A NEW CITY. A NEW LAND. A NEW LIFE. OR SO I had hoped.
I left my friends, my country, the home I’ve had for a hundred years to escape a girl who has seen only seventeen summers. I put an ocean’s distance between us just to discover it wasn’t far enough.
We traded places: She’s now in Paris, and I’m in New York. And therein is the problem. This is Kate’s town, and it’s like she never left. She’s still here. She is everywhere.
In a week of walking the city streets, I feel like I’ve seen her a hundred times. From the American accents of high school girls chatting loudly on the subway to the downtown teenagers wearing her uniform of T-shirt, slim jeans, and Converses. She is in all of them, peering out of their eyes, taunting me with a love I will never taste. Because her heart is with another—my best friend, Vincent. I love him like a brother, but right now couldn’t be gladder about the four thousand miles of ocean between us.
I wrap my coat tighter around me and lean out over my rooftop vantage point. Below me, chunks of floating ice turn the East River into one of the frozen martinis that seem to be endlessly flowing at my New York kindred’s parties. For a bitingly cold daybreak the first week of March, the Paris sky would be spread with a blanket of gray clouds. But here in Brooklyn, where the sun has just risen, the sky is a dazzling field of cornflowers. The diamonds it casts on the surface of the water blind me. Bring me to tears. Or at least, provide a good excuse for my stinging eyes.
I hear a whistle, and turn to see my kindred Faust waiting for me next to a door shaft sticking up like a lone tombstone in the middle of the football-field-size roof. I make my way toward him, passing the barbecue pits and the giant swimming pool: all covered and hibernating. Waiting for the ice to melt and the city to move the party back outside again. The endless party. Life’s a party in New York.
What am I doing here? I ask myself for the hundredth time. Surviving, is the correct response. The only way I know how.
“Council’s ready for you,” Faust says, clapping me across the shoulder as he guides me down the stairs.
“So I don’t get it,” he says. “You and your kindred come to New York a week ago on a mission to re-embody your kindred Vincent. You succeed, he goes back with the others, but you decide to hang out here at Frank and Myra’s house. Then Vincent calls you to Paris, and after barely twenty-four hours in France you’re back in New York?”
“What can I say? They were up against Violette and her army,” I say, avoiding his point.
Faust nods. “Yeah, I guess you can’t turn down a request from your kindred to help out with Paris’s final battle against the numa. Man, what I would have given to be there and watch the Champion kick numa ass.”
“It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,” I respond. “Only room for twelve on Gold’s plane. I would have brought more of you if I had understood what was going down.”
“Frank and Myra . . . they’re still in Paris, right?” Faust asks, eyes sparkling with good-natured jealousy. “I can’t understand why you came back last night and didn’t stick around for the after-party,” he says, and then, seeing my blank expression, shuts up.
After a few seconds, he murmurs, “Man, we could sure use your Champion here. We’ve got our own bad stuff going down. But I’m sure you’ve heard all about that.”
I follow him down six long flights of stairs. This building is massive, taking up a whole city block. Faust explains the floor plan as we descend.
“So you’ve already seen the roof. Next floor down, the seventh floor, is exhibition space, concert hall, and—as you probably saw last night—party headquarters. It’s the only floor allowed to humans. That’s why it has a dedicated elevator and stairway that don’t access the other levels.”
Faust points to a wall where industrial-size elevator cars are caged in by retracting metal gates. “Those go down to the basement. Man, you have to see that. It’s so huge, there are actually two antique railroad tracks down there—used to bring goods in and out. At the front of the building we have river access for boats, and a dozen ambulances. The armory’s down there too. Basically everything that’s high security, and the stuff we don’t want people to see, is belowground.”
We exit the stairwell on the ground floor and begin making our way down the cavernous stone-gray corridors toward the front of the building. As we walk, I try to get a reading on Faust. He’s got this regimented air, but not as much as a soldier or policeman. And he struts straight-backed, but with his arms slightly spread, like his muscles are getting in the way. He’s already built big but has doubled his size with some serious time in the gym. Like most guys I’ve seen here, he favors facial hair: long razor stubble for him. Taking a wild guess, I would peg him as a fireman. I wonder if that’s what he was before he died.
“So I’ve given you the layout. Now let me explain what it’s all about,” Faust says, switching into tour guide mode. “The building’s a New York landmark, built of reinforced concrete in 1913 for a food processing company and then abandoned in the fifties.”
I nod, and he continues. “Gold scooped it up for a song and made it our secret headquarters. No one realized we were operating out of here until the nineties . . . at which point it was decided to make it an open secret.”
We turn a corner, and I begin to hear voices echoing through the cavernous corridors. “To the community, we’re a bunch of artists, musicians, and young independent businesspeople—creative types—who’ve been granted these luxury living and working spaces by an arts foundation. We ‘give back to the community’ by opening the place up for exhibitions, concerts, and the monthly intel-gathering ‘block parties’ like we had last night.”
He smiles at the memory of the epic party on the top floor of the building that just ended a few hours ago. It was in full swing when I arrived from the airport. I passed through, grabbed a drink, and spent the rest of the evening alone on the roof, until, after dawn, I saw the fleet of revenant-driven taxis shuttle the last partygoers home.
No partying for me. Not last night. Not with the gore of battle still fresh in my mind. Not after witnessing the permanent death of Jean-Baptiste, our leader. And in the midst of it all, my lovely Kate, fierce and beautiful and no longer human. I needed time to process it. To remember. To heal.