St. Louis, The Gateway to the West, 2001 Anno Domini:
“I CANNOT BELIEVE YOU. YOU ARE SUCH A BASTARD.”
The cry reverberated through the office hallway as I was raising my hand to knock on the office door. I stilled. My body froze. My heart stopped beating. My lungs refused me air, though I didn’t need it. I knew that screaming voice just as sure as I new my own mind. At first I thought ma petite had gained the power of seeing through doors from the union of the marks and knew I had come to her office without an invitation. Then, with my keen hearing, I heard a masculine voice mumble a reply.
“Look Anita, I gave you a whole week’s notice on this one. You can rap up anything you need to in that time. Then fly out there, raise some zombies and fly back.”
“I told you to always run new clients by me before you take the job.”
“Mr. Armstrong is a very busy man. He didn’t have the time to see you. His last day here was three days ago. I would have scheduled him an appointment with you, but you decided to skip work that day. Now do you see why it is imperative that you come into work every day?”
There was a heated pause, then, “All right, I’ll give you that. But still, I don’t know if I can take this case. You remember the last time I tried to raise someone from a mass grave without a name. I almost got killed.”
“This is different. This is a graveyard with a relatively small section for fallen soldiers. You don’t have to raise all of them. Just the soldiers who happen to have the name Bill or any of the possible names it could be derived from.”
“That’s over 120 people, Bert! It’ll take weeks to raise that many zombies.”
“Considering the fact that you can raise nine zombies a night it will only take two weeks give or take a few days. I’ll even give you five days vacation to either stay there or come back here. Paid vacation.”
“That’s really generous of you. Unusually so. How much is Mr. Armstrong paying you?”
“1.2 million.” My eyebrows rose at that. It was a lot of money, even for a millionaire like myself and this was only one job in Anita’s schedule. The same masculine voice continued, “Even if on the unlikely event that you get it right on the first try, he has to pay for all the potential raisings.”
“You greedy bastard. You are paying for plane tickets and room and board for me and anyone I say goes. Not to mention spending change.”
“Done, as long as no more than two people go with you.”
“Agreed. Give me the files. I’ll take them home to read. It’s already two o’clock in the morning.”
There was the sound of a chair scraping the floor. I moved to the side of the door and manipulated my face into an amused mask to hide the fact that I’d just eaves dropped on ma petite’s conversation.
The door opened and out stepped a man a few inches taller than me with broad shoulders and a muscular torso that was starting to go…plump. He was wearing a dark gray suit, a white silk shirt and a gold tiepin in his gray tie. His hair was a white blond and cropped closely to his head. He glanced about the hallway and saw me standing slightly to the right of the doorway. He had not yet realized what I was and looked me in the eyes. His were steel gray that had a somewhat dingy tint to them. This must be Monsieur Vaughn, Anita’s boss.
“I’m sorry sir, office hours are over. If you would step into the receptionist’s area Craig, our nighttime secretary, will gladly schedule you an appointment.”
I smiled slightly without showing my fangs and looked beyond Monsieur Vaughn to ma petite. She was wearing a dark red wine colored suit and a black silk button down shirt which was bereft of buttons at the top making the shirt dip into showing the crevasse between her breasts. I slowly perused down her body, across her delicious breadth of décolletage, down her slim waist and the wide expanse of her hips. Her legs were covered in sheer black stockings and on her feet, much to my surprise and delight, she had on pumps that matched her suit perfectly.
She gasped and her eyes widened in surprise. “Jean-Claude, what are you doing here?”
The smile on my face grew larger, still without showing teeth, and I responded to her with one of my more mildly seductive voices. “I just came to see you, ma petite. Is that too much to ask for?” I knew that she would feel a slight wind across the back of her neck with ‘see’ and a hand gliding up her spine with ‘ask.’ I am a master at my art.
Monsieur Vaughn’s eyes widened as he realized just who and what I was. He began backing down the hallway toward more offices saying, “I’ll just go get those files.”
Ma petite shook her head and motioned me into her office. I stepped in and leaned against her desk as she closed the door.
“What are you doing here, Jean-Claude? I was coming to see you tomorrow night.”
“I couldn’t wait for tomorrow, I wanted to see you today if only for the time it takes to get back to your house.”
“Jean-Claude…” She leaned back against the wall beside the closed door.
I stood from the desk and walked to her. My hips swayed from side to side and I placed my feet one in front of the other. My swaying walk looked as if I were dancing to slow music. I used my body to lure her into complacency.
I trapped her against the wall with my left hand and raised my right to her cheek. This close I saw her breath catch, heard her heart beat a faster tempo and felt her chest rise rapidly to try to take in air. I smiled. I had her.
