Authors: Al Ewing
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General
Gods Of Manhattan
An Abaddon Books
ISBN (.epub version): 978-1-84997-221-5
ISBN (.mobi version): 978-1-84997-220-8
First published in 2010 by Abaddon Books
, Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited, Riverside House, Osney Mead, Oxford, OX2 0ES, UK.
Editors: Jonathan Oliver & Jenni Hill
Cover: Mark Harrison
Design: Simon Parr & Luke Preece
created by Jonathan Green
Copyright © 2010 Rebellion. All rights reserved.
, Abaddon Books and Abaddon Books logo are trademarks owned or used exclusively by Rebellion Intellectual Property Limited. The trademarks have been registered or protection sought in all member states of the European Union and other countries around the world. All right reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental.
Night and the City
When the night came, you could hear Manhattan coming to life.
Stagecoaches clip-clopped down the wide streets, oil lamps burning on the sides. Rickshaws clattered through back alleys, seeking shortcuts, yelling at each other if they got too close.
Watch it, Mac! You blind?
Newsboys catcalled as they waved the evening editions.
Wuxtry, wuxtry! Blood-Spider sighted in the South Bronx! All in colour for a dime! Wuxtry, wuxtry! Don't ask, just buy it!
Coloured lanterns picked out theatre signs, reflecting from the silvered letters. In Times Square, great paper advertisements for Sake-Cola and
Jonny's Daily Show
at the Chinese Theatre glowed softly from the arrangement of gas-lamps behind them. On every corner there was the scent of cooked sausage meat as the hot-dog vendors grilled their wares over barrel-fires, the smell hitting your nose as their calls and cries met your ears.
Mustard and sweet onion! Red sauce and yellow! Hot dogs, hot dogs! One dollar five! Wrap a nickel in a bill and eat your fill!
You might start off surrounded by tourists and suits, bowlers and top hats on every head around you, and then turn the right corner and walk down the wrong alley and everything would change before you'd even noticed. You might find yourself face-to-face with a sneering young tough-guy in leather and studs and an injun haircut streaked with pink and green, with a safety-pin through the nose to complete the effect - an apparition you could only find here, in the City Of Tomorrow. Futureheads, they were called - an ironic gesture, considering their creed and battle-cry was "No future for me, no future for you."
According to the futureheads, some vital step towards progress had been lost along the way to the present day, and human civilisation had entered a period of stagnation, of cultural inbreeding. The familiar bred with the familiar and created more and more outlandish results. Futureheads were the self-proclaimed end result of this degradation, their clothing a forest of symbols repurposed and détourned, all original meanings subsumed into a new and terrible message - that history had stopped, the roaring train of time had crashed and humanity were now only playing around in the wreckage, finding what uses they could for the junk.
Still and all, a futurehead rarely wanted trouble. That swaggering tough was most likely on his way to a bar, happy with his own, in no mood to give you more than a filthy look and a wad of spit at your feet. No, if it was trouble you were after, you kept an eye on the bikers - the treaded rubber tyres of their Off-Road Bicycles rattling with steel spokies as they bunny-hopped and weaved through the crowds with practiced ease, swapping charged looks and predatory grins as they sped down streets and alleys. The better they were on those things, the more likely they were to be purse-snatchers. You could spot them because they rode no-handed, keeping their hands free to cut straps and grab bags, slinging their prizes into a basket on the front of the machine before grabbing the handlebars again to swerve away, leaving pursuit far behind.
Turn another corner and you might find a gothic Lolita-lookalike waving shyly at you from under a streetlight, kitten ears poking from her hair. Or a man wearing hard eyes and a trilby hat, shooting you a dirty look and opening his coat just enough to show you his gun, then strolling into a nightclub and putting four in the belly of some poor schmoe who hadn't made the payments. Or a fellow in shirtsleeves and zoot trousers, spinning like a top on his back and his head, on a cardboard sheet right there on the sidewalk. Music provided by three sharp-dressed men with steel drums and tom-toms, tapping out a beat so complex and layered that no formal dance would ever do, so catchy and contagious that not dancing wouldn't do either. White boy off to the side, throwing shapes with his hands and laughing like a drunk, even though he'd never touched a drop in his life.
That's a top one, fellahs, oh that's a nice one,
he'd shout, and the answer would echo back from around the corner,
red sauce and yellow! One dollar five!
Turn another corner and you might find yourself back in the world, back among those who made sense to you. Or you might find yourself face-to-chest with a powder blue t-shirt and a lightning bolt decal, and a soft deep voice that might have belonged to the Lord on the mount, wishing you a good night and good luck. Or you might find yourself where you'd never known you belonged until now. That place that couldn't exist in any other city in the whole damned world.
