Logs:TSO-NOLA - Barista in the Back Alley

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TSO-NOLA - Barista in the Back Alley

Characters: Nikola, Seth, Mingzhu as ST
Date: 2020-05-29
Summary: Two wandering vampires find a decaying corpse in a back alleyway.

The French Quarter

The Quarter is the very heart of New Orleans in all things. It's located in the center of the city and exemplifies all that is "The Big Easy." Excess shows itself in a myriad of decedent eateries, bars, clubs and shops. Even the architecture is lavish with beautifully wrought iron archways lining at least one building on every street (If not all of them). All about there are balconies, all decorative and usually painted to give contrast to the building it accompanies. Even when it's not raining, the sidewalks are one liquid hazard after another. People negligently clean off their balconies, spraying water down below. Drinks spill from the second and third levels of various establishments and then there are the unspeakable things that fall from above.

Many businesses are open all day and night, every day of the week so the Quarter is always alive. Music is played, sometimes live in the streets, but it also blares from the multitude of entertainment driven places. If one is looking for art, then there are museums, and the famous Jackson Square where people busk and sell more tangible works.

It is a dark night. The quarter-full moon is barely visible behind clouds and the occasional spit of rain, the stars likewise shrouded, leaving the French Quarter lit almost solely from the decoratively-styled lampposts. This part of New Orleans is almost always open and almost always busy, with people (aka tourists) trying to soak up the city vibe. Makes it an excellent place to hunt, and also a good start for getting one's bearings in the city.

Hunting -- hunting in the French Quarter is similar to fishing in a well-stocked pond. Nikola is dressed for the kill, wearing a snazzy three-piece suit number. It's swelteringly hot, even in the evenings, but a benefit of being Undead is that he needn't worry about pit stains. The tall Vampire works his way along the crowded streets, a lazy smile on his features. He moves with a rolling gait, one hand constantly reaching out to brush against light-posts and walls, as though he fears he may need to grab hold and stabilize himself. Or perhaps he simply likes the feeling of cool metal beneath his fingertips.

He looks aside at his companion as he goes, wiping a dash of rain from his forehead. "Did you find the Mister Rapace to be a particularly perspicacious figure of a man?" His accent, vaguely Eastern, fluctuates in intensity. At times thick, at other times almost unnoticeable. It doesn't seem to be a matter of moods, so much as how much attention he is paying at any given moment.

His Beast, evident to Seth, is //hungry// despite his casual demeanor. He is ready to hunt.

There is a brief laugh from the Ptolemaic-seeming man walking along next to Nikola, and Seth keeps one of his hands in his pockets. The other is holding a very long, green glass tube that ends in the worked shape of a grenade. The iconic beverage container for Handgrenades, however, isn't full of alcohol, but of chilled blood and a mix of minor flavorings that the Mekhet mixed in. "Perspicacious?" Seth raises an eyebrow in Nikola's direction before sipping on the long straw within the Handgrenade container.

"Nah," Seth responds succinctly to the fancy adjective, "Persistent, though, I'll give him that," he agrees idly. He's looking around the French Quarter with a half-interested eye: the bustle of city life is enjoyable to him, "But I don't think that work relationship would turn out terribly well, in the end. I'm still mulling it over," he comments on the matter with a shrug, hanging a left down an alleyway between two bustling buildings. He knows what they're here for. "I'll keep a look out if you want to go and take a walk to make friends," he offers in Nikola's direction as they stroll out of the range of street lamps and into more familiar, shadowed hunting territory.

"I don't know," muses Nikola in response to Seth as the pair move deeper into the shadows. It's as though a mask is beginning to slip away from the man, the shark beneath the surface beginning to raise its fin. It would be hard to identify exactly what changes -- a more purposeful stride, a way of sizing everything up, his gaze lingering slightly too long on passers-by, a hint of tension in his shoulders. "I think he'd be a rather indulgent employer. If I prove myself, maybe he'll make me a Baronet. Get some balls for my coronet." Beneath the light-hearted words, a trace of bitterness can be heard. "After all, being good elevates us to nobility."

He halts suddenly, reaching aside to touch a fingertip to Seth's wrist. His Beast is suddenly riled, alert. Nostrils flaring, the bearded man says "...Dead body, down here. No blood." And he turns, stepping into a shadowed alleyway with the cautious grace of a dancer, avoiding a sticky-looking puddle of vomit. "Not long dead," he remarks idly, "But long enough. It smells as though it's beginning to ripen."

