written by Sylvia Leung
© copyright 1998

For my cousin Sharon, the first (and probably the only) blood-family fan girl and a great laugh at banquets. You have always been a hope for the future. Thanks for the encouragement.

"What's the report for this morning?"

"We have received five new shipments through the mail this morning, sir," she stated clearly into her headset. "I have already taken the liberty of organizing their files for easy terminal access and printed depositions for paperwork. Everything is already on hold for evaluation upon your arrival."

His expression remained distanced in his nondescript grey luxury sedan. "Good work, I am well pleased." He impatiently tapped the side of his cell phone with his index finger, looking at the car in front of him. His arm was fixed straight from his shoulder to the wheel, gripping it lightly as the sun was already heating up the plastic covering. "Any particulars that I need to be aware of in this lot?"

She glanced from one unfocused point on the wall to another. "Perhaps." She looked at her monitor. "There is one Steven Koffman that is displaying signs of hesitance on his promise. He has already signed his contract with us and paid in full for our services, but he has been in association with his personal designates, inquiring after alternative plans. Apparently, he does not wish to lose contact with his business arrangements and loved ones."

He gave a soft sigh as he put on his brakes after moving a whole five inches. He was too refined to curse silently in his mind or aloud in his car. "Damn human imperfections. Have him under surveillance and disposed of within the next forty-eight hours. Retain the monetary policy and burn the proper trails. We don't need to work for the trouble, even if he was one of our most lucrative accounts."

"As you wish," she affirmed without a nod, but with a click of her mouse. "Shall I dispatch Kusinagi or Jax?"

"I prefer Kusinagi," he stated with a slight shifting of his buttocks on his seat, keeping his foot on the brake. "Though an introduction to Jax would not be an adverse notion. You know he prefers Kusinagi and she is most proficient. Assign Jax as the auxiliary, giving her free reign for the nature of her business." He shifted up as he neared an exit and sped down the off-ramp. "Next on the agenda?"

Two delicate taps of light fingers on a keyboard. "There was a message that came in about a death the other night. It seemed like rival gangs were involved, fighting over new blood. The new corpse was female, Caucasian… she had been dealing with us for quite some time." Hesitating only for a breath, she continued. "Her accounts state that upon her death –"

"You know what to do about those matters. Continue with the next order of business."

She floundered, blinking fast at her screen. "But, sir, I think you should know who –"

"No, I don't need to know about anyone's loved ones or last will and testaments," he interrupted in a calm, cold voice that had the same force as if he had viciously snapped at her. "Do I need to reprimand you?"

"No, sir. I will execute the task at once." There was a mild clearing of a throat to brush out the fearful whisper that threatened. "There is a concern coming from your overseas investors about your recent stock manipulations. They are demanding an explanation."

"Make the usual conciliatory, yet uninformative responses and I'll fill in the specific blanks later." With a flick of a middle finger, he turned on his blinkers three seconds before swerving into a left turn. There was the typical car honk behind him and he glanced frigidly into his rear view mirror at a rich old woman bedecked in golden finery. He was amused at the way her nostrils flared in indignation.

"Give no explanation," he continued without pause. "I will be at the building entrance in seven minutes and I expect the template to be in my inbox when I reach my desk, Songblade."

The man pushed the off button on his cell phone with familiarity before hearing her farewell pleasantries and slotted the arrangement of plastic and circuitry into its charging base near the central knobs of his dashboard. After the years they had trained her to speak and be obedient and polite, he felt an indistinct perverse satisfaction that they held such power over her.

They held power over many people and he knew he was also being played like a dog for his master. Even if he was one of a handful of people everyone in the corporation and administration answered to, he had his superior. He didn't particularly dwell on that fact that had been with him for many years. He had a righteous purpose and would be damned if he failed in his responsibilities.

He deftly maneuvered into another onramp and merged into a fast paced freeway, lightly packed with aluminum and steel chariots. With both of his hands, he gripped the steering wheel in the traditional ten and two o'clock positions. Without a radio or even speakers, he resisted the impulsive urge to tap his fingers to the rhythm his mind insisted upon. He was never one for superfluous displays.

Therefore, he ignored one of the few remaining displays of nature taking hold upon the waking metropolis. Blinding the drivers were golden orange flames emanating from the east, the horizon line made jagged by buildings and the far off mountains. The thin layer of crisp morning dew had already evaporated, but the clean scent still clung to the air. The fumes of diesel trucks and cars driven by people too cheap to buy unleaded were quickly replacing it, though.

Other people were constantly amazed at the number of citizens who were awake and already at workstations by six thirty on the dot. The summer had been very strange, constantly shifting its moods as an unnatural weather system kept blowing in from the Pacific Ocean. People were confused on whether it was a lethargic Indian summer or a brisk, industrious winter to keep warm. Wardrobe in the average office ran an assortment from heavy-duty ski jackets and light cotton floral prints. On an average day, people would be leaving their claustrophobic cubicles sporting apparel different from the ones they stepped in with. Nothing that Californians couldn't adapt to.

This dazzling morning hit cars with their air conditioners already up and running. Sweat threatened to break out of the pores of people without the luxury of false cool breezes in their vehicles. Early construction workers patching up the incongruencies in the pavement obstructed acceleration-happy people. Neighboring residences woke up to the most God-awful noise and most of them set their day to the grumpy switch.

Long before automobiles were invented, Alex Simone had stopped being concerned about the daily lives of mortals. After spending his life attempting to be different from his impoverished parents, attending only the best of Ivy League universities, and completing his graduate studies, he now worked as the figurehead for one of the most prosperous corporations in the world. He had enough houses, cars, and money to give him any pleasure he wanted.

But his real pleasure derived from his work.

Fortunately, the drive was short and he was soon pulling into the underground parking lot of the building. It felt like his building. Its features were so familiar as to feel it possessed his life. Yet, his life was this building, its agendas and expectations were what he existed for. He felt whole with the business' purpose and could not imagine his life working somewhere else. Everywhere else seemed so petty and meaningless.

