“You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: The New Orleans Museum of Art is an imposing white rectangular structure whose entrance is supported by four Corinthian pillars. It’s located at the end of a tree-lined avenue surrounded by lagoons and majestic oaks. The neoclassical building feels inspired by ancient Greece, but sufficiently modified to give a subtropical appearance.
Inside, the museum has a magnificent permanent collection of almost 40,000 art objects spanning 5,000 years of art, including the Italian Renaissance to the modern era. The collection, noted for its extraordinary strengths in French and American art, photography, glass, and African and Japanese works, continues to grow. Its furniture collection includes important examples of 18th and 19th century American furniture and a small group of exquisite 18th century French pieces. Highlights include The Rosemonde E. and Emile Kuntz Rooms, exhibiting choice examples of America’s fine and decorative arts heritage in New Orleans. Its collection of European and American works includes works by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin, Braque, Dufy, Miró, Jackson Pollock, Mary Cassatt, and Georgia O’Keeffe. The museum features a comprehensive survey of French art, including several important works painted by the French Impressionist Edgar Degas during his time living with his mother’s family in New Orleans between 1871 and 1872.
Among the permanent exhibition is a survey of local Louisiana artists, as well as other American artists. The museum also features a significant collection of art photography with over 12,000 works from the beginnings of photography to the present. Other holdings include collections of glass, ceramics, portrait miniatures, Native American Art, Central American art from pre-Columbian and Spanish eras, Chinese ceramics, Japanese painting, Indian sculpture and folk arts from Africa, Indonesia, and the South Pacific.
And like any place of value and beauty, it cannot help but call Caine’s children.
They cannot do aught but seek to claim it.
Caine’s damned children descend upon the museum in droves, like carrion flies drawn to a corpse. Some hide their natures underneath bespoke suits, haute couture gowns, and fashions so cutting that they would hardly seem to need fangs with which to feed. Other Kindred revel in their sinful natures, adorning their eternally young and nubile bodies in the most head-turning extremities of dark couture: dresses made of knives, jackets constructed of barbed wire, and shining black PVC garments that cater to the wildest fetish. Others simply don’t bother dressing up: some wear leather jackets, torn hoodies, and denim jeans. The especially slovenly and monstrous-looking (or simply pathetic) garb themselves in little more than moldering rags and the dirtiest, dumpster-scavenged grunge fashions.
They flaunt their ownership of the museum and its treasures.
Here, they may dress and comport themselves as they like.
Here, the Masquerade falls away.
Here, any mortal to trespass the museum’s confines will enter a nightmare world they may never leave.
It pleases the Damned to claim such a place, to make it so totally theirs. To carve out their little gilded piece of eternity, just for a night, and proclaim, ‘here, we rule.’
Gus Elgin stands before the crowd of Kindred gathered in the museum’s entrance hall, an almost all-white affair dominated by Corinthian pillars, a sweeping central staircase, potted palms, and assorted works of art previewing the ones contained further in. The Nosferatu master of elysium is a stunted creature with a rounded, crushed-in head—crushed in by the same streetcar he operated during his mortal life, and the origin of his nickname ‘Gutterball.’ His block-like nose and pudgy jowls remind people of a bulldog’s, and his large frame hovers in a nebulous area between fat and muscled, like a retired prizefighter who’s spent too many hours channel-surfing and guzzling beer on the couch, but still hasn’t completely let himself go. He stands a full head below somewhat tall men, which together with his girth and triangular-shaped frame, make him seem built like a dwarf—short and stout. He’s dressed in a leather jacket, black pair of slacks, and plain shoes—forgettable and unobtrusive clothes amidst the sea of shark-like fashions. A rosary ending in a lance rather than crucifix dangles from his neck.
Beside him, but over foot taller than him (and over a head taller than most other men), stands Philip Maldonato. The seneschal’s frame is slender and his skin dusky and smooth, with only the merest hint of the wrinkles of age around his deep-set almond eyes. Tonight, without the need to hide his true self before mortalkind, he wears a galabiyya and almaizar: traditional gray Arabic men’s robes with a shoulder scarf and head covering.
Whispers abuzz among the crowd of Kindred. There’s talk of vanished licks, snatched up by the Guard de Ville on no apparent pretext—licks like Sterling and Tina Baker, some of them chosen from among Vidal’s enemies, others from friendly factions.
And the bishop. Gone now for so many nights. Incommunicado.
This bodes ill.
Yet most such rumor-mongers number among the young, and their elders swiftly shush them. Elysium is a place of reflection, discourse, and contemplation—not a gossip house. Gus Elgin smiles faintly and adds his own calm voice to the discourse, humbling requesting that the gathered Kindred lend him their attentions.
He begins, as ever, with a brief prayer to Longinus. Most of the gathered Kindred silently bow their heads. The Nosferatu then announces the time and location of next week’s Elysium Primo—a practice done, all of the attendees know, to discourage tardiness. Anyone who arrives late must beg the information from another vampire. Rarely is their kind charitable.
The harpies are there. Veronica. Katherine. Marguerite. Adelais. Sundown. Harlequin. All of their hangs-on, including Elyse.
Veronica wears a ‘dress’ made out of strategically placed scarlet feathers, each one seemingly dipped in blood, that reveal more than they hide. Rows of talons are covetously positioned around her half-visible breasts and womanhood. Her strappy high heels are made from mummified bird feet. Most prominently of all, however, a full set of wings made from the same red feathers unfurls from her back. She looks like a bird of prey almost ready to take flight. A too-familiar faint sneer rests upon her face.
It’s directed at the newcomers.
Or at least one of them.
He’s a tall and young-looking African-American man with good posture and a clean-shaven face dressed in a crisp navy suit and leather shoes. Julius hasn’t ever seen him before.
The second newcomer, though, Julius recalls from John Harley Matheson’s trial. The female ‘prosecutor.’
She’s beautiful, if one judges the symmetry of her features and he fullness and richness of her long brown hair. But her eyes are dark cool, her features unsmiling, and her skin is deathly pale. She does not look as if she has smiled in a very long time. She’s dressed in a conservative black evening gown that gives away little of who she is.
She, though, does not stand alone, but near Marcel Guilbeau and Pierpont McGinn.
Many eyes rests upon the newcomers. They are natural subjects for gossip. Whereas the woman simply stares ahead unconcernedly, the lone man meets those eyes and returns a few with faint nods and professional smiles.
He feels green.
Julius: Less green—but some would say no less fun—is the attending Caitiff, Julius B. Baudoin. In contrast to Jade and Gui’s fashionably late, head-turning entrance, Papa Bleu was one of the very first Kindred to arrive at tonight’s gathering. Nominally a Sanctified rather than Unconquered, Julius has, particularly since Katrina, largely adopted the byzantine etiquette of the Invictus, including those pertaining to precedence—which, among other things, means showing up before all of the formally accepted Unconquered. It also means he continues to stand, attentive and otherwise silent as his ‘betters’ speak—which for the clanless jazzman, includes almost all in attendance, and most definitely the currently officiating Master Elgin.
Tonight, like most Elysia, the gorilla-girthed man is dressed in a 3-piece suit. This one’s an Ermenegildo Zegna that would easily fetch several thousand dollars—assuming it’s real, which it certainly looks to be, but which means nothing given its owner is a counterfeit king. Either way, the exceptionally made suit has an understated elegance, especially against the backdrop of Elysium’s more avant garde fashions. Still, its striated black pattern gives the suit an almost raven-like iridescence. Perhaps as a nod to his alleged sire’s current avian-inspired dress? Perhaps.
His dress shirt, however, is the color of sweet corn, accented with a slightly loose white tie adorned with gilded fleurs-de-lis. The tie’s former color matches Papa Juju’s beignet-powdered hair, while the latter matches his golden Bvlgari sunglasses and Patek Philippe timepiece that may or may not be knockoffs.
These are complimented by his shoes, a pair of burnished yellow alligator loafers allegedly by Mauri’s designer brand. Those shoes silently tap out a beat, as do Julius’ idle hands which tonight do not heft a musical instrument (as Juju Bleu and the Hawt Licks only play inside the Quarter), but rather a box gift-wrapped in a way that uncannily resembles a slice of angel food cake.
The Caitiff’s immediate company straddles that of the ‘fresh faces’ in tonight’s Elysium. Namely, he stands neither alone like the unknown newcomer nor surrounded like Cingolai by ex- and would-be princes. Instead, Julius has at his side the Sabbat-driven Canadian transplant, Laura Melton.
GM: Julius’ ‘krewemate’ is a short Caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with a heavily freckled face, pug nose, and unruly dark hair she keeps too short to get in the way but long enough to let it run a little wild. Large gold hoops dangle from her ears. The Gangrel is one of the fashionistas whose approach can be summed up as ‘not trying.’ She’s dressed in torn and shredded clothes that look like she was attacked by a wild animal. They amply display her supple curves, smooth stomach, and the undersides of her breasts—and more, if one views them at the right angle. She walks barefoot.