There is some languid desire to return the snark that Nikola directs at him while they're walking down the alley, but Seth's demeanor fades into all-business as the dead body is pointed out. He follows the other Vampire's direction to take note of the body, briefly moving to approach it. But first, he's securing the alleyway. Seth is wearing a dark blue velvet blazer and dark jeans tonight, and his hand pushes past the blazer near the small of his back to find the holstered pistol that he keeps there. He doesn't withdraw the weapon yet, but he's obviously thinking about it as he moves to clear the rest of the alley in a practiced, military style. "See if there's anything on the body like identification, I'll make sure we're not being watched," Seth falls into a role of command instinctually as he moves, eyes glancing upwards to check the nearby rooftops as well.

The trail leads down that one alleyway and around the corner, to where some delightfully fragrant dumpsters are stored - they clearly haven't been put out in over a week, perhaps why this body has remained here so long without being found.

The body is tucked up against a corner with one of the dumpsters blocking view of it from all sides except straight-on. It looks like she might've been some kind of barista or waitress given the uniform on her - a black polo shirt with the logo for 'Envie Espresso Bar & Cafe' embroidered on the breast pocket. Age is difficult to tell however, because her head is.. not attached to her body. The neck ends at a remarkably even-cut stump, and her head - after a little searching - can be found under the dumpster itself.

Aside from having been decapitated, which surely is enough for anyone, she has also been drained of blood. Being experts in such things, the two might gauge she's probably got no more than half a pint left in her, if that. Far more than any vampire would take, unless they're a complete newb. And what neonate would leave the rest of the body so relatively unscathed? Head notwithstanding.

"Either someone drained him dry, or this one was killed elsewhere," remarks Nikola as he approaches the body. He seems to implicitly trust his companion's instructions, absently tugging up the sleeves of his suit-coat as he crouches over the corpse. His hand runs along its torso and hips, seeking a wallet or a pocketbook, anything that might contain instructions. "No lividity. No bruising or pooling." He has no evident weapons, but then, he has little need of them -- his Ptolemaic friend has the firepower.

"Coffee shop -- the Envie Espresso Bar and Cafe. Seth, she's almost completely dry." He sniffs the air, hands still gliding unselfconsciously along the body. "No wallet, no ID." He rises gracefully, sniffing the air again and walking to the dumpster. Reaching inside, he tosses a few trashbags aside and draws the head out by the hair. "She was a pretty thing," he says musingly, examining the head. "Can you take a picture of this? It'll look great on Insta." A beat, and more seriously, he says "...And it might help us track her down." There is an unspoken assumption -- that they are getting involved.

"I would love to know if the others were all women."

Getting his smartphone out from one pocket of the velvet blazer, Seth checks over the alleyway before moving to the corpse with careful strides. A tap turns the flash on, and then he's taking pictures of the corpse... and the brick wall next to it. "Some kind of marking here, this is almost definitely a ritual killing," he comments aside to Nikola, waving his free hand with a finger pointed towards a coffin-shaped scraping on the bricks. "I wonder if there's a pattern or shape, if all the body dumps were cross-referenced geographically. They can't be picking these locations at random."

Seth 'tsks' with a click of his tongue as he kneels and begins to take further pictures of the corpse, lifting her hand to take a picture of the ring and taking pictures of both sides of a golden crucifix that the body is wearing. "It's too populated here to actually move the body out with the car, so we'll just have to take photos of everything we can before the locals find her," he remarks with some minor irritation at the idea. "This has to be a 'they' operation, there's no way one guy could have managed to transpo and dump this thing so cleanly, and so shortly after death. If it was a day or two old, I could see it, but..." No stranger to killings himself, Seth is already running through the scenario from the perspective of the killer: if he were the guy responsible for this, what would it take to set up the scene so it looked the way that it does?


Nikola carefully excuses himself from the pictures, after laying the head neatly on the ground beside the corpse. He moves with a surprising delicacy, brushing a lock of hair back off the head's forehead, as though helping to frame her for her close-up. The Ventrue takes a step over to examine the carving on the wall, shaking his head subtly. "I've never seen anything like this. A coffin?" He shrugs slightly, glancing over at Seth. "This one's been dead long enough for rigor to pass," he notes. "It could be done, but I imagine you're right. If it's a ritual -- well, cultists never like to work solo. I suppose their minds flock to gatherings." A hint of disdain in his voice at the idea.

Stepping away from the wall, idly glancing to the mouth of the alleyway -- taking up the role of security as Seth begins to snap pictures -- he remarks "I wonder if we oughtn't contact... Was it Primogen Ghandara? The Nosferatu who hired those Black Constables. She seems more concerned than the Sheriff. May have more information points for us." Another glance up and down the alleyway, and he adds somewhat reluctantly, "We could perhaps pool our resources with those mortal mercenaries."

"Let's see what we can find our first. We're currently in the shadows: what if the killers have infiltrated the investigation? We'd just be putting ourselves in danger for no reason," Seth points out almost absent-mindedly in response to Nikola's concerns. "They're not bad ideas, but let's not go jumping to a plan of action until we're certain what it is that we have in front of us." The Mekhet focuses his eyes, honing his Beast upon the corpse in front of him. His eyes disfocus, and Seth casts back through his memories, taking pictures of other details of the crime scene, even things not directly related to the body itself. Any small detail might be the one that ends up illuminating the matter, after all.

Seth gets up, still obviously deep in some distant memories, and begins a similar photographic sweep of the surrounding alleyway.

"Y'know, Niko, I used to go to museums here a lot. One of the tour guides told me a ghost story once, about casket girls. Basically, the old Europeans, 'sides the Spanish,' were really bad about only marrying European women. Problem was, they didn't bring any with them when they first arrived." The camera flashes and the shutter makes a noise. "So they eventually sent women across the Atlantic, stuffed all their belongings in... caskets." He gestures at the marking on the brickwork next to the corpse. "Apparently there's a nunnery, not far from here. Turns out, a few of these girls didn't make good wives... the French, y'know, notoriously picky. So a few of them went back, left their caskets behind. Then... something happened with their belongings, disappearances or the like, that spooked the nuns so badly that they boarded up the whole convent. Blessed metal nails, holy water, exorcisms, the works. Left the place empty and abandoned. This was back when the city was first growing into its clothes, long time ago."

Seth clicks his tongue with a 'tch' again, "Thing is, not too long ago, some journalists broke into the place to research the story. Probably for some stupid historical piece. Their corpses were found, later." Seth turns, up-nodding in the direction of the body. "No blood, no head. Same thing." He exhales slowly, putting away the phone. "Thing is, if it's ghosts, how the fuck are they dumping the bodies? So it's gotta be something more corporeal."

As Seth talks, Nikola continues to stare at the mouth of the alleyway. An unobservant companion might think that he is not listening at all, but Seth knows him better than that -- the other Vampire is taking it all in, absorbing the information, trying to follow the connections that Seth draws in the air for him. His own Beast is growing angry, hunger transforming to something else, something more dangerous. It senses a threat, a rival to him and his Coterie. "I agree about waiting a moment or two before we spring into involvement," he says quietly, "But we are not entirely shadowed, either. Pan knows of our interest. So does Rapace and her man, presuming they listened to what we said."

He finally turns his head, looking over to Seth with a slight smile. "We're probably safe there, then. And I don't imagine our Primogen is one to run their mouth at the slightest provocation. Unlike, say, me." Turning and pacing back to stand over the corpse, looking thoughtfully at the carved casket, he says "That story... It makes me wonder about motives. If it were a woman angered because of her treatment, you would think she'd be killing men. It was common, in my part of the world, for girls to be sent to convents. They often collected surprising amounts of influence around themselves." This last is a musing remark, not really relevant to the current discussion.

He pauses for a moment, perfectly still, then lets his shoulders rise and fall in a faint shrug. "It seems to me," he says contemplatively, "That we ought to go and visit this nunnery ourselves." Another hesitation, another glance aside at Seth, then back to the headless corpse. "We ourselves found a Torpored Vampire, Seth. One whose connection to the modern world, and to who she used to be, were both severed. Is it at all possible, do you think, that the media crew discovered another? One whose interest in our society has been similarly severed?"

"Could be a Vampire, could be something weirder," Seth agrees as he straightens up, beginning to chart paths around the area. Eventually, once he's exhausted every investigative avenue that he can think of, he points out a fire escape that's been lowered previously, near a dumpster. "Come on, let's get up to the rooftops. If anyone wanders into this alley, it'll be a lot less suspicious than standing around here." And then he's off like a cat, slinking up the metal ladder and then strolling up the stairs of the fire escape, but going the wrong way.

