caroline pulls up to an expensive-looking, three-story house with a wide driveway and impeccably maintained yard with several neat rows of trees and flowerbeds. A Porsche and BMW sit in front of the house.
Unsmiling guards see Caroline in. The house’s style of interior decor is decidedly minimalist, with almost no art or decorations to speak of save a few bland photographs of still landscapes that would get an “A” in photography class for meeting the teacher’s grading requirements, and nothing else. Not so much as a smudge of dirt or creased rug is present in the house. There are no scattered clothes or electronic devices, no dirty dishes, no sign it’s actually lived in. There are no signs of co-habitation by a spouse, kids, or even pets, despite how large it is. It feels more like a model house than a lived-in home. Indeed, for all the dwelling’s well-to-do-ness, its architecture is almost offensively generic, the same McMansion style copied in hundreds of wealthy suburbias throughout the country. The house feels as if it lacks a soul.
The guards escort her to a spartan office room with a desk, three chairs (one behind the desk, two in front) and absolutely nothing else, save the computer, phone, and papers on the desk. Donovan sits behind it, his fingers steepled.
No. It isn’t Donovan.
It looks like him at first, but a second glance gives lie to that notion. The figure behind the desk is Donovan’s duplicate. His aborted duplicate. He wears identical clothing to the sheriff: the same black sweater and navy slacks, the same polished leather shoes, not so much as a crease out of place. He has the same neatly combed black hair, the same clean-shaven chin, the same posture and body language… but that’s where it ends. The man is shorter and plumper than his master, like someone has squashed Donovan down with a trash compactor. He possesses completely different facial features and is obviously not the same man. The entire mimicry false, hollow, incomplete. It’s as if someone tried to build a Donovan duplicate and simply gave up halfway through.
Most telling of all are the eyes. Where the sheriff’s gaze is alternately stormy and frigid, like an upset Arctic sea, the mimic’s is simply… empty. Like staring into a starless void. Gray eyes, which Caroline is instantly sure are only gray like Donovan’s because of contact lenses, regard the Ventrue unblinkingly. Even the windows to his soul are fake.
“Explain the nature of your request for right of passage within Regent Donovan’s domain, Miss Malveaux,” the mimic states. His voice is a flat, unwavering monotone. Caroline hears a heartbeat pumping from his chest.
Caroline: The entire effect is… eerie, and despite herself, the shorter man is unnerving to her.
She gathers herself after a second. She repeats much of what she told Wright, regarding her connections within the area, including her home, mortal allies, and connections to Tulane.
“In addition to travel, I would beg the right to make my ‘haven’ within the region. As to the other why, it seems inappropriate to reach out to others extensively given my undetermined fate and lack of knowledge, but none could impugn upon any manner of relationship with Sheriff Donovan anything but propriety. Or, perhaps spoken more simply, I have every reason to trust in Sheriff Donovan’s propriety in such a relationship.”
GM: “Your status represents a legal gray area.” Another individual might stroke their chin in thought, but the mimic simply stares directly at Caroline, his flat voice unwavering.
“Fledglings dwell with their sires. You are unreleased and incapable of swearing a full oath of fealty.”
Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement, not quite staring at him. “Propriety takes several forms.”
GM: “Regent Donovan will permit you to dwell within his parish as a serf, with all the rights and responsibilities that such entails, upon the condition that you swear an oath of fealty to him as a full tenant upon your release.”
Caroline: “May I ask, what rights and responsibilities will be owed to him as a serf, at this time, that I might better fulfill them?”
Caroline doesn’t care for the word and what it entails, but she has little doubt it is the best of poor choices available.
GM: “You will have the right to make your haven within Riverbend, and to conduct business with its kine. You will not be permitted to feed within the parish. You will owe Regent Donovan a night of corvée per week in return for these privileges.”
That same empty stare. That same flat tone.
Caroline: Caroline reflects. “Corvée is a service, then. A night assisting with a given task, which may take all the night, or only part of it.” The words are for herself as much as they are a question.
GM: “Yes,” the mimic answers emotionlessly.
Caroline: “May I ask… an oath of fealty entails what obligations? Again, that I might better understand and ensure I may make good such obligations.”
GM: “The same, save that as a tenant, you will be permitted to feed within those areas of the domain not claimed by another Kindred as their private acreage.”
Caroline: Caroline has so many more questions, but as forthcoming as the ghoul has been, she has no interest in pushing her luck here. She tries to keep herself to the essentials.
“Is such an oath releasable?”
Would it be so bad to be sworn to him? He’s reasonable enough… a part of her whispers. She tries to ignore it. Tries.
GM: “With Regent Donovan’s consent,” the mimic answers flatly.
Caroline: Caroline nods, essentially eternal service to him then.
“Is this the sheriff’s standard offer?”
GM: “For serfs.”
Caroline: Caroline reflects. The suggestion of negotiation tugs at her. “And there are ample available feeding grounds?”
GM: “To tenants.”
Caroline: “I would propose one amendment then, as a measure of good faith, and so I might be of greater use.”
GM: The mimic stares at Caroline with that same blank expression.
Caroline: “Allow me to select a location now, to be held in trust save for on nights when I am engaged in the the behalf of the sheriff.”
GM: Negotiating with the mimic is not unlike talking to a brick wall, but now that Caroline is finally in a social setting where back and forth between younger and older vampires (or least their representatives) seems permitted, she’s reminded that she’s still got it. The mimic eventually states that he will agree to one of the following concessions: permitting Caroline feeding rights within the parish while she is still a serf, or not requiring (but still allowing) her to swear an oath of fealty to Donovan upon her release.
Caroline: Love and hate, desire and restraint war in the young Kindred. Had she not come from her set ‘feeding ground’, had she not ‘enjoyed’ an early evening of making a whore of herself to get a taste of thin sour blood. Were she not suffering the insidious touch of the blood bond… she would take the wise course. The possibility of an opportunity to make her own way? The political leverage of choosing who to swear to as a vampire of equal standing…
But Caroline is suffering, her will subtly influenced. And for all talk of will, of business acumen, of political canniness, she’s a Malveaux in other ways. For all of her ‘suffering’ at the hands of her uncle, the denial of her dreams, she’s been born with a silver spoon. She’s never had to beg. She’s never had to go without. And going without is killing her. Whoring around a group of businessmen was too much. She takes the feeding privileges.
GM: “Swear fealty to Regent Donovan and his lord Prince Vidal in the names of your lineage, Longinus the Dark Prophet, and Almighty God,” the mimic states, his expression unchanging when Caroline accepts the offer. He looks for all the world as if she’s recommending what brand of insect repellent is most efficacious.
Caroline: Her mouth is dry. A moment of truth here. Binding herself. Offering service. For so long as he wished it. What alternative is there? Find another, equally cruel offer? Continue to trespass? Endure another draught of his blood? Give and take. The art of any deal. She has nothing to give except her service. It’s still a bitter pill to swallow for the heiress.
GM: “Your lineage,” the mimic answers as if that should answer her question.
Caroline: “Ventrue?” Caroline asks uncertainly.
GM: The mimic simply stares.
Caroline: “I swear fealty to Regent Donovan and his lord, Prince Vidal, in the names of my lineage, Longinus the Dark Prophet, and Almighty God.” The last bit seems to hold the most weight.
GM: “An unimaginative but technically satisfactory oath,” the mimic pronounces emotionlessly. Caroline knows enough history to know that feudal oaths are usually more elaborate, but the mimic doesn’t look as if he cares.
Or not care. There’s just nothing.
“You are now a serf within the parish of Riverbend, sworn to Regent Donovan. This audience is concluded.”
Caroline: “Thank you.” Caroline rises to depart.
GM: At the mimic’s silent direction, the guards escort Caroline out of the soulless McMansion.
