Wicked City excerpt

Chapter One

 

In the depths of late summer, when airless nights meet dog- eared days, the cream of New York City society flees north to the beaches of Long Island, where dinner parties last the weekend and hangovers last the week.

But instead of sipping champagne by a fountain at Scott and Zelda’s, I was standing on East 28th Street in an evening dress far too hot for the weather and T-strap heels far too small for my feet. The latter had just recently been splattered with that most unsavory of New York excreta: the blood and fatty remains of an exsanguinated vampire— or, in common slang, a popper.

“I did always hate these shoes,” I said, attempting philosophical resignation.

“Aren’t they your only ones?” Aileen said. My roommate was staring at the remains of the unfortunate vampire with equal parts fascination and disgust.

“I already have three blisters.”

“I don’t suppose you can afford a new pair?”

I sighed. “Not really.” I hadn’t been paid in nearly two weeks, as my night school classes were on temporary hiatus until August. Money and I never had much to say to each other, in any case. Too many people needed it more— the vampire charities, the immigrant charities, the Socialists and the Communists and any number of women’s rights organizations. I owned a sensible pair of leather boots that served me adequately. Evening shoes were a luxury I had never bothered to afford.

And yet now their loss made me unaccountably melancholy—bloodstains have yet to debut in the Parisian fashion houses. Having already made a mess of myself by walking unwarily near the popper, I gingerly stepped closer. The remains of baggy skin could tell me nothing of the poor man’s appearance, but the absence of any stake or scorch mark from a blessed blade made me conclude that he had expired from natural causes. Common enough, particularly in the heat of summer. My friend Ysabel, who ran the Bank on St. Marks Place, always complained of the low donation rates in July and August. The poorest vampires used the Banks, and every summer a few dozen of them died of blood starvation. And when a vampire died, he popped.

“I wonder who he was,” I said softly. Worn gray trousers and a patched shirt were drenched in exsanguination. Familiar as I was with popped vampires, I had no desire to explore further. Vampire blood burned.

“You could ask Amir, you know,” Aileen said.

“About the popper?”

She rolled her eyes. “Heavens, no. The shoes. What good is having some filthy rich djinni prince at your beck and call if you can’t ask him for a favor now and then?”

I stood and stepped carefully away from the mess. Nothing I could do for him now— the cleanup crew would take him to the medical examiner’s, and from there the potter’s field. For a moment I contemplated asking Amir to conjure his identity, so perhaps I could inform his family, but I shook my head. That sort of request would mean a wish, and a wish entailed precisely the emotional entanglement I was determined to avoid. When you have a past like mine with a djinni like Amir, extreme caution is warranted.

“I’m not some gold- digger, Aileen,” I said. “I earn what I have.”

“Lorelei Lee would ask for a lot more than a new pair of shoes,” Aileen said, sighing. “But have it your way. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find a speakeasy with dim lights.”

“Horace’s has dim lights,” I said glumly. But as we had discovered, our favorite speakeasy was closed for a private party. Horace and I have a working relationship (I have been known to open for the house band), but he hustled us out the door and said to come back next week.

Which left us here, staring at a popped vampire on a quiet stretch of the East Twenties, wondering what happened to our special night out.

“I don’t suppose you know of another one nearby?” Aileen asked. “The Puncheon?”

“Very funny,” she said, sighing. New York’s most exclusive speakeasy wouldn’t give two girls from the Lower East Side the time of day. “Should we go home?”

I was inclined to agree, but my attention was caught by a strange commotion at the other end of the street, near Lexington. A crowd had gathered around the entrance of some establishment— a gentleman’s club or a restaurant, judging by the awning. A reporter’s camera flashed.

Aileen and I glanced at each other. “That looks interesting,” she said.

She started to hurry toward the crowd, but I hesitated. I hated to leave the poor vampire’s remains just lying there, trickling into the gutter with all the other refuse of the city. On the other hand, I couldn’t do anything to help him. A clean- up crew had finally arrived in an ambulance wagon parked across the street.

“Zephyr!” Aileen called.

I swallowed, took one last look at the popper, and hurried to catch up. I would speak with Ysabel about getting blood out more efficiently to the most desperate vampires. Perhaps that way I could save someone from a similar fate.

From the back of the crowd, it was difficult to see the object of their focus, but it wasn’t hard to hear about it.

“Mr. Lindbergh, a picture for the papers?” called out a reporter. From over the shoulder of a short gentleman, I caught sight of the famous aviator’s suit jacket and gray hat as he hurried to the car parked on the curb. They said the man who had crossed the Atlantic in an airplane had a boyishly handsome air, but I couldn’t see his face well enough to tell. The city had thrown him a ticker tape parade a month ago, and I wondered if a man could grow tired of adulation. The gathered crowd lingered for a few minutes after Charles Lindbergh drove off, chatting animatedly about their brush with fame.

“He was handsome, don’t you think?” Aileen was saying.

“I have no idea,” I said, a little snappish. My feet hurt and the prospects for making it up with alcohol had grown quite slim. “I can vouch for his fine taste in millinery, at least.”

Aileen clucked her tongue. “You’re no fun,” she said. “We just saw the most famous man in the city.”

“I saw his hat,” I said.

“No fun at all.”

Aileen was my best friend, but sometimes she was insufferable. “Then why are you out with me?”

“Because my regular partner has defected to the Hamptons. Traitor.” The traitor in question was Lily Harding, a peculiar mix of debutante and hard- nosed lady reporter. She had formed an unlikely friendship with Aileen, mostly founded on their shared love of late nights, nice gentlemen, and fine spirits. Never mind that Aileen and I shared a small room in a boarding house on Ludlow street, that Aileen was an Irish immigrant, or that she told fortunes for a living. Lily could be a snob about a lot of things, but it wouldn’t be smart to bet on what.

“Sorry to be such a disappointment,” I said. “You two are out all the time—don’t you know of any other speakeasies?”

She took a look at my shoes and winced. “We wouldn’t get in,” she said.

Well, then.

“Pardon me?” A gentleman slightly taller than my collarbone had turned to face Aileen and me. “If you don’t mind my intruding, I take it you ladies are looking for a gin joint?”

Aileen nodded. “Absolutely!”

“I’m going to a nice place not two blocks up. I’d be happy to take you there.”

Getting a lead on a gin joint from a stranger struck me as a dubious idea, but I did not argue very strenuously. I wanted a night out nearly as much as Aileen, after all.

The short gentleman chatted with Aileen about Mr. Lindbergh while we made our way two blocks north. An imposingly large gentleman puffed on a cigarette in front of a promising red door on East 30th. Our guide paused and looked a little nervously back at the two of us.

“I forgot to mention one peculiarity of this establishment,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind, but it also serves Faust.”

Aileen’s nod froze halfway. She turned to look at me. “Zephyr?” she said, a plea.

The trouble was that I had spent all of my time recently buried in work for my latest cause— Friends Against Faust. We were dedicated to prohibition of the vampire liquor that had spread like wildfire across New York City in the six months since its introduction. My organization contended that Faust consumption had proved too dangerous for vampires and humans alike. Which explained why Aileen thought I would refuse to set foot in any establishment that served the brew.

But the truth of the matter was that I felt profoundly ambivalent about the wisdom of our cause. After all, if I allowed myself to indulge in the dubious pleasures of alcohol, who was I to declare that vampires were incapable of controlling their own impulses? The real trouble was Amir. The djinni had brought Faust to the city in the first place, and now I found myself unaccountably in control of his powers. An unscrupulous, spendthrift djinni with a penchant for playing practical jokes on humans would hardly be an ideal partner in the best of times. But I had become his vessel—the one human able to control his powers and make wishes. Guilt as much as anything motivated my participation in Friends Against Faust.

