Updated: Jun 16, 2020
"I guess going out wouldn't hurt," Renee conceded to the invitation that sounded less and less optional as the moments passed. The last time she refused to go along with the local customs at a new house, it meant her being alienated by the team for a juvenile amount of time.
"Not one little bit, besides, something tells me that you could use a good pampering." Noemi winked and hopped down from where she’d perched her ass on the table. What say we meet up in the lobby in an hour? That should give you plenty of time to find your room and drop your things off."
"Sounds good to me.”
"Great," she pulled out an envelope from her back pocket. "Here are your room assignment and keys. Just take the back elevator down to level three. Think you can find it or would you like me to go with you?"
"I should be okay. Elevator to three," Renee stood and picked up her bag from the floor. "Do you know when this process is being rescheduled for? I'd kinda like to get it over with."
“No idea,” Noemi shrugged as she headed for the door. “Hell, maybe they’ll forget, and you won’t have to deal with it. I know I'd be in no rush to get it done.”
“I find it makes life easier when you don’t procrastinate on getting the tough shit done.”
“Whatever floats your boat. You can ask Calista to put in a request for update until you get your access to everything.” Noemi disappeared from the room.
“Great, thanks for being so helpful.” Renee muttered and headed for her room.
Locating her room was easy enough. She was happy to find that the walls were solid and not the frosted glass that allowed for limited privacy. The room was standard issue. A bed, dresser, desk, private bath, and a walk-in closet. Vampires usually accumulated enough to fill what was basically a second bedroom. Renee was not most vampires. She owned enough to fill the duffle bag she’d arrived with and the two that were lost in transit. “Thanks, United!” She muttered to herself as unloaded her stuff, grabbed her hat, and headed back upstairs.
The lobby where she first arrived was a different place during the day. It was heavily lit, full of life and, throbbing arteries. Renee considered going back to her room, she hadn't fed in too long and the passing dancers in their leotards were proving to be difficult to ignore.
“Oh, you're here! Are you ready to go?” a short round-faced girl with dark hair that fell to her waist, stood from the leather couch that sat next to the large windows which were no longer covered by thick metal shutters. She carried herself over to Renee on stocky legs that were on full display in the high waisted jean shorts she’d matched with a tank top that was purposely shredded at the sides, and high-top sneakers. “I'm Moon.”
“Nice to meet you,” Renee stuck the cowboy hat on her head and shook Moon's outstretched hand.
“Noemi should be here soon, but her ass is always late to everything. Did she tell you what we’re up to yet?” Moon pulled out a blood sucker from her bag and popped it in her mouth.
“No, she didn't,” The scent of the candied blood made Renee’s mouth water. It wasn’t her favorite source of sustenance, but she wouldn’t turn one down if offered. It wasn’t. “She was adamant that we hang out today.”
“Adamant, right, you can say it… pushy as hell! You probably wanted to rest after flying here from dang on Texas! Now she has you waiting on her and hasn’t even told you what for! It's just like her ass to be so damn secretive. How much you want to bet she's dragging us to some art gallery or museum,” she stuck her finger in her open mouth mimicking a gag.
“Not a fan of the arts?” Renee laughed at her disgusted expression.
“Don't get me wrong, I enjoy it, but for Noemi it's like the greatest pastime. For me, the greatest pastime is teasing her about it! I can say she's fair. Three hours of museum tours gets me a relaxing mani-pedi session, so I don’t complain too much. Besides, my little fingers could use some TLC,” She wiggled her painted nails at Renee.
“Three hours,” Renee was already feeling the fatigue settling into her limbs and the thirst burning her throat. If she didn't feed soon there was no way she would make it through the day without grabbing an unsanctioned snack. How would that look, the cleanup crew needing a cleanup crew?
“Great! Everyone is here and ready to go. Sorry, I had a few things to wrap up downstairs.” Noemi stepped off the elevator door. A group of young girls ran up to her and blocked her path to the others.
“Ms. Noemi! You’re back!” They screamed simultaneously and wrapped their arms around her waist before exploding into a chorus about how she was missed by them all.
“Ladies, I love you all, but Ms. Noemi is off the clock!” She announced and they all laughed. “I’m happy to be back, and I will see you all at our next class.”
“Yes, Ms. Noemi!” The laughter continued as they waved and hurried off to their classes.
Noemi shook her head at the girls and caught up to Renee and Moon. “Alright, so we ready?”
“Ready as I'll ever be,” Renee nodded. “What's the plan?”
“There is this amazing exhibit that just opened at the Museum of Science and Industry. I figured we could hit that up but first we can get breakfast. I’m starving, and a little birdy just told me that The Tower restocked with fresh supply last night and there is something spicy in the mix. Said it came from Brazil!”
“Oh snap, that’s what’s up! Better than this damn sucker!” Moon tossed the candy in a nearby trash can and Renee groaned. “Looks like you’re not the only one whose hungry.”
“Sorry, I haven’t fed in, well too long.” Renee covered her mouth and the fangs that started to show. After a few deep breaths she was able to calm herself enough for them to retract.
“I guess we better hurry up and get you something good to drink, huh?” Noemi wrapped her arm around Renee’s waist. “Can’t have my new partner stirring up trouble for me on her first day!”
The Tower, as Renee referred to it was the Willis Tower, the tallest building in Chicago and a tourist trap. Even at the early hours on a summer morning in the middle of the week, the place was buzzing with people. Renee had never seen the landmark and it was on her list of places to visit while there, but she was so busy trying not to drink every person who walked by her to really appreciate the architecture. She’d have to send a note to Nicole and thank her for short notice on her change of houses.
Inside the building they took the escalators down into the basement, a welcomed route as most people were standing in line waiting for the elevator to take them in the opposite direction. They took the escalators down two levels before taking another set of stairs. When they reached the bottom, Moon lead them down a long hall that sat to the left of the stairs, the end of which sat two doors marked “maintenance”.
Noemi pulled a small black card from her bra strap and slid it into the card reader at the right of the doors which triggered the lock. She pushed the doors open to reveal a massive room on the other side. The place as done up like most vampire clubs. Dark walls, dark fabric, dark floor. Easier to hide the blood stains that way. In the center of the room was a bar where two men stood tending to one woman who exited soon after they arrived. Rooms lined the walls, each with a number on the door.
“Welcome to the Den!” Noemi announced. “The most exclusive vamp bar in the city, and I have black card access.”
“Black card access?” Renee spoke and the moment she crossed the threshold she was hit with the aroma of blood and lots of it. Her fangs dropped and there was no retracting them.
“Fancy way of saying she may or may not have banged the owner and can get us in at any time of the day,” Moon stuck out her tongue teasing Noemi.
“Well damn, Moon! Just put all my business out in the streets!” Noemi poked the woman in the shoulder. “Look, I can't help it if I benefit from my… liaisons.”
“Hell, I'm happy you do, because we all do!” Moon skipped ahead of them, “off to my favorite room!”
“Go ahead, pick your pleasure,” Noemi ushered Renee forward. “They have it all, bagged and fresh. If you want the bottled stuff head to the bar. If you want bagged you can get it through the IV, those rooms are to your left. If fresh is your pleasure, the private rooms on the right are good for that. The Den has an amazing selection to choose from!”
“The bar works.” Renee wasn’t a fan of IVs or fresh feeds. Both were to messy and often left her with a lingering thirst. Besides, she wanted something that would quickly satisfy her, neither one worked.
“Have it your way,” Noemi winked and headed off into the direction of the private rooms with the fresh blood option.
Renee took her seat at the bar and ordered a bottle of O-negative, warm. She finished the first quickly before requesting a second. She thanked whoever the owner was for the soundproof walls that housed the private rooms when two girls came out of Noemi’s room laughing as if they were high, with blood dripping down their neck. A moment later, Noemi emerged and joined Renee at the bar.
“How’s that bottle treating you?” She licked her lips of the remnants of her meal.
“Not nearly as good as those girls treated you, I’m sure.” Renee winked.
“You would be accurate in that assumption!” Noemi’s eyes searched the bar. “Moon is taking her time I see.”
“Some people like to savor their meals.” Renee shrugged.
“So, tell me, where were you,” Renee opted to use some of the time to actually get to know Noemi. That was supposed to be the point of the day. “The girls back at the school, they were welcoming you back.”
“Yes, I took a little trip away from the Caged House,” Renee turned to lean her back against the bar. “I’m sure this would have been included in your debriefing, but my last partner, Juniper, she disappeared.”
“What?” Renee put the bottle she had just lifted to her lips back down on the bar. “How?”
“There was a vampire on the loose, some crazed asshole named Donovan. He started attacking other vampires, feeding on them and leaving a messy trail behind him. Juniper and I were assigned the case and after what seemed like too damn long, we finally caught up to him,” she paused and looked Renee in the eye. “I made one mistake, one false turn and Juniper paid the price for it. We never found her body, I kept trying to convince myself that it wasn’t real, that she was alive, but at some point, I just had to stop lying to myself.”
“I’m sorry,” Renee had never lost a partner, but she’d witnessed what that did to a person. The guilt was unending.
“Yeah, me too,” she sighed. “So Xavia, the head of house here, saw it fit that I take a bit of a hiatus from work and put me on the first things smoking to Alaska! I just got back a few days ago.”
“Damn, they sent you to the Arcs?” The Arcs was a hidden location in Fairbanks, a town about 20 minutes East of the North pole. It was where they sent agents who gave reason for concern. All this meant is that they thought you might lose your mind and would either prevent it or put you away. The treatment there was confidential, so much so that patients who returned, refused to go into detail about what they experienced.
“A precautionary measure was how it was explained to me. They wanted to be sure I didn’t snap. It really wasn’t too bad; besides the horrible shit they make you wear! If I never see beige again, I’ll be a happy girl!”
“Who’s a happy girl?” Moon returned dabbing the corner of her mouth with a small handkerchief. “I know I am!”
“I'm sure you are!” Noemi whistled as she saw the man who exited the room behind Moon. “Tried out that Brazilian, huh?”
“Yes, and it was absolutely fantastic,” she smacked Noemi on the knee. “Shall we get to the museum?”
“I've never known you to be excited for the museum, that blood must have been amazing!” Noemi teased her.
“Nothing is that good. I'm excited to get this mess over with so I can get my nails done, as promised!”
“Of course,” Noemi threw her card on the bar and instructed the man to charge their meals.
The day was much of the same joking exchanges. Renee followed Noemi and Moon through the city and spent most of the time laughing at their banter. Noemi tried to explain the things they saw at the exhibit which mixed art and science to express comments on the modern social climate. Moon mocked her at every chance she could get, often getting evil glances and elbows to the gut as punishment. As promised, Noemi treated them both to a trip to the salon. While the locals got the full work up, Renee opted for a simple foot massage and clear coat polish on her nails.
“I can’t believe that’s all you got done,” Moon held Renee’s hand in hers and examined her bare fingertips. Noemi was inside waiting to pay for their treatments.
“What can I say, I’m a simple girl.” Renee tipped her hat to Moon who laughed so hard that she snorted.
The consecutive ringing from their pockets disrupted their good time. Simultaneously, they whipped out their phones to receive the same message. “RED ALERT, ALL AGENTS RETURN TO BASE.”
“Fuck. There goes our day of relaxation,” Moon stuffed the phone back in her pocket.
“What do you think happened?” Renee asked.
“Whatever it is. It better not mess up my nails,” Noemi exited the salon. “This wasn't cheap!”
When they got back to the House, the school had been evacuated and a sign posted on the door informing students that classes were cancelled for the week.
“A full week, that’s not good.” Moon read the notice and looked to Noemi.
“No it's not.” Noemi pulled the door open and they entered into a chaotic scene.
“You’re back,” Calista ran up to them. “Finally, Xavia is not happy. She’s been looking for both of you.”
“Where is she?” Moon asked
“In your studio.” Calista looked at Noemi.
“My studio, why?” Noemi started for the elevators that would take them up to the 4th floor where her studio sat, untouched since her departure to the Arcs. The others followed behind her as Calista began her explanation.
“Well, the janitor, he was in there preparing the space for your return and he found-” Calista trailed off as the doors opened.
“Found, found what?”
“I think it's best that Xavia explain things to you,” she whispered an apology, turned and ran in the opposite direction.
“What was that about?” Renee climbed into the elevator with Noemi and Moon filed in after her.
“Whatever it was, it aint good,” Moon commented. “That girl is a total gossip, can’t hold water.”
The doors opened to the empty 4th floor. What was usually a hallway filled with sounds of music an chatter from young students was an abandoned space that left nothing but the echo of their footsteps as the approached the room marked Studio D. Noemi pushed aside the door that was left unlocked.
“Noemi, you shouldn’t be here.” Xavia flashed across the room blocking their view and pushing the three back into the hall. “I told Calista to let me know when you arrived. Something is wrong with that girl.”
Xavia was the full-figured head of the Caged House. The position had only been hers for two months before shit started to go south in Chicago. Vampires attacking each other, agents going missing, and her very best sent to the Arc. It didn’t look as though things were going to get any better any time soon.
“What’s going on in there?” Noemi asked as she caught sight of two lab coats before the door shut. “What are they doing?”
“Look, I’m going to tell you everything, but you need to be calm when I do,” she noticed Renee, “Renee, sorry that this is our introduction.”
“I am calm, Xavia. What is it?” Noemi pushed. “Tell me what happened.”
“The janitor, he found something inside. Something that is troubling to us all.”
“You’re dancing around the topic. I hate when you do that.”
“It’s a body,” Xavia held Noemi’s gaze.
“What,” Moon stepped forward. “One of our students?”
“No, it’s a vampire.”
“Fuck, do you think it was-,” Noemi’s jaw tightened, and she moved for the door handle but Xavia stopped her.
“The signature is the same. It was definitely him.” She continued to search her eyes.
“Okay, I can handle this,” Noemi knew exactly why she was being held back. Xavia was unsure of her ability to process what was happening without snapping and having to be sent back to the Arc. “ I’m good, Xavia. Let me in.”
“I really don’t think you can, but I don’t see a way around it,” she sighed and stepped aside.
Noemi pushed through the doors, as she rounded the corner she could see the foot of a woman, her body hidden by the lab coats who moved around her. There was blood splatter covering the wall behind and the floor beneath the body. There was no smell, just like the others, it had been sprayed with a chemical compound that made it undetectable by vampires. There wasn’t much sign of struggle which meant he’d already knocked her out before bringing her there. This wasn’t his usual kill, this was deliberate and intentional. This was meant to make a statement. He was taunting her, she had failed in finding him and lost her partner in the process.
“He’s sending me a message, he’s challenging me.” Noemi turned her back on the scene to face Xavia and the others.
“Yes, I do believe you're right.” Xavia spoke with a cautious tone.
“Does this mean we can expect more of this?” Moon questioned. She peered over Noemi’s shoulder watching the work that was being done to examine and clean up the body.
“Knowing what I do about Donovan, this isn't the end. The last time, once he knew we were on his trail, it became like a game for him.”
“Noemi,” Moon whispered her name. “Oh my god.”
“What is it?” Noemi turned to follow Moons gaze to the floor where the woman lay. Her body no longer blocked by the lab techs. When her eyes found the swollen face she fell to her knees. “No, no, no. No!” Noemi scream echoed off the blood covered walls.
“What is it?” Renee rushed to her side and looked back to Xavia and Moon who was crying. “What’s wrong?”
“Juniper.” Noemi sobbed. “It's her. Damn it!” the tears fell from her face as she stared at the face of her ex-partner.
“We need to get you out of here,” Renee helped her to her feet. “Moon, help me.”
As Noemi was carried from the room her phone began to ring. The screen lit up, Private Caller. They ignored it and focused on getting her out of the room. When they reached the elevator it rang again, again from a private caller. This time Moon snatched it from her pocket and turned the device off to avoid any further calls. Moments later, Renee's started to ring.
The two shared a questioning gaze as Renee showed her the screen, Private Caller.
Does Renee answer the phone or ignore the call?