Caroline: She departs the building for now. One weight off her shoulders, another around her neck. Such is the way.
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM
Caroline: Caroline sets her course for the ME’s office. She has to have something to report tomorrow to that prick Wright.
GM: The young Ventrue soon encounters two troubling facts as she looks up the Coroner’s Office on Qeeqle Maps:
First, the Coroner’s Office is located in Mid-City, only several blocks from the Rock-n-Bowl where she was caught poaching, and the O’Tolley’s where she directed Wright to ambush the police van.
Second, the office is currently closed to the public. Hours are 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Mondays through Fridays. Neil, having no reason to believe that Caroline could not visit during the day, evidently did not consider the fact worth bringing up. It becomes rather apparent why many vampires keep ghouls.
Caroline: Of course, her legal right to even create such a servant is very much in doubt. In fact, there’s little doubt in her mind that such an action would be poorly received right now.
She settles on tabling that. Maybe her attorney can provide an investigator she can put on it. A mortal one. Caroline heads back towards Tulane, following a path she knows well. She dials her cousin Adam along the way.
GM: The phone rings several times before the elder Malveaux (by three years) picks up.
Caroline: “Adam.” Caroline’s tone is pleasant. “How are you?”
GM: “Well in the Lord’s service. And you, Caroline?”
Caroline: Leave it to her cousin. Any reluctance he feels over his prescribed course has never affected his execution of his duties.
“I… less well, in the same. I don’t suppose you are ‘free’ at all tonight?”
GM: “There are a few parishioners still around, and what is a church without a priest?”
Caroline: “A house of God. But your point is taken. Is any other night this week better?”
GM: “I could not say, Caroline. But there are parishioners here now, and I am here with them.”
Caroline: Caroline grimaces. “I’ll leave you to them then. Father.”
GM: “Caroline.” Adam’s tone is just slightly reproachful. “You are one of the flock too.”
Caroline: A sad smile he can’t see. “I’ll call you later then, or stop by when I can. Take care.”
GM: “I’ll see you soon, cousin,” the priest answers in expectation.
Caroline: Caroline kills the line with her cousin as she continues on to Tulane to investigate Ms. Angela Greer. Something productive, for herself, while she waits on another Kindred contact.
GM: Much of Tulane’s campus is closed this late at night, with the cashiers and receptionists who’d tell Caroline to try again in the morning having gone to bed themselves. The Ventrue does much her searching over Tulane’s web site, Facemash, Qeeqle, and other social media sites and search engines. She eventually puts together that Angela comes from an upper-middle class family. Her father is a lawyer named Stanley at the firm of Ware & Lebowski, where one of the Malveaux attorneys also works. Angela’s mother Lisa is an artist. Both of her parents live together in Uptown.
Caroline: Caroline continues digging. Who are Ms. Greer’s friends of note?
GM: Angela Greer, Caroline finds, maintains an active membership among the Kappas, which she already knew, in addition to the Tulane Philosophy Club, the Queer Student Alliance (founded in 1972, the oldest LGBTIQA organization in the state of Louisiana), SAPHE (Sexual Aggression Peer Hotline & Education), which operates a 24/7 confidential hotline for issues surrounding sexual assault and harassment. Angela is also the dorm supervisor at Josephine Louise House and seems to be fairly well-liked with the girls there, organizing parties and generally being pretty easygoing, especially after her handling of a recent influenza epidemic that left numerous students sneezing and insensate. Her specific friends are harder to figure out… like most everyone, she has several hundred friends listed on Facebook, and her profile is set to private.
Caroline: Caroline moves along to other more specific databases. Does Ms. Greer have a criminal record? Arrest record? Anything similarly unsightly? It pays to work in the league field… and having enough money that keeping access to background check services is trivial doesn’t hurt either.
GM: Angela appears a fairly well-to-do citizen without any criminal record. Her sister Summer, however, is another story. The younger Greer has been arrested twice for public intoxication and underage drinking.
Caroline: Kindred spirits there, Caroline reflects. Then, after a moment, she decides not. She goes back to social media, paging through events on campus, trying to find out if Ms. Greer is going out tonight, or in the immediate future.
GM: This late at night, and with a dorm of college girls to look over, Angela is likely home studying or mediating disputes over who stole whose pillow, if not fast asleep. Maybe she’ll cut loose on the weekend, but fairly few college events take place after dark during early September. A few of Angela’s clubs are meeting in the afternoons, but nothing that particularly stands out to Caroline… other than how she’s announced on JL House’s page she won’t be around this Friday night. She cites having a long overdue dinner and movie night with her parents back home.
Caroline: Caroline turns her remaining efforts towards uncovering further information on Angela’s younger sister, Summer Greer. Where is she now?
GM: The fledgling Ventrue discovers that Summer is indeed in town, and a freshman at Tulane. She lives at JL House, where she has the unenviable living situation of her older sister also being her dorm supervisor (and thus, in charge of her). If her latest Facebook posts are any indication, she is probably in JL House right now either studying, procrastinating, or doing whatever it is college girls do in their dorms on week nights. She doesn’t seem to have anything going on (during the night, at least) tomorrow either.
Caroline: She supposes it was too much to hope to find some immediate answers online. Frustrated here as ever in her unlife, Caroline navigates her car towards the Central Business District. Her cousin awaits. A degree of mercy, perhaps, for this monster she has become. A rational part of her screams that this is a poor idea, that it can’t end well. But her soul, her faith, cry out for succor. The words of of the old ghoul echo in her head.
Poison… poison… poison…
GM: The gray stone monolith arrogantly looms over the surrounding CBD. Tall, unbent, unbroken. Unconquered by crumbling mason, acid rain, and the relentless march of time, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is supremely confident in its holy purpose—but not its hegemony. St. Louis Cathedral smugly holds up the 221 years since its dedication to Patrick’s 178, showing them off like jealous children comparing baseball cards. St. Patrick’s must sullenly accept its status as only second-grandest, second-oldest, and second-best cathedral in New Orleans.
The cathedral’s interior is a vast and cavernous space. The faintest whisper feels as if it could echo and echo off the Gothic arches and stained-glass windows until it reaches the ears of God. Whether He would respond to Caroline’s kind is another matter.
The three largest paintings above the altar depict, from left to right: Saint Patrick, the Transfiguration of Jesus, and Jesus Christ pulling Saint Peter from the sea.
GM: This late at night, there are few parishioner present in the church. Their eyes are closed, their heads bowed. A few light candals by the altar, while others silently pray. The cathedral is silent, in that way only a very large space still filled with people can be: almost conspicuous for its lack of sound. She can make out her cousin Adam by the altar, in hushed conversation with one of his flock. Caroline’s cousin wears a plain dark jacket and the telltale priest’s white collar. He has slim, almost gaunt features, deep gray eyes, and his Dyer mother’s ash-brown hair.
One parishioner stands out to Caroline, though. A pale young woman, her head bowed in prayer. She has a slender build, gentle features, and soft brown hair. She wears a white tank top, navy blue skirt, and several looped silver necklaces that include a crucifix. Yet for all her unassuming appearance, Caroline’s Beast recognizes another predator on sight.
Caroline: Warnings scream as the Beast thrashes in its mortal cage. Memories of abuse at the hands of other Kindred. Caroline fights them down. Curiosity trickles in its wake like spilled blood, the remains of her battle with it.
She’d have assumed other Kindred might avoid real churches in favor of their twisted faith.
GM: As Caroline crosses the church’s threshold, she feels immediately nauseous. She isn’t sick to her stomach. She’s sick past her stomach. Her head swims. Her muscles clench. Her dead heart feels like it’s racing, and she feels a coppery-smelling sweat breaking out over her body. She wants to vomit and purge the sickness. She can’t. Her stomach is empty. The Beast shudders and whines. It wants to leave.