With his suit jacket affixed smoothly and perfectly on his shoulders, he reached for his suitcase on his passenger seat and exited the car with the minimal of fuss. He nodded to the valet that waited diligently for him and held out the keys for him to take. Immediately, the valet gave a semblance of a salute, took the keys, and hopped into the car.

Alex continued walking toward the elegant double glass doors of his building. With mirrored windows that reflected the sun onto suburban and commercial streets alike, the Fader Corp. building stood at a proud fifteen stories. It had been built only five years ago, its slick angles and rounded corners conveying sophistication and respect to all those that laid eyes upon it. It sat in the middle of the business district in Burbank.

Its interior and business ambitions were as mysterious as the corporation's name. The area around them specialized in advertisement or other entertainment venues, but Fader's popular purpose was Human Resources. It did advertising, yes, stocks, yes, and even some political campaigning. Other than that, Fader was open to any options a client wanted of them.

As Alex stepped in, the security guard in a stereotypical light blue uniform scrambled to his feet and nodded to him. He reached down and pressed a button on his console behind the large, heavy granite-textured cement desk Alex nodded back with that cool, apathetic bearing he had and continued towards the niche of the reception area where the elevators stood at servile attention. He waited in front of the metal doors without looking at the numbers. It would arrive eventually.

The elevator rumbled to a halt in front of him and chimed its arrival. Walking in, Alex turned to the button controls and inserted his special key. As he turned it, the elevator automatically went into activity, fast in its initial ascent, then gradually fading into a slight vibration of motion. The slick, high tech LCD display above the door counted the floors upwards. The button pad only displayed numbers up to floor twelve; the offices of those employees below him were never conscious of the missing floors.

The large steel coffin shuddered to a stop and Alex removed his key with the grace of habit. The grand room was bathed in shades of dark blue, the eastern windows allowed slitted beams of sunlight to illuminate a handful of neat modern metal desks. Tall halogen lamps emanated light towards the ceiling where the sunlight didn't touch. At seven-fifteen in the morning, only the sparse mandatory supervising staff was there, organizing tasks for the day to give to the employees downstairs.

As Alex passed, all of them nodded in deference to his presence. It made no difference if the worker smiled or merely nodded; he would only tilt his head coldly in the same manner. He only knew these people by the name plaques occupying the front edge of their desks between the in and the out baskets.

He strolled quickly past them, came upon a grandly ornate wooden door, and strode into his inner offices. A stately woman in her mid-forties in a sharply cut business dress suit stood up from her desk near the door and nodded politely to him. He gave her the briefest of smiles and continued to his heavy oak desk as she tailed him. He looked down with mundane approval at the paperwork on his desk and the newly arrived files flashing on the desktop of his computer.


He turned to his official secretary, ignoring her formal attire of a dress suit, as it had always been a requirement that had always been met. "Yes, Merielle?"

She looked at him through her black rimmed spectacles. "Your brother has been located."

A gloomy morning with a damn chilly bite in the air that's enough to freeze the ears and lick the spine to attention. Ah, sweet, just how you always wanted it to be.

Wishing for a lazy cigarette, Eric stilled his hand's twitching in his pockets as he watched his lover being lowered into the grave. There was a fading mist that hung in the air, quickly being chased away by the indolent morning sun. Clustered the small gathering of distant family and friends like hyenas around a carcass were the flat plaques of the other dead, stopping the growth of grass with their static presence.

Just waiting for more company. How eager they are to die, dearest.

Eric's chest rose and fell considerably as frail wisps of steam fluttered from his puckered lips. The nip in the air had grown substantially in the past week. Autumn was setting in, even if the trees of Southern California flashed confused colors of the seasons. Spiky spherical seeds from the red gum tree littered the neatly trimmed grass, irritating the thin bottoms of dress shoes. El Niño was bloody annoying.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, noting with displeasure that the mud was ruining his designer shoes. He frowned instead of ripping loose a casual four-letter word, his nerves on edge after having his one and only cigarette that day before breakfast in his bed sheets. He would miss smoking in bed with Victoria wrapped around him, her naked body pressing warmly against his hip. They had spent many a morning smoking together and talking quietly of this or that.

They had found his picture with his name on the back in the back pocket of her jeans and made an effort to track down anyone who could identify her body. When he had been contacted about her death from the police officer, he had been stunned. In all the stories of the coven, he had thought that he would know telepathically if she died. They had been together for many years and they had been close in the beginning. Only recently had that spent time together again, but he had thought that the intercourse of gifting held supernatural aspects for the partners.

So much for the old ways. What a pile of shit.

He knew that the old ways were what had killed her. In the morgue, he had asked to touch her one last time. The coroner was guarded about that request, but had allowed him the privilege with the proper evidence of grievances. He had leaned forward as if to be nostalgic about the scent of her hair and smelled two distinct vampire scents about her. One was very old, a classic aroma of a museum with a touch of salty seas. The other fragrance was very young, so young that he still smelled somewhat human.

A decidedly odd mix, but she had been hinting to him that there was another man she wanted, most likely trying to encourage jealousy from him. He had cared less, the spark they had shared long since fluttered away some fifty years before. They had lived a lifetime together, but could not stand two.

He didn't leave her for the sole purpose of familiarity. They had mutually agreed to separate and both had moved onto new lives. They took up different residences, but in the same cities, crying off the proximity as coincidences.

She had pursued the arts. She had bought a piano, took up classes, and worked her way up to a studio performer. She had become very adroit at the instrument and retained a number of listeners. She always made sure she assumed false names. He had bought the various albums she had guested on, hiding them whenever he knew she was coming.

He, on the other hand, had moved into a far more nefarious career.

But they had never stopped keeping contact with one another. If they had had any mutual friends, they would have remarked on their separation as still a continuing relationship. Eric took Victoria out on movies as if they were the young people they looked to be. True, they saw each other less frequently than they had in the past, but neither had they been with other people for more than a few times.

Eric knew he should have felt the strong twinge of guilt that he didn't feel jealousy for Victoria's new boy toy, but it was difficult to be jealous about something he couldn't care less about. He didn't even know the bloke's name. He only knew that Victoria made an effort to swoon as she described his Adonis body, his blonde and blue-eyed perfection, and his massive intelligence and education. It didn't go without notice that she had chosen someone that was Eric's exact opposite.

