Vampire: The Masquerade logo

An Excerpt from


"Masquerade"



by

Kevin Andrew Murphy




Copyright 1994 White Wolf,Mini White Wolf Logo All Rights Reserved




James couldn't remember where he'd crashed the day before or when he'd last tanked up, but the bike was full and so was he. Cool. Time to ride.
He dodged a cable car, flashing the tourists a smile, and slipped on his shades as he came to the crest of the hill. Minute and a half past sundown, clouds still gold to the west and silvered moon to the east, twin shadows washing up past the facade of the Fairmont and the old brownstone of the Pacific Union Club. Snob Hill, AKA Nob Hill. But it was Frisco and he loved it.
Except the traffic lights.
James remembered there was something he was supposed to do and took the delay to reach into his jacket's inside pocket. There was a memorandum book, open to today's date, and someone had scrawled on it in that spidery faggit handwriting he kept finding on all his things. Fri. Oct. 29: Sundown. Sutro Bath's w/Dirk.
James put away the book and flipped off the asshole behind him, taking off down California Street. Dirk was cool, and it was a lot more fun running with him than that bitch queen, Belladonna, and her leather dikes. She had something stuck up her ass, and it probably came with batteries. Dead ones, in her case.
He cut down Hyde to Geary, taking it out across the City. Traffic was better, but San Francisco was never without its surprises. And a vampire didn't survive long without instincts.
James heard the fore-echo of a crash and swerved aside just as the car in front of him slammed on its brakes. Fuck! He realized then that the ground was shaking. Brakes squealed and people on the sidewalks gawked, and from somewhere in the distance came the sound of metal on glass.
And the scene before him melted like a bad director's interpretation of a flashback.
Masonry crumbled and the sky burned, dark smoke roiling in a phantasmagoria of time and pain, shrieks of men and horses in the background, and he tasted fear. Old fear.
"Momma!" came the child's cry from his throat and he saw a woman, blond hair coming free from its lace cap and antique nightgown billowing in the morning light as she rushed towards him, catching him up in her arms and hugging him close. Safe. Warm. Secure.
"Momma!" sobbed the child and the memory was shattered by the very present and audible horn of the car behind. The reality of night and 1993 replaced the vision of the morning of 1906, and acrid smoke and burning air transmuted to the ordinary fumes of car exhaust.
James shook his head. Goddamn auspex. The power only gave glimpses of the future, usually too little too late, but hindsight came in full sensurround whether you wanted it or not. As if he gave a damn what some turn-of-the-century brat thought of the earthquake or his mother. It had all happened before James had died and before he'd been born for that matter and nobody gave a fuck about the '89 Quake, let alone the 1906.
Not that you wouldn't think so from the way this one had stopped traffic.
"Goddamn tourists," James swore, slipping between a van with a Santa Cruz sticker and a Mercedes whose license plate proclaimed Famous Potatoes.' You'd think they'd never seen a fuckin' earthquake.
Geary was a mess, and James was glad he rode a hog instead of being locked in one of those stinking metal coffins. He made his way between them and got to the Cliff House just after the last glow had faded from the sky.
He cruised in beside a tourist mom and two daughters and killed the engine, turning on the charm. Evening, ladies.
Omigod, he looks like Luke Perry. He caught the thought from the elder daughter. Tres 90210.
The mother's eyes went wide. James Dean? But he's dead.
"'Fraid so, ma'am," James said. "Dean's dead. But you can't kill a memory."
James snapped out and got a brief chuckle letting the three stare at the place he'd been. The youngest was of course the first to break the obfuscation. "Momma?" she asked. "Didn't we just see Jason Priestly?"
James slipped on down the steps, invisible to the tourists. Always give 'em what they want. It was the actor's job, and even in death he enjoyed it. He had half a mind to stage an Elvis sighting, but Dirk was waiting and the rest of the gang wouldn't appreciate the attention.
He sidestepped a mangy dog at the base of the stairs, letting it snuffle some yuppie type. Animals were tough to fool, and harder to frighten away than kids. And something in his sixth sense told him that this one was trouble.
The Gutters were hanging out in the ruins. James slipped out of the veil halfway down the beach and waved to get their attention. Dirk gave him the hi sign, and everyone else played it cool.
Dirk, Joe, Little Mick and Veronica. The core of the gang, all vampires. No humans, no ghouls. "Hiya Jim."