Caroline: She sways for a moment and falteringly finds a seat in a back pew. This is not the grace of God. Not his mercy… is this what it is to be beyond Him? Outside of Him? She lowers her forehead to the row in front of her. She rests her head as she stares at the floor, grappling with the implications.
GM: Caroline’s very blood feels like lead in her veins. Heavy. Turgid. Disobedient. It’s slime. It’s horrible. Some part of her wants to just get it out all out. Surrender her ill-gotten gains.
And she knows, to very bottom of her soul, that she is not meant for this place. Not like the quietly praying supplicants, welcomed with open arms by her cousin Adam. Is it her imagination that the other Kindred’s posture looks so tense?
Caroline: It’s not her blood, she’s forced to admit. She’s a usurper.
The tears want to come, but Caroline fights them. She knows how that ends. It’s too much. Until now she harbored the hope, the illusion perhaps that the other Kindred were wrong, deluded. But there is no doubt in her mind now. She is not welcome. She should go.
Instead she folds down a kneeler, folds her hands, bows her head. And she begs. Quietly, whispered, she begs for God’s mercy. For His forgiveness.
“Didn’t wish this… allow me… forgive my…” Half the words might be unintelligible even if someone held their ear to her lips.
It is the prayer of a murderer, or a killer, of a woman who knows that judgement will come for her.
And isn’t she? And yet, for her prayers… there is no release. No relief from this awful pain. From the emptiness.
GM: No response comes.
Caroline: The tears come. Again. She keeps her head bowed, hidden behind the next pew. Blood goes drip, drip on the tiled floor. She digs out a tissue to dab at her eyes. She’ll hide what she is as best she can, should someone approach.
But she cannot hide her disappointment. Her shame.
GM: There is some small mercy in that few parishioners are present this late at night. Those few who are appear preoccupied in their own private worlds of prayer.
But it’s a small mercy.
A very small mercy.
Caroline: When at last she looks up, eyes drying, her eyes seek her cousin.
GM: The young Father Malveaux does not smile when his cousin approaches him, but instead peers closely at her face.
“Caroline. Have you been bleeding?”
The altar’s many candles assault the Ventrue’s senses like dozens of swarming, stinging bees.
Caroline: She shakes her head. She keeps her distance from the altar. As if this place wasn’t uncomfortable enough.
This is the awkward part. He’s her cousin. She has fond memories of dancing with him. But he’s also a priest, in his official role.
“Father,” she decides on. “Not sleeping well. Trying to hide it poorly, perhaps.”
A lie already. Off to a great start.
GM: The younger father’s gaze is direct, his eyes dark and somber. “What is on your mind that makes you sleep poorly?”
Caroline: “I… do you believe it is possible to be completely outside of God’s grace?”
GM: “In the next life, perhaps, but not in this one. God has endowed us with free will. With free will comes the freedom to atone for transgressions that would separate us from Him in the hereafter. To dwell within or without it is our own choice to make.”
Caroline: She hadn’t really expected a better answer. How can he begin to understand? How can she begin to explain?
“Adam, I’ve never felt so alone.”
GM: Her cousin’s gaze remains sober. “What troubles you, Caroline?”
Caroline: “Everything.” She stares at the ground between them. “I made a mistake. Went somewhere I shouldn’t have. A minor rebellion, and it got so much worse Adam. It… I thought I knew.”
GM: “It is natural for youth to err and inadvertently stray from the fold,” Adam states, despite being only three years older than Caroline. “What is done is done. They cannot erase their actions, but they can atone for them.”
Caroline: “Have you spoken with the archbishop?”
GM: “I have.”
Caroline: “And what did he tell you?”
GM: “He informed me that you had sinned, due in part to circumstances beyond your control, and that you regretted your actions. We spoke no further, save that I was not to repeat even so much to anyone outside of the family.”
Adam’s voice is low as his eyes briefly cut to the distant parishioners, though he does not move his face from Caroline’s.
Caroline: “Beyond my control. That’s one way to put it.” She follows his glance. “Someone hurt me, that night. Or morning, or…”
“And so I hurt him back.”
“I thought… years ago, that it would be easy. To hurt someone. To fight back if I had to. But it isn’t.”
GM: “‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.’”
Caroline: “And what about turning up in the river?”
Caroline’s words are hard, cold, and hurt. Her voice is noticeably raised.
GM: Adam silently raises a finger to his lips. None of the other parishioners react, but the other Kindred looks up at the noise. Her eyes meet Caroline’s.
Caroline: Caroline looks away and back to Adam.
“I…” she starts, but words fail her.
GM: “Would you like to speak somewhere more private, Caroline?” he asks quietly.
She glances at the other Kindred.
GM: Adam turns and leads his cousin away from the altar and its needling flames. The other Kindred watches silently as Caroline leaves, but does not rise from her seat. The two Malveauxes make their way through a side door and down a short hallway to familiar confession booth.
Caroline: Caroline glances at the box, almost shaking. In fury, fear, or sorrow is unclear.
GM: “God is everywhere wholly present, yet cannot be contained wholly by anything or anyone,” Adam states quietly.
“He will hear you, whether in the confessional or outside it.”
Caroline: “Did you ever hesitate, even for a minute when you were put on this path, Adam?”
GM: “To doubt is to be only human, Caroline.”
Caroline: “You didn’t, did you? You just accepted what he laid out for you.” Which ‘he’ she is referring to is unclear.
GM: “There will always be a Father Malveaux,” Adam states slowly, as if reciting a familiar litany.
“I was not sure if it would be me. But I suspected.”
Caroline: “Was it what you wanted?”
GM: “There will always be a Father Malveaux,” he repeats, but his tone somewhat softer. “Can you imagine Luke filling the role? Gabriel? Westley?”
“Matters have ways of resolving themselves.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns, introspective. “The will of God then, aligned with His will? Is that how you see it?”
GM: “A question for a question. Do you see this turn of events as the will of God?” Caroline’s cousin asks her in turn.
Caroline: She’s silent for a long moment as she thinks on the question. “I didn’t.”
GM: “I do not need your legal background to recognize the distinction between ’didn’t’ and ’don’t.’”
Caroline: “You have me thinking,” she allows. “Is that enough of an answer?”
GM: “Is my path in life what truly concerns you tonight, Caroline?” Adam asks.
GM: “We are removed, now, from any prying ears.”
Caroline: “You and I both know that’s not true.”
GM: Adam inclines his head. “We are as removed as we may reasonably be.”
Caroline: “This goes no further than this room? Ever? Not even to him?”
GM: “Code of Canon Law, 983 §1: ‘The sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason,’” Adam quotes.
Caroline: “I murdered someone.”
The words slip from her lips with a will of their own.
GM: Adam raises both eyebrows.
Caroline: “I could tell you that he attacked me, that I was defending myself, and there’s truth to it. But in the end I had a choice. I could let him die, or I could sacrifice myself. And I let him die.”
GM: “That is a very great failing, Caroline, and a very great sin.” Despite his words, however, Adam’s tone is no harsher.
Caroline: “I know.”
GM: “Do you recall the story of the scapegoat in the wilderness?”
Caroline: Caroline nods, numbly.
GM: “Perhaps a retelling may still prove beneficial.”
“Only the high-priest could enter the inner room of the Tabernacle, called the Holy of Holies, where was the ark of the covenant, and where God was supposed to live. And even the high-priest could go into this room on but one day in the year. This day was called ‘the Great Day of Atonement.’”
“The service on that day was to show the people that all are sinners, and that they must seek from God to have their sins taken away. God teaches us these things by word in his book, the Bible; but in those times there was no Bible, and very few could have read a written book; so God taught the people then by acts which they could see.”
“As a beginning of the service on the day of atonement, everybody was required to fast from sunset on the day before until three o’clock on that afternoon, the hour when the offering was placed on the altar. No person could eat anything in all that time. Even children, except nursing babies, were not allowed to have any food. They were to show a sorrow for sin, and were to appear before God as seeking for mercy.”
“Early in the morning of that day the high-priest offered on the altar before the Tabernacle what was called “a sin-offering,” for himself and his family. It was a young ox, burned upon the altar. He took some of the blood of this ox, and carried it through the Holy Place, lifted the vail, entered into the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood on the golden lid to the ark of the covenant before the Lord. This was to show the priest himself as a sinner, seeking mercy and forgiveness from God. The priest must himself have his own sins forgiven, before asking forgiveness for others."
“Then the priest came again to the great altar before the Tabernacle. Here two goats were brought to him. Lots were cast upon them and on the forehead of one goat was written, ‘For the Lord,’ and on the other words that meant, ‘To be sent away.’ These two goats were looked upon as bearing the sins of the people. One was killed, and burned on the altar; and the priest, with some of the blood of the slain goat, again entered the Holy of Holies, and sprinkled the blood on the ark of the covenant, as before, thus asking God to receive the blood and the offering, and to forgive the sins of the people.”
“Then the high-priest came out of the Tabernacle again, and laid his hands on the head of the living goat, the one whose forehead was marked ‘To be sent away,’ as if to place upon him the sin of all the people. Then this goat, which was called the ‘Scapegoat,’ was led away into the wilderness, to some desolate place from which he would never find his way back to the camp; and there he was left, to wander as he chose. This was to show the sins of the people as taken away, never to come back to them.”
“When this service was over, the people were looked upon as having their sins forgiven and forgotten by the Lord. Then the regular afternoon offering was given on the altar; and after that the people could go home happy, and end their long fast with all the food that they wished to eat.”
Adam pauses, his Biblical tale concluded.
“In all this, God tried to make the people feel that sin is terrible. Sin separates from God; sin brings death; it must be taken away by blood. Today, blood sacrifice is more symbolic. But if you have truly transgressed, Caroline, Hail Marys alone will not be sufficient to absolve you. You must toil. Like the sacrificial goat, you must bleed.”
Caroline: She gives a sad, soft cry.
“I have bled. Rivers of blood. Rivers of tears. But I can’t see how to atone. Help me.”
GM: “Tears accomplish little by themselves. Does this man have a family? A life’s work?”
Caroline: “I’ll find out. I was planning on it… I just. I had to tell someone. I had to confess.”
GM: “If he has family, provide for them. See to their material and emotional needs. Comfort them in their loss. No action can erase the harm you have done, but you can offer succor to those whose lives have been touched by his loss.”
Caroline: Caroline says nothing. “And then?”
GM: “Right the course of a wayward life that would otherwise be lost. A life for a life, Caroline.”
Caroline: “And that’s supposed to be enough? To earn his forgiveness?”
GM: “You likely will never earn his family’s knowing forgiveness. There are few other lives, I imagine, they value as highly as his own.”
Caroline: Caroline’s eyes flash. “That wasn’t who I was talking about…”
GM: “Human lives are not a zero-sum game,” Adam responds. “But it will do for a start. I could advise you to turn yourself in to the police, but that will not better anyone’s lives, and will only harm our family’s.”
Caroline: Caroline is silent. I suppose expecting sympathy was to much to ask.
GM: “Caroline?” her cousin gently prompts.
Caroline: “I have my confession to you,” she replies.
GM: “You do. You are yet troubled.”
Caroline: “I thought it would make me feel better. I thought I’d feel… different.”
The nausea is unabated. The wrongness. The pounding in her head.
GM: “Do you feel better, Caroline, when you have started a task or when you have finished one?” Adam asks, heedless of the sick feeling making his cousin’s blood ooze through her veins like concrete slime. “When you were studying to become a doctor, did you wish to merely treat symptoms, or to find cures? Confession takes only moments, but atonement is far longer process. It is well that the former does not absolve your conscience. That tells me you are more concerned with making restitution than merely alleviating your guilt.”
That same, ineffable dread continues to cloy at Caroline’s soul like inhaled sawdust. Her Beast continues to whine and pace. Unable to escape the cathedral’s noxious miasma, it feels like it wants to crawl into a hole and die.
Caroline: Caroline nods, wrestling with her Beast, with her dread, with the nausea. She can feel chains sliding in the murky blackness wrapped around her soul.
“I have to go.”
Not here, she begs of her self-control. This was a mistake.
GM: Adam slowly traces the sign of the cross. “Dominus noster Jesus Christus te absolvat; et ego auctoritate ipsius te absolvo ab omni vinculo excommunicationis (suspensionis) et interdicti in quantum possum et tu indiges. Deinde, ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen. Peace be upon you, cousin."
Caroline: “And also with you.” The words are not fully out of Caroline’s mouth before she turns back through the hall, towards the exit. She has to get out. She has to get away.
She can flee the church.
But she cannot flee what she is.
Tuesday night, 8 September 2015, PM
GM: The cathedral proper is much the same as when Caroline first arrived. There are still a few solitary souls lighting candles by the image of Christ pulling Saint Peter from the sea. The other Kindred is still sitting in one of the back row benches, her hands clasped in prayer. Candlelight dimly glints off her silver crucifix.
Caroline: The candles burn like road flares, blinding in their light. Caroline pushes through them, making for the door. The other lick mocks her with seeming calm. Caroline pushes on. She has to get out. She has get this suffocating presence off of her. Down the aisle she goes. Yet she slows as she passes the other Kindred. Her mind is fogged by pain, but there’s a moment of realization, followed by admiration. She still continues on. She has to get out.
GM: The old church’s wooden doors creek slowly open. The humid night air is scarcely any less warm than the building’s interior. Caroline’s soul-deep nausea doesn’t feel better so much as less awful. Being so close to the church still makes her skin crawl.
Caroline: She finds a seat somewhere, shaking. It is one thing to believe, but another to know. How terrible, then, to find confirmation of your faith only in God’s hatred for what you have become.
Maybe they’re right, a small voice inside her whispers. She wants to hush it like a disobedient child, but can’t. Maybe they are.
GM: Caroline sits on the hood of her car and watches the city go by. A bum shuffles blearily along outside the closed costume shop, not even asking for change. Palm leaves sway against a stagnant breeze. A light goes on in one of the nearby apartments’ windows. What is it like to live right outside a church? Does the congregation make good neighbors?
Perhaps half an hour later, the other vampire emerges from the church. She looks like ordinary teenage or maybe college-age girl in her white tank top, blue skater skirt and sequined silver flip-flops. Almost banal for one of the undead. But then, Caroline didn’t ask to be made what she was. Perhaps she wonders how many of them do.
Caroline: Caroline, still wrapped in her self-pity, studies the other Kindred from across the street. After a moment she calls out, “I don’t know how you do it.”
GM: The other vampire pauses on her way into the adjacent parking lot, then turns to face Caroline. Her brow furrows a bit. “Do what?”
Caroline: Everything. In this life.
“Stand it for so long. You were there when I went in. I couldn’t stand it. The hatred. The loathing. I didn’t known God was capable of such…” She trails off. “How do you stand it? How do you go back?”
GM: “It’s good to be reminded,” the other vampire answers seriously. “I mean, it hurts. But it’s a good kind of hurt. I know that He’s real. And He’s never once made me burn, so I think He wants me to keep coming back.”
Caroline: “Does it get any better? Any easier?” Caroline asks softly, then frowns. “Wait, burning? Does that actually happen?”
GM: The vampire nods soberly. “Yeah. I hear some licks just blister at first, but can actually go up in flames if they stay too long.”
