Chapter XXVIII: The Importance of Reliable InformationStrauss stood gazing into the fire, poking it firmly, aggressively, with the poker he held in his left hand. I closed the door behind me, clearing my throat. Unfazed, Strauss turned to face me, his calm voice in stark contrast to his broad, jerky movements.
'Good evening neonate. I assume that Prince LaCroix has sent you to find the Malkavian Primogen. No easy task, I assure you.'
I shook my head in disgust. If the task was such an important one, why send me?
'Strauss, what do you know about the Ankaran Sarcophagus?'
And how fortuitous that you know of it Strauss. Is his most dangerous enemy so close to home?
'What about Gehenna? Is this a harbringer of apocalypse like some vampires seem to believe?'
'All the better that the thing is buried then, right? What's LaCroix thinking, bringing so much attention to the damned thing?'
When was it that I felt myself rivalling these experienced vampires, these walkers of the long night? Did I feel equal? All I knew when I spoke my next words was that there was information being held from me, and not even there longer years or more potent blood would prevent me from getting it.
'Max', I smoothly murmured. 'You can trust me. You are but the mouth, and I am but the hand.' Strauss relaxed, as if some weight had been lifted from his shoulders, and his next words came in a torrent of bitter disgust.
The words came out naturally. It was as if the intrigue was part of me, a natural part of existence.
'You think you would weild that power more adeptly, Strauss?'
Strauss chuckled softly, his expression amused.
'In that order?'
This time, Strauss thrust his head backwards, his laughter echoing through the room. Regarding me with interest, and it were to be believed, admiration, he spoke one more.
'Now, begone, neonate, I must think more upon these troubling events.' Even as he turned to poke once again at the fire, Strauss' shoulders heaved with suppressed mirth. Smiling my own smile, I left the chantry, stepping into the night air.
The nightclub Patty was frequenting was a renovated gothic cathedral. At least, I assumed it was renovated. Why exactly there would be a gothic cathedral in downtown L.A. I was unsure. Towering spires and stained glass windows barely contained the industrial metal blasting out from the club's speakers, heavy drumbeats rippling underneath the concrete. I stepped inside, looking for the ghoulish junkie.
Don't you mean the junkieish ghoul? I wonder what yours is doing right now?
She was easy to spot. Her eyes had that tell-tale colouring, and she was able to spot me as soon as I entered the room.
Her voice was nasal, infuriating. It had a whiney edge, the edge of the hardened addict, launching into a spiel it knew would give it something, no matter how small, just that temporary fix. Time to play it cool, for now.
'I have no idea what you're talking about.'
'Ryan? Yeah, I know him.'
I leaned forward conspiratorially, whispering in her ear.
'He had to deal with some business deal in San Fransisco. Didn't mention what, just said there were people he needed to talk to, something he needed to organise. It sounded big.'
With that, Patty swayed out of the building. I had a feeling that she wouldn't be bothering the local Kindred anymore. At least if her blood got onto somebody's hands, at least that somebody wouldn't be me. I still had limits, and killing humans in cold blood was one of them. Satisfied, I headed back to The Last Round.
Giving the finger to Damsel as I walked up the stairs, I leaned on the railing and nodded to Skelter.
'Patty's dealt with. She won't be bothering anyone.'
I tried not to cringe. Skelter had cut to the core of my problem with Heather. Except I couldn't just send her off to San Fran...what the hell would I do with her? I nodded to Nines as I walked over to Jack. He absently waved a hand, lost in morose thoughts. I shrugged, leaving him to it.
'Back from the Dane', I muttered. 'That was an interesing trip.'
'Oh yeah? So what did you find?' Jack's tone was interested, almost excited.
I briefly described everything I found there.
'What?', I exclaimed. 'Gehenna? Surely you don't believe in all that crap too, Jack?'
'We? What's this we, Jack? I don't want anything to do with that damned box.'
'Yeah, well, I don't like the looks of it. I'd rather not think about it right now. LaCroix's sent me to fetch a wayward Malkavian. That'll be fun.'
Especially with everyone in town wanting to take him out for a sunrise stroll...
'I'll keep you updated Jack, I better get going.' Jack winked, slapping my shoulder. I walked back down the stairs, deciding where to go next. To Grout? Thinking back over the past few nights, I had a thought. I walked towards the Skyline apartments, to check room 2A. Time to see if Muddy was in town. I could use some more spending money.
The door was relatively easy to jimmy open. The apartment was a dump however. Old pizza boxes left in corners, magazines scattered throughout the house, draws open, clothes over every surface. There was some method to the madness however; looked like Muddy had grabbed what he could and got the hell out. The light on his answerphone was blinking. I flicked the switch and listened.
'Good evening Mr. Durbin', the voice rasped, so very very familiar. 'I trust you have not forgotten our meeting tonight. I must stress again that this is a very lucrative opportunity which we should both profit from. We'll be meeting in the abandoned warehouse across from the bar. Remember, this is a two-person job, so you'll need to provide a second man. Hopefully you should already be on the way here.'
There was an edge to the voice, barely contained malice and violence. I had an uneasy feeling that the job Muddy would be getting wasn't what he'd be expecting. Leaving the apartment, I took the lift down to the ground floor and ran out onto the street, heading for the warehouse building.
The building was a wreck, gutted, a small chemical fire burning brightly at the base of a collapsed stairwell. My eyes first fell upon the vagrant huddled in the corner, mumbling over and over to himself, shaking. A wet patch soaked the front of his tattered trousers, the reek of his urine overpowering. I wrinkled my nose, looking up.
The body was unrecognisable, the head missing, the torso stripped of flesh. Thrown up with great force to be impaled upon a steel girder, the body dripped deep claret onto the floor. The corpse didn't look like it would be able to tell me a story, so I questioned the bum.
'I just got here. See what?'
'Yeah, I can see that. What happened exactly?'
'I see. So, who was the other one?'
'What do you mean, appeared?', I asked, a dreadful suspicion coming over me.
I immediately thought of Brother Kanker, the nosferatu in the sewers. In other words, chum, a vampire. The man continued, his eyes wide with fright.
'What was he saying? This is important, try to remember.'
I mulled this over, wondering what to do next. I was beginning to value the importance of reliable information. Luckily, despite his dubious exterior, the vagrant was proving to be an absolute goldmine.
'And the other guy? Did he come back?'
'Nope, never came back', he coughed. 'Don't think I will, either.'
'Sounds like a good idea. As does not mentioning this to anyone.'
'Who'd believe me? I just want to forget it!' The homeless man ran out of the building, not looking back. I climbed up to the body, taking a closer look. On the second floor landing near the body was a key attached to a key ring. The key ring was marked 'The Lucky Star, Hollywood'. I pocketed the key. Well, that seemed as good a place to check as any. I could only wonder if I'd get there before the killer would...