Notes: This tale takes place before Victor Temple becomes Baron of the valley in season one of Vampire The Masquerade – L. A. By Night (Web Series).
For Jess, Dari, Cam, Marianne, Vamily.
Outside the fog had drifted in and ghostly thin wisps wrapped around the corners of buildings and trees like the tendrils of an ethereal creature, obscuring everything in its path. Patches of white appeared more luminous beneath the street lamps, seeming to glow with their own haunting light.
Atop the library, adjacent to the coffee shop, a hooded figure crouched near the edge of the rooftop like a stone gargoyle; masking his presence, he watched and waited. From his vantage point, Jasper -a Nosferatu- could see the diversity of students walking along the paved walkways, leading to the coffee shop, library, pub, and the dorms.
Griffith College, situated in East Hollywood, was a small, private institution, that had undergone many changes since it’s early construction in the 1930s as a movie studio. It was an incongruous combination of the old and new architecture. It stretched for many blocks and was still in the process of being newly remodeled with glass and steel components. Conveniently accessible for cars and public transportation.
For Jasper, it wasn’t too hard to spot the undead from amongst the living, for the undead did not breathe. But tonight the fog had somewhat diminished his ability to see the unseen. So unless the poacher decided to make his presence known, he knew the chances of finding him now were slim-to-none.
But he and Annabelle had a good lead. The girl Ava, who’d been complaining to people of flu-like symptoms. They hoped it would be enough to draw the poacher out of hiding before anyone else became affected, or worse…undead.
A phone vibrated in his pocket. Not like the latest, sleek devices on the market, but an old, generic flip phone with a directional pad and multi-purpose keys. His coterie occasionally roused him about it. But he had better things to do with his time than to be a slave to the latest technological marvels. As long as it served its purpose, there was no reason for him to trade up for a newfangled device, not yet.
He ducked low, his form becoming temporarily visible for a few moments as he flipped it open to check the message.
Text: She’s getting ready to leave. Blue hoodie. Long, blonde hair. White shoulder bag.
His reply was brief: I’m on it.
The death of Ava’s mother had a lot to do with her decision to move 650 miles away to attend Griffith college. It was her chance to leave all the jaded memories of her troubled past behind for the chance at a better life in L.A.
A sprawling city with a population of about 4 million, Tinseltown, some called it. Many a lost soul had made their way here, hoping for fame and fortune. Power. But for all its sparkle and glamour, L.A. also harbored dark secrets. Beneath the cloak of night – unknown to most humans – vampires, witches, and werewolves (or Garou if you prefer), roamed the streets and ruled the city by dark.
Just after the sun faded below the city skyline, Ava sat alone in Grounds For Coffee, the coffee shop on campus, as she often did. Her usual order of a steaming mug of dark roast coffee and a bagel sat on the table, untouched. A common occurrence, lately. She yawned for the umpteenth time that night. She’d been yawning so much in the past couple of days that her mouth was tiring from the act. But no one else she knew seemed to be feeling under the weather, so she chalked it up to a poor diet of energy drinks, fast food, and too much studying.
Since there wasn’t much in her fridge to sate her palate, she had come to the coffee shop, hoping the robust scent of their dark roast coffee and a fresh, warm bagel would perk her up and stir her appetite. Her stomach hadn’t cried out yet, having not been fed since yesterday, and Ava was certain the lack of food had now numbed her from hunger.
Plus, she’d been cooped up alone in the apartment too long. And sometimes that brought memories creeping back, the kind that left her feeling in a bit of a funk. She needed to be around people right now, to hear talk and laughter. And there was no better place for that than a coffee shop bustling with college students.
As she lowered the knife to cut her heated bagel in half, a chair slid and bumped her from behind, nudging her forward. She winced at the sharp prick on the edge of her index finger.
“Uh… s-sorry,” The guy mumbled, scarcely glancing in her direction. He seemed tense as he dropped a handful of change down on the table and hurried off. She stared back at him with disdain, hoping he would look back and catch it, but he didn’t.
Dark crimson liquid pooled from the open cut. Her lips pursed before a curse could escape them, remembering that this was a public place. She set the knife down to reach for a napkin from the dispenser on the table, and delicately applied pressure on the small wound to halt the bleeding. “Unbelievable.” She shook her head, disapprovingly at the night she was having and gently wrapped it.
“Better put something on that before it gets infected.” The male voice over her shoulder was unexpected. Ava batted her eyes, startled. Aside from the guy who had just left, she was sure no one else was sitting there a moment ago.
