-The below story takes place immediately following past events chronicled in Sunset Strip
|This is my smug look|
"Now now, none of that, Lucinda. This is an imported shirt. Italian silk. Blood simply won't come out of it. I'm sure you can understand."
"I don't understand any of this!" she mewled.
"That's regrettable. You had such potential once upon a time. Now ... well, look how far you've fallen..."
The memory from earlier this evening was a bitter pill to swallow. Oh, I'd managed to salvage the unfortunate debacle as best I could, never once losing control of either my temper or the situation. But then, it was what I did, what I excelled at.
Nevertheless, I very much disliked being wrong. Two centuries of scouting for hopefuls for the prefectures of this country and I could count on one hand the number of times I'd misjudged a potential candidate.
I wasn't particularly worried about any backlash from the Wanderer, even regarding the unexpected restitution we would be forced to pay Marlene. No. That was simply not his style. Though I couldn't claim to be entirely enamored of his leadership, even I had to admit there was a certain logic to be had in his methods. Though others of his rank were more than willing to indulge in petty punishments for even the slightest failure, it often served little more than to gratify their egos while wasting everyone else's time.
Speaking of which, it was time for me to report in on the results of this evening's foray. I was quite certain the Wanderer would not bat an eye if I chose to hold off until the next day, but I prided myself on maintaining a tight schedule even in the face of failure, no matter how minor they might be.
I spied an unoccupied payphone. That would do nicely. Though I typically preferred to go straight back to my hotel room, where I could properly catalog the evening's thoughts in my notebook, I favored the dry air of this climate. It was so much more preferable than either of the coastlines. Alas, therein lay the conundrum. If one wanted to get ahead in a position such as mine, one needed to look to either Boston or Santa Clara. Yes, there was Excelsior Springs too, but I would have sooner insulted the First Coven to their faces than relocate to Kansas.
I proceeded to wipe down the receiver with a clean handkerchief then dropped a dime into the slot so as to dial James's direct line. He'd recently returned from an extended trip in the Amazon basin bringing along with him several trinkets of purported historical value. A waste of time if you asked me, but he seemed to enjoy his silly hobbies. As such, I knew it was likely he'd be sequestered away in his office cataloging them.
The line connected and began to ring. "Two," I said quietly to myself.
As expected, he answered on the second ring. It was useful to be aware of the habits of one's employers.
"May the glory of the First smile eternally upon thee, Wanderer."
"Ah, Colin. Good evening to you," he replied, sounding in an upbeat mood. "You do know a simple hello will suffice, yes? We need not be slaves to the more tiresome aspects of protocol, especially when it is just the two of us."
"As you wish, Wanderer," I replied. Had he been any other, I would have assumed his advice was an order and followed it to the letter. But I knew that wouldn't be the case with him. As such, I would feel free to ignore it and continue utilizing proper protocol the next time we conversed.
"So how goes it out there? I do hope Jeffrey has not been causing any problems."
"Nothing that I wasn't able to smooth over."
He groaned softly on the other end. "Marlene and her rules. You did warn him, did you not?"
"Copiously," I replied. However, even at the time I was well aware that my words would not be heeded. That one was going to prove problematic. My only solace in him succeeding Quentin as master of Greenwich Coven was knowing that there was little chance of him ever obtaining a position in Boston. James respected the rules of intra-coven combat, but it was doubtful even he could stomach a lout like Jeffrey for more than moments at a time.
"Two turned, two dead. All of them earners. She is, of course, demanding proper compensation."
James sighed into the receiver. "I imagine we'll be hearing about that for some time to come. Alas, regrettable, but I trust our budget can swing it."
"I will be sure to hand her a cashier's check before I leave."
"Good man. Those who were turned, what of them?"
I covered the receiver with my hand so as to mask the deep breath of annoyance I took. "One was the potential I'd been scouting."
"Excellent. Shall I reserve a spot on our staff for..."
"That will not be necessary." I stopped and silently cursed myself for cutting him off. That was uncalled for on my end. I knew he wouldn't care, but I did. "My apologies, Wanderer."
"Considering the circumstances I found the subject in and the subsequent actions undertaken on their part, I am electing to write this one off. Jeffrey has agreed to absorb her as well as the other recruit into his coven."
"I'm sorry to hear it. You've been grooming this one for a while now, haven't you?"
"Over a decade."
"That is unfortunate. What is her name? Perhaps in the future we could consider revisiting her file."
"Shall I consider that an order?"
"Of course not, my friend. Your methods are sound. They have served us well. I was simply thinking..."
"Then I shall politely decline," I replied, again cutting him off. I needed to check myself with that. It was a poor habit to develop with one's superiors. "I make it a point to never revisit a failed prospect. I shall instead move on to the next potential."
"Very well. I will trust your judgement. And this next individual?"
"He should be ready to revisit in another five years or so."
"Noted," he said. "Although, I dare say that gives us plenty of time to prepare their desk."
I knew he would take it in stride, but that didn't make the sting of my failure feel any less painful. Lucinda had been such a promising candidate. Intellectually, she was more than a match for the standards I'd set for recruitment. She had blossomed quite admirably in a physical manner too. Such a combination could have made her a formidable force in time.
Sadly, she was a textbook example of how nurture could win out over nature. Some were able to overcome the obstacles thrown in their path, while others were crushed as surely as a dog trying to cross a busy street.
What irked me most, however, is that I saw it coming. I'd known her father, Roger, would be potentially problematic, small minded that he was. I'd even briefly considered arranging for an accident so as to remove him from the equation. In the end, though, I'd decided to respect my methodology rather than my instincts. Such a pity. She could have been so much more than she was.
"So tell me, my friend," James continued, "are you coming back right away or will you be taking in a few nights on the West Coast."
"My mission here is finished, Wanderer. My place is by your..."
"Nonsense. You do nothing but work. Take some time off. Enjoy yourself. I'm sure your sister would be pleased to see you. Trust me, Boston will still be here when you return, as much as I'm sure you don't believe that." James chuckled at his own joke.
"If it is all the same to you, there is much to be done..."
"You're going to make me order you, aren't you?" His laugh turned to a sigh. "I swear, if only everyone had your work ethic, Colin. But you know what they say about all work and no play."
"A crude colloquialism."
"But apt," he was quick to reply. Apparently the matter was settled in his opinion. "Do send Yvonne my regards if you get out that way."
I gritted my teeth at the mention of my sister's name, but forced my voice to remain neutral. "As you command, Wanderer."
The call ended and it was all I could do to keep my temper in check. My younger sister had, up until this century, been in my shadow – rightfully so if one were to ask me. Yet she now reigned as Prefect, while I continued to serve. It was a position that would have been mine had I not decided that opportunities on the East Coast looked more promising.
For three years, it appeared as if I'd made the right choice as the First Coven looked upon Boston as the jewel in the crown of North America.
Then came the Earthquake of 1906 and the unfortunate turnover at the top of Santa Clara's ranks.
Now, she ruled over her domain, while I continued to be a mere subordinate, seeking out suitable candidates for recruitment ... and being forced to tolerate the times when all of my hard work was for naught.
The cheap plastic of the receiver cracked in my hand and I forced myself to calm down.
"Hey, you looking for a good time?"
"Huh?" I turned toward the source of the question to find a blonde-haired woman addressing me. From the short cut of her skirt, the over application of makeup, and false smile pasted across her face, it was easy to discern she was a human whore, one of the many who scurried to eek out a pathetic existence in this town.
I was about to tell her to begone when I looked closer. Though it was superficial at best, she possessed a slight resemblance to Lucinda.
My annoyance at her failure to meet my standards, coupled with the anger at my enforced vacation came to a head and I forced a grin upon my face.
Although I didn't often give in to my base desires, it was healthy to let loose once in a rare while. Besides which, blood had already been spilled in this city by our kind this past day. Already the authorities would be scrambling to clean up Marlene's mess. What was one more broken body on an already existing pile?
Tomorrow I would board a flight to visit my dear sister and then I would return home, ever the dutiful employee.
The Wanderer would not hold his position forever. Eventually, one of his many journeys would end badly or he would simply be promoted. And then, finally, I would obtain that which I had earned and never again would I need dirty my hands with disappointments such as she.
I allowed myself the ghost of a smile. My time would come. Of that, I had no doubt.
The Road To Armageddon: