Chicago, Illinois – June 7th, 2004
It was a stroke of luck, or so Charles Edward Hewitt liked to think of it later, that he even found out about the estate sale. He’d known the deceased, of course. Mr. Alfred Drayer had been somewhat of a collector, starting with pieces his father, the General, had rescued from a Nazi hoard back in ‘45, and over the years the historical foundation the family had founded to handle the growing art and antiquities collection had occasionally called on Dr. Hewitt’s services as an appraiser and authenticator. That such appraisals only took place after dark, never during the morning or afternoon, was not something Mr. Drayer ever thought to question.
By the same measure, the Foundation’s secretary did not question a kind request from Dr. Hewitt to review the list of artifacts now being offered for public auction from the collection.
The catalog listing for the sale had already been published, but it only took minor persuasion from Dr. Hewitt to convince Mr. Drayer’s secretary and estate executor to allow him (in light of their long-established business relationship and personal friendship, of course) to privately purchase a few of the less valuable artifacts two nights before the auction was scheduled to be held.
And so it then followed that when certain other less well-connected but very determined parties broke into the auction house’s secure storage facility, looking for certain artifacts listed in that catalog, they were not at all pleased to find the items they were most interested in acquiring (without proper compensation, naturally) had apparently already been sold. And due to the Foundation’s secretary having taken the paperwork home with him, there were no records as to who had even purchased the items in question.
* * * * *
Chicago, Illinois – June 8th, 2004
Night security guard at a warehouse was not supposed to be dangerous job, or even a terribly exciting one. There might not have been a live guard on duty at all, but the insurance company tended to prefer a storage facility with so many valuable items not rely entirely on remotely monitored electronic security systems. Especially not the night before a major auction that had been widely advertised, and included original art pieces and historical artifacts of considerable antiquity, some of them quite valuable items indeed.
And so the auction house had made the usual arrangements with a local private security firm, and hoped that the profits from the auction itself would cover the additional overhead of one night security officer, whose job was, quite frankly, to make sure the electronic security system stayed armed and functioning.
Even though this was only a part-time gig for him, Garrison nonetheless took his job extremely seriously. He listened carefully to the instructions he was given, which included spending forty minutes of every hour sitting at the security desk, where he could monitor the cameras and alarm systems, and listen to his iPod at the same time. Then for about fifteen or twenty minutes, he was to walk through the warehouse itself, to look into all the dark corners the cameras couldn’t reach, and make sure all the security systems were still in functioning order. He did this in part by walking through motion detectors and test-tripping proximity alarms, so that his compatriot back at the main office could see the alarms’ response and fill out the appropriate check list.
It was during his fourth hour on the job, about halfway through his shift, when he was sitting at the desk, that he got a call from his supervisor.
“Hey, Reggie. You forgot to call?”
“What? What call?” Garrison asked.
“The call you’re supposed to make before you go walking through motion detectors and kicking off the alarms, so I know it’s you. That call.”
“I’m not walking anywhere. I’m sitting right here at the desk. Look at your camera, I’m wavin’ at you.”
“Well, if you’re there, what’s trippin’ the alarm down on the floor? That’s Zone 4 West.. and now Zone 3, too.”
“I don’t see anything on the monitors,” Garrison said, clicking through each of the camera feeds he could see. “Guess I’d better go have a look. Probably just rats.”
“You do that. Dammit, I’m gonna have to file a report on this, aren’t I.”
“Better you than me,” Garrison said. He stood up, tucked his iPod in his pocket, and picked up his flashlight.
He had just gotten down to the main warehouse floor when his cell phone buzzed again.
“Reggie—are the emergency lights still on down there?”
“Yeah, near as I can tell. Why? Another alarm go off?”
“No, it’s the monitors—they just all went dark. Not a peep from the alarms, either. But if the lights are on, there isn’t anything wrong with the power.”
“Huh. That’s weird.”
“I got a bad feeling about this, maybe you ought to—“ The phone went silent—no static, not even the signal breaking up, just suddenly silent.
“What? What the hell—“ Garrison started to say. Then he realized he had spoken aloud, and yet he’d heard nothing. “Hey. Hey!”
Then they came, out of the darkness, and because of the silence, he never heard them coming.
Nor did anyone hear him scream.
