Vamp Till Cue: Cadenza
A handful of stars peeked through the night sky bright enough to penetrate the permanent glow of the cityscape of San Francisco. The moon was easily noticeable, though, being a few days shy of full illumination. With all the ambient light shadows were nearly as pronounced at night as they were during the day, especially if you were familiar with looking for them. Abandoned buildings. Dark alleys. The shade of a rooftop stairway entrance.
A chance glance up at the shadow in question might have revealed a pair of eyes observing the entrance of a building across the street, but the owner would have wanted to be noticed if even that mere glimpse was allowed. Cunning brown irises marked one of the more notable features of the observer in question, as well as a confident posture, impeccable business attire complete with a pocket handkerchief, close-cut hair that was nearly as dark as the shadow he stood in, and a generally unreadable expression. Both hands were currently tucked into the pockets of his fine linen pants while his gaze remained intently fixed in place. No matter how much time passed, the figure hardly seemed to blink and only moved to duck away from the rare person who looked up toward his position. His tailored, hunter green, three-piece suit was ideal for blending in with shadows but caused his pale complexion to be even more of a stark contrast than it might have been otherwise.
Seeing movement up the street, his eyes flicked in that direction, away from where the bouncer stood at the entrance to the establishment of interest. A raised eyebrow marked his most pointed reaction to any of the people that had been seen coming to or from the building since taking up his post.
A couple strolled down the street, the woman practically draped under the arm of a man dressed almost as immaculately as our observer aside from the lack of a vest and tie. She, on the other hand, was attired like a walking Frederick’s of Hollywood advertisement, complete with knee-high boots and a barely there skirt that showed off her legs to more than a good advantage. The gentleman walked with a measured pace of one who was used to being mindful of appearing casual to observers and there was a distinct air of awareness that accompanied the demeanor, but at the moment most of his attention was focused on his hip-attachment. Both were equally attractive, the woman possessing a voluptuous but trim figure and an open, innocent face that appeared even more so paired with the weathered features of her companion. Had all three been at ground level there would have been a handful of inches difference in favor of the approaching man though the woman would have been just about eye level with the rooftop watcher, with her shoes.
A gust of wind caught the edge of the stroller’s black jacket and sharp brown eyes took note of the glint of neon light on steel. Our observer’s expression sobered and his gaze became even more intense while the pair halted as the gentleman on the ground nodded to the bouncer in a familiar manner.
Sam nodded back in his customarily terse manner. “Back again I see.”
“Just let us in, Sam,” said the woman, who spared just enough time to shoot the burly man a look of annoyed impatience before turning her hungry gaze back to her escort. “We’re here to have fun.”
A deep throated chuckle sounded from her companion who looked at Sam apologetically. “Do forgive Keira. I promised her we would spend the evening here but it took us longer than anticipated to actually make it out the door.”
“Uh huh,” was Sam’s unenthusiastic response as he stepped aside to allow them into the bar. “Just do me a favor, Poet, and keep her out of trouble. If you can manage.”
The man flashed a devilish looking grin, confirming another detail about his identity. “I’m certain I can come up with something.”
She growled in response as they disappeared from view, leaving the street quiet and lacking any occupants aside from the statute that was Sam who resumed his post in front of the doors.
Having drifted close to edge, the man on the roof stepped back into the shadows once more but resumed his watch with a more thoughtful expression. It was apparent that something about the couple had caught his eye for a reason beyond casual curiosity or aesthetic appreciation. The look remained a fixture through the activity that continued to transpire below. A few potential patrons were turned away by Sam who explained patiently thatNocturnal Embers was a private establishment that did not cater to just anyone dropping by. Some were sent on their way with a dazed look after speaking to the bouncer but none had to confronted physically.
Car headlights flashed down the street, jarring the man on the roof out of his reverie and provoking a much more expressive response in the form of a wide grin as the vehicle approached.
The bouncer and our observer watched with equal attentiveness as two men swiftly exited the luxury sedan. One took up a frontal position, his eyes fixed toward the opposite end of the street than how they had approached, while the other scurried around the car and opened the back door closest to the bar’s entrance.
Felix Chekhov stepped out into the crisp March air.
Confirming his suspicions was all the queue needed to provoke a hasty step out of view lest anyone take note of the extra member of the audience.
It would have ruined half the fun.
Inside, the bar’s layout was fairly ordinary. Directly opposite the entrance was the raised counter surrounded by high stools. Assorted tables and chairs littered the main area of the room to the left, surrounded by booths attached along the walls. A pool table and jukebox were located in the area to the right of the bar with the kitchen and a small office behind. The bartender, Tony, was an amiable enough fellow that made a living both on the refreshments he sold to his customers and on the welcoming atmosphere that he maintained in the establishment. He was only a partial owner but it was enough that his investment in the place was more than merely that of an employee.