Eric slid his eyes to the other retinue at the funeral. A few of them he recognized as her snobs-turned-gothicly-artsy-fartsy friends from the Art College she had only recently been attending. A few of them glanced his way, giving him the impression that had the suspicions of knowing who he was in relation to the deceased, if not exactly his name. He ignored them.

Next to the younger crowd were a few clusters of her fans and recording studio associates. They amounted to a collection of about twenty to thirty, scattered people. Eric spied one young admirer leaning against a far tree in the weak shade had headphones covering his ears and was gazing sadly at the hovering coffin. Eric assumed he was listening to one of the albums she played on and wondered how her typical music was so powerful to inspire such a distant emotion. He was well aware he didn't know her beyond her work.

Only a small number of the people gathered were shedding genuine tears and mourning the traditional way. Eric knew that she had kept them off, kept their friendship vague and distant. It almost seemed dictated by their vampiric nature. He knew that a few vampires socialized beyond their immortal colleagues, but Victoria hadn't seemed particularly interested in mortals. That lone attitude had drawn him to her in the first place.

"She was so young." Eric turned his head slightly to angle his ear toward the whispered voice that cracked with strong emotion. He smiled inwardly at the word "young" applied to a ninety-one year old vampiress. "She was going to be… she had a life planned for her. A really good, long life."

"She had talent," agreed the distinguished looking gentleman by her side, supporting her elbow as she dabbed her eyes with an old-fashioned lace handkerchief. "She was going to make it big someday in one way or another. She had such great potential. I don't think I'll ever meet anyone like her ever again."

The two talked softer than the minister did so they wouldn't disturb the mourners around them. Eric couldn't figure why Victoria had wanted her Catholicism so late in her life. She had scorned most of the beliefs she had been raised with when he had met her, dead set on becoming the most outrageous, enigmatic personality of her time. He remembered the first time they had spoken of death after her gifting. She had told him she would be cremated just to spite her straight-laced parents.

He fingered out a cigarette from the pack hidden in his trench coat and absently played with the Zippo lighter in his other pocket. Changing times develop changing minds.

Mightily bored with the ceremony giving reverence for the fate of all living things, Eric faded his conscious sight and externalized his senses. He felt the breeze from a falling leaf near his cheek, the scent of a woman's perfume, and eventually the underlying thoughts of the droning minister. Soon, the noises of the nearby suburban streets seemed to race next to his feet and the clouds were so fresh, he could smell them. Keeping the sensory information from flooding into his mind, he quickly and carefully constructed mental barricades, focusing his playing field to narrow bands of concentration.

Mentally, he moved his "radar" to the crowd, focusing on only one or two minds at a time, which would allow him to receive a clear window of specific details and thoughts. He passed over the minds that mulled of how to best act out their shallow displays of grief and the admirers who had never met Victoria on a personal level.

Eric halted his scanning of the crowd when he hit upon a moderate, but sharp wave of jealousy and disdain poorly filmed over with regret and guilt, no matter how genuine the emotions were. He slid his eyes around him and stopped at a pair of long legs sheathed in barely there black stockings. He was always a sucker for a pair of sculpted legs and black silk stockings.

His eyes trailed upwards and the mental resonance increased slightly. He knew he was looking at the source of the emotions and paid attention to her moving lips as she chattered inanely with the female companion beside her. Eric lazily dismissed her legs as her body attitude and upper torso didn't meet his standards of attractive and focused on the business at hand.

"I wonder how she died," murmured the blonde with the long tresses tied into an artfully braided bun. As soft and muddled as an echo in a museum, Eric received a fragment of thoughts and emotions. I wonder (musing) /amount / pain she felt / how long / hurt. Along with the emotions were various cheesy images from various horror movies. He immediately questioned the validity and maturity of his chosen subject.

He observed the situation, noticing her companion. Although she was a brunette of shorter stature than the waify blonde, she possessed equal curves. Both of them wore the simple styles of dress, yet their snobbish carriage spoke of a higher price range of their clothing. The blonde had the features of a model, but the dampness of the air distorted her contemporary face paint. The brunette obviously attempted to mimic the fads the blonde followed, but her height prevented her from attaining the complete effect of sophistication.

The brunette shifted slightly, turning her eyes to assess the amount of potential dates in mourning. "I hear her neck was broken," she said furtively. "The police were involved."

The blonde's interest was piqued as she arched a well-plucked eyebrow, having only received a note about Victoria's funeral on her lonely answering machine. "They had an investigation? How was her neck broken?"

The brunette glanced at the upturned flare of a delicate nostril formed with operations. "They can't say. She wasn't beaten or raped or anything so they don't know why someone would break her neck."

"Maybe she tripped," the blonde commented snidely. If she smiled, Eric would not be surprised if she had the fangs of a predator.

The companion giggled in her head while hiding her lips in a handkerchief and bowing her head down as if to contain her grief. "Maybe." Distracted from her perusal of the crowd by a fluttering concept, she asked. "Did Victoria ever tell you about that guy she liked?"

The blonde quickly lost a good amount of interest in the conversation since it neither dealt with her or the demise of a rival beauty. She pouted her lips with impatience and amused her companion. "Who? That Eric guy she goes out with?"

At that, Eric smoothly glided behind a crowd to avoid detection. The last thing he wanted to do was to attract the interest the two females.

"No, the other guy. The one that she's had a crush on for a long while. She always talks about him."

"Yes, though I forgot his name. I think it starts with an 'M'." The blonde's equally icy blue eyes drifted casually around the gathering. "He's not here," she said loftily, with the haughtiness of a child taunting another with a rare toy.

The brunette uttered a coy gasp. "You've seen him?" Eagerness was difficult to hide from her voice.

"Well, she's pointed him out to me. She likes to watch him when he's not looking."

"Isn't that really weird?"

The blonde sighed. "If anyone had it out for Victoria, it would be two men. The whole jealousy thing, you know."