* * * * *
Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands – June 9th, 2004
Marius was getting restless again. Gabriel Roark could sense it, an odd sort of itching echoing through the blood they shared. After centuries of wandering, Gabriel had his own reasons to treasure the peace and solitude of his remote tropical island haven. But Marius was not made for solitude. He would come home for a break, to relax and be lazy for a few nights or weeks at a time. But sooner or later he would get restless, or he’d get some kind of message from somewhere else in the world, and he’d be off again, a dark fleeting shadow in the eternal night.
“So where are you going this time?” Gabriel asked, leaning against the door frame, arms crossed over his chest, watching Marius pack. Almost everything Gabriel could see stuffed inside the duffel looked to be black; it didn’t look as though he was taking his more formal business attire. “Anyplace interesting?”
Marius glanced up from packing. “That would depend on your definition of interesting.”
“In the very best traditions of the Chinese Curse, of course,” Gabriel said, smiling.
“Merda, I hope not. Mexico City certainly could get interesting, but if so, I don’t plan to be caught in the middle of it at the time.”
“Ah, the central buzzing hive of Sabbat politics,” Gabriel shook his head. “So have they picked a new Regent yet? Please don’t tell me you’re under consideration—you might just be considered both sufficiently old and expendable enough to be nominated. And you might even be foolishly noble enough to accept—for the good of the Sabbat, of course.”
Marius grinned. “I don’t consider myself expendable. And I promise you I’m not that noble. Besides, the Prisci will never choose their puppet from the Black Hand. I think I’m safe enough from politics this trip.”
“Let me guess. You got a secretly coded message from Aajav-Khan, delivered by a highly trained messenger bat….”
“Have you ever tried to train a—never mind. No, I actually got an email. From someone who knows which century this is.”
“Are you sure you know what century this is?” Gabriel persisted, following Marius as he headed upstairs, the duffel slung over one shoulder. “It changed recently, you know.”
“So I heard,” Marius said. “And amazingly enough, the world did not end, despite all the doomsayers promising it would. The computers did not stop working, clocks kept on ticking, the Antediluvians did not rise, and Our Lo—“ He stopped in mid-sentence, then continued. “Biblical prophecy is still waiting for the right moment, I suppose. And besides, you’re traveling soon too. Aren’t you?”
“Am I?” Gabriel was not especially good at feigning innocence, but it wasn’t as though he was trying to hide anything, either. “Where am I going, and am I going to meet anyone fascinating?”
They were passing through the foyer, heading towards the front doors. Marius scooped up a magazine from a side table, held it up as evidence. The Stolen Treasures of Egypt: A Diplomatic Dilemma Three Thousand Years in the Making. “You’ve been reviewing your ancient Egyptian studies of late—did you think I didn’t notice? You’re determined to beat Pieterzoon to this—whatever it is in this exhibition that’s caught your eye. Some kind of Noddist relic? Ancient Cainite treasure?”
“Most likely not, but you never know.” Gabriel took the magazine from Marius’ hand and flipped through the pages to one with the corner turned down. He held it up for inspection. “What do you think?”
Marius glanced at the photo, a beautifully preserved sarcophagus which took up most of the page. “A stone coffin is still a damned uncomfortable place to sleep, no matter how much gold it’s decorated with—and I can speak from personal experience. But those things are usually empty. Aren’t they?”
“Usually, yes. But it’s not the sarcophagus I’m interested in. Look down there, off to the side, in that display case.”
Marius took the magazine back, letting the duffel slide to the tiled floor. “The black rock thing? Why?”
“The article said it hasn’t been translated yet. And they aren’t sure where it came from, but they think it was found in an Egyptian tomb.”
“And you think you can read it?” Marius flipped to the front of the article. “So where exactly are you going—not Egypt, I presume?”
“It’s a traveling exhibit. It just closed in Atlanta, and will be opening in Baltimore in about two weeks.”
“Baltimore….” Marius handed the magazine back again. “Well, that should be safe enough, it’s still Camarilla, isn’t it? Better than Atlanta, definitely.”
“You could come with me,” Gabriel suggested, hopefully. “Broaden your horizons. Learn to read hieroglyphs. Protect me from Pieterzoon.”
Marius chuckled, and shouldered the duffel again. “You don’t need my protection. Just be careful. And try not to wake up any mummies.”
“Don’t worry,” Gabriel sighed. “Some things really do happen only in the movies…..”
To be continued…..