Chapter XXXVII: The Baser Part of HumanBefore checking out some of the seedier places in Hollywood, I decided to stop by the convenience store. It seemed as good a place as any to find out what was what in town. The cashier looked thoroughly bored, and his eyes lit up as he saw a patron in the otherwise empty establishment.
'Hey there. You look as bored as I feel. Is there anything fun to do in this place?'
'Sounds good, I'll make an appearance. What about tonight though? Anywhere I should check out?'
'I'll uh...bear that in mind. Better be going now though.' I started to turn, but he grabbed my arm.
'Alright, I'll bite. What's the special?'
'Let me get this straight', I replied with a bemused expression. 'You're selling guns.'
'Fair enough.' Who was I to care about ethical quandries. Merely existing was a big enough moral dilemma. 'Let me see what you've got.'
Selecting a very nice magnum, not asking where he'd got it, and a new leather jacket to replace my tattered one, I handed over the money and walked out. If I was going to looking at the sordid underbelly of Hollywood, a strip-joint would be a decent place to start.
Vesuvius was about as upmarket as a strip-joint could get. How up-market that actually was is up for debate. Men in expensive suits watched girls dance in bikinis that were an insult to string, $10 bills lining their underwear. In corners, men got private dancers from tight-bodied college girls looking to make some extra tuition money, while other girls walked with trays of over-priced cocktails. All that passed by as irrelevant, however, compared to the beauty in my central vision.
A perfect specimen, wearing slightly more than the other girls, her skin alabaster white, her eyes smouldering. She looked me up and down with a knowing eye, and the vampire swayed towards me on delicate stilletos.
'I'm lucky just for knowing you', I responded. If she wanted to play, I'd play.
With that, she turned, walking up the stairs sultrily. Despite no longer having those sorts of urges, I couldn't help but watch those legs as she moved up the stairs. Residual memory. At least, I thought it was. Following, I found her leaning against the wall with a knowing smile.
'I should have known it wasn't just my good looks', I said with a sigh. Typical. Everyone always wanted something.
And the thing was, her voice did seem sad. Her expression mournful. Another Toreador. Natural, perhaps, that they flocked to Hollywood, land of entertainment, silver screens and broken dreams.
'Why would I?', I asked in a honeyed voice. 'Are you sure that was the only reason?' The woman laughed then, her full lips parting, her expression excited.
I tactfully sidestepped the issue. There were certain things I was thinking about that I probably shouldn't be. Not in this life, not with this body. But, there was something about her...I coughed.
'You mentioned something about hunters?'
'You do realise that she'll have to be dealt with', I said. I didn't like the idea either, but I liked the idea of being staked and left to develop an unhealthy tan even less.
It was melodramatic. Exaggerated. I was entranced by it. She was, for one of us, so alive, so vibrant. So in touch with emotions that others such as LaCroix seemed to scorn as unimportant.
'Very well. I'll do it.'
'We don't have any other choice, and unfortunately, I'm better suited for this.'
'Understood', I said shortly, slightly affronted. Did I look like an indiscriminate killer? I left Vesuvius and headed for the rear entrance to the Sin Bin, to where the peep shows were held.
The door was unlocked, and I could hear the techno drumbeat echoing in the hallway. I opened the door, stepping into a grotty hallway. If Vesuvius was up-market, then this place was a cheap ghetto parlour, suitable only for the dregs of society who had nowhere else to go for their kicks. Doors along one side read 'Peepshow 1' through 'Peepshow 3', and 'Employees Only'. On the other, were a change machine, a unclean looking loungeroom, and the managers office.