Her companion nodded, images from several romantic movies ran in her shallow head. Disgusted, Eric delved deeper into the blonde's mind to extract a small mental movie clip of said Mr. 'M'. A frown glided across his eyebrows for a second, as the eye's point of view would have made a paparazzi proud. Mr. 'M's image came as a small figure from across a busy street, squinting and flinching as he hurriedly walked in the shade.

Damn, Vicky, how could you have been so stupid?

"Cease and desist, Eric. We will attract trouble."

Eric stilled his hand at his side, clenched in a leashed punch. He kept starting down the boy under him, his nose bloody and sniveling. Eric was sure it was broken as he held the boy's collar with his other fisted hand. To the boy's credit, he had never stopped glaring at Eric.

With one last grunt of disgust heaving from his adolescent lungs, Eric gripped the boy's collar with both hands and threw him to the moist soil. The wet slosh soaked the boy's back, matching it with his front. Eric's pants were splattered with mud from the knees down as he rose from his crouch.

Alex had stood to the sidelines of the fight and watched with the eerie detachment he had learned very early in life. Eric stood up, glaring fiercely at the muddy boy sitting on his behind and walked past Alex without looking at him. Alex took a cursory glance at the assembly, turned sharply on his heel, and followed his younger brother.

The two boys walked down the dirt path side by side. It wasn't out of mutual respect for the other, it was due to the fact that they knew they had to stick together to get by in the neighborhood. They dressed in the similar attire of the school dress code for boys, but Eric already had a petulant swagger to his steps at the tender age of ten, supplying him with the aura of challenging arrogance. Whoever was on the business end of one of his challenges was going to be in for a beating.

Alex appeared to be his complete opposite. His overcoat and vest were always as immaculate at the end of the day as they were at the beginning, his face and hands unquestionably clean, and his back was straight even without the aid of the ruler. Teachers loved to have him in their class as much as they dreaded to see Eric present.

Eric had decided long ago to mirror his brother in the worst way. His marks at school were regularly lacking, his clothing wrinkled and haphazard as his exertions allowed, and his choice of friends was deplorable. He was present when a new student arrived to greet them with a fist and joined in plots to steal food from windowsills. His palms were usually red from the rulers of teachers, yet his mouth was always grinning like the Cheshire cat's. No amount of punishment would restrain him, in fact, he egged his teachers on.

The neighborhood children knew the hearts of the two brothers better than their authority figures, though. Both the brothers possessed mean hearts. True, Eric was the hot-tempered rakehell and Alex was the quiet student with the spectacles, but they both enjoyed tormenting their peers in their own fashion. Alex chose a more subtle route.

"What was the matter this time?" Alex could gloat like King Midas in his own way while making others feel like peasants. Eric knew it was the way Alex had completely assimilated the American accent and scorned their deep London slum roots.

"'Twas about Father again." Eric determinedly held his head high and even stressed his low class accent he had learned from his parents. "They said the gawd-awefulest things."

"Who cares what they say? They always talk about us behind our backs, anyway. Once we are rich, they will fawn and fall all over us."

"Easy fer ye t'say," Eric grumbled.

"You can be rich, too. You just have to get smart."

But I kin never be as smart as ye are. Bitterness wasn't new to Eric, as their differences were always readily apparent.

Alex gave his little brother a sidelong glance and noticed the usual black expression dawning on his face. "I shouldn't be the one to tell you, you are after all my own dear brother, but one of the reasons many people tend to avoid you or make predispositioned opinions about your personality is that look you have on your face."

"Whot look on m'face?" Eric's eyes never left the road ahead, taking in the fact that a pretty little girl looked at him for a moment, then slid her gaze to Alex. Her smile had dimmed and she hastily returned to playing with her doll on her lawn.

"The look that scares children, perhaps? You look quite the foreboding villain, Eric."

I always do when yer around, brother. Ye make me angry wi' everythin'… you, me, this bloody ig'nerant town in the middle of rollin' Virginia, our folks. His coal black eyes narrowed against the sunny day. Ye just make me bloomin' mad.

"No matter." Alex waved off the subject with a graceful hand movement deeming the subject as immaterial, already gathering the air to begin another topic. "Father has received another missive from Mr. Morgan in England." Eric looked at him sharply in surprise, but Alex continued unfaltering. "He has dispatched Father to another business arrangement and we are moving within the month."

"Where t'this time?" The boy had not outgrown his sulking moods. "Maryland, per'aps? I 'ear Philadelphia's nice. Anywhere's better'n Tygert's Valley."

Alex gazed at the rolling fields loftily. "I do not particularly care where you end up, Eric. I will not be joining you."

Eric was shocked and made no action to hide it as he gawked at Alex with the open eyes of a ten-year-old child. "Yer gonna run away?"

"Nothing so immature," came the lofty reply. "I am sixteen years of age, time enough for me to set off on my own way into the world. I am going to make my way out west and have my name mean something dignified."

Eric looked at his brother oddly, furrowing his smooth forehead with wrinkles. "Whot d'ya mean, Alex? No one knows of us anywhere."

"Around here, they know us." Alex was fuming inside, the dark fire of indignity he felt in his heart showed in his eyes. "They know us too bloody well. Just look at us! We wear castoffs from the church and mother has to patch the shirts up. We have to have a woman go out and do chores for other families to receive money."

He whispered so that others wouldn't hear their conversation and his show of emotion. "Father does not come home until the crickets chirp loudly and he stumbles in with too much liquor on his breath. You know this, Eric, and so do our neighbors.

"It is truly degrading. They laugh at us behind their hands as we pass by them on the road, children as well as adults. Aren't you sick of the teasing and bullying we suffer at school? I will not abide by it, Eric. Not anymore." He straightened up even taller on the road and strode with lengthy strides toward their small house built wall by wall by their father. "I will be off within the week."

Fearful of the recriminations he would receive from his father, Eric told him the news the morning after. He spoke in starts and stops, his thin frame shivering with edgy nerves. Papa Simone looked at Eric calmly with unreadable black eyes over a plate of eggs and hash before patting the scared Eric on the head and shooing the boy off to school. Eric looked back once to see his father bending over his breakfast plate again and was distracted all day.