Julius’ earlier entrance is noticed by rather fewer eyes than Jade’s later one—but many of those Kindred who do notice Julius have the same look he’s so accustomed to receiving. The one that says, ‘he should be grateful he’s allowed here.’ It’s a look that says his carefully considered fashions and all the effort he puts into them are merely so much polish over copper in a room full of gold—but they’ll allow it here, in their magnanimity.
It’s a look he’s seen since his very first nights.
And perhaps he wonders now, though he certainly has wondered before: how many more nights will he see that look? A few more decades? A century? Several?
When will tolerance become respect?
Gus Elgin, meanwhile, enumerates what exhibitions the museum is currently showcasing, and what rooms they may be found in. They include Ancestors in Stone, whose theme is West African ancestor worship; Arte Sacra: Roman Catholic Art from Portuguese India; NEW at NOMA: Recent Acquisitions in Contemporary Art; Marta Rodriguez Maleck: Morir es Vivir (“To Die Is to Live”), a sound and light installation that weaves together voices from across the New Orleans community; and A Brief History of Photography and Transmission.
The master of elysium will conduct ‘tours’ of these exhibitions at fixed times throughout the evening, and enumerates these times. Present Kindred are free to attend any number of these, to peruse the museum’s permanent collections on their own, or both.
“I would be remiss, too, not to include the sculpture garden,” Gus Elgin smiles. It’s located just outside the museum and features more than 90 works on a picturesque trail through City Park. It, too, is considered Elysium.
Elgin closes with a brief final prayer and declares the evening’s Elysium Primo has begun. Kindred cliques begin to file off throughout the museum. Some walks outside to view the sculpture garden. Others move to accompany the Nosferatu on his first tour.
Other Kindred, however, stay behind to watch when the newcomer approaches Philip Maldonato and declares,
“Your Majesty, my name is James Thibodeaux. I am here to present myself before you.”
Smirks flash and titters sound across viewing fanged faces.
“You address me erroneously, Mr. Thibodeaux. I am not a prince,” Maldonato answers.
Julius: Julius for his part, remains behind, his face hard at the newcomer’s blunder. It’s not his place to guffaw—but perhaps he inwardly smiles. After all, condescending tolerance is a step higher than open derision. And for one who’s death involved by lynched by a mob, tolerance presently contents the Caitiff.
As for the future, who knows when contentment might lose its shine.
A few more decades? A century? Several?
But not forever.
That much is sure.
Also, there’s a wide gulf that divides contentment from satisfaction. Seeking the latter, Julius scans the room, looking to see if Duval is still present.
GM: Laura smirks besides Julius and whispers, “What an idiot.”
“Too bad Arte’s not here.”
Duval is present, standing alongside Harlequin and Elyse. She isn’t laughing or sneering like some of the other Kindred, but her pale face shows little sympathy too.
Mr. Thibodeux looks caught off-guard at the seneschal’s reply. “My apologies, sir. I heard the prince would be the tallest man here. Can you direct me to Prince Vidal?”
There’s more smirks and snickers at his words.
Julius: Watching the scene, Julius whispers back to his krewemate. “All erstas cain’t ’ave pearls, dawlin.” Still, a smile finally teases his powdered goatee as he adds, “But dat don’t mean dey cain’t be cooked rite into something gud.”
GM: The Gangrel grins. “They’re gonna fucking eat this guy.”
“I cannot, Mr. Thibodeux,” Maldonato answers the newcomer without elaboration.
“But whether foreknowledge or serendipity has led you before me, I am the correct Kindred to present yourself to.”
Julius: Keeping his sunglassess-hid eyes on the seneschal and newcomer, Julius whispers back to the Gangrel, “Ain’t gonna bet on uh diff’rent pony in dat race, hon, but if dey eat dere dinnuh an’ leave any ‘o him left, maybe we’s can make him woik to da Lord of da Quartuh’s favor.”
“From wot you’s told me ‘bout dem Sabbat, e’en shovelheads have der uses.”
GM: Laura nods. “Think we should try to keep them from eating…. all of him?”
Julius: “Maybe dat,” he says, “but let’s lissen ‘ere uh lil mo’.”
GM: Thibodeux just nods at the seneschal’s words and goes on, “My name is James Thibodeux of Clan Gangrel. I was born in New Orleans, served abroad in the Navy as a nuclear electrician, and received an honorable discharge. I’d like to return to the city I was born, because I heard it’s going to need a new prince. I’d like to serve my city, work my way through the ranks, and show I’ve got what it takes.”
Julius: Julius all but winces at the clusterfuck exploding before his eyes. He mouths a whistle, then whispers to Laura, “Ne’ermind, dat ship done sunk ‘fo it e’en got a cap’.
GM: Elysium’s looks and whispers aren’t as unkind as they were before.
They are much worse.
Thibodeux seems to notice this time, if only by volume alone. A frown faintly creases his face, but he doesn’t remove his eyes from the seneschal.
Laura laughs with her mouth open at Julius’ words.
“Not even shovelhead material, you think?”
Julius: Julius watches a little. Perhaps he wants to witness the terminus of Thibodeux’s implosion. Or perhaps he’s waiting for a better opportunity to deliver his package. Perhaps both.
GM: Maldonato’s face could be carved from wood. The severity of his gaze bears down on the newcomer like an anvil. The focused stare of a Cainite elder is no small thing to weather, and Thibodeux visibly flinches backwards—but doesn’t dare tear his eyes away.
“You have three nights to arrange your departure from New Orleans, Mr. Thibodeux,” the seneschal intones gravely.
The Gangrel gives a slow, silent nod.
Julius: Julius watches the exchange like an eye-deep gator in a bayou. Still. Patient. Waiting for currents to shift, for prey to come just a little closer.
GM: Subdued laughter sounds from Kindred spectators as Maldonato turns his back upon the newcomer and proceeds deeper into the museum.
Julius doesn’t wait for long. Thibodeux seems to know enough to avoid the harpies. He passes by Julius still in somewhat of a daze.
Julius: “Tree nights was long ‘nough fo’ Jesus to die an’ come back from da cross,” Julius clucks at the passing Gangrel, then adds with a softer whisper that might be part jibe or part invitation, “So wot you’s gonna do wit yo tree-day leave, sailor bo’?”
GM: “Guy who ordered him dead got a bad end, too,” adds Laura.
Julius: Julius smiles at that, then adds, “Wot wuz yo’ ship?”
“As fo’ me, I did most my time on uh cutter, Ol’ Minnetonka. She wuz one o’ dem eidy-doo footers.”
GM: “Last one was the Columbia,” says James, looking a little more at ease over the subject matter.
“The Minnetonka? Wasn’t that in… Vietnam?”
Julius: Julius somehow smiles wider, and begins walking, silently motioning Laura to flank James’ other side. Away from the other sharks that scent blood. “Bingo, git dis dawg uh bone,” he says with a light chuckle, before giving his krewemate a wink, “Maybe dis ’ere ersta does have uh pearl.”
Turning back to James, he adds, “Columbia. Dat’s uh… sub or uh cruiser?”
GM: “Sailor boys,” Laura smiles, contently following along.
Many, many other sharks scent blood, if the following stares anything to go by. Some more obviously than others.
But for now, they watch.
“Cruiser,” says James. “It’s in the Seventh Fleet.”
“You were in ‘Nam, though? Wasn’t that… when the Coast Guard actually got deployed?”
Julius: “Yessir, Long Blue Line all da way in Nam.”
And then as if struck by an idle curiosity, he adds, “Thibodeux. Dat’s uh mighty fine name. Where’s yamamma’n’em from ‘ere in N’walins?” On da Wes’ Bank, Backatown?"
GM: “Thanks,” James smiles. “And neither, actually, I grew up in the Upper Ninth. Could see all the ships around the canal.”
“You must have figured that would be a good career, then,” Laura nods. “Did that help with the homesickness when you were away?”
“They weren’t the same kinds of ships, but it did, yeah. I already knew ships.”
Julius: “Ah, da Nint,” Julius says, as if James has solved some great puzzle. If they were kine, this would be the point where he’d but his long arm around James’ shoulder in a paternal grip. But they aren’t kine, and so he doesn’t. Still, his voice takes on a quiet mien, as if letting James in on a secret:
“Lissen ‘ere, Mr. Thibodeux. I cain’t say wot ya ‘eard f’sure, but dis is da gospel truth. Folks like us aren’t much liked by da prince and his Fronatown frenz. Uptown’s still where dey got all dem shoits wid da lil’ gators on ‘em, an’ everyone has 59 rows o’ teeth. But dem teeth ain’t fo’ smilin’, not da friendly kind, no.”
