Chapter XXVII: The rope pulls tighterReturning to downtown L.A., a familiar face approached as I left the cab, much to my dismay.
I groaned. This was the last thing I needed. More complication.
'What are you doing here? I told you to forget me!'
The girl's eyes were bright, desparate. Obviously she was trying to find some meaning, some higher purpose in her salvation. Little did she know she was just another blood-craving ghoul, scratching away at a petty existence.
'Nothing really weirds me out anymore, trust me. It's nice to see you looking well, at least.'
So will you take responsibility for your actions? Your mistakes? Can't leave the bloodstarved running around masterless can you? Think of the Masquerade! I turned the silver ring over in my hands, feeling it's weight, made my decision. Slipping the ring in my pocket to pawn later, I closed my eyes.
'Alright. Go to my place Heather, wait for me there. But you're not to leave until I come for you, and you're not staying long, got it?'
'Like I said', repeating my words slowly. 'Go to my haven. Oh, and clean it up when you get there, it's a little messy.'
I wanted to yell, to scream, to chase after the ghoul as she skipped away, so happily. Beat some sense into her, roar at her, bare my fangs and threaten to end her life. Scare her away. But she might talk.
You saved the girl. You saved her, and you destroyed her.
I walked into the LaCroix Foundation, the cruel laughter tearing me apart inside.
'You betcha, Chunk.'
A little what? Gay? Nocturnal? Vampiric? You'd be right about most of those, I'd bet.
'Yeah, he does seem a little...anyway, how you doing tonight?'
Your self-deception is admirable, Chunk. Admirable, yet also amusing. I laughed silently, a slight twitch of the lips.
'You do that Chunk, I'm sure LaCroix sleeps soundly knowing you're in charge down here. Catch you later.'
I stood in the opening to the penthouse, watching as LaCroix finished his dictat to a swathe of vampires, including the head of the Tremere chantry, Strauss. The vampires looked uncomfortable, abashed even. All except Strauss. His face was expressionless, yet his eyes were full of contempt.
'That will be all', intoned LaCroix in his usual dismissive manner. His eyes left their faces, flicking to me, his gaze once again condescending.
The vampires turned, and walked out of the room, somewhat sullenly, if I could believe such a thing. Strauss' eyes barely registered my presence, apart from a slight flicker to the left, then the right. 'Later', his eyes seemed to promise. 'We have much to discuss.'
As the door closed, I walked towards the desk, snapping to an almost sarcastic formality. LaCroix looked at me with disdain, his tone waspish.
'The ship was deserted. The entire crew massacred, one by one, all that was left was blood smeared along every possible surface.' LaCroix nodded impatiently, finger tapping the desk.
'Opened. From the inside, the crate it was inside torn apart like kindling.'
Was that bemusement on LaCroix's face? A touch of panic? His finger had stopped tapping the desk, his manner too poised, too collected. With a smirk, I placed the manifest and report on the table, and thought about LaCroix's question. 'I did', I answered thoughtfully, deciding to keep my familiarity with Strauss to myself. 'Who were they?'
Forgotten to answer? Malkavian? Like the psychotic bitch in Santa Monica?
'I see. How inconvenient.'
What a waste of my fucking time. Get another lackey, LaCroix!
The internal voice snarled, muttering about the desire for blood, to taste vampire blood. To tear the bastard's throat, feel the spray warm my lips. Forcing the voice down, I kept my tone even.
'Is that all?'
How kind of you, my prince.
'Anything I should know about Grout?'
I nodded, not bothering to speak. I turned on my heel, closing the doors firmly behind me. LaCroix was a puffed-up charlatan, a little Napoleon. Yet for now, he was the boss. At least until I could determine how to escape from his obsessive grasp.
For now, it was time to see Strauss.