This was Manhattan, after all. There were stories here.
And when the night came, they came to life.
Here's a story.
Out on the water, there were two men. They were sitting in a small sailing vessel, drifting in the darkness towards Manhattan.
Willis was looking at the Statue. The arm holding the torch had been destroyed during the Second Civil War - the Statue was French, after all, so there was no surprise in her being a target - but most people liked the replacement arm and the new torch a lot better anyway. Something about having an actual fire roaring out of that torch - an eternal flame, the politicos had called it - made the Statue seem a little more defiant, somehow, and Willis liked that. He breathed in, watching the way the flames danced from the torch, reflected on the water below. He never did get tired of that view.
The other man glanced up briefly, then returned to his sword. He'd been inspecting it for the last hour, and it was starting to make Willis uneasy. The Mexican was a tall, muscular figure, strikingly handsome in an odd way, with scruffy black hair, long in back, and a thick moustache - but he slouched, round-shouldered, and his hair was greasy and hung in his face. He wore a pair of classy tuxedo pants and little else. The only things he seemed to own, once he'd paid for his passage, were his sword and a strip of red cloth poking out of his pocket.
He kept scratching the back of his skull. It made Willis uneasy.
"So. Up from Mexico, huh?" Willis grunted. Talking made the sailing go a little faster sometimes, and besides, he wanted to break the silence. Part of him wondered if he could throw the other man overboard, if it came to it.
The Mexican nodded.
"You know, most folks up from Mexico come via land, if you don't mind me saying. You serious about taking boats all the way around Cape Horn and up the other side?"
The Mexican shrugged. He spoke softly, with a strong accent, but with no hesitation, no fumbling for the right words. "They'd have been waiting for me in Russia. And somebody once told me there was some interesting art in New York. I wanted to see for myself."
Willis nodded, though in truth he hadn't the faintest idea what the fella was talking about or who 'they' might be. "I, uh, I don't know if they'd let you into a gallery wearing that."
The Mexican laughed, dryly. "Maybe not. I can find something to wear. Or Djego can..." he scratched the back of his head, wincing. "It's hard to tell sometimes who's who. You understand." He stared at his fingers for a moment, then gently felt around his eyes and at the bridge of his nose. "I'm Djego. Of course I am! I'm Djego the poet. Museums are exactly the sort of thing I like. Museums and avoiding trouble." He lowered his head. "Ask anyone. Djego hates fighting. Djego is a coward. Everyone knows." He spat the words.
He gazed out across the water, at the flickering torch.
"That was the problem. Djego ran away when they murdered everything he loved. Poor old Djego. He just wasn't equipped to handle that kind of thing. He needed someone else to take over. Someone better. Stronger.
For a moment, there was steel in his voice, and in his eyes - and then he blinked and shook his head, scratching the back of it for a moment. "Djego...
I am just looking after this." He held up the sword, looking at it in the light. "It's not mine."
Willis swallowed, looking nervously at the sword. When the half-naked man had hired his boat, back in Fort Hancock, he'd been happy with the payment offered. Six hundred, half in cash and half in valuables. Gold and diamond watches, tie pins. A couple of Nazi medals, which had been a little strange. Still, Willis had turned a blind eye. Now, he was wondering if he'd been right to be so mercenary about it. This man was crazier than a three-dollar bill in a windsock.
"So, what, uh, what kind of art are you interested in, Mr. Djego?" He smiled, wetting his lips and keeping his eyes on the sword.
"The soup cans. And I heard some things when I was talking to people on the way here. The kind of people who wear gold and diamond watches. And have Nazi medals in cigar boxes that they keep hidden and lovingly polished." He snarled, and started scratching the back of his head again. "Bastards." He shook his head, as though trying to focus his thoughts. "It seems... it seems as if I might have some business in this city. Well, Djego won't. Djego couldn't. But somebody will." Idly, he pulled the strip of red cloth out of his pocket. There were two holes in it.
His other hand continued to scratch, as if it couldn't stop. As if some itch in his skull was building and building.
"Business?" Willis took a shaky breath. "What, uh, what sort of business are you in?"
The Mexican blinked at him for a moment.
Then he tied the red cloth over his eyes in one quick movement.
Then he looked at Willis again.
Willis cried out and stumbled back, falling on the deck.
Behind the improvised mask, the Mexican's eyes were terrifying.
He stood - back straight, hair no longer in his eyes - and picked up his sword, gripping it as though it was a part of his arm. He gave a short, barking laugh, and even his voice was different; bold, mocking and macho. The Mexican had become a completely different person.