There's a Fine Line Ch. 11byMazuri©
Blake reviewed the file on Xanthe Petrou, the Councilwoman representing Virginia and Washington DC. She'd been the first to be interviewed that week about the vampire working with Malphas. Though none of the women were under suspicion, Petrou had been a staunch advocate of an emergency override for the Council's drop box system. Since the traitor had managed to accomplish just that, it placed her position on the matter under scrutiny. It wasn't beyond the realm of possibility for the traitor to have had help within the Council. Blake just wasn't placing bets that the aid came from Petrou.
She was the daughter of a minor Greek prince and a housemaid, raised amongst luxury and riches but forbidden to possess them. The royal blood that ran through her veins meant little when her mother was of the lower classes. As she grew, the serving class envied her royal lineage while the nobles looked down on her common parentage. She was part of both worlds and yet belonged to neither. Her need to rise above her detractors, to make them pay for the pain of her youth, took root at a very young age and only grew with time.
It was easy to believe that Petrou was capable of participating in, or even developing such a plot. Her father had commanded she learn from the premiere tutors of the time and she'd continued her education long after she'd thrown off her mortality and embraced the life of a vampire. She was intelligent and cunning, but her ambition twisted her knowledge towards darker ends. She had a thirst for power that had only grown since her childhood. Xanthe Petrou was more than capable, but she'd never bow to anyone -- much less a demon.
Putting the report aside with a few new notes in the margins, he pulled out the next candidate's file. Karen Walker was a young vampire whose rise to the council had been sponsored by the missing Lucas Davenport. Though the identity of her Sire was listed as unknown/not provided, it was a fair bet that her sire and sponsor were one and the same. The fact that such a young vampire -- she was less than a century old -- was trying to hide the identity of her Sire sent up the red flags to the Primary Investigator. Unless he (or she) was wanted by the Primus, involved in something the council might consider unacceptable, or unknown, there was little reason not to provide the information. Granted, the council was unaware of August's heritage but allowances were made for age -- most vampires of his Child's age had survived their Sires. Regardless of the reasons why the information had been suppressed, it was definitely something to denote and ask the girl when she arrived.
"You're looking all gloom-and-doomy this morning, Pointy Teeth." Sapphire fluttered down from one of the air grates to perch upon his desk lamp. "What's got your tighty-whities in a bunch?"
"Good morning, Sapphire," Blake murmured without looking up from the file. "How was your weekend?"
"Not as good as yours, I bet." The tiny pixie wrinkled her nose and drifted from the lamp onto the desk, walking along the edge of the grooves Alicia had cut into the expensive mahogany.
"Perhaps not." Blake chuckled softly and closed the file. "Was there something you wanted, you little blue demon, or did you simply wish to torment me this morning? I don't have anyone scheduled until after ten."
"I know." Dancing over to the laptop, Sapphire leaped and pirouetted around keys to spell out a taunting message: I know something you don't know. "When you told me to leave for the weekend, I was going to see Opal. It's not fair that you get to see your mate but I don't."
"And what prevented you from visiting your mate?" Blake smothered a grin while watching the tiny fey creature dance to music only she seemed to hear. He could easily imagine her saying the typed phrase in her sing-song voice. "I was assured that the distance wasn't too far for either of you to fly."
"Of course it wasn't too far, Pointy Teeth, but someone was trying to be sneaky." She snorted in derision and returned to the eight large gashes in the desk's varnish. "I expected them to be deeper," she murmured with a twinkle in her crystalline blue eyes. "I suppose it's to be expected at your age."
"At my age--?" The pixie's melodic laughter forced the vampire's indignant reply to come to a spluttering halt. Narrowing his eyes, he gave the creature a terrible smile that promised payback. "Never mind that, you mentioned someone being sneaky?"
"No, I said he was trying to be sneaky. Pay attention, vampire. He wasn't doing a good job of it at all. Pitiful attempt, really, even for an Infernal."
Blake tensed immediately. "Enough games, Sapphire. Explain yourself."
"Oh, fine. You never let me have any fun, you know. And I missed being with my mate and everything."
"Sapphire." The single word was hissed between elongated fangs as the vampire's patience was tested to the breaking point. The fey realized she'd pushed him a bit too far and nervously faded out of sight.
