“We must retaliate.” The speaker, a handsome vampire with a youthful appearance and a petite dark-haired female by his side, did not sound overtly angry, but Marcus could tell from the tension within the vampire’s body that he was far from calm.
“But we cannot, Anton,” Marcus told him. “One of the many conditions of our being granted civil rights was that we not harm any human. I have heard the turmoil and conflict in all of your minds, and I agree that something needs to be done, but it must be carried out in a peaceful way.”
He had agreed to meet with vampires representing various communities and businesses within the county of Los Angeles. Anton Devereaux and his mate Angela Dietrich ran a very successful nightclub in Pasadena, but in the past few months they had been plagued by thugs who harassed their customers, human or vampire, when they tried to enter or leave the premises. Anton had been forced to hire security guards after a human couple were badly beaten as they left the club one night. The police had investigated but no arrests had been made.
“Even the fact that the victims were human didn’t motivate the cops to do very much at all,” Anton said with bitterness. “It was like, ‘you take your chances if you want to visit a place like that’. If we don’t make a show of strength it will only get worse.”
“How much worse can it get?” a red-haired female snapped. “Last week two of our kind were murdered in a downtown alley. It would never have happened if they hadn’t tried to abide by the charter and back away from the humans who killed them. If they had struck first, they would still exist. I, for one, am taking no chances of being staked or shot with a silver bullet. Any thug that comes near me with intentions to do me harm will have his throat torn out.”
“And that will be the end of the delicate détente we have with the authorities, Leah.” Marcus turned to her, his smile grim. “All that we have accomplished will disappear overnight. We will revert to being reviled and hunted and have to exist covertly as before.”
“Except that this time it will be more difficult to avoid those who would harm us,” Joseph added. “Now it is known where we live, where we gather and where we do business. Our best defense is not to retaliate to the point of killing, but to show them that, although we could do so if we wished, we prefer to be merciful and live among humankind in peace.”
“Huh.” Leah sneered. “Easier said than done, Joseph. Most humans are so ignorant they can’t see danger when it stares them in the face. They think that, because of the agreements that were signed, they are safe from any retaliation from us. That’s exactly what happened to the two that were killed.”
“What we need is our own police force,” Anton said. “A group of vampires to patrol the streets and break up any threat before it has a chance to become violent.”
Marcus sighed. “As you well know, we cannot do that without the explicit permission of the governor. To form our own vigilante force would put our standing within the community in jeopardy. If you wish, I can approach the district attorney with the idea and tell him we will of course work according to the guidelines they set.”
“Why bother?” Leah asked with another sneer. “He won’t agree, or he’ll put so many restrictions upon us that it will be a waste of time even trying to talk to him about it.”
“You don’t know that,” Anton said. “I think it’s worth a try. Marcus and Joseph are very good at persuasion. They did, after all, get us this much freedom.”
“And the fact they are both stunning to look at.” Angela, speaking for the first time, cast an approving smile at Marcus and Joseph. “It gives them an edge not many vampires can rival.”
Marcus chuckled. “Not that the DA could care about how stunning we are, Angela, being a straight married man with a large family, but we thank you for the compliment.”
“What we need to do,” Joseph said, "is draw up some kind of plan we can present to him. If we stay within the limits of the law, I think we may have a chance of getting his okay. I’m sure he’ll want to add some ideas of his own, to which we will smile and agree, of course.” His smile belied the hint of sarcasm in his tone.
“If he doesn’t water it down so it becomes ineffectual.” Leah’s expression let everyone know of her skepticism. “But I suppose we should go about this the right way…to begin with, at any rate.”
Marcus and Joseph exchanged glances but said nothing. Leah was a hothead and had found herself in trouble several times in the past. But she was something of a heroine to many of the female vampires, who viewed her radical opinions as signs of strength instead of a continued reliance on the males.
“Very well,” Marcus said, “let’s get down to the serious business of what we shall present to the DA, shall we?”
The plan was simple enough. A map was highlighted to show where vampire businesses were located and a chart of demographics denoted the ratio of humans to vampires in the area surrounding those bars, restaurants and nightclubs. It was decided that vampires working in pairs of any gender would be sufficient to patrol a designated area. They would wear an insignia to alert people on the street to what they were and what their purpose was.
