The sun was just starting to peak from behind the San Francisco skyline in the distance when Nick exited the front door of Sabet. The skyscrapers acted as a wind tunnel, funneling a strong breeze at his back as he headed up the street toward the train station. The cop car that had brought him there was still parked outside. The window rolled down and the driver was about to call out and ask him if he needed a ride home. But Nick just waved him off. He didn’t want anything to do with anything involved with this mess. He couldn’t believe the audacity of The Apostates trying to sucker him into being some kind of fall guy when the shit hit the fan. What was worse, was Gabe’s involvement in the whole thing.
Right in front of the Bay Area Transit entrance, there was an extremely tiny coffee shop. Not even a shop, it felt like a small crevice between two buildings that someone wedged a small counter and equipment into. Nick had grabbed coffee from Meek’s a few times before. He forgot the owner’s name, but he did remember he was a nice man.
He ordered a medium latte with two shots. A few minutes later, he was sipping on the strong, fragrant coffee; a perfect contrast to the cool breezy air. He gave the man $5.00 and told him to keep the change. When the man turned around toward the cash register, Nick slipped another $10 bill in his tip jar. He quickly left Meek’s before the man could turn and thank him and descended into the underground train station. As he reached the bottom step an fiddled in his pockets for his train ticket, he felt the coffee working its mojo. He made up his mind then and there to forget the whole Apostate debacle.
Fuck Gabe. Fuck the Cleric. Fuck all of it!
Nick didn’t have to wait too long for the train. Right on time, it pulled into the station with barely anyone onboard. As the doors slid open, he scoped out the seating in the back of the car that faced the rest of the train and had more leg room. As he sat down and the train started moving again, he realized he hadn’t noticed the man and woman sitting in the seats directly across from him. Through his peripheral vision, he could see that they looked like they were in their mid-twenties. But they could’ve been older than that; much older, in fact. Vampires aged at an incredibly slow rate. Something to do with chemically altered blood cells or something.
He didn’t quite know.
What really gave the couple away was the fact that Nick didn’t notice them at first. Vampires had some type of sense that bended human perception. It forces you to not want to notice them. It was a very strange thing. Apostates were trained to always examine the empty space in their senses. Vampires couldn’t take away your field of vision, but they could make it harder for the brain to want to access them.
The train car was nearly empty. Except him and the two vampires, there was an older gentleman sitting at the front of the car. He exited the train at the next two stops.
When the train started to move again, the vampires seem to turn their attention to Nick. He still didn’t look at them, but could feel their eyes on him.
They were harmless. Most vampires in the city were these days. But they did like to be braggadocios. He could hear them whispering and giggling.
Ten years ago, the thought of co-existing with vampires or werewolves are any other kind of otherworldly creatures would have been inconceivable.
But here he was. Sitting across the train from two fangs.
When they’re stop came, they promptly jumped up like a couple of teenagers and headed for the door. Just before the train stopped and the doors opened, they both looked back at Nick, who at that time was staring back at them. As the train doors slid open, the vampires gave the former Apostate a nod of acknowledgement. Without thinking, Nick did the same in kind.
For years, Nick had existed inside his own bubble. He didn’t care about anything that was outside of his sphere of existence at any given time. This was the first time he was forced to see and understand the New World Order. For years, he’d fought to protect the human race from the onslaught of otherworldly things. He’d done terrible things on a daily basis to protect the populace from anything that would throw the real world into complete chaos. He hated to admit it, but the Catholic Church had done what he wasn’t able to do.
They ended the war. What he and the Apostates couldn’t do on the battle field, The Church was able to accomplish through back room democracy and shadowy negotiations.
He hated The Church. It was only at that moment he had to at least consider the possibility that his hatred stemmed not from betrayal, but from jealousy. He didn’t like how the situation was resolved. These creatures still lived among us. They were still a threat. But at least there was an open dialog with those who were civilized to understand there could be a better way.
His mind kept going back to the two vampires who had just departed. There was something odd. At first he couldn’t put his finger on it. It took a few minutes for him to realize that the problem he was having was.. There was no problem with them. They didn’t appear to be blood thirsty creatures. They seemed to be more people trying to figure out where they fit in.
