Books, antiques, and art surrounded the stately vampire, impeccably presented, arranged, and maintained. The collection spanned hundreds of years and would impress any curator. Masterpieces of both painting and sculpture reached back to the early Renaissance and tapered off around Post-Impressionism. Off to the side, a large television sat within tasteful, carved mahogany shelves, discreetly surrounded by books and quietly thrumming with news of the entertainment world.
Dominic paused in his administrations and sipped from a large wineglass – a bourbonized A Positive. Protesting strands of salt-and-pepper hair had, as usual, fallen out of the ponytail he had pulled them into. He wore a casual smoking jacket, planning for nothing more than a peaceful night in.
He needed the paperwork as much as it needed him tonight, a quiet, mundane distraction from larger concerns. He paid little attention to the television as he signed, sifted and sorted through the reports that Lila had prepared for him.
The television show, predictably, turned to news of New York and DeeDee’s upcoming flashy affair. Still days away from their official start, the festivities had already prompted an unseemly uproar for blocks around her club, the Anti-Disco.
The coverage of DeeDee’s event had grown wearying, the lesser Keeper of New York was clearly going out of her way to show Dominic up. As if he cared. He actually did have interest in some of the musicians, and had left the set on in the background for that very reason. He didn’t know how much longer he could tolerate the accompanying spectacle, though.
His own venues were overdue for some fresh talent and attention. He’d all but lost himself in his art collections and galleries these past several weeks. The quiet contemplation had suited his grief. But any motivation to press on would not stem from competition with DeeDee. In time, he would renew his efforts, resume his function.
Just not yet, not tonight.
Dominic and DeeDee were birds of very different feathers. While each had the responsibility of organizing exclusive events for their cities’ vampire population, their methods and tastes varied radically. Dominic did consider with intrigue the new punk scene and some of its players, as he had done with every creative movement for over four centuries.
Deep down inside, he did battle a preference for more traditional and finer art forms. But the world would continue to change, and he could do nothing but make the most of it. He didn’t mind, though, and probably enjoyed it more than he would admit to anyone, including himself.
But DeeDee’s influence had taken the budding punk scene and artificially pushed it to the top of everyone’s radar. She had already injected her own personal take on the movement into the New York scene, tailoring it with her extra decadent ingredients.
Now her event would pull in bands and fans from all over, no doubt an attempt to spread her particular flavor world wide. At the same time she had drawn a dangerous level of attention to her club. Her efforts provided the perfect target for groups like the Catalyst of the Divine Flame to rise against. Her ego could soon get many vampires killed, if the Salierant discovered the truth of her more private events and staff.
Dominic decided to change the channel just as one of his assistants entered the room. Bernard carried an elegantly styled telephone on a tray, and Dominic addressed him before he could say a word.
"I told you, Bernard, no interruptions."
"It's your, er, counterpart, in New York," Bernard explained. He knew well the unspoken exceptions to Dominic’s commands.
"Hmph." Speak of the devil. The intrusion from DeeDee, while unwelcome, did not surprise him. She must have sensed he was about to change the channel from her insufferable posturing.
The current vampires of New York were primarily of a sordid, unseemly bent. A majority of the world’s most ruthless, barbaric, and misguided vampires had banded together under Sebastian and taken New York on the heels of Dorian’s disappearance. Many more of the worst had moved in promptly after the dust had settled. As a high-ranking official and one of Sebastian’s two most powerful allies, DeeDee had hardly a passing acquaintanceship with civilized behavior.
Dominic gestured to Bernard and reached for the handset. He settled back into the couch with his drink in his other hand. He’d need it.
“Dominic dear, I hope I’m not interrupting…”
“Of course you're interrupting. It’s what you do."
He did not bother to hide the irritation in his voice. While etiquette and diplomacy dictated he should not refuse the call, he had no obligation to indulge her childish antics, regardless of her political stature. She brought a juvenile needling into all of their interactions, and tonight he felt less tolerant of it than ever.
“What did I interrupt this time? Another one-person pajama party?”
"I am not in my pajamas,” he sighed again. How tiresome could these taunts get?
“I hope you’ll at least be here for the finale. It’s quite the party already, and it’s only gonna get better. You know who I have booked, right?”
“DeeDee, darling, you know I won't be attending, and yes, despite who's going to be there.”
“Why the hell not? Only one of these bands will come anywhere near your city after this. You’ll miss everything, why won’t you just come?”
He explained as if speaking to a young, stupid, pigheaded child. “In case you’ve forgotten, the negligence of your prize bloodrunner, Marion, cost Lisabet her life and – "
“Well, you’ll have to start shopping for a replacement one of these days.”
