Mattie Storin awoke suddenly and spent a few moments staring at the ceiling, trying to remember where she was this time. The nightmares of falling always left her disoriented.

      A moment's consideration yielded the answer. Oakland, she realized. She sighed and pulled herself out of bed, firmly pushing sleep and dream aside. "Lovely bloody town." she muttered to the empty air.

      As usual, she was esconsced in a small hotel room, in the center of the city, waiting for a short-term lease to come through. Privately, Mattie hated hotel rooms, with decorations so bland as to be blatant and their overpriced room service menus and minibars. In her opinion, a stranger's house was preferable to the most luxurious suite - at least you could be confident that any ugly decor was simple human error, not a calculated departmental decision.

      Peering out of the window, Mattie noticed that the fog had once again rolled across the city, reducing the mid-morning sunshine to something like twilight. "Just like home." she smiled wanly, making her way to the bathroom. "Well, aside from the fact that it would be pissing down with rain."

      Climbing inside the shower, and reveling for a moment in the American adoration for constant hot water and sophisticated plumbing, Mattie recalled her last conversation with Phillip Mason, her supervising editor at the London Times. "Get your arse over to San Francisco, woman. The Sunday supplement wants another one of your Englishwoman Abroad bits, by the first if you can. Jerry Brown is mayor in Oakland and that should provoke some interesting stuff. And..." Always that little pause. "You better settle in Oakland. You're to go to the court of Contra Costa county. Man in charge is named Feld. Apparently they've figured out how to get on with magii and shapeshifters. Find out how the bloody hell they do that without killing each other. Usual terms apply."

      "Usual terms." Mattie smiled to herself. "Translation: you're on your own, but you better come through." She shrugged. The monetary compensation for a successful fact-finding mission, alone, made the work worth her time. If she was lucky, she would receive a bonus in the form of new information to peddle to the American princes as she roamed the continent looking for vitae and journalistic fame.

      "But why Concord?" she wondered. "Why not San Francisco?" she knew that the Camarilla had some sort of ideological problem with San Francisco but, if she was a supernatural creature wanting to deal with vampires, she would have gone to a city with some name-recognition, not some unheard of court in the suburbs. I suppose they have their reasons, Mattie thought. Those reasons were precisely what she intended to learn...

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