Since the end of the year is coming up fast and I need to get back to the mainline writeup, I’m going to step up the pace of editing and publishing the Scout posts. The following scene is short and is largely the same as the main scene it parallels from 12/10/15 but there are some subtleties to Scout’s POV I wanted to convey. Content warning is minimal.
SEAL ROCK INN
The shrill ring of her room phone jolts Scout awake. She lays a moment, staring at the faded colors of recent sunset leaking around the curtain, then gropes for it with a groan. “Yes?” she answers.
“Uh, Miss?” It takes her a moment to place the nervous voice: the kid who works the evening desk. “There’s someone here to see you…?”
She blinks, as confused as his tone. “Who?”
“Um, a man…?”
Fear bolts though her. She sits up and swings her legs off the bed in one motion. “What does he look like?”
“Big guy, bald, tattoos….” The kid’s voice drops to a whisper. “…I think he has a gun….”
Relief floods through her. Cantor never uses a gun. “I’ll be right down.” She dresses quickly, grabbing her phone and her knife, and heads downstairs, obfuscating on the way. A large unfamiliar man is leaning against the front desk, looking exactly as described, leering at the teenage clerk and chewing on a toothpick.
Cautious anxiety seeps across her as she eyes the man. She ducks back into the stairwell, composes herself, then winks into visibility and enters the lobby. “Can I help you?” she says.
The man’s scarred face twists as looks her over with a pointed leer. He smirks with a hint of fang. “We need to talk.”
Her gaze flicks across his beaten leathers. Brujah. “I’m…sorry, I’m not sure who you are.”
“Who I am ain’t important. I have a message for you.”
She nods toward the counter, and the teenager half-ducked behind it. “You could have just left a message at the desk.”
“This one had to be delivered in person.” The man approaches slowly, enunciating with each step. “I’m here to let you know you don’t drink in the Baron’s territory without making obeisances to him.”
Confusion flickers, but she doesn’t flinch as he looms in front of her. “I’m…not aware of a baron within San Francisco–”
He laughs, flashing even more fang. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was dealing with an idiot. Baron Don Esteban de la Vega, of the Sunset. You ran through his territory last night and had yourself a feast.”
Her gut wrenches at the memory but she keeps her face neutral. “I think one quick sip at a bar barely counts as a feast–”
He spits the toothpick into her face. “I think a Caitiff like you better stop running her mouth. The Baron insists on formalities. You wanna hunt in his territory, you get his leave. Or you get out.”
She blinks, then slowly reaches up to wipe off his blood-flecked spittle. “Well. If it would ease the situation, may I make an apology in person?”
The thug grins. “I think that would be a good idea.” He jerks his head toward the door. “This way.”
Scout follows, catching the nervous eye of the clerk as she passes the counter. She winks at him, then follows the Brujah out to an unmarked black car.
THE SUNSET DISTRICT
Scout eyes the passing suburb houses in silence as they drive south. She had had little experience with Anarchs over the years, but they tended to be refreshingly to the point and easy to maneuver around. Even her simplest illusions tended to catch them completely off-guard. Still, something about the situation sets her nerves–human and vampire–on edge.
It’s just some Anarch gang-lord, she tells herself. You can deal with this.
Eventually, they pull up outside a run-down bar, incongruously tucked between a nail-salon and a daycare center. Toothpick lets her out of the car and leads her inside.
Shadowy figures, mostly men, watch her from the corners as she enters. She feels their gazes slide down her as she crosses the darkened room, forcing herself to hold her head high. One gestures toward a set of stairs leading up to a small balcony overlooking the main floor. More men are up there, including one sitting at a table under a lamp and a cloud of cigar smoke. Her knife hand twitches, but she takes smooth, measured steps up the stairs.
More thugs–not all vampires–slouch against the walls and rails of the balcony, but the man at the table is an older gentleman, in a pale suit, panama hat, and a weathered face under a white beard.
Scout blinks. An interesting man to be hanging around with Brujah….
A bottle of aged tequila sits on the table in front of him, next to a chilled ceramic carafe. Smoke twists from the cigar in his hand and the scent of blood dances cloyingly beneath it. He gestures to the chair across from him. She takes a seat gracefully, but keeps her hand near her knife.
He pours some tequila into a tumbler. “I understand you have been consuming my resources,” he says in an aristocratic Spanish accent.
“I was not aware they were a reserved vintage,” she replies.
“You think in a city like this there is territory not claimed?”
“I was under the impression that anyone of an…independent mind was in the East Bay and that this was all Camarilla holdings.”
The man laughs and leans forward, bringing his weathered face further into the light. “My name is Esteban de la Vega. I am the Baron of the Sunset. And while we are all very, very happy to be under the umbrella of the Camarilla over here, you will find that not everything in this city is quite the way the officials of the Pyramid wish to tell you.”
He smiles and pours dark liquid from the carafe into the tumbler of tequila. The scent of blood spikes. “There has been a great deal of upheaval. My neighbors to the north are gone, my neighbor to the south retreats to his mountains, and everything east is plagued with unease at best and vermin at worst.” Ice clinks as he gently swirls the blood and tequila together. “But I am in charge of this district of the city. I have been since it was built, and I have kept it the same quiet neighborhood as always. And in my territory, you will show respect.”
Scout sits quietly a long moment. Her unlife had often put her in places of ritual and protocols and she knew enough not to breach them lightly. But it wasn’t politics making her stomach twist.
“The man I fed on….” she says carefully. “…Did he die?”
Esteban stops and eyes her. “No,” he says finally, “But that does not make the issue any lighter.”
She looks down to hide her relief, then bows her head. “I shall endeavor to not let this happen again,” she murmurs.
Esteban sits back, eyeing her as smoke curls from his cigar. “Who are you? Really, I mean. You have made appearances at the Pyramid and have been seen in the company of a Ventrue captain of industry. And a pirate. These are interesting friends. How does a Caitiff come to be serving with these men?”
She nods, head still bowed demurely. “Well, conveniently, my name helps define my profession.”
“And what is your name?”
She glances up to meet his gaze and smirks. “Scout.”
He echoes her smirk. “Then you are a spy. Or perhaps you are merely an enthusiast for literature.”
She nods concedingly. “In any event, I am simply collecting information on the events of the city. Those two men seem to be people whom events are circling around.”
“Who sent you to Funston?”
She pauses. “The good Lord Rabenholz was interested in certain recent events and I endeavoured to investigate.”
Esteban lifts his glass and takes a sip. “So you work for Herr Rabenholz?”
Her smirk widens. “He assumes I do.”
Esteban laughs, the sound echoing around the bar as his men pick it up as well. “Oh, I like that.” He sets the glass down and eyes her again, more warmly this time. “What clan do you pretend to claim, when you are not claiming to be nothing?”
She meets his gaze. “I find it tends to reduce people’s interest in me when they think I’m nothing,” she says carefully.
He nods slowly. “You will find that is not always the case. Some think Caitiffs are a sign of the end times, that they are here to wipe us out. But, fortunately for you I am not one of those who think the Caitiff are some…harbinger of doom. I think you are unfortunate souls, lost without the assistance of a bloodline or established sire.” He smiles. “And I make a habit of helping those who are lost, even when they are not what they claim to be.”
For a brief moment, pride at the success of her ongoing lie swells within her. She smiles. “I don’t know, I do pretty well at scouting.”
“I have every faith.” He tilts his cigar toward her. “But you also do pretty well at hiding that blade you brought into this room.”
The pride evaporates. She freezes, eyes instantly scanning the surrounding men for movement toward her, but Esteban raises a hand. “I won’t begrudge you. How are you to know you aren’t going to be eaten here? We are Anarchs, after all. Dangerous men.” The chuckle rolls through the bar again, darker this time.
Esteban echoes the chuckle as he reaches for his glass. “But as it turns out, I may have need of a scout. If you are as good as you say you are.”
Suspicion races through her, but she smiles. “I have multiple contracts at the moment. But I’m always open to fitting more into my schedule.”
“Do you wish to have permission to hunt within the Sunset District? “
She blinks. “I’m…not planning on setting up permanent residence here.”
“But perhaps you plan on passing through?” He eyes her over the glass. “All who hunt within my territory must have my permission. That was the arrangement I had with van Nuys, and that is the arrangement I will have with whomever replaces him. If there is anyone who chooses to ignore that agreement, Camarilla or otherwise, well…it will be very…unfortunate for them.”
Scout nods silently. The gaze of the thugs in the room–Toothpick especially–still linger on her, but all her attention focuses on Esteban. Everything about him is unlike anything she had ever experienced from Anarchs before, which makes him both intriguing and dangerou. She gestures for him to continue.
Esteban puts the glass down. “There is a man. He lives just beyond my borders. He is some concern to me. I do not know his name yet, though I have heard rumors of it. I have heard rumors of all sorts of terrible things associated with him….”
A suspicion begins to rise within her as she watches the blood swirl through his glass, slowly subsuming the rest of the liquid….
“He resides in a church,” Esteban continues. “A bright, towering structure, on the far side of the park. The Church of St. Ignatius.”
Ice plunges through her. Outwardly, she merely lifts an eyebrow.