"Right. The Infernal. Well, he was just standing outside the building trying not to look like he was watching it, which meant he looked even more like he was watching it because, you know, when someone tries not to look like he's spying it makes him look even more like a spy." A low growl cut off the pixie's nervous babbling and she gulped audibly. "Yes, anyway, he stayed until you returned with your mate and then he left. I followed him into a building with a sign that read Devil's Playground... Did you know that it was full of males of all races watching as the females removed their clothing to music? The women were dancing very oddly; like a nymph who'd eaten one too many overripe glisterberries."
"It's a strip club, Sapphire. The women are paid to remove their clothing for men to watch. That's irrelevant." Blake waved his hand as if brushing away a bothersome fly. "Did this Infernal make contact with anyone?"
"Oh, yes! He met with the First Circler, Vergil Merrow."
Blake immediately contacted the demon and arranged a meeting. If the Infernal had chosen to betray him, it would be the last thing he did on this, or any other, plane. He'd managed to express his gratitude to his tiny spy even though his beast was demanding someone's blood. Unless the Infernal offered a damn good reason for his surveillance, it would be his blood that fed the beast within.
"Mr. Simons? Mr. Merrow is here, sir." The tinny voice of the receptionist broke through the silence that had filled the office since Sapphire's revelation. Crimson eyes flashing, Blake asked her to show him in.
"Merrow." Blake rose and motioned towards a chair in front of his desk. The Infernal had a relaxed air about him but there were minute signs that he wasn't quite as calm as he appeared. His hands fluttered about, straightening a cuff here or brushing at an imaginary speck of dirt there. The vampire's lips curled into a cruel smile. Perfect.
"This meeting is imprudent, vampire."
"Really? What a pity." Blake settled behind his desk and fixed his guest with a blood-red baleful glare. "I believe you're quite familiar with imprudence, Merrow."
"Me?" The bewilderment in the man's brown eyes was almost credible. Blake was impressed. "You're talking in riddles, Simons. Why am I here?"
"Come now. Don't act the innocent." The vampire's smile showed the deadly tips of his fangs. "I'm well aware of the unhealthy fascination you have with this building."
"What..." The demon swallowed convulsively, his eyes darting around the room. "What do you mean?"
"Who did you meet at the Devil's Playground?"
"I don't know what..."
"What did he tell you?"
"Listen, Simons." Merrow rose, his eyes bleeding from brown to solid black. Blake was on him in an instant. His long fingers wrapped around the demon's throat, his claws pricking the skin and causing a thin trickle of blood from each razor-sharp point.
"Enough, demon." The vampire forced the man back into the chair and held him there; his crimson eyes promised death to the First Circler should he move. "An Infernal was watching this building. You met with him. Why?"
"There is talk that the project which has consumed our friend's attention is close to completion," Merrow wheezed through the unrelenting grip that threatened to cut off his air supply with a single misplaced word. "He now wishes to announce his success with a celebration. Your human female is at the top of his guest list."
"I already knew that. It doesn't explain your unfortunate decision to spy on me."
"I was trying to determine why she was so important." The demon's human form melted away as the scent of his blood grew stronger in the room. A pair of leathery wings sprouted from his back only to be trapped between Merrow's body and the chair. Two short horns rose from his forehead to curl over his now-hairless skull. The hands that ineffectively grasped at the vampire's wrist also changed, ending in sharp talons that pierced Blake's tender skin. Though First Circlers were the weakest of the Infernals, Merrow wasn't about to go down without a fight. "Any human is usually a sufficient sacrifice. Purity is needed for more powerful spells. If this human is your mate as is rumored then it is unlikely she remains pure. This makes his insistence upon her attendance a mystery."
The scent of the demon's blood rose to the vampire's sensitive nose. Leaning forward, he inhaled the coppery aroma with a hiss. "How accurate is your sense of smell, demon?"
"Not as keen as yours or a Shifter's, but better than a human's. Why?" The man had attempted to recoil from the fangs brought so close to his vulnerable neck but Blake's iron grip had not faltered.
"The grooves upon my desk. Identify the scent." Blake dragged the man from his chair and threw him onto the hard mahogany surface. If what he suspected was true, it would explain many things that had puzzled him until now.