“I ain’t lyin’ ta ya now, jus’ like it’s true dat da prince an’ his frenz ain’t got no love fo’ Gangrel,” he adds before jutting his head to his krewemate, “Ain’t dat rite, boo?”
GM: “We don’t have it as bad as the sewer rats,” Laura nods, “but we don’t even have our own primogen.”
“Even the sewer rats have a primogen.”
James looks slowly between the two. “Ah, so… this is more of the same Uptown bullshit.”
Julius: Julius’ leather balloon cheeks puff up, then blow out a whistle that lowers in pitch before turning into a gravely ‘boom’.
“Shootin’ straight as a guided missile. Mo’ of da same, yessir. Yep, da primogen was off’d, an’ da prince blamed it on yo clan’s whip, had him off’d, and ain’t never seen fit to allow ‘nuther. But da smart folks know he wus framed, the whip dat is. Now, Laura—dat’s dis dawl ’ere—she was real close to da primogen, so she knows da real culprit.”
Julius waits to see his ‘fish’ bites the bait.
GM: Laura smiles obligingly, her eyes briefly scanning the nearby faces. More than a few other Kindred are attentively watching the ongoing ‘entertainment.’
The other ‘Gangrel’ leans in close and whispers into James’ ear,
“It was the prince.”
James’ brow bunches. His mouth doesn’t fall open, but it opens. His expression looks fairly outraged as it cuts back to Julius.
Julius: “A little—,” Julius says, shooting Laura a lightly chiding look if not quizzical brow, “—which wus none too nice.”
“Nah, Laura’s long told me dat da real culprit is dis cat who calls hisself da Baron, Baron Cimitière. His krewe wus behind it, as his right hand cap, or dawl to be precise, is dis Gangrel, uh Lidia Kendall, by da Nint, see? Da Baron probably wants her by da Cabildo, wot we ’ere call da primogen council.”
Throughout the exchange, Julius leads the trio further away from the spectators, subtly seeking a spot more suiting a conspiracy.
GM: Laura smiles breezily.
“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”
“Julius is right, though. Kendall’s the oldest Gangrel after Meadows, see, who probably wouldn’t want the seat. So that puts her in line, if the Baron gets his way. She and him are real tight.”
James looks a bit confused at the purpose of the ‘joke,’ but frowns, “Okay. So the Baron killed the primogen. Why hasn’t the prince done anything?”
Christopher Guilbeau and Amaryllis DeCuir happen to follow in the same direction as the three.
Julius: Julius gives a shrug, “As I dun said, da prince don’t seem to care much fo’ Gangrel, ‘specially dose dat ain’t from Uptown an’ da like. But dere is somebody who does care, ain’t dat rite, boo?” The question is clearly aimed at Laura—whom he hopes provides the ‘right’ answer this time.
GM: “There sure is,” Laura smiles back. “He’s not an Uptown man himself, not really—prince won’t even let him in to that part of the city.”
“The prince does that?” asks James.
Laura’s eyebrows don’t raise. “Sure does, handsome. Prince decides who gets to go where—and he don’t much like licks who stray outside their lane. You’re not from Uptown, you best stay outside of Uptown.”
“Our man included.”
“His name’s Antoine Savoy. He runs the French Quarter.”
Julius: “Lawd of da Quartuh, dat’s ‘im. Nicest Creole in all da Crescent City. Fren’ of da Gangrel too. Like Laura ‘ere, who ain’t from round ‘ere, but also folks like Roxy Adrieux, who wus born an’ raised in N’walins. He’s jus’ like da Quartuh, ‘cepts all kinds, frenz to both po’ an’ rich; crackers, niggers, an’ gooks, and throws da best God-damned parties in N’walins and nort of anywhere.”
Julius continues strolling while giving his car salesman pitch, “An’ unlike da prince, who only likes Catlicks, or da Baron who only ‘cepts folks dat are into gris-gris, Lord Savoy, he lets folks pick der own fait. Catlick, Voodoo, Invictus, e’en Anarchs. City’s got mo’ den a few Anarchs, but most and mo’ have joined Lord Savoy, ‘specially after one of da prince’s Uptown elder fren wus drinkin’ young licks fo’ dinnuh, and supposedly mind-fuckin’ so dey didn’t ’member.”
“Why, Amaryllis ’ere—,” he says, gesturing casually at the following Toreador, with a volume clearly loud enough for the two Anarchs to hear, “-wus one of dem, allegedly, might e’en still be, according to her blood-mama, a harpy and new fren of Savoy.”
“But I can see dey’re comin’ to recruit yo ass to da Anarchs, cap, or what’s left of dem dat still kisses da prince’s ring. So we’ll let dem,” he says, making a sauntering backstep as if permitting the other Kindred to approach, before slipping down his glasses to give James look eye-to-eye, “But jus’ mind wot we told ya about who’s frenz with da Uptowners, and who ain’t wit da Gangrels.”
Julius: Still hefting the wrapped box, Julius smoothly reaches into his suit to flourish a business card for the Evergreen Planatation’s jazz club. “But if you wanna see fo’ yoself, swing by dis address, ‘morrow night fo’ one of Savoy’s parties. I’ll introduce you an’ all, so no… slips like you had tonight.”
“After all, you got tree nights—and if you play yo cards right, maybe mo’,” he adds with a parting wink.
GM: The sales pitch rolls from Julius’ glib tongue like notes from a well-maintained trombone. His audience can do naught but follow along—one seemingly wholly enspelled by the music, the other in conscious appreciation of that music’s enspelling quality.
James only looks away to look at Amaryllis, who pretends to be talking with Christopher. He frowns at her.
“Damn,” says James when the ‘music’ finishes. “I’d heard a thing about the masked city in New Orleans, but I didn’t have any idea about all of… that. I figured being vampires made Uptown and Back o’ Town moot.”
He looks at the card and tucks it into his jacket’s inner pocket.
“And I was going to ask, yeah,” says James. “That… other Kindred seemed pretty serious about only three nights.”
“Philip Maldonato,” supplies Laura. “He’s the seneschal.”
She runs a hand along James’ shoulder and winks.
“All laws got loopholes, handsome. You worry about three nights in three nights. I might not be from here, but I know: nothing is difficult here, unless it has to be. Ain’t that right, Jules?”
Julius: “Dey don’t call it da Big Easy fo’ nuttin,” the Caitiff replies with a hearty laugh that can’t help but flash his fangs.
“Hope to see you’s by the club ‘morrow, Mr. Thibodeux—an’ if you do, tell ’em Papa Juju sent ya.”
GM: “Papa Juju,” repeats James. “I think I’ll do just that.” He extends a hand for the Caitiff to shake.
The two Anarchs continue to act like they’re only talking among themselves.
Julius: Julius returns it with a bass-drum shake of his own.
GM: James’ grip is firm, but has nothing on the quarterback turned decades-old Caitiff.
“That’s some grip,” he remarks, eyebrows raised.
He turns to Laura after Julius lets go. “And y-”
“I’m Laura. Want to fuck?”
She looks him over with an appreciative smile.
James raises his eyebrows, then says,
Laura’s smile widens. She gives him a beckoning look, then heads outdoors to the sculpture garden. He follows after.
Julius: Julius laughs with a prurient grin. “Yo dink ma grip is tight, jus’ wait till you feel hers.” He then smoothly pushes his glasses back up, before returning the way the trio came, so his path crosses right by the young Anarchs. As he and Laura do so, Julius widely smiles at the Anarchs, as if he’s a Creole Kris Kringle delivering a present. “Course, you’s two is also invited. Always got an invitation waitin’ fo’ y’all by da Quartuh. I know yo mama, Ms. DeCuir, wud be jus’ peaches an’ cream to see y’all, as would Shep an’ da rest of da Anarchs dere.”
“Either way, you’s lookin’ as fine as Friday, Ms. DeCuir—as usual.”
Glancing at the ex-prince’s ex-scion, he adds, “Mr. Guilbeau, hope yo family’s doin’ well.”
GM: The tall, blond-haired, broad-shouldered, and handsome Ventrue just gives the Caitiff an aloof and faintly contemptuous look. Like ‘the help’ at a posh hotel is trying to start a conversation with him.
“Funny,” says Amaryllis. She’s a lovely-faced and dark-skinned young woman with long hair and suggestive curves. Let it not be said her own sire would Embrace a 50-plus old man.
She looks his clothes up and down.
“So how many of those are knockoffs?”
Julius: Except some do say that her sire embraced a 50-plus old man. Namely the one standing before her right now.
Nevertheless, Julius flashes a congenial smile: “If you’s gotta ask, Ms. Amaryllis, den it means I don’t wear ‘em cuz I cain’t afford da real thang. Some of us jus’ love da Masquerade a lil’ mo’ den others. Foolin’ an’ farce. In da end, we all wear masks, some jus’ not on our faces. Like yo mama’s wings tonight, or Mr. Guilbeau pretendin’ to be an Anarch cus his daddy don’t need him ‘board da Alystra. Den ’gain, I lots of folks dink his high-clan talents are wasted dere too. Why, I coulda swore Mr. Gui wus jus’ talkin’ bout dat da udder day, how he could see Mr. Guilbeau finally gittin’ to shine wid da High Rollers.” He shrugs, “But wot da hell I know? I’m jus’ a po’ ass clanless.”
At that half-truth, his smiles returns four-fold. And just like his clothes, that smile might be the genuine article or just an uncannily convincing mask.
He then dances away, leaving that mystery for them to ponder. Also, the Caitiff knows it’s best not to linger amongst lions without your own pride, especially when you’re a Caitiff.
GM: Christopher steps in front of him.
He’s a big man. Thick muscles on top of his already tall and wide frame.
The Ventrue’s expression is still disdainful, but it’s no longer a cool disdain.
“I challenge you, trash.”
His voice is loud. Numerous nearby Kindred swivel their heads.
Christopher doesn’t quite smile. Or anything even close to it. But it feels like someone else could, when he says,
“Or you can apologize for those words.”
Julius: Julius’ smile thins, as do his gator-red eyes behind his shades. The dimeback sizes up his competition across the scrimmage line. Christopher’s a touch taller, but Julius has the longer reach and bulkier frame. Neither is a stranger to fistfighting, nor is either a true master. Christopher’s blood is of princely lineage, but the Caitiff—likely due to his longer Requiem—has better honed his Cainite gifts. Luck would tip the scales, but Julius knows the odds—the real ones—would be in his favor. Yet, as Vũng Rô Bay had taught him, you can win a fight but lose the war.
Then again, not all battles are fought with fists.
As such, the congenial mien doesn’t entirely leave Julius’ face. He does pause, though, to allow the crowd to clearly turn and watch the show. Then he replies, his voice clear and sharp as a trumpet:
“An’ which woids were dose? When I called myself po’? Okay, I ‘pologize fo’ lyin’. I ain’t po’. I’m rich, actually, got millions that I earned wid my own knuckles an’ brains. No handouts from daddy or such.”
“Or wus it when I said you’s had high-clan talents? Dat be a shame to apologize fo’ dat, cuz it’s gottah be true. How could it not, wot wid you being childe of His Grace, da Most Marvelous Marcel Guilbeau, Duke of Baton Rouge, Interpreter and Librettist? I an’ udders look fo’ward to seein’ great dings from you’s.”
“An’ surely you cain’t be sayin’ I should apologize fo’ saying His Grace needs you’s or any other neonate to run the Alysta? Why, he wus a prince, an’ uh great one of uh great city, an’ surely will be once more! He’s a pillar of da Invictus and Camarilla, an’ a delight to dis city. So I’ll not apologize fo’ dat, for dat would be besmirchin’ his great dignitas—an’ not I no’ nobody else should dare do such uh thing, for dat would make one lower den trash.”
Julius then waits for the Ventrue’s answer—and he is no longer smiling.
GM: Elysium watches avidly.
A duel can only end in one of two ways: one Kindred wins, the other loses.
Easy path to glory, at someone else’s expense. One bridge forward and another bridge burned.
So Julius ripostes.
Dig becomes flattery. Slight becomes praise—and Christopher finds himself disarmed of his own weapon.
He quickly raises a shield to fend off the Caitiff’s advance.
“Hmph. I suppose you didn’t know what you were saying,” he declares loftily, in a somewhat bored tone. Like he’s doing Julius a favor.
“You should be more careful how you say things, though. You could offend somebody.”
Yet, though such words may salve the Ventrue’s pride, and save some measure of face, there is little of Julius’ same grace or cleverness in them—and few of Elysium’s ever-watchful eyes can deny that the Caitiff’s words were chosen with great care.
Julius: Julius’ smile returns like an encore. Strong. Hot. Confident. Far more subtle, though, is how he waits for Christopher to move first. Perhaps he’s being polite—after all, shouldn’t the “trash” defer and wait for the blue blood? Perhaps. But the reality is that it means that Christopher is the one to physically back away, and thus back down. It’s a subtle chord, but it harmonizes well with the melody of their verbal exchange.
He doesn’t push it further, though. Some crowds like ‘unnecessary roughness’, but refs don’t. And in the Camarilla, the refs are dirty as the Ninth Ward’s sewers. Maybe dirtier.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
Julius: Julius can’t help but nod and smile as he passes through the crowd, even as he knows each and every one of them would’ve gladly lapped up his blood if he had lost. Then again, a musician’s audience is little different—though their bloodlust tends to be more figurative. Usually.
With that thought, he saunters away, seeking Marceline Duval. He finds her in the company of Accou, and ironically enough, Marcel Guilbeau. He stays a respectable distance from the two former princes, but does saunter over to a far more friendly, or at least familiar, face when he spots Jade, a fellow Bourbon Sanctified, in the group’s periphery.
Support: Jade’s eyes move from the elders and their game of chance to the new face in the crowd that has come to observe. Newish, at least; he’s been around years longer than her few for all that he doesn’t have the clout to back it up. A step sideways and she’s near enough to him that she can converse in a lowered voice, though not so close that she appears friendly.
“Shame their PR ended up in Houston.”
Julius: “Whose PR is dat, sug?” the Caitiff asks quietly, keeping his gaze ahead at the ex-princes.
Support: “The Golds,” Jade tells him with a vague gesture over her shoulder toward the junior Guilbeau and Veronica’s other childe.
Julius: “Ah, dem,” Julius replies softly with his sousaphone timbre. “Thought you’s wus talkin bout da Navy’s Public Affairs. Cuz Mr. Thibodeux coulda used der help.”
He shifts. “But we done lost uh lotta folks to Houston.”
“And uh helluva lot more to da hurricane itself.”
There’s a bitter chord to that last statement, but it’s not directed at the Toreador.
Support: “Mm, there’s been a lot of foot in mouth tonight,” Jade agrees with a smirk. “But this was after the hurricane. Apparently he tried to stop a massacre and was exiled for the trouble.”
Julius: No stranger to the minor key, the jazz funeral leader follows the rhythm. “Oh, dat’s rite. Da hound’s kid, Hez… somethin. Didn’t know he wus der PR. Figure’d it’d be der rose, or da Big Sis kid.”
Support: “Certainly isn’t your new friend there.” Amusement dances across Jade’s face. “And it certainly couldn’t be the thrall.”
“I’m sure he landed on his feet. Make the right friends and things become less bleak.”
Julius: “Speakin’ of makin da rite frenz,” Julius adds in a low voice, “Mr. Thibodeux might be joinin da party tomorrow.”
Support: She gives Julius a tiny nod in answer, the barest dip of her chin.
“A good host would tell him the theme,” she murmurs in response.
Julius: “Mmhmm,” Julius says, like a bullfrog savoring a fly. “Gotta first see if he survives Ms. Melton’s jelly-roll. Ain’t too often somebody beats you’s to uh sossidge shoot-da-chute.”
To those close or keen enough to hear the low-spoken remark, it’s clear Julius’ words have no acrimony or venom, but are rather matter-of-fact if not blasé, like someone idly commenting on the shortness of a rain-shower or an early blossomed hydrangea.
Support: “I only pursue attractive things, Papa Juju,” Jade remarks idly. “Desperation isn’t attractive.”
Julius: Julius smiles like the rain-shower has past: “Ah, you rite, f’sure, though some like Mr. Silvestri say dat pursuit is attractive in an’ of itself.” He shrugs, then adds, “Den ‘gain, what’s attractive in uh lover versus uh shovelhead are mighty diff’rent. For most folks at least. Dose at da Dungeon might disagree.”
He shrugs once more. “Anywho, da seventh ward has mo’ need of shovelheads den lovers dese days,” he says in reference to the one of the main fronts between Savoy and the Baron’s factions.
Support: “Pursuit is attractive. My sire would agree; we both enjoy a challenge.”
At the mention of Silvestri she sweeps her eyes through the crowd of assembled licks.
“No doubt Miss Melton will be able to show him where things go.” Easy convert, she means, now that they’ve extended such a personal welcome. “I’m certain he’ll be grateful for the lesson.” And stick around in the Quarter to make himself useful on that front.
The jazzman inspects his fingernails. They’re clean. He doesn’t bother checking his hands, though. He knows they’re dirty. Not physically, but dirty all the same.
“Bin meanin to axe you’s,” he whispers with a slow pour of his liquid-deep voice. “But if it crosses da line, jus tell me to git lost an’ I will.”
He pauses a moment, then, before proceeding, “You got dat Turk crib, rite, da Gardette? If you evah consider subinfeudin it, let’s jus say I might know uh buyer willin’ to pay mo’ den uh few dollahs.”
Support: “I do,” she confirms.
“I’ll hear out your contact.”