“Now,” Esteban continues, “Naturally it is beyond my borders, and I do not have any right to tell him where he can and cannot live. But I don’t like powerful Kindred setting up their dens next door to me without paying me the privilege of a visit, and an announcement. And I especially don’t like it when they come from the Sabbat.” He eyes her. “So I’d like to know who this man is, what he is doing here, and what I may expect from him. Because if he thinks he is going to take over the Western half of the city, he is going to have a very sharp surprise.”
Scout sits silent a moment, mind racing, staring down at the table to hide anything on her face that might give her away. “What has this man done so far?”
“Very little, as far as I can tell. He has resided in the church and….” Esteban shrugs “…apparently kept to himself.”
Her lip twitches, trying to peel back into a snarl, but she fights it down. “If he is keeping to himself outside your borders, then what are you afraid of?”
“Because the man is Black Hand,” Esteban says seriously. “And if a Black Hand agent is within five states of you, you become concerned. And this one is less than three miles away.”
She nods slowly, still studying the table top. “And you think a wandering Caitiff without associations will be enough to fool him?” she asks carefully.
He chuckles and drags the ashtray closer. “Fool him? No, I am asking you to do some scouting. I don’t ask you to talk to this man. If you did, you would become his slave for an eternity. Or perhaps his dinner.”
Or both. Slowly, she counts the condensation rings on the table, willing herself back to calm.
Esteban stabs out the stub of his cigar, then sits back, folding his hands. “I am asking you to find out who he is and what he is doing here. The more you discover, the more happy I will be. And the more happy I will be, the more I will give you in return. Because this man only arrived in this city very recently, whereas I have been here for a long, long time. And whatever he is, if he thinks he can supplant me, or whatever is left of the Camarilla, he has another thing coming.” He smiles. “We are not all fools who live in the suburbs, you see.”
Scout glances again at the figures lurking in the shadows of the room. Her bond twists uneasily at the thought of revealing information about Cantor, but if she was going to play this game….
She sits up. “I will admit, Don Esteban, others have expressed interest in information about this man recently, but they have also indicated he is extremely dangerous.”
Esteban chuckles. “One does not join the Black Hand by being good at stamp collecting.”
She eyes him. “The name I have heard associated with him is Cantor. Whether that is his permanent name, or simply one he goes by at this time, I don’t know.” That, at least, is the truth.
Esteban nods slowly. “That is a name I have heard as well, though I am not sure it is a real one. I have never heard of a ‘Cantor’ in the Black Hand. Not that I get the mailing list.” He chuckles and lifts a hand. Toothpick steps forward from his spot against the wall and opens a silver cigar case. Esteban selects one, and takes the cigar cutter. “Nevertheless, it is less his name and more his interests and capabilities I am interested in. A Black Hand member of that seniority should not be here alone. Yet he appears to be.” He slices the tip with a snap, then smirks at her. “Which of course means he is not.”
Her stomach twists again. She nods once, cooly.
Toothpick lights a match under the cigar, taking the opportunity to leer at Scout. She ignores him. Esteban pulls from the flame, then sits back with a sigh. “I am not asking you to risk your life unduly,” he continues. “I do not want you to fight Cantor or steal his things, I just want to know what he intends. And if he intends bad things, then I want to know about it. Because the Black Hand aren’t the only ones who are dangerous. And I haven’t held my position in this city for this long just to walk away the first time the hand decides to send someone up the coast.” He gestures with the new cigar. “This is California, not Mexico.”
“If I recall my US history, it was Mexico,” Scout says.
“It was. But no longer.” He smiles at her. “And why do you think that is?”
Scout hesitates. From what she remembers, California had thrown off shackles of an oppressive government not once but twice in its history, first Spain then Mexico, and enjoyed two years of independence before willinging joining the United States on its own terms. She assesses his measured, archaic mannerisms, then glances at the men surrounding them again. Perhaps not so unusual a figure to be seen with Brujah afterall. She nods and returns his grin.
Esteban chuckles. “I am glad we understand each other. And in return for this service, you will have the freedom of the entire Sunset District. The largest single territory in the city. Very quiet.”
She lifts an eyebrow. “Credit on delivery?”
Esteban eyes her a moment. “Actually…starting now. Presuming you are working toward my interests.”
She blinks, then nods. “That…is very generous.” Suspiciously generous, but it’s too good an offer to pass up.
“I pride myself on being a gracious host.” Esteban tilts the cigar at her warningly. “But be careful if you return to Fort Funston, the Baron of the Skyline does not share my generous impulses. In any event. You are free to move about the Sunset. Please do not start anything untoward. We have enough problems in this city as it stands.”
Scout stands from her chair and bows to him. “You’ll find I keep a low profile.” Catching Toothpick’s eye, she grins and disappears.
Toothpick scowls. Esteban stares, then chuckles deeply and raises his cigar to the empty air.
END OF ADDENDUM