The Dresden Files: Portland

Side Job: The Odd Job

Karkana Chronicles: Sixteen

May 25, 2013 (Saturday)

It is evening and Brianna has returned to Portland from Colorado mentally exhausted. After getting off the phone with Loomis, she decides to go out and feed. She takes Joey with her to watch her back. She also wears sunglasses to try to further hide her vampiric nature.

She finds a rave club in which to stalk her prey and enters the mosh pit to get a sense of the rhythm of it. She comes upon a guy that’s a likely target and jostles up against him, making skin contact and begins to feed. The man goes berserk and starts fighting with those around him. Brianna quietly leaves the floor and she and Joey leave the club.

Brianna catches Joey up on the latest news from Seattle. Joey shakes his head. Brianna thinks that they (meaning the White Council) are setting up Ezekiel to get killed. “And the others,” Joey points. “And possibly us,” Brianna says. They come to the conclusion that there is nothing they can do but watch out for themselves.

May 26, 2013 (Sunday)

Brianna and Joey head to Sibley’s Gym to workout and hobnob with other fighters. On the way, the two discuss whether or not they want to start going back to the “shitty” pit fighting situation that they had worked their way up from, but would have the flexibility they need. In the end, they decide to go for the pit fighting for now and see if they can resolve their other situations. Joey defers to Brianna’s judgment.

At the gym, as Brianna and Joey are wrapping up their workout, they see Silas Sharpe walk in.

“Heads up, Joey,” Brianna says and starts giving the large man ‘the eye’.

Sharpe walks up to Brianna and says “Mr. Gould wants to see you.”

“Mr. Gould wants to see me?”

“Yep.”

“And after our last meeting, why on earth would I want to see Mr. Gould?” Brianna asks, not bothering to hide her disdain.

Silas is expressionless. “He says he has a proposition for you.”

Brianna laughs, “That must be one damn good proposition. Regarding what?”

“That’s between you and him.”

Brianna shrugs. “I’ll think about it.”

“He’s waiting outside,” Silas says.

“Alright, I’ll bite,” Brianna says. “C’mon Joey.”

Joey follows her as Silas leads the way outside. In the parking lot is the familiar gold-plated grey Lexus that Brianna recognizes from her surveillance. She pauses outside the car with her arms crossed as Silas opens the back door. She sees Mr. Gould inside.

“Mr. Gould,” Brianna says flatly.

“Ms. Karkana,” Gould replies in turn. “Have a seat. I’d like to have a talk with you.”

“Is this a stationary business meeting or are we moving?”

“That depends on you.”

“Joey, get in the front seat,” Brianna says.

Gould looks at Silas and nods. Joey gets in the front seat and Brianna slides into the back seat next to Gould, her arms crossed and clearly not happy.

“I’d like to hire you for a job,” Gould says simply.

Brianna gives him an incredulous look. “You must be fucking kidding.”

“Not at all. You have certain connections that would be of use to me.”

“And what connections would those be?”

“Connections to the White Court,” he replies smoothly.

“Yes, I suppose I do.”

“One of my girls was found dead at The Playground Friday night,” Gould says, an edge to his voice.

“What makes you think it was White Court related?” Brianna asks.

“Her death has been ruled a heart attack. I suspect that it was murder. The police are not investigating it because they believe it was natural causes. I suspect otherwise.” Gould looks at Brianna, “My suspicion is that it was the work of one of your cousins.”

“Did you see the body?” Brianna asks.

“Yes.”

“And?”

“She was dead,” Gould says, incredulous.

“Did she look like she had been in under extreme emotion in the last moments of her life?” Brianna clarifies impatiently.

“Yes.”

“And what emotion might that have been?”

“I think we both know,” Gould says.

“There’s no lost love between us. How do I know this is not another one of your ploys?” Brianna asks.

“I suppose you don’t,” Gould replies calmly.

As far as Brianna can tell, he’s being sincere. “What exactly are you wanting to hire me to do about the situation?”

“I want you to find out who did it, to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. I don’t want my girls to be prey. I’ve gone to Ms. Patel and she was, to my way of thinking, less than sympathetic to my plight. She seemed to think that I was jumping at shadows, that perhaps my girl OD’d.”

“In exchange for finding out who did this to your girl and bringing it to the attention of those who need to be told…” Brianna begins.

“No. What I said was ensuring that it doesn’t happen again,” Gould interrupts.

“Finding out who did this and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again—what are you upholding in this bargain?” Brianna looks squarely at him.

“As I said, I wish to hire you. What is your price?” Gould asks.

Brianna names a significant figure and Gould agrees to it. Brianna also stipulates that half of it be paid up front, non-refundable, and then the rest be paid upon resolution of the matter. Gould once again agrees. She also warns him that she’s going to be “up in his business” asking questions and he better not stonewall her. He’s going to have to be cooperative. He assures her that he will be cooperative with her investigation.

“Shall we go to the club?” Gould asks.

“Yes,” Brianna nods.

“Silas, take us to The Playground,” Gould commands, and the car the pulls out of the parking lot.

As they drive, Brianna asks “What was the girl’s name?”

“Chelsea Harvest.”

“Was that her real name?”

“That’s the name I have.”

“Was she in the original set of girls that was hired?”

“Yes.”

“Did she have family in town?” Brianna asks.

“I don’t know,” Gould replies.

The car pulls up to the strip club and everyone gets out of the car and goes inside. The club is closed, being a Sunday afternoon. A few workers are still cleaning up from Saturday night.

“Show me where she was,” Brianna says. She wants a walk-through of where Chelsea was that night and her known patterns. She’s taken to a private dance room where the dancer apparently was found. This was where she was with her last client.

“Did anyone see her after her last client left?” Brianna asks.

“One of the girls found her after the client left,” Gould replies.

“And do we know what the time frame between those two events were?”

“Probably about 8 minutes. We have the last client leaving on camera. it’s not a great shot, but we have it,” Gould says.

Brianna checks out the room and the hidden security camera at the entrance to the room.

“Where was she found?” Brianna asks

“On the floor, next to the chair,” Gould says. There is a chair and an a chaise lounge in the room.

“Were there any signs of a struggle?”

“Not according to the police,” Gould says.

Brianna finds none either, but she does find some scratches on the chair—could be struggle, could be from dancing on the chair in heels. It’s hard to say.

Brianna then asks to see the camera footage. They adjourn to Gould’s office and he pulls up the footage. While the footage comes up, Gould opens up a safe and pulls out the allotted agreed-upon payment and puts it in a bag. Brianna gives it to Joey for safe-keeping.

The footage is not great and is black-and-white, but Brianna does see a scantily-clad young woman and a young man in a dark suit entering the private room. She doesn’t see a lot of detail of their entry, mostly the back of their heads. It’s time-stamped for 11:44 pm. At 12:01, the handsome dark-haired man comes out alone. Brianna notices that he’s wearing a ring on his finger that looks like a scorpion.

“Did Ms. Harvest use those rooms a lot?” Brianna asks.

“Yes,” Gould says.

“Is that a normal amount of time for a client?” Brianna asks.

“That depends on how much he paid for the dance,” Gould replies.

“So that amount of time doesn’t raise any red flags?”

“No.”

Brianna turns back to the footage and slows it down to watch the period between the man leaving and the discovery of Chelsea Harvest. She watches frame-by-frame, looking for anything unusual. Eventually, she sees another girl approach with a client. She knocks on the door. Knocks again. Opens the door. Runs in. Runs out, yelling. Brianna stops the footage, not finding anything out of the ordinary.

She decides to check all of the footage for that night to see if she can see more of the last client. She also asks for the name of the officer investigating the case. As Brianna is pouring through hours of footage, she works to hide how uncomfortable she is in viewing the dancers and their clients. Joey gives her a knowing look, but she seems pretty successful in hiding her emotions from Gould.

The guy seems to have entered the club at 11:03. He sat at one of the pole dances for a while, watched Chelsea for a while, spoke with her (probably negotiating the private dance). Then he bought her a drink and the two headed back to the private room. He didn’t touch her, but she touched him—but not skin to skin contact—at least, not before they got to the private room. As far as Brianna can tell, Chelsea was pretty into the guy, but that’s what strippers do. Chelsea didn’t have any obvious physical attributes that made her stand out from the other girls—she wasn’t the only blonde, or had particularly large breasts, or anything like that. She was petite with short blonde hair and quite pretty.

