“I know what grows from your seed.”
Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM
GM: Stepping out of her car, Caroline looks up and inspects the office whose address she was given. It is set in a dilapidated cluster of buildings, a melange of old brick, rusted iron, and cracked plaster. It has the look of a forgotten age that seems an all-too appropriate neighbor to the grave-marked dead.
Looking for the entrance, she spots a paint-chipped door, riddled with fresh graffiti and faded fly-post adverts. Above it is a perantique plaque, shot with patina, depicting an unsleeping eye. Its engraved iris reads:
Private Investigations & Consultations
Caroline: It’s not a neighborhood she would normally visit, but nothing is normal anymore. She’s redefining it daily. She slings her bag over a shoulder after she steps out of the UberX, glad she didn’t bring her car down here. She slides up to the door and raps on it, the ring on her finger ringing against the wood loudly. It’s early evening still, but she has little time to waste.
GM: No one answers Caroline. Peering inside, she sees a sagging staircase, a taped-off lift, and a snoring hobo clutching a cut pay-phone receiver and bundle of smutty magazines. She swings open the black-iron gate and scales the stairs. Three flights up, she comes to a door in marginally better repair. Painted black letters on the door’s bleary glass window read:
Louis Fontaine, Private Investigator
Caroline: Here indeed she knocks, hoping this is not another bit of cruelty by another of her kind. Kindred. She has found few enough friends among them, and just as few answers. For instance, the nature of this being. A ghoul? Vitae? Too many questions. Suppositional answers only. Perhaps she will get something here. The ring against the glass is sharp and crisp.
Louis: A grunt sounds from the other side of the glass door.
Caroline: “Mr. Fontaine?” Her voice is just as crisp. Sharp, like blade cutting through the glass. She doesn’t try for the handle yet.
Louis: Another grunt, this one pitifully weary. A squealing chair and the sound of a bottle rolling off a table. A man’s voice wavers through the door.
“Come in. If you have to.”
Caroline: A thrilling start. She tries the door.
GM: The unlocked door swings open, revealing a small, cluttered flat.
It isn’t much to look at.
But it isn’t the ataxophobic sight that strikes Caroline first. It’s the smell. It doesn’t strike her nostrils so much as mercilessly savage them. The room absolutely stinks with a combination of over-ripe stale sweat, cheap cigarettes, cheaper booze, and other ineffable, stomach-churning odors… not least of which might even be stale vomit.
At the room’s rank epicenter, a one-armed old man sits behind a three-legged roll-top propped up by outdated phonebooks. The brick-faced man wears crumpled, coffee-stained clothes that look like they haven’t been washed for days. Weeks, maybe.
Louis: The old man with the lantern jaw and atavistic brow is holding a massive revolver. Large enough to make Dirty Harry blush. A Smith & Wesson Model 500. He doesn’t look up at Caroline. Not in the slightest. Instead, his bourbon-hued gaze is fixed on the barrel, as if he’s mentally measuring the barrel to see how it would fit between his teeth.
Caroline: She wants to walk away, to leave this foul room and this broken man. Abandon the cruel joke played upon her again by her ‘priest.’ But…
“Mr. Fontaine. I’m told you’re a man of specific talents.” The gun doesn’t appear to bother her.
Louis: Lou might be listening. Perhaps even to Caroline.
GM: A three-year-old print of the Times-Picayune lies sprawled on his desk beside an antique typewriter and black corded phone dangling from its receiver. Caroline glances at the walls. There, gray file cabinets loom: stoic, rectangular sentinels from a bygone era. Between those relics and the door is a flotsam maze: the detritus of a long, lonely life. Overflowing trashcans and ashtrays. Empty liquor bottles and greasy take-out boxes. Half-unpacked boxes and second- or more likely fourth-hand chairs and furniture, some of which still bears mildewed post-it notes scribbled with “Free” in black sharpie. A dozen or more shop window mannequins stand against a wall. Old ones, some without arms or hands or heads. Others impaled by knives or riddled with bullet-holes. Stranger bric-a-brac war for space: a mummified snapping turtle, mugshots taken with dusty polaroids and museum-piece daguerreotypes, and apotropes to various loa, black and red.
But perhaps the noticeable feature in the room is the vomit. It’s crusted over the floor, the edge of the desk, and the black corded telephone. Peering closer, Caroline thinks she can identify the half-pulped remains of lettuce, lunch meat, and mashed, sickly-blue berries, corroded by stomach acid and exposed to the air for god only knows how long. The stink is ungodly.
Caroline: She might vomit if she were still alive. Instead the wave hits her like the surf crashing against rocky cliffs. She is unmoved. A gamble…
“Father Malveaux gave me your name. I need help finding someone.”
The lack of reaction is not his first clue as to her nature.
Louis: The name jostles him from his thanatopic soliloquy. His eyes slide slowly, reluctantly away from the gun and to the ‘girl’ standing in his office. His watery gaze drinks her in. Slowly.
“Don’t we all,” he mumbles to no one in particular.
Caroline: Young, no doubt the first word that comes to his mind with his gaze. Tall, haughty. Pale, skin and hair. Well-dressed. Too well-dressed. Graceful. Athlete, maybe.
