“Absolutely not,” Ursula said.
“Come on,” Kyle pleaded. “I’m sick of being cooped up in here.
They stood in front of the altar. “It’s too dangerous. People are looking for you. The kind of people you don’t want finding you. Besides, where would you go?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. See some sites? I just want to get out for a little while.”
She pointed an index finger at him. “I’m warning you—bad things will happen if you go out. End of discussion.”
She left the room, presumably going back to her study at the other end of the church. Kyle sighed. He had been raised to respect authority figures and Ursula basically counted as one. She was his guide, his mentor, his guardian now. But he was twenty-one and could make his own decisions.
With that in mind, he went outside for the first time since arriving in that building. The cool night air and mouth-watering smell from a nearby pizza joint greeted him. Despite the late hour, plenty of people were about and traffic moved along like any other time of day, many of them hitting him with the heavy bass of their sound systems. This truly was the city that never slept.
He immediately felt guilty for disobeying Ursula, but he was committed now. The bigger problem was his complete unfamiliarity with this area.
He decided to just walk up the street in a straight line and see what was here. He set off and soon came to a stand selling T-Shirts. The Christian in him winced as he laid eyes upon one that read “New Fucking York.” But are you still a Christian? Didn’t Kyrios completely shatter every notion of a loving creator? He didn’t know. All he knew for sure was that, if God was real, he had allowed so many unimaginable horrors to happen. Why? Was his mind so alien his values could not be comprehended? Or were the lives of a relative few a worthy bargain for attaining whatever his unknowable goals were?
His friends butchered in that hotel room. Jerry’s head in his own lap.
He shook the thought from his head. He couldn’t tell whether it was getting easier or harder to do that. It seemed to be getting easier but the thoughts seemed to be coming more frequently.
He focused on the landscape in front of him. Block after block spread out like one of those mirror setups that showed you reaching out to infinity.
He eventually found himself in front of a bar called Marvelous Mel’s. The name was in neon baby blue letters above the door. There was a CCTV camera jutting out from below them.
He concluded now was the perfect time to have his first drink, so he went inside. He was greeted by a nice establishment. It was filled with nice furniture and even had a fake fireplace on the side opposite the entrance which was blowing orange strips instead of flames. The lighting was conservative and jazz music played softly overhead.
There was a fair number of a people in the place; it was busy but not packed. He parked himself at the bar, and the bartender, a young black woman with dreds, came over to him. “What’ll it be, sour cream?”
She smiled. “I’m just messing with you. You’re pretty white even for a white guy.” He supposed the vampirism had made him pale. “Anyway, I’m the owner of this little corner of New York.”
He replied, “Oh, you’re Mel?”
“Nah, I’m Jazmine. Mel’s my girlfriend. I named this place after her.”
Homosexuality is a sin. “Um… nice to meet you, Jazmine.”
“Same here. Now, what can I get you?”
“Well…” he looked over the drink list on the counter in front of him. “What would you recommend for someone who’s never had a drink before?”
“Oh, just joined the Booze Club, have we? In that case, I’ll make you a Blitzed Reindeer. It’s lighter than most of what I serve but you should still go easy on it.”
“What’s in it?”
“Red rum, peppermint, cola, and a candy cane.”
That sounded good. “Okay, give me that.”
“Just give me one second.”
She began mixing the drink. It was then that Kyle noticed the news broadcast on the TV above her. A male news anchor sat behind a desk in a studio. “The Grand Imam Abdul Batin Rabbani will be making a surprise visit to New York to address the ongoing violence against Muslims in our city. Both American and Egyptian officials are being tight-lipped on just when he will get here in order to ensure his safety, but sources say it will be soon. Security teams on both sides are taking the possibility of violence as almost imminent, and Ealim al’Ahlam’s leader Yousef Al-Bakir has vowed to carry out a never-ending jihad if Rabbani is harmed.
“In other news, there was a press conference at the White House today, where President Jericho made his usual fiery remarks. We go now to Jennifer Jones live at the White House. Jennifer, what do you have for us?”