“Was there anything unusual about Ms. Harvest that I need to know about?” Brianna asks Gould, finally turning away from the club footage.

“No. She came in on time and never gave us any trouble.”

“That’s not the kind of unusual I was referring to.”

“No,” Gould says, shaking his head.

“Do you have her address?” Brianna asks.

“We have an address on file for tax purposes,” Gould says.

“Did you have any other contacts, such as next of kin, emergency contacts, or just her?”

“No, just her.”

“Did you recognize this guy that came in?”

“No.”

“What about this?” Brianna asks, tapping the screen at the scorpion ring.

“No.”

Gould finds the business card of the police officer, Detective Ramos, and hands it to her.

“Well, I’m going to contact Detective Ramos and see if I can get some more information. Can I find you here most of the time since this is still a fairly new operation for you?” Brianna asks.

“Yes,” Gould says.

“Am I going to have to pay the cover charge every time I come in to find you?” she asks pointedly.

“I’ll send word to the front desk.”

“For me and for Joey, please. Well, I have your phone number and you have mine. So, we’ll be in touch.”

“Very well.”

Gould has Silas return the two to their car back at the gym and they part ways.

By this time, after having gone through so much footage at the club, it has become evening. Brianna calls the number on the business card for Detective Ramos. A woman’s voice answers.

“Ramos.”

“Detective Ramos, my name is Brianna Karkana.”

“And?”

“I’m calling on behalf of Mr. Gould. He’s asked me to look into the unfortunate incident that happened at his club.”

“You a private investigator?”

“Of sorts. He’s asked me to do a little looking around. He’s very concerned about Ms. Harvest’s passing.”

“From what I understand, there’s not much to be concerned about. It was of natural causes, according to the coroner.”

“What it be possible to see Ms. Harvest?”

“Well, you’re not a city official. You’re not even a private investigator. You’re not family, so…no.”

Brianna grinds her teeth, muttering under her breath. “So even if I’m acting on behalf of her employer, I can’t get anything from you? Copy of the coroner’s report? Anything?”

“You could file an open records report. See some of this information in a few weeks, if it’s public.”

“Well, perhaps I’ll do that then. Detective.” Brianna hangs up. “I hate the cops!” she tells Joey.

They head over to a bank and deposit their money, then go home and change clothes.

The two head over to the University of Portland to see Roy Dale, a graduate student Brianna’s used to do research for her before. They find Roy at the student union and set him to doing research on whether or not the city has more than one morgue and if there is a branch associated with the precinct in which The Playground resides. She also wants to know if there has been a rash of deaths of “natural causes” at strip clubs in the past few months.

There is not a branch of the morgue in that district. There is only one morgue (The Office of the Medical Examiner) and it is in Southeast Portland. The other question is going to take him more time to research. Brianna gives Roy a bit of cash to make sure that it is a research priority for the next 24 hours and leaves him to it.

Brianna then goes to reach out to her supernatural underworld contacts to see if there is anybody associated with the morgue that look the other way or get her access to the body of Chelsea Harvest. She discovers that there are a couple of guys that generally work nights at the morgue that, if you pay them enough, and you don’t do anything to get them in trouble, they’ll look the other way. There’s a guard by the name of Pete Zabke and a doctor by the name of Hollingsworth.

Brianna and Joey then head out to the fights. She schmoozes around as usual and sip-feeds and also gathers information on pit fighting. She learns that if she wants to get into that circuit, she needs to talk to Philo Barcas. He doesn’t usually come to these fights, but she can find him in Kelly’s Olympian, a bar downtown. She also sees Mel Landry, who is cool toward her, but not hostile and keeps things professional.

After the fights, the two head for the Multnomah County Office of the Medical Examiner, or the County Morgue. Through the entryway door, which is locked, they see a guard station. They try the door again, which gets the attention of the uniformed guard, who comes over to the door. He opens it and says “The building is closed.” His nametag reads “Zabke”.

“Are you Pete Zabke?” Brianna asks.

“I am,” he says warily.

“Is Dr. Hollingsworth on duty tonight?”

“He might be,” Zabke says, again, warily.

“Word on the street is I might need to talk to you if I want to see a body,” Brianna says.

“Oh really,” Zabke says. “What else does word on the street say?”

“That you need good monetary incentive,” Brianna says archly. “Did you want to have this conversation in the doorway?”

“Wait here,” he whispers. He goes back to his desk, fiddles with some instrument, and then returns to the door, and opens it, and then says, “What do you got?”

Brianna holds up a hundred dollar bill. “But I need you to check your records and make sure the body I need is actually in this building.”

“Who is it?” Zabke says.

“Chelsea Harvest.”

He goes back and checks something on a computer screen, comes back and takes the hundred and directs them to the hall and tells them to turn left after the door. Brianna notices that she gets absolutely no supernatural vibes off of Pete Zabke.

They go down the hall and turn left and then come to a set of double doors that say “Examining room”. Inside they hear the sound classic rock coming from a tinny speaker. Going inside, they see a man in a lab coat working at a table, probably on a body. Nearby is a circa-1983 radio blaring the classic rock from a cassette. To the left are a series of large drawers that probably contain corpses. There are a series of tables beyond the one the man is working on deeper into the room. To the right is a counter and cabinets with various supplies and accouterments and a large sink.

“Dr. Hollingsworth?” Brianna says.

The man turns; he’s in his thirties. He looks both shocked and nervous. “Who are you? You can’t be here!”

“Pete directed us this way.”

“Did he now?”

“Yes he did. Word is on the street that you can help.”

“That depends. What kind of help do you need?”

“I just need to look at a body.” Brianna pulls out another hundred dollar bill.

“You just need to look?”

“I need to examine her. I don’t need to do anything that will be obvious.”

Hollingsworth steps forward and takes the hundred. “Which one?”

“Ms. Harvest.”

“You’re not some kind of weirdo are you?”

“Look who’s talking,” she retorts.

He goes to one of the drawers and pulls it open revealing a body under a sheet. He pulls back a sheet, revealing the corpse of a young woman. It looks like she’s gone through an autopsy, with a closed y-shaped wound on her chest. Her expression is one of rapt, lustful, ecstasy. Without the pallor and autopsy wound, she looks like young woman with a lustful, satisfied look on her face.

The only wounds Brianna sees are from the autopsy.

Hollingsworth comments, “She seems to have gone out very satisfied.”

Brianna washes her hands and says, “I’ve seen everything I need to see.”

Brianna and Joey head out and then Brianna asks her underworld contacts about the scorpion ring. She doesn’t get any information.

They finally head home for the night during the wee hours. Joey makes the comment that he feels like they’re being watched as they get out of the car at the apartment. They look around but don’t see anyone. They head to the apartment, but nothing happens. Once they get in the apartment, they keep the lights off, but stay up for a little while and watch the windows. Neither of them see anyone. They set the apartment’s alarms and go to bed.

May 27, 2013 (Monday)

Joey and Brianna check out the area outside their apartment for clues as to who—or what—may have been watching them last night. Near some shrubbery facing the entryway to their apartment, they find some cigarette butts. Brianna grabs a Ziploc bag from her kitchen and bags them up. They then head to the gym.

After working out at the gym, they decide to head over to visit with Sydney Benning. Regi isn’t in. They spend a few minutes exchanging pleasantries. She hasn’t heard any more about their last encounter with the “Big Bad”. Brianna tells Sydney that she would like to hire Sydney to create a ward to put on her apartment. Sydney says that would be doable. Brianna would also like to find out who it was that was watching her apartment and if it was the person smoking these cigarettes—and she produces the baggie with the butts. “That might be doable,” Sydney says, “if they had them in their mouth and they still have the spit on them. I can try.”

“Thank you,” Brianna says.

“Did you want me to try now?” Sydney asks.

“That would be optimal. I know we just burst in here,” Brianna says.

Sydney gets them to help her move some of her furniture around so that she can move her rug to reveal a painted circle. She also gets a bowl of water and pours the cigarette butts into it. She sits in the center of her circle. Beads of sweat break out on her brow as she chants over the bowl. A face begins to materialize above the bowl. It is the face of Jake Esquivel, the second vampire assassin that came after them a few weeks ago. The face fades and the room is filled with the smell of old, wet tobacco.

“Did that help?” Sydney asks.

“That’s exactly what I needed. Thanks,” Brianna says. “As far as the ward goes, how much time will you need to prepare for it?”

