Authors: A. M. Jenkins
To Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for her immense
kindness and generosity
COLE did have a map in his backpack. He’d studied…
IT was past four in the morning by the time…
MITCH was still there, stretched out in a plush armchair…
THE living room looked as it had when Cole had…
EARLY the next evening Cole got his laundry started in…
“EVENING, Cole,” said Johnny. “I see Sandor’s been telling you…
IT took a moment to sink in.
“SHALL we take the subway?” Sandor asked. The three of…
COLE had everything laid out in neat piles on his…
COLE wanted to do all the driving. He didn’t want…
THE next evening Cole opened his eyes to the familiar…
GORDON seemed to be catching on. Each of the next…
GORDO fed on the first try the next evening. Cole…
HE was pale, thin, rather small as he stood looking…
“I learned exactly nothing,” Cole told Sandor. They spoke in…
GORDO seemed a little subdued after his sidewalk-feeding adventure and…
THE next night, as usual, Cole went to collect Gordo…
BY the next evening Cole regretted snapping at the kid.
COLE made sure the next motel they stopped at had…
COLE stayed in his own room the rest of that…
SLEEP did not help Gordo.
THEY found the “right place” in Baltimore, along a street…
COLE headed down the alley behind the Vickery Moe. The…
IN his room, Cole found that his skin—especially his arms…
HE started to call Sandor’s cell phone to warn him,…
COLE noticed that his hands were shaking now—it was difficult…
ON the way back he started shivering; he was cold,…
THEN the pain was gone, and Cole was floating over…
AGONY drew him back. Fierce, sucking, as if his heart…
The Heart of the Colony
THE following evening they were able to start the drive…
IN Manhattan, Cole did not stay in four-and-a-half, but in…
have a map in his backpack. He’d studied it in the parking garage. Only now that he was already on the subway did it occur to him that it might be outdated.
What a foolish mistake on his part, to assume that he could rely on a thirty-year-old map.
Cole loathed mistakes.
That couldn’t be right. Fifth was on the wrong side of the park, wasn’t it?
He’d decided to take the train into Manhattan because he’d had difficulty once when he’d taken a cab. The stop-and-start traffic had made him carsick, which had been very unpleasant for both him and the cabdriver, who had neither seen nor smelled regurgitated blood before. And of course, as soon as his stomach was
emptied, he had to prevent the Thirst that would inevitably follow. He’d quickly fed on the cabdriver, a hairy man who apparently was not fond of bathing. He’d had to take more than usual; then he’d felt bad about leaving the man unconscious and tucked a large tip into the guy’s shirt pocket.
Now Cole sat, feeling the muted throb of the tracks under the car, and he had an uncomfortable suspicion he was moving farther and farther away from where he needed to be.
He did not want to pull out his own map. To pull out a map and pore over it in New York City screamed “TOURIST! COME ROB ME!” But there was no help for it. He was an idiot. He should have gotten a new map and studied it before he even got out of his car.
He got off at the next stop—Lexington Avenue—backpack slung over his shoulders. He did not like using the backpack, which crushed and wrinkled the clothes inside. Of course, he had not wanted to come into the city at all—but his wants had nothing to do with it, and the backpack was less obtrusive than his suitcase, which had wheels and a handle that popped up.
Real eighteen-year-old guys, Cole felt, did not walk
alone at night wheeling luggage on the subways and streets of Manhattan.
He walked across the platform as quickly as possible and leaned with his back against the concrete wall, under the faint sterile buzz of a fluorescent light. There he pulled out the map and discreetly unfolded one corner, hoping that would be enough to give him a clue where Lexington Avenue was in the scheme of things.
It wasn’t. He unfurled the whole damn thing. Fine, he was a teenage tourist.
But the map didn’t make any sense. Cole didn’t even know where he was. And all those colored lines branching off. Now, here he was who knew where, holding a tangled mess of lines on a paper that was worse than useless because the stupid trains didn’t always stop at each station that was marked. No, they sometimes
stations, which, now that he thought about it, was likely what had happened to him. Or perhaps he’d gotten on the wrong train in the first place, back when he’d switched from the PATH train.
God. He’d have to go up, get his bearings, and walk to his destination.
Unless he was in Queens. Or any place that didn’t
have streets numbered in a grid.
The problem was that he’d been too complacent. Cole had thought he already had the answers when he
that the moment you let down your guard is the moment you start making mistakes. He’d just thought he could remember from the last time he’d been here. He couldn’t recall the year exactly, but it was the summer Lady Di married Prince Charles. He remembered because Mina and Alice had kept Johnny’s TV tuned in to the wedding.
Now, map still in hand, he headed up the concrete stairs to the sidewalk to look at street signs and figure out where he was.
He’d only stayed a few weeks during the Charles-and-Di summer. The longest Cole had ever stayed in Manhattan was for three or four years, back when Johnny had first bought the Building; but that was before the subways had been extended this far.
At the top of the steps Cole paused, map in his hand. It had rained recently, but not much. The air was damp and heavy and smelled of wet streets and steamy concrete, but the only water was a trickle in the gutters, a darker patch here and there on the sidewalk.
Not far away, under the corner street sign, some guy in a greasy overcoat was dancing in the middle of the sidewalk, flapping his arms slowly, his eyes on an invisible somebody right in front of him.
“Code red, Code red,” Cole heard him announce to the somebody. “Frequency forty-nine has been alerted. Clearance requested from the emperor.”
All right. There was no hurry; it was several hours till dawn. And Cole did not know why Johnny had called him in, but if it had been urgent, there was no question that Johnny would have told him so.
Of course, he had not tried to find out what it was all about. He’d felt a vague discomfort licking at him, but rather than ask Johnny why he wanted him to come in, Cole had asked instead:
Is everything all right?
And Johnny had said yes.
Anything beyond that, he knew, could wait.
He peered at the strange man again—he could almost smell the stale odor of unwashed clothes from here. He wasn’t afraid of the guy, just reluctant to get involved in a hassle out on a public street.
Cole turned. It was a woman. Not hemovore. An
omnivore. You could always tell even if no bodily movements gave it away. An omni’s eyes had a stunted, undeveloped look, while a heme’s gaze was ripe to the core. This omni woman had short gray hair, wore jeans, and carried a canvas bag looped over one shoulder.
“I’m lost,” Cole admitted. He hoped she was not a mugger. He hated the way muggers reacted when they shot him badly and he didn’t fall down. He hated it even more when they shot him well and he did.
“Where are you trying to go?” She sounded matter-of-fact, but she stayed just out of reach; she wasn’t completely stupid. Only partially so, helping a stranger at night.
He took one more look at the useless map, then crumpled it up into a ball and dropped it into a trash can next to the railing. “I’m trying to get to West One Hundred and Second.” He put his hands in his pockets so it wouldn’t look as if he were about to grab her. Then it occurred to him that she might think he was digging for a weapon, so he took his hands out. Then he wasn’t sure what to do with them.
He ended up clasping them in front of him like a fig leaf. He hated New York.
“You need to take the V train back to Rockefeller Center, then catch the B. I’m pretty sure it stops at One Hundred and Third. You can get off and walk from there.”
“Okay.” Cole had no idea what she’d just said. “Thank you.” He decided he’d find a cab and just hope it was a short ride.
“No problem.” She tugged the bag up over her shoulder and had started to turn away when Cole spoke.
“Listen,” he said. “You shouldn’t approach strangers at night. It’s not wise.”
She paused but didn’t stop. “I knew it was okay,” she called over her shoulder. “You have kind eyes. And you’re wearing a cross.”
He looked down. He always wore the necklace under his shirt, but sometimes it worked its way out to dangle in full view. It
a cross, made of two nails bound together with wire.
He dropped it back inside his collar so that it hung against his skin. By the time he looked up, the woman was gone, disappeared down the stairs as if swept away by a current. He stood looking after her for a second, knowing he’d never see her again. That’s the way it always was; he stood still while everyone else
got swallowed up and lost.
Luckily, he saw a taxi down the street dropping off two people; and as he raised his hand and started toward it, he wondered again just why Johnny had asked him to come back.
was past four in the morning by the time Cole was buzzed into a hallway that smelled faintly of wax and polish. His sneakers made no noise on the tiled floor.
Cole ignored the first door—it was no longer used—and went directly to the one at the back. Johnny’s apartment took up the two bottom floors.
A lanky guy with a flop of red hair let him in. It was Mitch—laid-back, easygoing Mitch. “Hey, Cole,” he said, unsurprised. His face was friendly. “Long time no see.”
“Come on in, man. How’re the boondocks?”
“Amazing,” Cole answered, stepping into the apartment. “The people actually wait for the lights to change before trying to cross the street.”
“Uh-huh,” said Mitch, undisturbed. “Well, Johnny’s out back.”
Of course Johnny would be out there. He spent most evenings on the patio, until it got cold. And most of the other hemes would be with him. What they did, mostly, was sit around talking, exactly like some of the suburban omnis Cole had seen hanging out in their yards in the summer, chatting while their kids played hide-and-seek or football.
Cole considered. He was thoroughly out of sorts after the stupid subway—out of patience, out of energy.
But he ought to check in, see what was going on.
“I’ll just go put my things up,” he told Mitch, not moving from the door. “Then I’ll come on out.”
“Whatever floats your boat,” Mitch said cheerfully. “Johnny said you could have four-and-a-half. Do you want a feed?”
Cole did not like open feeding; he was out of the habit, and it made him uncomfortable. But he always took a feed when it was available—that was only wise, to keep desire from taking recognizable form so that it would never, ever turn into need. “Just a small bit,” he told Mitch reluctantly.
“Sure. Gotcha. Just give me a sec.” And Mitch disappeared through the swinging door that led into the kitchen.
Cole looked around the apartment. Most of the furniture had changed since the last time he was here. The white rugs were new. And those overstuffed chairs—they were new too. The couch was leather now. A flat-screen TV hung on the wall, tuned to ESPN.
The place was large, for Manhattan. The door next to the television led to the kitchen—a real kitchen, Cole knew, that you could walk around in. In the corner a spiral staircase led to the second-floor bedrooms. Next to that, a small hallway. And across the living room, a sliding glass door led to the patio. Cole could see movement outside.
He couldn’t put his finger on any one thing about Johnny’s apartment that made him uncomfortable. It was welcoming and clean. You could discuss an art exhibit or watch a football game and not feel out of place. You could feed anytime you wanted, take naps on the couch, never worry about sun. Everyone was safe here; everyone who entered was insulated from risk, from extremes.
And, after all, was that such a bad thing?
Mitch came back, pulling an omni by the hand. It was a girl with her eyes heavily outlined in black, her dyed-black hair framed on one side in red, the other in purple. Of course she wore black. The Building omnis almost always did.
Cole smiled automatically—his smile was one of his weapons—but it wasn’t necessary, because she held out her hand with a flourish. Her eyes stayed on him as he slowly took her hand in his. Mitch didn’t leave, or turn away—he just stood there watching the basketball game, apparently waiting for Cole to finish.
This was, after all, the Building. Open feeding was an everyday occurrence.
Cole turned the omni’s hand over and lifted her wrist. There were scars on it, small circles healed and half healed. This, too, was something he was unused to. He pulled out the necklace hidden under his shirt and gently punctured her skin with one of the nails.
He watched her face as he fed. There they went—the eyes, growing dazed, unfocused. Most of the time, on the road, you didn’t get to see their faces. He hadn’t forgotten what it was like, the slow tease of open feeding—but he’d put it out of his mind.
Now her eyelids grew heavy, half shut. Her lips relaxed
and parted. Her breath seemed to unwind from somewhere beneath her breasts, escaping in a heavy sigh.
That’s what happened to them; they got lost in a haze of pleasure and well-being, like flies doped into paralysis by a spider. Watching them certainly added another dimension to the whole experience. It became about more than just sustenance when you could see their faces.
The danger was in getting caught up in it. When she swayed on her feet, Cole realized that he had fed longer than usual, enjoying the moment.
The Building could do that to you in just a few seconds.
He lifted his head, the small cut in her skin ceasing to bleed in the same instant. He watched as the girl’s eyes began to focus. He did not release her hand, waiting to make sure she was steady on her feet. “Do you need to sit down?” he asked.
She shook her head.
“Well,” Cole said. “Thank you.”
” She looked speculatively up at him. “I’m Mary Kate. And
cute. Going to be around for a while?”
“I’m not sure.” Cole turned to Mitch. “Can I have that key now?”
“Um?” Mitch tore his gaze away from the television.
“Sure. Right.” He reached to a rack by the door and pulled off a key. “Here. Four-and-a-half. Give a shout if you need anything.”
“Thanks, I will. See you in a few.”
“Want any company?” Mary Kate asked.
“Thank you,” said Cole, “but no.”
“I—I don’t know.” The omnis here were almost like groupies. “I have some things to do. And I’m a little tired; I’ve been on the road all night.”
“Okay,” she said reluctantly. “But I got to you first, so you have to pick me if you want anything. Promise?”
“Yes. I promise.”
Out in the hall he boarded the elevator. It was oddly shaped, small and elongated so that two passengers had to stand shoulder to shoulder facing the door.
Cole, of course, was alone. He pressed the button for the fourth floor and waited.
Finally, with a painful lurch, the elevator rose and began to thrum slowly upward. It would have been
quicker to take the stairs.
He had always felt an odd affection for this awful piece of machinery, lumbering on like a faithful ox pulling its plow decade after decade. For the first time, he felt pleased to be in New York.
As the elevator door opened on the fourth floor, he heard piano music.
Cole got out. The music came from one of the fourth-floor apartments. Probably Elise. She lived elsewhere in the city, but came here to practice every night.
The elevator only went to the fourth floor. Apartment four-and-a-half was on a landing carved into the middle of the long staircase between four and five—a mere blip in the stairs. The apartments farther up were not often used, he knew, except for one at the back of the building.
He trudged up the stairs with his backpack, then hesitated on the landing. He turned his head and looked up toward the fifth floor.
A light shone at the top of the stairs. For a brief moment he considered walking up and knocking on the door of that one apartment.
He only held on to the thought for a second or two
before putting it aside. There was no point in going up there. It wouldn’t do any good. It wouldn’t even be noticed.
He knew Johnny’s request had nothing to do with the fifth floor. Everything would always be the same up there.
So he unlocked the door to four-and-a-half and walked in. Four-and-a-half had two bedrooms and no living room. The shower trickled mostly cold water, and the kitchen was the size of a bathtub. He was quite familiar with four-and-a-half. He usually ended up staying in it when he was here.
He unpacked, then sorted his laundry; tomorrow night he would take advantage of the washer and dryer in the basement.
Finally, he was ready. He locked the door carefully behind him and rode the ancient elevator down.
This time he did not knock at the door of Johnny’s apartment but walked right in.