Caroline: Caroline looks like she’s going to be sick.
GM: “So I figure God wants me here,” the other vampire continues, “or I’d burn too. And it looks like He wants you too.”
Caroline: “Ghastly,” she replies, fighting down her nausea. “And you still keep coming back. Despite everything.” Is that admiration? “How long?”
GM: “You mean how long have I been coming, or how long do I stay?” The other vampire shrugs. “Well, I don’t really keep track of that second one. However long it takes to feel close to Him. But I’ve been coming ever since I was turned.”
Caroline: “I meant how long have you been coming,” Caroline clarifies.
GM: “Well, like I said, ever since I was Embraced. That was in 2012.”
Caroline: Caroline studies her. Her own age then, perhaps, just frozen a bit earlier.
GM: “Jocelyn,” the other vampire answers a moment. “Jocelyn Baker. Childe of Sally Ward, childe of Julien Dupre, childe of Vidal Jarbeaux.”
A mortal might shake hands here, but the other vampire makes no move to. Even to Caroline, it somehow doesn’t seem appropriate anymore.
Caroline: “A pleasure to meet you, Jocelyn. Caroline Malveaux.” After a moment she adds, “Childe of René Baristheaut.”
The words are awkward on her tongue, but seem important to this ritual. What were the others? They seemed important, but she can’t remember. Too much else going on in the moment.
Jocelyn pauses. Making conversation doesn’t seem to come as naturally either.
“So, uh, what are you doing here?” She waves her hand at the adjacent church.
Caroline: “I… should we be talking on the street?” Caroline asks.
GM: Jocelyn glances left and right. The CBD is not the French Quarter, and there are no teeming drunken crowds to mask the sounds of their conversation. Just a few solitary souls on their solitary errands through the dark streets.
“Uh, that’s right. Probably not.”
Caroline: She gestures to the car. “Small measure of privacy, if you want it.”
And for her part, Caroline wants it. Wants to believe you can be this without being a monster.
GM: Jocelyn glances at the other vampire’s car, then turns back to Caroline. Her posture is slightly tenser.
“Well… what do you want to talk about?”
Caroline: Caroline can’t blame her. She’d be suspicious too, and after only a few days. Three years? She can’t imagine how much her heart might be hardened. Still, she can’t help but be a bit hurt.
“Faith. Why I was here. How to reconcile it with…” She shrugs. “Or just to talk. It seems a rare enough thing.”
The next words hurt. “I understand if you don’t want to.”
GM: Jocelyn pauses, thinking. She looks as if she might bite her lip, but doesn’t. That feels like another thing their kind just don’t do.
“My car,” she replies after a moment.
Caroline: “Wherever you want.” Does it sound desperate? Her killer instincts honed by a political upbringing shout at her, but Caroline doesn’t care. She hops off her car nimbly, approaching the younger (or older?) girl.
In truth, it’s really no different than the rest of life. Let your guard down, get hurt. Never let your guard down, never let anyone get close. Same result.
GM: Jocelyn walks down the parking lot and clicks her beeper at a blue mid-priced vehicle. She gets in on the driver’s side and turns to face Caroline.
“Well, okay. What’d you want to talk about?”
Caroline: Caroline joins her on the passenger side. It’s bizarre in some ways sitting so close to another of her ‘kind’. Like two statues side by side.
“I wanted to give confession,” she states, answering the girl’s earlier question. “It seemed like a better idea at the time.”
GM: “You can’t tell anything to kine priests, though. That’s what we have our own for.”
Caroline: “They are… a very different experience than I’m accustomed to.”
GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Well, they’re as different from kine as we are. I take confession all the time, just like Prince Vidal wants.”
Caroline: “It doesn’t bother you, being told to do terrible things by them?”
GM: Jocelyn gapes. “Of course not!”
Caroline: Caroline realizes this topic is a minefield too late.
GM: “Why would you even say something like that? They’re the priests. And they only tell us to do terrible things to terrible people. That’s what we are. The wolves of heaven.”
Caroline: Terrible people. A girl out drinking with her boyfriend during a festival. A former FBI agent just doing his job. Is Caroline’s experience twisted, or the other girl’s perspective skewed? Three years of this…
Poison. She curses Lou in her mind.
“I guess a wolf doesn’t have any choice either.”
GM: Jocelyn frowns. “Huh?”
Caroline: “It’s just not what I… expected.” The word is obviously a stand-in. “Before, I mean.”
GM: Jocelyn stares at Caroline expectantly.
Caroline: “Hurting people. Maybe killing them. It…”
She stops, seeking any parallel in the other vampire. Is she really so lost?
GM: “…it’s what we do,” Jocelyn finishes. “We’re wolves. We protect the good people and hurt the bad ones.”
Caroline: “Then why does God hate us?”
The question is not asked argumentatively. Instead it is raw, almost desperate for an answer. Like a whore grating against a stud, her soul rubs raw against the question, seeking release.
GM: “He’s damned us,” Jocelyn answers. “We all did something awful, something so awful we deserved to be damned forever. And even then, in His infinite mercy, He still lets us serve Him and follow His plan.”
Caroline: “What did you do that was so awful, Jocelyn?”
GM: “I think you should ask yourself that,” Jocelyn counters. “We all get Embraced for a reason.”
Caroline: Thump. Caroline rocks back in the seat.
“That’s it then. This is a punishment. For something we did.”
GM: “Good people who die don’t go to hell by accident. They don’t get Embraced by accident either.”
Caroline: Oh, whatever could a good girl like Caroline have done to deserve damnation? A cocktail of pills. Horrible cramps. Blood in the water. The flushing away of a life.
She offers no rebuttal to the other girl, no question. One sin she never confessed, never even admitted to herself. Technically… but what is a technicality to God?
GM: Jocelyn nods at her silence. “God knows, even if you don’t. But you look like you do.”
Caroline: It’s a cold dread, and the watered-down blood of businessmen, running warm in her veins, does nothing for it.
GM: “And even then, after we’ve done something so horrible, He’s merciful. He still lets us do His work.”
Caroline: I didn’t know! she wants to scream, but she did know. Any time you go looking for a loophole you know you’re wrong.
“And it’s the only way.”
GM: “You can either do what Longinus did or what Caine did.”
Caroline: Caroline frowns. The references aren’t lost on her, but clearly there’s missing context.
“You mean your duty, or turn from the face of God entirely?”
GM: Jocelyn nods again. “You can either do what God wants you to do, or what the Beast wants you to do.”
Finally, “Thank you, Jocelyn.”
GM: The other vampire looks mildly surprised. “You’re welcome?”
Caroline: “No one else seemed interested in explaining… anything,” she explains after a moment. “It does make more sense now. I was so wrapped in…”
She cuts off whatever her next words are with a half-wave that ends with her hand over her face.
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t look sure of what to say to that. “Well, you’re welcome. Again.”
Caroline: “Is it so strange?” she asks. “Simple courtesy between our kind?”
GM: “I guess it’s usually. More formal?” Jocelyn ventures.
Caroline: “Forgive me my ignorance then. I’m new at this. I’ll try to do better next time.”
GM: “Well, you can just ask your sire,” the other neonate suggests. “But it’s not like we’re in Vieux Carré or anything.”
Caroline: “I think he and I will be having a long conversation very soon,” Caroline agrees, even as she curses her ignorance and position of weakness.
GM: Jocelyn frowns a little. “You’re not a kaintuck, are you?”
Caroline: God damn you, René, Caroline curses.
“I’m not familiar with that term.”
GM: “A mosquito, a rabble, or an outlander.”
Caroline: A blank look.
GM: Jocelyn looks a little annoyed. “A Caitiff, a Brujah, or a Gangrel.”
