In the darkness his eye glows brightly crimson. The man that is unto him, like a father. An island of stability in a life lost to the tides of time. He smiles and wolfish pride beams. He winks, and the light goes out.
Bruno stands before his Don dressed in a disheveled brown suit, fedora, and suspenders. His hat is clutched in his hands now, his fingers pick at it with nervous apprehension. His queen, his grandsire is nearby, he can feel her enormous presence pressing on his thoughts, swirling them with images of many lives, many guises. The Don is dressed impeccably, though his clothes are too old, too out of date to be considered dapper. He holds about him the air of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a killer in the Court of the Queen with Burning Eyes.
“Do you remember what I’ve told you, will you remember it still when the time comes?” the old man sighs.
“Yes my lord, I will make her majesty proud. Her august plans will bear glorious fruit this night.”
“And now you are speaking as one of her courtiers,” the elder chided, “soon you will forget yourself, and we will have to find another to bring our plans to fruition.”
“No my lord, I jest…er it was only a joke.” The shift in the younger man’s accent is swift, subtle, his shoulders square his eyes grow cunning. The elder smiles, quite proud of the work that has been wrought on one so young. The Don turns and cocks his head as if listening for a faint noise.
“She is ready for us, her Majesty will see you now. Remember, bow, be humble, be courteous, and meet her eye only when it is asked of you.”
“I will make you proud my lord,” and the younger man smiles. The Don preens and sets his shoulders, he raises his face in a haughty manner and opens the double doors behind them. The younger man, Bruno, looks up briefly as they enter the room he catches the Queen’s eyes briefly, he is breathless when he whispers, “My God, her eyes, they shine!”
Bruno, Roxy, Tony, Fast Eddy and the Strega have gathered together as a pack in an old brownstone in downtown St. Louis. It’s the thirties, Prohibition is in full swing and all over town, hidden bolt holes and speak easies pour liquid sin for those eager for it’s lethean release. Inside the brownstone a pack of Sabbat, foul renegades to some, freedom fighters to others, gather to foment chaos. Through abhorrent rituals, and unheard of solidarity among the undead, the Sabbat have carved a niche within the world of the Kindred that has made them little more than bandits and monsters. That said, there are few freedoms these post-human creatures do not enjoy. After pouring their blood in a chalice, and intoning the blessings of Caine, first of their kind, they drink and share the Vaulderie. With their ritual observance of loyalty to each other and the Sabbat done, they get down to business.
“The plan is to figure out when the Bumpansano family is making the drop, then defeat the security long enough to get in, get the loot and get out.” Bruno crossed his arms across his chest surveying his new pack.
Fast Eddy spoke first, “What’s in it for us, and what’s in the box?”
“Don’t matter what’s in the box doll. Anyway, you’ll get your cut, you always do. Whadda you care?” Roxy stepped forward next to Bruno and put her hand through his arm. The two had run together in a previous pack, and Bruno was sweet on her, even if Roxy only feigned loyalty, it suited her purposes just fine. Fast Eddy grumbled in reply, absently he created the sound of a whip crack nearby. Roxy scowled, and almost looked hurt, almost. The Strega spoke next.
“What will the security being like?” her Itlaian accent jumbling her words.
“That’s your job, you and Roxy,” he patted the Ventrue’s rump with familiarity, “you two girls go use your feminine wiles to rustle up some dirt on the place. Find out when the drop’s being made and what the security’s like. We’ll work on getting some wheels and some lead. Go find a Bumpansano button man, and try not to lose your heads.” He gave Roxy another bump on the tush and she let loose a girlish giggle, only the Strega noticed the look of hate in her eyes.
“What about me boss?” the question came from a big palooka with close set eyes, under one thick black eyebrow, and a chin like an anvil.
“You stay with me Tony, me an’ Fast Eddy might need the muscle.”
At the Hollywood Bowl bowling alley, in a back hallway near the lavatories two women, one gorgeous moll and a hag that looked like an eager friend stood comfortably close to a mook by the name of Big Johnny Padrone. Big Johnny was in charge of the door to one of the hottest speak easies in all of St. Louis. Big Johnny was a bruiser, and on his way to becoming a loyal button man of the Bumpansano family. He worked security for a number of their interests, which was a cushy job since peace broke out between them and the Panetti family. Big Johnny had not made his bones yet, but it would just be a matter of time before the Family swore him in by the code of Omerta. For now, he was sweet talking these two dolls, correction, one doll and her friend, who with enough booze could be made bearable.
