Scout’s Honor, Part 10: Allies in Waiting

Been lagging a bit so a double-post this weekend. The following segment provides extra insight into Scout’s point-of-view on two scenes initially published on 11/12/15. Scout content warnings still apply.

***

RUSSIAN HILL

Scout lurks in the darkness outside where the Chantry was rumored to be. No people had come or gone, there was no ripple in the air, but somehow she knew, deep down, that this was the place.

Tom is in there…somewhere….

Her phone rings, with an unknown number. She frowns at it a moment, then, still under Obfuscate, answers. “Who is this?” she asks softly.

“Who is this?” an unfamiliar man’s voice replies.

She glares into the darkness. “You called me.”

“Yes I did,” he snaps. “Who is this?”

“Why did you call me?”

“It’s going to be like that then?” the voice sneers. “I called you because I’d like to speak with the person that I hope this number belongs to.”

Scout hangs up. Anyone who actually wanted her services knew better than to circumvent Cantor, and anyone who didn’t know what he was getting into was better off being ignored.

A few minutes later, the phone rings again.

Or maybe he deserves what he gets. Still staring at the invisible building across the street, she answers. “Well obviously you don’t have the wrong number.”

“You got a lot of nerve for someone new to the city!” the same voice barks. “Who is this!? A name, please!”

She glances up and down the street. No one is visible, not even parked cars. “If you called me, you must know who this is.”

“If I called you, I know who this phone should belong to, but I have no idea if that person is answering or if that person even exists, so why don’t you tell me your goddamn name before I come over there?

She sighs and leans back against the wall. “This is the phone of Scout, how can I help you?”

“…Good. I need you to meet me somewhere.”

“I don’t really accept dates from unknown numbers–”

“Good cause I don’t usually give them out. My name is Leeland. I’m the Baron of Berkeley, Provost of the University. Maybe you’ve heard of me. You on the other hand, are a Caitiff, which means no-one in that city wants anything to do with you unless it’s in their benefit.”

Irritation fades into confusion, then concern. If he doesn’t know who I am…  “…Who gave you this number?”

“The muffin man, what do you care so long as I’m talking with you?”

She rolls her eyes. “What do you want to talk about?”

“I’m not going to talk over an open line, I wish to meet. Wherever you choose.”

For a brief moment, she considers telling him the address of the church. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d used Cantor’s…proclivities…to her own benefit. But she couldn’t risk this Leeland escaping his clutches and blowing her cover. Not now, not when she was so close.

She glances toward the unseen Chantry across the street. “…The cafe at the Seal Rock Inn,” she replies finally.

“…Isn’t that Norton’s territory?” Leeland asks, a note of nervousness in his voice.

“It’s where I got a room. There’s a convention in town, anywhere an inch closer to downtown is full.”

“Fine, fine. When?”

“I’m on my way there now. Half an hour.”

“…Fine. This turns into some kind of disaster, you’re going to have a very bad day.”

“They’re all bad days.” Scout hangs up. She lingers for one more cursory scan across the street, then walks away, loading an app to summon a car.

#

SEAL ROCK INN

Scout returns to the motel at the edge of the city without incident, and sets herself up in the cafe to wait for this Baron of Berkeley. According to the sign, the cafe is only open for breakfast and lunch, but after some polite words and a warm smile, the teenage boy at the front counter had let her in. He’d even made a show of pouring her some of the stale coffee from the office. She sits quietly, warming her hands on the mug as she stares out the window at the moonlit cliffs plunging toward the ruins of Sutro Baths.

The front door opens and closes. Footsteps, then a man steps into her vision, in a trim pale suit and bowtie, appearing somewhere in his late twenties. He slides into the seat across from her with a scowl. “Scout, I presume?”

She nods. “Baron.”

His scowl eases slightly. “That’s right.”

She twists her mug idly in her hands, looking him over.  His suit is well-tailored, but worn, and the bowtie is crimped and uneven. He’s seated tall, stiffly, his eyes darting around the cafe and fingers fluttering against the table.

She gestures at her mug. “Can I order you some coffee?”

“No, thanks,” he says coolly. “I’m the only recognized authority left in the east bay, Ms. Scout, so I’d wipe that smirk off your face. You see the man at the door?”

Scout peers around to view the front door. No one is visible to her unenhanced vision, but something tells her that even if she had Auxpex, there wouldn’t be anyone there to see. She turns back, eyeing Leeland suspiciously.

He smirks, clearly misreading her uncertainty. “Exactly. He’s one of mine and you won’t see him coming if this goes sideways.” He shifts in his chair, taking a moment to position his arms in a threatening way. “I understand you’ve been working with…Pfalzgraf Rabenholz recently?”

She nods once. “I have contracted with him to do some jobs, yes.”

“Really.” Leeland looks her up and down and sneers. “Didn’t think he’d employ Caitiff.”

She stops herself from smirking back at him. Clearly this man was getting his intelligence from the same place he hired his security. “He’s new in town too. He doesn’t seem to have particulars about how he gets what he wants so long as he does.”

Leeland’s face darkens. “Yeah, I’ve noticed. What do you do for him?”

This time, she can’t keep the self-satisfied smirk off her face. “Scouting.”

He glares. “Hence the name?”

“I like to keep it simple. You know, like people used to be called Taylor, Thatcher, whatever….”

“A fan of mockingbirds, then?” Leeland asks.

Her amusement fades. “It was one of my favorite books in school,” she says softly. She’d stolen a copy from the library in eighth grade and read it over and over, imagining Tom and herself as Jem and Scout, and imagining Atticus Finch as their father. An honorable man, a man they could be proud of….

“So you’re not that old. Most Caitiff aren’t.” Leeland eyes her a moment. “Plan on staying here long? Cause things aren’t shaking down too well right now.”

She stares at her coffee. “I’ve noticed.”

“What have you noticed?”

She watches the rising steam twist on unseen currents. “Work has been…interesting.”

“And what have you been finding in this work?”

His prying tone grates at her. She casts for a change in subject. “I found a dragon in the park, that’s pretty fun,” she says casually.

Instantly, Leeland’s face goes blank and he sits back. She smiles at her coffee.

“Yeah. There is,” Leeland says, shifting in his chair again. “But I’m not interested in the dragon. I’m interested in this Rabenholz. What do you make of him?”

Scout turns to the window, rapidly constructing a reply both inoffensive and uninformative, “I think he’s a Ventrue and he’s doing what the Ventrue do. He’s collecting power for himself, but he’s at least treating those that help him with respect.”

“You’re lucky then. They seek power but most don’t know the meaning of the word respect.”

She shrugs. “True, but those that don’t bother don’t tend to be on this side of the fence.”

“You mean the Camarilla?” Leeland leans in. “Which side of ‘the fence’ is that, for you?” he sneers.

Slowly, she turns from the window to eye him with an even gaze, letting the moment drag on in silence.

Leeland glowers, posture stiffening. “I think I asked you a question.”

“I think you’ve been asking a lot of questions, and that doesn’t make a conversation, does it?”

He sits back in the chair and gestures invitingly. “Well, what would you like to discuss?”

“How did you get my number?” she asks sharply, gaze locked onto his.

He stares back, but his fingers flutter again. “I stole it.”

“From whom?”

“Someone who had it.”

“Really,” she says flatly. “Cause besides Rabenholz, I only know one person in this city who should have my number and I doubt you stole it from him.”

Leeland stares, then shifts in his chair. “I got the number, that’s all you need,” he grumbles. “Are you offended?”

She smirks. “I’m just surprised at the audacity.”

“Audacity? To call someone and invite someone to an inn? By the way, great place,” he scoffs, scanning the run-down dining room.

Scout shrugs and turns back toward the window. “I like the views.”

This man is nothing, a voice deep within her sneers. He knows nothing, and he plays at things he cannot comprehend.

His innocence is amusing, she fires back, And who knows, he could be useful.

The dark voice within her chuckles. His only use is to warm your gut.

At that thought, every sense in her body snaps into hyperfocus. She is alone with a vampire who has no idea who she is and likely has no preparations against her abilities. Hell, he probably didn’t even tell anyone where he was going tonight….

Hunger, deep hunger, claws at her, and she grips her mug tight to keep from lunging at him. It had been months since she’d taken the amaranth herself. The memory of last night’s second-hand taste from Cantor suddenly sits deliciously hot on her tongue. Murdering humans was one thing, but this was a vampire, he was already damned, and could very well have done worse in his un-lifetime.

Across from her, Leeland suddenly clears his throat. “What’s Rabenholz offered you?”

She hesitates, reining-in hot threads of desire before formulating an answer. “Simply a place in the game.”

“Is that what you want? A place in the game?”

She shrugs. “It’s not a bad thing to turn down if offered.”

“Do you even know what the rules of the game are?”

She picks up a spoon and stirs at her coffee. “I’ve found the best way to learn is through experience.”

“It’s an experience you might not survive.”

Her gaze flicks up. “I have so far.”

Leeland watches her a long moment, then looks down. “I used to play that game. Or I tried.” He reaches for a napkin and fiddles with it. “I wasn’t very good at it,” he mutters, voice heavy with resentment.

She hesitates, eying him curiously. The fingers tearing at the napkin quiver ever so slightly. A new sensation rises within her, its taste clashing unappetizingly with her hunger: pity.

“You know why I wasn’t very good at it?” Leeland continues, dropping the napkin and leaning forward. “Cause I wasn’t enough of an asshole. I didn’t have the right temperament.” He jabs a finger toward the east. “That Rabenholz, though, he’s an asshole. A biiiig asshole. Way I hear it, he may be a bigger asshole than anybody knows. He’s good at the game, really good.”

She forces down a smile. It had been a long, long time since she’d heard anyone openly call out elder vampires for what they were, and in front of a stranger no less. Not an entirely wise decision, but an intriguing one….

Scout draws her spoon out of her coffee and licks it. Bitter drops dissolve on her tongue, and instantly her stomach clenches in horror. She takes a slow breath, forcing a calm exterior while waves of nausea roll through her body.  The attack only lasts a few moments, but by the time it passes, it’s successful. For the moment, the gnawing hunger of her addiction has been banished again.

She sets the spoon down. “So what is it you want to know about him?”

“I want to know where he wants to play, who he’s playing with, and what the stakes are.” Leeland tents one hand against the table. “I run the University of California at Berkeley. I’ve run it since it was founded. I want to ensure I will still be running it after all this crap blows over, assuming there is still a university, or for that matter, a California to have universities in.”

Scout shrugs. “I doubt he’s that interested in the ivory tower, he might leave well enough alone.”

“Maybe. Or maybe he’ll decide there’s some money to be made.”

She shrugs again, tracing her fingers along the table. “So if you want to know about the Ventrue, what are you willing to trade in exchange?”

“That depends on what you want.”

Scout watches him evenly a moment. “I’m collecting information on some of the players in this city.”

“Who?”

Probably best to start with where I started. She takes a breath. “Do you know about the pirate?”

Leeland snorts. “Thomas Anstis. I know a few things. Captain Johnson wrote about him. He’s a pirate, and a necromancer to boot. He’s involved with some very, very bad people and done some very, very bad things. And he has a submarine.” He rolls his eyes. “But that’s just basics. You want more, I’ll need more in return. About Rabenholz. And I’m willing to pay.” He glances across the cafe, then gestures her forward. “You breathe a word of this to Rabenholz and I will deny it, and I will make you deny it in front of him too,” he hisses. “Do you understand my meaning?”

She eyes him a moment, focusing on keeping a straight face. “I have…encountered those with excellent skills in that regard before,” she says finally.

“Good.” Leeland sits back and slumps in his chair. “I don’t like making threats,” he grumbles, looking away.

Scout smiles sadly. “What is your ideal outcome from this situation?” she asks after a moment.

He folds his arms. “That everyone leave me the hell alone.”

“And you’re going to get yourself left alone by sending in spies to observe your enemies?”

Leeland glares. “I said I wanted to be left alone, not that I was gonna stick my head in the sand. I know how this works.” He leans forward again, splaying both hands on the table. “I have been provost of the university since before there was a university. I built it, brick by brick, and it is mine. Every building, every student, every protester, every blade of grass on that campus is mine. And I will not let anyone or anything take it from me.”

Scout eyes him a long moment, then nods.

Leeland sits back. “So. Do we have a deal?”

Scout looks out the window. Cantor had always said that allies were simply enemies in waiting, and heeding that advice had definitely helped keep her alive this long. But something about this man is charming. And an ally low enough in the game to not know who she is is probably low enough to escape notice himself as well….

She turns back to him. “I will consider it. I won’t tell Rabenholz we’ve spoken, but I’ll need to consider what I’m in need of that you can assist me with.”

Conflicting emotions flicker across Leeland’s face, but finally he nods. “Fine…fine. You have my number.” He moves to stand up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to Berke–” Suddenly he freezes, eyes wide, staring at the door. “–Oh…oh no….”

Reflexes kick in, whipping her around while reaching for her knife, but she stops as she sees the man looming in the doorway. Ah, son of a bitc–

Emperor Norton spots them in the corner, freezes, then levels a finger. “DOOOOO YOOOOOOOOOU SEEEEEEEEEEE????!!???”

 

END OF ADDENDUM

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4 Responses to Scout’s Honor, Part 10: Allies in Waiting

  1. Morienne Montenegro says:

    Yes, Norton, we damn well can see you.

  2. Emperor Joshua Abraham Norton the First, Ruler of These United States and Protector of Mexico says:

    YOU DO NOT SEE!!!!!!!!!!!1!!!111!!!!ONE!!!1!

  3. Ben says:

    I don’t know about sight, but we can sure as hell *hear* your voiced-by-Brian-Blessed ass.

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