"It's his!" Merrow rose, flexing his leathery wings in preparation for battle. His hands clenched upon the gouges from Alicia's talons. "It's faint but I'd know his stench anywhere. He's been here, in this room," he inhaled, "at this very desk."
"He believes it to be the truth, Pointy Teeth."
"The General hasn't dared to show his face here, Merrow." Blake acknowledged his tiny spy's information with a brief mental touch. It wouldn't do to tip off the demon that there were more pieces of the game in play than he already knew. "Whoever's scent you've detected, it's not his."
"Someone from the Seventh Circle has been in this office, vampire. If it's not our friend, then it's one of his bloodline." Inhaling deeply again, Merrow cocked his head to the side with a slight frown. "That could be it."
"I'd advise you to start making sense, demon-kin."
"I've had many opportunities in the past century to be in the company of our friend's spawns as they've scurried about the human plane doing his bidding. The scent is tainted, but it is most definitely one of his blood."
"This answers as many questions as it creates. What it doesn't answer, however, is what you hoped to gain by watching my building."
"A hint as to what he is planning. If I knew what was so special about your female then I would be closer to knowing why he was so intent to have her." The demon flexed his wings and stepped away from the desk. "I was trying to help you, vampire."
"Who was the spy, Pointy Teeth? Merrow's aura reads sincere but his spy is an unknown quantity." Sapphire watched the exchange from her perch on the air vent.
"Your methods leave much to be desired, demon-kin. Who was the spy? What little trust I have in you doesn't extend to him."
"You are a fool if you think I'm giving you his name," Merrow sneered, shuffling to one side in hopes of reaching the door. "Those loyal to one of the First Circle are rare; those willing to oppose a Seventh Circler in the name of that loyalty are even more rare."
"He fears for his informant."
Blake held the demon's ebony gaze for a long moment before giving him a curt nod. "Very well. Do you swear upon your true-name that this spy will not betray you and thus me?"
"Pray he doesn't, Merrow, or there won't be a plane distant enough to hide him from me."
"Are we finished here, vampire?"
"For now. See that I'm made aware of any further quests for knowledge requiring surveillance of my building."
The demon's appearance slowly returned to its human form and he gave the vampire a curt bow. His eyes remained as hard and dark as obsidian as he yanked open the office door and closed it behind him with a bang. Blake knew the First Circler would refrain from volunteering any further information concerning the General.
"You're awfully skilled at making friends, aren't you, Pointy Teeth?"
"You try my patience, pixie." Blake walked to the desk and traced his fingers over the grooves his mate had made. "Do you think he speaks the truth?"
"That your mate is demon-kin?" At the vampire's curt nod, Sapphire floated to the desk and walked alongside the deepest of the gouges. "Of course. Didn't you know that?"
The interview with Karen Walker went smoothly and with little information of real note. She had been confused at the summons but ignorant of the machinations of her fellow councilors. She confirmed Armentage's claims that Xanthe Petrou had been quite vocal in support of an emergency failsafe concerning the Council Drop Box, but could offer little else concerning the incident. The only surprise had come towards the end of the interview.
"You're interviewing everyone, correct?" The juvenile vampire pushed her shoulder-length auburn curls behind her ear before nibbling one manicured nail.
"That is correct. Even if a council member isn't the one responsible for the breach in protocol, they may have information that is vital to the investigation." Blake steepled his fingers beneath his chin and watched the youngster fidget.
"Have you been able to contact Lucas?" The woman's hazel eyes were ringed with crimson at the mention of the missing councilman. A silent query of his pixie spy confirmed his suspicions; his guest was worried. Lucas' disappearance was unplanned and unusual.
"Not at this time. His estate has deflected all of my enquiries and his secretary has merely confirmed that he will unavailable for an indeterminate period of time. If he's involved, he's making all the proper motions to prove his guilt."
"Lucas would never harm the council! In fact, he told me..." Karen chewed her lip as she twisted her fingers together in her lap.
