Chapter XLIV: The world beneath the world
I hit the water with a loud splash, sinking to my waist. Ahead of me, two tunnels were lit by street lamps that made their way along the pier. I looked again. Definitely street lamps. All the way down here. I shrugged. Right now I didn't have a clue how they managed to get them here, and I cared even less. I just wanted to find Gary, get the sarcophagus and leave. I waded through the water, and proceeded down the left-hand tunnel.
The tunnel was littered with bits and pieces of human existence. Threadbare sofa's rested next to traffic lights used for illumination, Christmas-tree lights lining the roof of the tunnel. Signs stolen from a strip-bar marked the way, 'VIP room' offering directions down the right hand branch.
Following the signs I came to an ornate door, not unlike the one at Isaac's office. With amusement, I wondered whether Isaac had woken one night to notice a slight draft. Opening the door, I peered into a room carved out of the very rock, the only furniture bunk-beds and a very expensive looking laptop. A nosferatu hunched over the bright screen, laughing to himself.
'Hey!' I spoke a little louder, feeling bemused and irritated that I'd worked my way down to these tunnels only to have the nosferatu I'd saved ignore me completely.
I loudly tapped my foot against the floor, and cleared my throat with pure venom.
'You know what?', I said, turning. 'I'll come back later.'
'Oh yeah? Why surprised?'
'You did? Never occurred to you to help maybe?'
'Forget it. Don't care. Where can I find Gary?'
'All I want to do is talk, Mitnik. Where is he?'
'Down the hall. Right.' I looked at the computer screen, that part of me that was human being intrigued by the security system in place, my fingers itching to test it. 'So what is it exactly you're doing?'
I caught the tone. Mitnik had said more than he'd intended. He may be an expert with computers, but when it came to keeping his mouth shut, the vamp was way behind the times. 'Seems like you're adding to a network, from the looks of it.'
Mitnik sighed heavily, looking at me reproachfully.
'This stays between you and me, right?', he asked.
'I mean it. We don't want that dick LaCroix knowing what we're doing.'
'LaCroix can be kept in the dark for an eternity as far as I'm concerned. Spill.'
'Interesting.' I looked at Mitnik's plans, intrigued by a city-wide security net. No wonder that it seemed the Nosferatu knew everything. Where other clans appeared to be stuck in the time of their rebirth, clinging desperately to what was known, what was familiar, the Nosferatu actively sought out the new, the strange. Being strange themselves, maybe they felt a natural affinity for what was different.
'So, want some help with that?'
'OK, what do I do?'
'Fair enough. I'll check my email next time I drop by my place. Talk to you later Mitnik.' I turned, walking out the door. I called over my shoulder. 'Down the hall?'
'Down the hall.'
I continued down the hallway, contemplating Mitnik. For a Nosferatu he didn't seem too disfigured. Where Tung had been hideous, with open sores leaking all over his body, Mitnik had just looked slightly alien, noticeably wrong. I walked past another door, hearing a woman's voice screeching indignantly, the sound of smashing glass. Curious, I opened the door.
Where Mitnik had been slightly alien, this one was slightly missing her face. Not turning to see who had entered, she continued to rage.
'Oh I dunno about that, compared to some girls I've seen lately, she's a real looker', I replied innocently. 'Who is she?'
'Right. So who would you be, princess?'
'Imalia? That supposed to mean something?'
'Great. So if you're so pissed about this girl, why not off her?'
'You're a real charmer aren't you?', I murmured with contempt. 'What are you going to do?'
'Nothing!' She shrieked again, throwing the magazine to the floor.
'You know, I could do something, for a price.' A little embarrassment doesn't hurt now and again, and I'm sure this model could handle it. In comparison, my wallet was feeling a little light. And work is work.
'Got it. Next 'accidental release of sex tape by vengeful ex'.' Passe, but doable.
'Alright. But you better make this worth my while.'
'Clear as crystal, gorgeous, I'll do it', I answered lightly. Imalia bristled, her skin positively shuddering in a way that made my stomach churn. She gained composure, and handed over the webcams.
I took the key, putting it on my keyring, and shoved the webcams in my pack. Not bothering to respond, I left the room, and walked further down the corridor, over a bridge and up to some ornate doors.
Pushing them open, I proceeded down the bedrock corridor, coming to a bizarre sight.
Right out of the early 1930's, a dinner party was taking place. Or would be taking place, if not for the fact the dinner guests were old skeletons, so old the bones were polished clean of flesh, the skulls hairless and shining beneath the table light. I stepped into the room for a closer look.
The voice seemed to come from all around me, from inside me, reverberating in my skull. I turned quickly, seeing nothing. I turned again, peering into the shadows behind the table, looking for a source for the voice.
The voice echoed from my left. I span there, hoping to catch sight of someone. Nothing. I spoke again in frustration.
'Do I look like a goddamned Malkavian to you? Come out so I can see you. I just want to talk.'
The voice gave a rasping chuckle, sounding as if it was coming from directly in front of me. I reached out, but felt nothing.
'You're brilliant, really. Now where are you?'
