Kip was waiting in line at the coffee cart in the front lobby when his phone rang. He hesitated a second before he flicked talk, it was a private number. “Hello?”
“I found it.”
“I’m calling from a payphone.”
“Why? Are you okay? Where are you?”
“I went to Viktor’s shop and forgot about my phone. When I came back to get it, I saw him drag a limp human into the back of his shop. He seriously needs to invest in blinds.”
“Focus, did he see you?”
“This… I can’t… think. He must be involved in the case the Task Force is investigating.” Sebastian said. “I can’t believe I’m calling you about this instead of going to Geoff and reporting him.”
“That could explain why Simon Silva is funding a failing bakery. We don’t have evidence to prove anything in the courts.”
“On the investigation database, Simon is the first listed as a primary subject of interest. Corban Ward flagged questioning him as his first task.”
Kip walked down the nearest hall and slipped into an unlocked cleaning closet. “I’m going to get Henriette Barker to assign me as a consultant on the case.”
“I wanted to help solve it. There are members of the Law Enforcement Department who clearly don’t care about solving this case. They sent a smaller group here months ago, and they came up with nothing. We solved it in a few days.”
“So this isn’t just some ego trip? Reliving the glory days? She was joking about a warning left by her predecessor in the breakroom with a few other agents, including your fairweather friend Geoff. To quote the topic of conversation, your habit of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong hasn’t gone unnoticed.”
“Don’t Seb me. If you heard the shit Geoffrey Blair says behind your back. The entire Law Enforcement Department has a strong desire to wear your guts as trophies after they’ve hung and quartered you. Both the Traditionalists and Modernists think you’re on the opposite side.”
“Do you filter the sick shit that goes through your head at all?” Kip asked.
“It’s been a long time since you were partners, loyalties change. Geoff maybe isn’t as warm towards you as you think.”
“Which is why the only member of that Task Force I can truly trust is you.”
“Not even Mummy Ruthie’s dear favourite Corban?”
Kip’s grip tightened on the phone. “You know as well as I do she forced me into this position.”
“Geoff and his buddies think you’re one of Leopold’s mainstream Traditionalist groupies and your Modernist ideals are an act while you keep the leader chair warm for Leopold. While the Traditionalists see you as a bleeding heart, who is keeping your position warm until they can pull Leopold or someone worse in to usurp you.”
“I hate to break it to you Seb, but I already know what everyone thinks of me.”
“What do you want to do?”
“I want to put an end to the Slivas’ little project.”
“Just you and me. Seems like an uphill battle.”
“When I get home I promise to tell you, Allen and Jo, why I need the dagger.”
“I thought you said The Society needed it.”
“I promise there’s a good reason for all of this.”
Sebastian had a makeshift lab set up on the dining room table when Kip arrived home. It wasn’t the decorative table that Kip cared about; it was the smell of the blood. Why did Sebastian think it was a good idea to bring blood specimens into a house full of vampires? If stale lab blood was giving him cravings, then he definitely should have fed before he came home.
“I went to the first Task Force meeting today. If I could kill the vampires I’m working with and get away with it, I would.” Sebastian looked into his microscope.
“Apart from Geoff,” Kip said.
“Yes,” Sebastian said, “because you somehow still have a positive favour towards him.”
“It’s good to have the Head of Law Enforcement on our side.”
“You don’t have to work with him.”
“He was my partner, I worked with him every day.”
“I know you’ve developed an acute case of amnesia, but the world has changed dramatically since you were a detective.” Sebastian looked at Kip. “Do you recall what I said to you at all? You’re like a dog with a bone when it comes to Geoff. If it wasn’t for your dearest departed Marion I’d think you were in love with him. Given how long you’ve held a torch for Earl.”
“You don’t need to repeat yourself about Geoff. I get it.”
“You keep on this ‘Geoff is my friend thing’, as though saying it out loud enough will make it true. The world doesn’t work like that, I’d expect you to know that.”
Kip poured himself a glass of wine from the bar.
“I’d never get away with killing them. That sly bitch Merissa Leak would come back from the dead just to catch me.”
“She’s the only hire I approve of.”
“Have you actually met her?”
Sebastian let out a bitter laugh. “Corban’s already had enough dick-measuring contests with her to drive the rest of us mad. He doesn’t seem to realise that she doesn’t have a cock, just a massive pair of balls.”
