“Oh go on... I took you into my bank.” She stripped off her coat and fell in behind him as he crossed the pavement with the slender black case.
An aegis-like desk formed both a greeting and a barrier across the midst of a vast reception shaded by dark glass walls that soared away into the waist of the tower, the sound of their feet on the stone floor echoing back at them in soft, delayed confusion. Behind the sweep of granite and veneer two brunettes stood like a matched pair of horses in their Prussian blue livery; they treated Edward to a fulsome greeting, smiles expanding and decaying in unison. The ambience that had always flagged the thought of wealth in Susan’s estimation was freshly embodied in the smell of polished metal, computer terminals and a simple bass note of exclusivity itself, the green tang of a dollar bill rolled into the ghost of wood smoke. Her companion completed the required codes and exchanges at the scrupulously polite behest of the fractionally taller woman, who led them to the end of the counter.
“This way please, Mr Alton.” she suggested. Susan’s frown flew to his profile; he ignored it, glancing at the guards who nodded in deference and allowing their guide to discharge her brief spiel while she admitted them to a narrow, glass-walled antechamber, then stepped back from the sliding door beyond. They were left to enter the spacious vault alone. It was faced entirely with rows of numbered silver partitions, their monotony extending to the two low desks fabricated of the same brushed metal; they occupied the middle of the alcove, like altars to the mysteries entombed around them. Susan gazed in a circle until it began to affect her balance.
"I can't believe I'm actually standing inside one of these things."
“We're phasing them out."
"Why?" He held up one of his irregular hands. "Oh, right... biometrics." She frowned in sympathy with his predicament. “Having this much money seems more trouble than it’s worth.”
Edward stood staring at the wall before him.
“I gave up a black tent in the Empty Quarter to come here, and I don’t remember why.”
"Why do you bother?”
“This is the West. Being poor is too expensive.”
“I know. You were only paying me two fifty a week.” Susan folded her arms against the chill of the vault and watched him unlock the first cache, drawing out the smooth compartment and bearing it toward her. “It's got to be well strange, choosing your own name.” she added as he sorted through the enclosed documentation.
“Sachiin asks a woman to guess.”
“Really? How long have you been Edward?”
“Drunk heiress, house party in the Loire. First half of the fifteenth century.”
"It doesn't suit you."
"I am aware of that."
"Who were you before?"
"I don't remember."
“So... I only think of him as William because of some trolleyed French tart, five hundred years ago?” Edward left the table for the other wall. “How do they say it? Guillaume?” She laughed to herself at the dubious sound of the word, and regretted the lack of nerve preventing her extending her enquiries; as if to underscore the inadvisability of doing so, Edward stood looking into the second deposit box for a moment before slamming it back into the wall and turning in the midst of a suddenly-visible state, for once so poorly contained that she slid carefully from the desk and retreated behind its furthest end. He watched her without explaining himself, a thick, white piece of paper grasped in his hand. Unwilling to goad him further with timidity, Susan came forward, watching his face all the while, and slid the note carefully from between his fingers, only to find that she could not understand its printed Latin maxim.
“Where now does the sun shine?” he muttered, translating for her.
“Was it imp...”
“Four deeds, sixty eight carats, six hundred and twenty seven thousand, five hundred and sixty six dollars US.” He stood with his arms by his sides, re-imposing moderation, however extrinsic, while consequences and implications rolled out and concatenated of their own accord. She reached down into her bag, offering him the money he had gifted her. Though he refused it with a look the spirit behind the gesture was accepted and seemed slowly to relieve his most unsettling elements, winding back the stunning, whiplash process that had rendered him a stranger.
“I don’t think Opal leaves fuck you notes in Latin.” she concluded, hands on hips. Edward brought the first box to the table and cleared its contents into his black case.
"Old World undead standard operating procedure. Incorporate the willing, strip and pillory dissenters. We fall into the second category, and now, so do you. Félicitations."
"Well, I could have ended up one of them." She groaned into her hands. "Oh god... why does anyone care about this bollocks? Why can't they just suck blood and mind their own fucking business?"
"They're human before anything else. It's an intrinsically totalitarian condition."
"Don't call me intrinsically totalitarian, and you're partly human... I suppose we're just lucky whatever else you are doesn't like politics. If your brother was here he'd ask who we have to fuck to get out of this, so I'll just go with that."
"The Bailiss." Her blank look prompted him to expatiate. "Vampyres are a nation, a nation needs a figurehead. They appointed a notary, an administrator, stationed in Praha. The current one burnt his predecessor in the sixteenth century, recruited a praetorian guard and has been extending tentacles ever since." He fastened the catches. "Who could have predicted something like that?”
"Is it hard, being right all the time?"
"Marginally less so than the alternative." Edward consulted his phone once again, studying the appliance in apparent resignation.
"Shall we... I don't know... just go and have a cup of tea or something?
“I am going to meet Nyāti. Wait in the car”
He walked from the foot of the black tower some time later; Susan stood on the footpath, arms akimbo, glaring at their blurred and impoverished reflections in the side of the SUV that had blocked in his sedan. She looked over her shoulder at his approach.
"Give them the finger." she urged, lifting her own to do so then letting it fall as she watched him reach almost into his coat, a motion of intent that sent the vehicle on its way.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce