Resting on her side, Katherine faced the rest of the room from the sitting area opposite the bar. She was lying down on a red velvet chaise lounge in the upstairs area of her club that served as the private area for others of her kind within the city. Not every vampire within the city spent time here, but it was a sanctuary for those who did. The room was filled with a dozen club members lounging and conversing – some came for accessible sustenance, others spoke about power and position. No longer did they compete for food or worry about being hunted.
Most came to prey on the humans that frequented the club. It was a delicate game they played, hiding just behind the shroud of what humans perceived and understood. In the privacy of this room, they could bring clubgoers up from downstairs. Half of the vampires in the room were lounging about – casually feeding on humans who would do nothing to protect themselves. Mortals had no chance of free will here, and aside from feeling weak, none of them would remember anything from this night except a good time at the club.
It was one of the rules she strictly enforced – their existence had to remain a secret. All within the city obeyed or faced the consequences. Katherine ensured everyone knew her stance on the matter, and none directly risked her wrath. Others in the room spoke of their power and experience, but she was the real ruler here. Those who were new to this life and her city would have to acclimate to her expectations – like Shyanne.
Katherine studied the man and woman on the couch across from her. The man, a visitor to the club, was moaning softly as the woman straddling him held him close, her face buried into his neck. Katherine strained her ears to hear the man’s excited heart pounding over the music playing softly through speakers around the room. His heartbeat was slowing, and she worried that Shyanne would take too much blood from the man, leaving him too weak or worse. Shyanne was new to their world and still adjusting – learning to control her urges.
“Shyanne,” Katherine warned softly.
Shyanne leaned back away from the man, still straddling him. She sighed warmly and rotated herself – rolling off the man and sitting beside him. Her meal was young and clad in close-fitting black clothes, like most of the club’s patrons. He was dazed, and his mouth was partially agape as if he was still settling from the ecstasy of her kiss. Shyanne’s face flushed with color as she swept her purple mane of hair over to one side – lifeblood working through her body. The color receded slightly as she wiped her scarlet lips clean with a single finger and sucked it clean.
Katherine nodded her head subtly in approval and watched as the man half-awakened from his stupor and smiled. He was still under the effects of Shyanne’s allure, unaware of his vulnerability. He lifted his arm up and slid it over Shyanne, pulling himself closer to her. The two shared a grin as they stared into each other’s eyes.
“You should rest,” Shyanne whispered as she leaned the man away from her to the other side of the couch. The man’s grin faded to a smile as he reclined, and his eyes fluttered slowly. Within seconds he was on his way to restful sleep, oblivious of his surroundings. Shyanne stood and left the man resting on the couch, excusing herself to check on how business with the bar and club below was going.
Katherine watched as Shyanne walked down the spiral staircase to the club beneath. Katherine had to learn to adapt to the changing times. Shyanne was part of that plan and youthful in the sense of being a vampire. In comparison to Katherine and most of the other vampires in the room, Shyanne had only experienced a blink of an eye in her potential new life. She understood many things, much better than Katherine likely ever would. Society and technology would continue to change, as it had for hundreds of years. Shyanne, for the time being, provided her insight to the newest generations of humanity, allowing her to compensate for her lack of knowledge with technology and societal trends. In effect, she was an aid for her to obscure herself within the mortal world and decrease complications within her club.
The club itself was a recent effort to provide sufficient hunting grounds, without the need to actually chase after humans in the streets or their homes. Here, she and the club’s exclusive members had a captive pool of unconcerned human-sheep from which to choose. Some vampires within the city still stalked and hunted for their sustenance, and Katherine allowed them that – as long as they followed her rules.
Indeed, the world had continued to progress. Katherine remembered the years when the Great Pestilence had spread to England – when the nation was home to her. She recalled the sickness cast far and wide and the mistakes that she had made in failing to avoid the ill and dying. At the time, she was moving frantically between abandoned villages, half-burnt settlements, and cities choking on the stench of death to survive and find safety. The foul-tasting farmer’s blood had left her nauseated and incapacitated for days until it was out of her system. Now, she realized her kind could still be afflicted by the diseases from whom they drank, but a cautious and discerning vampire could taste illness in that putrid first drop of blood.
“Perhaps one day, the young girl will do as you ask without you having to remind her.” A soft, smoky voice spoke the words with a lingering Spanish accent that immediately brought Katherine back before she could trail off to memories of centuries past.
Katherine turned her head slightly to face the source of the voice. An almond-skinned woman in a body-hugging crimson strap dress sat on a nearby couch, surrounded by a small entourage of sycophants. The group smiled and laughed softly, fawning over the woman’s every word.
