Chapter XIX: Welcome to L.A.
The cab pulled up at the edge of the precinct, leaving the engine running. The cabdriver didn't bother to speak, just faced straight ahead and left the engine running. Taking the hint, I got out, slammed the door roughly. The cab slowly rolled away as I looked across the road to the towering skyscrapers.
Right. What now? Need to find LaCroix, then get the h-
I don't know how long I was out. Could have been a split second. Could have been an hour. The back of my head throbbed.
'Ha ha ha ha ha.'
'Let's stake it.'
'Let's stake it, and leave it for the sunrise.'
The voices rasped viciously, promising pain. My eyes slowly opened, gazing blearily at the faces hovering over mine.
The dark one leaned closer.
'Camarilla fuck', it growled, spitting in my face. 'Thought you could fuck with our warehouse and live?'
His pet hyenas laughed, leaning closer, growling about the things they'd do to me, the pain I was going to feel. The leader leaned back again, gesturing wildly, the light of madness in his eyes.
'NO-ONE MESSES WITH THE SABBAT!'
It was so dramatic, so over the top, that I could have laughed. Could have, save for the inevitable fucking death I was looking at.
Well, if they expect me to like it, they've got another think coming.
'Fuck you', I spat back, craning my neck up to glare at their leader. 'That warehouse was as easy to get into as your sister.'
I grunted as the booted foot slammed into my ribs, and gritted my teeth, bit off a scream, as the same boot stamped down on my chest, pinning me down.
'You have a big mouth', said the leader. 'But I think I can make it bigger.'
'His eyes', laughed the talkative dog. 'I want his eyes.'
'Well I'm going to keep his teeth', said the leader.
The leader turned to address an imaginary crowd, gesturing like the ringleader of a three-ringed circus.
'A warning to those in the first few rows - you WILL get wet.'
With that he turned, fingers curling, reaching for my face...
'Agh!' The black-haired Sabbat fell to his knees, one hand pressed against the concrete, the other against the wound in the side of his head. Blood fountained from the explosion located inside his cranium, spraying the other two vampires.
'What the fuck was that?', he snarled, looking up. 'Ugh...Rodriguezzzzzz'. The vampire hissed, spitting again, this time on the ground.
The man gestured with his gun, eyes not leaving the ugly trio. 'Get movin''.
It was Rodriguez, the vampire from the theatre. His smooth voice was unmistakable, just as powerful when calm as when angry.
That's twice I owe him. This is getting embarrassing...
The leader stood up again, gesturing, voice filled with furious aggression.
'There's three of us, Rodriguez!'
'Yeah...heheheheh...three of us!', echoed his talkative minion, jumping from one foot to the other. 'Whatcha gonna do?'
Nines Rodriguez patted his belt with his free hand. The vampires looked down, seeing the grenade attached. The leader snarled, twitching with frustration.
'This isn't over, Rodriguez!' The vampire looked down, giving me another kick in the ribs. 'Same goes for you, runt. The Sabbat is waiting for you.'
The vampires stalked off into the darkness, disappearing from sight. Nines lowered the gun, looking down at me.
'That's two, newbie.'
The black-haired vampire, sensing that Nines' guard was down, had turned, and launched himself at Nines.
He must have some ability I don't...I can't move that fast...
The vampire had crossed a large distance in a second, pausing right next to Rodriguez. It raised it's claws, mouth open wide, poised to attack.
'Nice effort', Nines said with a warm smile. The Sabbat looked down in horror.
'Bu-'. Whatever the vampire was going to say was silenced by the bullet that penetrated it's chest, sending it sprawling across the ground to disintegrate into nothingness. Nines lifted the smoking gun.
'-execution is a little off', he finished. Turning, he shook his head slightly, looking down with amused yet kindly eyes.
'You look like shit!' Nines holstered the gun, walked across, offered a hand. I watched him for a second before accepting the hand, letting him haul me back to my feet. He let go of my hand and crossed his arms, regarding me critically.
'Thanks for the help Nines', I replied. We both knew without him, I would've been fucked. Both times. Nines shook his head again, dismissing it. Thanks wasn't necessary, his body-language said, anyone would've done the same.
'Yeah, I'll do that', I responded. Like hell you will. The second you let LaCroix know the warehouse is finished, you'll be out of here. You won't stay in L.A. a second longer than you have to.
Nines nodded again, before turning and walking off. Rubbing the now small lump on the back of my head, thankful that vampiric healing worked just as effectively on a fractured skull as damaged flesh, I took a look at the downtown precinct.
I walked down the street, looking at a street map attached to a bus-stop. According to the diagram, I was standing right outside 'The LaCroix Foundation Building'. Typical, that the guy would name a fucking building after himself. Well, at least I knew where to find him. I walked around the large structure to the front entrance.
The statues at the entrance filled me with unease. There was something cold, something alien, about them. To take my mind off it, I looked up.
I had to step back to take it all in. The skycraper consisted of three separate columns, each narrower than the last, reaching for the very heavens. It dwarfed the other buildings, mere hovels compared to the grace, the beauty, the decorum of the LaCroix Foundation.
'Obviously compensating for something', I muttered, pushing open the doors.
The main lobby was just as ostentatious, polished black marble shining brightly under the studio lighting. A neon-sign behind the reception desk proudly proclaimed the name of my erstwhile benefactor.
LaCroix. Everywhere I turn, that damned name is there.
I walked up to the desk, my frown turning into a grin as I got there.
'Yeah, that gallery was bad news for a lot of us.' Chunk clucked sympathetically.
'Matter of fact I am. I'm here to see Mr. LaCroix.' Chunk looked at a clipboard on his desk, trying his best to look officious. To the man's credit, his heart just wasn't in it.
What do YOU think, genius? I tried to remain patient, ignoring the voice.
'The first. Sebastian.'
'Thanks. Have a good one.' I turned to walk through the security gate and up the stairs.
I closed my eyes. I know that, you ass.
'Sure thing Chunk, no-one I'd rather have guarding that desk.' The praise was worth it for the smile on the guy's face. He sat a little straighter, looked that little bit more alert. Shaking my head, I walked towards the elevators. The doors to one opened smoothly as I stepped in front of it, just as I raised a hand to press it.
Is that meant to impress me LaCroix? Intimidate me? All it shows me is that you're watching my every move, you obsessive cretin. I walked inside and pressed the button for the penthouse. No chance that a man of LaCroix's...stature...would settle for anything less.
If it was even possible for a room to be more opulent than the lobby, this room acheived it. Just this side of tacky, just this side of gaudy, the room was richly decorated, the windows lined with gold, the furntiure very expensive, and very uncomfortable. The prince sat expectantly at his desk, his bodyguard staring straight ahead. I walked across the floor towards them both, my heels clicking loudly on the wooden floor.
LaCroix's voice was perfunctory, almost dismissive. As if the warehouse was a trifling matter, the fact that I survived a minor irritation. I let none of this show, my eyes open, my face blank.
This was a game. LaCroix was testing me, I could feel it. I knew that my words now could save Mercurio, or damn him. This conceited bastard...
'None. Everything went according to plan.'
I struggled to retain my composure. He had. LaCroix had intended for me to die at the warehouse, to rid him of the troubling fledgling that had caused him embarrassment at Nines' hands.
No! No more errands! There was no choice however. This was obvious, from both the tone of LaCroix, and the too-rigid stance of the Sheriff. If I refused, my life would be over as surely as if I had died in the warehouse explosion.
'I'd say yes, sir.' How those words burned when they left my mouth. How tainted I felt. Yet, there was little alternative.
The Prince continued, expecting no reply. Not that I would have given one.
'I'm afraid not', I replied. I've been too busy being dead, being a vampire, and running around Santa Monica at your pleasure, sir! My mind was sheer venom, plotting the demise of the man. LaCroix sighed, impatient at the ignorance of his charge.
The Prince paused, waiting for me to take this information in. How long he paused, however, was insulting. I am not a fool, Lacroix. You would do well to remember that.
I fantasised about turning his blood to acid, watching him melt from the inside out, screaming in agony as his organs collapsed. It has come to his attention? My thoughts were no longer venomous, they were a flow of ice, freezing, inhuman, distant. Did he also know of my near death at the hands of the Sabbat? Did he know of the ambush that was waiting as well?
'He only said that he'd be at the Nine Rounds bar if I wanted to talk to him', I said dismissively. I was but the obedient servant, tugging at the leash in the desire to fulfil my master's requests.
I frowned, perplexed, suspicious. What game was being played here? Until I knew, best to play along, in the role expected of me. Until I knew...
'Of course, I'll go there immediately.'
I turned, walking out of the office, getting into the lift. As it travelled down to ground level, I mourned my freedom. Had I truly expected LaCroix to let me walk away a free man? I was tied just as tightly to him as I had been in Santa Monica. Tighter. I sighed. What a den of vipers I'd found myself in.
Welcome to L.A.