Driven from Topanga by the botched hit on his unlife, John moved into Brentwood. Though it was just a small step down from the mountains, it was a step in the right direction for a Ventrue ousted from his lair and now looking to move into the city proper. Nestled between Santa Monica and the hills, the westside neighbourhood was flush with money. Even its palms and cypresses had the colour of dollar bills. Neat plots of mansions, and country clubs proclaimed the area’s wealth and luxury. It was ideal to gaze eastward at L.A. and attempt to pierce the fog that was Kindred politics.
John and his crew had swept into a highrise on Wilshire Boulevard. It was owned by one of his underlings, and considered a temporary safe haven. The storefront advertised tobacco and imported liquor, but its true business was a covert club in the back. Poker, poles and prostitutes comprised the den of vice where Johnny Rook sojourned. While rigorous in discipline, he had always felt a pull towards the wickedness of men and women. He experienced a strong attraction to the sordid indulgences that constituted human or Kindred behaviour, and the private club was a perfect place for that. The path to pleasure was often crooked and littered with potholes, and John did so enjoy judging people. It helped pass the time as he searched for more permanent lodgings and information on the chaotic state of Los Angeles.
Sat in the booth with the best vantage point, the Ventrue lazily dragged his eyes across the red-and-purple lit room. An iced bucket of Russo-Baltique had been brought over for show and remained untouched upon the polished table. However, not all worldly pleasures went to waste. A female dancer was making sweet love to the silver pole on centre stage, her curvaceous body oscillating to the slow sway of the a remastered synthwave track. John might have been dead for centuries, but he still relished the sight of supple and warm flesh undulating. Greedily he drank in the sight of her and wondered if she had ever drawn another person’s blood. He would love to drink from her. It was therefore with some regret that he responded affirmatively to someone joining him at his table.
Finding out WHERE had been ever-so-slightly difficult. Agents of the Inquisition, even splinter cells of hunters, were monitored by the security network. Rachel would have been much more impressed with Andre had his watchers told them of the strike BEFORE it happened, as recently nothing seemed to please Eva more than infiltrating or hurting the Inquisition. 'Humans that have forgotten they are human,' she had called them. It struck Rachel oddly, but there was yet no denying the pleasure Rachel's elder gained from foiled attempts by agents and hunters alike.
So when they heard the news coming out of Topanga, Eva seemed happy to hear it. Rachel was even happier to hear it: a rogue Ventrue from the Camarilla? With no apparent ties to the false Prince from Seattle? It was enough to excite her, and finding him thereafter had been a matter of tapping into the network of contacts that was in every single contour of Los Angeles. Before Rachel it had been Yanci who mostly curated the network of contacts, trained by Eva herself. Yanci was alright at it, but there was a certain level of attention to detail that could have made it all better.
So Rachel took it over, running it like she might a network of junior partners and their clients at a large modern law firm. When she started to make calls it wasn't very long before one of those she called, a ghoul with a security assets firm that specialized in hacking camera networks and facial recognition, was quick to tell her all about this event his people had logged. Rachel pretended to care as the ghoul gave her details Andre's watchers already passed along, but where Andre's watchers had finished with the end of the 'hit' on Corbett this ghoul had tracked the fallout.
That led them to the highrise in Brentwood, of all places. Brentwood. When she got the location, the rest was simply too easy: Brentwood had always been a stomping grounds of Eva's, as had many of the neighborhoods that had been around since Hollywoodland's Golden Age. They had eyes and ears everywhere, and those eyes and ears had yet more contacts that were begging to pass along information. The money never ran out, but more than hard currency was the currency in Los Angeles that ACTUALLY mattered to everyone: who you knew and what those you knew would do for you.
Charles was a Brentwood centered Bouncer who lived in a crappy little house near Venice. Big, bulky, and presumed by most to be one kind of idiot or another--Charles was desperate for an audition on a sword and fantasy themed show that had exploded in popularity on its streaming service. He wanted to play one of the Knights, and try as he did to send in letter after letter after letter and tape after tape it just wasn't working. It never did; that's why the currency of Los Angeles was what it was. Yet when Charles passed along the news of a secret new club in Brentwood, at a highrise that meant something to Rachel...
