"You said you're a what?"
"Philanthropist. The founder of a small society dedicated to preserving vampire culture. I was hoping for a few moments of your time, Lord Tobias."
He slipped a hand into the pocket of his black, wool blazer and produced a business card. The vampire seated at the desk the aforementioned Most Honorable Tobias, Marquis of the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana accepted the small, rectangular piece of card stock and studied it. "Jackson Phillips," he said, reading the raised lettering on the front. His eyes shifted up to Jackson. "The Banks Foundation of the Vampire Arts?"
"Yes, Helen Banks." Jackson sat and crossed his legs loosely, draping one arm across the back of his chair while he motioned with the other. "Our original benefactor. She was my maker; six hundred years old before she met her second death fifty years ago. I started the foundation as something of a tribute to her. Helen was always fond of the arts."
"Fascinating." Tobias raised an eyebrow as he studied the business card again. "What is it your society does?"
"We establish private galleries across the world. Help elder vampires in protecting their collections and assemble stray pieces of art and cultural relevance which have been abandoned by their owners. Our contributors get access to the private galleries and invited to special, exclusive sales when collectors decide to place their items up for auction." Jackson smirked. "We've found people often contribute purely for that little perk right there."
"I can imagine." The Marquis took a deep breath and set the business card down onto his desk. In the moment of silence which settled on the room, Jackson stole a few moments to assess his latest target. Tobias Montrose looked to have been caressing twenty on either side of that line when he was turned. Rumor had it he was at least three hundred now, or closing in on that number, and earned his position after convincing the King of Louisiana he could better capitalize on the thriving tourist industry in New Orleans. Other than that, there wasn't anything physically impressive about him. He reminded Jackson of the emaciated street paupers he'd known as a young man, only better dressed.
'Jackson' on the other hand was a rare specimen and he knew it. His blond hair bore darker highlights close to his scalp and his body had been captured at its finest. Trim. Athletic. His years working in the factory as a mortal gave his muscle definition and while that had been over a hundred twenty-five years ago, he still resembled that tough-as-nails, yet smooth-as-silk, twenty-three year old he had been. His real maker whose name definitely wasn't Helen Banks once said she turned him for his blue eyes. Jackson whose real name wasn't Jackson Phillips knew she lusted after the entire package.
"What do you want from me?"
The sound of the Marquis's voice snapped Jackson back to the matter at hand. He smiled. "Well, Lord Tobias, I've heard rumors you throw quite the gala. You have another one coming up in three nights, don't you?"
Tobias nodded. "Yes, I do."
"Excellent." Jackson rested both hands on his lap and folded them together. "Now, I would never solicit you for contributions in light of what I'm asking, but if I might attend your gala, our society would still bestow all the perks of being one of our contributors to you. In return, all I'm asking is for the chance to converse with your guests in a non-intrusive manner, mind you about becoming contributors as well."
The Marquis looked skeptical. Jackson recognized the look. Something buried deep inside Tobias's mind was trying to warn him there might be something off about this entire request. Perhaps it was too simple. Too little asked of him compared to the requests he fielded at other times. They never honed in on the exact problem and Jackson never gave them a chance.
"If you invite me to your gala, it would give us the lift we need to open our latest private gallery. I would even ask the curator to name it after you."
Tobias straightened his posture. Jackson watched his face light up. He suppressed the urge to chuckle; if human men were vain, then vampire men were regular peacocks just looking for somebody to stroke their egos. The Marquis nodded. "Very well. Tell me where you are staying in town and I'll have an invitation delivered to you tomorrow night."
"Thank you, Lord Tobias. You won't regret this." He held out a hand. "My business card, if you will."
"Certainly." Tobias passed the card back to Jackson as Jackson slipped a hand in his pocket again and produced a pen. In simple, legible strokes, he wrote the words,'Hotel Monteleone Rm. 40' before handing the card over again. Tobias paused to read it. He looked up at Jackson and nodded. "I will see you Saturday evening, then. Formal dress is required, of course."
"Of course." Jackson stood and extended his hand. "Our society is indebted to your kindness. I hope the rest of your evening is pleasant."
The Marquis stood just enough to shake hands. "The same to you, Mr. Phillips. If you step into the corridor, Eric will be happy to see you out."