Nick’ stop was coming up next. He spent that time pondering on the case Cleric Hayes presented. He had to look at the truth of the situation. If the Apostates couldn’t get a handle these murders, eventually panic would set in. And there’s nothing worse than creatures with fangs and claws who have nothing to lose. Whatever this unknown predator was, it was more than a threat to the populace. It was a threat to the uneasy peace that Nick was realizing needed to stay intact for everyone’s sake.
The train pulled into his station and he got up from his seat. The doors slid open and he began to exit, when his first step felt like it was stuck in flypaper. He stared off into the empty train station, knowing he should just leave, head home and enjoy his boring weekend.
But he couldn’t move.
Something was compelling him to stay on the train. He tried to deny it, but he knew what he had to do. He knew that two more stops will put him smack in the middle of the Mother’s Den.
Not only would there be things with claws and fangs, but more importantly there might be answers.
The doors slid closed in front of him and the train moved forward.
Nick sighed. “Motherfucking Gabe…”
The BART train had reached the end of the line. It would stop for 5 minutes, load up on passengers and take off in the direction it came from. When Nick finally exited the train, he stepped onto a crowded platform of people trying to get to work early. He had to fight to clear the doorway as the herd of people pushed onto the train; waves of arms and legs and backpacks and suitcases..
When the train finally pulled away from the platform, there was no one left in the station. But he knew that by the time the next train came in fifteen minutes, it would once again be packed. He knew he had to find the exit he needed before more people showed up.
Nick wasn’t looking toward the two exiting escalators that led you out of the station and onto the San Francisco streets. He was looking for the special entrance.
Underneath the city and connected to the entire BART system, were a series of secret entrances that led to catacombs further into the earth. All the stations had them. They were the main access points for the Vampire Nation that still called the underground their home. Nearly half of their populace chose to live above ground like humans. They got apartments, jobs and pretty much reveled in blending in with the humans to stay safe.
The other half chose to stay in the tradition of subterranean dwelling. For easy access to their home, entry points were created so that vampires had easy access underground at a moments notice. You never knew when you’d get caught during the daylight hours. So these secret entrances were the best way to move around.
Each entrance was disguised from most humans. If you were one of those who were ‘in the know’, it still didn’t matter, because most of those people weren’t stupid enough to enter. Sure, you’d get a group of idiot teenagers, or those needing a place to hide who were foolish enough to enter. It was recognized by vampires, Apostates and Law Enforcement alike, that the underworld was out of human jurisdiction. Anyone or thing that entered the domain of the vampires were at the mercy of Vampire Law.
Enter at your own risk.
It had been a while since Nick entered these catacombs. He didn’t like it then, and he wasn’t going to like it now. This time it would be a little tricky. Since he turned down the request Apostate support, he had no authority or back up down there. The last time he entered, he was a hunter. He killed more than a few fangs, so it didn’t give him any good will with the Other-worldlies.
At the far end of the train tunnel. Just before the tracks disappeared into the dark corridor, An old dusty iron door with the words ‘Official Access: Do Not Enter’ spray-painted across it. It was so dirty that its bright orange color was muted by the amount of dust and soot caked on it; so much that it almost blended in with the blackish grey walls on either side.
Nick took another look around to make sure the place was devoid of commuters. No one was there, but he could see the shadows of people coming down the escalator. He quickly jumped down onto the train tracks and shuffled his way over toward the orange door, making sure he avoided the 3rd rail.
He pulled on the large door and it slowly started to budge. He’d remembered that vampires were slightly stronger than humans. They could probably open this door with one pull. But not him. It took Nick a half dozen grunting pulls before the door slowly swung open.
Looking back behind himself to make sure no one saw him, he started to walk inside. But just as he turn to enter the darkened entrance, he was startled to see a figure standing in front of him, just out of reach of the light.
“Jesus Christ!” he jumped back a bit. The figure was standing about 6 inches from his face when he turned around. He was a short pudgy man with slightly balding red hair. He wore a tattered Anthrax rock band t-shirt; tattered meaning less old and more fashionable. His eyes were just above the color of hazel, making them more of a milk-ish yellow.