All Rachel had to do was ask Yanci to set up the audition for Charles. Even as Rachel arrived at the building and found parking down the street, Charles was at Studio City, being auditioned. He'd get the no-lines bit role. Charles didn't know that, yet, but Rachel did thanks to Yanci. Meanwhile she got the location of the man she was looking for. Getting into the club, however, took a bit of performance from her. She showed up in a dark grey pencil skirt that stretched over her long-legged form, a matching standing collar blazer with buttoned sleeves that were pushed to her elbows, a white silk button up blouse under it. There was no jewelry, and her hair was a simple yet perfectly maintained middle part of straight hair that fell just past her jawline.
"Rook needs to see me."
It was more than a little surprise to Rachel when that was enough. She was checked for weapons; all she had was a smartphone within the inner pocket of her blazer. It was one of Maty's 'special' phones. Technobloodmagic, secure and free from trace. Maty and Eva had developed the phones for each of them; Yanci loved her's, Andre distrusted his and rarely used it, while it was anyone's guess if Eva was even using her's. She had been rarely seen lately, even by her own coterie. Her appearance in Santa Monica at the conference room had been a surprise, and a welcome one at that.
She didn't want to approach Corbett without Eva’s blessing. Because working without her blessing generally meant working without the tools she could provide. There would, for example, be no audition for Charles set up by Yanci if not for Eva's blessing being given to approach Corbett. Heels clicked as Rachel approached, her smile was polite as her tone, and she seemed utterly oblivious to the club's 'entertainment.'
"Jaoseph de Corbet, hello. My name is Rachel, and I represent the controlling party of Los Angeles. May I sit so that we can discuss some things?"
John had watched the woman in office wear strut on over with as bland an expression on his face he could muster. The way she appeared, in pencil skirt and pumps, showed she was all business: the polar opposite of the pole dancer. She would be better at home at some high end law firm. Who knew, perhaps she had just come straight from one? He was about to ask if he was being subpoenaed but got the wind knocked out of his sails when she not only got straight to the point, but used his Norman name. “Simply John is fine.” Upon hearing this echo of his past, John tensed somewhat, instantly on his qui vive.
“I am being found by all sorts of parties these days, making demands on my time. Still, I can never object to the company of a beautiful woman,” said the Ventrue male. A bit cliché, but he adhered to etiquette even when dealing with strangers. He had stood, until she was seated, then returned to his own. The words were courteous, but his tone was deadpan. After all, to him Rachel had manifested from thin air and he would treat her as a spectre until proven otherwise - no matter how pretty or professional she looked. She had done him the courtesy of being direct. He returned the favour, meanwhile looking for a way to even the playing field. Finding out just who she was and what faction she represented would be a good start. “Quite helpful, too. Who is the controlling party in this city exactly? You tracked me down, so you must know I have not been intimate,” John wove a pause into his verbal tapestry, “with its ‘turf wars’. There are more smoke and mirrors in L.A.’s politics than all of its clubs and brothels combined.” He was aware that referring to the conflicts between the Anarchs, Camarilla and the Sabbat was belittling, but he had always been one to poke a stick in a bee-hive.
Rachel found herself showing amusement with a deep cut smile on her red, polished, lips as she sat at the end of the booth seat and scooted her ass over one hip swivel at a time. Booths were not meant for women in pencil skirts, and the world at large was not easily navigated wearing high heels...a truth that was true in more ways than one.
“I’m sorry,” she said off the cuff, but polite, “I just sometimes find myself tickled that people miss the obvious. I did, too; you’re in fine company. Each so-called ‘Prince of Los Angeles’ right now, as well. As if Hollywood could have been the product of anything but a Toreador.”
Rachel reminded herself there was a Toreador that had met Final Death, yet even there the Camarilla’s information had been slim. So Rachel saying a Toreador was behind Hollywood’s inception didn’t mean anything seismic. It could have been the sole work of the dead Kid.
“When Los Angeles started, as I understand it, it was a collection of ranches. In fact much of the real estate in Southern California can be traced back to, if not the Spanish, then to the Mexican land grants after Mexican independence. That was it. A crashed ship on its way to the Far East held a Toreador. They were young, both in terms of physical appearance, far younger than typically sired today, and young in terms of their unlife. They weren’t quite the success anyone had hoped before, so they went west to find...something. Some success they could call their own.”
