“Hard-boiled horror, pulp noir vampires, decaying urban souls– you’re gonna need a shower after this one. . . . [Huston] kicks down the door of horror.”
–Fangoria, on Already Dead
There’s only so much room on the Island, only so much blood, and Manhattan’s Vampyre Clans aren’t interested in sharing. So when the Vyrus-infected dregs of New York’s outer boroughs start creeping across the bridges and through the tunnels, the Clans want to know why.
Bad luck for PI and general hard case Joe Pitt.
See, Joe used to be a Rogue, used to work off his own dime, picked his own gigs, but tight times and a terminally ill girlfriend pushed him into the arms of the renegade Society Clan. Now he has all the cash and blood he needs, but at a steep price. The price tonight is crossing the bridge, rolling to Coney Island, finding the Freak Clan, and figuring out what’s driving that bunch of savages to scratch at the Society’s door. No need to look far. The answer lies around the corner in Gravesend. Convenient, all those graves.
From uptown to the boardwalk, war drums are beating. Murderous family feuds and personal grudges are being drawn and brandished, along with the long knives. Blood will spill and, big surprise, Joe’s in the middle. But hey, why should this night be different from any other?
Sunset to sunrise: put off a war, keep your head attached to your neck, and save your girl. Check. Joe’s on the case.
Praise for Charlie Huston and his Joe Pitt novels
“In conceiving his world (a New York City divided by vampire clans, each with different reasons to hate Pitt), Huston gives a fading genre a fresh afterlife. [Grade:] A.”
“[Huston] creates a world that is at once supernatural and totally familiar, imaginative, and utterly convincing.”
–The Philadelphia Inquirer
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I DON'T LIKE HIM.
I don't like the way he smells. I don't like the way he looks. I don't like his shoes. If I stuck a blade in him and drank the blood that shot out of the open wound, I wouldn't like the way he tastes.
But Terry told me to be cool.
So I don't kill the guy.
-You can't get somethin' for nothin', is all I'm sayin'.
Terry nods, waves some of the thick cigar smoke away from his face.
-No doubt, no doubt.
The guy I don't like blows another cloud off his stogie.
-If I bring the Docks into your thing, I got to know what's in it for my members. Not like I'm here for my own self. I'm an elected representative, it's the members decide these things, and they decide nothin' they don't know what they got comin' on their end of the deal.
Terry coughs into his hand.
-Well, like I say, the way we work here, the way we, you know, like to go about this kind of thing, is with the understanding that we're all working toward a greater good. The Society, it's not just, you know, a Clan in the traditional sense. We're not just trying to get along and go along. We've got goals. We're all about, and I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but we're all about empowerment for anyone and everyone infected with the Vyrus. And does that mean folks that aren't even in the Society? You bet it does. But does that also mean achieving our goal will be easier with as united a front as possible? Absolutely. What I'm, you know, getting at is, whether you bring the Docks into the Society or not, you'll still reap the rewards when we break through one day, but, man, we could sure use as much help as possible right now.
The Docks Boss nods, ponders, chews the frayed end of his hand-rolled Dominican, and glances at the goon he brought with him.
-I think he's tellin' me there ain't shit in it for us.
The goon shifts the baseball bat perched on his shoulder.
-Sounds like it.
-Sounds like he's tellin' me he wants somethin' for nothin'.
The goon nods.
-Sounds like it.
The Docks Boss takes the cigar from his mouth, points it at Terry.
-That what you're tellin' me, Bird?
Terry presses the palms of his hands together and puts the tips of his fingers at his chin, a prayerful moment.
-What I'm trying to get across is that there's something in it for all of us. Me, you, your man there, Joe here, your members, the Society, all the Clans and Rogues and even the folks out there that never heard of the Vyrus. I'm talking about how we're gonna make the world a bigger and more wondrous place when the day comes we go public and let them know we're here. I'm saying that there's something in it for everyone. Every person on Mother Earth, man.
The goon raises a finger, a point's been proved.
-Yeah, he's saying there ain't nothin' in it for us.
The Docks Boss pushes his chair back, stands, drops the smoldering stub on the floor and stomps on it.
-C'mon, Gooch, let's get the boys and get the fuck out of here.
Terry shrugs, rises.
-Well, I can't say I'm not disappointed, but it's not the first time we've been turned down.
He puts out his hand.
-And I just want you to know, we're still fighting for you, man. Anytime you want to join the struggle, we'll be happy to have you by our side.
The Docks Boss looks Terry up and down, from his Birkenstocks, past his hemp jeans and his fur is murder t-shirt, up to his graying ponytail.
