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Wicked City: A Zephyr Hollis Novel

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Overview

“Fans of Stephanie Meyer and Charlaine Harris will be engaged by Johnson’s light, tongue-in-cheek approach.”—Publishers Weekly

 

In Wicked City, the page-turning follow up to Moonshine, it’s summer in the city and most vampires are drunk on the blood-based intoxicant Faust. The mayor has tied his political fortunes to legalizing the brew, but Zephyr Hollis has dedicated herself to the cause of Faust prohibition—at least when she isn’t...

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Overview

“Fans of Stephanie Meyer and Charlaine Harris will be engaged by Johnson’s light, tongue-in-cheek approach.”—Publishers Weekly

 

In Wicked City, the page-turning follow up to Moonshine, it’s summer in the city and most vampires are drunk on the blood-based intoxicant Faust. The mayor has tied his political fortunes to legalizing the brew, but Zephyr Hollis has dedicated herself to the cause of Faust prohibition—at least when she isn’t knocking back sidecars in speakeasies.

But the game changes when dozens of vampires end up in the city morgue after drinking Faust. Are they succumbing to natural causes, or have they been deliberately poisoned? When an anonymous tip convinces the police of her guilt, Zephyr has to save her reputation, her freedom and possibly her life. Someone is after her blood—and this time it isn’t a vampire.

 

In a New York City populated by flappers and vampires, debutantes and djinn, it's best to watch your back. You never know what's lurking in the shadows.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Johnson follows 2010’s Moonshine with another light urban fantasy set in an alternate 1920s New York City. Mayor Jimmy Walker is looking to legalize an alcohol–blood mixture known as Faust, but his agenda is imperiled when the tabloids link the drink to the deaths of 10 vampires, all in one night, on the eve of a crucial Board of Aldermen vote. Walker asks Zephyr Hollis, daughter of “Montana’s most famous demon hunter” and known as the “vampire suffragette” for her advocacy on behalf of the undead, to find out whodunit. Her sleuthing is engaging enough, but the real fun lies in the little details of Johnson’s imagined world: as night falls, Manhattan’s hot dog and pretzel vendors are replaced by carts dispensing Faust, and status is now determined in affluent society by having human rather than vampire servants, despite stricter applicable labor laws. Agent: Jill Grinberg, Jill Grinberg Literary Management. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Praise for Moonshine:

“A sassy, dedicated heroine...a lot of fun.” —LOCUS

 

“Deftly combines historical and fantasy fiction for a fresh and inspired take on vampires...Johnson writes with great verve and wit, and readers will hope for many sequels.” —RT Book Reviews

'“A page-turning delight, with bicycles and enchanted blades, drug wars and settlement evening  schools, romance and heartbreak.” —Sarah Smith, author of THE VANISHED CHILD

Library Journal
Social activist Zephyr Hollis pits herself against the mayor of New York to fight the legalization of Faust, a blood-based intoxicant in demand by the local vampire community. When several vampires, fatally drunk on Faust, are delivered to the city morgue, questions arise as to the real cause of their deaths. Zephyr finds herself pinpointed as the murderer; she must work quickly to save her reputation, her life, and the movement to prohibit Faust. VERDICT The sequel to Moonshine provides mystery, danger, and a strong shot of romance set against the glitter and drama of the 1920s. Featuring a tough heroine and a number of sexy vampires, this period fantasy with its strong sense of place and witty dialog will please fans of Charlaine Harris and Tanya Huff.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312565480
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Alaya Johnson is a recent Columbia graduate, and denizen of New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Wicked City

A Zephyr Hollis Novel
By Alaya Johnson

Thomas Dunne Books

Copyright © 2012 Alaya Johnson
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312565480

CHAPTER ONE
 
In the depths of late summer, when airless nights meet dog-eared days, the cream of New York City society flees east 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 Twenty-eighth 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 boardinghouse 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 pleasure 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 boardinghouse 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.”
“It’s 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, eyeing her cream-colored 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, or 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 tabletop 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, intending to clear my head with fresh air, 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 doorjamb. 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 doorjamb 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 naïve 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 the divan closest to the fountain. This was Amir’s brother’s palace, the only part of Shadukiam that I’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 his brother 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.


 
Copyright © 2012 by Alaya Johnson


Continues...

Excerpted from Wicked City by Alaya Johnson Copyright © 2012 by Alaya Johnson. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Posted July 4, 2012

    Yes! Great book. Read read read. Read all of Johnson's books--es

    Yes! Great book. Read read read. Read all of Johnson's books--especially looking forward to /The Summer Prince/ coming out in 2013!!!

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