Tony provided a willing ear to his patron’s woes, but there was a few very specific reason they chose to provide Nocturnal Embers with their business. One of which would be revealed if you had a chance to look at the menu’s somewhat foreign offerings listed alongside the typical bar fare. Blood. Rare meat. And there were strict policies posted in an unassuming manner beside the list of the night’s specials on a dry-erase board hanging near the bar. No killing on the premises, and promises of dire consequences against anything silver ever making it through the entrance.
Felix Chekhov walked inside with a condescending smirk plastered on his lips. His entrance went unremarked at first since Tony was occupied heating up a packet of blood in the microwave behind the bar. He poured it into a glass before offering it to Keira, who made a face at her companion as he sipped at a single malt scotch, but whatever response Poet might have issued was interrupted when the bartender noticed his new customer.
“What can I get ya Mr. Chekhov?” Tony could have easily been mistaken for a line backer in his youth but the tone of voice he addressed toward the comparatively smaller man was one that hinted at extreme wariness. He wouldn’t have been able to run a place likeNocturnal Embers if he were one to easily succumb to fear, seeing as a number of his customers would have been eying him in a hungry manner any time it happened, but this was as close as he tread towards that line.
Felix took his time approaching the bar. Conversation around the room dropped to a whisper and the jukebox suddenly seemed loud as everyone either discretely, or not, turned their attention toward the scene unfolding at the bar. Poet was still leaning an arm against the counter, sipping at his drink, but Keira tugged at his elbow in a silent communication. He glanced back at her and perked an eyebrow but deferred to her insistence that they step away. They settled themselves into an empty booth just as Felix reached the row of stools. Stepping between them, he rested both palms on the well-worn counter top and smiled without a hint of friendliness at Tony before finally answering the question.
“You could get me your signature on that pesky little document I had Vanya drop off last week, Anthony.”
Tony nonchalantly pulled a towel off of its hook and began polishing a glass. “Already told ya I ain’t the one ya gotta take that up with.”
“Is that so?” Felix moved to sit in one of the stools, his imported leather jacket creaking as his bent his arms to rest his elbows on the surface of the bar. A gold earing accented by a brilliant diamond glittered in his right ear, and his Italian silk shirt was so fresh off the press it’s a wonder the collar wasn’t sharp enough to cut. “Well, Anthony, I think you’re undervaluing yourself. See, you own the majority of the business. That means what you say goes. And I gotta tell you, I’d really appreciate you saying that you’re gonna come work for me. We’re old friends, aren’t we?”
Another glass found it’s way into Tony’s meaty hands for polishing. “Our people’s the same people, but we ain’t no friends.”
Felix pressed one hand over his chest in mock pain. “Anthony, you’re hurting my feelings. After all the nice things I’ve done for you.”
“You ain’t done nofin that I couldn’t ah done myself, Mr. Chekhov,” Tony responded, setting the glass back into place and slinging the towel over his shoulder in a practiced movement. He rested both his hands on the counter, inches from Felix’s, and leaned forward. “Now, ya can either order sumfin, or ya can leave. I ain’t runnin’ no social club.”
The smaller man’s nostrils flared in aggravation and it appeared as though Tony was about to get a more vitriolic speech from Felix when another elbow joined the collection on the counter. Felix whirled on the newcomer, his expression betraying his temper, but it was only met by a serene grin fixed on a pale face. It took several long seconds for Felix to fully register the intruder’s presence before he bristled. “Fancy seeing you here.”
“Oh come now, Felix, give me a little credit,” said the pale man in a hunter green suit as his grin widened. “After all, we’re such old friends I simply couldn’t pass up the chance to say hello. It’s been entirely too long.”
Felix suddenly became aware of the audience watching with rapt attention and bit back whatever he’d intended to respond. Sneering, he said, “You’re worse than a cockroach, Victor.”
“The roaches no doubt consider that a compliment,” came the dry reply, but Victor’s grin turned menacing. “I’d hate to consider draining you, Felix. I don’t really think your blood would suit my palate but it would be worth subjecting myself to the affront just to have the pleasure of feeling you wriggling in my arms as you died.”
Felix sputtered. “You can’t touch me, you asshole. My people would burn this place to the ground and then start working on your little vamp buddies. And I promise you’d be one of the first to bite the dust.”
Victor tsked. “Now now, my ursine friend, please don’t embarrass yourself with such useless threats. Especially when you can’t even back them up.” Faster than most of the people in bar could see, Victor lifted his arm from the counter and flicked Felix’s forehead. Though the move was far from forceful, Felix’s head snapped back as though Victor had hit him with a closed fist rather than a single finger.
Face flushed in equal measures of anger and embarrassment, Felix resisted the urge to raise a hand to touch the tender spot forming but visibly worked himself up to the point where he again appeared ready to launch into a tirade. The vampire smoothly cut off the were-bear before he had a chance to begin. “This place is under his lordship’s dominion, Felix. The duke. Do you really want to piss on his boots like this?”
Felix grit his teeth. Victor raised an eyebrow in a silent dare but no further words were exchanged between them. Felix rose from his seat and briskly strode from the bar, not bothering to look back before the door swung shut.
The people in the room who breathed collectively sighed in relief.
“Ya have impeccable timing there, Mr. Mason,” Tony said quietly as conversations began picking up again.
Victor smiled more genuinely and nodded. “Think nothing of it, Tony. You may not be one of us but this bar has been neutral ground for longer than half of your customers have been alive. It’s far too lucrative to allow an upstart, self-stylized mobster to strong arm a controlling interest, among other reasons.”
Tony grinned at the compliment. “Ya sure pissed off Mr. Chekhov good. Gotta say, yur pretty crazy even for a vamp.”
A broad grin was issued in response. “From you, friend, I shall take that as a compliment. Now, if you don’t mind, I think I’d like to enjoy the rest of my evening in your fine establishment.”
The bartender nodded, relaxing back into his customary posture. “Sure thing, Mr. Mason. Whatever yous want tonight s’on the house.”
Victor chuckled. “I find myself in the mood for something a little fresher than packet blood this evening, Tony, but thank you. The gesture is appreciated.” Tony smiled politely and nodded in response as Victor turned to survey the crowd. The were-wolf bartender was more than willing to cater to blood-suckers but that didn’t mean he had to be completely kosher with their meal habits. But, so long as no one died in the bar, he let them do as they please. Seeing as Victor was older than most of the ones who walked through his doors, Tony knew that was about as much of a safety guarantee anyone could expect.
Letting the sounds from inside the bar filter through his acute hearing, Victor’s gaze lazily traveled over the booths and tables. The waitresses had begun moving around again but they had several minutes worth of catching up to do, prompting a number of patrons to rise from their seats and approach the bar to get themselves refills. Most of the women who passed him smiled in a faintly nervous manner but the patrons of Nocturnal Embers, like Tony, were used to being around vampires enough to know better than to show open fear. It took a special kind of human to be comfortable enough to socialize with the undead.
He spotted the pair that had caught his eye on the street and he allowed himself to linger on their table for a few moments longer than he’d looked at anyone else. The female vampire, Keira, truly was a beauty. Victor wondered if her companion was her maker but after a moment’s reflection he decided that they seemed to behave more like lovers than sire and child. It was enough for him to be curious about the details behind their relationship, since vampire-vampire couplings were rare due to the consquences of repeated blood exchanges, but Victor was brought out of his thoughts when the man called Poet met his eyes. Victor gazed back at him evenly and found himself contemplating the unique emerald hue of the irises locked on his own. He grinned at Poet and nodded, receiving a nod in response. When Keira turned around to see what her companion was looking at Victor’s smile turned charming, but he merely nodded once more and then continued his inspection.
A familiar scent caused him to turn towards the entrance as another vampire walked in. Victor smoothly moved away from the counter to greet him and the two exchanged a nod and a silent hello. The most recent addition to the crowd was dressed much more casually than Victor, clad in a pair of dark slacks and a long sleeved Henley underneath a well worn leather jacket, but it was apparent to even those who’d never seen them together before that the two counted each other as friends.
“I’m always late to the party,” the younger, more relaxed vampire complained in a bemused manner.
“Should I apologize, Will? It was hardly by invitation only.”
Will laughed before resuming the low tone of conversation that was the habit of vampires speaking in a mixed crowd. Unless a were was standing right beside them, none but another immortal would have been able to overhear the words and the background noise of the bar was enough to mask most of it. “Sam said Felix Chekhov had one hell of a welt on his forehead when he got into his car and I heard him shouting for an icepack before he drove off.”
“He said I couldn’t touch him,” Victor replied.
Will’s eyes widened. “You old git,” he said, shaking his head and trying not to laugh. “Leaving me out of all the fun. I should wonder why I call you my friend.”
“Because, my antebellum acquaintance,” Victor said smugly, “I’m one of the few who properly appreciate you.”
Sighing dramatically, the other vampire shrugged. “My lot in life, I suppose.” He turned serious suddenly, eyes darting around the room. “You did get the okay from Rupert, right?”
Victor shook his head. Will gave him a concerned look but Victor merely smirked and lifted his hand, his index finger pointing upwards. Will looked appropriately impressed. “Damn. But you know you’re going to take the heat on this.”
Nodding, Victor slipped his hands into his pockets. “I’m prepared to deal with it. I’ve been requested to linger here until this is fully settled.”
Will nodded slowly, letting the implications sink in. “We’ll be glad to have you around, but watch stepping on Rupert’s toes. You know how he gets about the primael traipsing around his duchy.”
