Here Harry paused to take a long draw from his coffee, giving me time to absorb his words. He was layering his conversation for me. I knew the Council hadn't approved very many new Masters in the New World, if any; I truly was out of the loop. But still I grasped the unspoken subtext.
Masters, true Masters, made either by the Council, or ones who'd been created centuries ago were rare in the Western World. Historically most vampires liked to stay in Central Europe, parts of Russia or the Asian regions with hundreds of years on their homelands. The New World was just that, new. The true, recognized Masters, were few and far between -- they weren't even from this New World. The more I thought about it, I didn't know of any sanctioned Council Masters who had been originally born in America.
From Harry's words, I was starting to wonder if I'd missed something, like an American-born vampire Master who had been made and approved by the European Council after my Master had died -- it was a possibility since I didn't have the most direct line to the Council without a Master. When my Master died his true and final death, I hadn't gone total rogue from his death, but I definitely had lost something vital inside. I honestly found that whole event extremely blurred -- blood was spilled, a few stray necks snapped as my Master's clan and minions fell apart.
I hadn't been at his home when everything went down. But I had seen the videos, DVDs and oral testimonies afterwards on the Dark Web. A mass e-mail had been sent out requiring everyone to view the attached links and my name had been on the copied line -- ignoring such a request was at one's own peril -- literally. As I wasn't physically living with my Master or any of his personal fledglings, minions or associated stray clans I was given a reprieve. A message had been sent from my Master's cell phone a day after his death, and was still resonating throughout the world -- New and Old.
I was informed via the message that my status had been actively reviewed and found blameless, so I was given time to swear fealty to the Council and I would be offered territory or I could select another clan association and/or new Master. I had been stunned by the message. I was finally free. Even afterwards I stumbled numbly around the West -- eventually finding my way to the current niche where I was living, which now appeared to be in jeopardy.
Personally, I had come from a vampire clan that had been in Hungary nearly as long as recorded history was kept. My world was saturated with rules and long-standing ceremonial duties. My clan had battled with the invading Turkish clans for centuries. My Master held that anger long after the slaying of the intruders -- bones were long turned to dust of the minion who'd held the shields for their slaughtered Masters. The vampire culture overseas was quite different from the one existing in America. The bone deep hatred went back centuries in bloodlines between vampires, their minions, and their bloody lands.
It wasn't something Americans grasped in the least. Humans and American vampires respected little in history -- theirs or others -- greed was common to both predators. Nothing here was respected or sacred to the newly-made creatures -- they flaunted the Council's laws and rules without any thought to there being any sort of consequences. Still, I wondered if someone on the Council had changed that rule? If so, who and why?
Maybe I missed a meeting or e-mail with new rules or changes to the laws that had been approved. I rubbed my forehead as it did dawn on me that I wasn't exactly following the vampire Council's rules and protocols. Not being currently tied to a Master wasn't precisely illegal, but it most definitely was discouraged. The time was approaching for my decision to be formally given to the Council. My head danced with memories of Council enforcers visiting regions that either had intentionally erred in the Masters' comprehension of those laws or just mistakenly misinterpreted those laws. Blood tended to flow freely and was quickly followed by rather severe measures like decapitations and actual hacking up the vampires' bodies before torching them. Burnt earth and salted earth wasn't unheard of when enforcers came a calling.
On the good side of my warped world -- I hadn't been out making fledglings or minions to do my bidding. I really had become a hermit for all practical matters and hopefully I was still flying true under the radar. My public display of Bob and his crew hadn't been my smartest move, but I hadn't created a vampire or even harmed some dimwitted innocents. Okay, so making the local newscast hadn't been good PR but on the plus side I had removed a toxic group of sociopaths and their charismatic leader.
Trying to shove all that back inside my brain wasn't working, judging by the sparkle in Harry's eyes. My thoughts had been too open again. I really wasn't thinking clearly. Sighing I said, "So, you have a plan?"
I sucked in a deep breath trying to pop my ears clear from the stupid spell cast by Valerie that caused the bell jar effect around our table as it was pressing in on me. I waited for Harry's plan. The need to fill empty silences had long disappeared in my world and Harry wasn't the average vampire so he was equally adept at long silences. Caleb was chattering away with Valerie, clueless about the temporary bubble she'd adeptly created. She was staring straight into to his eyes keeping his focus on her words not ours. Not like we were talking at the moment, but I knew Harry had preloaded his friend? Witch companion? Or for all I knew, his wife -- with some information for this little awkward ambush.
Caleb was not as transfixed by Valerie as he'd been initially, but he still wasn't exactly acting as my back up. I let it go, given Harry and Valerie would literally eat him alive if push came to shove. Also, I had to admit that Valerie's distracting Caleb was working because it beat me having to mindwipe Caleb later, but it did irritate me to have a rather large decision made without even being consulted. Harry always had been fairly close-mouthed in his thoughts but if he wanted me to help, he'd have to give me something.
Harry waited for me to look at him before he spoke. Meeting his eyes finally I arched an eyebrow again -- yeah, one of my favorite 'go-to' snotty habits I'd learned in California -- and I patiently waited.
"We need to create a stronger base here and eliminate the newly formed clans and unauthorized Masters before the arrival of the Council's specialist enforcers sent to slaughter everyone regardless of affiliations." He actually kept a straight face while revealing his grand 'plan.'
It didn't sound much like a plan to me but more like a vague idealistic notion. I actually laughed aloud before I could bite back my automatic response, "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"No," Was all he said while sipping more coffee calmly as if he'd presented me with a complete, power point type plan. Hell, that crap probably worked in the modern American boardrooms -- they were mindless sheep most days -- but it fell far short for my needs. I really, really was attached to my head after all these centuries. Go figure, huh?
"Harry, how about we just head North or even off continent. Hell, let the enforcers do their jobs. We don't need to become enmeshed in this circle jerk of a problem." I snapped while gulping my own coffee wishing it was the vein on that sneaky waiter, Colin, the one that Crystal had pulled away from our table earlier after being a total tool. A pint or two of type O stupid right now would suit my mood.
"Actually, we do. This is important, Bethany, or I wouldn't have spoken to you. This entire state will become a slaughterhouse of epic, dare I say Biblical, proportions if we don't get actively involved. And the resulting carnage won't be anything that could be ignored by the Council or the mortals." He was serious. I kept my eyes glued to his glance and saw how committed he was to his less than fleshed out plan. I felt the pit of my stomach plummet as the words spoken washed through me. He hadn't chosen me lightly and he actually meant what he'd said. Damn, this wasn't what I was expecting at all when I found out that I had a dinner invitation.
In near silence we continued picking at our meals. Valerie and Caleb actually dug into their food with obvious appreciation. I quietly offered Caleb a few wedges of my fish and most of the fries. Vampire-quickness wasn't needed as Caleb was a big carb and protein eater and from the underlying scent on his skin, he'd spent a few hours soaking in the sun while surfing on the coast. A top-notch surfer could burn through a massive amount of calories if the surf was up and they had the skills. Caleb had the skills, the timing, and believe it or not, the luck. I noticed Valerie was actually being engaged by his tales of waves and impossibly beautiful locations. They had already messaged each other their cell numbers along with a few pictures of wave breaks they knew locally and around the world.
Clearing my throat softly I said, "Phones down, Caleb -- remember the rules." I wasn't a fan of the obsequious cell phones being utilized around us incessantly.
Beneath his deeply tanned face he blushed bright red and he awkwardly fumbled his cell off the table, but I noticed it was still in easy reach. I rolled my eyes at Harry when I saw his flash of a smirk. "Hey, yours still has hers out so no smirking please."
He chuckled and said, "Not for long. Valerie, tuck it away or it'll be dust." Not a threat, but a vampiric promise. She was naturally already quite pale, but his words caused her to drain what little blood was giving her cheeks color to fade.
"Sorry, sire, it won't happen again." Her voice was pitched to a whisper of sound barely audible.
Valerie's cell was quickly tucked inside a pocket in her clothes yet still touching her body. She'd feel the vibrations from calls or messages, but it was acceptable to me. It also triggered Caleb to drop his phone from below the table into his pants pocket without a threat from me.
Jen fluttered to our table physically breaking the spell with her body. My ears cleared to hear her offering dessert menus, while babbling off specials not listed on the menu that were daily printed by the trendy restaurant. Quite a clever marketing strategy to give patrons the illusion it was exclusive to their dinner parties and not offered to just anybody. Both Valerie and Caleb picked a treat while Harry and I indicated we'd just like more coffee.
Jen cleared the dishes we indicated that we'd finished and scurried off to put the orders in while we waited. She wasn't rushing us, just being efficient, a trait that went far in my book. I doubted that the table poacher would've been anywhere near as good as Jen. Colin definitely had a slimy vibe. I'd seen him slink out of Crystal's closed-door meeting and flashed a double bird to the door. Idiot hadn't noticed the hallway lined with fisheye camera lens on both sides taping the action.
He was ruining dinners inside the popular restaurant, I could tell, as there were more than a few couples looking irritated by his lack of manners. I didn't see him anywhere near the prime real estate tables and I knew that soon Crystal would see that tape, if she hadn't already caught it live in her office. I figured his hours would definitely dip. Life's a beach -- so true.