"Very well." Their grip relaxed and Jackson bowed slightly at the waist before turning for the exit. Within a few brisk strides, he found himself in the corridor and no sooner had he shut the doors than a tall, lanky man with black hair appeared at his side.
Jackson smirked, his blue eyes meeting the servant's brown ones. "Eric, I presume," he said. His assessment of Eric took all of three seconds, a practiced maneuver by a polished veteran. Vampire. Young. Maybe a pet turned purely to have a hired hand on staff, at least until Eric would be compelled to leave his maker. 'Poor chap. There's a reality check headed your way when you're kicked to the curb.'
Eric nodded and Jackson placed his hand on Eric's shoulder. He stared intently at the younger vampire. "You're going to lead me out through the service entry. Point out any secret passages or corridors along the way. I want to know the best ways in and out of here and the moment I leave, you're only going to remember leading me out the front door." Jackson punctuated his words with a slight push of encouragement.
Without knowing why, Eric complied.
Chicago, Illinois March 7, 1855
Walter Krause felt something settle into his bones and take up residence there. It wasn't the cold; he'd been born and raised in the Chicago area and was used to the harsh rebukes issued by the Windy City's winter chill. Something else rode on its coattails, though, sounding a lot like hooves pounding on the packed dirt paths of time, closing in on him where he stood.
A lot of it was the city. Walter remembered, in his earliest days being raised as the son of two German immigrants, when life encompassed the farm they tended and little more. Distant memories painted scenes of the first time another homestead appeared a few miles down the road, and the first schoolhouse built to accommodate the burgeoning population. He'd learned how to read and write, do basic arithmetic and even drew in his spare time when money permitted an extra ream of paper. By the time he turned sixteen, he had dreams of attending college in the city someday.
Life changed all that, however. He relocated further into the city only to be stuck working in a textile plant and any hopes he had of furthering his education were dashed by the need to make ends meet. The rooms for rent were small and the hours at work were long. He often stumbled home drunk after twelve hours of work and a few hours spent at the pub. Four hours of sleep later, and he was up and preparing himself for work again. The only day he had off was Sunday, so the factory workers could attend church services.
Walter himself wasn't religious, though. His parents both Lutherans did their best to instill a faith tradition in their son, but he chose to worship at the altar of nature, instead. After sleeping until near noon on Sundays, he walked as long as it took for him to find something worth sketching. The rest of the day was whittled away with his long, delicate fingers hard at work, reproducing whatever he'd set his sights on with painstaking precision. Decades later, he would attribute his love for art to both his chosen profession and his mastery of it. His patience and those long fingers would eventually pay off.
At the time, though, life hit an endless cycle while a city grew and thrived around him. The trade and market district boomed and countless shops opened to compensate for a new wave of settlers escaping the congested east coast. Ships traveled from the Great Lakes and steamboats from the Mississippi River. It would be a train, though, which would carry the next phase of his destiny.
Charlotte Dupuis first set foot in Chicago that night in March and that very same night, brushed past a young man headed from a textile plant to a nearby pub. The sight of the blond-haired man caused her to pause and the feel of a set of curious eyes on him stopped Walter in his tracks. He turned and looked at her, raising an eyebrow.
Something in her gaze held him immediately enraptured. The corner of her mouth curled and she strolled up to him, taking him in while holding him soundly in place. Walter couldn't figure out whether he lacked the desire to walk away or had been rendered physically incapable of it. Something about her stare
"Oh yes, you'll definitely do," she said, issuing the first words spoken between them. Lifting a hand, she brushed at his shoulder while eyeing his neck. Walter lowered his eyes, attempting to size her up. Her hair a blazing, red color, her skin appeared paler than it probably should have been. She wore clothing he'd only seen the richest women clad in certainly nobody who normally gave a working grunt the time of day. And as she smiled, he could have sworn he saw
Her eyes snapped up to engage his again, cutting off his thoughts for the second time. Her grin turned devious, her brown eyes possessing a form of mischief Walter had never seen before. "Come along, boy. I have plans for you and only a few hours left until dawn."
Lazily, Walter nodded. He felt her hand wrap around his upper arm and allowed her to lead him away. As they departed from his normal path, he spared a quick glance down the normal streets, toward the pub and what he could see beyond that. He thought of his room the drawings left incomplete and his few meager possessions in this world. He thought about his mother and father; his younger siblings and their farm. And somewhere in the pit of his stomach he feared he'd seen the last of his previous life.