Julius: Julius continues his facade of idly watching Marcel and Accou converse, but Jade does not have to wait long before the trombonist replies:
“Dat party is a bit shy. Wants to sus’ out if der offer is acceptable, don’t wunna risk upsettin one of der fellow Bourbons. Makes me da middleman.”
Julius’ face then turns slightly toward Jade as he adds, “Lissenin to udder lil’ birdies, woid is you’d like to git a vacation or two or ten to da Windy City. Drivin’ uh thousand miles ain’t no gud, an’ flyin ain’t much bettah—an’ sometimes a lot mo’ worse. But da rivuh? Ain’t as fast as flyin, but less oversight, an’ way mo’ shade an’ comfort den uh car, van, or wotnot. Especially if you’s git a private yacht. Dey cost mo’ den uh few dollahs, though, half uh mil or mo’, and den dere’s all da paperwoik. Lots of it. An’ knowin which ports an’ folks to grease or avoid an’ how.”
“Now you could do uh private charter, but dere’s mo’ paperwoik, mo’ oversight, an’ you’s cain’t jus up an’ git goin whenevah you be wantin.”
“So I’m authorized to offer you’s a private yacht wid all da paperwork, complete wid membership in da Lakeview Southern Yacht Club wid all of dose perks. Probably could use it to rub shoulders, reel in some whales to Flawless, too. An’ all da vacations to da Windy City or beyond. Da Crescent City is one of da biggest ports in da world.”
“An’ in return, dey want Gardette. A lil’ secret jus between you’s, me, dem, and Lord Savoy, who’s gud wid it, or will be if you are.”
And then, as if sharing an almost irrevelant afterthought, he adds, “Yacht is uh ’03, uh 65 footah. Used to belong to Rich Towers, da famous kine actor.” He shrugs at the last factoid.
Support: “Our little secret,” Jade muses. She finally turns to face him fully, one brow lifted.
“I’ll think about it.”
Julius: Julius nods. If his gossip-alleged ‘sister’ wishes to contact him, she knows how—even beyond their regular co-appearances at Savoy’s club. And he’s willing to sweat. Metaphorically. If history predicts the future, Gardette manse isn’t going anywhere—unlike the yacht. Then again, that’s one of its main draws. Freedom. Its high-class status symbol and hedonic comforts don’t hurt, either.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Marcel Guilbeau publicly challenges Accou Poincaré to a game of chance. The wager he proposes is Accou’s casquette girl, a potent status symbol among the city’s elders. The challenge draws the interest of many Kindred. Marcel has been lagging behind Accou’s in the horse race to position himself as Vidal’s heir: he is no doubt seeking to advance his position through besting the Toreador primogen, even despite the friendly setting.
Accou stands less to gain from the water. He’s already ahead of Marcel.
On the other hand, refusal will cost him face, and he is behind Donovan himself in the ‘race’.
Accou glibly questions the growing audience of nearby Kindred what prize he should ask from Marcel, if he wins the game.
Support: “What’s the worth of a casquette girl?” Jade drawls in an undertone to the lick beside her. “His boat?”
GM: “The Alystra is worth around $150 million,” answers Anthony Brodowski. “Which one would you take, if you had the choice?”
Support: “Seems rather obvious.”
GM: “I’d take the casquette girl,” answers Brodowski. “You can always make more money.”
“I’d take the $150 million,” says Duke Elmhearst with a vaguely scornful look.
Julius: “Material worth ain’t da matter at hand,” offers Julius in his low, liquidy thunderous voice. “Da filles la casquette are livin history, uh part of da past dat has outlived it, much like da Kindred. But so too is da Alystra. It’s far mo’ dan simply money. Dat ship done carries wid it a noble past, an in her wake, she remembers wot wus an wot wus lost, jus like da girls.”
GM: “Well-spoken, Mr. Baudoin,” replies Marcel.
“If there’s one thing I’ve learned over my Requiem, it’s that material things are easy to acquire and easy to lose. But unless you’re worried about dying soon,” and here the ex-prince cracks a smile echoed on a few of the watching faces, “there’s little point in getting impatient over when fate will deal you a winning hand. You’ll get your lucky streak, sooner or later.”
“But history? Once that’s gone, it’s gone forever. They say everything has a price, but to me it feels disrespectful to assign a monetary worth to a casquette girl. Perhaps the only fair thing to wager would be another piece of history.”
“Soundly reasoned, Lord Librettist,” Accou smiles back. “I, too, believe it would be only fair to wager one piece of history for another. Are all here of like mind that the Alystra is of equivalent historic value to a fille à la cassette, or would another piece of history be a more suitable wager?”
Support: Jade tilts her head to one side, as if considering the offer.
“Where will you go without the Alystra?” Jade quietly asks Anthony, as if the game is already won. Everyone nearby has considered the implications, haven’t they? It’d knock Marcel right out of the line if he can’t hold onto a boat.
Surely that is a worthy prize in and of itself.
GM: “They probably have money outside the Alystra, Miss Kalani,” says Amaryllis DeCuir in a vaguely patronizing tone. “I’m sure they’d manage.”
Support: “You’re missing the point, darling.”
Jade smiles at her, as if it’s to be expected.
GM: Amaryllis smiles back, like Jade’s too stupid to have considered her own point.
“We’d likely go somewhere on dry land, for one,” Brodowski answers with a smile of his own. “Perhaps we’d even enjoy the change of scenery.”
Julius: Julius listens to the spiraling conversations. He’s already spoken up once and acquitted himself well. The Caitiff knows better than to push his luck. Again. But that doesn’t mean he can’t watch and listen. Learning typically requires both—and he wagers there are lessons to be learned from the sociopolitical dance of his elders as well as juniors.
GM: “I would require someone to manage the Alystra, should fortune smile upon me,” declares Accou. “Perhaps you would be interested in continuing to, Lord Librettist.”
“Very generous of you, Alder Councilor,” answers Marcel. “I suppose since my household and I aren’t in any danger of being left homeless, that settles it. Will you accept the Alystra against your casquette girl, Alder Councilor?”
“I shall,” answers Accou. “What game, then, we are to play for these wagers? I would normally propose chess, but you asked for a game of chance, Lord Librettist.”
GM: “So I did, Alder Councilor. Perhaps our audience has further suggestions?” he inquires.
Support: “Have a quarter, Mr. Browdowski?” asks Jade.
GM: A few calls go out for baccarat, poker, and other casino games before the Ventrue produces a quarter and flips it in the air towards Jade.
The action draws some stares and quiets down the Kindred offering suggestions.
Everyone prefers to watch something happen.
Support: Still, deft fingers pluck it out of the air, and she winks at the stiff as she moves to a more prominent locale.
“50/50 odds. Best two of three? Three of five? Or just a single flip?”
GM: “I wonder, is a coin toss really a game?” asks Ryllie. “Games take a while. There’s strategy, interplay, back and forth between the players.”
The audience’s eyes settle on Jade.
Support: “Tell me, Mr. Guilbeau. Is the coin flip offered as a game at your casino?”
She waits for the expected “no,” and nods her head.
“And why is that, Mr. Guilbeau? I know we’re all looking for razzle dazzle, or at least my sister is based on her open scorn, but I’m sure there’s a mathematical reason, isn’t there? Something to do with house odds, isn’t it? Because in baccarat, blackjack, and roulette the odds favor the house, don’t they? And people have this grand debate about luck versus skill in poker, but all the professionals—those are the ones who know more about it than us, Ryllie—they agree that it isn’t luck at all. The casinos only let them play because they take a rake from every hand, so it’s guaranteed money in their pockets.”
Jade considers her little sis.
“You know what a coin flip has? Even probability. I can ask Papa Juju to belt us out a tune if you need something more invigorating, though. Maybe get some smoke machines or sequins for you.”
GM: Titters, low laughs, and condescending smirks greet the Toreador’s barbed words.
Ryllie’s eyes smolder with scorn as she assumes an equally warmthless smile.
“A coin flip’s not actually even, Jade. You do know that too, right… that fast enough Kindred can basically decide, what side turns up?”
She considers her alleged broodmate ‘thoughtfully’ with a nailed hand raised to her lips.
“Hmm… maybe not. And you know, baccarat does have even odds—between the players, and not the banker? That game seems a lot more fair to me, unless you were volunteering to do the coin flip. I guess with a Kindred who’s graceless enough, it’d be close enough to random…”
More smirks and subdued laughs ripple across the predatory faces as they shift back to Jade.
Support: “Darling, do you really think we can influence a coin toss and not any of the other suggestions? That we can’t stack a deck the same way? What limited imagination.”
Amusement dances across her face.
“I was going to say that I shouldn’t flip the coin because of my shared blood with a contender. I was going to say that you shouldn’t either, for the same reason. But I’ve heard you still have your fangs planted in a certain someone’s back end, so I guess that’d make you an unbiased party.”