"Told you what, Ms. Walker? I will find out sooner or later, and it will go better for you if I hear it from your own lips. Healthier, if you want to put it that way." Blake allowed the aura of his age and power flow through the room to surround the much younger vampire. Her file said she'd barely passed her first half-century, and had obtained a spot on the council at the recommendation of an older vampire. Could it have been Lucas Davenport? The file didn't reveal that information.
"Lucas could identify a lot of different nonhumans by scent. He said it was because he was a bloodhound in another life. I think he's just traveled a lot. I don't know." Karen shrugged, trying not to shudder as the Investigator's power wrapped around her weaker form. "He said that someone had let an Infernal into the council hall. That he could smell the demon's stench strongly around the foyer but no further. He was going to ask around to find out if anyone knew anything. That was three weeks ago."
"When did you notice he was missing?" Blake cast another surreptitious glance towards Sapphire's hiding place and she confirmed the vampire's honesty.
"Only a few days after he disappeared. Lucas and I...well, we've kept it quiet since we're both on the council, but he's my Sire. We keep in touch since I'm still so young."
"Did you notify anyone when he went missing?"
"You mean on the council? No." The younger vampire breathed a sigh of relief when Blake reined in his power. She pushed her hair away from her face, revealing her nervous concern. "He didn't tell me who he'd talked to about the demon; he didn't want me to get involved. We were supposed to go to the movies, but when he didn't show up I didn't know who I could trust. So, I told his staff to say he'd gone on vacation."
"You did the right thing, little one. If you hear from him, I need you to contact me immediately, Ms. Walker."
Karen took the business card with shaking fingers and a trembling smile of thanks. "Do you think he's still alive, Investigator?"
"To be honest, it's highly doubtful. However, if he does still live, I'll do what I can for him. If he doesn't, I'll do what I can for you."
After she'd left, Blake discussed the interview with Sapphire. They agreed that the young vampire was either the best liar in all of the known planes or incapable of the cold callousness required to work alongside the traitor. He'd also bet a quart of the finest O-Negative that Karen Walker wasn't responsible for her Sire's disappearance. This meant that Davenport had most likely confronted the traitor about the Infernal's presence in the council hall and paid the price for his discovery.
His interview with Angus Mathewson could prove to be interesting.
Alicia placed the final two books onto the shelves with a sigh of relief. The cataloguing of the Pierces' formidable library was complete. Elizabeth and Johannes had already thanked her for her hard work. Francisco had thanked her for keeping him company each day. Now, her back thanked her for not having to hunch over the laptop for most of the day. Standing, she stretched and massaged her lower back with a groan.
"All done, McNugget?"
Francisco stood in the doorway bearing a tray of sandwiches, chips, juice, and soda. His glass of bottled blood mixed with a spicy V8 and garnished with a slice of jalapeno and a sprig of cilantro sat to one side. He grinned at Alicia's yelp of surprise and moved into the room to place the tray onto the large desk that dominated one side of the room.
"For your own sake, make a bit noise, Cisco!"
"My sake? Why mine?" The young vampire grinned and pulled her chair from the desk with a flourish.
"Because if you give me a heart attack, Blake's gonna stomp your fangy ass into goo." The friends shared a laugh, though both recognized the truth of the statement. Her vampire had very little sense of humor when it came to her health and safety.
Talk turned to her plans for the immediate future and they discussed her most recent GED pre-test and the areas where she needed additional work. Their easy camaraderie had made the newling an excellent study partner, and he'd helped to improve her proficiency in all areas. The final section was, unsurprisingly, grammar. Chuckling softly, Alicia knew Blake would have plenty to say about that particular bit of information.
She helped Francisco clean up their lunch and insisted that she do the washing since he'd prepared the tray. After checking her email in hopes of a message from her mate, Alicia joined Opal in the garden to explore her growing abilities. Francisco brought his laptop onto the patio to keep a watchful eye over his friend.
"Goddamn son of a fucking bitch!" Alicia's concentration wavered, which caused the materials she was manipulating to fall to the ground in a screeching crash. Her temper had escalated with every failure, which exacerbated the problem. This crash was the final straw and she released her temper in a flurry of colorful phrases.
"I have a feeling I shall enjoy tonight, Beautiful One, far more than you." Blake's amused voice cut through the metallic echoes with laser-like precision. Alicia groaned and buried her face in her hands.