But right now, I didn’t give a fig. I wanted a gin and tonic, and I didn’t care who gave it to me.

“It’s perfectly fine,” I said, to both of their relief.

The inside of the speakeasy was low- lit and smoky, with a jazz band barely visible on stage and a shabby but glamorous clientele crowding the bar. As promised, vampires mixed with humans, seemingly without regard for social status. The vampires I easily identified by the dusty pallor of their skin and the unmistakable red flush around their cheeks and ears from a recent feeding. Some even flashed unretracted fangs, a taboo in other social situations. The bartenders alternated alcohol with shots of a thick liquid, so dark it appeared black in the low light. Occasionally, they would top it with a dash of real blood from a bag. Faust had originally been developed from pig blood, but it  paradoxically caused vampires to go blood- mad. Presumably adding a bit of human blood helped ameliorate the effect.

Aileen and I took our drinks and settled into a booth in a corner of the room. The music was nice, but I wouldn’t have been keen on dancing even if my feet weren’t killing me. After relaxing into that peculiar burning plea sure of not- quite bathtub gin, Aileen gave me an appraising stare.

“Why won’t you make a wish, Zeph?”

I coughed. “Why? Haven’t I told you before?”

She lifted one corner of her mouth. “Not really. You talk about not wanting to be bound, but it seems to me that you’re a lot more bound to Amir when he’s desperate for you to make a wish than you would have been if you’d just asked for some rutabagas in February.”

“But that’s just it, Aileen! If I asked for rutabagas in February, I would have to ask for more in March and April and every other damn month for the rest of my life. The second I give in—”

“Zeph. You put your blood in his mouth. You bound yourself to him. Why cavil now?”

I took a big gulp of my drink and coughed again. “He was dying,” I said hoarsely. Half a year before, I found out that Amir was slowly being poisoned by the bite of a vampire, and only my blood—which my daddy had somehow made immune to all vampirism—could save him.

“You still did it. Even I can see how desperate he’s getting for you to make a wish. All his djinni relatives must be giving him hell.”

I looked away from her frank gaze and slouched into the seat. She was mostly right, but her logic couldn’t touch my inner conviction that I had to break the bond of vessel and djinni between Amir and me.

“I don’t know, Aileen . . .” I said, and groped for some way to change the subject. “Lindbergh did have a very nice hat,” I said. She sighed. “Don’t you feel anything for him anymore?”

“Lindbergh?”

“Zephyr.”

I sighed and slouched even further into my seat. “I feel something,” I muttered. “None of this would matter if I didn’t.”

“Then make a wish!”

“Aileen!” I said, bolting upright in sudden frustration. “Whatever I feel for Amir, it’s complicated. He brought Faust into the city as a practical joke, for heaven’s sake! I can’t just forgive that. But I also can’t . . .he means something to me, whatever it is, and how will we ever work anything out if we always have this horribly unequal, magically competing bond where I can force him to do whatever I want? Where even if I do make a wish, chances are it will backfire? If I make a wish now, it’s like I’m giving up on . . . I don’t even know, but something that might matter, something I might want. And if I don’t want it, or if he doesn’t want it, well, better that we aren’t forced to see each other.”

Aileen took a careful sip of her drink and rested it on the table.

“I’m sorry, Zeph,” she said, worry in her eyes. “I didn’t understand.”

“So you agree?”

She laughed and popped a melting ice cube in her mouth. “No,” she said. “But that’s never mattered before.”

*

The next morning the proprietress of our boarding house was making the oddest noises in her attic chambers. Mrs. Brodsky was with her boyfriend, who we jokingly called Mr. Brodsky. The floorboards even managed a creak or two, and I could only admire her stamina in this bloody miserable weather.

“There has to be something we can do,” I said to Aileen, who was practicing Eastern meditation beneath the window. My roommate even wore her lounging kimono— with more determination than comfort, I imagined, given the damp stains spreading at her armpits.

“Wish for Mr. Brodsky to turn into a frog. No, a water sprinkler. Or one of those newfangled refrigerators that Amir has. That would be lovely.”

“We could go to his place,” I said, trying to ignore the conflicting strains of anticipation and dread at the very thought.

“Brave the heat and listen to the bickering duo? I’d rather achieve inner peace, thank you very much.”

I eyed the copy of Harper’s Bazaar still open on her bed. Ancient mystics reveal truth and beauty was the promising headline.  “You don’t look very peaceful,” I said.

“I haven’t had much of a chance.”

“I doubt Mr. Brodsky is going to give it to you.”

Aileen sighed and opened her eyes with a speed that suggested she hadn’t been quite so close to inner peace as she claimed. Above us, the floor creaked alarmingly.

“I think,” said Aileen, “that we should climb onto the roof.”

“The roof? It’s filthy!”

Aileen’s smile grew wider. “We’ll bring a blanket.”

“Its probably a hundred degrees up there.”

“Then it must be a hundred and twenty in here. I swear, if I’d known back in Dublin about New York summers . . . and New York winters, for that matter. This city has some lousy weather, you know that?”

“Which is why we must atone by being the greatest city in the world.”

“A city where no one will think twice about two girls taking the air in the midst of a heat wave.”

She removed the damp kimono and searched through her trunk. I stayed put, eying her cream and lace teddy with not inconsiderable envy. I wore my habitual skirt and fitted blouse, clothes that had contented me for ages, but increasingly frustrated me now. That was Lily’s influence, of course.

“Don’t you have another one of those teddies?” I asked.

“Things heating up with Amir after all?” she asked, holding up a delicate little slip of navy silk and black lace.

I blushed and quickly plucked the teddy from her hands. Our discussion last night had been a necessary clearing of the air, perhaps, but I intended to quash any further investigations about myself and my djinni. “Things are heating up inside my blouse. If we’re doing this, I mean to get properly cool.”

Aileen looked at me like she knew precisely what I was avoiding. But we understood each other very well, and she left well enough alone. Not a day had passed that I hadn’t relived that terrible experience of watching Amir die in his brother’s garden, that I hadn’t heard his voice reciting a poem with such urgency in a language I didn’t understand. And then I helped him live, with my blood staining his lips.

Take her home, brother, he had said. Let her dream she never met me.

I couldn’t talk about it to either Aileen or Amir, but I had been investigating possible methods for a vessel to quit her djinni. Elspeth, the vampire leader of Friends Against Faust, had promised to help if she could. She said she might be able to find a sahir—a witch—powerful enough to solve my problem.

Aileen shook loose her thick black hair. “Shall we? If I’m going to die of this heat, let it at least be with a good view.”

The rooftop was not so grimy as I feared, though the fire escape creaked and groaned like a graveyard revenant. Aileen laid out her blanket and we collapsed upon it, basking in the breeze and muggy open air.

Perhaps an hour later, when my skin had begun to turn unpleasantly red, I was startled to hear the sound of someone else banging on the fire escape.

“You!” shouted Mrs. Brodsky. “There are some men here for you, Zephyr Hollis! They say it is important!”

Aileen rolled on her side and peered at me. “Men? Sounds promising.”

I groaned. “It’s probably Amir again, damn him.” I leaned over the edge of the roof. “I told you yesterday, Amir, I’m not making a wish—”

“Amir? No, no, it’s not your Mohammedan, they say they’re with the police though they don’t look much like police to me—”

Mrs. Brodsky’s strident voice cut off with a squawk, followed by the thud of booted, male feet greatly taxing the corroded metal of the fire escape.