Her slender shoulders shrugged in the dark gray shiny blazer as she carefully retrieved her phone and placed it on the table in front of her. “You find this story, one form of it or another, in a lot of kine and Kindred. We found you because of a bouncer listening to the right person at the right moment. This bouncer wanted an audition on one of those fantasy sword and shield shows. On his own he could never attain it, but give the right morsel of information to the right ear and...a simple-minded kine gave me a place to look at. Our security did the research to confirm, and here I am. Bouncer wants the same as this young Toreador so long ago...he just wants that success that had eluded him elsewhere, in the normal world. In La La Land, however, I understand he’s at the audition now. Best of luck to him.”
The smile was gone as she spoke, and she spoke fast. A cadence that slowed as she returned to the primary story: “This young Toreador meets a woman, a guide and translator. She says she’s from Central America, but how she got all the way to California she never did say. Toreador and this woman stay up for nights talking, dreaming, of what could be. The night before she is to leave with her party of Mexican officials, he embraces her. Together they begin to create not Los Angeles, as I would have thought, but first they focused on the bigger picture: they began an influence campaign against Mexico, in favor of the United States. When the Mexican-American War began, they were ready. Then they focused on Los Angeles, and began everything from irrigation to sewer projects, to clearing out stubborn ranch owners who were ‘stuck in the past’, to hear her say it. Then one night, after seeing a moving picture for the first time, they dreamed up Hollywood more or less as it was in the Golden Age. They got to work. Over time they both stayed hidden, but controlled the levers of power since California, and Los Angeles, and Hollywood, were literally built by them from their shadowy perches.”
She tried not to sigh. She swallowed it, well enough, but with enough attention he would have seen it in her dark eyes, even if he hadn’t heard it. “Then the child, over time, gets unruly and overly impulsive. He threatens everything the two had built. I heard he met Final Death after holding a Kindred event that almost, almost, broke the Masquerade. His childer and her people remained, but there was nothing to take up...by then they were already managing various parts of the city and this section of the state because the young Toreador had long ago gotten bored. From judges to universities to police unions to dock workers to Hollywood studios. Recently Los Angeles has seen a surge in tech companies, preferring LA’s real estate climate to San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Los Angeles always planned to be big, San Fran and Silicon Valley not as much.”
Her hands clasped together and came to rest on the table, next to her phone, her eyes carefully reading his, “And there it is, John. You know more than...85% of the Kindred in this city, even those who have been here for decades. Even those who have dug deep, trying to find the power players. Makes sense. In every other city in the world that’s how it works. In the City of Angels...the power players find you. Or they let you play at your game from afar, allowing you your ignorance. It’s easier to block someone like a Prince Vannevar from Seattle if he has no idea who he’s even trying to out fox. But say there was someone new to the city that could be useful to these power players, and those power players could be useful to this someone new...especially at a time when there are already so many claiming to be Prince, or Baron…”
Her hands lifted as she casually shrugged, a motion so loose and unbuttoned it almost surprised Rachel she did it. “That would be perfect. If only both sides could find a common cause, a way to benefit both, such that both would be satisfied. If only.”
John watched Rachel like a hungry hawk, studying her beautiful face to both catch her out in a lie and marvel at her looks. He could have been spared the history lesson, as he had more or less lived through it. Furthermore, the things he had not witnessed, he could look up in this modern age of information. However, her polite tone had kept John from shutting her up, repaying her civility with patience. Besides, he could watch a woman he was visibly attracted to talk all night. Her story was as old as time: fated lovers falling out. A quarrel spiralling out of control. These were things he was intimately familiar with. What confused him, though, was the mention of a child. Was Rachel referring to the young Toreador who embraced his lover, or did they have progeny of their own or…? The whole thing smacked of scandal and drama, and though John was not one to usually encourage such things he did lap it up eagerly. “What a messy history,” he commented, as he let Rachel finish her story.
Upon the mention of Vannevar, John’s features clouded. “Vannevar is a power-mad glutton who is paranoid about conserving what little influence he has. I harbour no illusions in regards to how weak Camarilla is in these parts. In fact, I hold him and his ilk responsible for leaving me exposed.” In truth, he held himself equally responsible, but unless Rachel was pulling wool over his eyes she would welcome criticism towards the local Camarilla leadership.
He had watched her produce a phone from her pocket, further confirming that she was not part of the Camarilla. Rachel spoke of Toreador, but he could tell she was not one herself. “What’s this? Are we to record a recruitment conversation?” John chuckled indulgently, then responded in a low-pitched voice suitable for a hot summer night. His interest was piqued, partly by her most agreeable appearance, and partly by what she had told him. If it proved the truth, then he was flattered by the trust, and the risk she took in divulging the story. “Mutual satisfaction is, apart from the goal of any pleasurable relationship, forever a guarantee to maintain the status quo.”