I reached down, disabling the change machine. Picking the lock, I took the money for myself, making me $150 richer. Then I tinkered with the coin slot, rendering it unusable. Next, I broke into the manager's office. Inside was a computer system, which I broke into. Looking at the logfile, I found that Chastity still worked here, and was on tonight. Also available was a file labeled 'private'. Intrigued, I broke the password on it, to find two files. One was named 'DMP'. Unpleasant, and familiar. The file said that to gain access to the tape, you'd have to wait by the convenience store for the phone to ring. A voice on the other end would say one half of a phrase, and the person would respond with the counter-phrase. If successful, the voice would inform the listener as to the whereabouts of the tape. The file finished with the writer saying there was no way in hell he'd get involved with this. I wished I had the same luxury. Using the computer system to lock the peepshow windows, I waited until I heard the disgruntled patrons leave, and then left the office.
Opening the door, I found a girl on her break. Momentarily irritated, desiring no audience to my work, I struck up a conversation.
'There's a man waiting for you in the lounge. Looks rich.' The girl stubbed out her cigarette, rolling her eyes.
'Sure, I'll head back to the love palace.' She left, closing the door behind her. I took a quick look around, noticing the hilt of a crossbow sticking out from under a pile of clothes. Who carries a crossbow to work?, I thought in exasperation, taking the crossbow and sliding it under my coat. Despite being the new guy, I had the feeling I was surrounded by amateurs.
There she was. Standing uncomfortably in the skimpy clothing, the girl was rubbing her head tiredly. I called out calmly.
She looked up, her mouth opening. Yet when she saw me, she stopped. Her eyes narrowed, her lips curled. Somehow, she was able to sense what I was. With a hiss she reached down, taking a single-edged blade from under a curtain. She stood, charging silently towards me.
Perhaps she was tired from dancing all night. Perhaps she was sick of this work, sick of the endless fighting. Whatever the reason, I stepped aside easily as the katana whistled harmlessly by my face. Taking her almost gently in my arms, I held her close as she looked up in fear.
'Be still', I murmured softly. 'This won't take long.'
Her life spent, I dropped her gently to the floor. The act had gone unnoticed. The wound on her neck was barely noticeable. She had not fought, not struggled. I felt pity for her, but also the need to cover my tracks. Opening a morphine bottle I hadn't sold yet, I injected her quickly, filling her system with poison. No-one would question her death, I thought sadly. Just another junkie-stripper overdosing. Just another statistic.
Another piece of evidence. But a fine piece. Stooping, I picked up the blade by it's edge, admiring it's shine in the light. Flipping it in the air, I caught it by the hilt, wondering how I was going to walk around concealing all these weapons.
Not my problem, I chuckled. 'Not if no-one else seems to notice.'
I left the strip-joint then, heading back to Velvet. On the way, I stopped by the convenience store, watching the phones. For fifteen minutes I stood, waiting. No call came however. I decided to leave then to inform Velvet the work was done. I couldn't do anything more for Isaac until I got that phone-call.
'Yeah, it's me', I said tiredly. 'It's done. No-one saw, no-one else was hurt.'
'These things happen. It wasn't your fault you were targeted.'
Velvet broke off again, however, a sad expression on her face. I looked closer, seeing a small tear form in the corner of her eye. I was surprised. I didn't know we could do that.
'What's wrong now?', I asked, the most minimal amount of concern in my voice. She was attractive, but oh so irritating.
'Poor poor David Hatter.'
'Who is that?', I asked. 'The guy who created Cop Rock?'
'Someone's writing a sequel to The Dead Poets Society?'
It's death, of course. Always fucking is around here.
'Let me guess, they get a sound beating and their Christmas bonus is cancelled.'
'So you want me to deal with it then.'
Of course she does, the useless Toreador wench. Knows nothing of the joy of blood. Who cares about the lamb, so long as the wolf is fed? Stop wasting time! You have fed, and it was delicious. Why not have another?
'You better', I responded with a wink. 'Only so much I'm willing to do for a pretty face.'
I left, considering the events of this night. It seemed I was delving into the depths of human depravity, human desire, human misery. The baser part of human. The corrupted, the corruptible. Would it still affect me the way it affected Velvet, in the years to come? Or would I become like LaCroix, like Strauss, immune to suffering so long as my own ambitions were realised? Did Nines really care, or was it just his own desire for power...who to trust, when you can trust no-one...