Kip let out a long sigh; it was easier to let him go on when he got like this.
“Sill jealous that he has your dream job?”
“Why does everyone think I wanted that job?”
“You were ready to stab your buddy Geoff in the back to get the position before you were offered your current job.”
“You should know better than to listen to rumours,” Kip said. “You were rather happy to leave your little experiment to his own devices until he inherited his wife’s money and got a good job.”
“I can’t blackmail someone who doesn’t have money. Your salary in Missing Vampires, wouldn’t have supported the lifestyle I’ve become accustomed to.”
“Sometimes, I hate your guts. I’m surprised the last guy you drained hasn’t come to wring your lily-white neck.”
“You came to me for help when you needed it most. You had to know I’d leach off you when I ran out of wealthy willing cocks to ride. I heard Corban and his sister are running in the City Covern election next year.” Sebastian said.
“You’re quite the gossip monger, Seb.”
“I don’t want you to get blindsided or killed. I have to keep my favourite experiment alive, especially since Ike ran off. Have you heard from him lately?”
“You ask me that every few months and the answer hasn’t changed since the last time you asked.”
“I’m still angry at you for letting him run away.”
“Forget about him. I was the one who asked you for help, not him.”
“But our dearest brother was with you when you asked me for help.”
“Are you coming upstairs to have that meeting?”
“Sure,” Sebastian said. “This is only a side project for an old friend.”
“An old friend?”
“Not the kind of old friend you’re implying. Just someone I’ve used for information in the past. She had a gift for me.”
Kip walked upstairs without checking to see if Sebastian was following.
Allen and Jo were already sitting in Kip’s study when he walked upstairs with Sebastian.
“About time.” Jo looked up from the book she was reading. “I have some paperwork to do. The Clairs’ sent over some Clan census paperwork. I have to do it before the New Year. It doesn’t sound that bad just talking about it, but you haven’t seen the pile.”
“It’s only the start of September, lucky there’s only four of us.” Kip walked over to the seat behind his desk.
“Looking after your security and this Clan is a full-time job. I don’t have time to deal with a heap of forms. It’s not my fault the Clair siblings have fallen behind on their duties. If they think any of the Clan Leaders are going to vote for them after this.”
“Jo, I have more important things to talk about.”
“Go on, tell us why you’ve been so weird lately,” Jo coaxed.
“I have a plan. A call I got from Sebastian today put everything in place.” Kip explained. “I think Leopold has escaped and key powers are keeping the knowledge from me.”
“How do you know this, if it’s a secret?” Allen challenged.
“The elevator was stopped the other day by a vampire hunter who came to visit me.”
The others gasped, they looked ready to scold him but hadn’t quite figured out what for… At least, not yet.
Kip started speaking again before they could begin. “She gave me a way to sever the dagger from its owner and use it to kill Leopold, but I’m only using that as a last resort. I’ve come up with a better plan. One we should all be able to walk away from.”
“You trust the hunters?” Sebastian queried.
“I think they hate Leopold as much as us,” Kip said, “she just gave me the idea. I plan to screw them over, there’s no way I’m working with them.”
“She could have killed you,” Jo said. “I’m not letting you go anywhere alone.”
“Maybe instead of burning the bridge between you and the hunters you could use it as a line to reel them in. Discover the real threat they pose to us. You have Sara’s confidence. Find you what it is and use her minions to shut it down.” Sebastian said.
“What if all they want is to kill Leopold?” Jo said.
“Kip can woo the one who contacted him and use her as insurance against any future action,” Sebastian said.
“It’s one group of hunters, and I don’t like the idea of him being in that position. If anyone found out about it… He’d vilified by everyone, including his few allies and maybe even charged.”
Kip clicked his fingers and brought their conversation to a stop. “A man called Viktor Crumble has Maria’s dagger. We pull him close, make him trust us. I want to convince him to kill Leopold and make him think that it was his idea. Sebastian spied on him and found the leverage we need to hook him. Once we bring him into our fold, we get him to trust us. He gets arrested when he kills Leopold, and we walk away.”
“That sounds like a super shitty thing to do to someone.” Jo gave him a hard look.
“He’s one of the scum abducting humans.” Kip waved a hand at Sebastian. Sebastian saw him take one. Someone like Viktor Crumble puts all our lives at risk; this thing with those missing humans is more than enough for the hunters to justify killing us all. I’m doing vampire kind a favour by getting scum like him locked away.”