Victor chuckled. “I’ll be cautious. I have no desire to settle here, anyway. King Reginald is more than accommodating in Nevada, and the situation there is much more suited to me.”
“You just be sure to keep that in mind. If you haven’t checked in yet-” Will cut himself off, “Don’t answer that. I know you haven’t or Felix would have known you were here. Just make sure you do it soon, alright? Tonight?”
“Tomorrow. Tonight is for recreation.”
Will looked around the room again with a more appraising eye. “Suppose I don’t blame you. Anything catch your fancy yet?”
Victor shook his head, then turned to resume his survey. “Not just yet, but the night is young.” He grinned. “And so are the women.”
“Yeah, yeah, just keep in mind if you’re sticking around for a while you might want to be a bit more genteel than your usual dine and dash habit. The ladies have gotten fiesty.”
Raising an eyebrow, Victor glanced at Will briefly. “That sounds promising.”
“Not really,” Will explained. “They stick together when one of us doesn’t treat them right. Course their version of right and ours is entirely different. Makes for interesting entanglements but that’s all I’ll say about it.”
Victor chuckled again. “You’ve become far too soft, dear William. The women never know what’s good for them where we’re concerned.”
Even Will had to grin. “True enough.” He shifted on his feet as though he was caught in an internal debate but Victor merely waited for his friend to speak. After another moment of silence, Will’s posture relaxed and he turned to face Victor again. “How hungry are you? I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet.”
Of any of the things Victor might have expected Will to say, that was not one of them. “Don’t tell me you’ve acquired a lover, Will. You haven’t been the type for nearly a century.”
Will chuckled. “No. Not a lover.” He waited in silence for Victor’s answer but got impatient when one was not forthcoming. “So?”
Victor grinned. “I’d be honored to meet her.” He raised an eyebrow. “It is a her?”
“Definitely a her, my friend,” Will said, grinning back at Victor as he clapped his friend on the shoulder, but his eyes strayed somewhere into the distance of the bar and wiped the grin off his face. “I’ll be outside when you’re done.”
Lowering his voice again, Victor resisted looking over his shoulder at what might have caught Will’s attention. “Something I should know?”
Attempting a smile, Will said, “One of the feisty ones. I’ll explain later.” Without another word said, he stepped away and hastily ducked out the door.
Not a handful of seconds later, Victor caught sight of the approaching red-headed human. Her eyes were fixed on the recently vacated doorway and her expression betrayed her disappointment. But then she turned, and looked at Victor hopefully. “Is he coming back?”
Victor gave her a frankly appraising look, taking in the details of her form. She was attractive and her body was slender like so many women these days, bordering on the point of being thin. He wondered what connection she had to Will but that was up to his friend to tell him. “No,” Victor answered, smiling in a disarming fashion that was long practiced to set humans at ease. His lips stayed closed enough that the tips of his retracted fangs would not be visible, and his expression was cast in a friendly mask. “But I will tell him you asked after him, Miss…?”
“Oh, right, you don’t remember me.” An alluring blush crept up her cheeks, causing her skin to flush closer to the color of her fiery hair. Victor’s hunger flared in response and his eyes focused on the clearly visible pulse in her throat as a torrent of words came tumbling out of her mouth. “I’m Matilda. Matty. And don’t call me Miss. It makes me feel old. I used to work for Will.”
It never ceased to amaze Victor even after four centuries of roaming the earth how simple it was to hear the subtext beneath a human’s words. “My apologies, Matty. I do remember Will speaking of you, but I don’t recall if we’ve ever met.” He wondered how long ago Will had fed from her. “You will have to forgive me,” he said, still smiling. “Humans tend to look alike unless I have a reason to remember them. Especially the attractive ones.”
Her skin flushed deeper and Victor’s smile widened to a grin, letting her see his fangs but she seemed more intrigued than afraid. ‘Foolish girl. You’re still the prey.’
“Thanks, Vic,” she said, and his smile froze in place as any potential interest in her fled. “If you could just tell him I said hi, I’d appreciate it.” She glanced back toward her table, where a group of ladies was calling her name. “It was nice meeting you.”
“A pleasure,” he responded genially, keeping the annoyance from his voice.
Matty smiled and waved a quick goodbye before heading back to her friends. Victor took note of the other women briefly, noticing that they were sitting in the booth behind Poet and Keira and appeared to be engaged with them in friendly conversation. One of the women gave Matty a very pointed look as she settled back into her seat, but Victor missed the hushed words they shared due to the other noise in the bar.
Sighing lightly, Victor decided to skip the feed. It would have had to merely be a sip, anyway, since Will was waiting for him. Waiting to indulge properly seemed the wiser course of action.
He spared one more lingering look at the two booths and then headed for the doors.