A clock ticked monotonously in the background as Paul Viersan contemplated the client sitting in his office and their mutual dislike for each other. Viersan knew the precise source of his unease with the elderly Henry Crabbe, but he wondered at why Crabbe felt the need to reciprocate it. Their relationship should have been neutral to the point of banality, but it wasn’t – and Paul couldn’t determine why. This annoyed him, as he didn’t care for mysteries not of his own making.

            Crabbe, a bald and withered man with a carefully doctored history, was too close to Viersan’s past. Despite the seeming difference in their ages – Viersan was apparently in his late thirties and had been for over a century – the two men had shared a turbulent time together in the middle of the twentieth century, and that was what kept Viersan’s opinion of Crabbe just barely on the negative side of indifference. Crabbe represented a risk, and Paul resented that. But opportunities engendered risks, as Paul knew, and he believed this risk was minor and the probable reward sufficient. Now he was suffering some doubt and that was another thing he didn’t like.

            Before taking on the job of hiding Mr. Crabbe’s assets from an inquisitive revenue service, Viersan had Crabbe’s background thoroughly investigated and had been reassured that they shared nothing beyond those few years in Europe. The fact that they had never been within a hundred miles of each other greatly contributed to that reassurance. While Paul had been in Berlin and Paris, Heinrich Kruppe – as he then was – had been in Munich, Vienna and Prague.

            Yet…something about Heinrich’s – Henry’s – manner bothered Viersan’s well-honed senses. He was just another greedy old man, at first. Paul mused as Henry read through a short document detailing his new holdings. Then he started getting curt with me, suspicious, even. When did that change occur? If he could pin that down, Paul believed he would have his answer.

            “This is good. Very good.” Crabbe nodded over the document. “And you say this can’t be found with a computer?” His accent was entirely Americanized, decades of practice having become habit.

            Paul made a cautionary gesture. “Not by a normal computer,” he warned Crabbe. “Or even a very good one. But an excellent user of computers…” Paul paused. “There’s always a risk.” And there’s no point in being minimizing that.

            Crabbe nodded again. “My whole life has been a risk.” He mumbled, glancing sharply at Viersan. Idly, Paul wondered if Henry knew that Paul was aware of Henry’s true past. A comment like that would suggest it.

            “Intrusive machines, these computers.” Crabbe continued, unexpectedly. “They can ferret out secrets too easily, it seems to me.”

            Paul frowned. He definitely didn’t care for Crabbe’s manner. The old man was smiling conspiratorially, hinting at a shared secret. “Still, I suppose your assistant helps you with those modern toys, nein?

            Viersan’s temper flared sharply, as did his sense of unease. Something had happened, something unexpected. Belatedly, Paul began to suspect Crabbe’s reasons for wanting a totally private meeting – a condition that had forced his assistant, Yvette, out of the small office he used for meetings with mortals.

            “She’s very useful, in a number of ways.” Paul replied carefully, mentally reviewing the dossier on Crabbe that Yvette had compiled. “She’s quite effective at digging up secrets herself, Herr Kruppe.” There, see how he liked that.

            Only mild surprise touched the old man’s expression. He even chuckled a little at Viersan’s choice of address. “We all have a few of those, don’t we, Hauptmann?” he countered quickly.

            Paul sat back in his chair, trying to cover a moment of real anger and surprise. He hadn’t been a captain in the German military since 1944. Kindred were supposed to discern the secrets of humanity, not vice versa. How much did this aging wreck know about vampires in general and Paul in particular?

            “You seem to think you know mine.” Paul stated evenly while assessing his options. The old man’s body probably wouldn’t take much coercion, so he dismissed that as an option. Paul wondered if Henry Crabbe might have a stronger mind than Viersan had previously credited him with – and how much trouble that was going to cause.

            Crabbe shrugged dismissively. “Your secrets I care little about. Talking about the undead would be quick way to kill myself, I know that much.” Paul nodded, wondering when and how Crabbe had managed to learn such things and survive. “But your young lady Yvette,” Crabbe announced, caution in his tone. “Now, her secrets… I wonder how well you know your hired help.”

            Paul’s anger was becoming increasingly difficult to suppress. “Extremely well.” Paul stated firmly.

            Crabbe regarded Viersan quizzically, doubt written plainly on his face. “Is that so? Then why are you, of all men, keeping a Nazi hunter on your staff?”

            Paul’s stared at Crabbe for a moment, before realization flooded through him in a chilling wave. Dear God, he’s thinking of Rachel. That was when Crabbe’s attitude changed – when he saw Yvette during our second meeting, last week.

            “Mister Crabbe,” Paul kept his tone even and frank. “You’re mistaken. I can even tell you who you are thinking of – one Sarah Goldman of Mossad. I’ve been informed of the resemblance before.” Goldman was the name that Rachel DuNoir - the originator of the clone Yvette - had used while working for the Israelis.