“Zephyr Hollis!” called a voice I certainly didn’t recognize. “Please come down immediately.”

Aileen and I shared a panicked glance. “Did you bring a robe?” I whispered.

“It was hot, remember? Why would I?”

“I can’t just go down there in this teddy! Why, you can practically see my nipples through the lace!”

Aileen squinted. “I think it’s not so much practically, Zeph, dear.”

I closed my eyes. “Oh, bloody stakes.”

The fire escape rattled and creaked and groaned again, if anything more ominously than it had before.

“We hope you’ll come peacefully, Miss Hollis,” said the voice of a second man. “We don’t want to use force, but we will if we have to.”

“Force!” I said.

Aileen poked her nose gingerly over the ledge. “They’re coming up, Zeph.”

“No, stop!” I yelled. The footsteps paused.

“Miss Hollis, I suggest you make this easy for everyone.”

“Who says I want to make this easy?” I said.

“I’ve heard you’re a bit of a firecracker, but now is not the time to make a stand.”

“Don’t you think you could just . . . wait in the parlor for me to freshen up? I’m not at my best, at the moment. This weather, you know—”

“We’re coming up, Miss Hollis.”

Aileen scooted back. She looked around, peering at the neighboring rooftops and windows. “Do you think someone reported us?” she whispered. “Maybe they’re arresting you for indecent exposure?”

“You’re just as indecent as I am!”

Aileen looked at me dubiously. “You know, I’d never noticed that freckle on your left breast before.”

“This is your teddy.”

“Why don’t you think I’m wearing it?”

A pair of hands made themselves visible just beyond the ledge. I looked longingly at the other rooftops, but I didn’t have enough confidence in my vaulting abilities.

“Well,” Aileen said. “Nothing else for it.”

“What are you—”

But Aileen had already stood up on our blanket and was posing with her hand on her hip, as though she were a model for a particularly risqué Harper’s Bazaar. A breeze passed over the rooftop, which lifted her teddy enough for a serious peep show before settling down again.

She had a point. I scrambled up and stood beside her, posing with perhaps less panache, but equal belligerence. I’m a modern woman, I had told my daddy back in January when he’d caught me in a similar state of dishabille, that time courtesy of Amir.

I grinned at the thought of what Daddy would make of me now.

The first man climbed onto the roof. He stopped short and stared until his partner pushed him forward.

“Ah . . .” said the first man, and cleared his throat. He was younger than I would have expected, mid- thirties at the most, and quite tall. His partner was a few inches shorter and even narrower, though I could hardly see his face behind his shadowy, wide-brimmed hat.

“What the devil is this?” said the shadowy one.

The first man blushed, much to my gratification. “Perhaps we should wait in the parlor.”

“Oh,” said the second. He clapped his gloved hands and I realized, with a shock, that he was a vampire. I doubted many vampires could claim the distinction of being officers of the law. “Taking your Sapphic pleasures, Miss Hollis?”

Aileen gasped. The tall officer put a calming hand on his vampire partner’s shoulder.

“Miss Hollis . . .” He nodded in our general direction without quite looking at either of us. “I trust we’ll see you in the parlor in a few, ah, minutes.”

And with that, they took themselves back down the fire escape.

“Well,” Aileen said, after they’d left. “That didn’t go so badly.”

“You can keep the teddy,” I said.

*

The two officers were waiting in the parlor when I forced myself to descend ten minutes later, attired in my most conservative outfit. The vampire officer had removed his hat, revealing a thin, characteristically pale face with cheekbones that could slice pastrami. I could tell, from his expression of pinched disapproval, and his partner’s awkward contemplation of the coffee table, that they were attempting to forget the view on the roof.

“I’m Agent McConnell,” said the tall one, still addressing the coffee table. “This is Zuckerman. We’re from the Other Crimes vice squad. We’d like to ask you a few questions about an ongoing investigation. We can do it here or at the station.”

“Here, thank you,” I said, trying to hide my surprise. Other Crimes            was a special vice squad in the regular police department, tasked with investigating non- human criminal activity. Given the realities of our city, this mostly meant vampires, which made the presence of a vampire officer on the squad particularly interesting.

“What’s this all about?” I asked, since they both seemed content to watch me in silence.

McConnell cleared his throat and took a monogrammed cigarette holder from his breast pocket. “Mind if I smoke?” he said, even as Zuckerman was lighting a match for him without so much as glancing at his partner. The effect was one of imposing harmony, a synchronicity of purpose between the officers that felt somehow Intimidating. MCConnell lit his cigarette and blew a long plume of smoke just barely to my left. I wrinkled my nose and pushed the ashtray conspicuously closer to his elbow. Mrs. Brodsky would blame me if any ashes dusted her precious table.

“Mort,” McConnell said, slipping the cigarette box back into his pocket, “I think you had better explain matters to the young lady?”

Zuckerman’s pinched lips receded even further into his face, so he looked like he had bitten a sour lemon. I wondered if he was annoyed with McConnell, but the glare he fixed on me as he leaned forward in his chair quickly made the object of his ire quite clear.

“We’d like to question you about a matter that occurred this past January.”

I stopped breathing—just as well, since McConnell chose that moment to exhale his particularly malodorous cigarette into my face. January. The month haunted me, no matter how hard I tried to move on.

“What happened in January?” I asked, as calmly as I could manage.

McConnell tilted his head and shrugged at Zuckerman as he tapped his cigarette

in the ashtray. Inexplicably, Zuckerman smiled.

“A major felony,” the vampire officer said, in a tone dry as tinder.

“Felony?”

McConnell shook his head sadly. “Afraid so. We have reason to believe that you at one point harbored an underage vampire. A boy eleven years of age, according to our records. That’s a class A felony.”

“Minimum fifteen years,” said Zuckerman, helpfully.

Harboring an underage vampire? Of all my less- than- legal activities this past January, saving Judah’s life had risked the largest consequences, but I had barely spent a minute in the past six months worrying about it. I had assumed—stupidly, it appeared—that no one would ever find out.

“Mind telling me where you heard this, ah, scurrilous rumor about me and this boy?”

McConnell stubbed out his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray, liberally dusting the table top in the process. “Mort did. I don’t have his contacts, of course. But he’s sure.”

“Sure?” I repeated faintly.

Zuckerman crossed his arms over his chest. “Your face is well known, Miss Hollis.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Your type almost never do,” Zuckerman said. “You didn’t think about the stigma the rest of us suffer when an underage vampire gets loose. Now the only question we have is where you’re keeping him now.”

I cringed inside, but attempted to make a good show of it. “I’ve never had anything to do with an underage vampire! In this neighborhood, child vampires aren’t so rare, anyhow. Surely you’ve heard of the Turn Boys?”

I might have missed my calling as a stage actress.

“True, we have heard of the underage vampire gang,” said McConnell. “But Mort thinks this is a separate matter.”

“And Troy Kavanagh’s Defenders popped those boys in January,”

Zuckerman said.

“So maybe this boy died along with the others.”

“Miss Hollis,” McConnell said, “we dropped by to inform you that you are our primary suspect in this matter.”

I swallowed. “So, are you going to arrest me?”

“Right now, you’re just a suspect,” McConnell said. “But we’re going to be investigating extensively.”

“Brilliant,” I said.

Zuckerman made the sour- lemon face again, though he clasped his hands together in something like glee.

“We think so,” he said. He and McConnell stood at the same moment, again without the slightest apparent need for communication.

“Good day, Miss Hollis,” McConnell said, replacing his hat with that infuriatingly absent- minded, genial air. “We’ll see ourselves out. Until next time.”

I wished with all my heart that there wouldn’t be a next time. It occurred to me that I could also wish on a djinni. But even with a felony hanging over my head I didn’t take the possibility seriously. My skin tingled at just the thought of Amir. That was more than enough reason to refuse to contemplate any wishes but my own.

*

A half-hour later, I opened the door to find Amir waiting for me on the stoop. He held a letter and a bouquet of lilacs. I froze with my hand on the knob, and wondered for a fleeting moment if I could duck back into the hallway without him noticing me. My heart— already strained from my encounter with the detectives— seemed to stutter in my chest. Six months, and this fire- breathing, spendthrift, amoral djinni still had the power to do this to me.

And how he knew it.

Amir grinned and stood up. He held out the flowers. I caught my hands trembling and held them rigidly at my thighs.

“Are those . . .”

“For you,” Amir said, “from the mayor, of all people.”

I leaned against the door jamb. My knees felt suspiciously weak. “The . . .what on earth, Amir?”

He shrugged, and his grin faded. “Far be it from me to question your choice of beaus. Though I must say, this doesn’t read much like a love letter. In some trouble,  Zephyr? You know, I could help—”

“Let me see that,” I said, snatching both the flowers and the small note. My fingers brushed his for a moment, sending my stomach somewhere in the vicinity of my Feet.

I, of course, gave no outward sign of my discomfiture. I was quite as cool as Amir as I opened the folded note on the mayor’s personal stationery.

 

Miss Hollis,

 

You seem to be in difficulties. Should you like to get out of them, stop by my office—I’m sure you know where it is—around four tomorrow afternoon?

 

Regards,

 

James Walker

 

“I need a drink,” I said.

“Before noon?”

“I’m sure it’s midnight somewhere.”

Amir settled against the door jamb and held out his hand. “In Shadukiam, perhaps?” he said, a casual invitation. The strange otherworld that Amir and his djinni brothers called home had a certain appeal.

I considered—which is to say, I fought strenuously against my better judgment. “The Faust evidentiary hearings are at four. Friends Against Faust actually has a speaking invitation, I can’t possibly miss it. This is our best chance to derail the vote next week.”

“So we’ll be back by four.”

“There are two officers with the Other vice squad who are trying to throw me in jail. I’m not sure it’s a good idea for me to be seen with you.”

“Is that bigotry I smell, Miss Hollis?”

I twisted my lips. “No, it’s prudence.”

“You can’t imagine the police would ever come after me.”

“If there is any justice in this world—”

“Zeph, you naive little thing.”

I scowled. “You can’t fight for justice unless you believe in it.”

“And I can think of no better way to advance the causes of truth and justice than by going back to my place for a little judicious lawbreaking.”

“Please tell me,” said Aileen, walking behind me in the doorway, “that this law includes the eighteenth amendment?”

“What else?” Amir said. “Like to come to Shadukiam with us?”

Aileen giggled beneath the force of his smile. “I’ve heard so much about it, how could I refuse—”

I turned on her. “‘No’ would be a start.”

“Why would I want to say that?” she said, all innocence.

I groaned. “I hope you have very good liquor,” I said.

Amir brushed my fingertips with his. “Oh, habibti,” he said, not quite smiling, “I should have known you were a natural.”

I drew back so abruptly I nearly careened into Aileen. “A natural what? Drunk?”

He shook his head. “Lawbreaker. Now, shall we?”

Aileen was nodding and I was considering the very clear not-goodness of this idea even as he blinked and the world wobbled and faded and then I sank to my knees on a mosaic floor, with the smell of roses strong in my nostrils and fountains of water tinkling nearby.

A breeze blew over me, carrying with it the scent of oranges and olives and sun-kissed fields. I felt cool for the first time in a month and that, I decided, was worth the annoyance of spending an extended period of time with Amir.

“Zeph,” said Aileen from a few feet away. “I cannot believe you didn’t take me here before.”

I grimaced and forced myself upright. Some trips were worse than others, but I’d developed a deep loathing for teleportation in the past six months. “I’ll let you know when I open my other universe travel service, Aileen.”

Though as far as I knew this was the first time she had teleported, Aileen didn’t appear at all troubled. Amir had deposited us in a courtyard centered around a golden fountain. On the marble flagstones were two low- lying divans and large brocade cushions for relaxation. She was smiling up at him and arranging herself on a divan closest to the fountain. This was Amir’s brother’s palace, the only part of Shadukiam that’d had the privilege to see. It was fantastically ostentatious, with a series of fountains and gardens, honeycombed with arcaded corridors and towers. Redolent pink and orange roses climbed arches inlaid with mosaic of lapis lazuli and jade. I took a deep, heady breath—I could never deny that wealth had its pleasures.

“So what refreshment suits you?” Amir asked, removing his jacket and sitting on the intricately inlaid mosaic lip of the fountain.

Aileen kicked off her shoes. “Sidecar,” she said.

Amir turned to me, and I discovered that the sight of him stripped to a waistcoat and sharp-tailored pants had momentarily rendered me speechless.

“Same?” I finally managed.

I didn’t know if he noticed; he tugged a little at his lapel and then shook his head before walking away. I sat on the divan next to Aileen, and had just begun to relax into the cushions when he returned with the drinks.

“Did you make them?” I asked, surprised, as he handed me a frosted tumbler.

He smiled and sat on the edge of the fountain. Water spray beaded his slicked-back hair, but he didn’t seem to notice. I took a judicious sip.

“Goodness, I don’t mix the drinks, Zephyr. What do you take me for?”

“A wastrel?” I said.

“As you so often accuse me. But surely you must make allowances for a prince.”

“He has a point,” said Aileen.

I scowled at her, but without much conviction. Having gotten drunk for the first time not six months before, I was hardly what anyone would call an expert on spirits (well, not those kind of spirits). The only liquors I could identify by taste were cheap whiskey and bathtub gin, neither of which would dare offend the inside of such fine crystal. This smelled like the breeze from the orange fields outside Kardal’s palace; it tasted even better, with surprisingly pleasant hints of bitter and sweet. It hardly burned at all, which I had not known was possible.

“Well, your houris mix excellent drinks,” I said, raising the glass to him.

He just smiled and waved his hand. A shot glass filled with deep amber liquid and a single cube of ice dropped with a slight clink on the mosaic tiles beside him.

“A toast,” he said, taking his drink.

“To unearned luxury?” I said.

Aileen sighed. “Give it a rest, will you? Not everything has to be a suffragette rally.”

“I was going to propose,” said Amir, with such mildness that I felt, for a moment, quite churlish, “to pleasantly boring days. May we have many more of them.”

“Amen,” said Aileen fervently, and drained half her glass.

I licked some of the sugar off the rim. “We’re too late for today,”

I said. “But perhaps it’s not too much to hope for.” I paused. “Providing Beau Jimmy can actually get the police off my back.”

“Not to claim undue familiarity with the mayor of your fine city,” he said, “but do you really imagine that his offer won’t come with strings?”

“More like Promethean chains,” I said dejectedly, “but I don’t see many other options. How could they have learned about Judah! Six months too late, at that.”

“I told you,” said Aileen, “that was a bad idea.”

“I told myself,” I said to my nearly empty glass. “Several times. It didn’t seem to stick.”

Six months before, I had saved an underage vampire named Judah from being duly apprehended by the authorities and staked for the “good of the community.” Underage vampires can be deadly when freshly turned—something about their brains can’t handle the process. That one decision had led me into a criminal mess, which Amir and the notorious vampire mob boss Rinaldo had made between them. A mess from which I still had not fully extricated myself. I now seemed to be permanently bound to Amir— a side effect of saving his life with my vampire- immune blood. Judah had recovered (mostly) and was now living with my mama, siblings, and demon- hunting daddy in Yarrow, Montana. I’d had my doubts about this living arrangement, but according to my oldest brother, Harry, everyone got along just fine. Or about as well as they ever had.

“You could always make a wish,” Amir said, setting down his drink. I looked up at him and then away. He leaned forward, his eyebrows drawn together in a look so earnest and caring I could hardly stand it. I hated it when I could peek behind his mask—it was so much harder to view him with the necessary distance.

Aileen opened her mouth like she would say something, thought better of it and took a long sip of her drink.

“Zephyr,” Amir said softly, “you’ve seen what happens when a vessel takes too long between wishes. You’ve waited six months. It’s getting . . .difficult.”

Anxiety tightened, vise-like, around my middle. I knew we couldn’t keep this up. I’d known it for months. But I’d persisted in my hope that some magical solution would reveal itself— some method by which I could break the bond between us and leave all notions of mutual obligations and wishes safely in the past. I didn’t think Amir relished the idea of being bound to me for life either, but he bore the obligation gracefully. Perhaps he saw it as recompense for saving his life. Or even his role in bringing Faust to the city. I didn’t know, but the reasons I had given Aileen were as true now as they had been in January. Whatever Amir and I might have would never survive the pressure of a wish. Because a wish meant I owned his powers.

And yet I considered how easy it would be to wish my way out of my problems. I wish for the police to never have suspected me of saving Judah. That seemed safe enough. No rumors of an underage vampire, no vice squad catching me in a borrowed teddy on the rooftop. And maybe I could even have an extra: I wish for the Faust vote to fail. The Board of Aldermen was set to have their final vote on the full legalization next Monday, a week from today. I’d be a hero forever with Friends Against Faust and Elspeth. But the moment I made those wishes I knew that I would lose whatever chance I had to sever the bond between Amir and me.

“Could I wish to no longer be your vessel?” I asked, surprising myself with how meek I sounded.

Amir twisted his lips. “Only if you want to die.”

This surprised a curse from Aileen. “Hell, really?”

“It’s a permanent bond, so long as both parties are alive. And call me sentimental, habibti, but I’d dearly love for you to avoid suicide.”

“How sweet of you.”

“Is that what’s behind all this? You think you can find some way to get out of the bond? I’ll grant there are few fates worse than being tied to a wastrel for life, but one of them ought to be your early grave.”

I took one look at his earnest eyes, tinged with humor, self-deprecation, bitterness, and just the smallest hint of literal fire—and stood up. I had taken one step toward him when Aileen started to whimper. The noise was small. She had dropped her sidecar to press her hands against her temples. Then the ground began to tremble.

I might have screamed—certainly, my throat felt very raw afterward—but the earth rumbled like a great bass horn in my ears and the marble cracked with deafening thunder. Amir reacted far faster than I. He plucked Aileen like a rag doll from the divan, turned to me with eyeballs of flame and yelled something I didn’t understand. It took a long moment, while cracking stones showered me with powdered mortar and dust, to realize that he was speaking to someone behind me in a language I didn’t know.

I turned to see Kardal as he placed a smoky, bilious hand on my shoulder. “My apologies,” he said in that rumbling voice that merged with the sound of breaking stone.

And with that the world turned sideways, blinked, and then vanished entirely.

 

Chapter Two

 

I spent ten minutes emptying good liquor into an immaculate porcelain bowl. When I decided nothing more could possibly leave my stomach, I stood and rinsed out my mouth as best I could. I wished for a lemonade or at least some food. But there wouldn’t be time for that before the evidentiary hearing. I would probably be late, but no help for it.

When I returned to Amir’s parlor, Amir and Kardal were still arguing. Aileen sat on a couch across from them, looking wan and ignored. I sat down next to her.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “What happened?”

“Fine,” she said. “Just a touch of the Sight. Probably brought on by whatever that mess was.”

“Seemed like more than a touch.” I put my hand on her shoulders, but she shrugged me off.

“Can get like that sometimes. It’s nothing I can’t handle, Zeph, believe me.”

Aileen had discovered an unfortunate inheritance in recent months. The visions of the future and past that had afflicted the women in her family for generations had hit her at a relatively advanced age. When in the grip of one, she lost the ability to see her surroundings and sometimes even control her body. At first she’d made use of her new ability by telling street fortunes, but for the last two months she’d found a far more lucrative gig: the New York Spiritualist Society. She brought on visions for rich ladies with a yearning for spirit photography, ectoplasm, and dead relatives. Considering how  much the visions drained Aileen, I didn’t think it a particularly good idea. But she paid about as much attention to my advice as I did to hers.

I sighed, and turned my attention to the screaming brothers.

Things had escalated far enough.

“Boys,” I said, with a deliberate drawl. “Do you think you could tell us what the hell just happened in there? Because we have places to be.”

Kardal—so bilious he seemed like a cloud with flashing eyes—growled. “Tell her, Amir. Explain what she’s done to my home.”

“What I’ve done?” I asked. “I hadn’t known you could cause an earthquake by drinking a sidecar. Prohibition must work a lot better in Shadukiam.”

But Amir didn’t laugh. He looked genuinely worried, which was never a good sign. “Too much power has built up from your unused wish. It’s pooling in Shadukiam. I hadn’t thought it would have reached that level—”

“You should have—”

“Fine, Kardal. I should have. I thought it would be safe enough to bring you there, Zephyr, but your presence created a kind of warp. It started to destabilize the power keeping Kardal’s palace together.”

Kardal allowed himself to coalesce into a form recognizably human.  “You must make a wish, Zephyr. Even now, it might be dangerous to release so much energy into the world at once, but if you wait any longer, the danger will be much worse.”

I forced down a shiver. “I had no idea the situation was so serious.”

He frowned. “Brother, the council has summoned you about this problem twice in the last month. How could you not have told her?”

Amir tapped his foot in discomfort. “It didn’t seem fair.”

“Fair! What’s fair, then, destroying my home? Causing problems for all the djinni because of this excess power? Bad enough for you to have two vessels in so many years. Do you think our brothers do not notice? That our father doesn’t?”

“Oh, Kashkash preserve us, Kardal—”

“Indeed, you had best hope he preserves you!”

I stood up. They turned to look at me with such a unison of surprise I had no trouble at all believing they were brothers. “Give me a week,” I said.

“Zephyr—”

“It’s too long—”

“A week,” I repeated, firmly. “Give me that long, and then I promise to make a wish.”

Give me one more chance to find a way to break this bond before Amir gets stuck with me forever.

Kardal gave me a long stare, and then nodded. “A deal, Zephyr. And Amir, I trust you will not be so foolish as to bring her back to my home before then?”

He didn’t wait for Amir’s answer, just burst into flame and left nothing of himself but a few ashes on the brocade couch.

“Well, that was exciting,” Aileen said, her acerbic voice cutting the silence.

“I don’t think your toast worked, Amir,” I said.

He shook his head with a bitter smile. “You’d think I’d have learned by now,” he said, “to beware making wishes in our city of roses.” Because Amir had used his previous worldly apartments as a storage facility for Faust, he had determined it would be prudent to move. Instead of finding another ware house in which to install his flashy, opulent tastes, he’d instead opted to rent a suite of rooms in the Ritz hotel. We left Amir soon after Kardal’s more flamboyant departure. The doorman let Aileen and I into the summer heat with barely a lift of his eyebrows, which was good of him, given our disheveled states. My roommate and I parted ways at Times Square.

