11. The Udon Incident

Towson, MD June 21, 2004

Etienne sat on the side of his bed for a moment and delved into his memory for a particular phone number he hadn’t used in over two years. He then tapped those numbers into his cell phone.

A young, male voice eventually answered. “Prospero’s Books, how may I help you?”

“Hello,” Etienne said cheerfully. “I’d like to speak to Cassie Blair, if she’s available?”

Uh… hold on a minute, let me see if she’s here—” and he was put on hold, listening to some kind of new-age vocalist—sounded like Enya, perhaps? —until the phone was picked up again.

Hi,” another voice answered, warm and feminine, but still not Cassie. “She hasn’t come in yet, but I expect her in later this evening. Would you like to make an appointment?”

“Yes, but I’d like to leave my name and number for her, if that’s alright?” Etienne asked, and then gave his number. “Tell her it’s Steve Bishop—yes, that’s right. Thank you.”

“Bishop?” asked Dr. Hewitt, now emerging from the bathroom, fully clothed, his moustache freshly waxed. “I thought your name was Copperfield?”

“Bishop is the name she knows me by,” Etienne said, ignoring the unspoken query about whether perhaps Copperfield wasn’t his real name either. No doubt they’d be getting to that matter soon enough, but it would be a longer conversation than he wanted to have right now. “I’m sure she’ll call me back in a few hours. Meanwhile, we should probably figure out what to do about that girl—”

“That girl?” Charles echoed, in what couldn’t possibly be total obliviousness but was certainly a wonderful facsimile of it. “Oh. That girl.”   Continue reading

Advertisements

9. Unexpected Company

O’Hare Airport, Chicago, IL June 21, 2004

Etienne steered the girl back to the seating section, where TJ had rejoined the others. “Sit down,” he told her. “You will stay in that seat until I release you, and you will answer my questions. Is that clear?”

Eyes wide and frightened, she nodded, clutching the straps of her backpack where it rested on her lap.

Both the grad students, sitting just across from where he’d sat the girl down, were watching what he was doing with rather keen attention.  Etienne ignored them, turning slightly to hand  the girl’s phone over to Charles.

“Check the phone logs, and transcribe the numbers,” Etienne said. “Especially outgoing.”  He then turned his attention back to Chloe.

“You’ve been watching us. Why? And for whom?”

“I—I haven’t, it’s just—”

“Chloe,” Etienne repeated.  “Look at me—that’s it. You were watching us, we saw you. Just answer the questions. Who are you working for?” Continue reading

8. Starbucks and Spies

George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Houston, TX June 20th, 2004

Another night, another red-eye flight.

Diane stifled a yawn and tried to get more comfortable in her seat—TJ had won the toss for the window on this leg of the trip, and was already out for the count. Just once, she wished they could find a cheap flight that didn’t turn her sleeping schedule upside down. But she wasn’t paying for the tickets, so it wasn’t as though she had much room to complain.

“The Atlanta connection was a bit cheaper,” she overheard Charles telling Copperfield, in the seats behind them. “But a two hour layover—I didn’t think that would be a good idea.” Then he dropped into French. “Vous ne savez jamais qui pourrait être regarder.”

You never know who might be watching. It was amazing how well her high-school French still held up.

Oui, je suis d’accord,” Copperfield replied. Even to her ear, his pronunciation sounded perfect. “Yes, I agree. Chicago’s much safer. With any luck, they’ll never know we were there.”

Diane wasn’t sure who “they” were, or why a two hour layover in O’Hare was somehow safer than one in Atlanta. One airport was really much like another when it came to that, wasn’t it? Long terminals, long walks from one gate to another, and at that hour, they’d be lucky if anything was even open.

Then she remembered a dark-eyed stranger standing in the hallway outside their hotel rooms, and she felt a chill that had nothing to do with the air-conditioning on the plane. At least Charles and Mr. Copperfield were with them. Was their arrival what had driven the stranger away?

And what had that all been about, anyway? How could anyone suspect Charles of stealing from a museum? He’d purchased the jar from an estate sale, she’d filed the paperwork for him. He hadn’t even used University money.

Charles had told them it was just a misunderstanding. That they’d talked to the night manager and handed the deluded bellhop over to hotel security. There was no FBI, just a silly prank that had gone wrong when the bellhop misread his room slip. The hotel management had been extremely apologetic, and had even removed the cost of last night’s hotel room and their meals for the day off the bill.

But that guy in the hallway… maybe he wasn’t FBI, but he had been real. And he hadn’t come across as the pranking kind.

Diane was very glad they were leaving Houston, even if it meant traveling overnight again, through Chicago to Baltimore. At least it felt like they were on the trail of something interesting, if they did get to see the Qebehsenuef jar. And if it had the strange writing as the Imseti jar that Charles had in his carry-on bag, that really would be a discovery. Would the writing be the same? Or different? Maybe they could even find the rest of the set, and track down how the pieces had been separated, and what the strange characters meant. She might even consider changing the topic of her dissertation, with such a fascinating find to research. Continue reading

7. Sowing Confusion

Houston, Texas – June 20th, 2004

“Keep an eye on this fellow for a moment, would you?” Copperfield asked, when Charles came back from escorting his young grad assistants off to their well-earned rest. “I’m curious to see if there really was an order from room 624.”

“Right—“ Charles agreed, and stood where he could give their unfortunate captive his very sternest gaze. But being realistic about his ability to intimidate with his gaze alone, he also kept the sword in his hand and clearly visible.

Copperfield held the receipt in one hand and tapped in the room number. “Yes, this is the kitchen,” he said, when the occupant in 624 picked up, his voice picking up a very genuine French accent, “Pardon the intrusion, but did you place an order—“

Charles could hear the outrage sputtering out over the phone without even trying to listen.