When the brother arrived home, Papa Simone sat in the room that was the combination living and dining area. Eric moved past his father with a cautious step, but Alex was not so careful and trotted right past his father's chair. He received the cuff to his ear so hard, he was sent reeling to the floor.

"Did I raise a fool, boy?" Papa Simone lurched over Alex, his enormous weight lurking beneath the thin shirt and hung over his straining belt. He raised his arm and his short horsewhip uncoiled to the floor to the horror in Eric's eyes. Punishment would be brutal and slow.

Eric looked around for their mother, but saw her sitting at the table with her back to the situation. Her eyes were focused on paring potatoes for supper as if it were any other night. She would deny the existence of this incident as well as the other beatings her husband gave to herself and her boys in the past. She never would help her children.

Alex looked up groggily at his towering father, blinking his eyes to clear away the double vision. "You didn't raise a fool, father." The best way to handle one of his drunken moods was to agree with whatever he said and raise no argument.

"Y'know whot Mr. Morgan does fer this family an' y'know what 'e wants this family t'do fer him." His voice was mean and gritty from the lack of alcohol to shave the self-possession from his mind. "'E has paid fer yer ed'cation and our liveli'ood and ye mean t'break th' contract?"

"I don't care about the blasted contract, Father." Alex groped around the floor and recovered his spectacles. He adjusted them calmly to his ears, as his eyes were as tranquil as a pond on a moonless midnight. "You may proceed on the whims of an aristocrat and sell your family, but I, for one, will not participate in it anymore."

"Ye ha' nae say in th' matter!" He aimed a kid to the boy's ribs and sent the boy careening against the thin wall. The shelves shook in the kitchen upon impact and a wooden dowel fell upon the wooden floor with a clatter.

Alex struggled to cough and clear the congestion in his chest, but his diaphragm would not cooperate. "I will be gone in the morning, Father," he whispered with a weak voice that conveyed a quietly grim conviction.

Papa Simone looked down upon his son for a moment, then summoned up a great snort to spit a wad of phlegm down at him. "Do as ye will. Yer nae m'son nae more."

Alex raised up on his hands and knees and looked up at Eric cowering behind their mother's chair, frozen stiff and quivering with his usual fear. A final emotion registered in his eyes and it was hate. Eric's heart skipped a beat as Alex whispered, "Good."

"That was so wonderful, baby."

The Fortune 500 businessman smiled at the ceiling, sucking on his foul cigar as eagerly as she had been sucking on his penis a few minutes before. His hairy, sweaty armpit was nestled against her neck and his hand had reached down to squeeze her buttock.

"You'll never have it as good as me, baby."

She groaned in distaste and he took it as a purr of assent. She ducked her head on his chest and wrinkled up her nose at the mess he had made on her stomach. God, he smells like a rotten catfish. He had been so kind, as he put it, as to come onto her stomach where he expected her to smear his semen all over herself and enjoy the task. The porn watching has gotten to him, she thought.

He had also brayed like a donkey as he bucked over her, his beer belly flopping as pathetically as a beached whale as he shuddered like the dog he was. His unrelenting weight had been so enormous on her that she had had difficulty breathing. She had wanted to kill him right there, fuck the money.

But she had a job to do. She had made an arrangement and she had all intentions of keeping her business thriving.

"Are you going to leave me, Steve?" She stroked a palm across his chest and flicked a nipple with her index finger for good measure. She waited a moment before pouting prettily and baited him. "You told me the last time that you'd be out of town by now…"

"Well, baby, I just couldn't leave you and your sexy ass behind." She doubted he was clever enough to recognize the puns in his words. His handbook dirty talk seemed to turn him on more than it did her, no matter how hard he tried.

She nipped at his chest, wishing her ceramic fangs were in place to manifest her animosity. "That's so… sweet of you to say, but I thought you were in some kind of trouble or something." She knew how to play the simpleton like a harp, fancy string vibratos and all.

The liquid, relaxed of his body slowly gelatinized to an uneasy stiffness. "Baby… Jax, I'm still in trouble. Serious trouble indeed."

He made a move to throw the sheets off of his body and withdraw from the bed, but Jax kept her body stubbornly anchored to his side. "I want to know, Steve," she demanded in an earnest voice. "I worry about you."

"Like you'd really care." He reached for the bed stand and recovered his still smoking cigar from the glass holder that was customary for hotels to provide their customers. He looked at her pale nakedness out of the corner of his eye, the straight damp bleach-blonde locks falling wetly over her pouting breasts, the sculpted legs that had small, tired bundles of fat resting near her hips. "You're a whore, little girl, only after my money."

Mentally, she cataloged him with her other over-arrogant businessmen johns. The hair on the top of his head had disappeared to reveal the shiny scalp, yet he tried obtusely to overgrow a few strands on the side of his head and whipped it over the bare spot. His hair had been so over-worked with dyes and gel, the texture was as course as a horse's mane and smelled like one, too. His facial features were blurred with typical, easily forgotten features and his jowls hung over a thick neck. Even with all the plastic surgery he had told her he had done, his looks didn't improve. He had a delusion, though, that he had aged as well as Michael Douglas.

She affected hurt and flinched backwards away from him, letting him sit up in bed and swing his disproportionately bony legs to the edge. "I… I always feel affection for my… the men I see a lot. You've always come back to me."

"Maybe I should get a new girl." She could feel the trumped up coldness in his return. He always arrived with the remains of his business demeanor and left relaxed, but not tonight.

He probably knows his life is forfeit already.

She sure as hell wouldn't miss his egotistical performance when he was gone. Once her johns started to age on her, it was time to move on. Steve had come to her already primed for his golden years of retirement, and she did not appreciate it.

He bent over laboriously to search for his clothes, which had been scattered all over the room he had always reserved for their rendezvous. His stiff manner spoke of some inner workings as he completely ignored the naked Jax behind him and slowly donned his wrinkled work shirt.