“You don’t belong here.” He said calmly, his two fangs barely visible protruding from between his lips.
“I didn’t know they posted guards here now.” Nick said catching his breath.
“You don’t belong here.” He repeated.
“Understood. But I need to see the Queen.”
The vampire looked him up and down. “Alter Boy?” He asked, which was vampire slang for Apostate.
“Retired.” Nick replied. “I’m investigating the mystery vampire deaths. I’m guessing she’s expecting me.”
On the train, Nick had figured out Gabe and the meeting with Cleric Hayes. He knew they knew there was no way he’d work for the Apostates again. They just needed to get him to the meeting and to give him the information. They knew he’d be too curious to just let it go. He’d be locked onto the mystery like a bloodhound. Allowing him to flip off the Cleric and walk away was the best way for both sides to get what they wanted. He would get a chance to work on a case with no pushback from the Apostates, and The Church would get an independent investigator that could solve the case, or crash and burn with no responsibility on their end.
He didn’t blame Gabe for what he did. It was apparent the rash of otherworldly and human murders was making their paper thin alliance uneasy. All he wanted to do now is keep it from spilling onto the streets.
“No one told me you were coming. I would know.” The vampire said.
“My name is Nick Poole.”
The vampire flinched. Not a lot. But Nick could see his eyes twitch.
“Yeah.. that Nick Poole.” Nick stood a little taller. “The last time I was here, things were a lot different. Now? I really don’t give a shit. I just need some information. So, take me to see the Queen or I’ll try to find my way there.” He stepped closer to the vampire, his gaze no longer ambivalent. “I can walk with you or through you.. It makes no difference.”
The trudge down through the catacombs took nearly a half hour. The dirt and gravel path was steep and winding, killing Nick’s ankles and calves as he tried to keep a firm footing and not slip. The vampire was a few paces ahead of him. Normally they could traverse the catacombs in a third of the time. Their speed, sight and hearing were incredible. To them, the darkness seemed like a house with no lights on in the middle of the day. Nick, on the other-hand was just a human. Even though his senses and physical attributes were heightened over decades of training and discipline, he still had no supernatural powers. He couldn’t see much. He could sense the outline of the vampire and he followed it with an uneasy trust.
Even though he couldn’t really see his surroundings, Nick’s honed senses still were working in overdrive. Along with the vampire he followed, others were in the darkness with them. They were moving along the walls and ceiling of the catacombs– observing him. They made very little sound. They were trained to stalk their prey. They made movements only when the sound could be masked by their prey’s movements. Nick counted at least three others. He couldn’t be sure, because they moved so well. He wasn’t worried about them attacking him. They could try to get the upper-hand, but he was trained well. He knew the sounds of a vampire attack. There was significant changes in the environment when a vampire is about to attack you. The locking of their bones and muscles when their about the pounce.. the sound of their jaws unhinging like a snake, just before they strike.. The rush of extra saliva from their mouths that carried a neurotoxin to help restrain their victims.
Nick was trained to notice these sudden changes and react accordingly. Not only did he know this, but also the vampires around him. There was a certain way underworldies and Apostates recognized each other. The last thing either side wanted was to tangle for no reason.
“You doing okay back there?” the Vampire asked. “I know it’s pretty dark. We wouldn’t want you to have an accident before we get where we’re going.”
Nick smiled. “Oh, I’m fine. I’ve done this before. There were accidents that day too. I don’t think either of us want that to happen, right?”
“Rudy.” He said. “My name is Rudy.”
“Glad to meet you Rudy. And don’t worry about me. You just lead me to the Queen and we’re all good.”
As they rounded the last corner, Nick could see a tunnel of light ahead. It was so bright, that it gave him a headache as his eyes tried to adjust.
“End of the line.” Rudy said as he disappeared into the light.
Nick noticed that the cadre of vampires that had been shadowing them stopped just short of the light. He figured they served their purpose as security for Rudy. No longer masking their movements, he could hear them scurrying back into the darkened caverns.
Nick kept his eyes down as he exited the catacombs. Watching his feet move, he noticed the gravely, dirty ground turn into a cobblestone walkway– pristine and shiny, as if someone had just washed and waxed it.