“I will need some time. I guess that depends on how powerful a ward you want. I’ll need to make some sort of talisman so you can pass in and out of your own ward. I assume you’ll want them for just you and Joey.”

“Is it more work to make more talismans?” Brianna asks.

“Not necessarily,” Sydney says, “But I have to make the talismans when I make the ward.”

“I think we’ll need at least one extra then, in case someone else needs in.”

“Okay, so I’ll make three talismans.”

“Will you be able to get in since you set the ward?” Brianna asks.

“If you want me to, I could make it such that I could,” Sydney replies carefully.

“I don’t want you to be excluded, so, make that part of it,” Brianna says.

“I didn’t want to presume,” Sydney says.

“And I don’t want Regi excluded from the ward either,” Brianna says, “Because he visits our apartment when we need to communicate.”

“So three talismans, myself, and Regi. I can do that,” Sydney says.

“Considering who you saw during your scrying, it is best to do this during the day,” Brianna warns her. “I don’t know if you can do this today, or if it is going to be tomorrow.”

“Well, it will have to be renewed periodically,” Sydney informs her.

“How often is periodically?”

“When I set it up, I can try to do it to where I renew the ward monthly,” Sydney says. “Or weekly, or daily.”

“Daily seems like an inconvenience for everyone,” Brianna comments.

“A lot of it depends on how much power I pour into it at the onset,” Sydney says.

“Monthly seems like it would be more optimal,” Brianna says.

“Okay, then I’ll come once per month to renew them. Otherwise they would expire sunrise to sunset.”

“No. Besides, it’s an apartment. Chances are that should work.”

“So, are you wanting just a ward or are you wanting a ward with an extra surprise?” Sydney asks.

“So how does that work?”

“The ward just repels. But if the ward is ever breached, then the extra surprise is a spell that goes off,” Sydney explains. “Fire. Electricity. Whatever.”

“What sort of landmines or extra surprises can you do?” Brianna asks slowly, thinking about the possibilities.

“My specialties are fire, air, and spirit,” Sydney says. “Fire might be dangerous in your apartment. Air may be useful. We could bind somebody with air.”

“How long could you do that for, though?”

“Depends on how complex we make the spell and how strong the person is we are binding,” Sydney says. “Or we could hit them with kinetic energy, if you just wanted to hit them.”

“I like the idea of binding,” Brianna admits.

“We can try that,” Sydney says.

“Is this something you’ll have to do tomorrow?”

“Probably. This is turning into quite a complex spell and I’ll have to prepare,” Sydney says.

“Alright. If you can do this for us, I would appreciate it. What can I do for you in return?” Brianna asks.

Sydney says, “You saved my life, you owe me nothing.”

“I appreciate it, but I didn’t do it to have a hold on to you forever,” Brianna looks her friend squarely in the eyes, her voice serious. “Thank you. I have many pots in the fire right now and this will be incredibly helpful. How about I reach out to you tomorrow?”

“I’ll do my planning tonight,” Sydney agrees.

Brianna and Joey take their leave and then head downtown to the Pentecostal Mission House to see Broderick Cartland. His mission house has a pretty decent occult library that Brianna wants to make use of.

At the mission, three people are sitting inside and Cartland is finishing up a fiery sermon. Brianna and Joey sit in the back. When he finishes the sermon, he goes up to them and shakes their hand and says hello.

“May we speak in private?” Brianna asks quietly.

“Alright,” Cartland says and takes them to his back office.

“How is Aiden doing?” Brianna asks.

“He’s fine. It was touch and go at first, but he’s doing well enough now.”

“Very glad to hear. I was coming to ask a favor of you. There are evil situations going on in Portland. I know you have a fairly extensive library of the occult and I was hoping to use it for some research.”

“Evil never rests,” Cartland says solemnly.

“Evil never rests,” Brianna agrees.

“You may use my library,” Cartland tells her.

Brianna starts researching to see if there is anything else that could have killed in such as way as a White Court vampire. She finds nothing very conclusive. She then looks for information on the scorpion symbol from the man’s ring. The only thing she finds is references to the astrological sign of Scorpio. They thank Cartland for the time and leave.

Next, they head downtown and go to Kelly’s Olympian. It’s a dive bar with old motorcycles hanging from the ceiling and vintage signs on the walls. Brianna orders whiskey and asks the bartender is Philo Barcas is in the house tonight. The bartender looks at her and nods his head toward one of the back tables. An old man is sitting by himself, pouring over an old ledger with a pint glass beside him.

The two approach the old man, who looks up with an unfriendly glance. “Don’t I look busy to you?”

“You Philo Barcas?” Brianna asks.

“Yeah.”

“Lovely. My name’s Brianna Karkana.”

“Who are you?” he asks, belligerent.

“I got your name from someone in regards to entertainment that happens late at night,” Brianna says.

“Sit down,” Barcas growls.

Brianna and Joey sit.

“To be blunt, I heard you were someone we could talk about regarding pit fighting,” Brianna says.

“Yeah.”

“Lovely. I’m interested in getting my man here in the pit fights.”

Barcas looks at Joey. He shrugs and says “The kid might have chops.”

“Oh he does,” Brianna assures him.

“Yeah, we’ll see about that.”

Brianna smiles and leans back with her drink. “So how does this work here?”

The two discuss the particulars. It’s a roaming venue situation. Barcas will contact her with the venue when they set up the bouts. Brianna gives him her cell number. Barcas wants to check her “references” first before setting up the first bout. Barcas does raise an eyebrow at their “step down” from the other fighting circuit, but Brianna assures him that this is because they need a more flexible schedule.

Joey and Brianna then head back to the University to visit with Roy to see if his research have yielded any fruit. On the way, Brianna calls Loomis.

“Just as an FYI,” Brianna says, “the other half of that assassin pair was lurking outside my apartment last night. Regardless of how long the Baroness is taking to act, some of the agents from before are still out there. So be careful.”

“Will do,” Loomis says.

“Catch you later,” Brianna says, and hangs up.

At the university, they find Roy, who tells them he didn’t find anything on past deaths at the night clubs. However, this morning’s paper’s police blotter had one. Apparently paramedics were called out to northeast Portland to a club called The Dollhouse because a dancer had a stroke. Gould’s club, The Playhouse, is also in northeast Portland.

Brianna asks Roy to pull up a list of all the strip clubs in northeast Portland. Roy says he could, but that there is a lot. Looking at a map, the two clubs are about ten miles apart. She then asks Roy to pull up a list of clubs in a ten-mile radius of those two clubs. He says okay, he’ll email her the list.

Joey and Brianna then head to The Playhouse. There are not a lot of people there. True to his word, they don’t have to pay a cover and are let in the door without a hitch. They head for Gould’s office and Silas lets them in.

“I have a bit of information,” Brianna says. “Have you seen today’s paper?”

“I’ve seen the paper,” Gould says, clearly puzzled.

Brianna takes a copy of the paper off of Gould’s desk and turns to the police blotter and points to the entry on The Dollhouse. “Pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

He looks at it, furrows his brow.

“Do you know who owns it? I’d like to go over and ask them some questions,” Brianna says.

“I know it’s owned by Martin Kostas. I don’t know him very well.”

“Can you get me a picture of scorpion-ring man that I can show him? Find out if he’s seen him?”

“I can print one out from the security tapes.”

“That will work. I was also able to get a look at Ms. Harvest’s body. I agree with your conclusion as far as the nature of her death.”

“I see.”

“The emotion on her face was fairly obvious. As far as who caused it, I’ll find out,” Brianna says.

“I hope so.”

Gould hands her a print-out from the security tape.

“Have there been any new developments?” Brianna asks.

“None that I am aware of,” Gould says.

“I don’t think that he is stupid enough to return to the place he came before, but if he comes to your door, you might want to keep an eye on someone like that coming in,” Brianna says.

“Yes,” Gould says.

Brianna takes the photo and leaves.

The Dollhouse is a decidedly more sleazy strip club than The Playhouse. It’s getting later and the place is starting to fill up. As Brianna and Joey approach the man at the door, they’re asked for a cover charge. Brianna says, “I was hoping you could give me a bit of information,” and holds up a fifty dollar bill. She holds up a picture of the guy with the scorpion ring. “I have reason to believe he was here last night.”

The guy takes the fifty and says “I might have saw that guy.”

“He a regular?”

“Naw.”

“Last night the first night you saw him?”

“Yeah.”

“Once they go in, you see him with any of the girls he talks to or any of that?”

“No, I just stay at the door.”

“Alright. I understand there was a bit of an incident this morning here.”

“Yeah, one of the girls was dead.”

“What was her name?”

“I don’t know what here real name was, but she danced as Lacey.”

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“Not much. She stroked out.”

“Where was she found?”

“In one of the private dancing rooms.”

“Who found her?”

“The boss found her.”

“Mr. Kostas?”

“Yeah. You’re not a cop, are you?”

“No. Not at all. Thank you.”

Brianna and Joey pay the cover charge and go inside. Brianna is pretty much the only woman not working the room. They take a table not near the stage. A waitress comes by and Brianna puts a fifty on the table and says, “I’m hoping to talk to a waitress that was here last night.”

The waitress puts her hand on the fifty and looks at Brianna sideways. “You some kind of weirdo or something?”

“No, I’m trying to track somebody down and I think they were here last night. One of the girls might recognize him.”

The waitress takes the fifty and says, “I was here last night.”

Brianna takes out the print-out and says, “Do you recognize this guy?”

The waitress says, “I remember this guy. You don’t get too many guys in suits around here.”

“He was dressed kind of the same? Wearing a suit? Did you notice anything else odd about him?”

“No, just that.”

“Do you remember about when he was here? When he left?”

“I don’t know…about 11:30? I don’t know when he left.”

“Do you know if this guy was paying attention to any girls in particular?”

“I don’t know.”

“Is there anyone else who might know?”

“You’d have to ask the girls. Or maybe the boss.”

“Is he out on the floor tonight? Is he most nights?”

“If not on the floor, then up in the booth,” The waitress points to a booth that overlooks the floor of the club. “He’s over by the bar now.” She points to a man holding court at the bar.

Brianna thanks the woman and starts heading over to see Martin Kostas. He’s a middle-aged man, slightly heavy-set. He’s talking to the bartender. He looks appreciatively at Brianna as she walks up and remarks “Well, look who wandered in!”

“Mr. Kostas?” Brianna asks.

“I am,” he replies.

“I’m Ms. Karkana. I wanted to ask you a few questions. Is there a place where we can sit?”

“That depends. Are you a cop?”

Brianna laughs. “Oh, no. I’m somewhat of a, well, private investigator. Let’s call it that. I’m looking for someone. I think they might have been here last night.”

“Last night?”

“Yes.”

He looks at her and finally says, “Alright, I’ll talk to you.”

He leads her to a table and they sit. Brianna pulls out the picture and says, “I’m trying to track down this person.”

“Yeah, I recognize that guy. We don’t get too many guys in suits in here.”

“Do you know if anyone talked to him? Did he talk to one of the girls? Did he pay attention to anyone in particular? I’d like to ask them some questions.”

“He was with Lacey last night.”

“Lacey?”

“Before she stroked out.”

“Oh. I heard something about that. Was he with her fairly exclusively last night?”

“Well, he put some dollars in some G-strings, but he didn’t really talk to any of the other girls”

“Do you know if he left with anyone specifically?”

“No.”

“Besides the suit, did anything stand out about him to you?”

“No, just that he wasn’t like one of our usuals.”

“So he was with Lacey last night, did she stroke out while he was there?”

“Well, I found her about 12:30.”

“So he wasn’t with her at the time.”

“No.”

“So he left before 12:30.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, sorry for your loss. I appreciate you answering my questions.”

On the way out, she asks the doorman, “Do you remember when that guy left?”

“It was about quarter after twelve,” he says.

“Did you see what kind of car he got into?”

“It was a BMW.”

“Color, model?”

“It was white, one of the sporty ones.”

“Excellent. Thanks.”

She and Joey get in her car and she calls Gould. “He was here last night. Last young lady to see him was the one that died of a stroke. Do you have any cameras with a view of the parking lot? I have someone that saw him get into a white, sporty BMW after he left here.”

“Yes,” Gould says.

“Do you have someone that can look over that footage for a license plate number?”

“Yes.”

“Good.” Brianna hangs up and sits and thinks for a few moments about her next course of action. She then gets an email from Roy Dale with a list of 5 clubs in the radius search.

Brianna then calls Clive.

“This is Clive.”

“Hello Clive. This is Brianna.”

“Hello Ms. Karkana.”

“I was hoping to speak to Nerise this evening.”

“This is urgent?”

“Possibly.”

“Possibly?”

“So far we have two deaths. I don’t know if there will be a third or not. Of an interesting nature. One that she may need to be aware of.”

“I will speak with Nerise and call you back.”

Brianna and Joey drive around for a bit, find something to eat, waiting for Clive’s call. After about fifteen minutes, Brianna gets the call.

“Nerise will see you,” Clive says.

“Tonight?” Brianna asks.

“Yes, tonight,” Clive says.

“Good, then I’ll see her at the club later tonight,” Brianna says.

“Very good, then.”

Brianna and Joey finish their dinner and then head to Nirvana. The exclusive club is very busy, various high-class dilettantes enjoying a hedonistic night on the town. After she and Joey enter, Brianna makes her way upstairs to Nerise’s office. The usual pair of goons guard the door. They recognize Brianna, who announces that she is expected, and let her in, allowing Joey to wait outside.

Inside the luxurious office, Clive is there as is Nerise. The White Court operative stands behind a glass desk. Clive motions to one of the comfortable chairs in front of the desk, but Brianna waits to sit until Nerise does so.

“Clive said that your business was ‘possibly’ urgent?” Nerise asks.

“I understand that Mr. Gould came to see you the other day,” Brianna says.

“Yes,” Nerise says, her face a neutral mask.

“He has hired me to look into his situation,” Brianna says.

“I see.”

“I examined the body, myself. She did appear to die of a very particular set of emotions. Quite possibly lust.”

Nerise’s expression remains a blank slate.

“The reason I’ve come to talk to you tonight is because this morning another dancer has died in another strip club. I’ve not been able to see her body yet, but the last person with her that night is the same person that was with Ms. Harvest.” Brianna takes the photo out of her pocket and sets it on the desk. “Do you happen to know this gentleman?”

“No,” Nerise says.

“So he’s not one of yours, then?”

“No.”

Brianna takes the photo and puts it back in her pocket. “Does a scorpion ring mean anything to you?”

“No.”

Brianna sighs. “Alright. I’m going to keep investigating. If it is someone from our Court, then they’ve killed two people in as many days.”

“What do you intend to do if you find out?” Nerise asks.

Brianna looks Nerise in the eye. “I’ve been hired specifically to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.”

“If this is a member of the Court, there could be consequences,” Nerise says.

“That I understand,” Brianna says, “I would hope to find a way to satisfy the honor of my employer.”

“The honor of your employer?” Nerise asks incredulously.

“Look, I don’t particularly like Gould. We’ve had our differences. But he’s trying to protect his girls. Defending what you own, protecting what’s yours, that I understand. I also understand that if this is one of our Court running around fucking things up in Portland, it does not make our Court look good. This is a little obvious. This was the last man seen going into a private room with a dancer. A little while later, the girl was found dead. To kill two girls between last night and Friday night, that doesn’t seem like someone who has our best interest at heart. I don’t pretend to understand the high Court intrigues, I don’t play those games. My particular House, we tend to solve things in a different way. But I think no matter what House of the Court, it’s not good to ‘leave an obvious trail.’ Now, I’m assuming this gentleman is going to attack and kill someone else in the next couple of days, but maybe not. Maybe he’s going to disappear into the ether. Somehow, I’m kind of suspecting not; this person can’t control themselves. These are strip clubs; they’re not establishments like Nirvana, but if you were just going in to feed, there are plenty of opportunities. This is someone who doesn’t give a fuck about the city.”

“I don’t disagree with you,” Nerise says carefully.

“As a courtesy, I wanted you to know,” Brianna continues.

“I appreciate it,” Nerise says.

“I would like to keep up a good business arrangement,” Brianna says.

“And I with you,” Nerise says, nodding.

“Well, I appreciate you taking the time to see me,” Brianna says and waits to be excused. Nerise nods toward the door. Clive sees her to the door. As he escorts her out, she gets the distinct impression that Clive wants to tell her something. She raises an eyebrow at him and says, “Keep in touch.” Clive says nothing and directs her out the door.

Brianna collects Joey and makes her way out of the club. She looks as she goes for any sign of the man in the photograph, but sees no one familiar.

Once they get back in the car, Brianna updates Joey on her conversation with Nerise. “I sure can’t read Nerise on a good day, but I certainly couldn’t tonight. But Clive had something on his mind. I hope to fuck this isn’t a case of visiting White Court nobles in town who don’t mind eating on the locals.”

Joey says, “It’s just weird that if she agrees with everything you were saying, why doesn’t she do something about it.”

“Yeah. That’s what I wonder, if something else is involved. If it’s politics. I fucking hate politics, Joey. I hate them so much.”

“But she didn’t warn you off, either,” Joey says.

“No, she didn’t. I suspect that she knows there is something going on, but she has to stay out of it. Or it’s something going on where she can’t act on it, but she isn’t going to stop me from doing it, because her hands are clean in that sense. I mean, she had to laugh at the ‘honor’ of Gould, I had to laugh, too. But if there are politics involved, it may be tricky. I just have to figure out how this is going to work, because if I catch whoever is doing this and drag them back to Nerise’s demanding justice, I don’t know if I’m going to get it. If I’m going to take out this person who’s murdering innocents in Portland, there may be repercussions if I don’t do it the right way. And, as much as I hate to say it, it needs to be said, that with more Red Court possibly moving against us, I am cautious about alienating myself from my own Court. So my preferred way is to get justice for these women and not have to run out of Portland because we have the White Court after us as well. It’s never simple.”

“Nope,” Joey says.

“I really don’t want to alienate Nerise as much as I can. We have very few allies in this city as it is. She’s more of a business partner, at times, but I think she wants to maintain that relationship, which is more than I can say for others we encounter,” Brianna says. “I just don’t know if I want to have the White Court, a notorious mob boss, the VU, and the Red Court after us in Portland. We’ll see. I hope it doesn’t come down to that. But we’ve got to find this fucker. We can’t keep coming across his victims.”

Gould calls Brianna on her cell phone. The car was found on their parking lot cameras and it had Oregon tags. It appears to be a rental, based on the identifying stickers on the car.

Brianna uses her phone to email Roy Dale to look into getting her a list of nice hotels in the NE Portland area. For the next couple of hours, they decide to check out the list of strip clubs. Brianna decides to drop Joey off at one of the nicer clubs on the list while Brianna circles the other four, looking for that car. Joey is to call Brianna if he sees the man from the photograph.

Brianna moves on to circle the parking lots of the clubs. As she drives around the last club on the list, she finds no sign of the BMW. Her phone rings—it’s Joey. “I got jumped in the bathroom! Meet me out front! Hurry!” Brianna turns the car and starts flying toward the club where Joey was dropped off. She pulls up and Joey gets in and they take off. Joey’s breathing hard.

“What the fuck happened?” Brianna demands.

“I went to the bathroom. I got jumped by that guy we saw in the bowl. But I was faster; I got one good punch in and got the hell out of the bathroom.”

Brianna checks her rearview mirror, but doesn’t notice anyone following her. “What exactly happened? Did you get a look at this guy?” she asks Joey.

Joey speaks slowly, frustrated. “I went to the bathroom. I went to the urinal. Next thing I know, a fist is coming at my head. I ducked. I get a shot in. I come out of the bathroom. I’m calling you. I don’t know any other way to say it.”

“I’m just trying to see if you saw anything before going in,” Brianna says, snappish.

“I don’t know any other way to say ‘I got jumped in the bathroom’.”

“Alright!” Brianna says, exasperated. “Fuck it! He is following us. Lock your doors, Joey, we’re not giving this up tonight.” She starts circling parking lots again, looking for the BMW and keeping an eye peeled for someone following them. After a while of not spotting either, they head back to their apartment.

As they head to their apartment door, a figure quickly emerges from the shadows and suddenly has Joey in a headlock. He has a long, red tongue that he waggles in Joey’s direction and then says, “Karkana! Back off!”

“Or what, motherfucker?” Brianna demands.

“Or your mortal slave gets it,” the assassin replies. It is the man who jumped Joey in the strip club, the Red Court assassin.

“What do you want, bloodsucker?” Brianna asks.

“I want you, Karkana.”

“This is a damn strange way to come at it, you chicken shit.”

“Who travels in twos?”

“Who’s still got a partner, asshole!” Brianna yells, trying to provoke the creature into coming at her.

Instead, the vampire tries to snap Joey’s neck, but Joey manages to fight him off. Brianna moves in to attempt and break the creature’s hold on Joey. She breaks the vampire’s grip on her friend and Joey scrambles away.

The Red Court vampire then throws a punch at Brianna, but misses her. Brianna gets in the vampire’s face and head-butts him, which momentarily disorients him. Joey punches the creature in the stomach.

The assassin attacks Brianna again, but she manages to stay out of his grasp. Brianna grabs hold of the vampire and begins to feed. This makes him enraged and crazed. Joey once again punches the vampire in the stomach.

The assassin attempts to break the hold Brianna has on him and attack her, but fails. Brianna maintains her hold on the creature and continues to feed. He falls to the ground, holding his head, his flesh mask melting away from his corpse to reveal the monster within.

Brianna and Joey drag the body into their apartment and put it in the bathtub.

“Are you okay?” Brianna asks Joey.

“Yeah,” Joey says ruefully.

“That scared the shit out me,” Brianna says. “I’m hesitant to call on Nerise for a favor at this point. We’ve got to find something to do with this fucker.”

Joey says, “We could put him in our trunk and take him out of town.”

“I guess so. Take him to the woods and leave him. Let the sunlight burn him away.”

“Yeah,” Joey says.

“That’s the best plan I can come up with. Let’s do that before it gets too much lighter,” Brianna says.

Brianna tries to wrap up the Red Court body in a blanket and then they both try to wrangle him into their trunk. They then start driving out of town, looking for old country roads on which to hide. Joey finds them a route along an old logging road. They turn off on it and pull over. They walk about thirty minutes from the car, into the woods, carrying the corpse. Once they find a clearing, they dump the body. Brianna strips him down, taking his clothes, and wraps them in the blanket. They leave him there and head back to the car.

As they head back, Joey stops and says, “Did you hear that?”

Brianna stops and listens, but hears nothing. “Where did you think you heard something?” she asks.

“In the woods,” Joey says.

“In front of us or behind us?” Brianna asks.

“Behind us. Not ahead of us. Not where we came from,” Joey says.

Brianna and Joey try to stealthily make their way back to the car, moving slow and careful. Finally, they make it back to the car without seeing any sign of anyone. Before getting back in the car, Brianna walks around the car for five minutes, looking for any sign of anyone. She finds nothing.

They load up in the car and drive away. They stop off at a convenience store along the way and buy trash bags and bleach. They then drop off the clothes in various dumpsters on the way back. By the time the sun comes up, they make it home. Brianna bleaches out the tub.

May 28, 2013 (Tuesday)

Brianna gets up with the alarm at noon. She checks the morning paper for any incidences on the previous night, but finds nothing of interest. She and Joey then get into the car to head to Sydney’s. Along the way, Brianna calls Clive.

“This is Clive,” a cultured voice says on the other end of the line.

“Hello, Clive. This is Brianna,” Brianna says brightly. “I was just thinking, I would like to take you out to lunch.”

There is a distinct pause on the other end.

“I feel like you wanted to tell me something yesterday, and I wanted to give you the chance to say it,” Brianna continues. “Maybe an early supper?”

Clive says, “I appreciate the invitation, Ms. Karkana, but I do not think it would appropriate.”

“Alright,” Brianna says. “I just get the impression, Clive, that Nerise’s hands are tied in some way. So if you decide that there is some way you can help me get my ends met, and perhaps negate a problem on Nerise’s end, why don’t you give me a call.”

“I’ll bear that in mind,” Clive says.

“Okay,” Brianna says and hangs up.

At Sydney’s, Brianna asks if everything is ready. “Yes,” the sorceress says. “Are you?”

“Yes,” Brianna says. So Sydney gathers a bag and accompanies them to their car. Brianna and Joey take Sydney back to their apartment.

Sydney takes a piece of chalk and draws arcane symbols over the windows and door of the apartment. She takes three simple talismans and places them over the threshold of the door. She then removes a vial from her bag and, from it, removes a small hair. She very carefully places it on the threshold. She then plucks out a hair from her head and places it over the threshold. She then begins chant and wave her hands in peculiar patterns over the doorway and windows. After a while, the arcane symbols that she’s drawn begin to glow in a faint blue-green light. They then fade into nothing. The hairs across the threshold light up like small fuses and burn away. The talismans then glow momentarily in that blue-green light. The glow fades and Sydney picks them up and hands them to Brianna.

Sydney looks a little flushed, so they go inside and get something to drink. “Is this something that if we move we can take off? Can you break it or is it just going to have to wear off?”

“I could break it,” Sydney says.

“I don’t plan on changing apartments in the near future, but that’s good to know,” Brianna says.

After a few moments of chatting, they all go to lunch and then Brianna and Joey take Sydney home.

Brianna hits the streets to try and find out if any high mukety-muck White Court vampires have hit town. She finds out nothing.

Roy sends Brianna an email with a listing of 10 or so nice hotels in NE Portland. She goes to the nicest hotel on the list to check it out. She heads to the valet area and tries to scope out where they are parked. She then gets out of her car and seeks out one of the valet attendants.

“Hey, can I talk to you for a second?” Brianna asks.

“Okay,” the kid says.

“I’m trying to track someone down. Can you tell me about any of the cars you’ve seen lately?”

“Maybe,” he says, waiting patiently.

Brianna catches on and pulls a $50 bill out of her wallet. “Yeah,” the kid says. Brianna describes the flashy BMW. “No, I haven’t seen one like that,” the attendant says.

“It would have been here over the past few days. You think you would have noticed it?” Brianna asks.

“Yeah, I would have noticed it. Sorry,” the young man says.

“That’s all right,” Brianna says. “Thanks.” Brianna then notices that the kid’s supervisor is coming over.

“Thank you, sweetie. I totally made the wrong turn on that street. I appreciate it. You’ve been very kind,” she tells the kid, hoping the supervisor will hear. She then hops in her car and drives away.

Brianna then moves on to the next hotel on the list. She continues to talk to valet attendants and such as she makes her way down the list, but no one seems to have seen this car. After a long day of investigation that bears no fruit, she heads over to The Playhouse to talk to Gould.

“I’m still chasing down leads. I’ve been checking hotels today, but I’ll be out again tonight seeing if I can find this fucker,” she tells the club owner. “I assume you’ve not heard anything else through the grapevine?”

“Nope,” he says.

Brianna takes her leave and she and Joey head to U of P to pay off Roy and to give him another assignment. Brianna now wants a list of nice hotels in the North Portland area. They then go home to get some more sleep. She sets her alarm for around 9:00 pm and goes to bed.

After 9:00, the two head back out to the strip clubs in NE Portland. Brianna drops Joey off at the same club she did the night before. She then goes and starts circling parking lots again, looking for the sporty BMW. On her third loop, as she comes out of the parking lot of a place called Exotica International, she spots a white BMW sports car coming in. She calls Joey and lets him know what she sees. She then circles back around and pulls into the lot.

She sees a man emerge from the sports car; it’s the man from her photograph. He’s dressed in a tailored suit. He walks toward the entrance of the club and goes inside. Brianna gets out of her car to follow.

Exotica International is a decent place, not too sleazy but not exactly high class either. Brianna heads inside, pays her cover charge, and goes into the club. The lights are low and the music plays as women dance on poles at various points on the floor. She spots the private rooms and also spots her quarry sitting at a table, watching the dancers. She takes a table near the hall leading to the private rooms and orders a drink. She sets the sports bottle containing her veil potion on the table nearby and watches the man.

Brianna suddenly feels filled with lust for the man she’s watching and he watches her with “come hither” eyes. Aware that he’s probably used his power on her, she continues to watch him as he comes sauntering over to her table.

“May I buy you a drink?” he asks. And Brianna finds herself wanting that drink.

“We can talk over drinks,” Brianna says.

He motions at one of the waitresses and orders her a whisky, neat. He has the same.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Brianna. What’s yours?”

“Daniel,” he says.

“Raith I’m assuming,” Brianna says.

He seems rattled, but then says, “No, Rathburn.”

“So are you from out of town or are you local to the City of Roses?” Brianna asks.

He says, “I’m a visitor. You seemed out of sorts. I thought I would brighten your day.”

Brianna says, “I don’t need your help. Staying in Portland long?” Her question is a hostile challenge.

He seems a bit shaken at Brianna’s hostile manner. He looks at her, not at all lustful or smooth, but with an intimidating glare. “I’ll stay as long as I like.” He takes his drink and goes back to his table.

Brianna gets out her phone and starts to text Joey, but then she notices her friend already coming into the club. She texts, DON’T COME OVER HERE. I’VE ALREADY HAD A CONVERSATION WITH HIM AND IT DIDN’T GO WELL :(. Joey takes a table at the opposite end of the stage.

Each of them are watching the dancers for a while. Then Daniel gets up, leaves money on the table for the drink, and starts heading out of the club. Brianna texts Joey: SEE IF YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM IN THE CAR. FIGURE OUT WHERE HE’S GOING.

Joey texts back, OK and gets up and follows Daniel out. Brianna waits.

A little while later, she gets a text from Joey. HE’S HEADING DOWNTOWN. A little while later, she gets another text: HE JUST VALETED AT THE NINES.

COME BACK AND GET ME, she texts back and heads outside to wait.

Joey pulls up and picks her up. “Joey we’ll need to watch this one a bit more carefully. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but some in the White Court can throw emotion at you without touching you,” she tells him as they drive away.

“Oh?”

“He’s one of those.”

“Oh.”

“I didn’t ask him why he was killing girls, but I’m sure he knows something is up. But I got his name,” Brianna says. She then dials up Clive.

“This is Clive,” the familiar voice says.

“Hi Clive. I met a Daniel Rathburn tonight. Name ring any bells?” Brianna asks.

Silence reigns on the other end.

“Just checking,” Brianna continues. She hears Clive take a breath. Brianna plows into the silence. “Okay, I know you’re in a weird spot and I keep bugging the shit out of you about this, but I’m not getting anything from Nerise. So can you tell me if getting involved in this issue is relieving Nerise of a problem or creating another one for her?”

“It would relieve Nerise of a problem,” Clive says carefully.

“Perfect,” Brianna says, thinking furiously.

“For what he’s doing to these girls and the shit he tried to pull on me tonight, I’m hoping we can find a political way to handle this problem,” she continues. “So if you have any suggestions on something I can invoke other than me just beating the shit out of him at The Nines tonight, I’d appreciate it. Because I’ve about reached my last fucking nerve. I can even now claim insult to myself, as he attacked me.”

“As you wish,” Clive says, as if negotiating a precipice.

“Yes, he’s now insulted my honor,” Brianna warming to the topic. “As well as causing trouble for Nerise, causing trouble at clubs that, I assume, are under her protection.”

“You should allow Nerise to handle her own honor,” Clive says, slowly.

“I know, she should specifically ask for me to defend it for her. I don’t know why…I just know there is only so much that you can tell me, Clive.” She makes a frustrated noise. “My House tends to handle such things differently. If someone insults us, we settle it in a fairly straight-forward manner. So if I wish to register a formal complaint, do I go through Nerise to do that? A formal declaration of the insult?” Brianna asks.

“Against Daniel,” Clive confirms.

“Against Daniel,” Brianna states firmly. “He’s the one who attacked me.”

“If you wish to lodge a complaint, you may do so through Nerise. Or you may contact him directly. I would contact Nerise,” Clive’s voice is still impassive.

“That would be my first choice,” Brianna agrees. “Is she available tonight?”

“Yes,” Clive says.

“Let me get cleaned up and I’ll be right there.”

“Very well.”

She hangs up with Clive. “Politics, Joey. It’s always politics,” she says, shaking her head.

Brianna and Joey head back to their apartment and Brianna changes into nicer clothes. Then they drive to Nirvana and head up to the office on the second floor. Brianna is allowed into the office where Clive and Nerise await.

“Welcome, Brianna,” Nerise says and motions for her to sit. Brianna sits and Nerise continues. “Clive has mentioned that you’ve met Daniel.”

“I have,” Brianna replies.

“I see,” Nerise says. “And that you wish to register a formal complaint.”

“Yes. He attacked me.”

“He attacked you?”

“Yes.” Brianna does not look happy.

“And how do you wish this complaint to be settled?” Nerise asks.

Brianna smiles a feral smile and says, “I would like the chance to return the favor.”

“How do you mean?” Nerise probes. “Are you asking for a duel?”

“Yep,” Brianna says. She tries to read the White Court operative, but gets nowhere.

“Do you have a second?” Nerise asks.

“I hadn’t picked one,” Brianna replies, shrugging. “What sort of protections does my second have? I would normally pick Joey to be my back-up, but I don’t want to send him over to The Nines if he’s just going to get eaten.”

“The second will deliver your message. The second will determine if the weapons are fair. The seconds make sure that the rules are followed. They choose the venue.”

“I’m assuming it’s poor form to attack a second?” Brianna asks.

“It’s not done,” Nerise confirms.

“Good. I pick Joey as my second. Does Daniel have a patron that this is going through?”

“I do not know. I haven’t contacted him,” Nerise says. “I can contact him now.”

“I am assuming you are aware that Daniel was in town,” Brianna says, her voice neutral.

“Yes.”

“May I ask what his connections are to the Court?”

“You can ask,” Nerise says with a smile.

“What does he mean to the Court?”

“He is a cousin to Lara Raith.”

“Then we better make sure all the formalities are followed to a T,” Brianna says, looking straight at Nerise.

“Yes, we should,” Nerise says. “It is regrettable that he has insulted you so.”

“Yes, it is, considering all of the things that I’ve done for the Court lately. Plus, I’ve recently visited my Patriarch and he’s been well-pleased with my progress here in Portland. I’m sure he would be upset to know that I’ve been attacked by another member of the White Court,” Brianna replies in the same tone.

Nerise picks up the phone on her desk, dials, asks for a room number, and says, “Daniel, it’s Nerise. I’m fine, how are you? I have a bit of a situation here. Do you know a Brianna Karkana? Karkana. Yes. Well, I have her here in my office and she says you attacked her tonight. Brianna. Karkana. Yes. Calm down, Daniel. No. No. Yes, she is. She is a member of the White Court, House Karkana. She didn’t? It’s not as if we go around wearing name tags, now do we Daniel? No, Daniel. She was quite insulted. No, Daniel, she’s quite angry. No, in fact, she wishes to challenge you to a duel, Daniel. Of course I am, Daniel. No. I am well aware of what century it is, Daniel. But you are well aware that we are the White Court and the old ways are adhered to. She has her rights. She was attacked, Daniel. Do you deny it, Daniel? I see. Do you have a second, Daniel? No. I’m sure he’d be willing. Hold on just a moment.” Nerise pulls the phone away and asks, “Clive, would you be willing to stand in as Daniel’s second?”

Clive nods.

“Yes, he’d said he’d be willing to stand in as your second, Daniel. Very well, the seconds will make their arrangements and we’ll get back to you. The need for such language is unnecessary, Daniel. I’m sure I will. I look forward to hearing from her. Yes. Goodbye, Daniel.” Nerise hangs up the phone. Brianna has risen from her seat and is pacing.

“Do you need a drink, Brianna?” Nerise asks, her voice still smooth and unconcerned.

“Yes, if you would be so kind,” Brianna says, not nearly as composed.

Clive goes to the minibar and pours drinks for Brianna and Nerise. “Clive will be Daniel’s second. He and Joey will make arrangements for the duel,” Nerise says.

Brianna takes the offered drink. “What sort of terms for this sort of challenge? Is that something I set as the injured party? Or do the seconds work that out as well?”

“The seconds often work toward reconciliation. So what are your terms?” Nerise asks. “You have the right to demand satisfaction from your offender.”

“I’m just not sure how far that satisfaction can be pushed,” Brianna says. “My terms are he never sets foot in Portland again. He obviously cannot control himself in this town. He should take his trouble elsewhere.”

“So those are the terms for the stakes, but what are your terms for the duel?” Nerise presses.

“Well, usually my terms are that I beat someone down until they don’t get up again,” Brianna says with a laugh. “Until one of us yields, I suppose, or one is taken out but not killed.”

“Very well,” Nerise says. “You hear that, Clive.” Clive nods. “Have Mr. Aragon come in.”

Clive opens the door and makes a motion. Joey comes in. Nerise says, “Mr. Aragon, you will be a second in a duel that Ms. Karkana will be participating in. Clive will explain the particulars to you, your role in this as a second.”

Joey looks surprised, but says, “Alright.”

Clive takes Joey to a corner of the room and starts conversing with him quietly. Brianna looks at Nerise and says, “I hope this solves your problem as well. Although I know you may not be able to answer me.”

Nerise gives her an enigmatic smile.

“I know that this war with the Red Court seems to be continuing. Are there any problems in Portland that you’re aware of?” Brianna asks Nerise as the two other men confer.

“None so far. I hope that it does not spill over into this city. The last thing we need are Red Court troubles here,” Nerise says.

“Definitely needs to be contained out of Portland,” Brianna says, nodding. “Daniel has this ability to invoke emotions from a distance. Is this something particularly common in that branch of the family?”

Nerise says, “That’s a rather impertinent question.”

“Was it? I did not mean any offense. Never-mind.”

“Raith family secrets are not the topic of idle conversation.”

“I’m sorry. I meant no offense.” Brianna sits down with her drink.

The two men come back to the center of room. Clive says that the duel will take place in warehouse 31 on the Riverfront, Clive will set up the venue. The fight will be physical combat—no psychic feeding.

Nerise calls Daniel again and tells him of the arrangements made by the seconds. “Yes, really,” she responds to something Daniel says. “No, Clive is not kidding. The duel will take place at 9:00 pm tomorrow. If you do not show with your second, you forfeit. The terms are that if you should forfeit or lose, you are to leave Portland, never to return. These are the terms agreed upon by the seconds and set by the aggrieved party. And witnessed.” Nerise pauses briefly, then says, “Very well, Daniel, we shall see you tomorrow evening.”

Brianna and Joey take their leave and head home, getting there about 1:00 am. Brianna feels a bit of a tingle as she passes through the ward with her talisman. Once she gets settled in, she texts Loomis to see if he’s up. He is, so she gives him a call.

“My assassin problem got taken care of,” she says.

“Did it?” Loomis says.

“Um-um.”

“Got taken care of or you took care of it?”

“I took care of it. Asshole tried to snap Joey’s neck.”

“I take it he was unsuccessful.”

“Oh, he was unsuccessful. I don’t know if he was still working off dictates of the Margrave or if he had new orders. I didn’t have a chance to ask too many questions,” Brianna says. “Have things quieted down up there since the new Baroness has been active?”

“We’ve hit a bit a lull. It’s been kind of quiet. I did meet the new Warden,” he adds.

“Oh?” Brianna says, unimpressed.

“She seems alright.”

“Who is she?”

“Her name is Deandra Charles.”

“Is she from Seattle or did they bring her in from out of state?”

“She’s not from Seattle. I don’t know where she’s from, she didn’t say.”

“She was meeting with you, why?” Brianna’s voice is flat.

“She was meeting with Ezekiel and I happened to be there.”

“Oh. How is he doing?”

“As well as can be expected.”

There is a slight lull in the conversation, then Brianna somewhat awkwardly changes the topic. “Well, if you ever decide to come visit me, I have a talisman for you. My apartment is warded now.”

“Oh? Who did the work?”

“One of the practitioners here in town. I don’t know, it might be something you want to look into if things are getting serious. I don’t know how many people you have coming in and out of your house, but it might be a good idea,” Brianna says.

“Not too many,” Loomis replies.

The two chit chat for a bit and then Brianna interjects. “My work schedule has gotten a bit more flexible.”

“Oh? Is that good?”

“Well, it’s a slight change to what we’ve been doing. With everything that has been happening lately, I needed more time to take care of things. That can happen now with this new position.”

“What about weekends?”

“Weekends are pretty much free at this point,” Brianna tells him.

“Well, why don’t I come down there on the first?” Loomis asks.

“You want to come down here?” Brianna says, surprised. She recovers quickly. “That should work. Joey and I don’t have a huge place,” she adds.

“I can get a hotel room,” Loomis says.

“Well, you can sleep on the couch. It’ll just be cozy.”

“It’s whatever you want to do.”

“Why don’t you get a hotel room and we can see how it goes,” Brianna says.

“I can do that.”

“Okay. You going to stay for the entire weekend or just the night?”

“Oh, Saturday and Sunday. I have to be at work on Monday.”

“I understand.”

“Keep in touch for all the details and such.”

“Okay.”

The two hang up and Brianna stays up for awhile in thought.

May 29, 2013 (Wednesday)

Brianna gets up and starts making breakfast, full of nervous energy.

“Loomis says he’s met the new Warden,” she says to Joey as he enters the kitchen.

“Douchenozzle?” Joey asks sarcastically.

“Yes, essentially,” Brianna says. “Apparently, her official name is Deandra Charles. She was out there when Loomis went to check on Ezekiel. I’m sure it wasn’t like ‘Why yes, Ezekiel, the Margrave was a complete assbag and needed to die.’ I told Loomis he may want his place warded. There’s been a lull, but that doesn’t mean it won’t pick up. And it’s not as if he isn’t known in supernatural community. He was hunting Alyssa way before it all went down with the Margrave.” Brianna turns and busies herself at the stove, her voice attempting a more casual note, “I also happened to mention our schedule change. He might come down this weekend.”

“Oh,” Joey says, smirking. “So, do you need me to make myself scarce?”

“Not really. He’s going to get a hotel. We don’t really have a palatial space for him to be in. I also was not going to assume to just invite him over,” Brianna says.

“So, do you know what you’re going to do, where you’re going to take him?” Joey asks.

“Not yet,” Brianna says. “There are some cool things to do in Portland that have been tainted by that asshat, Borland, but I’ll find something.”

“Well, I can make myself scarce if you need me to,” Joey says.

“Whatever this is going to turn into, I’m not chasing you out of our house, alright?” Brianna says, a touch heatedly.

“Okay.”

“I’ll have him come over and we can do something. Maybe hang out here one night. I gave him our address. I’m also going to give him one of the talismans while he’s here.”

“Okay.”

“Anyway, just to let you know,” Brianna says finishes awkwardly.

“Okay,” Joey agrees again.

Before heading to the gym to work out, Brianna makes sure that her nice “fighting outfit” is clean and ready to go. After working out at Sibley’s, they head over to The Playground to talk to Gould. They are ushered in at the door and then they head for Gould’s office.

“Well, I’m making some progress. Hopefully, I’ll have some serious answers for you by tomorrow,” Brianna says.

“Okay. That’s all you’ve got for me today?” Gould looks at her.

“The situation is basically what you suspected it to be. This is also turning into a interesting struggle among the Court. There are some very specific ways in which I’ll have to proceed,” Brianna shrugs.

“But you can succeed?” Gould asks.

“I intend to. I know what I’m good at. And it’s beating the shit out of people.”

“And that’s what this requires?”

“If you want this resolved, yes.”

“That’s what I’m counting on. It’s what I’m paying you for,” Gould says, coolly.

“Yep.”

“Okay.”

She and Joey take their leave and head back to their apartment. They spend the day cleaning the apartment and spinning time until it’s time to head to the duel. They drive to Warehouse 31 on the riverfront.

At the warehouse, Brianna and Joey see that everyone else has already arrived. There is Nerise, Clive, and Daniel Rathburn. Brianna gives Daniel “the evil eye”. He’s dressed in high-end exercise gear.

Nerise begins formally, “Very well. All the combatants have made it. The seconds have arrived. So no one has forfeited the contest. Everyone is aware of the terms?”

Brianna says, “Yes,” and Daniel just nods.

“Seconds, feel free to inspect your counterparts to ensure fairness in the contest,” Nerise says.

Clive comes over to Brianna and Joey goes over to Daniel. Clive asks, “May I?”

“Of course,” Brianna says and assumes the typical TSA pat-down position. Clive gives her a cursory pat-down and pronounces her “Clean.” Brianna looks over to where Joey is patting Daniel down and notices that her partner says something to Daniel, but the White Court noble just smirks down at Joey, apparently unconcerned.

“Both seconds are satisfied?” Nerise asks. Clive nods and Joey shrugs and nods. “Then the combatants may meet out in the center.”

Brianna stretches briefly and heads that way. She looks over her opponent and notes that he is athletic and lean. She and Daniel reach the center of the warehouse and face each other.

“You may begin on the count of three,” Nerise announces. “One. Two. Three.”

Brianna immediately punches Daniel in the face. Daniel sweeps her leg with his and knocks her off-balance. Brianna punches at him again, connecting again to the face. Daniel then takes advantage of her being off-balance and tries to grab her, but she manages to stay out of his grasp. Brianna punches him in the face a third time, bloodying his nose. Daniel tries to sweep her leg again, but Brianna nimbly gets out of his way. She tries to get another punch in, but misses. Daniel attempts to punch her and misses, but Brianna successfully punches him in the face again, breaking his nose.

Joey cheers her on as the fight progresses. Both Nerise and Clive watch silently.

Daniel attempts to grab her again, but misses. Brianna claps him hard across the side of the head and breaks one of his eardrums; a trickle of blood begins to drip from his ear. He raises his hands, conceding the fight.

Brianna addresses Daniel, anger thick in her voice, “You get the fuck out of Portland and do not set foot here again. Maybe you’ll think twice before going after a Karkana again.” She looks at Nerise and announces, “He yields!”

Daniel turns, spits out some blood, and stalks out of the warehouse.

Brianna feels her power draining and her hunger rising. She seems distracted as well as exhausted. She looks to Nerise. “Is there anything I need to do to formally close these proceedings?”

“It’s been witnessed. If Daniel shows up in Portland again, he’ll have broken the terms of the agreement,” Nerise says.

“Then will I have a more serious claim on him?”

“You’ll have a more serious claim on him.”

“Does serious mean I can kill him if he comes back to town?” Brianna asks.

“Not outright. You can challenge him,” Nerise says.

“But a more serious claim this time,” Brianna confirms. “Will he keep his word?”

“We shall see,” Nerise says simply.

Brianna nods, then she and Joey return to their car and head out. They return to the apartment, change clothes, and then go back out to find a place for Brianna to feed. They find a seedy bar and an appropriate victim. She feeds and then they head to The Playground to talk to Gould.

At the strip club, they are once again let inside and then they go to Gould’s office. Silas lets them in.

“Ms. Karkana. What can I do for you?” Gould asks.

“Well, there’s been a resolution. And rather than wait until tomorrow to come talk to you, I decided to come talk to you now,” Brianna says.

“Very well. I hope it was a positive resolution.”

“Yeah. I think so,” Brianna hedges.

“Well, let’s have it then,” Gould prompts.

“Working through my Court, I was able to challenge the asshole to a duel.”

“Really?”

“Yep. We’re slightly old-fashioned when it comes to such things.”

“I see. You’re standing here, so I suppose you won.”

“I did. The terms were that he is prohibited from entering Portland again for the rest of his lifetime,” Brianna says.

“Then he’s not dead?”

“No.”

“But he’s banned from Portland.”

“Yes, banned from Portland.”

“And he’ll honor this duel?” Gould asks.

“He better fucking honor this duel,” Brianna says with heat. “It was made before witnesses of some import. If he comes back again, I can challenge him again because he’ll have insulted me and broken the terms.”

Gould pauses to consider this. Brianna continues, “I will think you’ll be pleased to know that if there is any fallout due to his connections, it will fall on me rather than you. He has powerful friends.”

“Does he?”

“He has a powerful family,” Brianna amends.

Gould says, “Which is why Ms. Patel wouldn’t touch him.”

“I really couldn’t say.”

“Things are a bit more clear. Thank you, Ms. Karkana. Yes, this is satisfactory. He should not be a threat to my interests any longer,” Gould says. “Which fulfills the letter of our bargain.”

“It does.”

He goes to his safe and brings out another bundle of money and hands it to Joey.

“I believe this concludes our transaction?” Gould asks.

“It does,” Brianna replies. She meets his eyes squarely. “I still don’t like you.”

“I can assure you, the feeling is mutual, Ms. Karkana. But it has been interesting doing business with you.”

“I understand wanting to protect, wanting to look out for, what’s yours. We’ve had these discussions before,” Brianna says.

“That’s why I knew you were the right person to talk to.”

“Well, as much as possible I’d like to keep to my business and I’d like you to keep to yours,” Brianna declares.

Brianna and Joey then leave the club and head home. On the way, Brianna comments to Joey, “Joey, it’s like doing business with a snake.”

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