“And it’s not,” Jade says, inspecting a nail, “as if our sire considers you blood anymore.”
GM: Veronica, watching silently as her ‘childer’ feud, only sneers at Jade’s words.
“Funny hearing that from the city’s biggest slut,” Ryllie retorts furiously, eyes flashing as her fangs lengthen in her mouth. “I bet if he’d approached you, you’d have sunk your fangs around his cock and begged for seconds. If half the Kindred here even knew what you did behind closed doors, and with w-!”
“Enough,” Accou preempts. The elder’s face is still as marble, and his eyes equally cool as they fall upon Jade’s ‘broodmate.’
“Many call Elysium a place of reflection and contemplation. And so it is—your actions here reflect upon those beyond yourselves.” His unblinking eyes rest long upon Ryllie, then momentarily take in Jade as well.
“Comport yourselves appropriately.”
Ryllie grits her fangs but inclines her head.
She stares at Jade too, though, and something ugly burns within her eyes.
More titters, sneers, and whispers ripple throughout the crowd of spectating Kindred.
Support: “Yes, grandsire.”
She smirks openly at her broodmate while the laughter trickles in.
Julius: The jazzman, in contrast, does not smirk. There’s blood in the water, and far too many sharks. Not a safe place for one of the clanless. Still, he’s glad more of the blood is Amaryllis’ rather than Jade’s. As Remy used to say: “When one Bourbon bleeds, so do all the rest.” Then again, his former krewemate and priest is now ash on the wind.
But jus cuz da music stops, it don’t mean da memory cain’t keep it goin.
With that thought in mind, Julius steps forward. Time to distract the sharks, even if it means he has to play the bait. Briefly, or so he hopes.
He moves towards the pair of ex-princes. Not too close, but close enough to be seen waiting. Attentively. Expectantly. Respectfully. He’s paid and bled enough to learn that Invictus etiquette demands he wait to be recognized before speaking to such ‘betters’. And given Accou’s recently raised ire, he does not wish to foolishly tempt the elder’s wrath.
GM: The Toreador primogen regards Julius with that same initially cool look.
But Father Albright liked to say, too, that sometimes saying nothing is better than saying anything. When Clarice was in one of “her moods”, sometimes saying anything just made things worse. “All it does is give the cat some string to chase after. Better just to not give it any.”
A brief moment passes, as the ‘cat’ looks for signs of motion, but finds none.
“Would you speak, Mr. Baudoin?” invites Accou.
Julius: Step 1. Get the sharks’ attention.
Step 2. Don’t get eaten by the sharks.
Well, here’s I go, me.
“Only if it pleases da rite most gallant Alder Councilor Poincaré and mighty fine Lord Librettist Guilbeau—an only wid da aim of pleasing y’all.”
“Da latter did graciously ax fo’ further suggestions from da likes of lil’ ol’ us. So given mo’ contemplation, I might humbly propose uh game dressed wid both coins and cards. After all, since you’s both wagerin fo’ uh piece of history, it wud only seem fittin to play uh game of chance steeped in one too, no?”
“Jus like da filles la casquette, dis game rite came from France, an wus often played by sailors to determine who had to stay behind on da boat or go git da company of da ladies ova by da sho’. Like da owners of da casquette girls’ an da fortunes which flow through da Alystra, dis game’s had lots of names. Vieux garçon, le Pouilleux, Le Puant, Pierre Noir, Le Valet Noir, or wot caps wid da vulgar tongue call, Old Boy.”
“It’s uh rite propah game of chance, though some bluffin cain’t hurt. You’s can play it wid jus two, too. An if y’all want to make it uh bit spicier wid some mo’ suspense, git somebody to randomly choose uh card as da Pouilleux by removin it from da pack face down. But who shud git dat honor, hmm? Seems to me dat might be where da coin—or coins—come in.”
He turns to fully face Marcel, praying to Clarice’s ghost—or at least memory—that he’s not about to join her just yet.
“Lord Librettist Guilbeau, yo childe has already done got uh coin an given to one of Alder Councilor Poincaré’s bloodline. If dat wud still please you’s, den Alder Councilor Poincaré might have one of his bloodline rite do da same to one of yo’s. At dat point da coins by chance cud tell us who gits to pick da Pouilleux. Uh game widdin uh game, if it pleases y’all.”
The jazzman’s solo hopefully done, he bows to the ex-princes as any stage performer should, and steps back, waiting to see if he’s lauded, deadpanned, or just made dead. Again.
GM: Silence hangs over Elysium as the two ex-princes consider Julius’ words.
Veronica isn’t the only harpy present. Defallier is there, too. And Beaumont. Plus their hangers-on. They, and so many other Kindred, stare at Julius. Silently. Expectantly. Pitilessly. Perhaps—no, assuredly—already thinking cruel words and sharpening their knives in anticipation of the Caitiff being declared open season.
Their eyes return to the ex-princes. Like a coliseum crowd seeking an emperor’s thumbs up or thumbs down.
“They call it Mistigri and Le Pissous too,” says Marcel. “It’s also Svarte Petter, Černý Petr, Black Peter, Pit Hitam, Swarte Pyt, Svarti Pétur, Musta Pekka, Piotruś, Zwarte Piet, Sorteper, Mutzuris, and Asinello, though some of those names are just ‘Pierre Noir’ in other languages. Personally, I think the most apt name for it is a Dutch one—pijkezotjagen, or ‘chasing the jack of spades’.”
He cracks a smile. “Sometimes I think the game has more names than cards.”
“But Mr. Baudoin speaks truly. It’s an older game than most of the Kindred here. There can be skill as well as chance involved, and to my mind the best games use some of both. I’m hard-pressed to think of any more appropriate for us to play tonight—or of a more appropriate gesture than for my other childe to pass your other grandchilde a second coin, Alder Councilor.”
He, too, pauses as he awaits the the elder ex-prince’s reaction.
But he does not wait overlong.
“Symmetry is the mother of all beauty,” concurs Accou.
He smiles faintly. He does not look at Julius.
“Perhaps we might retire briefly, Lord Librettist, to collect your other childe, some playing cards, and my casquette girl.”
“Splendid, Alder Councilor,” agrees Marcel. “Shall we reconvene here in half an hour?”
“With pleasure, Lord Librettist. Perhaps we might seek Master Elgin’s input, as well, on an appropriate venue in which to play.”
“A splendid idea, Alder Councilor. I’ll see to the cards.”
“Very good, Lord Librettist. I shall see you again soon.”
The two Kindred incline their heads towards one another, then depart. A few hangers-on trail after both. Other Kindred disperse, the entertainment temporarily over, though many of them gossiping among themselves: either Marcel is going to lose his boat, or Accou his casquette girl. What spectacle this will be! Neither Marcel nor Accou look at Julius. In fact, from the chatter, it sounds as if the various Kindred are somehow attributing Julius’ idea to the Ventrue ex-prince.
Still, Marcel pauses to murmur something to Brodowski.
The younger Ventrue meets Julius’ gaze as his sire departs, then invitingly glances towards the route leading outside.
The ex-prince doubtlessly doesn’t want to be seen as too friendly towards the Bourbon Caitiff.
Julius: It’s a familiar song. It might as well be his personal anthem. He heard it constantly as a black boy growing up in the dark heart of the Jim Crow era. Segregated schools. Back of the bus. Color lines cutting across bathrooms, drinking fountains, pools, neighborhoods, jobs, lives.
Ain’t no ‘Caitiff Only’ rooms at Elysium, e’en rite here in da South’s dank jockstrap, so dat’s sayin somethin mighty gawddamn bad bout da kine.
He heard it in the military. Off in Nam. Come up with a good idea? Save the ship from going down? Ain’t gonna be the draft-skirting black seaman who gets the credit, but a sonavabitch NCO or captain who gets the promotion, the medal, the praise.
Gawddamn, I wus Caitiff ‘fore I wus Caitiff, me. Fuck if death’s gonna change dat.
Julius gives a slow, slight nod to the blue blood’s unspoken invitation, then heads for the exit.
And fuck if death’s gonna change wot I do.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Brodowski walks outside. The twelve-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA is one of the most important sculpture installations in the United States, with over 90 sculptures situated on a beautifully landscaped site amongst meandering footpaths, reflecting lagoons, Spanish moss-laden 200-year-old live oaks, mature pines, magnolias, camellias, and pedestrian bridges.
Some other Kindred are about too, admiring their own sculptures and conversing amongst themselves.
Anthony Brodowski is an emaciated, rail-thin boy in his mid- or late teens. He is exceptionally gaunt even for a vampire, with hollow cheeks and dark discoloration under his watery gray-blue eyes. His neck-length brown hair is thin and wispy. He’s fairly short for a man and stands somewhere between a head and half a head under Julius. He’s dressed in a casual suit gray suit and white button-up shirt without a necktie. The tailored fit complements his bony, stick-like limbs surprisingly well.