When his eyes adjusted to the light, he looked up to get his bearings. What he saw almost left him speechless. The last time he and the Apostates came here, it was a large cavernous dome made of dirt and rock. This new dwelling was nothing short than amazing.
The ceiling was lined with what he suspected was gigantic fluorescent lights, which gave the impression of daylight. The structure itself was a giant dome, similar to an indoor football field. Lines with the same cobblestones as far as the eye could see. Along the walls were walkways with circled the entire dome, leading to what looked like condominium-style dwellings. There had to be at least a hundred levels, all of them lined with doors, which must have been the primary vampire dwellings. Along the ground floor, there were streets, similar to vintage European towns. The first thing that came to mind were the miniature streets of Disneyland.
Nick stared at the vampire populous going about their lives as if they were human. There were shops and stores and parks and.. everything. Some had noticed him. There were whispers and murmurs. He had no doubt that some of them knew who he was.
He slowly kept walking further into the structure, in awe of these incredible wonders that these Underworldlies had created. How could there have been so much change in such a little time?
What was the master plan in all this?
“No master plan, Mr. Poole.” A voice called to him from a figure lost in the crowd of vampires in front of him. A short Asian woman in an impeccable blue Ladies’ Pant Suit approached him with a big grin. She had the most beautiful bright red hair that was folded into a bun. She looked as if she could’ve been in her early 40’s if she was human. But judging from the size of her protruding fangs and the milky color of her eyes, she could’ve been hundreds of years old.
“I’m sorry for reading your mind.” She apologized. “It’s standard procedure for visitors. We never know who’s coming to visit.”
Nick was still amazed. “Am I seeing some type of vampire glamour?”
“No”. She replied. “This is real.”
“But how did you..”
“It was our Queen.” She offered her hand. “Samantha Curry, Foreign Advisor to The Queen.”
Nick extended his hands and shook hers, still in awe of his surroundings. “Nick Poole. Apostate, retired.”
Samantha took a spot beside him and they slowly ventured further into the city. The vampire populace was very interested in Nick, but they still kept themselves at a good distance.
“I’m not the biggest fan of vampires.. But this is amazing.” Nick said.
“Thank you.” Sam responded. “Queen Lita was a naturalist. She believed that we vampires needed to live inside the Earth like our ancestors. When she was killed, newly-anointed Queen Preta decided to bury the old ways with her predecessor.”
They ventured past the center of town, which was a large flower nursery with strange vegetation that Nick didn’t recognize. They venture through the center walkway of the garden, looming ahead of them was a large palace double doorway.”
“I was expecting a ‘less warm’ welcome from you guys.” Nick said searching his pockets for his cigarettes.
Sam smiled. “We expected The Church to send an investigator. But we didn’t think they’d send a..” She chose her words carefully. “…Well, a veteran of the last war.”
Nick fought back a laugh. “So that’s what they call us down here?”
“Not really. I’m trying to be.. more enlightened.”
They both laughed.
When they reached the Palace door, it was the first time Nick had seen warrior-class vampires inside the structure. There were a half a dozen of them posted alongside the door. When he and Sam got close, all six of them stood in front of the door. When they were within 5 yards of the guards, Sam quickly stepped in front and face Nick.
Her cold, yet soft hands lightly pressed against his chest, stopping him in his tracks.
“Mr. Poole. We need to get a few things straight before we proceed.” Sam said, in a gentle voice. “I need to know that you’re not hear to rekindle any– unresolved issues with the vampire hierarchy. Because you know any aggressive actions against Queen Preta will result in your immediate death.”
“I understand.” Nick replied. “Any issues I had with you guys died with Lita. Queen Preta pledged peace when she took over and as far as I know she’s held up her end of the bargain.”
“So The Church sends you hear under an official banner of non-aggression?”
Nick shook his head. “I’m not representing The Church. The Apostates convinced me to proceed as an independent investigator. I’m hoping not being aligned with anyone might erase the notion of me having any agendas.”