“Got a séance tonight,” she said.

“Are you sure that’s—”

“It’s fine, Zephyr,” she said, with a look that said are you one to talk? I subsided. “Take care of yourself.”

Her face softened for a moment, and she hugged me. “You too. Make that wish, all right? I felt a bit of what was coming down on that place. It’s nothing to trifle with.”

I promised her I would, though of course I could only think about how I might still get out of the bargain entirely.

But right now, I was about to be late for the all- important hearing. I looked longingly at the passing cabs, counted the change in my pocket and then hurried to the subway. Elspeth, the head of our organization, had been invited to speak before the aldermanic council. This was a coup, both for advancing our cause and because she was of the very few vampires allowed to speak in those halls of power.

I rattled along in the olive- green subway, grateful for the stale air that blasted through the windows and openings between the cars. I glanced at my watch and willed the train to hurry. I supposed I could have found more exciting activities (or at least more restful ones) for my two weeks of summer freedom. My night school classes for the Citizens’ Council were on break until the start of August, and so I had thrown myself entirely into volunteer activities. I appeased Mrs. Brodsky with the small savings I’d kept from my share of the bounty from January. It felt like blood money, and so I tried not to consider the matter too deeply. More important that I keep a roof over my head and help stop Faust now than worry about the morality of my actions six months ago.

When I climbed out of the train station I was unsurprised to see people crowding City Hall Park, but I didn’t understand why the newsboys seemed to be doing such a brisk business this late in the afternoon. I didn’t take the time to look; my watch read three minutes after four, and I winced at the thought of what Elspeth would say about my tardiness. Thankfully, inside it appeared the evidentiary hearings had yet to start.  The doors to the council chamber had been thrown open, but people still milled around the lobby. I spotted a flowered hat on an unusually tall head and I smiled to recognize a friend. Iris Tomkins had been widowed years before by her wealthy husband, and remained a marginal member of New York’s elite society. She was godmother to Lily’s sister, which is how I first met the deb journalist. Iris had devoted herself to causes in lieu of a man, and was one of my chief supporters, if not always the most subtle.

“Zephyr, you made it!” she called, when I had pushed my way closer. Iris, Elspeth, and a few others from the core committee of Friends Against Faust were waiting by the doors for the hearings to begin.

Elspeth frowned. “Late, Zephyr,” she said. That was all; Elspeth had a talent for rigid disapproval. I flushed and mumbled something about the subway.

“There’s news,” Iris said. “Have you heard?” She waved about one of the papers the newsboys had been selling out front.

I took her copy of Evening Standard and read the headline, at least an inch high: TEN VAMPIRES DEAD OVERNIGHT and then, in slightly smaller print beneath that, AUTHORITIES SUSPECT FAUST FROM LEGAL VENDOR.

“They’re saying Faust killed vampires?” I said.

Elspeth wore a dark gray suit so severe it would not seem out of place at a funeral, but she still possessed a forbidding beauty that defied her efforts to bury it. Curly black hair, held back by a scarf, framed a dusky but still oddly pale face. She had been a vampire for five or so years, and could not have been older than thirty when she turned.

“They’re speculating it’s poison,” Elspeth said, “though further down they quote a manufacturer on the possibility of it being a bad batch. The end result is the same, of course. Ten vampires dead on the spot. All from one drink sold by fully legal vendors.”

“But Faust doesn’t cause exsanguination,” I said, baffled. “Could they have drunk liquor by mistake?”

Alcohol caused unwary (or desperate) vampires to bleed out, often fatally. Which accounted for Faust’s runaway popularity in such a short time; vampires could indulge their need for inebriation without mortal danger. Unfortunately, Faust greatly increased their sensitivity to sunlight, so in the immediate weeks after its introduction, dozens of vampires had burned to death accidentally. It also appeared to make vampires dangerously rowdy— though I privately wondered whether it did so any more than plain alcohol’s effect on a human.

Elspeth turned delicately on the ball of one foot and faced me with that direct, unnaturally bright stare that I had learned to dread. “There’s been some suggestion that they died without exsanguinating. No one knows for sure; the police were apparently quick to cart the bodies back to the morgue.”

I had never heard of a vampire who died without exsanguinating. And if it could happen, Daddy should have told me— my daddy is Montana’s most famous demon hunter, though it’s a fact I tend to keep to myself. “How is that possible?”

She shrugged. “Maybe it’s a side effect of long- term abuse. Maybe it’s a judgment from God. No one knows.”

Even before she’d been turned Elspeth would have spent her life dealing with prejudice. Her parents had immigrated here from Syria when she was quite young. She still lived among that community of Christian Arabs at the far southern end of Washington Street, just a block east of the Hudson.

“It may be harsh to say so,” Iris said with relish, “but this might be a great opportunity in disguise. Good people are dead, yes, but what better argument could we have for the dangers of Faust, of the absolute necessity of its immediate prohibition? You must make hay of this in your speech, Elspeth.”

Elspeth regarded Iris impassively, then twisted her lips. “Perhaps before we rush to capitalize upon others’ deaths for our own gain we could determine precisely how they died? It might not be Faust at all, and I’m not willing to make such a strong accusation without proof.”

I was reminded again why I continued to support these efforts. Doubtful as I was about the efficacy of prohibition, I still valued Elspeth’s essential honesty and clarity of purpose. She could be harsh, but she had a solid core that I could only admire.

Iris frowned, as though she wasn’t sure what had just happened. “Why, Elspeth, I didn’t mean—”

At that moment, the ushers began shouting for everyone to enter the chamber and take their seats. We hurried to follow Elspeth among the crush of people rushing inside. She had a seat reserved in a special block for evidentiary presenters. I called good luck to her, and she nodded briefly before walking away. Iris and I took ourselves to the public seats, where she secured two near the front by dint of heavy elbows and a gracious man who gave up his seat in my favor. We had a good view of both the speakers and the aldermen. The mayor did not technically have a vote in this council chamber, but he would of course be here for the hearings. Beau James had staked his political fortunes on the outcome of the Faust bill, for better or worse.

“I hope Elspeth sees sense about the deaths,” Iris murmured. “Think of her persuasive force!”

I said something vaguely sympathetic, but I was more curious about the paper

that Elspeth had taken with her. “They died last night?” I asked.

Iris nodded. “The ones who died were all drinking at two of those outdoor stalls near St. Marks Place,” she said and shuddered. “What a filthy part of town.”

St. Marks Place was famous for its speakeasies and otherwise easy access to the vices of modern life. Lately, outdoor Faust vendors using repurposed hot dog and pretzel stands had been doing a brisk business with the tenement dwellers. The murders must be wreaking havoc with Ysabel and her Blood Bank, so near the crime. I would have to check on her soon, perhaps help make some deliveries.

The room filled quickly. Few political spectacles of the past few years could equal the struggle surrounding the legalization of the “vampire liquor.” Even Charles Lindbergh’s successful traverse of the Atlantic the month before hadn’t been enough to fully distract from the bill’s contentious vote. Lindbergh’s ticker tape had barely been swept from Fifth Avenue before the papers resumed running notices about the political infighting surrounding the bill. So no wonder that the news of Faust killing ten vampires overnight had caused a sensation.

“I wonder what happened to them,” I said.