“Prince Guilbeau was pleased by your suggestion, Mr. Baudoin,” the Ventrue declares as they walk.
Julius: Julius sips on that preciously scant praise like a snow-cone amidst a heat wave. Taking in the ex-prince’s youngest childe, Julius once again decides he likes him. Few Invictus neonates come from a low-class background, but here Anthony is. Death becomes him. The black working class turned counterfeit mogul respects that, even if the Caitiff can’t help but envy Anthony’s prestigious bloodline and public access to a powerful sire. But the black man doesn’t linger long on such covetous thoughts. He’s long used to others having more, or just having it easier, than him.
Consequently, his smile is sincere as he replies, “Lissenin to dat pleases me plenty, Lord Commissioner Brodowski, specially when such uh message is delivered by one who rite well so pleases Prince Guilbeau an da city’s Unconquered.”
GM: Brodowski smiles back, perhaps also as a result of Julius using his proper title.
“That’s most kind of you to say, Mr. Baudoin. I’m impressed you know the First Estate’s modes of address.”
Today’s kine might call it a ‘microaggression’, but the compliment sounds sincere for what it is.
“Plenty of Kindred pick up a few of them, but you’ve made enough of a study to know mine, my sire’s, and the alder councilor’s.”
Julius: Julius’ smiles holds like a long, bright cornet note. It’s not just that the compliment sound sincere. More important to him, it’s hard-earned. Over his Requiem, it cost a lot to learn those titles—even as it cost him a lot more not to know them. So how can a businessman not smile when an investment pays its first dividend?
“All dis buttah, Lord Commissioner Brodowski, an I’m gonna git thinkin’ I’m uh slice of cornbread.”
His smile only slightly dims as his next words take on a more serious, if still cordial, to…“But if uh street-hustlin entrepreneur is legit bout dealin wid uh Fortune 500, he bettah learn who’s da CFO, CMO, CPO, an uh whole lotta mo’.”
“Or as ma parraine done said, if you’s wantin to earn uh seat at da table, you’s best be knowin who’s already sittin in its chairs.”
And there it is. His ambition, sauntering out naked save for a see-through slip of modesty.
GM: “So you’d like to join the Invictus,” says Brodowski thoughtfully as they walk.
“You won’t find many friends on the Prima Invicta,” he answers, frankly.
“But my sire is more open-minded, and inclined towards the view that potential is potential, no matter where it comes from. I was homeless, scavenging out of garbage bins, and dying of AIDS when he found me.”
“And he is mindful of the fact you could have escalated rather than deescalated things with my brother-in-blood.”
It’s a milder way of phrasing things than “refrained from further embarrassing my brother-in-blood”, but the words again sound sincere enough.
Julius: Julius takes those comments in stride, both literal and figurative. He’s silent, however, for some time, as the musician well knows that the pause helps define the note.
When he does eventually speak, his smile is subdued like a cloud-sobered sun:
“Unconquered or not, wot is worthy of honor should be honored.”
GM: “Honor exists outside of the First Estate,” Brodowski concurs.
“In some ways, one could argue the covenant came into being as caretakers for another society’s honor. Have you made any study of Invictus history as well, Mr. Baudoin?”
Julius: “Uh lil, Lawd Commissioner, though not as much as I’d binlookin to, wot widdout uh gracious sire an mentor like yo own. F’sure, I heard my namesake Caesar done struck uh deal wid da covenant, fo’ his mortal kin to rule da day an da Invictus to rite rule da nite.”
GM: Brodowski nods.
“Each one an emperor of their respective domains. But what’s interesting is that some sources say this was truly meant to be an arrangement of equals—or at least something closer to one than Kindred tonight might envision. The Kindred who made up the early Invictus viewed themselves as Romans first and Kindred second. The Invictus and the Roman state, to these Kindred, were the same institution, and one could not exist without the other. The Invictus saw themselves as filling a function within the empire that the Caesars could not.”
“Obviously, this view changed over time when the Invictus outlasted the Caesars. Tonight’s Kindred predominately view themselves as Kindred first and citizens of mortal nations second. After all, even here in New Orleans, Prince Vidal’s praxis has existed under the rule of three different sovereign countries—Spain, briefly France, and the United States. But to early Invictus Kindred, such a thing would have been inconceivable. Without the Roman state, the Invictus served no purpose—no more than the Praetorian Guard served a purpose without an emperor to protect.”
Julius: ‘Papa’ Juju considers that revelation in context of his own state or people ‘ova da rivah in da Pernt till da bridge’.
“Jus as bin uh king widdout subjects ain’t mean nuttin.”
GM: “Indeed. Regardless, Mr. Baudoin, this was a somewhat long-winded way of agreeing with your point—that honorable things should be honored, even outside the First Estate. Because when the covenant was established, its honor was not an end unto itself. The Roman state’s was.”
Julius: The Vet-turned-vampire gives a respectful bow. “Ma gratitude, Lawd Commissioner, as dere ain’t really no such thang as long-winded when we cain’t rite get winded no mo’.”
GM: Brodowski chuckles.
“True enough, Mr. Baudoin.”
“Prince Guilbeau will be interested in speaking with you himself, should his wager with the alder councilor go well. What’s a method of contact we might use to reach you?”
Julius: “Yo sire is most magnanimous, Lawd Commissioner,” the Caitiff says with another bow, even as he produces a pair of business cards. The first is soft-touch satin, solid black with the raised black lettering of Black Vyper Vaping, LCC and its equally dark smoke-serpent logo. The second is the first’s opposite, a white matte, hard-plastic card featuring a riotously colored painting reminiscent of Picasso’s Ronde au Soleil, complete with abstract, bright-hued dancers, plants, and sun. Its contact information is on its reverse, alongside the bright green lettering for Vonce & Bacci Advocacy Strategies Group.
Julius provides the briefest exposition of both (“rulin a lil bit of da day an nite cain’t hurt”), before explaining to have Marcel’s representative call either of the listed numbers, enter the code 1217 at the automated interactive response system, and leave a voice message for “Mark” to call back at whatever number or address Marcel wishes.
Thereafter, he favors the younger neonate with a renewed smile:
“An should fortune be favorin us all tonite, Lawd Commissioner, wud you’s be havin any recommendations of a house-boat-warmin gift for Prince Guilbeau?”
GM: Brodowski accepts the two business cards, concurs that “things have changed since the Invictus’ early nights” with a faint smile, and even compliments the “colorful” (figurative and literal) nature of the cards. Casinos, he adds, can have “colorful” ones of their own. The business card he returns Julius, seemingly as a matter of courtesy, resembles a playing card but with crowns in place of diamonds, hearts, clubs, or jacks. It’s got a dark gray background with stylish pale gold lettering that reads:
Chief Financial Officer
A phone number, website, email address, and street address are included beneath.
The younger neonate is still young enough to use the same name.
Julius: The art and manufacturing aficionado gives an appreciative whistle at Anthony’s card, which he appraisingly rubs between his fingers.
“Dat’s rite gud-lookin, Lawd Commissioner. Ain’t no common 14 or 16 pernt stock dere. Gotta’s be… 22, hmm, or 24 pernt, jus like uh pack of Bicycle. High quality PVC plastic finish. Ain’t gotta worry bout no water, wear, tear, or time. Tough. High-class. Premium.”
His smiles becomes a higher Watt.
“Suits you’s f’sure.”
GM: Brodowski raises his eyebrows.
“You know your way around business cards, Mr. Baudoin. I’d be curious what else you do.”
As far as housewarming gifts, Prince Guilbeau’s latest paramour, Josua Cambridge, has recently developed a fondness for wearing (sexualized) women’s clothing and accessories, which Prince Guilbeau enjoys seeing him in. Clearly impressed by the extent of Julius’ manufacturing knowledge, Brodowski supplies Josua’s measurements. The Toreador neonate has started to enjoy crossdressing only recently, so his wardrobe is still limited.
Gambling-related gifts are also always a safe “bet”, as are ones culturally, aesthetically, or historically linked to Baton Rouge. Marcel particularly enjoys a portrait he keeps in his office of the Old State Capitol building (which resembles a medieval castle located square in the middle of the city).
The ex-prince also has a taste for artistic depictions of Carthage, the ancient Phoenician city-state.
Julius: “Well den—,” the mogul replies with a grateful, if not altogether surprise-snuffed, smile, “—dat is most helpful, Lawd Commissioner, an most ’ppreciated, now.”
Not trusting himself to remember all the measurements by hand, he slides Anthony’s card in his pocket, from which he fishes out a phone, and one-handed uses its touchscreen and Grafitti-enabled shorthand to jot down the sartorial dimensions. So finished, he stows the phone.
Then, with a third bow, he says:
“Lawd Commissioner, I think yo sire is deservin an will be gittin many uh gifts, regardless of da wager’s outcome tonite. As are you, fo’ all you’s done fo’ me.”