“Interesting..” Sam studied Nick’s expressions. She listened to his heart rate– his steady, calm breathing. She lightly probed the surfaces of his memories, looking for any signs of deception.
Nick did nothing to fight it. After all, he was telling the truth.
“As far as I’m concerned, there’s no issue here. We all want the same thing. And apparently The Church is so spooked by this, they’re willing to beg me to help them.”
Sam exhaled, which Nick thought was strange because Vampires didn’t breathe.
“That’s good to know.” She started the walk toward the gate. Two of the warrior vampires opened the double-doors. When Nick tried the follow, they other four stepped in front of him.
“I will relay your request to The Queen.” Sam said entering the Palace doors. “Please wait here while I clear everything up.”
She disappeared into the darkness and the doors were promptly closed.
Nick found his wrinkled back of cigarettes in his back pocket. He pulled the pack out to find it was almost full. He’d promised his self that he’d stop smoking. For the past couple months he’d been doing a great job. He’d given up all his vices except his few pints at The Last Round.
“Fuck it. Perfect excuse to fall off the wagon.” He popped a menthol in his mouth and proceeded to light-up. As the lighter’s flame caught the cigarette and he inhaled to spark it, he looked up to see all six warrior vampires staring at him. There was no joy or malice in their faces. They were all blank, as if they were statues.
Then the closest vampire broke ranks and started to walk over toward him. He readied himself for some display of aggression.
But none came.
“Bum a smoke?” the vampire asked with a grin.
“Really?” Nick was startled. “You guys smoke?”
The vampire shrugged. “Lungs don’t work. But at least we can taste it.”
Nick slid his disposable lighter inside the cigarette carton’s plastic wrap and then tossed the whole thing toe vampire.
The vampire nodded with a slight grin in appreciation and went back to share with the others.
‘Crazy shit.’ Nick thought to himself.
He’d love to call Gabe and tell him that he was sharing a smoke with a vampire. To be honest, the entire situation was crazy.
Further back into the garden, Nick found an empty bench surrounded by stunning blue and purple flowers. He thought they looked like orchids but a lot bigger. Each flower was the size of a 10-speed bicycle wheel. He sat down and took another long drag on his cigarette. He looked back at the Palace gate to see the warrior vamps still keeping an eye on him. They were a little more animated now, and each was enjoying a cigarette, but they made sure to keep the former Apostate in their view.
Nick didn’t mind. He understood the importance of protecting the hierarchy. All he needed was to get information from The Queen and figure out where he stood in the investigation. He reached inside his coat pocket and pulled out his phone. He expected to be out of range for a signal, but he was pleasantly surprised to see he had 4 bars.
‘Better reception than I get topside.’ He thought to himself. ‘Mutherfucking AT&T.’
Checking his email, he saw that Cleric Hayes had emailed him the presentation and a few other documents concerning the investigation. He quickly sifted through the PowerPoint slides until he reached the images. He wanted to study the picture of the four vampire carcasses.
Something bothered him that went more than just the mystery of the bodies void of internal fluids. The fact that they were all posed in an attack or defensive position suggested that whatever happened to them was instantaneous. It was something they didn’t see coming, nor had time to react to.
He zoomed in and and scrolled around the image, looking at the surrounding areas. The grass, the structures, objects around them– nothing seemed out of place. It was as if the bodies had been ‘placed’ or ‘posed’ there after the face. He then studied a fact that the Apostates seemed to pass over– the slight indented impressions in the bodies. From what he could see, three of the bodies had them. The fourth was positioned in a way that he couldn’t see any indentations, but he assumed they were there. The incredibly detailed image allowed him to zoom in with an sharp clarity that amazed him. He could see the impressions clearly. He noticed there weren’t any cuts or burns around the area. It was as if nothing touched them.
He went back to the mail app and composed a reply to Cleric Hayes.
“Please send me toxicology on body impressions ASAP. Need to know of any chemical burns or mystical residue.”
He pressed SEND and slid his phone back into his inside coat pocket, just as Samantha appeared at the Palace entrance. It appeared she was finishing up a call. Curiously, she had a very stern look on her face while the phone was attached to her ear. Once she hung up and looked in Nick’s direction, that warm, inviting grin returned to greet him.
“Checking email?” She asked.
“Yeah. Getting info on the case.”
“One of The Queen’s big pushes is embracing technology on a global scale. We got 4G/LTE installed about 5 months ago. Isn’t AT&T great?”
Nick had to smile. “Wonderful.”
Samantha started to walk back toward the Palace gate and gestured for Nick to follow her.
“The Queen has agreed to see you. She seems happy that you come here under no affiliation.”
“I’m glad.” he answered.
As they passed the half dozen warrior vamps and entered the gateway, Nick felt like he’d just entered the lobby of a 5-star hotel. Large candelabras on both ends of the 20 yard corridor lit the way. Nick was sure that Samantha did that for his benefit. The spartan area was lined with deep burgundy love seats and shined gold fixtures. Under their feet was a burgundy royal carpet leading up to the door at the end of the hall. Nick notice the flickering luminance radiating from under the door. The Queen had readied her quarters for her visitor.
As they reached the door, Samantha stopped and maneuvered herself toward the side of the corridor.
“This is as far as I go, Mr. Poole.” She said pulling out her phone– the screen immediately lighting her face. “Please be on your best behavior.”
Sam immediately went to thumb-tapping on her iPhone.
Nick was puzzled. “So what? I just go in and you stand there checking email?”
Samantha glanced up. “No. You go in and I’ll be standing here playing Plants vs. Zombies.” She went back to her phone. “Addictive little shits.”
Nick pushed the double doors to The Queen’s Quarters open. The finely crafted doors seemed to float inward smoothly and quietly. Nick expected a Victorian-style bedroom, complete with lavish fireplace and canopy bed with all the trimmings. What he saw was a fairly modern-looking office which was larger than his entire apartment. The two adjacent walls to his left were lined with bookcases and old literature that stretched to the ceiling, which was a good 20 feet high. To his right, on the wall was a 80” television, hanging over a modest-looking fireplace.
The floors were dark hardwood and his steps echoed as he walked in. Ahead of him was a large, slightly circular desk with a tall burgundy leather chair. A 34” curved computer monitor was the only thing that sat on the spartan desk. It’s metal grey frame blended perfectly with the desk’s dark reddish color. The room was immaculately clean, as if someone had just unwrapped everything. It had that new leather smell that Nick loved so much.
As he stepped further into the office, he didn’t notice that the doors floated close until they were shut. His instinct was to reach for a weapon, but he fought back the urge. He knew the Queen was observing him. Even though Samantha had read him a couple times, he knew she could never be too careful.
Instantly, Nick sensed her presence behind him.
“I come in peace.” He smiled.
“I can see that.” A soft voice called from behind him.
Nick slowly turned around, with a great expectation of how the Queen would appear. He expected to see this incredibly curvy Elvira, Mistress of the Dark figure in a semi see-through black silk dress, long sexy black hair and protruding fangs, lightly spotted with blood.
He was disappointed.
She was wearing a dark burgundy suit with a black shirt. Her hair was a dirty blonde color which hung over her face slightly covering her thin-rimmed glasses. She was short, maybe around 5 foot 5. She had the body of an athlete. In all, she was absolutely gorgeous– a perfect balance of sex and sensibility.
And he was still disappointed.
Queen Peta laughed. “Really? Mistress of the Dark?”
Nick forgot his mind was open. All he could do is shrug in embarrassment.
“That could be considered borderline racist.” She approached him. “You men and your fantasies…”
She offered her hand and Nick took it.
“I am Peta Vassiliadis, 63rd Queen of the Vampire Nation.”
He returned the greeting. “Nick Poole, Graphic Designer.”
“Please… I know who you are, Mr. Poole.” She was amused.
Nick tried to finish the handshake, but the Queen didn’t let go.
She stared at him– grinning.
“I know what you did. I was there that day.”
Her grip felt like his hand was trapped in the vise of a stone statue. He wanted to struggle to get his hand back but he didn’t. He wasn’t in any danger. This was the Queen establishing that she was in the position of power, and that he would have to accept that he lived or died by her will.
“Do we have a problem?” he softly asked.