Continue reading

6. Room Service Done Wrong

Houston, Texas — June 19, 2004

“Oh, cool,” TJ said, playing with the TV remote. “The new Tomb Raider movie’s on pay-per-view.”

Diane looked up from her book.  “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said at last.  “That is SO not real archaeology…”

“Of course not,” TJ said.  “Nobody makes a movie about real archaeology.  If there aren’t curses and traps and magical artifacts and shit, nobody would watch it.“

“Not to mention guns and boobs,” Diane said sourly. “You’re not really going to put that on Charles’ credit card, are you?”

“I’ll pay him back,” TJ said. “Chill out, will you?  It’s just a movie. You want to pick something else?”

“No, I was about to go to bed anyway, soon as I finished this chapter.  Which I can do in the bedroom.  Rot your brain if you want, just don’t cite Lara Croft in your footnotes.”

TJ chuckled.  “That’s an idea—at least then I’d know if my advisor was actually reading my footnotes—“

Diane rolled her eyes, took her book and notecards back into the bedroom and shut the door.

Continue reading

5. ‘Real’ Art Opens Doors

Houston, Texas – June 19th, 2004

As a Kindred diplomat and negotiator of many years’ standing, Etienne de Vaillant had more than a passing familiarity with the biased nature of vampire politics in general and Toreador clan snobbishness in particular. He had made three attempts—two of them before Dr. Hewitt and his fascinating artifact had even arrived—to contact Ms. Laeticia Robicheaux, the childe of his late friend and client Colonel Beauregard Litton. But to her secretary’s deepest and sincerest-sounding chagrin, Miss Robicheaux was always regretfully unavailable for any appointment whatsoever with Mr. Copperfield of Tremere. She was out, or taking another call, or simply ‘not receiving this week.’

One might think that for Dr. Hewitt of Ventrue she’d be terribly busy washing her hair or something, but no—one call and he was on her schedule. Never mind that Stephen Copperfield of Tremere had been one of Colonel Beau Litton’s oldest business associates, and Hewitt was a merely a visiting Kindred professor from the other side of the country she’d likely never even heard of before.

But Hewitt was Ventrue, a member of the clan of bankers, businessmen, aristocrats and princes. And Etienne was Tremere—a clan whose mysterious powers of blood sorcery and secretive ways had never put them at the top of anyone’s social call list. True, he probably could have pulled rank, used his real name and title to force a meeting, but there were equal disadvantages in revealing his true identity and age in a city where he knew nothing of the political dynamics and how his presence, if known, might set them all askew. Especially since he hadn’t even revealed that identity to Hewitt as yet. So as much as it galled him to be treated like an unwelcome salesman at the door, retaining his anonymity and accepting the advantage of Hewitt’s Ventrue heritage was—at least for now—the more prudent course.

Continue reading

4. An Aura of Mystery

Houston, Texas – June 17th, 2004

“Magic?” Charles repeated, although he was not entirely surprised.  “Well.  I suppose that’s one explanation. And that is more your area of specialty than mine.”

“I wasn’t sure if you remembered my clan,” Copperfield said.  “But yes. House and Clan Tremere have rather cornered the market on that specialty—at least in the Camarilla.”

“Right,” Charles agreed. “But this jar—if it’s authentic, and I believe it very likely is—is thousands of years old.  Surely there weren’t Tremere in Egypt at that time. Were there?”

“No, we don’t go so far back.  Historically, though, we’re hardly the only clan to practice some form of blood sorcery.  The Setites and Assamites have much longer histories in the region than we, and they have their own occultists. But even so, that does not explain these letters.”

“Or why Diane and Thomas could see them—and my colleague in the department could not?”

“It’s possible anyone with some degree of talent could see the writing,” Copperfield mused. “But your young associates have been trained as scientists, not as seekers in the mystical traditions.”

“I would presume so,” Charles agreed. “Archaeology is a science, after all.  It relies on the careful examination of physical evidence. They study old religions and mythical traditions only in context of understanding more about the people who did believe them.”

He chuckled a little. “I dare say they don’t even believe in vampires.”
Continue reading

3. Special Consultation

Houston, Texas – June 17th, 2004

The hotel lobby was quiet, mostly deserted except for the desk clerks and one jet-lagged businessman hunched over his laptop in a far corner of the lounge. The bartender was wiping down the tables in the lounge, preparing to close, when three very late arrivals came in the front doors, hauling their luggage behind them.

Diane looked around at the spacious hotel lobby, the vaguely Texas-themed decor, the scattered leather sofas, tables, and carefully cultivated greenery.  “Your contact lives in a Hilton hotel?”

“Well, no, he doesn’t live here,” Charles explained. “Actually he lives in Hong Kong, but as luck would have it, he happens to be in Houston on some business, so he asked if we could meet him here.  Splitting the difference, as it were.”

“Technically speaking, halfway between Madison and Hong Kong would be more like Hawaii,” TJ felt obliged to point out. “But I don’t think the department’s travel budget would go that far.”

“Sadly, no,” Charles agreed.  “Ah, there he is.  Right on time.”

The two graduate students looked across the lobby to the man approaching them from the bank of elevators.  He was of average height, middle aged, wearing a well-tailored suit in dark green.  But what set him apart was his hair, red-brown and oddly long, combed back away from his pale face.  Too long for an ordinary businessman, Diane thought, although a wealthy collector and broker in arts and antiquities might tend towards the eccentric side. And from his pallor, he certainly didn’t look like he did much actual field work.

He offered a polite little smile as he approached them, and held out his hand to Charles.   “Dr. Hewitt.  Good evening, it’s been far too long.”

Continue reading