“Wot is worthy of honor should f’sure be honored.”
GM: Brodowski offers an inclination of his head in return.
“And through honoring what is worthy of honor does oneself prove oneself worthy of honor, Mr. Baudoin.”
“My sire and I shall look to seeing what comes of this new association.”
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Natasha Preston gets into another argument with her own patron, Antoine Savoy, by publicly speaking out against the latest examples of Vidal’s tyranny.
“What do we think happened to Sterling? Tina Baker?”
Savoy raises that very same fact. They did do this last week. Preston doesn’t mince words. The prince has gotten even worse since last week. Sterling was snatched up by the Guard de Ville. Desirae Wells, unusually, hasn’t shown up to Elysium this week. Two hounds just took away Tina Baker.
“Come now, Nat,” Savoy says amiably. “We’re all here to unwind and appreciate some fine art. We can talk politics elsewhere.”
“Who is going to be next?” the Malkavian asks bluntly. “They were not even charged with anything!”
The pair’s ‘discussion’ has drawn more than a few spectators.
Support: Well. It’s not like the missing persons are actually anybody. But that’s how it starts, isn’t it?
First they came for the thin-bloods, and I did not speak out because I was not a thin-blood. Then they came for the Caitiff, and I did not speak out because I was not a Caitiff. Then they came for the Bourbons, and I did not speak out because I was not a Bourbon.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Julius: Similar thoughts run through Julius’ mind. Similar, but worse. After all, he’s not only a Bourbon, but a Caitiff. Clanless. Trash. One rung lower, one step lower to the chopping block. And the black man’s already been on that block. On in his case, a tree. Swinging as strange fruit. Not a soul raised a hand to help him. And that was just the kine.
He doesn’t expect better from Kindred. Far worse, actually.
Which is why he doesn’t speak up. Not here. Not now.
But he listens.
It’s not a new refrain, but each time he listens to it, he picks up new notes. Tonight, he’s struck again by how Preston can say what Savoy cannot—or does not politically want to say. It’s a savvy trick.
GM: Marcel might say something about quitting while one is ahead.
“Correct, Miss Kalani,” says Preston. “Self-interest should compel other Kindred to speak—for themselves. Anyone who commits a negative behavior will continue it if there are no consequences. It’s useful for the prince, isn’t it? Just ‘disappear’ anyone he wants to disappear! Forget explaining it, at this point! It’s much more convenient when he doesn’t have to, isn’t it? Stop abiding by any kind of rules. Just kill anyone he decides is better off dead.”
The Malkavian looks around the watching Kindred.
“How many of you could he decide are more useful dead than alive? Remember, he doesn’t have to catch you for anything anymore. He can just send his jack-booted thugs to snatch you up, anywhere, if he decides you’re a ‘problem.’ Including Elysium!”
No one who’s watching says anything. The Kindred more sympathetic to Vidal. Or the Kindred more sympathetic to Savoy.
Some are flat. Some are offended.
Some are thoughtful.
The watching harpies, though, look displeased. Sundown and Adelais and Harlequin.
Savoy watches his servant with a patiently humoring expression.
Support: Jade shares a look with her fellow Kindred, catching the eye of the young, the unprotected, the impoverished. The Caitiff. The Bourbons. The Anarchs, even. No one had stopped Tina Baker from being snatched up by Wright and Rocco. No one had raised a hand to Sterling’s defense when the Guard de Ville infiltrated the Quarter to pluck him from his krewe mate’s club. No explanation about what he’d done wrong—just there, then gone.
“How many are missing tonight?” An innocent question, as if she does not know the answer, as if she challenges Preston’s stance for all that she’d recited old sayings.
Another lie. Another ruse. Another night as a lick.
Does she need to put a name to all the absent faces? Carolla. Bourelle. Gerlette. Wade. Jenkins. Malveaux. Polk. Some of them Hardliners. What was their crime?
GM: “I suppose our prince considers turnabout fair play, after losing his bishop and so many of his other bootlickers,” says Preston. “I suppose this will be par for course, now. Every time a Hardliner disappears, he’ll just disappear however many other Kindred it takes to balance out the scales.”
“I wonder if he considers them balanced yet? Is Malveaux worth Sterling, Baker, and Wells? How about Malveaux and the Storyvilles? Is he even finished yet, or is this just the start of the butcher-”
Looks pass among the gathered harpies. Adelais moves to approach, flanked by Elyse Benson and Camilla Doriocourt.
Julius: The approaching hound—especially that one—makes the black man freeze in his tracks. It’s a reflex born from decades of prejudicial police treatment. ‘Random’ traffic stops for broken tail lights. Frisks, shakedowns, and worse for being the wrong color on the wrong streets. The hound doesn’t wear NOPD’s blue and badge, but she might as well have a squad car siren blaring with each of her footfalls.
GM: The NOPD works for the Guard de Ville anyway, if one asks Savoy’s or the Baron’s people.
Doriocourt, however, ignores Julius altogether. Her cool gaze rests squarely upon Preston.
Julius: Bettuh her den me, the Caitiff considers with a silent, uneasy sigh.
Friday night, 18 March 2016, PM
GM: Half an hour later later, the formerly assembled vampires return to one of the museum’s rooms. Accou and Marcel are the focus of everyone’s stares as the two ex-princes smile courteously towards one another. There are more Kindred than there were last time. Four of the five harpies are present now, along with Pierpont McGinn and the ex-princes’ various hangers-on, descendants, allies, and the simply curious.
The casquette girl is present too. She’s a soft-faced young woman in seemingly her late teenage years. Her milk-pale features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that complements her waist-length blonde hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. She silently shuffles and re-shuffles a deck of antique playing cards.
“So who’s up for some Black Pete?” Marcel smiles at the audience.
In mind of Julius’ suggestion of a “game within a game,” Accou declares that he picks Jade to flip his coin. Ryllie shoots her a none-too-pleased look over not getting pick. Marcel makes a show of tossing a coin over to Jade that she nimbly catches, paralleling the coin Brodowski possesses from Accou.
“Heads gets to pick Pouilleux?” Accou half-asks, half-suggests to Marcel with a smile.
“Heads it is, Alder Councilor,” Marcel agrees amiably.
Jade and Brodowski flip their coins. Both of them get heads.
“Best two of three,” smiles Accou.
The neonates flip again. This time, Jade gets heads and Brodowski tails. The honor goes to her. Brodowski inclines his head as if to accept the ‘loss’ gracefully, and then the casquette girl shuffles the deck of cards. Jade makes a show of picking a card. She gets the two of cards.
That will be Pouilleux. Black Pete.
Jade makes a further show of holding the card up for all to see, then inserts it back into the deck. The casquette girl re-shuffles the cards and deals them out. First to Accou, perhaps because he is eldest, and then to Marcel. The two Kindred look over the cards in their hands, then place the matching pairs on the table. Elysium’s attendees look over the players’ shoulders. Accou has the Black Pete card. The losing card. No one tries to hide their murmurs and exclamations: Marcel knows he doesn’t have it.
But will it stay that way?
With their pairs exhausted, Marcel reaches out to pluck a card from Accou’s deck. The ex-prince milks the spectacle for all it’s worth, holding just away and drifting between, then closes his eyes so as not to give himself “an unfair advantage.” Accou responds graciously.
Finally, he plucks a card.
It’s not Black Pete.
Accou draws a card too. He sets his matched pair aside. The players continue to draw from one another’s hands. Luck is with Marcel, though. The two’s hands shrink and shrink, and the Ventrue does not once pick Black Pete. Finally, they’re down to a single card, held in Accou’s hand.
Exclamations, congratulations, and a few dirty looks. It looks as if no small number of Kindred placed their own bets on who would win. One even questions whether Marcel was cheating. He doesn’t once look at Jade.
Accou’s casquette girl is duly handed over. One doesn’t need to be a genius to realize it’s not the best look for the Toreador… in the running competition among Vidal’s would-be heirs, Marcel clearly just scored a few points, and at the older Invicta’s expense.
For all that, Marcel is gracious in his victory. He tells everyone that luck is a fickle patron—he knows that much from running a casino. He praises Accou’s accomplishments, reminding everyone that the Toreador primogen used to be a prince too, and freely abdicated his praxis to return to New Orleans. Marcel says he hopes to equal the Toreador primogen’s achievements by the time he’s the same age. The words sound sincere enough and Accou responds that the casquette girls are like casino chips—they come and go. Every elder has won them before, lost them before, and doubtless will again. He tells Marcel to enjoy his gift while fortune is with him, "for as you say, Lord Marcel, ". The Ventrue responds that it rather well is.
The ex-prince does not make direct eye contact with Jade or Julius, but his gaze passes over both of theirs. Their parts, that fleeting glimpse seems to say, may not be publicly acknowledged, but will not be forgotten.
All told, it looks like several licks’ lucky nights.