Iris sighed. “Zephyr, when you reach my age you learn there’s no time to waste on niceties like that. Why, do you think we would have divorce today if Stanton hadn’t been willing to fudge the facts now and again? We act in the service of a higher cause. Still, I suppose information is nothing to sneeze at. Say, Lily has turned into a fair reporter these days, hasn’t she? Perhaps you could lure her away from the Hamptons.”

“Certainly worth a phone call,” I said. I smiled at the thought of Lily’s journalistic ambition bringing her back into the sticky Manhattan summer. She had started a new job at the prestigious New- Star Ledger two months ago, though she seemed to clash with the editor-in-chief with some frequency.

The ushers forced the doors closed. Jimmy Walker shared a whispered word with the board president. The volume in the room lessened in anticipation. In the presenters’ corner, Elspeth held herself perfectly straight, her face a pleasant mask of polite interest. She had been an object of whispered innuendo since she had sat down. Apparently, not everyone approved that a vampire had been asked to present at this hearing. This didn’t surprise me, but it made me furious to hear the snickers and whispered looks that Elspeth ignored out of necessity. Beside her sat Archibald Madison, the influential leader and founder of the Safety Council. Madison was her political opposite in every respect— except for the matter of Faust. He opposed it for vastly different reasons, but this had caused no small amount of consternation among our set. Madison was a tall, thick man of at least fifty, with gray hair and late- Victorian muttonchops. Among his followers he was considered handsome, but I found his pale blue eyes and habitually choleric expression profoundly off- putting. Madison had swelled the Safety Council rolls with his strident Other- hating vitriol at packed public events.

Iris nudged me, more out of excitement than anything. The board president was finally calling the hearing to order.

“Mayor, distinguished guests. Today the Board will hear presentations from many perspectives regarding the pending vote on Resolution 43, being the full approval of the drink known as Faust, heretofore approved under temporary license given by the Board of Licensure in January. Our first presenter will be Archibald Madison. You have the floor, sir.”

The applause as he stood up before the Board surprised me; this wasn’t a Safety Council rally, after all.

“Gentlemen of the Board,” he said, nodding to them, “I am here to tell you, in all humility but with the truth of the Almighty behind me, that a plague has descended upon us! The plague upon us cloaks its evil in the form and aspect of humanity, leading us to give these demons our sympathy and our love. Yes, love, I said. What wife would not love a husband, miraculously risen from the dead? What child would not love such a father? What brother such a brother? And yet these are but specters and apparitions, temptations of the devil and tests from God. We must exorcise these false creatures from our midst. The cleansing of vampires is our moral duty! And now Faust, that witch’s brew of tainted blood, has compounded our problem. It emboldens the vampire, makes him reckless and strengthens his essential evil. We are in the plague’s final stages   if we believe for a moment that these creatures deserve anything more than a stake through their hearts and holy water in their eyes.”

He smiled faintly at the ensuing applause, like it was the least he felt he deserved. Iris and I stared at each other.

“Good god,” she said. “They invited that to speak?”

Elspeth sat as calmly as ever, but I could only imagine how it felt to be a vampire in the room at that moment— alone, facing a crowd who cheered your destruction.

*

Elspeth’s speech went over fairly well, given the circumstances. In her quiet but forceful manner, she laid out the facts of vampirism in this city (vampires constituted only five percent of the city’s population, as they had since the sixties), and the problem with Faust being one of vampire welfare and safety, not some existential danger to humans. Though you wouldn’t know it from reading the press, the chances of being turned from a vampire bite are around one in two hundred.

Iris and I led the applause, such as it was. But one of the aldermen called her back before she could reach her seat. “Miss Akil, if you could please just answer one question?” It was Fred Moore, a negro alderman representing one of the two Harlem districts. “I trust you have heard of the latest incident involving this drink? Would you argue that Faust’s implication in the matter of ten vampire deaths overnight gives a greater credence to the arguments for prohibition?”

A murmur went through the room. Iris gave my elbow a gleeful squeeze, as this was what she had encouraged Elspeth to say all along. But Elspeth, having paused a moment to consider her response, nodded. “It maybe so, sir, but the evidence is very thin right now. The bottles could have been poisoned, for all we know. Until the true cause can be ascertained, I am not comfortable making such a pronouncement, or capitalizing on these tragedies.”

A wave of whispered conversation overtook the chamber as Elspeth retook her seat. Iris shook her head. “I should have known!” she said.

“At least she’s consistent.” I felt sure she had taken the proper route, though I saw Iris’ point. If something about Faust had turned deadly, it would only strengthen our position.

The hearing concluded an hour or so later. Elspeth had tried her best to be persuasive, but I filed out of the chamber feeling discouraged. It felt more like a show trial than something designed to elicit information and debate.

The mayor and a woman I didn’t recognize were speaking with Madison on the floor of the chamber. I tried to hurry past, but he caught my eye and nodded cordially. I blushed. Had Elspeth or Iris seen? On no account could I tell them of my letter this morning. I needed to see what exactly tomorrow’s appointment with the mayor would bring. As I walked by, he was talking to Madison with a politician’s false heartiness. “Well, my friend, you’ve got to at least make it to the banquet this Saturday. We’re putting on quite a show— I just got word from Albany that Al might come down as well.”

Madison’s faint, supercilious smile didn’t waver. “As I’ve told Mrs. Brandon, the invitation is flattering, but I can’t say for sure. A man of my position must examine his affiliations very carefully . . .”

The drift of the crowd pushed me away before I could hear any more. The mayor really thought he could convert a demagogue like Madison to his side? Good news for us, then—such an improbable pursuit must mean he hadn’t yet secured the necessary votes to legalize Faust. On the steps outside, Iris took a leaflet from a man passing them out and fanned herself. Elspeth had covered herself thoroughly for the journey into the evening sun, but she stayed with us for a little longer.

“Madison has too much support,” Elspeth said, watching the earnest-looking young men passing out pamphlets to the lingering crowd. “He claims his Safety Council has doubled its membership in the last six months.”

“Piffle,” Iris said, “he would say so. The man thinks he’s the second coming of our Lord.”

“If only he would try to walk on water,” Elspeth said and I laughed.

The man himself descended the steps a moment later, smiling and shaking hands. Iris grunted and lowered her makeshift fan. For the first time, I noticed that the leaflet had been issued by the Safety Council.

The bold text was lurid and explicit: TRUST MADISON! STOP THE VAMPIRE SCOURGE! JUSTICE IS IN YOUR HANDS. IF BEAU JAMES WILL NOT STOP THE SUCKER PLAGUE, YOU KNOW YOUR MORAL DUTY.

“Have you read this?” I asked, taking the damp paper. Elspeth leaned over.

“He would never have dared write this a year ago,” she said. On the curb, Madison waved to the crowd and then climbed into a waiting sedan. For religious man, he didn’t seem to have much trouble flaunting his wealth: his shining blue Packard  probably cost what I made in five years of work for the Citizen’s Council.

“Maybe his followers are the ones getting more radical,” Iris said.

But I frowned over the paper, wondering at the childlike caricature of a long-fanged vampire sinking his teeth into a young, beautiful woman. Radical and violent. A stake was pictured beside the words “moral duty,” and the implied message made me nauseous.

“Poison in the bottles could have killed those vampires,” I said.

Elspeth looked at me sharply. “It could have. And you think someone had a motive to put it there?”

“I think quite a few someones might have been convinced to stop the vampire scourge.”