“No doubt why you see such a brisk business.”
Louis: Lou considers the well-heeled dame for a moment. He slides the Smith & Wesson into its shoulder holster.
Caroline: She shuffles into the room, sidestepping the filth around her. “This is a bad time?”
Louis: Rather than fishing out her story, he fishes out a cigarette. Sticking the lung-bullet between the tines of his prosthetic hook, he ignites it with a gold-plated lighter. The blue butane flames illuminating the myriad crags in his face.
GM: Some part of Caroline rears back in mindless, instinctive alarm at the tiny flame.
Caroline: She clamps the instinct down.
“A foolish question,” she concedes as she looks around. “It seems they’ve all been bad times for you of late.”
Her jaw is tight, though, as her eyes linger on the fire.
Louis: He flicks the lighter shut, and takes a long drag. “But bad times are new for you, Miss…”
Louis: A brow arches ever so slightly at the name. Not in surprise, perhaps, but in dawning interest.
Caroline: “You’re not wrong.”
Louis: He waves the smoldering cigarette in the vague direction of his flotsam chairs.
GM: There’s a bit of vomit crusted over the edge of one.
Caroline: “I’ll stand, thank you.” Her gaze continues to sweep the room. “As I said, I need to find someone, preferably without them knowing they’ve been found.”
Louis: Lou just nods for her to proceed.
Caroline: “Does the name René Baristheaut hold any meaning for you?”
Louis: “I’m acquainted with his… family.”
Caroline: “Are you now? How well acquainted?”
Louis: “Perhaps more than I’d like.”
Caroline: A cruel smile. “You have no idea.”
Louis: He sucks down another cloud of lung cancer before replying. “Try me.”
Caroline: “You’re not really my type. But I was his.”
Louis: Lou snorts at the implication that he could be anyone’s ‘type.’ Anymore, at least.
“I’m listening, Miss Malveaux.”
Caroline: “Do you take my meaning, Mr. Fontaine?”
Louis: “Miss Malveaux, I prefer my stories like I prefer my bourbon. Neat. So if you don’t want to give me the former, I’ll insist on you giving me some of the latter.”
Caroline: “I hear you favor a different drink in truth.”
Louis: His head throbs. And his tongue feels like sandpaper. “Maybe you heard wrong. Or maybe you didn’t hear me at all.”
Caroline: That smile again. “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
Louis: “Give it to me straight or give me some bourbon.”
Caroline: “Let’s keep this simple though. I need to find René. I’m told you may be up to the task.” She glances around. “Doubtful though it may appear. And you need something more than bourbon right now.”
Louis: The alcoholic tries to hide his disappointment. He really wanted that drink, after all. Reluctantly, he settles into sorting out the necessary facts to weigh the case. “Why? When? How much?”
Caroline: “Mhm?” Caroline cocks her head. “Why what? When what?”
Louis: He groans. Scratch that, he inwardly grumbles, I don’t want that drink—I need it.
Caroline: “Let’s start with the simple. How much do you owe?”
Louis: “The order of the questions, and their answers, isn’t random, Miss Malveaux. Why do you need me to find René—without letting him know he’s been found?”
Caroline: “His family would like to speak to him.”
Louis: “By when?”
Caroline: “Soon. As quickly as possible.” She can’t hide the slight bit of desperation in her voice from him, but nor is she trying to lay it upon him.
Louis: Lou takes a final drag from his cigarette before flicking it into a empty beer bottle. He leans back, groaning in sync with the chair.
“I’ve got other cases, Miss Malveaux. I can either get to yours once I’m done with them, or set them aside. But the latter’s costly.”
Caroline: “Which takes us to my question. Two days. Are your other clients paying up? More, can their pay save you. That’s a notice to vacate, not simply to pay.”
Louis: Lou shrugs. He honestly doesn’t know, given he never discussed payment with Amos. He kneads his forehead. How many others will pay?
Caroline: “You look troubled.”
Louis: He tries to swallow down his conscience. Slowly, words slip from his dry, bitter lips. “1,300 clams up front, $1,000 for operational costs, and double that upon finding René.”
Caroline: She arches an eyebrow. “Are you worth it?”
Louis: Lou shrugs his chronically slack shoulders, but says flatly, “Would the father have recommended me otherwise?”
Caroline: She laughs. “You think not?”
Louis: “You’re asking me to find the childe of Robert Bastien, on the drop of the dime. Find him, and don’t let him know he’s been found. And given who you are, what you are, it means either your family can’t find him or isn’t willing to help you find him.”
Caroline: A smile. “What’s your read?”
Louis: He shrugs. “Either situation leaves you in a pretty sad little boat called Desperation. Either way, you’ve reached it harbor.” He waves his hook at his rancid, ransacked office.
Caroline: “Done.” Caroline reaches into her bag and pulls out a neat bankstack. She breaks the band and counts out crisp hundred dollar bills.
GM: A few days ago she might have been wary to carry around so much cash on her person, in a neighborhood like this.
She’s learned there are worse things to be scared of.
Louis: Lou nods and sighs. He pulls out a steno-pad from his roll top, and after a cursory search, snatches a pencil from a mannequin’s heart.
