Kip could hear Sebastian’s music from the front hall. He walked into the den, where Sebastian was laying on the couch, reading a vampire pathology book. Kip pulled a headphone from Sebastian’s ear.
Sebastian gave him a death glare after he lowered the book. “This better be important.”
“I need you to do a favour for me.”
“Why would I go out of my way to do anything for you?”
“You’ll like it, trust me.”
He let out a sigh and closed the book. “What do you need?”
“Geoff has put you on that new task-force.”
“Yeah, I know. They had to ask me before they sent the official list off to you lot.”
“There’s a new investigator, Henriette Barker. Her arrival is too convenient. I need you to gain her confidence and report back.”
“You think she’s a spy?”
“I think she’ll check out on paper. By even being employed, she’s made it through a comprehensive background check.” Kip said.
“So, the identity’s real then?”
“Yes,” Kip said. “Her file says she’s been in Australia for a long time working Law Enforcement in a small town, but there’s something off about her resume.”
“Who do you think she’s working for?”
“No idea. The file I was supplied with only contained the last two hundred years of her life, but anything earlier then that shouldn’t be relevant.”
“You want me to be a spy?” Sebastian sat up and looked Kip in the eyes. “Because you have what? A feeling about her? Maybe she left stuff off her resume, everyone does it.”
“It sounds kind of paranoid when you put it like that.”
“Sara would skin me alive if she discovered me trying to do her job.”
“I need you to do something else for me.”
“Demanding two favours from me? You’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
“I need you to watch a man called Viktor Crumble.”
“Sounds like a type of dessert.”
“I think he just really likes dessert, he has a cake shop.” A name like that had to be a choice, right?
“What’s this guy got to do with anything?”
“I’ll give you twice the usual living allowance this month if you can keep a secret.”
“Telling me secret things might make the price go up permanently. Tread lightly, Kitwood.” Sebastian said.
“He has Maria’s dagger.”
“This random has Maria’s dagger? The one that’s been lost for the last two hundred years?”
“How many other daggers do you think Maria made?”
“You tell me. She was your little friend, after all.
“I was in the right place at the right time.”
“I think she saw a weak link in the chain she could break.”
“Will you do what I asked?” Kip said.
Sara and her little helpers deserve a bonus for locating that thing.”
“I want him on my security detail, I’m overworking Jo.”
“It took you long enough to figure that out.”
Sebastian smiled. “Plus, it will be convenient for you to have a powerful magical weapon on hand.”
“His file hints that he’s gay or at least bisexual. I need you to be charming and become a regular at his cake shop. I know you have some charm in there somewhere. Even if it’s a deep somewhere.”
“I can be charming.”
“I need to find something to blackmail him with.”
“You’re learning, Dear Brother.”
“If you want something done, come to the best.”
“I’m in if you pay for the coffee and cake. Flattery and bribery will only get you so far.”
Kip yanked the phone from its cradle and dialled the number before he could convince himself this was a bad idea. When a robotic voice came through the speaker, he followed the prompts. He ignored the part of his brain that told him to hang up. He needed to know. Prove the woman in the elevator was full of shit. Maybe all of this was the hunters trying to turn the vampires and The Depository against each other.
“Welcome to the Amber Fortress public line. You’ve selected to speak to an operator. How may I help you today?” A young-sounding woman had answered.
“I’m Kip Kitwood, the current Head of The Society. I’d like to talk to the vampire in charge of security.”
There was a long pause, and the sound of a few buttons being clicked and a recorded voice telling him to hold while he was transferred. After about five minutes, a man’s voice came through. “Could you please tell me your clearance codes, to confirm your identity? You should know the name of the Head of Security or at least called the private line.”
Kip gave him the codes.
“You will be transferred to the office of Everard Ellewood, expect to hold.” It can’t be…
“The ex-detective, criminal historian and Head of the Amber Fortress security. He is more than qualified to work here, Sir. I do not like your tone, perhaps you need to make an appointment and call back later, after a relaxing cup of tea.”
The operator pressed a button, and Kip’s ear was filled with music again.
While on hold, Kip used one hand to do a search of Everard Ellewood’s name on the net. The only time he’d heard of Everard, in the last few hundred years was in a news feature about one of his books. That had been thirty years ago. Kip’s stomach dropped when he found a photo of Everard on his blog. It had been so long; Kip wouldn’t have recognised him if they had passed on the street. Part of Kip was dreading the moment Everard picked up… Could he keep his voice steady? Everard wouldn’t know it was him, even if he’d seen the video, photos of him. There was no connection between Kip Kitwood and Wybert Barnett, apart from Sebastian. To the world, Kip was Sebastian’s Spawn. The only flaw in the plan. He had needed Sebastian’s help and couldn’t get rid of him afterwards. Everard was the only good thing he’d left behind in his escape from Leopold’s sphere of influence.
“Everard speaking, how can I help you today?”
“Can you update me on the security conditions of Leopold Barnett?”
“Why would you like to know this information? Because he gave the order to have your wife killed? That sounds rather personal, doesn’t it? Why care now? It’s been one hundred years since you took office. Why are you calling about his security arrangements now?”
“The intelligence network picked up a threat to break him out.”
“This seems like a call I should be having with Sara Armstrong.”
“You have me instead.”
“I can guarantee that he will not get out. We have the best security guarding him. After what he did last time he escaped, we are not taking any chances.”
“He’s still breathing, though. Someone hasn’t accidentally written something on his paperwork, that would have him encased in amber?”
“I do not like what you are implying. A judge working for The Society decided that he would serve the rest of his life in solitary confinement.”
“It’s odd. He started a war and nearly wiped out our kind. Yet someone pulled the strings to have him sent to solitary confinement. Then there are the crimes that got him sent to prison the first time. Others have been executed for far less.”
“We can handle him. Just as we have for the last ninety-nine years.”
“He broke out once. I’ve never heard of anyone being placed back in solitary confinement after they escaped it.”
“There is nothing I can do about his punishment. I’m only here to enforce it like my predecessors before me.” Everard said.
“But there is something you could do. This conversation isn’t being recorded on my end. No one would have to know until it was done. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about his escape, and you could claim it was an accident.”
“I like my job and don’t want to lose it. If you would like to have Leopold Barnett executed, you can go through the proper channels.” Everard took a deep breath that almost sounded like a growl. “I have been working to improve the reputation of The Amber Fortress. I will not have my efforts or reputation tarnished. Not by the likes of you.” What would he say if he knew who Kip had once been? Could he easily forget the hundreds of years they’d spent together? It had been a long time ago, how many others had there been?
“Not by the likes of me, the Leader of The Society?”
“An arrogant prick who thinks his position gives him control over all vampires.”
“Weren’t you the lover of a spawn of Leopold’s? Wybert Barnett. A major witness against Leopold in his first trial, who went missing during Leopold’s prison break before he went to the Amber Fortress. Did you know Leopold himself? Being so close to Wybert, you must have known the man yourself.”
“I suggest you hang up now and stop prying into my past. I have recorded everything you have said and could report you to The Circle.”
“I’m sorry to have wasted your time.”
Everard hung up.
Kip sat the phone down with a sigh. Why had he mentioned Wybert? He sent Allen a text, telling him to get a keylogger on the Amber Fortress’ computer system. There was something there, Kip was sure of it.
Melville walked in, a briefcase in one hand, travel mug in the other. “Starting work early, I see.”
“That was a private call.”
“You take private calls at work?”
Kip looked over at the clock on the right wall. “Work doesn’t officially start for another ten minutes. Kip looked down at his phone when it vibrated, Allen had sent him a simple message, ‘wtf’.
Kip responded with an, ‘I’ll explain later’.
“Glad to see you’re the type of being to start texting in the middle of a conversation,” Melville said. “I know your time is very, very valuable, but I was only asking for a couple of minutes of polite pleasantries.”
Kip looked up and met Melville’s pale blue eyes. “I thought you were done scolding me, in my own office.”
Melville turned away and put his things down on the desk that had been set up for him near the door.