“Good evening, Victoria. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.” Katherine forced a smile as she straightened up in her seat and nodded a greeting. “It is beneficial for her to learn our ways, just like everyone else.”
“From what I understand, it seems someone is intent on not adhering to your rules. I would very much like to hear your intentions for resolving such misconduct.” Victoria replied. Those seated in the circle of couches and chairs around Victoria smirked – some covered their smiles with their hands. Victoria sat smiling at Katherine – her wavy dark, chestnut hair framing her flawless, diamond-shaped face.
Katherine knew Victoria was testing her boundaries. The words were shrewd and meant to cut. She had always been open about her disapproval of Katherine being named to lead the city. Still, Katherine had brought the city’s different individuals under control with some semblance of peace. Centuries ago, Katherine would have cleaved the Spaniard woman in half with the sword she now kept in her office. To maintain her authority now, though, she had to show decorum – especially toward those with differing opinions. It was a political game of fanged cat and fanged mouse, and Victoria seemed intent on eroding all she had built or perhaps trying to claim it for herself.
Before Katherine could get a response out, the elevator dinged, and most of the members in the room at least casually turned to see who was joining them. Several of those seated immediately averted their eyes or became visibly unsettled – Victoria included. Katherine stood from her chaise lounge to see who had arrived.
Christian was walking toward her with a mortal man in tow. The accompanying human looked neither left nor right – his eyes were dull and fixated on Christian as he followed. Katherine recognized the man as William – the person hired to set up and maintain the club’s security system. William was a delicate-looking and unassuming young man who was quickly out of place on either floor of Eternity.
Katherine held her composure as Christian approached, but was pleased to see Victoria and her group remain silent as Christian passed. No vampire in the city sought to cross him, and all knew he stood with Katherine when it came to the city. Katherine smiled as Christian approached, even though she knew something was amiss – William would not be upstairs otherwise.
“Good evening,” Katherine greeted both Christian and William.
“He needs to update the security system if you have a minute,” Christian said as he gestured back toward William.
“Of course,” Katherine nodded and let the two men pass, joining them as they walked the path to her office.
Christian pushed the heavy wooden door to Katherine’s office open and led William inside. Katherine caught up to them and turned back as she closed the door from inside her office. Out in the seating area, Victoria laughed and feigned engagement in a conversation, her gaze fixed on Katherine all the while.
Inside her office, Christian dropped his calm facade. His expression was grave as he waved his hand over the control panel that managed lighting and the sound system on the second floor. Christian pressed a button on the panel, and a steady whoosh sound poured through a speaker in the office. The sound would be moving through several other speakers throughout the upstairs area of the club, layering with the music.
Professional sound masking was a recent, but welcome addition to the upstairs lounge and office – one that allowed Katherine to have conversations without intrusive listeners. The sound wasn’t so obtrusive to interrupt conversations with those nearby, but even for the heightened senses she and her kind possessed – it was enough to prevent eavesdropping.
“Log in. You need to see this.” Christian said as he pointed at the computer.
William was standing idly, with his hands tucked into the pockets of his khaki slacks, and Katherine was unable to tell if Christian was still influencing his actions.
“I take it you have found something,” Katherine said, matching his tone as she moved around both men to get to her desk. She leaned down and quickly tapped her password into the keyboard on her desk. The screen blinked on to the operating system, and fans whirred from the machine.
“Show her,” Christian said in a hushed tone and snapped his fingers at William.
The unassuming man blinked as if waking from a daydream and nodded at Christian. He moved around and squeezed past Katherine, who stepped back to watch. William’s hands moved the mouse and began clicking on icons and folders. His fingers skillfully clacked at the keys of the keyboard as he brought up a small series of video windows onto the monitor. Security cameras were installed on the exterior of the building and critical points of the interior’s first floor. Only one camera provided a view of the second floor, and it only showed who came up the stairs or exited the elevator. Christian patted his hand on William’s shoulder, and the man paused.
“We reviewed footage from the past month. You will not like it.” Christian leaned half-sitting against the desk and folded his arms, watching Katherine’s reaction instead of the screen.
Katherine stood behind William, looking over his shoulder as he pressed play on one of the videos and clicked pause. The footage was dated from three weeks ago and showed the club packed as usual. The angle was of a seating area near the dance floor.
William clicked and zoomed in on a booth in the camera’s frame. The booth was in the background but showed a young woman laughing and drinking while seated. The woman was engrossed in conversation and seemingly fascinated with the person sitting across from her – except she appeared to be sitting alone.
Katherine glanced down at the photograph on her desk of the missing woman and compared the two faces. The name Andrea Wynn was scribbled alongside the image.
William pulled up another angle of the room – this time focused on the bar. The same woman at the same booth was also visible at the border of the screen. There was no one apparent across from her. As the footage played, a server dropped off two drinks at the table and took away two empty glasses. The server smiled and nodded, engaging with Andrea and someone who seemed to be seated across from her. After a few seconds, the server turned back to the bar.
Katherine felt the muscles in her neck and jaw tighten in her frustration. For one brief moment, she felt the urge to crash her fists down onto the desk. Stifling her anger, she shifted and rested her back against the cold glass of the window behind her.
“William, would you please excuse us?” she suggested in an unenthusiastic tone. It was not a question, but she felt no need to order him around.
William turned in the chair and looked at Christian as if awaiting permission.
Christian met William’s gaze and gestured to the door. “Go wait by the door.”
William nodded and moved away from the desk. He circled back to the front of the desk and moved to stand next to the office door.
“That is her – Andrea Wynn?” Katherine asked. She already knew the answer and was now beginning to understand the complexity of the situation.
“I double-checked,” Christian began with a nod. “That is the last time she was here from what we could tell. According to the cops, that is also the last day anyone saw her.”
Katherine stared at the screen intently, wondering who could be responsible. Was it someone new or someone acting out against her?
“I went to her apartment building. The security guard there was … useful.” Christian continued.
“Then this is the night she was taken,” Katherine said acceptingly. She moved forward and sank down into the chair at her desk before swiveling and looking back up to Christian.
“It would seem so,” Christian added. “I looked at their footage – only one lobby camera, but she did not go home. There is a clip like this on their system as well.”
“How so?” Katherine asked.
“It is the same thing – before she went to the club, she met someone down in the lobby of her apartment. They do not show on the camera, and there is no reflection from any surfaces that I was able to see.”
“So, either the poor girl is insane…” Katherine’s voice trailed off as she moved the mouse to close the video windows.
“She was the next one to be taken,” Christian said flatly. He shifted and stood back from the desk.
“Do you think it could be one of us?”
“It is not one of the wolves,” Christian shrugged and unfolded his arms as he paced a few steps to stand in front of her desk. “They will not come this deep into the city anymore.”
“It is strange,” Katherine began. “I have never seen this before. Sneaking up on someone because you don’t have a reflection is one thing. I have never heard of one of us that could disappear like this on cameras.”
“Neither have I. What do you want to do?”
“Reach out to everyone. We will be having a meeting here in two nights.” Katherine paused for a moment. “Better yet, have Shyanne get in touch with them all. She needs some purpose. In the meantime, keep looking into this. I want to know everything before Victoria does. The last thing I need is her trying to bring this up to sway the others.”
Christian nodded silently, holding his place in front of Katherine’s desk. He turned to look at her. It was apparent he had something else to say.
“What?” Katherine asked as she shifted and crossed her right leg over the left.
“Could you be more specific?” Katherine gestured at William for emphasis. The man was still standing motionless in front of the door with his back to the two of them.
“The one who was here asking Shyanne questions.”
“Yes. Jeremy LeBlanc. What about him?” Katherine sighed.
“He used to be a cop.”
The words added to the anger and frustration tucked away at the back of her mind.
“How did you learn that?”
“When I was at her apartment,” Christian began. “I saw him on the security footage. According to their security guy – he lives next door to the missing girl and was a cop until recently.”
“Is he a threat?”
“No. Not yet anyway. The guy is a walking cliche – an ex-cop with an alcohol problem.” Christian sat on the edge of Katherine’s desk as he reached inside his jacket and retrieved a folded collection of papers. He dropped the papers onto her desk. “Some light reading about him from the PD.”
“It is likely he still has friends in the police department,” Katherine said. “I will speak to the mayor again to let him know the police are not meeting my expectations at leaving this alone. For now, please observe and keep him from getting too close to pulling back the curtain.
“As you wish,” Christian stood and bowed his head. He walked back over to William and turned the man to face him – looking him in the eyes as he spoke. “William, you will not remember anything about this night except that you came here to update the security system. It was a simple fix. She was very thankful.”
Christian reached behind William and pressed a button on the panel, turning off the sound masking throughout the second floor. He opened the door for William, allowing him to leave first.
William cracked a smile and waved back at Katherine, oblivious of his mind being manipulated. “Have a good night, Ms. Nilsson. Let me know if you need anything else with the system.”
Katherine watched as Christian led William out of the member’s area and past a room full of sights he would not recall when he woke up. As the door to her office slowly closed, she leaned back into her chair and turned to look at the folded papers on her desk. Now, she had one more thing to worry about.
Was Jeremy LeBlanc going to be a problem?