“What can you tell me, Miss Malveaux, about René’s last known whereabouts and actions?”
He settles back into his chair, grunting. He looks up, his gaze almost startlingly focused. Sober, even.
“You might be tempted to hold your tongue. To hold back. And you can. This is an office, not an interrogation room. But the more you withhold, the slimmer your chances of having another date with René.”
Caroline: “Two nights ago he was about Southern Decadence wearing a mask. He rescued a girl beset by revelers only to attack her minutes later and Embrace her. He abandoned her in Louis Armstrong Park and has not been seen since, to the best of my knowledge.” She does not appear ready to continue.
Louis: Lou asks a series of follow-up questions, including René’s mask and attire, the direction he went after abandoning the ‘girl’ in Louis Armstrong Park, and others.
Caroline: She answers questions about his appearance, but can offer nothing of his actions thereafter. “He left her before she recovered.”
Louis: “If he even left her there himself, that is,” Lou says as he scribbles down a few notes. He then asks after the conversations had between René and the ‘girl’, hoping to find some lead amidst their palaver.
Caroline: To Lou’s great shock, Caroline is able to relay these conversations in great detail. It’s almost as though she were there… it seems much of their conversations centered around faith.
Louis: Lou jots down his notes, seemingly concerned with the identity of the ‘girl’. He does pause though to touch his chest for a moment, as if feeling something beneath his shirt. “What was the girl’s opinion of René’s religious views?”
Louis: He probes her terse reply at length before asking his final queries.
Caroline: She explains his hostility in the face of faith, expressions of his own wickedness, and so forth.
Louis: He rifles through his desk and unfolds a faded city map. “Show me,” he says while pointing to the two sites.
GM: Caroline notes the distinct lack of computer in Lou’s office. If they were using Google Maps, she could show him the location down to the exact GPS coordinates.
Louis: “Normally, I’d have you show me in person, but to be frank, I think it’d be best if we’re not seen together.”
Caroline: A smile. “Bad company?”
Louis: “René’s no greenfang, Miss Malveaux. According to your kind’s laws, he committed a serious crime. At best, he did so in the heat of the moment, then bolted and has gone to ground.”
Caroline: “You don’t say.”
Louis: “But he’s still likely to try keeping tabs on you, so I don’t want him putting the two of us together. I don’t want him to see me coming.”
Louis: “At worst, he did so deliberately to incite the already hair-trigger conflict between the Baron and the prince. In which case, his interest in you might persist and be far from benevolent.”
Caroline: “And the girl?”
Louis: “Once again, distance between us, at least for now, would be prudent.”
Caroline: "No, I mean, do you think she was chosen by chance? "
Louis: He chuckles. Rather darkly, though not quite menacingly. “I’d bet my last hand at Harrah’s against it. A Malveaux Embraced by chance?” He looks at her as if she should keenly understand the implications, the byzantine web of Kindred politics.
Caroline: She doesn’t offer a correction. “What’s the conflict with the Baron and the prince?”
GM: Indeed, this is the first time Caroline has heard of any “Baron”.
Louis: Lou stares at her pale eyes with his own dark ones. Shock for the first time seeps into his face. And then, an even more rare expression paints his face: pity. He almost stumbles with his next words. “Miss Malveaux, do you know what you are?”
Caroline: Her eyes are hard at that. “Is it that obvious?”
Louis: In that moment, he reconsiders everything. The case just turned into a hand-grenade, gift wrapped in pale hair and skin. He cracks his knuckles. He opens his mouth several times as if to answer, but the words escape him. Where does he begin? And why would he try? Paranoia and pity struggle in the diseased smear that is his heart.
Caroline: “I don’t need your pity, Mr. Fontaine.”
Louis: The victor of that battle is not immediately obvious. Slowly, he regains his composure. His face slackens to match his shoulders and his voice becomes the hard edge of a cold roscoe. “Do you have a safe line I can call to reach you. A private line.”
Caroline: She passes him a card. “That number is private. Virgin, in fact.”
Louis: He nods approvingly. “I’ll be in touch, Miss Malveaux.”
Caroline: She nod and heads for the door, pausing. “Mr. Fontaine. Everyone has written me off already. You shouldn’t.”
Louis: “I haven’t.”
Caroline: “Malveauxes have long memories. I may be a liability now… but I will not be forever. Or even for long.”
Louis: Lou almost whispers, “I know what grows from your seed.”
Monday night, 7 September 2015, PM
Louis: Once Caroline departs, Lou creeps to his door and listens for the sound of her fading footsteps. He toys with following her—or more precisely making sure she wasn’t or isn’t being followed. But he holds back.
He stalks back to his chair, his hand twitching. He goes to sit down, but suddenly stops and grabs hold of his roll-top desk with terrible fury. He tosses it back, causing it to splinter and crack open like a sun-ripened corpse.
“Mierda, mierda, mierda!” he screams, then pulls his gun and fires it into his mannequins. “Me cago en la leche!”
He drops the sizzling firearm, and falls to the ground, a sobbing wreck all-too resembling his desk’s ruin.
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