“If anyone approaches them, they will be informed that they are members of the Vigilant Patrol,” Marcus explained to Roger, his mate, later that evening. “That they are there to ensure the safety of both humans and vampires. But I have to convince Howard Matheson, the district attorney, that this is a good idea and will benefit everyone.”
“You think he’ll go for it?” Roger, sitting on Marcus’ lap, leaned in to kiss his cheek.
“I hope so, because I fear if some strong measures are not soon taken by the authorities, instead of vigilance, some vampires may resort to vigilante methods.”
“And that would not be good.”
“Indeed not, Roger. There are those close to the governor who would love to see us all hounded out of the city for good. They were appalled when we were granted civil rights and they will no doubt oppose this plan for self-governance. Joseph and I have an appointment with Matheson tomorrow after sunset, so we shall see how much influence he has. He’s been supportive of us in the past, so I don’t see a difficulty in him agreeing to our plan…but first he has to convince John Barrymore.”
“Who seems like a nice guy, for a governor.” Roger added another kiss to Marcus’ cheek. “He doesn’t appear to flaunt the fact that he’s the great-grandson of the famous actor, even though he inherited his great-grandfather’s handsome looks. He was very chatty at the Governor’s Ball last month.”
Marcus nodded. “Yes, but did you notice where most of his attention was centered?”
“If I hadn’t, Micah would’ve been very quick to tell me. He was pissed that Barrymore spent so much time yakking to Joseph. Is he gay, d’you think?”
“You didn’t do any mind probing?” Marcus asked him, chuckling.
Roger affected a hurt expression. “I wouldn’t dare after you lectured me often enough about how offensive it is to read another’s mind without first letting them know you can. Although what with all the media coverage, it’s not much of a secret anymore, now, is it?”
“You are adorable when you pout like that. Even after all the years we’ve been together, I never tire of seeing that lower lip of yours pushed out for maximum effect.”
Roger smiled. “You can nibble on it if you like. I know it turns you on even, as you put it, ‘after all the years’. Never catch up with you, though, will I?”
“Unlikely.” He brushed his mouth over Roger’s. “But, getting back to Barrymore, I hear from those who are not polite like you and I that he is very happy with his wife…and his mistress.”
“Huh, politicians,” Roger mumbled against Marcus’ lips. He sighed at the sound of the doorbell.
“That will be Joseph and Micah. Go let them in, please, while I open a bottle of wine.”
“Yes, O Master mine.” He gave Marcus a cheeky grin and slid off his lap then ran to the door.
Marcus smiled, watching him go. Roger had been twenty-four when he’d had to change him after a jealous ex-lover of Marcus’ had drained him of his blood to the point of death. Only the quick actions of himself and two friends had given Roger a chance at another life, so different from the one he’d known. He’d been vampire now for close to thirty years, fifty-four years old in human terms, but of course his hair was still the color of ripe corn and his eyes a vivid blue. No wrinkle marred his pale, smooth skin just as Marcus, now almost nineteen hundred years old, knew that he showed no sign of his great age. His hair was still as black as a raven’s wing and his chiseled features unlined by time.
He walked over to the bar and pulled a bottle of Chateau Lafite from the wine rack. A wave of his hand over the cork and it popped free. He smiled on hearing Roger’s excited tenor voice greeting Joseph and Micah. Joseph and Marcus had grown close over the centuries, but Marcus at times thought their friendship was rivaled by the one shared by Roger and Micah. Changed within a year of each other, the two had soon bonded and the often hair-raising adventures they had endured together had served to bring them even closer.
They entered the living room amid laughter and Marcus was not surprised to see Roger riding piggy-back on Micah while Joseph walked behind them shaking his head and smiling at their antics.
“Hi, Marcus!” Micah grinned at him while he let Roger slide off his back. “Your mate is in an even more rambunctious mood tonight.”
“Oh, you and your big words.” Roger gave Micah a shove.
“Hello, Micah, Joseph.” Marcus stepped from behind the bar to greet each of them with an embrace. “Roger hasn’t grown into his age yet. He still thinks he’s twenty-four.”
Roger preened. “And always will be…”
“A brat,” Micah said, grinning at Roger’s offended stance of hands on hips.
“Well, I suppose we can afford some levity now that the uprising in the wake of the Middle East War has been put down,” Joseph remarked, accepting the glass of wine Marcus had poured for him.
“Officially, yes, but the hatred will remain for a long time,” Marcus said, handing Micah and Roger their glasses. “I don’t think the Taliban will ever give up.”