Sighing, Jax reached over to the other bed stand and poured lukewarm wine from the bottle he brought to a glass tumbler with the hotel's logo etched into it. She swirled the tawny liquid around and watched as he stood up with his thighs that were twice as thick as his calves. Her stomach recoiled as his warm semen started dripping out of her and she bit the inside of her mouth in order not to vomit.

When I was a girl, I wanted to make money. I never asked myself how and I won't as myself why.

"Unfortunately for you, I don't have a pimp you could ask for another actress." Her voice was as rough as the streets outside. "So that's it then? No more?"

"I'll keep you posted." He worked his hands around his width, trying to tuck in his shirt to a semblance of order. He needed to return to the skin of being king of bullshitters, looking like he knew everything. He turned when he realized he failed and reached into his back pocket for his wallet. "How much is my tab for today?"

She met his newly alien eyes with her own pale green ones. She could make them darken with emotion or lighten to a frighteningly white glowing shade of pastel white. "Five-hundred."

He riffled through the sheets of stiff green fabric nestled in the leather and extended his hand. As Jax clamped her fingers over the bills, the hand fell off his wrist and onto her lap. Within a second, his body fell on the bed and his head rolled off the other side, leaving a long trickle of blood with it.

Jax flung the dismembered hand off her naked thighs and it landed at rubber sole covered feet. She raised her eyes up, over the fitted black trousers and pleat-folded black top with light weight armor dripping from broad shoulders to see watchful, dead dark brown eyes.

Kusinagi nodded sharply to the frozen Jax for her to get off the bed. A second later, she gripped Jax by the shoulder and pulled her forcefully off the bed. Quickly and with efficiently graceful movements, she gathered up the remains and tied the bed sheet up in a makeshift carry sack.

Jax watched as Kusinagi search the room of further evidence. Her expression was as blank as when she first appeared, as cold as when she was killing, and as lifeless as she went about everyday. Jax flinched as Kusinagi turned around and reached into the overlapping folds of her warrior kimono, pressed under armor of contemporary materials designed in the old style. With strong, tapered fingers, she withdrew a folded note and held it for Jax to take.

Jax raised a bold eyebrow as she scented Kusinagi's departure from her room by means of her own. Strange… he wrote this by hand. The bastard might feel something after all.

Not fucking bad…

Eric ducked out from under the awning of a small sushi bar. It was quite popular in the area due to its novelty of small dishes of sushi placed on connecting wooden boats, circling around the large bar in a small moat. The chef prepared the sushi for everyone to see behind the bar, taking requests as he went along with his shift. People had flocked to sit at the bar, grinning and laughing at the oddity while looking as trendy as possible.

Standing next to the large window that made up the front wall of the restaurant next door, he lit a cigarette in the cup of his hands and breathed out a comforting breath of smoke. The temperature was rising fast as the sun had burned off the morning clouds by noon. The blue of the exposed sky was already dulled with a layer of smog.

He walked east towards the more bustling side of the area and took his time about it. When most everyone was at a job, some of the rich and not-so-famous came out and wasted their time. Fashionably, of course, they would only patron the biggest of names and walk like royalty to each and every shop. They cluttered their designer shopping bags around their legs like the jewelry on their fingers; they liked to lay bare their wallets to an array of gold credit cards.

Occasionally, one would see a middle-aged woman dragging along a fluffy lapdog behind her with a studded collar. If the woman's hands were free, she would pick it up and cuddle it to her breast. It was not unnatural to see a man do the dog walking, but he would mean more business about it, taking along a pooper-scooper to be more politically correct about animal droppings.

Eric hated the rich.

He struck west on the boulevard, weaving between the bustling people with grace. He passed a miscreant band of beggars from a local art high school, begging for change when they didn't feel like breaking out their father's credit card for some cash. Ignoring their sarcastic pleas for what he could spare and dug into his pocket for a five-dollar bill to hand to a worn out homeless man with an equally tired dog leashed to his loaded grocery cart. The old man looked up and smiled warmly, exposing yellowed teeth.

Completing his mercy mission for the day, Eric walked on, stopping at a street corner where two crosswalks met in the middle of the intersection. He walked diagonally when the red hand turned into a pale blue figure and alighted before a high-class restaurant on the bottom level of an abandoned building with gothic buttresses on its wall. His shoulders relaxed slightly under his lightweight jacket and he craned his neck up from its stooped position. Even after nearly two hundred years, he squinted at the sun much harder than the average mortal did. He ducked inside the lightly air conditioned restaurant, called upon his reservation at the desk, and took his plush seat near the window.

There had never been this much sunlight in Washington. During the winter, the clouds hung thick and low, the wind picked up often and tugged at clothing. The two to three story buildings were a mix of the new trying to renovate the old. Fresh paint on new buildings challenged the simple Gothic structure of the times before. Old Town Pasadena reminded him of Seattle in that aspect, but not what was currently sitting there. Thinking about that lifetime also brought up images of a mortal Victoria, then going under the nickname Vicky.

It was the 1920's, when America was one big orgy of good feeling. The cinema had just been invented and there was a firestorm of theaters being built at the demand of the masses. Coolidge was a president for the people that was rarely heard and barely felt. The war was long over and people realized that they needed to live a little more before they died. Drinking bathtub gin in underground speakeasies and dancing the Charleston into the dawn became a thing to do if you wanted to claim to be a socialite. Sexual awakening had bloomed and everyone had discrete, yet blatant diversions.

There had been a fire in the two-mile stretch of Pioneer Square before Eric had arrived on the scene. The city officials decided to rebuild on top of the old, crumpled buildings and seal off the potentially dangerous subterranean world that had once seen daylight and the seacoast. With each new level built, the ocean crumpled the foundations beneath so that the surface level was always sinking. If only they had known that would eventually happen back in 1926.

Eric was in leagues with the biggest crime lords in Seattle while also invested here and there in the stock market. He was a very rich and powerful man and made sure not many were aware of it. Al Capone was rumored to do certain business with him and his devilishly handsome face gave him a reputation among the ladies. He had watched the most influential people be brought down because others feared his power.