Caroline: “Ah, no, I’m told not.”
She tries to file away the slurs.
GM: “You’re ‘told’?” Jocelyn looks at Caroline as if she said she’s been ‘told’ that she’s white.
Caroline: Caroline considers for a moment. Share the details, or obfuscate? Her father’s words come back. If the information is available, own it. After the gaudy execution scene her nature isn’t exactly a secret.
“It’s complicated, but it would be rather difficult for me to be having this conversation if I were. I confess that the distinction is opaque beyond its mortal distinctions. But I’m quite certain of it.”
GM: If the expression on Jocelyn’s face is any indication, it sounds like Caroline’s said she’s ‘quite certain she’s white.’
“Well, uh, that’s good you’re sure. So what are you, a redbone or a creole?”
Caroline: “Is that a literal question, or is there a subtext to which I’m missing?” the pale blonde asks.
GM: “Literal. If you’re not a kaintuck, what are you?”
Caroline: A laugh. “Not the literal I meant, but then my education in these matters has been necessarily truncated.”
Recognizing the absurdity of the statement but owning to it, she continues, “Ventrue is what they said.”
GM: Jocelyn stares at her. “So you’re a creole, and your sire didn’t even tell you what that meant?”
Caroline: “Actually, he never mentioned it at all, though it is among the least of his sins. And in fairness to him, no one else seemed particularly concerned with explaining the distinctions, beyond that a Caitiff would have received a lesser degree of mercy.”
Or a greater one, she reflects.
“As I said. It’s complicated. A burden I won’t force on you, after we’ve had such a lovely conversation.”
GM: Jocelyn studies Caroline for several moments. “You’re a b-an illegal Embrace, aren’t you?”
Caroline: After a moment she nods slowly.
“This is the part where you tell me to leave, I think.”
GM: “Guess you should say thanks to Coco and Maldonato sometime. My sire says the prince used to put all… illegals to death.”
Caroline: “It seems I should then, though they put enough still to death in front of me. I should take it then that clan means a great deal?”
GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Should I? I’ve never met an illegal before. And yeah. If you’re a creole, you’re better than a redbone or kaintuck.”
Caroline: Caroline looks at the other girl—no, Kindred—curiously. Appraising her, perhaps.
“It seems the fashion, though you seem a cut apart from most.”
GM: Jocelyn gives another little shrug. “Well, how many licks have you met?”
Caroline: “Nine? Ten?” Caroline searches her memory. “At least insofar as introductions. An admittedly small sample size. Are you also a creole?” she asks.
GM: “Yeah. I’m a torrie,” Jocelyn answers. “I guess you must’ve been talking to elders.”
Caroline: “Torrie.” Another for Caroline to file away. “Some, though not all I think.” She thinks to Wright and the bangers. “Usually under more strained circumstances though.”
GM: “Yeah? Like how?”
Caroline: “Misunderstandings about domains. Kine.” The word still feels foreign and forced on her tongue. “Or reporting to my minder. This existence doesn’t exactly come with an instruction manual.”
GM: “Well, yeah, that’s what your sire’s supposed to do. Be.”
Caroline: “I gathered. Spilled milk.” The shrug Caroline gives is perhaps not as convincing as it might be. “I imagine it is difficult with a sire in its own ways.”
GM: “I guess? I hear some are like abusive parents, but mine wasn’t bad.”
Caroline: “Did you know? Before you were Embraced? About any of this?”
GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “That’s kind of the point of the Masquerade, isn’t it?”
Caroline: “Makes sense,” Caroline agrees. “I just wondered if most were groomed for this.”
GM: “Maybe ghouls, but that’s also kind of what childehood’s for.”
Caroline: Is this what it should have been like? Caroline wonders. Someone to answer questions? To provide guidance? As distant as the other Damned girl is, she can’t help but feel a degree of intimacy in this moment.
Poison. The word lingers under the surface, painful, irritating, a splinter she can’t dig out. Damn you, old man.
Caroline wants to reach out, to cross the scant feet between them, to touch Jocelyn. The truth between them is a salve over the blistered wound that has been her unlife. No lies, no deception. Ten minutes in a trashy car with a Kindred she’s never met gives lie to all intimacy with all others. It makes a mockery of her moment with Aimee earlier in the night. It makes mockery of the life she is clinging to. Yet it feels like the wrong thing to do. Like physical contact would shatter this delicate web between them.
GM: Jocelyn never shook hands with her. Even to one as newly initiated to the Requiem as Caroline, touching somehow does not seem like the thing to do. Do wolves make casual physical contact with one another? Do snakes?
Caroline: “I wouldn’t know.” She bites her lower lip, an all-too human gesture.
GM: “I guess not,” Jocelyn admits.
Caroline: “Any particular advice?”
GM: “Advice on what?”
Caroline: “All of this. This life. You’ve lived it for years. Some witty quip.”
GM: Jocelyn thinks. “For a boon, I’ll give you some pointers you probably really need.”
Caroline: It seems she’s racking up quite a debt already. I wonder what my credit limit is? Still, it’s an excuse to see Jocelyn again later.
“For one service, right? Sounds fair.” Not as though her card has ever been declined before.
GM: “Yeah,” Jocelyn nods, “for some other one-time favor.”
Caroline: “Just be sure to collect it soon. No telling how long they’ll allow me.”
GM: “Well, okay. You should probably talk to your clan primogen if you haven’t already.”
Caroline: “Who is that? And how do you go about setting up that meeting?”
GM: “You’re a blue blood? That’s Gabriel Hurst.”
Caroline: “And a primogen? Sorry, the ‘who’ was both of individual and title.”
GM: Jocelyn looks confused. “Huh?”
Caroline: “You’re assuming I known what a primogen is.”
GM: “Kind of like a city councilman, to the prince being the mayor.”
Caroline: “Gabriel Hurst. This is to pay respects due to him, or?”
GM: “Well, just to touch base with the other blue bloods, I guess. Like if you were a Mexican immigrant and getting to know the other Mexicans in your city. Maybe there’s a job or something you can do for them, or just to say hi and that you want to be part of the ‘community.’ Or just to impress him and try to make friends, I dunno. I mean, it doesn’t hurt to say hi. And you’ve got something in common.”
Caroline: Caroline nods.
GM: “I’m not really sure how you’d get in touch with him, though,” Jocelyn admits. “He isn’t my primogen. Ask another blue blood? Or someone who works for the prince? Or just see if he’s around at Vieux Carré?”
Caroline: Caroline tries to avoid letting on how daunting those ideas are, how much the other Kindred takes for granted.
GM: “I mean, I’ve seen him and his sister a couple times. I hear he’s pretty young for a primogen. I’m not sure why your clan picked him. There’s probably a bunch of older blue bloods.”
Caroline: Blue bloods. How appropriate, at least.
“Is there a specific location he frequents? I thought there were multiple Vieilles Carrés.”
GM: “Yeah, there’s a bunch. I couldn’t tell you there, I’ve seen him at several.”
Caroline: Another nod. Caroline falls silent and waits for her to continue.
GM: “Beyond talking to your primogen, I guess you should join a krewe.”
Caroline: Caroline’s unholy heart beats faster at the mention, pounding like an drum. “To what end?”
GM: Of course, were she to touch her chest, Caroline would feel no heartbeat at all.
“Well, protection, duh. Having other licks look out for you and watch your back.”
Caroline: Caroline reflects on her fight with the gang of vampires. Three versus one in an alley. Her blood on a knife, her arms pinned.
“I can see how that would help.”
GM: “It’s easier to impress other Kindred when you’re part of a krewe, in some ways. Prince Vidal let mine feed in the Arts District a couple times.”
Caroline: “How exactly do you get into a krewe?”