“Murder!” Iris said so loudly that not a few people nearby turned. “But surely it’s more likely the Faust itself killed them! Given everything else it does.” Iris pouted, clearly frustrated by the possibility that these deaths might not help our cause as she had hoped. But I felt a pang at the thought of what such news would do to Amir. It sometimes seemed he felt guilty for bringing Faust into the city, but how much worse would it be if it turned out to kill vampires as well?

“Perhaps,” Elspeth said quietly. “But you will allow, Iris, that every other side effect of the drug was witnessed very early. And even though I doubt most of Madison’s followers are dedicated enough to take up this injunction . . .”

“Some might be,” I said. “If not Madison himself.”

“You don’t think!” Iris said, clearly warming to the theory.

Elspeth shrugged. “I doubt he would so dirty his hands. He’s far too savvy a political figure. But that doesn’t preclude his involvement— if indeed these were murders. Zephyr?”

“Yes?”

“Would you mind looking into the matter?”

“Into Madison?”

“Yes. If he’s involved in some way, it would be good to know. Even if he isn’t, Madison is becoming a force to reckon with in the city.”

“But wasn’t I going to help you write letters and newspaper items?”

Elspeth waved her hand. “This is far more important. Iris and the others can

help. But it seems clear to me that you have connections where we do not. The mayor knows you by sight.”

I bit my lip. So she had noticed, drat it all. “I’m still not sure—”

“If you will just try, Zephyr,” Elspeth said. “No one will judge you for failure.”

“Of course, Elspeth. I’ll do what I can.” I didn’t know why she’d asked me to sleuth for her, but I admit the idea gave me a bit of a thrill.

“Well, I’m dead famished,” Iris declared. “Would you like to dine with me,

Zephyr? And Elspeth, of course,” she added in hurried embarrassment. Elspeth declined graciously, claiming another appointment across town.

“But about that other matter, Zephyr,” Elspeth said, her voice lower. “It’s possible that I might have found a solution.”

It took me a moment to realize she was speaking about Amir. “You have?” I said, shocked. I had first asked her about this months before.

“Yes. It is not safe to mention here, but if you come to the office tomorrow, I’ll know for sure. Now, if you’ll excuse me . . .”

She said farewell to Iris and then hurried down the steps to the subway entrance. The sun had descended considerably as we talked.

“I’m hungry myself,” I said.

Iris laughed. “Zephyr, dear, if nothing else, your appetite can be relied upon.”

*

Iris took me to a wonderfully loud Italian restaurant on Mulberry Street, where we sat in the garden while Iris smoked and we both ate our weight in pasta. The whole place was packed with communists and anarchists, who periodically fired good- natured snipes at each other, like two pirate ships exchanging salutes. Iris procured chianti and dessert, insisted on paying for everything, and hired a taxi to drop me off at Mrs. Brodsky’s. The driver took me back through Little Italy, across Broome Street, and I noticed that the Beast’s Rum— the speakeasy that had closed due its association with Rinaldo’s now defunct gang— seemed to have reopened for business. Under new management? I had not seen a trace of the child vampire Nicholas or his Turn Boy friends since January, but I knew they’d survived the fracas. Still, even half- mad Nicholas couldn’t have the gall to move right back into his murdered gangster daddy’s old bar, could he?

We passed not a few Faust street vendors as well, all of whom seemed to be doing a brisk business, to my surprise. Perhaps these vampires hadn’t heard of the strange deaths. Perhaps they didn’t think they were likely to get the poison apple.

Maybe they just didn’t care.

A message waited for me when I finally dragged myself through the door of Mrs. Brodsky’s. Katya was cleaning the kitchen. A pot of soup sat on the stove, and when I indicated I’d already eaten, she handed me a letter.

“From your brother, I think,” she said, in the thin voice that even now sometimes surprised me. For the first several months I had known her, Katya never spoke a word. We had attributed her silence to the shock from her husband’s sudden death on a construction site, though now she thankfully seemed to be recovering. The young widow helped Mrs. Brodsky with the chores in return for very little thanks and even less pay. She had given birth to her late husband’s child a few months before, and they both seemed to be doing well.

I opened the note, folded at a hasty diagonal on heavy watermarked paper, and recognized the handwriting as Harry’s. As for the cream stock with the discreet filigreed monogram of E.H. in the lower corner, I assumed it belonged to another one of the rich society boys that Harry would leave broken- hearted in a week or so. When Harry first ran away to the big city to join Troy’s Defenders, I hadn’t anticipated that particular complication. But in the event, it did not come as much of a surprise to learn of his preference for pretty young men—and theirs for him. Troy might have cared had he known, but the only thing that really mattered to him was his job. And Harry did that well. None of Daddy’s children were a slouch at demon hunting. Harry had made me swear on my life to never tell Daddy or Mama. Like Mama didn’t already know, I told him, but I promised anyway. This was New York City, after all, the land of minimal social taboos and self- reinvention. If he was enjoying himself, then I wished him the best of it.

Though five years my junior, Harry had developed a slightly abashed sense of protectiveness toward me. He periodically checked to make sure I was “getting on all right.” Like he had to night.

 

Zeph—

 

Don’t know if you heard, there’s something strange happening to the suckers. Probably nothing dangerous, but I’ve heard the Faust’s now got poison in it. Or maybe it turned bad on its own? I even heard they didn’t pop. Be careful. I know you can take care of yourself, right, don’t fuss at me I’m just saying be careful.

 

See me tomorrow if you can.

 

Harry

 

PS Mama called. Said Daddy’s acting odd and keeps asking about you.

 

I stared at this letter while my thoughts chased each other like aging rabbits. If Harry said the Faust might be poisoned, then I had to take the possibility seriously. I would have to devise some means of investigating Madison. I sighed— the prospect looked daunting. Elspeth thought I had connections with the mayor, but I wondered what kind of connection his strange letter represented.

Aileen hadn’t yet returned when I climbed upstairs, but she was sitting on her bed when I returned from washing my hair. She was deathly pale, though the white dust on her collar told me the effect was due mostly to powder. But that didn’t explain the dark circles under her eyes or her unusually bleak expression.

“Did somebody die?” I asked.

“Besides those poor suckers, you mean?”

I sat down beside her, still in my robe. “So you had a jolly time with the ladies, then,” I said, forcing a smile out of her.

“Oh, much fun was had at the Spiritualist Society to night,” Aileen said, waving her hand theatrically. “Just not by their resident Spiritualist. Christ Almighty and spirits preserve me, but those ladies work me like a dog. Four separate séances, and they wouldn’t be satisfied until the lights flickered and the room went cold and I channeled no fewer than six dead husbands. I felt like I was holding a jamboree.”

“You mean you pretended to channel them?”

“Maybe,” she said.

“Aileen.”

“Bloody stakes, Zeph, what am I supposed to do? Go back to passing out on the floor in the bottle factory? The great ladies pay me to use my Sight. They don’t pay too badly, either, so I’d rather use this blighted curse for real money instead of eking things out on Skid Row. If you don’t mind.”

She started pulling pins out of her hair and tossing them angrily on the floor. My heart felt like it was pulling apart in my chest. Hadn’t I promised Aileen that I’d help her find a way to control her Sight? But instead it had just gotten stronger and more compelling as the months passed. It exhausted and traumatized her to use it, but I could see her point: if she had such a strong gift, why not use it to make money?

“Aileen, I didn’t mean . . . you should do what you think is best. I just don’t want it to hurt you.”

Aileen laughed. “It’s not my idea of a picnic, doing this all the time.”

I wanted to promise that I would help her, but I knew better now. I just wrapped my arms around her waist.

“I’m tired,” she said to my shoulder.

“Me too,” I said.

 

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