Evening Dirk. He nodded to the others. He rode with them sometimes, but wasn't a Gutter. Too much of a lone wolf. "So wha'sup?"
Dirk waved for the others to go play with the tourists, then got out a cigarette and lit up, slowly. The flame flared bright, but James forced himself to stay cool. No flinch, Dirk thought. Good....
"You finished testing me, asshole?"
Dirk flicked the ash towards him. "Guess so. Wanted to see if you had the guts to run with the Sabbat."
James' guard was up and he Looked, though didn't see any immediate threat. Dirk's aura was the same pale cobalt it always was, without the black veins of a diabolist. Same with the rest of the vamps on the beach, and the humans too, though no surprise there.
The dog, however, was one fucking angry dog, red like a pool of blood, but edged with the bright green of curiosity, and bursting with lifeforce. Not a diabolist, but dangerous all the same, and nothing he'd ever seen on a dog before. Maybe rabies.
But there wasn't anything on the beach like a diabolist, even a wannabe.
James snapped back. "What the fuck you talking about, man?"
Dirk took a long drag, but James could feel the agitation behind the careful mask. "Sabbat's in town."
James shrugged. "So? 's'nothing new. Anyone who knows what's up knows they got spies. Only trouble's figurin' out which licks are Sabbat, and which are just regular assholes."
"LA's crawlin' with them."
"Sabbat or assholes?"
Both." Dirk grinned. "Ain't you a vamp by way of the Queen of Angels yourself?"
James played it cool. "So's Tex, and he's like this with the Prince," he said, crossing his fingers.
Dirk laughed. "Can't prove nothing. Sabbat's everywhere. But rumor says a whole pack of 'em has gone on tour, hunting elders or anything else that looks tasty. Diabolists. Heard they offed half the primogen up in Portland, sucked on 'em 'til they were nothing but dust. But who knows. Maybe the old bastards just wasted each other."
"What's it to you? You don't hang with the Camarilla."
"Sabbat thinks I do." Dirk flicked the cigarette into one of the old baths. It hissed and died as it hit the water. "Doesn't matter what I think. And just because I don't hang with the old windbags and their bullshit doesn't mean I want to join the Sabbat and go to their little vampire revival meetings. Even if I don't end up on the communion plate."
James hadn't heard much about the Sabbat, but none of it was good, and Dirk's picture of Southern Baptist bloodsuckers was not something he wanted to think about. "What makes you think I'd want to join them? They're supposed to be nuttier than the Malkavians."
Dirk gave him a pointed look. "Weirder than Tupperware ladies on acid, Jim. But you go places I don't, so I thought it fair to warn you. 'Sides, I heard you got the 'Spex, and a good pair at that."
That was true, though not something he generally let known. James could read a room at a glance, or even the mind of a vampire elder. But it was an actor's talent. You had to know your audience before you could play to them.
He watched the ocean crash against the beach, taking the moment to breathe in and smell the salt air. Been a while since he'd done that, and it felt good. "So you want me to keep an eye out and see if I notice any new diabolists? No problem. The Kooks and Degenerates keep tabs on all the local snackers anyway, and the Prince snuffs most of them. Unless they're anarchs."
He glanced over at Dirk, but the other vampire's mind was unreadable, and his aura only showed a token flash of annoyance.
Dirk looked to his waterlogged cigarette. "The Sabbat aren't morons like most diabolists. They're like you, James. They play dress-up . . . and they do it with their auras too." Like you, the thought slipped out.
James wondered what he meant by that crack, but waited to see what else Dirk had to say.
The head Gutter took a deep breath for effect, or maybe just to delay an unpleasant thought, since he hadn't needed to breathe for a long while. He let it out. "I've heard the Sabbat can blank their auras, or cover them up with a fake."
"Warlock shit?"
"Maybe. Maybe they're buff enough to do it on their own. Who knows? It's the Sabbat."
"But if there's any vamp who could spot 'em and trick 'em, it'd be you, Jim. You've got all the right skills, and you're smart enough to do it. And just crazy enough to try."
Dirk sounded like the producer who'd signed him on years ago. "So what do I get if I take the part?"
The Gutter smiled, letting his fangs show. "Take it as a dare. If you see a bunch of new vamps you can't read, or whose emotions don't change or don't match what you think they should be feeling, that'll be them. Sidle on up to them. Smile. Make friends. Then do whatever takes your fancy."
Dirk took out another cigarette and lit up, match flaring. "After all, Jim, that's what you do best."

And as Sheherezayd said, "Yet that is not the end of my tale...."
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