I leaned in to breathe across her cheek, making my way towards her ear. “I long for you, ma petite. If only to breathe in your scent.” I kissed her forehead, down the bridge of her nose, across her right cheek then to the edge of her mouth. I wanted to lure her into initiating the kiss. She caught the bait perfectly.
I sank into the kiss. First nibbling on her lower lip until it swelled with passion. She opened her mouth and I lost myself in her taste. A sharp tang like that of her rage, a delicious sugary taste like that of her love and a sweet zesty flavor like that of her passion.
Her arms rapped around my neck with a hand twining in my hair. I placed a hand around her waist and the other stroking the back of her neck. There was a whimper and I could not tell if it was hers or mine.
I was so caught up in ma petite’s delectable mouth that I did not hear Monsieur Vaughn’s footsteps. He opened the door startling Anita. She tried to pull away quickly but I held on to her and let her go slowly nibbling on her lips as I had when I leaned into her. I moved a few steps away from her and watched as she straightened her clothing. Monsieur Vaughn looked uncomfortable and cleared his throat handing her a manila folder.
“Here is everything about the job. Keep it and put them in your own files. I have a copy.”
With that Monsieur Vaughn backed out through the doorway and turned down the hallway.
Anita sighed and turned towards her coat rack. “Come on Jean-Claude. Let’s leave. Do you want me to drop you off at your place?”
I followed her out the door. “Non, I will return after I see you home.”
There was a woman already in the elevator as we stepped into it. From the corner of my eye I saw her staring at me. I knew I looked spectacular. My skintight black jeans were low riding on my hips. My shirt was pitch black silk with frills on the sleeves. It was closed at the neck with a large sapphire pin and tucked into my jeans. My shirt gaped between the two anchors and my pale lean chest and waist showed through. My hair was riot of tousled curls that fell to my waist. Oh yes, I looked delectable.
It seemed Anita noticed the woman’s interest in me. She narrowed her eyes and stepped closer to me and when the elevator door opened into the lobby she grabbed my hand pulling me towards the door. I let out a touchable laugh as we walked to her car.
In short order we returned to Anita’s home. There was little traffic at nearly three o’clock in the morning. We pulled up into the driveway of her house and she cut of the car. She turned to look at me, I looked back passively.
Anita sighed and said while exiting the car. “Come on, Jean-Claude. I need to talk to you and Micah anyway.”
We made our way to the front door and inside. Anita walked to the first floor bedroom taking off her shoes and jacket as she went. In the bedroom Micah was reclining on the bed awake and stroking the hair of a sleeping were leopard’s head in his lap. Just from the long luxurious braid that twined around Micah’s arms to fall soft to the floor I could tell it was Nathaniel sleeping in the bed. On the bedside table was a battered copy of the original story of Cinderella.
Micah’s voice carried across the room. “Anita, welcome back. Jean-Claude, I didn’t know that you would be here.”
Anita continued to undress heading towards the bathroom as she did. “He’s here because I need to talk to you both before going to sleep.”
I rested on the bed next to Micah and Nathaniel leaning back against the headboard. As I sat, Nathaniel stirred and blinked drowsy amethysts up at me and yawned. “Hello, mon petit chaton.”
He blinked once, then again and said, “Hi, Jean-Claude.” He really is a lovely thing. I’m glad Anita finally saw some sense in his value, I thought. Ma petite’s secondary Triumvirate has done wonders for his confidence and his individual power. Of course that doesn’t make up for the vexing fact that I am not part of that little…trio. But I suppose I could trust that Anita won’t use her new triumvirate to harm me…probably.
Anita came back out of the bathroom in an overly large T-shirt, which, though abhorrent to my own sense of style, I had to admit was quaint.
Nathaniel sat up fully between Micah and I against the head of the bed. Anita stood at the foot of the bed and faced us; she had the manila file in her hand. “I’m going to be flying up to,” she paused to look into the file, “Nova Scotia in exactly one week to raise a crap load of zombies. I’ll be there for maybe two weeks maybe more. Jean-Claude can you manage to get me passage for then?”
It was ridiculous really, assuming I could get safe passage at such short notice, but of course telling Anita that would only make her try on her own and that would be a disaster none of us would want to face. “I will do my best with what you have given me, ma petite.”
“Good. Micah could you call the lycanthropes up there and make sure I have permission from them?”
Micah smiled indulgently. “Of course, Anita. I’ll do that right away.”
Nathaniel leaned forward. “What would you like me to do, Anita?” He was really just adorable in his earnest desire to please Anita. Oh, the things I could do with one whose adoration for me ran as deep as his for ma petite.