John absent-mindedly ran a hand through his hair and considered his words. “So you are here on behalf of this… disillusioned artisan, trying to sniff out if I can be useful to her?” The question was largely rhetorical, a verbal check that he had understood the woman opposite him correctly. “You are here to ask me what I want, and propose what? A perfect partnership? I very much doubt that aside from your hairdo or the accuracy with which you apply your lipstick, perfection exists.” Though he flattered, he had still thrown her words back in her pretty face. “Mutual satisfaction… now that might be attainable. I am in a reactive mood, frustrated and put on the back foot. That makes me feel like lashing out. I just need to find out who was responsible for the hit on me.” John laid his cards out on the table. “The same resources you used to locate me with would be a good start… and tell me how I may be useful to you.” Even if it was impolite to point, John put his right thumb on his broad chest, before turning his index towards Rachel. He liked the double entendre, for wit and flirtation were fun ways to pass the time.
A quick glance from the phone to John, to the phone again left Rachel’s face with nothing but the spectre of a slippery smile, gone again soon as it had settled upon the red lipstick of her lips. If the charm was having any effect it was as visible on her face as starlight on a cloud covered night.
“Who went after you? The Inquisition. A rather pathetic band of them, no less, not the hyper-vigilant and rather capable Inquisition agents we’ve been stalking for months. If you want to see if any of them are left to kill, yeah, sure. I can ask the part of our group that would know, or be able to find out relatively quickly.”
The phone took up her attention as she fired a series of texts off, and in regards to the phone, she finally did address it: “No, I am not recording anything. Our resources have allowed us magically ‘secure’ phones, it’s one way in which we’ve stayed ahead of this new Inquisition.”
The phone went down the moment the text was finished, and as it did that slippery smile returned. “I’m asking for the location of any of those Society of Leopold fanatics remain of the group here in LA that assaulted you. And--” The phone buzzed, her index finger sliding across the glass of it’s screen as it remained flat on the table. The screen was blank and white to him, but to her… "They were based out of Oxnard, a shitty industrial city about twenty minutes up the PCH. ‘Knight Investigations,’ a Private Investigations company records say belongs to a former California state police detective, the location listed is a retail office space in an Oxnard Strip Mall next to a Jackson-Hewitt tax office and a Nail Salon.”
Rachel presumed Rook would remember those details, clicking the phone’s screen dead with a side button, returning her eyes back to his. “We need Thomas to return to Seattle. He’ll meet Final Death there, more than likely, but that’s secondary; we need to focus and we can’t do that with him here. We’ve denied him and embarrassed him but we’re too busy to confront him directly. The Camarilla will not find a foothold here, in any form, and our Elder is done allowing pretend Princes purchase in her Free State.”
A quick pocket reach and she produced a card, matte lavender with a simple white phone number on one side, and nothing on the other. The other item she retrieved from her coat was a simple black gel ink pen, scribbling in quick but large and flared numbers another phone number on the blank side. She displayed it, holding it up in the air between her index finger and thumb, before laying it flat on the table and slowly sliding it over to him. “I can’t believe I’m fucking saying this, but Gehenna is coming. When the voices in your blood begin to boil and you feel an inescapable pull attempt to enslave you, use the card. If you’re smart and quick enough, we can help you. If not, it was very nice having met you, good luck when the world begins to end. If you require assistance or coordination regarding Thomas, call the number I wrote down--it’s my phone. If I were you I would expel him and claim the title of Prince as my own, however empty a title it is, it would deter others from claiming it. But,” Rachel simply shrugged, returning the pen and phone to the internal pocket of the blazer, “as my Coterie likes to say to me, ‘you do you boo.’ Have a wonderful night, Sir.”
Her voice exaggerated the Knightly title as she nodded gently, and scooted her toned ass out of the booth with a few easy motions, the clicking of her heels announcing her departure.
He hated to see her leave, but loved watching her go. John was left in his booth, to order his thoughts and make sense of all this. And then there was the looming apocalypse of Gehenna. He had come to the city to dispense his own brand of justice, but had now been seduced to greater things. It was as if a coin had been flipped in his mind, and he was waiting for how it would drop. John watched the woman dancing on the pole again, wrapping herself around it and twisting her body into poses a ballet dancer could be jealous of. He thought he might know how she felt.