            “Resemblance?” Crabbe’s voice crackled with disbelief. “They are one and the same. She is nosferatu, or else one of your ghouls.”

            Viersan saw little point in trying to uphold the Masquerade, as he was already convinced that Crabbe would not be leaving this meeting with his memory intact.

            “And how do you know that?” Paul asked, his tone deceptively light.

            “Goldman likes her work,” Crabbe grumbled. “She has been seen the world over. There were pictures, from Borgmann’s capture. I’ve seen them. Twenty years later, I see the same woman working for you, and you tell me it’s a coincidence.” Crabbe scowled, the angry expression of a greedy man who has been wronged. “Maybe she’s using you to get to those of us who aren’t already dead?” Crabbe sneered.

Viersan wanted to strangle Crabbe for his impertinence and stupidity. Instead, he chose his words carefully, saturating them with every ounce of power he had. Crabbe’s life depended upon Paul’s ability to convince him of a certain truth.

“Yvette is my ghoul, yes.” He confirmed. “But the woman you knew as Goldman was a vampire. She met her end several years ago.” That much was true. Now for the careful pushing. “Yvette was Sarah’s sister, and has been in my employ – secretly – for a very long time. I didn’t care for Sarah either,” Paul lied. “And it amused me to have her only family under my thumb. She was a hostage for Sarah’s good behavior – towards me, at least.”

Paul could see his words taking effect, reluctant belief creeping across Crabbe’s face, but he chose to keep pushing the matter. “Goldman was killed by her own employers, for breaking their rules.” Again, that’s close enough to the truth, Paul thought bitterly. “But of course they kept that secret, to keep a few old men awake at night.” He concluded mockingly.

“I see,” Crabbe nodded slowly, as Paul’s suggestion took root in his mind. Bland agreement was suddenly overtaken by anxiety. “Then I have made a terrible mistake.”

Paul’s receding worry returned in a flash. “What’s that?”

“Yvette is in danger.” He admitted reluctantly.

Viersan’s concern transformed into cold anger. “Danger? From what?” he demanded.

Crabbe’s crumbling poise evaporated completely and he collapsed into what he really was – a petty and vain old man. “I had told some people I know – young men who visit me sometimes-”

Paul saw where this was leading. “Neo-nazis.” He sighed. “You told some white supremacist trash that you had found a hunter.” Viersan had had little enough time for the National Socialists when they were in power. He certainly had no time for their pathetic imitators now.

Crabbe nodded mutely, remorse and doubt flickering across his face. “I told them where we would be tonight, that I would insist you send her away... I’m sorry.” No doubt he was only regretting the risk to his own life at the moment – not Yvette’s.

“Where is she?” Paul demanded, his voice deathly quiet.

“I don’t know-”

Viersan easily turned aside the heavy desk that separated him from Crabbe and picked the old man up by his shirtfront. “Where is she?

“I don’t know.” Crabbe repeated, shock making him unnaturally calm.

Viersan held a beclawed hand before Crabbe’s paling face. “Think.” He suggested, murder in his voice.

 

            Think, Yvette. You’re in a bad situation, but you’re still alive. Although she had to admit that she had her doubts how long her captors intended for this status quo to last. Yvette carefully regarded her surroundings again. She had to be careful because her eyes were swollen almost shut and she was quite certain her right shoulder had separated when her assailants had come upon her in the parking lot outside of Paul’s Denver office.

            Great security routine, she thought wryly. One thrown coat and a sticky holster and down you went. Indeed, bad luck had played some part in her capture, but that was overwhelmed – in her opinion – by her unforgivable lack of attention. She had been too busy fuming at Paul’s dismissal of her to take notice of her surroundings. Still, at least she had managed to reach her knife – briefly.

            Not that that small triumph really mattered now. In a roomy cinderblock basement, cluttered with some woodworking tools and unconventional decorations, Yvette was being scrutinized by three thuggish men. They were all in their early twenties, clean-shaven, short haired and wearing Levis and name brand sneakers. One of them – already running to fat despite his youth – pressed a wadded tee shirt against a ragged wound in his right thigh. The fact that the gash was merely uncomfortable and not fatal added further to Yvette’s irritation. If she hadn’t been distracted by his near-dislocation of her shoulder, she wouldn’t have made that mistake.

            “Bitch,” he muttered again. It had been his refrain since she had been bundled into the back of a pickup truck half an hour ago, and then dragged from the garage upstairs down into this lair of seething hatred. The walls had been thickly decorated with the iconography of a half-dozen racist organizations. Recruitment posters for the White Aryan Resistance and the Ku Klux Klan jostled for space with tracts from the First Church of the Creator and the American neo-nazi party. In a point of pride – Yvette had to assume it was such, as the clutter around it was minimal – hung a banner of the swastika of the Third Reich.

            Inexplicably, she was experiencing a moment of déjà vu. Yvette wondered why this nigh-farcical scene struck her as familiar. It certainly wasn’t like anything she had encountered before. As usual, a plausible reason for the sentiment eluded her, although she worried at the problem as she discreetly tested the inexpertly tied rope that bound her wrists behind the chair she sat upon. The strain her bonds put on her injured shoulder was close to hideous – that was probably their point – but she had to keep trying.

            Yvette had imagined several reasons why she was here – all of them unpleasant – but when her captors had finally divulged their reason for her kidnapping, she had made the mistake of laughing out loud. That had not endeared her to her companions and was the reason why her face was now a puffy mass of bruises.

            “You’ve got the wrong woman.” Yvette sighed wearily, minutes later. “I’ve never heard of Sarah Goldman.” Indeed, she hadn’t and the frantic wracking of her memory had turned up nothing.

            “Lying bitch.” The bleeding thug muttered. Yvette would have rolled her eyes, if she could.

            “Fuck you, nutcase.” She spat angrily. Just because she hurt was no reason to be meek. That was what bigots usually wanted, so she was damned if she was going to give it to them.

            “Watch your mouth.” The quiet warning came from the shortest of the three – receding blonde hair hidden by a short buzz-cut. Jim, Yvette thought she had heard him called by the bleeding one. Jim worried her. He was calm and radiating none of the sullen resentment of his two companions. He also seemed to enjoy hitting Yvette just a little too much for her liking. They’re all amateurs, Yvette thought contemptuously. But he’s the dangerous one.

            Rather than hurling abuse, Yvette settled for an angry glare as she felt a knot loosen beside her wrist. She tried to hide a frown of concentration with a wince of pain. Just a minute or two more, and a chance to lure one of them close enough, and then I would have a hostage, she thought grimly. Rope was good for more than just tying, after all. Watching a compatriot choke was usually more than anyone could bear and was a fine incentive for action.

            “Don’t you boys think I’m a little young to be hunting Nazis?” It was a stupid thing to say, Yvette knew, but she was stalling for time.

            Jim grinned, a smug expression. “I guess you could say we’re pretty young to be Nazis. It evens out.” His smile faded. “Now shut up until Heinrich gets here.”

            “Heinrich? Damn.” She muttered darkly. So that’s what happened. More fool me – trapped by a senile man’s memory. This Goldman woman has probably been dead for years. Yvette realized that mentioning that would be a quick way to another bout of injuries. That last knot was almost finished. The trick was in appearing as if she was still bound while the ropes loosened. If she could just concentrate past the pain-

            Without warning, the basement door flew open in a splintering crash. Yvette followed her captors’ gaze towards a figure moving quickly – unnaturally so – down the cellar stairs and into the room. Yvette’s heart leapt, as she fumbled with the cord binding her wrists. Either this was the cavalry in the form of Paul Viersan or it was – at worst – a faster death than Jim would provide.

            It was Viersan. Yvette caught a momentary glimpse of his face in a rigid mask of rage as he clawed at the nameless thug that she had stabbed earlier. A red gobbet of something struck the ceiling and stuck as his gutted body fell to the floor. Yvette flinched and froze in place. Meanwhile, Jim scrambled back across the room, towards her, surprise and anger contorting his expression.

            The second victim – as Yvette now considered him – Paul picked up by the throat and held several inches above the floor for a few moments while he looked around with a deceptive ease of manner. The clawing and gurgling of the man in his hand distracted him not at all. Viersan took in the room’s décor with an expression that faded from blank anger to rank incredulity – then back to fury. A moment later, the man being casually choked was thrown into the cinderblock wall. His head cracked like an eggshell and added another swathe of crimson to the swastika banner. The sight provoked a small smile from Viersan – which unnerved Yvette even further. She had never seen him kill before – or in a rage. The combination was frightening.

            “Hold it.” Jim’s voice was remarkably steady. Yvette half turned and realized why. Jim had a gun – my gun, damn it – in hand and steadily pointed at Yvette’s head, scant inches away. “Me and your girlfriend are going to be leaving now. And you’re gonna let us.” Jim declared. “Get me?”

            Viersan glared at Jim, who apparently wasn’t unnerved by the gore dripping from his still-beclawed hands.

            “Get me?” Jim repeated.

            Paul’s gaze flickered towards Yvette, who was doing her best to suppress a sigh of relief as she felt the rope around her arms go slack. Fortunately, Jim’s attention wasn’t on her.

            Paul considered the situation for a moment, looking from Yvette to her captor, and back again. Yvette nodded fractionally and moved a millimeter away from Jim.

            “Fine. I get you.” Paul agreed.

            Yvette threw herself down and forward, creating a clear path as Paul leapt directly towards the man beside her. Jim reacted quickly, for a human, turning Yvette’s gun on his assailant and firing wildly.

The crashing boom of the nine-millimeter handgun in the small room stunned Yvette, deafening her for several moments. Later, she would consider the deafness a blessing, as it spared her hearing the wet sound of Jim’s arm being snapped and broken like a stick of kindling. By the time she had turned around, Jim was on the ground, his arm a bloody mess, while Viersan pummeled him. A seemingly careless blow removed half of Jim’s chest, showering Viersan with blood and – once the gout had ceased – ending the slaughter. Less than a minute had elapsed since Viersan had entered the room.

Yvette remained on the ground, more concerned with trying not to shake rather than her comfort. It was one thing to know about vampiric Frenzy, intellectually. But it was a terrible thing to see. A tiny voice of doubt within Yvette wondered if she had just witnessed the Beast or – worse yet – that this was merely how Viersan behaved when his temper was up.

Long seconds later, Viersan finally tore his gaze away from the corpse beneath him and stared at Yvette, his expression stiff. With an awkwardness that contradicted his earlier swiftness, Viersan crawled towards Yvette. Yvette squelched the urge to scramble away - she wasn’t yet sure of her safety. Would Paul be angry with her for being taken so stupidly?

Pinning her in place with an intent glare, Viersan spoke with the careful deliberation of a determined man. “This can’t go on.” He told Yvette firmly; either unaware or uncaring about how his bloody appearance disconcerted his ghoul.

Yvette blinked in surprise and blurted the phrase ‘déjà vu’ without thinking. Paul stared at her, confused for a moment. Then he laughed – which surprised Yvette even further.

Of course! Viersan chuckled internally. This is the second time I’ve saved this woman in a bloody room, he realized, deliberately keeping his back to the bloodied swastika on the wall. He shook his head ruefully. These coincidences could get a little tiring.

“Share the joke?” Yvette asked tentatively. Then again, she thought as she regarded the carnage, do I really want to know?

Paul shook his head. “Something that happened before you were born.” Close enough.

Belatedly, Paul noticed the bruises on Yvette’s face and his expression darkened. I killed them too quickly, he thought bleakly.

Yvette easily followed her regnant’s train of thought. “I’m alright,” she explained hastily, finally utilizing Viersan’s blood within her to heal the worst of her wounds – now that she knew she wouldn’t need it for anything else. “That is, I’m alright now.” She amended as her features mended. The cessation of pain in her shoulder was a blessed relief in itself.

“Do you need more?” Paul asked, wondering if he had remembered to bring his pillbox of concentrated vitae with him. He wasn’t in the mood to open a vein.

Yvette shook her head. She had had enough of blood for the moment. She considered her squeamishness particularly unsettling - this was hardly the first time she had seen bloodshed. Obviously it mattered to her who was doing the spilling.

“Um, thank you.” Yvette said awkwardly, a moment later. “For…this.” She gestured vaguely around the room.

Gratitude? Viersan was surprised. It wasn’t something he expected, so he shrugged it off. “You’re welcome.” He muttered.

Looking for a diversion, Yvette regarded the bloody scene. “What now?”

That brought Paul’s attention back to the present. “We’ve got to take care of this. Can you find the keys for that pickup I saw outside?”

Yvette nodded, gesturing toward what remained of Jim. “In his pocket, I think.”

“Alright. Let’s get these pieces of shit in the truck. I know someone who’ll take care of it.”

Yvette decided she didn’t really want to know the details. “Fine. What about Crabbe?”

“Heinrich Kruppe is currently on his way to the authorities to give a confession of his true identity.” Viersan announced grimly as he searched Jim’s pockets. “Since I wasn’t quite angry enough to kill him, I thought that would do.” Had I known about what had happened down here, it would have been a deathbed confession. Still, more bodies meant a greater risk, so Paul reluctantly admitted that he couldn’t go back and take care of his former client. With luck, some self-appointed righter-of-history’s-wrongs would take care of that loose end for him. In the meantime, Paul had control of Crabbe’s assets, and that was some consolation.

“Here,” Viersan tossed a set of car keys at Yvette. “Go find some blankets or a rug to wrap these fools and open up the truck,” He suggested. “Once they’re in, I’ll make a call and we can get out of here. Out of Denver,” he added, to Yvette’s surprise.

“Where to?” she asked simply. Obviously Paul had already decided.

“Berlin. I’ll explain later,” he added to head off any inquiries. “But I think it’s time for you to meet my Sire.” I’m going to regret this, Paul thought ruefully. But if I lose her, it’ll be worse. And once you’re my childe, maybe you won’t be quite so vulnerable…

 

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