She said nothing at first, staring into his eyes– almost staring through him. Eventually she let go of her grip.
“None at all.” She replied. “Just sizing you up, I guess.”
Nick flexed his fingers to try and get the feeling back. “I hope I’m rating higher than food today.”
“This is the first time I’ve had to deal with human relations since the treaty.” She continued. “Forgive me if I seem a little guarded.”
“No apologies necessary.” He responded. “I think we’re all needing extended time to adjust.”
Queen Peta poured a couple glases of scotch at the mini bar standing next to her desk. When she approached him again, she had the two very spartan crystal glasses, each lined with a drink– two fingers tall.
“Here you go.” She handed him one of the glasses. “This is one of my favorites. An Auchentoshan ’73, neat.”
Nick was surprised. “Wait. How did you…” he was going to ask the question, but he realized again that she had skimmed his mind. He thought it was to read his thoughts. But it seemed she just wanted a crash course in Nick Alexander Poole. “I’m never gonna get use to that.”
She laughed. “Again, I apologize for our ways. We do things a little differently down here. It’s a little more.. efficient.”
The Queen then took her place behind her desk and gestured for Nick to sit in the smaller chair facing her. To Nick, it almost felt like a job interview. In a way, it was. She needed to understand where the former Apostate was coming from, what were his motives and who’s side was he on.
Nick took a sip. The scotch hit is tongue and then the back of his throat with no burn. The smell alone seemed to get him excited.
“Goddamn.” He muttered under his breath.
The Queen smiled. “I thought you’d enjoy that. When I read you, I saw you was a scotch man.”
“Yes ma’am.” He replied taking a seat and continuing his drink.
At first, they both sat in silence, gathering their thoughts.
“Judging from our past history, I have to tell you that I have no faith, or trust in The Church.” She said.
Nick shrugged. “Well.. Judging from our past history, I don’t trust The Church either. So we’re in agreement there.” He took another sip of scotch. “But in all fairness, I don’t have much trust for vampires either.”
“I can respect that.” She replied. “Trust has to be earned.”
“Agreed.” Nick reached into his inside coat pocket and pulled out his phone. He clicked through the menus until he reached the email from Cleric Hayes. He slid the phone across the large desk toward the Queen. “That’s everything I got so far. It isn’t much, but it’s a start.”
Queen Peta scanned the device. She studied the pictures and the vague report.
She looked up at Nick. “I was told there was no information.”
Nick smiled. “So much for trust.” He had to put all his cards on the table. There was no use hiding things from her. If she wanted, she could rip the thoughts from his brain. He needed her trust and commitment. If that meant throwing Cleric Hayes and The Apostates under the bus, so be it. “I’m putting my cards on the table, Queeny..”
Peta smirked. “..Queeny?”
“I’m coming into this whole thing blind. I don’t know who to trust. So I’m need to take a leap of faith.”
The Queen slid the phone back across the table. “The Vampire Nation isn’t behind this.”
“I believe you.” He replied. “But I’m gonna need your help. I’m an outsider. I don’t have any clout above or below ground. When people push me, I need to be able to push back.”
She smiled. “You have it. What else do you require?”
“Nothing right now.” Nick stood, adjusting his coat– careful not to take his eyes off of the Queen. “But I think things are gonna get a little.. dicey in the next couple days. You’re gonna hear things. You need to know that everything I do will be in the interest in solving the case. Please remember that.”
The Queen nodded. Nick moved his chair back into the position he found it.
“Wait.” The Queen said. “Before you leave..”
She reached under the mini bar and pulled out a slightly dusty bottle. With a big grin she tossed the bottle over to him. Knowing what it was, Nick reached out an made sure he caught it firmly in his grasp.
“Shit.” He said, turning over the dusty brown bottle over to see the faded white label positioned at the bottom. He hugged it like a child.
“Drink it slow.” Peta said. “There aren’t many like that left.”
“Many thanks.” He bowed. “But don’t expect me to show you favoritism, just because you’re giving me this.. incredibly.. sexy.. delicious.. bottle of scotch.” Nick was talking playfully. But when he looked up at the Queen, he saw she’d taken it different.