GM: Jocelyn shrugs. “Depends on the krewe, really. Some of them have tests and, well, I guess gang initiations. Some of them just let in Kindred who they think are a good fit. So I guess by getting most of the members to want you in. Or the leader if the krewe doesn’t put it up for vote.”
Caroline: “There’s isn’t a Tinder for Kindred krewes, is there?”
GM: Jocelyn actually laughs. “Sorry. That was a joke?”
Caroline: “Half of one,” Caroline grants, smiling.
GM: “Well, the sewer rats probably know all the krewes, like they know everything. And the prince probably keeps track too.”
Caroline: An arched eyebrow. “Sewer rats?”
GM: “Yeah, Nosferatu.”
Caroline: “What’s the deal with clans? There’s a distinction between them that I’m missing. Is it simply a matter of origins?”
GM: “What do you mean?”
Caroline: “Torrie, Nosferatu, Ventrue. I haven’t actually been able to tell a different among those Kindred I’ve interacted with.”
GM: Jocelyn looks as if she’s been asked who the president is.
Caroline: Caroline backpedals. “I understand there are different clans, thirteen, each with their own cultures within them… I guess I’m asking, is there a physical difference between them?”
GM: “Well, the Nosferatu, sure. Anyone can tell a sewer rat on sight.”
Caroline: “I’ll take it then that I haven’t met one.”
GM: Jocelyn almost grimaces. “You’ll want to throw up the first time.”
Caroline: “And the rest?” Caroline adjusts, twisting to the side to look more dead on at Jocelyn. “What’s the difference between us, Jocelyn?”
GM: The other vampire throws up her hands. “What’s the difference between Mexican people and Chinese people? They’ve got the same DNA, sure, but there’s a million differences. And we don’t even have the same ‘DNA.’”
Caroline: Caroline holds up a hand. “Ok, stupid question then.”
GM: “Yeah, I’d say,” the Toreador scoffs. “I thought I was just giving you some tips, but if you want me to explain basic stuff like what clans and covenants are, that’ll be another boon.”
Caroline: “Sorry, let’s stick to one, then. Any other tips?”
GM: “Well, talk to your primogen, join a krewe…” the Toreador counts off. “Always be really respectful to the elders, like you’d treat a king or president.”
Caroline: Caroline cracks a small smile at that, reminded of her conversation with Wright.
GM: “Like, don’t ever argue, interrupt, or disagree with them. Bow and say please and thanks a lot. That kinda stuff. Same for the Kindred who work for the prince.”
Caroline: Not poor advice, Caroline reflects.
But also the advice of someone comfortable on their knees. Still, the bit about the primogen is useful enough…
GM: “Beyond that, well, try earning brownie points from the elders however you can. But not boons, they don’t like to owe those to neonates.”
Caroline: That, my friend, is no different than mortal life, she reflects. The many fools who sought to have her father in their debt, and their failures relative to the ones in his debt. Always better when the boss thinks he has a hold over you.
GM: “Oh yeah, and never say anything dumb around a harpy.”
Caroline: “How do you know who the harpies are?”
GM: “They’re Sundown, Harlequin, Veronica, Marguerite, Katherine, and Adelais. Sundown’s probably the most laid-back, but he’ll still call out licks for doing something dumb. Marguerite after him. Harlequin can be really mean, but has a sense of humor. Veronica and Katherine are mostly just mean. Adelais is….” Kindred don’t seem like they can shiver, but Jocelyn’s expression comes close. “You really don’t ever want to make any gaffes around her.”
Caroline: Caroline nods agreeably. Adelais? Sounds like someone I’d like to meet. Eventually. A whisper of competitiveness runs through her, and her opinion of Jocelyn slips another notch.
The company you keep says a great deal about you. The best keep company with the best. Ah, but you’re sweet, Jocelyn. And that does count for something.
GM: A thumping sound echoes from the car’s trunk.
Caroline: Caroline turns a bit too swiftly towards the last row of seats.
GM: Caroline sees nothing in the car’s rear. The thumps continue.
Caroline: “Should I leave you to your company then?”
GM: Jocelyn shakes her head. “Not yet if you don’t want to. He won’t get out.”
Caroline: “Friend of yours?”
GM: “Not really.”
Caroline: “Must have been singing the wrong song then,” Caroline observes, faintly unsettled.
GM: “He shot a girl, and he’s probably a Vodouisant. I’m gonna show him the consequences for straying from Christ’s path later.” Jocelyn’s fangs poke out from her mouth.
Caroline: “Presumably you’re not going to let him go after you abduct him and feed on him.”
GM: “Nah, I’m gonna take him to see Roxanne.”
Caroline: “All the same, it has to happen on occasion. Is there a protocol for getting rid of them?”
GM: “Not really. Just so long as it isn’t traceable to Kindred. The Krewe of Janus has a ghoul who helps with that stuff. Maurice Galcou.” Jocelyn pauses to think. “Or is it Garou?”
Caroline: “Maurice Garou.” Caroline repeats the name to ensure she remembers it.
GM: “No, I think Garcou. Starts with a G.”
Caroline: “Close enough,” Caroline agrees.
Silence hangs in the closed space. The mid-range vehicle with its cloth rather than leather seats and limited leg room. More of a problem perhaps when your pale legs go on for miles.
“Any other pearls of wisdom?” Caroline smiles. It’s not something the Malveaux scion has had much cause to do since she was Embraced.
GM: Jocelyn thinks. “Probably a lot more, but I don’t really know how you’ve been living your Requiem. Unliving. Whatever.”
Caroline: “All four nights of it,” Caroline quips. “Trying to stitch together my mortal life as it unwinds. Before it unwinds. Trying to find my sire, though I suspect his redoubt is forbidden to me. Trying to avoid trouble, though it keeps seeking me out. Presumably it is easier for others, or becomes more mundane with time.”
GM: “You should probably fake your death,” the Toreador suggests. “Maurice whatever can take care of that too.”
Caroline: “Easier said.” She frowns. “But noted.”
GM: “Well, that’s… everything that comes to mind.”
Caroline: “Thank you, Jocelyn.” Caroline digs out a business card from her bag and extends it to the other Kindred.
GM: Jocelyn takes it and looks it over, her expression somewhat curious.
Caroline: Carolina’s name and a phone number are printed on very fine card stock.
“To make it easier to call in your boon,” she explains. “I don’t know if there is a nominal goat sacrifice usually, but we do live in a fascinating modern world.”
GM: Jocelyn doesn’t quite laugh, but she looks amused. “You sure you’re not a kook? I was actually just gonna ask how to get in touch.”
Caroline: “Kook? Just a professional.”
GM: “A Malkavian.” Jocelyn looks a little less amused having to explain the quip.
Caroline: Caroline smiles. “The good news is you won’t have to explain the joke next time. Have a pleasant evening.”
GM: “You too,” Jocelyn wishes. “See you around.”
Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Caroline slips from the car with preternatural grace and a final smile for the other Kindred. She makes her way back around to the front of the church and her parked car. She slides smoothly into a supple leather seat, digs out one of the several phones in her bag, and calls up a number.
Technically it’s a bit late to call, but after working as her intern for a summer, Caroline is fairly certain that Denise Bowden is hard at work.
GM: More than a few rings sound before Denise finally picks up. “Hi, Caroline?” There’s a bit of a pant to her voice.
Caroline: There was a time when Caroline judged her former boss for her lustful, sinful habits. That time ended four days ago with her mortal life.
“Bad time, Denise?” Caroline sounds amused. “Catch you in the middle of something?”
GM: “No, no, I was just getting off the treadmill.” Some further half-suppressed pants sound. “Exercise before bed helps you sleep. Scientific fact.”