The voice rose, reaching a crescendo, from behind me, snarling into my ear. With a gasp, I turned quickly, looking down the empty corridor. I squirmed with irritation and embarrassment as the voice laughed again, amused at my reaction.
'What do you want from me?'
'I just want to find the sarcophagus, then I'll go.'
'Then you should also know it's not exactly by choice! Where is that fucking sarcophagus?'
'Wonderful', I responded, defeated. Here I was, hoping that I'd come to the end of this pointless quest for the damned stone coffin, and now it felt like I'd never find it. 'Who to?'
'Oh, I only do business face to face boss', the voice responded, amused.
'Then come out where I can see you.'
'The suspense is killing me. Come on out.'
With a wave of smoke, a gruesome face appeared a mere inch from mine. 'Boo!', the voice cried out, laughing again as I stepped back. Not from fear this time, but trying to block the charnel-house reek coming from the vampire's rotting mouth.
'You're Gary then.'
'Charmed', I deadpanned. 'Now tell me where the sarcophagus is so I can get out of here.'
Gary watched me, a mean smile curling his lip, exposing his yellowed, broken teeth. His derision at LaCroix's toy was infuriating. I snapped at him, the Beast within barking, tearing at the leash, desiring nothing more than to tear the vampire's throat out.
'Oh, I don't know. Maybe because you've been trapped down here for days, with no way past the fleshcrafter and his creatures, which I've so kindly cleaned out for you?'
Gary bristled, not liking my tone or the fact that he had to acknowledge that for once, he, Gary, 'eyes of the Camarilla', had been helpless.
Kueu-Jin. The name was at once familiar and ominous. I refused to let on though.
Vampires of the East. A flashback, to a night that seemed months, not days ago. A sword through my shoulder, blood pouring from my mouth as I gutted another vampire. An email. 'L.A. is ripe for the taking', I murmured under my breath. Gary looked at me, puzzled, obviously unable to hear my words. I came back to the present, looking at him with cool eyes.
'So, what else is there to know?'
'Let me guess. You want everybody's favourite hound to sniff him out for you.'
I sighed. It wasn't like I had a choice. LaCroix had made it very clear that if I came back without it, I wouldn't be leaving his office again. 'Alright, I'll find him. Where do you suggest I start?'
'Isn't that a little like sleeping with the enemy? Whose to say she won't torch me on sight?'
'I'll find him, but I swear to God Gary, if I do and you hold out on me...'
'Right.' I turned, using the other door out of Gary's room. It led down a long corridor that gradually climbed up, leading to a rickety ladder. I climbed up, opening the small door at the top, and stepping into a familiar place.
The graveyard. I was finally out. With a sigh of relief, and a feeling of near-joy at being out, I left the building, and headed up through the graveyard, whistling happily. I could happily live the rest of my unlife without ever seeing another damned sewer pipe.
Here was the building Imalia had mentioned. Using the keycard, I opened the front door, and came into an opulent common-room. A large TV was mounted on the wall in front of a comfortable looking couch. Ignoring it, I proceeded up the stairs, coming to another door. Using the keycard to open it, I carefully made my way into the entrance hall, crouching down and moving as stealthily as possible.
I peered around the corner, watching as the infamous supermodel walked into the kitchen. Creeping past the kitchen door, I saw a man sitting down tiredly on a couch watching a ball-game on TV. Behind him was a table that directly faced the kitchen. Moving behind the sofa, I positioned the webcam underneath the table, fixing it to the underside.
Continuing on, I headed through the open-plan apartment to the bedroom. A doorway was partly open, exposing the bathroom. Again I moved in silently, and fixed the webcam underneath the bench, directly facing the shower. Then I paused, almost panicked. The man groaned as he stood up, and made his way to the bathroom. I hid behind the door, listening as he undid his belt and unzipped his jeans. He stood, urinating loudly, coughing as he did so. If he turned to use the handbasin, I'd be found. Moving as quickly as I could while remaining silent, I moved to the other side of the door, and crawled quickly along the carpet and behind the bed as he flushed the toilet, moving towards the handbasin. Relief washed through me as I placed the last webcam on the bedside table. That was all three. Turning to the computer on a small desk behind the screen partition, I entered in the password 'cleopatra', and activated the cameras. An email appeared on screen from Imalia, which I opened.
Great work. I can see all three cameras from here. They're getting ready for the main event tonight. Come by tomorrow night for your reward.
Curious, I turned, and stealthily made my way out of the building. I had no idea what Imalia was hoping to get, but I was intrigued, no doubt about it. Coming into the cold air, steam rising from several vents in the sidewalk, I walked to the taxi that was waiting outside the convenience store.
'Where to?', asked that deep, uncaring voice. Right now, after everything I'd been through that night, I could have kissed him. I never even want to look at a manhole ever again, I thought with passion.
'I've got a craving for Chinese food', I said, leaning back on the seat. 'You know a good place?'
'I'm a cab-driver aren't I?', the voice replied in amusement, the corner of one lip twitching slightly.
'Great. I'm hungry.'