“Shop for a replacement? Is that how you see this? Maybe that’s why you haven’t been able to Turn any new progeny since –”
“Out of all this sweet and juicy talent, I’m gonna find my next Candidate, you know? Turn the best of the best. I thought you might want to take runner-up.”
"Oh, DeeDee, how ridiculous, even you can’t possibly be that ignorant."
“You’re right, I do know who’s going to end up on top. Even you, under your crusty old rock could take a guess."
She’d clearly ignored his meaning, but Dominic knew very well who DeeDee meant.
"Are you drinking from addicts again? Even if you could Turn someone successfully, any of them are too young."
"Gotta get ‘em young these days, before the world wears them down."
She might have some small point there, but the younger the Candidate, the greater the risk of complications, during and after the Turn.
“Is that what you’ve been trying, all these years? Is that why you’ve failed so many times?
“At least mine last once they’ve Turned, not like yours!”
Her words shot through the phone lines and crawled deep under his skin to stab at his most vulnerable injury. He stood and paced as he struck back.
“At least I don’t need to secure their loyalty by tyrannizing them for ten years.”
“Hmph. So you don’t wanna come play, then?”
“You’re serious? You play an irresponsible and perilous game that endangers us all. The Turning won't even take, and you know it. The Candidate will die, just like the others, and likely take you along this time. To which, if there weren't so few of us left, I would say good riddance –”
DeeDee’s laugh crackled through the handset at him. Dominic set his jaw to contain his fury. Any response would have tickled her, indignation or agreement or something else entirely. What it must be to lead the simple, ignorant life of those amused as easily as she.
“Oh, my god, I’m just snoring through this lecture, grandpa! You know, I think I know why your scions never last long, they let themselves get killed just to escape the monotony!”
Dominic seethed even as his heart broke all over again. DeeDee’s final taunt exemplified the worst of her capabilities, carefully constructed to kick him while he was down. Any manners he had clung to stormed out of the room.
He slammed the phone down. He stood for several long moments, leaning heavily on the desk and staring at the phone, his emotional state already worn thin before the call.
He wished he didn’t feel so obligated to take her calls. But they were prominent officials of two domains with a severely strained political relationship. Out of all involved in Boston leadership and New York’s, the two of them had the best chances at a civil relationship. The silent treatment could only make things worse.
He picked up the phone and slammed it down again for good measure.
As he regained his composure, his focus shifted to the framed picture sitting near the phone. He picked it up, a portrait of a lovely ballet dancer in a stunning Arabesque pose. Lisabet.
The relationship between New York and Boston, never good between Sebastian and Philip, now skated on thinner ice than ever, with the Lisabet’s death.
She’d gone into New York for a night, for a performance. Dominic had planned to join her and had even persuaded Henry to accompany them. The cities occasionally arranged cultural exchanges, but most public interactions were purely superficial. It made sense to bring your own security.
That plan had crumbled with Henry’s injury, and Dominic himself got pulled into another obligation. Lisabet still insisted on going, so he sent her with his own private security detail, and reassurances from Sebastian that once in the city, Marion would escort them all personally. But the Salierant had killed the whole group. Marion hadn’t even showed.
As if that weren’t enough, Sebastian still considered his end of the bargain fulfilled, and expected a favor from Dominic in return. Dominic refused, and no civilized vampire would disagree with him. That still didn’t stop the tension between the cities from rising several notches.
Dominic had lost scions before. All of them in fact. This time the pain was much worse, Lisabet hadn’t had even a hundred years beyond her mortal life. And so extraordinary in her talent.
He had spent much of recent weeks in his pajamas, so to speak. He hadn’t yet bothered to arrange new security agents. He’d had the Degas of her taken down, but he hadn’t had the heart to put the photograph away. Bernard and Rosa took care of the household needs, Lila stopped by frequently under the guise of paperwork, and Philip hadn’t needed much advice beyond Cheri’s. But soon Dominic would have to return to normal life.
Just not tonight. Not yet.
He hadn’t tried to attract any new entertainment to the city since Lisabet’s death. He couldn’t even claim responsibility for the one band DeeDee had mentioned. That had just fallen into his lap.
The band, the Lost Keys, was desperate to make the most out of their cross-Atlantic ticket that DeeDee's had provided. Their manager and record company had called every venue on the eastern seaboard. Dominic hadn’t decided if he even wanted to attend. He was familiar with their work, and while quite interested, he doubted he would have the proper frame of mind to appreciate the show. Not for a while. Not even for the best.
DeeDee’s words returned to dig at him again. Her folly defied all common sense. Would she really dare to use her garishly public event to audition her next Candidate? The thought was preposterous. But what did he care?
Someday, he would find his own next Candidate, his own new talent to foster and cultivate.
Just not tonight. Not yet.
• • • •