The scene cut to a newswoman was standing in front of the famous building. It took her a moment to respond. “Rich, today, President Jericho renewed his call to place a hold on immigrants from what he described as ‘hellholes.’”
The footage cut to William Jericho, an orange-haired hamster of a man in a suit, standing in front of a podium in the White House press room. “Folks, we’re getting a bad deal. It’s a very bad deal. Terrible, in fact. We need to say to Japan, ‘We don’t want you here.’ They’re bringing their kamikaze pilots, their ninjas, their tentacle perverts. Some of them, I understand, are good people. There are very good people on both sides.”
“Both sides of what?” a reporter offscreen asked.
“Fake news, ladies and gentlemen!” Jericho said, pointing to what Kyle guessed was the offending reporter. “Now, then. As I was about to say before I was so rudely interrupted. I have given the order to build a wall around the west coast, and we’re going to make Japan pay for it. We’ll take every last yen if we have to. We’ll make them sell every hentai DVD they’ve got, but we’ll make them pay for it.”
Jazmine put a red drink down in front of him. He took a tentative sip and his throat immediately burned. “That’s strong.”
Jazmine shook her head. “How would you know? You’ve never drank before.”
She turned her attention to the press conference on the TV. “Now, there’s a president we can believe in.”
She was obviously joking. Black people didn’t vote for men like William Jericho. Gay people didn’t vote for men like William Jericho. So, gay black people definitely didn’t vote for men like William Jericho.
He chuckled at her joke. To his surprise, she seemed to take offense. “What’s so funny? You think a black lesbian can’t be a Republican?”
She squared her eyes at him. “Believe it or not, black Republicans exist. We understand that Jericho has done great things for this country. He’s been a strong military leader and he’s strengthened the economy. Look at the last guy.”
“But, he’s the same color as you.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’m not a slave to my race. I’ll decide who I like. Anyway, look at the last guy. He was weak militarily and on foreign policy. He hamstrung our armed forces so they wouldn’t look like the aggressors. Please! If you’re going to do a job, see that the job gets done. Remember Benghazi? That was a damn terrorist attack, and it had nothing to do with a damn video. He bent over backwards to appease the Muslim world. You can’t pretend to be peaceful when you go to another country to kick ass and take names.”
Kyle never thought he would hear a person like Jazmine saying these things. It just went to show there were all types of people in the world. “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
She said, “Well, what do you believe?”
He put up his hands in an I don’t know gesture. “I used to believe in a lot of things. God; democrats; a certain amount of fairness in life. Now, I don’t know what to believe in.”
She nodded. “I hear you. I had a rough time years ago. I found myself a stranger in a strange land. But Mel, she saved me from that. Now, I have a purpose. You just need to find your Mel.”
By now, he was buzzed and drinking more enthusiastically. “Well, I’ve got two women in my life right now. One’s mysterious, and the other’s a homicidal psychopath. There was another girl, but…”
* * *
He moaned and slowly opened his eyes. He had a raging headache and no idea why.
Kyle looked around. He was on a ratty couch in an office somewhere. In front of him was a desk with file cabinets on either side of it. Someone was sitting in the chair at it. She turned her head to look at him.
“Awake, are we?” It was Jazmine.
He groaned and gingerly sat up. “What happened?”
“You started talking about a girl you knew. I’m guessing she’s not around anymore. You started bawling and passed out. I brought you in here.”
Oh, God. He remembered now. Ursula had been right; bad things had come of this little jaunt. “What time is it?”
“A little after five-thirty.”
“That would be correct.”
“Crap,” he said. “I need to get back.” Before the sun rose.
She helped him up. “You’re right. We both need to get out of here pronto. I don’t normally stay this long, but I didn’t want to leave you.”
A wave of… some positive emotion washed over him. He couldn’t quite place it. “Thanks. I’m sorry I troubled you.”
She smiled. “Don’t worry about it. It’s good to mix things up once in a while. Oh, the look on Mel’s face when I get home. Priceless. Ah, but she’ll probably be asleep when I arrive. Oh, well.”
* * *
He limped back to the church, his brain seemingly stuck in a blender on “Max” setting. He began to panic when the first line of light blue began to appear on the horizon, but fortunately, he made it.
Ursula was waiting for him while sitting on the back pew. She got up and came over to him, her face furrowed in a frown.
“I suppose you’re pretty mad,” he said.
To his surprise, she shook her head. “No. It was selfish of me to try and stop you. I was afraid for myself. It’s a reminder that I must be prepared to face the road ahead.”
“What does that mean?”
“You needn’t worry about it. But tonight, we must continue your training.”
* * *
The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See, located at 25 East 39th Street, was both the Holy See and Angelica’s base of operations in New York.
As she prepared to leave her quarters to continue her mission, her phone buzzed. She pulled it out to find a photo of Kyle Falconer standing beneath a camera somewhere. The accompanying message stated this had been captured outside a bar called Marvelous Mel’s on Greenwich Street and that the camera had shown him entering said bar.
Smiling, she put the phone back in her pocket. She hadn’t been sure where she would go today, but now she had a destination.
She took a cab to Marvelous Mel’s but found it closed. The plastic schedule on the door said it would open at 9:00 p.m. Very well. She would come back then.
* * *
Chloe sat on a couch in the common area of the meatpacking plant reading another romance novel that night. This was the fifth one this week. Kyrios kept her well stocked.
Presently, the other shahid were out enjoying New York’s night life. Crowds filled her with dread, so she always opted to stay home.
Because crowds meant death. People always died when Kyrios took her to a large group of them. But she never resisted him because she knew what would happen.
Footsteps echoed across the floor. Curious—no one was supposed to be here besides her. Looking up, she saw Kyrios approaching. She thought he had left earlier to do reconnaissance for his jihad.
He stopped next to the couch. “Chloe. I have a new mission for you.”
“Mission,” she said.
“I changed my mind. I need you to kill Kyle Falconer and Ursula Southeil.”
She tilted her head inquisitively. Kyrios never changed his mind. “Kill?”
“Yes. Go out and find them. Don’t come back until they are eliminated.”
This was strange, but she didn’t dare tell him no. “Understood.”
“Leave at once,” he said. “Our contacts in the NYPD said he was last seen leaving the subway station on Greenwich Street. If you’re lucky, you’ll find him tonight.”
“Leaving... now,” she said.
* * *
After she left, he turned to the shadows in the corner. Mikhail emerged from them having used Thief in the Night to conceal himself. “Excellent acting,” he said.
The façade of Kyrios melted away and there was only Collins now. “Sure hope so. But what are ya gonna do if she succeeds in killing them and reports back? Kyrios’ll know what we did.”
Mikhail had gone full smirk. “I have plan for dealing with her as well. And, afterwards, we’ll deal with Kyrios.”
Collins was scared. He didn’t know if Mikhail would stay true to his word. He might even sell the Irishman out. Nevertheless, his fear of the Guide was greater; Kyrios might kill him, but they would do much worse if the shahid’s plan was carried out.
In all honestly, Collins didn’t hate Christians nearly as much as the other shahid. He had been turned while still struggling with the aftermath of the abuse he suffered at the hands of the Catholic leadership in his church. But what Christians did to him was nothing compared to what they had done to the other members of his manzil.
Take Amelie, for example. During the Second Crusade, she had been living in the Rhineland. Unfortunately for her, she was Jewish, and a certain lunatic monk named Rudolf called for the extermination of the Jews. She was buried alive, and was only saved by Kyrios who just happened to be passing through her village. He dug her up, but the damage was done. Amelie had a new purpose, and she was fully prepared to die for it. “And why not?” she would later say. “They wanted me to die. Might as well give them what they want.”
And she was just one example. Everyone in the manzil had a horror story to tell involving their treatment at the hands of Christians. It wasn’t that Collins and Mikhail didn’t hate them; the two simply wanted to get their revenge and survive.
“I’m scared,” Collins said.
“No need for that,” Mikhail said. “All will be well.”
Collins forced a smile, but he didn’t share Mikhail’s optimism.