Theme song for this interlude:
Mila parks, steps carefully out of the car. Takes a moment to make sure she’s impeccably put together. Dark, perfectly tailored suit. Bias-cut top in a deep purple. Black stockings, high-heeled boots, tasteful jewelry. Perfect “office to evening” look for the ambitious vampire on the go. She looks good.
And while that’s pleasing, it’s also going to mean she’s in for an annoying walk to her destination. There’s no way to approach the posh address she’s been given without cutting through the Tenderloin, running the usual gantlet of catcalls, disgusting propositions, and maybe even grasping hands. Ugh. She wishes, not for the first time, that she could just pass unnoticed. Be invisible to these assholes. Then, taking an unnecessary yet oddly soothing deep breath, she walks to the corner, turns onto Ellis.
And . . . nothing. As she strides past the usual contingent of homeless people, drunks, and clubgoers, at first she thinks she must finally have perfected her “don’t fuck with me” walk. But no, it’s more than that. Eyes flick over her, as though she were a passing shadow. This, she thinks, I could get used to.
A blessedly harassment-free block later, she’s on an understatedly chic sidestreet near Union Square. She pulls out her phone to check. Yes, this is it. A small brass plaque on an otherwise entirely forgettable door proclaims “Camarilla Club.” She presses the door open, into a cocktail lounge that positively reeks of old money. Really old money. A waiter approaches, and before she can even get out the words, “I’m meeting someone?”, murmurs “Right this way Miss Goodlove,” and ushers her to a booth near the rear of the club.
Adrian Pryor is seated with his back to the wall, a sheaf of documents spread out before him on the table. He looks up, does not rise, but does smile. A cold smile that never reaches his clear, grey eyes. “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet me, Ms. Goodlove.”
“Thank you for inviting me.” She’s so eager to find out why she’s been summoned, has to control the urge to question, to babble. No, play it cool. In any job interview—and she hopes with all her unbeating heart that that’s what this is—you need to make them want you as much as you want them.
When it becomes clear she’s not saying anything more, he looks at her assessingly, and continues. “I’ve been reviewing the materials you provided me and I’m . . . impressed. Your methods and your targets are a bit scattershot . . . to be expected of course given that you had no guidance whatsoever. But you seem to have . . . a talent for secrets.”
“I’m glad I could be of some service. Of course I would welcome guidance as to what might be helpful in the future.”
“Would you?” He cocks his head slightly, looks her over. “Do you take guidance well, Ms. Goodlove?”
She hesitates a moment, meets his gaze. He’s tall, slim to the point of gauntness, his black hair touched with grey at the temples. Roman nose, cold steel eyes. Italian suit. Every inch the patrician. In another life, this would be a flirtation. Maybe it still is? She’s not really sure. Let’s play this as a job interview, explore anything else that might be there later.
“In my past life, I was an executive with several different multimillion dollar international companies. I can work creatively and independently, but I enjoy having a place in a hierarchy. I am quite good at following orders, provided I respect my superior. I hope to have the opportunity to demonstrate this.”
“That’s all very nice and tediously according to the book. What else can you tell me? Why should I invest my time and reputation in you?”
“Well, at the risk of telling you something I’m sure you already know, my transformation seems to have made me very good at stealth and at discovering secrets. You have the evidence of some of that in front of you.”
He nods, gestures to her to continue.
“In my prior existence, I was very good with computer searches and data structure. My current . . . talents . . . seem to work well with these strengths. I’m discovering that I seem to have a real aptitude for finding classified information, sifting through well guarded data, discovering hidden files. And . . . liberating . . . them without leaving a digital footprint. A ghost in the machine.”
Pryor is far too experienced to show true surprise but he does, for a moment, look as though he’d heard something unexpected. Something he needs to process. After a moment’s internal deliberation, he speaks.
“Ms. Goodlove, I will be candid with you. As you no doubt know, the Invictus is a . . . venerable institution. Our long history is one of our greatest strengths, but it also means our membership can be a bit . . . traditional.” Words chosen very carefully. “While of course we are aware of the possibilities you describe, and have members with similar skills, it is an . . . area of ongoing interest.”
“I’m keen to assist, and of course to gain assistance. I hope that we can work together. If you don’t feel we’d be a good match, I’d welcome any referrals for colleagues who might enjoy further conversation along these lines.”
“Ms. Goodlove, are you trying to play me?” He almost smiles. This could be said as a challenge, but it feels as though the moment for danger has passed. For now. He knows he has her.
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
“I doubt you dream at all.” He pauses, the mood shifts perceptibly from almost playful to near-menacing again. “Do know that if I choose to take you on in some capacity, I will not do so as your white knight or rescuer. I am not your friend, and I would not be your colleague. I would be your superior in every sense of the word, and I can be a capricious and demanding master.”
“All I can do is promise to serve to the best of my ability. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.”
This seems to be, if not exactly what he wanted to hear, close enough. “Of course I will need to discuss matters with the Prince before we speak further, but I believe that we may very well be able to come to an agreement. I will contact you before the next Elysium.”
“Is there anything you’d like me to prepare in the meantime?” she asks.
He gathers up the papers, places them in a leather briefcase that probably cost more than her entire outfit. He smiles, the smile of an alpha predator.
“Surprise me, Ms. Goodlove.”
And with that he seems to melt into the shadows.