Caroline: “Is that so? Thanks for the tip.” Intentional word choice? Maybe. “If you have a moment, though, I was hoping you might entertain the notion of taking on a client.”
GM: “You’re welcome. Who’s the client?”
Caroline: “I am. There’s a few matters of personal interest I’d like looked into, mostly some research and general harassment, and I know how good you are at digging your teeth into something.”
GM: “Yeah, definitely,” Denise pants. Caroline hears what sounds like movement over the phone, and some indistinct mumbling. “You want to meet somewhere tomorrow afternoon to talk things over? How’s Café du Monde?”
Caroline: How about I throw myself on a sword too? Caroline thinks sarcastically, though the memory of beignets is sweet. Or at least bittersweet. It’s a paradox that the thought of food is revolting, but the memory untouched.
GM: “Their spinach beignets get a bad rep, but I really like those,” Denise continues obliviously. “I feel like I’ve earned a treat when I have the Nutella ones then.”
Caroline: “My schedule is tragically quite full. I can swing a dinner, or just email you what you need, including an engagement letter.”
GM: “Evenings are usually pretty full for me, but sure.” Caroline knows all about Denise’s full evenings. “Shoot me an email and we can follow-up over the phone or at Du Monde.”
Caroline: “Sounds good. Enjoy your workout,” Caroline replies.
GM: “You should try it yourself. Evening workouts really help you sleep.”
Caroline: Caroline rolls her eyes. “Good night, Denise.” The line clicks.
Caroline makes a note of what she needs to send. She still has a copy of Denise’s standard engagement letter, but her actual interests are quite varied. Perdido House, Donovan’s home, the name René Baristheaut and any properties that may still be deeded to it, along with Gabriel Hurst and properties or addresses on record for him.
No doubt an eccentric selection, but good attorneys in Denise’s position don’t usually ask much about the why. She pens a note about some of it being part of a research project into the legal implications of long-term inheritances just in case.
That note set aside, she calls another of the two dozen or so attorneys she has numbers for. This one is simply kept on family retainer. Franz Hartz, a German who immigrated when he was eight, is a serviceable litigator with a stutter that makes him wholly inappropriate as a trial lawyer. Still, it’s not trial service she needs, and he’s one of many that helps draft health care-related policies for those few family employees that get them. She leaves a message on his line with Lauren’s full name, her desire that her medical bills be seen too anonymously.
“Make it a religious gesture,” she decides, before killing the call.
Fake my death. Yeah, great idea. She rolls her eyes.
Wednesday night, 9 September 2015, AM
Caroline: Two matters seen to, Caroline continues the spree of calls. Her next one is Marco. He deserves something of an explanation for last night.
GM: The phone rings several times before a groggy voice sounds. Caroline can make out a baby crying in the background. “Hello?”
Caroline: “Marco.” Caroline’s voice cuts through. She does her best to put some nervousness into it.
GM: Caroline can imagine the police sergeant dully blinking. The baby continues to cry as Rizzaffi makes some ssh-comforting sounds.
Caroline: “Yeah…” Caroline agrees. “Sorry for vanishing last night. I was pretty freaked out. How’d it end up shaking out?”
GM: “Caroline,” he groggily asks, “how’d you get mixed up with those dealers?”
Caroline: “Dealers?” she questions with genuine confusion.
GM: “Yeah.” Rizzaffi makes some more shushing sounds. “The drug dealers.”
Caroline: “Is that what they were? One maniac thug looks much the same as another.”
GM: “Yeah,” the middle-aged cop tiredly repeats. “It was a pretty big bust. The case has been punted to the DEA.”
Caroline: “Is that good for you, or bad for you?” Caroline asks with genuine concern.
GM: A pause. “It means Jacobson didn’t die for nothing.”
Caroline: “He didn’t either way,” Caroline’s quiet reply comes.
GM: “There was a major drug operation going on in Rock-n-Bowl no one had a clue over. It explains a hell of a lot why someone busted those punks out of the police van.”
Caroline: “If you hadn’t gotten there when you did.” Again, there’s no need to force her feelings, but she trails off. “What do you mean busted them out of the police van?” Her voice jumps an octave. “You mean those maniacs are still out there?”
GM: Another pause, interspersed by the baby’s now-softer crying. “Caroline, they’re long gone by now. What happened, was that someone ambushed the van they were in and broke them out of custody. Those four were just street-level distributors. Their bosses don’t want them in New Orleans anymore. Their faces are known. That’s why they broke them out. They didn’t want them talking to police.”
Caroline: A pause. “You’re sure they’re gone, then?”
GM: “Drug dealers aren’t nice people, Caroline. Those four would be liabilities to keep around. They’re probably dead and rotting in the bayous now. Cheaper to put a bullet through their heads than set them up in another city.”
Caroline: How wrong you are… and what a fascinating cover-up. DEA… do they just lack the local resources?
“They wanted to kill me.”
GM: “You’re safe now.”
Caroline: “Unless my name ends up in a report,” Caroline murmurs. “I’ll assume it didn’t.”
GM: “I said I’d received an anonymous tip. But Caroline… how did you get mixed up with those people?”
Caroline: “Westley.” Throwing her brother under the bus has never been so easy.
GM: The cop’s voice grows harder. “Caroline, is he using? Liberals go on about druggies having a ‘disease,’ but some shitheads just belong behind bars.”
Caroline: And the good sergeant knows well his degeneracy. There’s a moment of silence on the other end of the line.
“I don’t think so. He’s kept away from crack before, but they were circling like vultures. Someone mentioned he’d been around though, so I thought I’d take a look.”
Her swallow is audible through the phone. “That was a mistake. Jacobson… did he have a family?”
GM: “Uh huh.” Caroline can picture the now-wide awake cop chewing on his lip. The baby’s crying has trailed off. “What places has he been hanging out lately, Caroline?”
Caroline: “You don’t want to go chasing him, Marco. It can’t end well.”
GM: The police sergeant’s voice is low when he finally replies to Caroline. “Worse than a dead cop?And Jacobson did have family, Caroline. A wife named Kelly. No kids, so there won’t be any babies growing up without fathers, though he and Kelly had been trying.”
Caroline: “Small graces of God,” Caroline mutters.
GM: “Be sure to pass that along to his widow.”
Caroline: “I’d like to,” Caroline replies. “If not in that way. He died for me, though, Marco, because of my mistake. If you have to be mad at someone…”
GM: “He brought her in to the office one day. She’d baked cookies for all the guys. Really nice lady.”
Rizzaffi sighs. “I’m not mad at you, Caroline, but if your brother had anything, anything to do with…”
Caroline: “I’ll find out. And he’ll regret it. Let me work it on my end, though. You don’t the attention on you. Not any more than the family wants it on them.”
GM: “I’ll worry about me, Caroline.” There’s an edge to the police sergeant’s voice. “We’ll do things your way, for now.”
Caroline: “Tell her I’m sorry.”
GM: “Tell her yourself. The funeral’s in two days.”
Caroline: “Is there a viewing?”
GM: “No. The department’s paying for it, but he only made officer.”
Caroline: “You’ll hear from me.”
GM: “You’re not going to attend?”
There is a very long, pregnant silence.
Marco’s next words are low, but they’re not soft. “Caroline, that man died for you.”
Caroline: She bites her lip. “I know.”
Caroline: “I’ll pay my respects, Marco.”
GM: “His wife’s gonna see you at 3 PM, St. Louis Cemetery #2?”
Caroline: “Trust me, Marco. I have something in mind.”
GM: More silence stretches over the line.
“You’d better,” the sergeant mutters, then hangs up.
Caroline: She sets down the phone. Physical exhaustion aside, juggling all these balls is mentally exhausting. Combined with lack of sleep… that was one thing she never thought she’d miss.
Somehow she doubts unlife is going to get any easier from here.