“So, you two ladies want a drink?” Big Johnny smiled what he hoped was his most charming smile. The two women exchanged a glance and giggled.
“Oh we’d love one.” They tittered again. Big Johnny’s smile widened,dames. The trio went inside, the jazz was pounding, dancers were cutting a rug on the sawdust covered floorboards, a pulse thrummed through the crowd, the two women could feel their hunger growing. Johnny took the ladies to the bar, one on each arm. Frank the barman grinned and bobbed his head to the music.
“What’ll it be ladies?” then aside, “Hey Johnny, ain’t you supposed to be at the door?”
“I got Rocco to cover,” Big Johnnyy beamed, “I gotta coupla thirsty ladies here in need of refreshment.” The girls tittered again, Big Johnny was meltin’ in his shoes. “Like the man said, ‘What’ll it be?’”
“Red wine, whatever you got,” said the friend, her voice sounded slightly accented, maybe Italian.
“Oh no, no guest o’ mine is drinkin’ that swill. Frank, send a bottle of the good Italian stuff over to the table, we’re takin’ the booth in the back.”
At the table Johnny lets the ladies sit first, and then he slides in next to the one he thinks is real hotsie totsie. Frank brings the wine, and Johnny’s usual, scotch on the rocks. The pretty one, Johnny for some reason cannot remember the dame’s name, leans in close and snuggles up to him. She looks him in the eye, and asks him about his work. He smiles, he stutters, he’s not quite sure he can tell her. She presses, oh boy does she press, Big Johnny feels about two feet tall besides this dame. This is a lady, for sure, no nameless broad has ever made Big Johnny’s heart race like it is now, and this lady just wants to know what a big strapping man like him does. So he tells her, he tells her everything with just a little push. He tells her security details, he tells her what time it’s gonna go down, he tells her every detail he knows about tomorrow night’s drop. That’s when she asks if he’d like to take her and her friend some place more comfortable, and Big Johnny feels that he must be the luckiest man this side of the Mississippi.
In the alley down the block Big Johnny’s ideas of what lucky is, are about to change dramatically. The two women who’ve been nuzzling him and canoodling him all the way down the block pull him into the alley, for what Big Johnny thinks is gonna be a good time. It is, for them. As soon as they are out of sight the plain face of the second girl, the quiet one with the Italian accent, melts away into something monstrous. Like a witch out of a children’s fairy story, her nose is long and warty, her hair thin wisps of white blowing in the night wind, and her face is a monstrous mockery of a woman’s. She opens her mouth revealing a snarl of yellowed fangs and a darting pink tongue, she battens onto his throat and he lets out a little cry. The other, a woman he still feels a deep emotional need to please, she presses a finger to his lips, and looks deep into his eyes.
“Quiet now honey, just let us get a drink, we’re awful thirsty.” Then she licks her lips and smiles, revealing big, white fangs. She sinks them into his wrist, and the bliss, the pleasure, the oblivion that overtakes him is like nothing any other woman has ever given him. He’s sweating and panting when they pull away, mouths dripping crimson. The one, Roxy, was that her name? She smiles and wipes a fingertip slowly around the edge of her lips, she catches him watching and gives him a wink.
“Was it good for you to sugar?” Before he can answer she catches his eye and tells him to stand still, be quiet, and listen. There is nothing more he can do, but do exactly as she asked. As he stands there wide eyed in mute horror she tells him exactly what he’s going to do to help her. Later when he wakes up in a hotel across town with only the vague memories of a hot night with two ladies he smiles and starts to get dressed, trying in vain to remember any details of the night of his life.
Bruno, Tony and Fast Eddy meet up with the ladies later at the brownstone, they head to the red light district looking to feed on those that would not be missed. A few mortals die, a few more come close to it. One poor pair of college boys, out for a night on the town meet a few girls that turn their heads, one of them after daintily feeding, leaves them with the vague memory of a homosexual experience between the two friends. This act, of which neither will speak, haunts their dreams for years to come.
The next night the Sabbat sit in a stolen vehicle in an alley across the street from the First National Bank of Missouri. They watch as an unmarked truck trundles up to the rear delivery entrance. They wait maybe twenty minutes while men unload several bags, a security guard makes his rounds around the building twice in this time. Ten minutes after the truck leaves Tony moves quickly across the street, checking over his shoulder for anyone watching. He hides in the shadow of the building as the security guard comes around the corner, the man can barely utter a cry of surprise as Tony with superhuman speed and strength smashes him bodily into the brick wall. A few bricks are dislodged, the man crumples to the ground without a sound. Tony hauls him up and takes a bite, ‘waste not want not’ his mom always said. After depositing the body behind a nearby dumpster he waves across the street to his pack.