Victoria could have been the poster girl for flappers. Her rich mahogany hair had been cut and styled into a bob of curls. She was a popular party girl, knew all the right people, smoked the finest cigars, and drank as much as the next man twice her size. She flirted with every man, made him feel important and they, in return, would offer her presents of long strings of pearls or a new dress with fringes and beaded tassels. She kept herself aloof from her paramours and never revealed much about herself.

Truth was, she was a runaway from a farmer's family out in Vancouver Island, named after the capital of British Columbia on the southern tip. Her family still clung to the old era of constrictive thinking and repressed her mind until she was seventeen. After that, she made sure to hitch rides down to the States and be a part of the fun.

From the start, Victoria had come onto Eric as she did to all of the powerful men in Seattle. She wanted more jewels and more finery, having been a mildly spoiled little rich girl. She could sing a few jazz songs, but was not great enough to sing constantly. The men who owned clubs liked her enough to give her the allotted fifteen minutes of fame, but usually before the crowds came. She heard the rumors from the fellow showgirls about a new man coming into the Seattle scene, dark, mysterious, and handsome as Lucifer.

Eric had been lonely. He had already lived over one hundred years without a steady companion. Once they started growing old and questioned how he stayed the same, it was time to relocate. More often than not, he would kill them and leave their bodies for homicide detectives to figure out. People cropped up now and again to suspect him for what he truly was, but in the age of science dominating nature, what he was didn't exist.

Victoria and Eric struck an understanding. She would provide him with companionship and he would supply her with most anything she wanted. What she wanted, however, was to get inside her lover's head. His lofty manor and lack of deep conversation intrigued her. She wanted to know how far she could push him.

When the Crash of 1929 struck, Eric gathered up what was left and fled to Canada with Victoria. Due to her citizenship and her previous history, there was no problem crossing the border. She helped him without an allowance or gifts in exchange for never getting near British Columbia. They had never touched upon each other's histories until one rainy night after a session of lovemaking he bit her. The sensation was amazing, he had been waiting so long wondering what she tasted like.

On her part, she was taken aback, but relinquished herself to him. Afterwards, he told her what little he knew about the rules and the covens. He helped her through the adjusting times of daylight, though they usually went out at night. Her questions were answered as best he could and for the first time in a long time, he had let his guard down to her. In their time together, they were a sadistically human couple, complete with angst and warm moments.

Eric realized her was fondly reminiscing and quirked a muscle on his cheek. Love should die with the loved one.

He looked up then and found himself face to face with a blonde beauty, as if to banish away the fond memories of his dark haired one. It wasn't as if she dressed as alluring as Vicky had. The blonde wore jeans that were somewhat close fitting and a small T-shirt that let a person glimpse her navel when she walked. To cover her casualness, a professionally cut suit jacket hung on her shoulders and draped over her proportional breasts.

Yet it wasn't her attire that made him stare. It was the direct way to him with which she carried herself. Her opal green eyes demanded his to meet hers and commune on the basest of levels. She was aware of the effects she evoked on the men around her and she enjoyed the sexual attention she received. The corner of her mouth perked up into a wry grin as she read the surprise in his eyes.

"Mr. Simone?" She had a lushly whiskey voice, more apt to dirty talk than her businesslike statement-question.

"I am he." He was glad his voice maintained calmness and wondered at his sudden lack of guile. Currently, he was using his real surname after having never used it since he was gifted. He reasoned that the reflex of answering to his old name brought back memories of vulnerability.

"Good afternoon, I am Ms. Kellerman, your representative for the Fader Corporation." She started sharply into her premeditated introduction and extended her hand. Classically, he took her hand gently in his, turned it slightly and kissed the knuckles. She blinked for a second, but dropped easily into her seat when he gestured for her to join him.

He signaled for a waitress to bring around the menus and watched as Ms. Kellerman looked at him oddly. "I would like to get down to business, Mr. Simone."

He raised a quaint black eyebrow. "I thought we'd discuss business after a good meal, miss."

Kellerman ignored that. "Our company is quite curious as to what your purpose is in affiliation to us. The elections are next year, yet you do not have a history in politics. In fact, you don't have a stable residence in California."

Eric looked unaffected as he perused the wine list. "You've been checking up on me."

"It's what we do." She shrugged with one shoulder, looking down at the menu with the same detached manner as her host. "Searching for you, though, was an endeavor. Your use of aliases during a very conspicuous length of time is suspect."

Eric nodded pertly, giving the same stony expression as the brother in his childhood.. "Exactly my point for hiring Fader Corp. I need to fade out again."

The three men sat at a small corner table of the Dark Renaissance, possibly the most ragtag group in the paradise of fetish kink.

The main with the mousy light brown hair and coal black eyes adjusted his light, no-nonsense glasses on his nose for the first time in three hours. His gaze was held without much interest on the center pole dancer on stage. The second man to his left sat with his vacant gaze fixed at a point in the distance. His fingers were to his lips as he leaned forward with his elbows propped onto the table. The third man completed the circle, haphazardly straddling his chair and lifting a mug of beer to his thirsty mouth.

"What did you see, Broderick?" Alex inquired without taking his eyes off the shaking tits of the woman. His voice was as sharp and commanding as it was at board meetings as the flashing lights of the stage glared off his glasses.

"I got your man tagged with Trevor, Alex." He raised his eyes from the distance and slowly focused on the people writhing in the cages that lined the wall. "He was just wandering around after he met with her. He looked like he didn't care if anyone followed him."

"Did anyone see you?"

"Does anyone ever? No one looks into the sky anymore. Nothing to see there." Broderick curved a grin as a new slave yelped at having his buttocks whipped. "He reminds me of you, Seth," he said teasingly.

Seth put the mug down on the table, swiveling a quick glance to the newly gagged man on the floor. "Shut up, Rick," he growled and glared at the man. "I'm no one's slave."

"That's a matter of opinion. It sure doesn't look like it to us." Broderick easily focused in on his friend as Alex shifted his gaze from the stage to a wandering waitress and ordered a light drink.

"I just like the girl." He motioned with a raised hand to the same girl to get a refill for his beer. "She's not the only girl I've ever had my eyes on."