“But their numbers are greatly diminished. That last bombing raid we read of killed thousands…”
Marcus raised his glass. “And this wine is far too rare to drink without a proper toast to a better future for all, and a resolution that our own community will be allowed to celebrate in peace. Salud.”
“Salud,” the other three chorused.
“At least now, perhaps technology will catch up,” Roger said. “The War and the aftermath kinda took all advancement away from civilians and gave it to the military.”
“Where it was needed,” Marcus murmured. “Fortunately for us, we don’t require sophisticated technology to communicate with one another.”
“What have you heard from our friends overseas?” Joseph asked Marcus.
“The lady Andorra and Anthony are in Italy. Anthony has settled into his vampire-hood, as he calls it. Andorra thought it necessary as he was approaching one hundred and forty in human years.”
“But he still looked great when we saw him last year,” Roger remarked.
Marcus nodded. “Andorra’s blood is of an ancient strain, very powerful, which would account for Anthony’s continued youthful appearance, but they both considered it time for him to join us in immortality.”
“Will they see Bernard and Pietro while they’re there?” Micah asked.
“Without a doubt,” Marcus said. “And Gustav and Constantine, I’m sure.”
Roger smirked. “Constantine, the good demon.”
“An oxymoron if ever I heard one,” Joseph said. “Until Constantine, I would never have believed there was such a thing as a good demon. His love for Gustav was his saving grace.”
“Along with a healthy dose of Marcus’ blood, don’t forget,” Roger added. “But it does look as though he has thrown aside his demonic tendencies. It’s been almost thirty years and it would seem he hasn’t slipped up once.”
“So, about the Vigilance group,” Marcus said with some impatience. “Can we talk about the proposal to the DA? I have to get it to him by tomorrow or he’ll think we’re not serious about it.”
“Speaking of that…” Micah sidled over to Joseph and put his arm around his lover’s waist. “I asked Roger if he’d like to volunteer with me to be part of your Vigilance group, and of course he said yes.”
Marcus rolled his eyes. “Of course he did. You young vampires are too sneaky by half. I don’t know. What do you think, Joseph? Are they responsible enough to be let loose on the streets enforcing law and order?”
Joseph laughed. “Micah, yes…but Roger? Not so sure.”
“Hey!” The hands were back on the hips. “Micah got into as much trouble as I did in the day.”
“Yeah, at your bidding,” Micah teased. “Don’t forget it was always you first into the fray, expecting me to follow.”
“Anyway, first we have to get approval from the DA,” Marcus reminded them. “And the governor, so it’s a long way from being a done deal.”
Roger winked at Micah. “You should send Joseph to the governor, Marcus. That way it’s sure to be a done deal.”
“Not a chance,” Micah growled. “Of course I trust you, Joseph, but the thought of that letch pawing my mate brings out the bloodlust in me.”
“Micah…” Joseph kissed him on his forehead. “Barrymore is straight. He’s like all politicians, smarmy when they want to ingratiate themselves into your favor. Although why he’d want to win me over is puzzling.”
Micah sighed. “Because he wants to get in your pants, my darling. You and Marcus don’t pry into human minds and you’ve got Roger and me doing what you asked…for the most part. But when I saw Barrymore fawning over you at the Governor’s Ball, I couldn’t help but take a peek inside that devious head of his, and there it was, plain as day—lust, for you.”
“Well,” Roger drawled, “who can blame him? I bet half the room was in lust with Joseph and Marcus.”
Marcus quirked an eyebrow. “Only half?”
Micah sighed. “I guess I’m being paranoid.”
“You are,” Roger said. “Barrymore might swing both ways, but Joseph doesn’t, do you, Joseph?”
“If I knew what you meant, I might be able to answer,” Joseph replied with a wry smile.
“Oh, you old guys,” Roger huffed.
“Roger, don’t be rude,” Marcus snapped.
“What Roger means,” Micah interrupted, “is that Barrymore might be bisexual. You know, fancies men and women.”
“Ah…that’s possible, I suppose,” Joseph remarked. “The last time I was with a woman, I was a very young man and didn’t know my true nature. But let me be clear, John Barrymore does as much for me as that used napkin on the bar.”
Marcus appeared exasperated. “I really don’t know why we’re having this conversation. We’re supposed to be discussing our proposal to the DA—now can we get on with it?”