But now there was a nondescript man with dark eyes, about her age, seated at that same table, but in a different chair. Judging from his appearance; the distressed hoodie he wore with the frayed sleeves, and a crop of dark hair that looked deliberately unkempt, she assumed he was also a student at Griffith College. And Grounds For Coffee was a popular place amongst students after-all.
Always open late. Usually busy. Thursday night was especially crawling with activity, filled with evening chatter about school, weekend plans, while others had their noses buried deep in textbooks. Occasional bursts of light-hearted laughter added to the ambiance of the coffee shop’s buoyant, youthful atmosphere. The music of today’s hits flowed at a neutral volume from the speakers.
She shifted uncomfortably at the stranger’s unexpected remark.
“That… that’s fine. I didn’t see you there.
He smiled tentatively. Ava found herself smiling back without meaning to. It really wasn’t the best time to be having a conversation with a strange guy while her finger was bleeding profusely. On the other hand, he seemed nice.
‘I’m Ava,” she said, momentarily forgetting her injury as she let her guard down.
He introduced himself as Mark, then eyed her inquisitively, “Ava Peters? As in… Preston Honeycut’s friend?”
“Yeah, you know him?” She perked up a bit, any friend of Preston’s was definitely alright. He was a good guy, although Mark didn’t look familiar. Then again, she didn’t know all of Preston’s friends.
“He works over at Aubrey’s Used Bookstore on Harrison street, right?”
Mark explained that he’d been there many times since it’s opening, four years ago, and had enjoyed perusing the old mid-western classics. They got along well, and he always shot Mark an email whenever a new batch of westerns came in. But of course, his name wasn’t really Mark, nor was his email an ‘official’ one.
Some kindred refrained from using technology, especially the older ones. The Camarilla, a sect of vampires who saw it as a threat to the masquerade, held fast to traditional methods of communication. As such, they believed it to be less traceable for humans and the inquisition to find them.
The inquisition consisted of a group of humans who hunted and exterminated vampires with specialized weaponry. They were feared by all. But there were those like the Anarchs who had no such reservations about the use of modern gadgets and lived less covertly.
“Yeah, he’s been there awhile.” Her good hand rested on the back of the chair as she angled in towards him.
“He is,” she nodded in agreement. She was certain she’d never seen him before tonight. “You know, I don’t think Preston’s ever mentioned you.”
Her gaze met his, and for the first time, she noticed his eyes. They were brown with flecks of gold swirling inside them. He emanated warmth and charisma. She became slightly more relaxed, and at a second glance, she even had to admit that in a boyish kind of way, he was charming.
Though the timing sucked. She didn’t feel much like being alone tonight. She was about to ask him to join her to continue the conversation further, when a girl with red, shoulder-length hair and freckles cut in, ‘Excuse me, is anyone using this chair?”
Ava shook her head and motioned absently with her injured hand. “Help yourself.”
“Thanks.” The girl grabbed the chair next to her and smiled in gratitude, then glanced at her wrapped finger, oddly, before carrying it off to the next table over.
When the girl was out of sight, Ava removed the blood-stained napkin to check what the current prognosis was. The blood flow seemed to have slowed considerably, but she knew it would start up again at the slightest nick.
“Well, I think it’s going to be okay.” When she looked up again, much to her disappointment, the table was now occupied by a young couple.
Puzzled. Her eyes darted toward the exit of the coffee shop for any sign of Mark, but he had seemingly drifted out as silently and mysteriously as he had appeared. She sat dumbfounded for a moment; her eyebrows creased together questioningly.
Ava was unsure how long she sat there, mulling over the brief conversation she had with Mark. The level of comfort she felt in his presence as if they’d known each other for ages when it had barely been a few minutes, addled her a little.
Her head rested in her hand as she looked at the scattered crumbs and grains on the saucer. The discarded napkin she used for her finger had been rolled into a cylinder shape and placed inside the mug, the unstained portion pointing upward like an ivory spire towards the heavens.
The buzzing of a cell phone broke her train of thought. She glanced around for it, temporarily forgetting where it was, or that she even had one.
She reached down and felt the pockets of her hoodie for a familiar rectangle shape and found it in the left, she pulled it out and swiped up on the screen.
A tinge of anxiety took hold as she scanned the message from Preston a second time.
“Can I get you anything else?”
Huh?” Her eyes flicked up from her phone to the slim, attractive waitress, with short auburn hair and green eyes, standing poised with a pad and pen at the ready like an employee commercial ad.
The ample line of her mouth raised at the corners in a slight smile of greeting.
“Is that cash or Debit.”
She quickly handed her cash, plus a tip, then grabbed her bag in-hand and pushed her way through the glass, metal-framed door and rushed out into the night.
To be continued…