At the back entrance it is the duty of the Strega to invisibly infiltrate the bank and find and neutralize the remaining guard. Shaping her will she summons a swarm of rats to move ahead of her through the bank and find the guard. The rats scurrying and squeaking before her run over themselves to find the man, which they do, in an inner room quietly smoking and nursing a luke warm coffee. There’s a noise and he turns, he catches a brief glimpse of a woman, a hag more accurately. As she tackles him to the ground he screams and his gun goes off. He catches the woman in the torso, she jerks, but makes no other reaction, as if he’d just pinched her. She grabs his head, squeezing it with inhuman strength. All around him is the chittering of dozens of rats.
The others hear the gunshot and come rushing in. Roxy stays behind to watch the back entrance. Fast Eddy and Bruno head for the vault, while Tony rushes to help the Strega with the guard. As Tony reaches the two he spies the Strega straddling the guard her hands smacking his head against the hard tile flooring, the guard struggling against the hag’s monstrous strength. In one swift movement Tony brings his fist down onto the man’s head and hears a sickening crack. The man’s face collapses like a rotten melon, and the chittering of the rats reaches a fevered pitch. Tony catches up with Fast Eddy and Bruno, while the Strega leaves them to keep watch with Roxy, licking the brain matter and blood from her fingertips as she goes.
At the vault Fast Eddy has already lived up to his name and cracked the combination. Inside, as promised are two fat duffel bags of cash and a row of safe deposit boxes along the back wall. A little bit of jimmying and the box is open. The three grab the loot and make for the back entrance. As they do they hear the girls shouting from outside, someone must of heard the gunshot or the pack may have set of an alarm. Outside the girls are growing restless, the sound of sirens is fast approaching, they have only minutes before the police arrive. The men make it to the car, Tony hopping in the driver’s seat. It takes them a few minutes to make sure they are not being followed before they turn and head for the bridge across the river and into East St. Louis. There they are to meet their contact at the abandoned Menlowe Meats plant.
The factory was closed during the first few years of the Depression, its forlorn windows are broken in places boarded up in others. The entire structure embodies the sense of loss and hardship that marked the worst parts of its’ time. Painted on the side of the building and across one set of double doors are the words, “HERE THERE BE MONSTERS!” The pack enters cautiously, Tony takes a place near the door, Tommy gun in hand. The others array themselves about the plants’ main floor looking fearfully into the darkness. A voice from above beckons them, “So glad to see you’ve made it, do you have the box?” The faintly accented voice belongs to the Don, Bruno’s boss and the direct commander of the pack. His right eye glows balefully in the darkness like a distant mars.
“Yeah boss, we got it. What about the other loot?” Bruno inquires.
“Take it, it’s yours, all of it, only the box matters. Bring it to me.” the Don motions for Bruno to join him on the catwalk above the main floor. Bruno makes his way up the stairs gingerly. The Don awaits him, hand outstretched. When Bruno hands him the box, the Don opens it and smiles.
“Excellent my boy, excellent. Did you open the box before bringing it here?”
“Sure boss, we got curious, Roxy says the papers in there are an old Spanish map and part of the manifest for some ship called the..the Santa Anna. Is it worth something?”
“You have no idea,” the old man scowled, “Roxy, and which one is she?” Bruno points her out, and the Don asks her to join them on the catwalk. Roxy comes forward with alacrity, expecting to be commended for her smarts. The Don continues, “Ah my dear, so it was you who translated this?” And he holds the documents up for her to inspect.
“Yeah, that was me, I got high marks in my classes at school, my mom always said that I coulda…” She is stopped before she can say any more as the Don grabs her throat in his vise-like grip. Bruno attempts to dislodge the Don, but he is unable to stop the Don from slashing her face with his bestial claws. The others rush the stairs quickly to aid their packmate, Bruno to his credit jumps between the Don and Roxy, kicking her back towards the others and pushing the Don back.
“Why?” he screams.
“She knows too much, they all do, who’s side are you on? Don’t you remember the mission?” The Don snarls and rushes Roxy again, slashing her once more, grievously wounding her. There is little else her packmates can do to help her as other vampires now rush forth from hiding, or the doors to the exterior. The last thing any of them see is a woman appearing from the darkness, cold regal features turn towards them as she urges the other vampires on to kill the pack. Just before she is torn apart by two younger, stronger Cainites the Strega sees the cold woman’s eyes and despairs at their radiant madness.
End of part one, return soon for part two, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”