Once they've repositioned to a much less conspicuous overlook to keep an eye on the scene and continue examining it, Seth compresses his lips before continuing. "The lack of blood definitely makes it seem like a Vampire, I agree. If it wasn't a Vampire or some other hemophage, you'd have to leave a body upside down on a hook for... days, to get all of the blood out," Seth remarks, a casual bit of trivia picked up from over a century of unlife. "There weren't any external wounds to indicate a hanging, and the body hasn't been dead long enough for... manual exsanguination to have been practical. So it's almost definitely /some/ kind of hemophage. But weirder things stalk the night than Vampires, so until we have eyes on it, or them, I don't want to jump to conclusions. We might need a bigger arsenal than the usual fang-banger-be-gone for this one."

Rubbing his chin with thumb and forefinger, Seth glances aside at his coterie-mate before nodding slowly. "You're right about the motives. If it was a woman, you'd think she'd be hating men. Unless she was a spurned lover and killing women who remind her of her jealousy, but even that's a stretch." He exhales slowly. "It could be the religious iconography, the body was wearing a crucifix. Hardly uncommon in this area, of course, but. Without seeing the other bodies, we can't definitively establish patterns." Leaning against an external air conditioning unit on the rooftop, Seth shakes his head. "We'll probably have to go to the Primogen, you're right. I feel like we should be very careful with this one, though. Whoever's dumping these bodies has skill, and I don't want someone skilled getting the drop on us."

Obedient as ever, Nikola leaps up to grab ahold of the fire escape's ladder, pulling himself nimbly onto the first level and following Seth toward the rooftop. His suit catches on a rusted snag of metal and rips at the cuff of his pants, but he doesn't seem to mind. He does stop, however, making sure that he hasn't left any fabric behind before continuing upward. It would be far too ironic for a Vampire investigating these murders to be implicated in them, after all. One never knows what these pesky modern forensic techniques might produce. He settles onto the lip of the roof, crouching down, gazing into the alleyway like a gargoyle.

"I suppose one could connect a hose directly to the carotid or some other artery in the neck, siphon the blood out that way." He glances aside at Seth, amusement glinting briefly in his dark eyes. "Seems a biiiiiit of a stretch, though, doesn't it? No, I agree - a hemophage is the sensible conclusion to draw. Occam's Razor, isn't it?" He frowns as the amusement fades, a single deep crease lining his forehead. At the mention of crucifixes, the big man reaches to touch his own chest. A silver chain is evident around his neck, vanishing downward beneath his dress shirt.

"I agree about caution as well," he says reluctantly. "There's another possibility. These acts -- they're deliberately provocative, Seth. Is it at all possible that they're simply...bait? Salt-licks? If the killer knows of us, they must know that we have no choice but to respond. WE cannot allow them to continue scattering bloodless corpses throughout the city." Glancing briefly up as a raindrop splats against his eyelid, he says "It feels unconnected to us. Too much work with the symbol, with the placement, the nunnery. It doesn't feel like a trap." A beat. "But that does not mean it isn't one. You're quite right."

"It's possible that this is bait, yeah. That's why the whole thing is bugging me. Putting up an elaborate front to catch and kill Praxis enforcers is definitely within the realm of possibility here. The more authentic it looks, the less likely they'll suspect the knives waiting for them in the dark at the end. I'm not saying we should assume that's what it is... but we shouldn't rule it out, either. I'm not looking to die so soon after doing all of the paperwork to move here," Seth remarks in a deadpan, exhaling.

"You know, something's been bugging me," Seth says, sliding back down the fire escape to a marking in the alleyway.

"Doesn't that look like a footprint to you?" Seth and Nikola briefly discuss the precise appearances of how a Vampire moving at high speed would leave tracks in an alleyway, a topic they both have some familiarity with, and Seth pulls out his phone to take another flash-lit picture of the markings. They do one more examination of the scene: "Looks like that casket carving was made with a tool, metal and with a point," Seth observes with a gesture, using the flash of his camera as a flashlight to examine it more closely. "And there's definitely no blood here... or even on the body. If there was blood in the body at the time of beheading, it'd be all over the corpse and clothes, but there's none. It's pristine. Must have been drained first."

And with that, a few brief flashes of the two savages moving around the alleyway conclude their investigation, and get themselves gone before the tranquility of the French District notices this new horrorific killing that's been dropped into its backyard.