"Of course, Mr. Stud. You are just the sex machine," came the sarcastic remark. "But so is she. Maybe too much casual sex is the rub…?"

The air around Seth heated up along with his body temperature and temper. "None of your fucking business, man."

"Settle down, gentlemen." He nodded to the waitress as he regally took the filled wineglass from her tray and sipped delicately. "We are here on business."

"You're always with business," muttered Broderick. The electronica used for the strippers effectively drowned out his sulky words.

"You didn't tell us, Alex." Seth turned his attention to more productive matters after the waitress had wandered off with a tip. "What's the deal with this guy? You just gave us a picture and tracking records. What're we supposed to do with him?"

"You're supposed to grab him and take him to the basement lab."

Broderick winked with his light brown eyes at the still piqued Seth. "Think Dr. Frankenstein is down there?"

Seth remembered the agenda he had found in his mailbox that morning. "Janis is bringing him?"

Alex nodded as he watched the dimly lit the front door. "There she is with him."

Already Ms. Kellerman had worked her magic. She was hanging on Eric's arm as he watched her laugh up at his face. Having merely looked at him, she had recognized how to get under his skin, if not his pants. She had never had the experience of being able to compare two brothers in bed before.

"And this is the Dark Renaissance. It's pretty risqué, but I didn't think you would mind."

Eric adamantly shook his head, eyes darting to and fro to capture all the naked female flesh. Faintly, he could smell the aroma of old spilt blood and wondered exactly how kinky this place got. "I don't mind at all, Miss Kellerman."

"Call me Janis," she replied as she deftly steered him around and showed him the stocked bar with the designer neon lights. She ordered drinks for them at the bar while he gawked at the fully nude strip show happening on the brightly-lit stage. She turned and scanned the crowd and located the trio of men.

"See anything you like?" she asked, the typical line for introduction to the club.

"I don't see anything I don't like." He turned to Janis with a smile, but was abruptly cut short when he saw the three mismatched men coming towards them. Despite the decades that separated them, Eric knew his brother.

Eric was caught completely off guard and stared at his brother as his kin looked at him coldly. "Alex? You're—"

Broderick and Seth used his time of imbalance to flank his sides. "Come with us," Seth ordered politely, taking Eric's elbow.

Eric stopped gawking at Alex who looked the same as the day he left their shack of a house. He frowned at Seth. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Miss Kell— Janis, what are you doing?"

Alex answered him. "We're going to have a little cozy reunion, Eric. Welcome to your new home."

Alex stood near the silently operating elevators as Seth and Broderick returned to surface level. He looked at the observation tank in the center of the brightly white room filled with a blue-green liquid. Suspended in the tank was his dear brother, attached to tubes and wires like a puppet to its strings. The brother who had sold him out to his father so many years ago, the brother who had not helped him while he was receiving the beating of his life, the brother who had never sought Alex out in the years that he needed help.

Alex had kept an eye on his little brother over the years, though. He had discovered most of his aliases through international visa records during the last century. He couldn't always explain why he kept track of the traitor, he subconsciously wrote it off as a sense of genetic loyalty. Consciously, Alex couldn't give a damn what truly happened to his brother.

He was surprised, though, that Eric had been gifted some time in his life. He supposed that Eric was equally surprised when he had arrived at the Dark Renaissance. Alex thought it was rather slip-shod of Eric not to have researched Fader Corp.'s pyramid of authority.

Then again, Eric was always slipping up.

The machines around him ran on automatic as the scientists were on their lunch break. The halogen lights in the metal grated floor illuminated the laboratory like a set from a science-fiction movie. Alex was disgusted at the architect and if the man hadn't been already died five years ago, Alex would have ordered him killed by irritation alone.

Alex shook his head at the thoughts running through it. Oh, dear brother, you have always been the only one to piss me off completely.

After Alex had been left in Virginia as his family moved away, he had walked to various towns getting hired at odd jobs. Because he was quite literate and intelligent, his jobs were something above shining shoes or dusting chimneys. He worked as a page and a messenger boy in the thick cities, dodging fast between carriage wheels and horses. Soon, he grew of an age to own property and bought a house with what meager payment he had saved up. With enough work and knowing people with connections to what he wanted, he built up a small amount of money to make a dent into commercial activities. Trading became his occupation and by the time he was in his mid-twenties, Alex was a happy man.

In that time, Alex's alias was Alexander Jadeson and his made up history was that he had come from the farms in the Midwest to Boston, Massachusetts. His history of traveling around farms without many neighbors had become helpful when confronted with his story. Fortunately, not many people asked a relatively prosperous young merchant his credentials; they were only concerned with what he could do for them.

Such was the way of business. Under the veneer of polite society, there hid the relentless machine that was commerce. It made the world revolve smoother and more efficiently. It was the job of men to rule over the world as the womenfolk took care of their heirs to their money empires.

Such was the time when Alex was gifted. Now was the time of true technological advances and conquering of nature. Women thought and claimed some foothold upon decisions, but men still dominated. Nothing much had changed in the world since then.

The elevator rumbled above him and Alex stepped to the side, wary of who would enter the temple of scientific and mystic discovery. Alex relaxed, though as Damien stepped out, clad in black and looking as blandly gorged as usual.

He nodded in address to Alex as he surveyed the occupied tubes lining the walls, bubbling their breathes out to the thick liquid. His eyes stopped roaming in front of the newest resident to the testing and smiled warmly at the first person he gifted. "Good job, Mr. Simone."

Author's Memo
Very special thanks to Vanessa of '97 PHS and my homie Hannah of the history research help. Thanks to a new Coven fan Jim, a history major under the guise of computer tech. Thanks Mr. Derrick for telling our crew about Pioneer Square to inspire me later. Also, got to love AOL's vast library of resources. Apologies if this comes off as too stereotypical vampire story, but I think you would get bored reading about a sales clerk at the local record store with ambitions of becoming the next KROQ star. I can never get past my science-fiction roots however.

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Coven of Angels copyright (©) 1998 Sylvia Leung. All rights reserved.