-You're a freak, Bird. We ain't never gonna have nothin' to do with you and your hippies and your college kids and your queers and the rest.
He pulls out one of the cigars that stick up from the breast pocket of his cheap suit, bites the end off and spits it at Terry's feet.
-And I'm gonna tell Predo as much when I go see him.
He scrapes a match alight on the surface of the kitchen table and puffs the cigar to life.
-The Docks are a serious Clan. We make the move over the bridge here and swing our weight behind someone, they're gonna know their backs are covered. You don't want to give somethin' back for that security, to hell with you. Predo knows value. And he'll pay for it.
He drops the match.
-Hell, I only came to see you out of curiosity. Had to see for myself it was true what they say. How one of the top Clans over here is run by a pansy.
Terry tugs at the soul patch below his lower lip.
-Well, if that's how you see things, that's how you see things. Probably all for the best that you set up housekeeping with the Coalition. And still, still, I wish you nothing but health and happiness, man.
The Docks Boss rolls his eyes and heads for the door.
-Fuck you, Bird.
Terry looks at me.
-You mind showing them out, Joe?
I open the door.
-Sure, no problem.
I close the door behind us and lead the Boss and Gooch down the hall toward the front room where his other two boys are cooling their heels.
The Boss steps alongside me.
-A guy like you, a regular-lookin' fella, what the fuck are you doin' with that clown?
I crack a knuckle.
-It's a job.
-A job? Hope you get paid through the nose, havin' to live in the middle of this freak show.
I stop at the front room door, rest my hand on the knob.
-What you gonna do, it's all I know.
-Too bad for you.
-If you say so.
I open the door and stand aside to let the Docks Boss step into the room ahead of me.
Stupid fuck that he is, he goes right in and only stops when he sees the headless bodies of his boys on the floor, and Hurley swinging a fire axe at his face. I got to give it to him, he does manage to get his arm in front of his head before the blade comes down.
As his arm is hitting the floor and Hurley is going into his backswing, the Boss has got his remaining hand in his jacket, going for the iron bulging at his side. Hurley takes his hack Lou Gehrig style and the other arm comes off and slaps into the wall, the gun dropping.
The Boss stomps, splinters the floorboards beneath the sheets of plastic Hurley spread before he went to work. He kicks the body of one of his headless bodyguards.
-Fucker! Useless faggot!
He stands in the middle of the room, the spray from his stumps slowing to a steady trickle as the Vyrus clots the blood, scabs visibly forming over the wounds.
He looks at Hurley, spits blood at him.
-That all you good for, pussy, a fuckin' ambush? Come on! I can take it.
He sets his feet, turns his face upward, eyes wide open.
-Come on, pussy!
Hurley hefts the axe over his head.
-Just as ya say, den.
The Docks Boss screams as the blade drops. He stops when it splits his head down the middle.
All those cigars, they kept him from smelling anything else. Otherwise he'd have whiffed the reek of blood the second I opened the kitchen door; he would have known there was a problem. In that tight hallway, he could have taken me apart. Another reason to like smoking.
Gooch leans into the room and looks at his boss flopping on the floor. He ducks back as a last jet of arterial blood sprays the ceiling and the dead thing goes still.
-Jesus, that's gonna be hell to clean up.
Hurley gives the axe a jerk and pulls it from the Docks Boss' face.
Gooch points at the mess.
-I ain't helpin' ta clean this. That wasn't part of the deal.
Hurley wipes the blade of the axe on the Boss' shirtfront, sees the cigars and pulls one from the dead man's pocket.
-No one said ya gotta clean nuttin'.
-Just so it's clear.
Hurley finds a match, thumbs a flame from it and puts it to the cigar.
-It's plenty clear, boyo.
Gooch points his baseball bat at the corpses.
-So you guys clean up your mess and I'll round up the rest of the Docks and let them know we're joinin' with ya.
Hurley looks at the cigar, wrinkles his nose, and drops it to hiss in the Boss' blood.
-Boyo, the way ya fellas sell one 'nother out, we would nae have ya ta clean our privies.
Gooch is about as quick as Boss was. He gets the bat up in a hurry to block Hurley's axe. But the axe never leaves Hurley's shoulder.
I tickle Gooch's earlobe with the barrel of his dead boss' revolver.
He doesn't move.
-I like this freak show.
I put a bullet in his ear. And when he's on the floor, I put a couple more in.
Hurley shakes his head.
-What's da point a dat, Joe?
-No point. Just that he was an asshole.
Terry comes down the hall and looks at the mess.
He takes off his glasses and bows his head.
-What a waste.
I put a Lucky in my mouth.
-If you say so.
-Labor should be our natural ally. They could have been a big help.
-A big help fucking things up. If this is the best Brooklyn has to offer, we don't have much to worry about.
Terry slips the glasses up his nose and gives me a look.
-The best isn't the problem, Joe.
He heads back down the hall toward the kitchen.
-The worst is what we have to worry about. The worst is still over the bridge.
He turns in the doorway.
-But they'll be coming.
I don't got enough problems.
I don't got enough problems dealing with the day-to-day shit that rains from the sky in Manhattan, now I got to start worrying about it being shipped in from Brooklyn. That's what happens when you get a regular job, other people's shit becomes your problem. 'Course, by the time you got that figured, it's up around your ears and you're just trying to keep your fucking mouth shut.
-Cat got your tongue?
I look up from the square of linoleum between my shoes and try a smile. It doesn't work.
-No, babe, just tired.
-You didn't have to come by.
-Sure I did. What else am I gonna do?
-You know how to flatter a girl, Joe.
-Not what I meant.
-I know. Just kidding.
Evie reaches out and takes my hand. The IV hose hooks around her pinkie and I pull it free so it won't get tangled.
-The one on your cheek looks better.
She pokes the tip of her tongue into the pocket of her cheek, pushing out the spot where the first of her Kaposi lesions appeared.
-Yeah. Pretty cool. Now if I can just get rid of the other thirty-six I'll be in business.
A nurse comes in, looks at the IV, checks the cunna in Evie's arm, fakes something that might have looked like a smile when she started this job and walks back out.
Evie shows me her teeth.
-I love that one, she's so sweet. Not a bitch like the others.
-A real Florence Nightingale.
-Yep, she's the one told me how to use the diuretic suppositories, used visual aids and everything.
She makes a fist with one hand and forces the index finger of her other hand into its grip.
She runs a hand through what's left of her red hair, dozens of strands coming loose, clinging to her fingers.
-Fuck. Fucking hell.
I look at the old lady on the other side of the tiny room, reading her Women's Wear Daily, sucking down her own chemo, head rolled up in a turban, trying to ignore Evie's curses, wondering how much longer she's going to have to stay in this room before they find her another. Just like the two others before her.
-Fucking, fuck, fuck. Hair. My goddamn hair.
-My hair, Joe.
-Do I got to lose my hair?
-They said it'll grow back.
She shakes her hand over the edge of the bed, the strands of bright red floating free.
-Fuck them. They said the vinblastine would help. They said the mouth ulcers would stop after the first couple treatments. They said fewer than one in ten had constipation. They said my white count was plenty high to start the chemo. They said not to worry about the anemia, we'd just do more transfusions. They said I was a healthy girl and properly treated HIV didn't have to become AIDS at all. Fuck them and what they say. They know shit.
She waves at the old lady.
-Hey, I look like I got no AIDS to you, lady? What'd they tell you? What line of shit they feed you before they started in?
The old lady has the magazine out of her lap and in front of her face, blocking Evie out; blocking out the bright purple tumors, the patchy hair, the graying teeth.
-What? Am I making a scene? Am I embarrassing you, Joe? Don't want to be seen with me? All you gotta do is go.
I stand, bend and put my mouth against hers.
She kisses back for a moment, then moves away.
I lay a fingertip on one of the sores that rim her mouth.
-No. It's just. It's so gross. I'm so gross. I'm a fucking monster.
-Baby, you're not even close.
And I kiss her again.
She coughs and I taste the bile from her empty stomach and the blood from the ulcers inside her lungs.
She pulls back again.
I get the plastic bowl and hold it in front of her and she heaves a couple times and nothing comes out.
-Fuck. Goddamn fuck.
I put the bowl aside.
-It's cool, baby.
She turns from me.
-Bullshit. It's not. It's not cool. I'm sick. I'm so sick of this.
-You can take it, baby.
-Are you? I can take it? You have no fucking.
She rolls on her back, talks to the ceiling.
-Go away, Joe.
I don't go away.
She looks at me.
-Goddamn it, if you can't do something to help me, go away! You think this helps? Standing there, looking at me like that? You think I feel better about what's happening, having your sorry ass here moping over me? Do something! Fucking do something!
I reach out to touch her.
She slaps my hand.
-Don't touch me. You said you wanted to take care of me. Then fucking take care of me. Fucker! Fucker! What use are you? I'm sick. I'm fucking dying and you're standing there. You, you. Always doing things. Your fucking job. Your job, and you can't help me. All you can do is put more blood in me for this fucking disease to live in. You don't help. You.