“How do we lure him in?” Jo said.
“We get him to come to HQ where he can’t leave easy. We will blackmail him into becoming my bodyguard. Sara will train him in fighting and eventually he will kill Leopold.”
Allen looked paler than usual when he spoke. “What happens if it all falls apart? Law Enforcement isn’t going to like you overlooking a crime to blackmail someone with it. The Depository isn’t going to believe you ignorant of the knowledge that Viktor owns the dagger. The hunters are also an issue, pretend to work with them or not; we still need a plan for when they turn on us.”
“If it all falls apart, I’ll take the blame,” Kip said. “It’s worth the sacrifice. Isn’t all of this worth it? Not to have Leopold as a constant threat? You don’t know him like Sebastian, and I do. I was the reason he was jailed originally. If he realises who I was, he won’t rest until everyone I love is dead and I’m suffering as his prisoner.”
“It’s been hundreds of years,” Allen said. “Maybe we’re safe.”
Sebastian turned towards him, and his face turned red. “I get you were sired when Leopold was in jail but Kip’s right. You don’t know him like we do. He was the same scum who sired me when he started that war. We’re never safe from him. Kip risked death to be re-sired by me, so he couldn’t fall under Leopold’s thrall. Do you think someone would take a risk on a never before performed procedure invented by an insane vampire if he wasn’t absolutely terrified of Leopold? We’re not going to be safe until Leopold and his most loyal followers are dead.” Sebastian stood from his chair; it cluttering to the floor behind him.
“Sebastian,” Kip yelled.
Allen hissed at Sebastian as he jumped to his feet. “If he would slowly kill all of us, then why are you blackmailing Kip? Maybe all our problems would be solved if you were dead.”
“Allen.” Kip ran over and stood between them as Jo grabbed the back of her brother’s collar.
“Why do you still care about him? He’s never been a brother or sire to you.” Allen waved a hand towards, Sebastian. “You’re just a tool for him to use. Everyone’s a tool for him to use. I’ve lived with him for almost one hundred years, and I don’t think, I’ve ever seen him have an actual genuine emotion. He is a callous prick.”
“I’m angry right now. How’s that for a genuine emotion?” Spittle flew from Sebastian’s mouth. “I’m so sick of your holier than thou bullshit.”
Kip threw his arms around Sebastian’s neck as he moved towards Allen. “Please, stop.”
“You think you’d win? Sebastian? Try anything, and I’ll claw your eyes out.”
“Oh my fucking, God.” Jo started to pull Allen backwards.
“You’re as dumb as a post when it comes to living things, Allen Lass.” Sebastian stopped moving.
“I may be socially inept, but you’re an emotionless cunt,” Allen raged.
“You know what? You’d see me differently if you weren’t a rabid dog obsessed with impressing Daddy.”
Kip pulled Sebastian off his feet and shoved him out of the room as Allen broke from Jo’s hold and charged towards him. Kip stood between him and the door. The other door slammed shut. Kip looked around the room, where the hell had Jo gone? The door behind Kip opened, and he fell backwards into the hall. Allen pushed past Kip and jumped on Sebastian, flogging him across the face.
Kip was rewarded with an elbow to the face when he tried to pull Allen off. Suddenly they were wet. Jo was standing above them with water still dripping from the vase she’d used to throw water over them. “For fuck’s sake.” She walked off.
Kip lay on the hardwood floor in a pool of water. He could feel the blood dripping from his nose, taste it running down the back of his throat. He let the tension fall from his body when he realised Allen and Sebastian were no longer trying to kill each other.
“What the fuck was that?” Kip reasoned.
“I have no idea,” Sebastian said.
“Pent up anger,” Allen concluded.
“I’ve never really blackmailed, Kip,” Sebastian interjected. “I just wanted him to pay attention to me. I keep bringing it up more for the joke than anything else.”
Allen stood up, responded to Sebastian with a hard look and then shook his head. “I’ll get a mop to clean up this mess.”
“I have to go back to work.” Sebastian stood up and left.
Kip lay on the floor and took a moment to rest. For the first time that day, he didn’t need to be anywhere or do anything. What had just happened? He tried to push back the sense of dread that had grown in his stomach. He wasn’t sure he could look at either the same way again. How hadn’t he noticed how deep the animosity that ran between them was?