Anita turned from glancing through her file to answer Nathaniel. “It’s alright Nathaniel. I just need you to come with me. I think I’ll also take Zane and Cherry…and maybe Stephen…” She paused as if only now realizing that Stephen, and Nathaniel for that matter, might have other obligations such as, perhaps, a steady well paying job at my club.
My only response was a blank face and a raised eyebrow. My words where what had always been the answer to such requests, and always would be I suspected. “Of course he can have those days off. I would not dream of you going to Canada without a full entourage.”
She nodded and continued as if barely recognizing my assent. “Alrighty then. I’m taking Damien too.” There was really nothing I could say to that. Though Damien worked in one of my clubs as well, he was utterly Anita’s creature. She had raised him from the ‘dead’ so to speak, saved him from true death, bound him as her vampire servant, and forged a triumvirate with him and Nathaniel. I just give him a paycheck. We’ll ignore the copious amounts of pain I endured to free him from Morvoren’s clutches and the generous offering of my protection afterwards.
It was decided that I return home then and I used the time left to begin negotiations with the Master of Nova Scotia. Though he technically only presided over the southern portion of the Canadian province, the other Master on that small corner of Canada was tightly wound in Davad’s grasp, in fact he very clearly was making moves to control New Brunswick as well. He was a crafty Master and an old hand at the game. He was two hundred or so years older than I and had already established himself as Master of Halifax, previously known by the original natives as Chebucto, at the young age of two hundred forty-two. He was a Native American himself before he died and one of the few childre of vampires native to the area before even Columbus ‘discovered’ the Americas. After England’s take over in 1749 he changed his name to something more accepted in those times and never bothered to change it back.
We had had limited dealings since I became Master in St. Louis. His territory was so very far away from my own. Most of my dealings were with his third in command Salene who I met in my role as Nicalaos’ proxy at the triennial Masters of the North Americas Convention. Very rarely did the true Masters show for such an event unless the cases discussed were about an impending war and those had ended for fear of the Council’s wrath.
I decided to start with Salene. We had talked amiably enough for and we had no real enmity for each other over territory because of our locations. She had recently gained the station of second in Nova Scotia due to some unfortunate incident involving a vampire pedophile, a dead girl and a dawn appointment with an executioner’s stake.
“Good Morning, Master of Halifax’ second in command, Salene speaking.”
She sounded just as sweet as I remembered. “Ah, good. I called the correct office. Good Morning, Mon caméléon.”
“Jean-Claude. To what do I owe this pleasure?”
“Congratulations on your rise to Second, I am sure you have thrived in the position, Salene.”
“Thank you for your consideration, Jean, but I think this call concerns more than my ascension. Perhaps it has to do with your own rise, my lord Soudre de Sang?”
“I would like to say that I called just to hear your voice again, but I confess an inability to lie to you. It is a matter of passage.”
“Passage to Nova Scotia or through it?” She sounded somewhat suspicious.
“To, Mon Ami. It is rather urgent, I’m afraid.”
She sighed. “When and for Who?”
I steeled myself. “In one week and for Anita Blake, my Human servant and several of her entourage.”
“Next week!,” She exclaimed. “What are you thinking Jean! That is not nearly enough time to prepare. Two or three months would be more appropriate.”
I mentally cringed. She was absolutely right. “I know, but Anita has been given a job raising several zombies outside of Yarmouth. The visit is completely devoid of political maneuverings and can be seen in good faith.”
There was a significant pause at the other end. “I may believe you, Jean-Claude but this is not my decision to make. You are a Soudre de Sang and I cannot just invite your human servant into our territory without discussing this with Master Davad first. I’m sure you understand.”
I sighed softly in anticipated dread for the inevitable long and skillful debate on my part. “I cannot ask for more from you. Please speak to your master. I will be awaiting his call.”
I trusted Salene to present my case, at least in opening, favorably. She wasn’t a beautiful vampire but more plain than anything else. However, where she lacked in looks she more than made up in cunning, wiles and an ability to adapt to a situation or person and manipulate the people around her with free will. Thus the name I gave her of chameleon. I’m certain with her help and my own inconsiderable charms that we could get the Master of Nova Scotia to agree to Anita’s passage. Perhaps even before she decides to fly in without any consideration for political procedures.
AN: I’ve done the first chappie! Yay! Tell me about misspellings or grammatical errors that I haven't caught, anything you think I should change. I've reread it but I don't have a Beta and the most I can do is spell check and reread myself. With that though you almost always miss something.
I’ve tried to do some research before I add any historical facts in, but tell me if I’ve gotten anything wrong. This chapter is a little shorter than I’d like but I wanted it to end at a certain point. I’ll be adding short clips of Jean’s history and memory sequences. I’ve not decided whether they’ll be Interlude chaps or integrated into existing and current chapters. Who knows how the wind will blow, huh?