“I don’t need favoritism, Mr. Poole. I need the truth. I need to know my people are safe.” The expression on her face went from stern to concerned.
“I’m committed to this treaty— so much that I turned on my Queen, whom I loved with all my heart. I stabbed her in the back, literally. Do you know how that feels? I took a wooden stake from our sworn enemy and plunged it into her back. I had her ashes still on me when I took the throne and ended the war. That’s how committed I am to this peace.”
“I meant no disrespect.”
She smiled in acknowledgment and lightly patted him on the shoulder a few times.
She turned and walked back toward her desk.
“Let me know if you have any needs that the ‘proper channels’ can’t fill. She flopped into her chair as if she was exhausted. “I got a little pull down here.”
Nick laughed. “Thank you.” He started to waive to her, but then caught himself. He wasn’t use to royalty of any kind. “Uh.. quick question.. How do I leave?”
The Queen looked amusingly puzzled. “The door, of course.”
“Do a I bow and walk backwards? Curtsey? Cartwheel?”
“No.” She replied. “Just turn and walk out. Besides, you have a nice ass.”
Nick chuckled and exited the room. As he passed the threshold, he was greeted by Samantha who had just put her phone away.
Nick smiled. “Zombies get you?”
She sighed. “That game is the Devil’s work. In any case, I hope you got what you needed?”
“Yes. We seem to be on the same page.”
“Good. Just head for the entrance. I’ll phone ahead and have someone to escort you out.” Samantha pulled out a business card and handed to him. “I’m sure the Queen will put me in the line of fire for updates on the case. So if you need anything, call me day or night. I don’t need to sleep.”
Nick nodded and walked into the darkened corridor, heading for the exit.
Samantha watched him walk away until his reached the out archway and walked past the guards out front. After he disappeared from site, she turned and walked into Queen Peta’s office. She was behind the desk, recline deeply her chair, rocking back and forth. Samantha closed the doors behind her.
“So..” Peta asked. “what’s your first impression?”
Samantha smiled. “Nice ass.”
Peta laughed. “I agree! And your second impression?”
Samantha took the seat opposite the desk.
“He was a little nervous. But after what happened down here last time, I don’t blame him.” she sighed. “I read his mind a few times. There were no indications that he was deceiving us.”
“I got the same feeling.” Peta replied. “But he was an Apostate. He’s training to fool mind-scans. Still, he seems genuine.” She stood and walked to her burning fireplace. She pulled one of the pokers for its resting place and started tending to the fire.
“My gut tells me that Mr. Poole is being honest. The one thing he couldn’t hide is his distaste for the Apotheosis Order. That puts us on an equal playing field.” she turned to Samantha. “Your thoughts?”
“Mr. Poole is an ally. Still..” she sighed. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Peta finished with the fire. For a few moments she seemed lost in thought. Samantha knew where she was going. If you stripped everything from Peta Vassiliadis, she’d still be an excellent strategist. It was her plans that the The Order of Apotheosis followed to depose of the last Queen. “Worse case scenario. What happens if the Apostates blame us for these murders? What happens if we go to war again so soon?” She waited for her answer, still facing away from Samantha, as if she feared the answer.
Samantha gathered her thoughts.
“Taken into consideration that the San Francisco Order of Apotheosis could have troop reinforcements from Northern and Southern California, including human military and police assistance.. and the fact that we’ve been relocated to this Subterranean Reservation.. there’s a 71% chance that we’d be wiped out inside of 4 hours.”
“How is that possible.” Peta turned, shocked.
“Our feeding regiment is still in flux. We’ve got a few places above ground that provide blood, but we can barely keep the majority of the population fed. We have enough to keep everyone functional, but it would take a massacre to get us up to strength.”
“So..” Peta found her seat again. “The only thing keeping us from taking the fall on this.. is Nick Poole?”
“OK. Then we have to make sure he succeeds.” she sat up straight, place her elbows on the table and resting her chin on her fists. “Do we have any freshly-turned citizens?”
Samantha checked her phone. “Not many. There are two who joined us a couple nights ago. That’s it.”
“Send me the youngest.” Once again she was lost in thought. “We need ‘eyes’ on this situation.”